Look who might be free in 2011

It’s starting to look like there will be some interesting players available on the market after this season, whether in March or later due to labor uncertainty. Let’s examine:

Peyton Manning

Peyton ManningICONManning's contract will expire in February.

Manning and agent Tom Condon have negotiated two game-changing contracts. In 1998, Manning set a new standard for rookie compensation with a six-year, $48 million deal with an $11.6 million signing bonus. And in 2004 and after first having the Franchise tag placed on him, with a six-year, $98 million contract with – for that time – a stunning $34.5 million signing bonus.

Manning will set a new standard again, although it won’t be set this season and it is now possible it won’t be with the Colts. He and Condon have decided to not entertain an offer from the Colts this season, leaving him as potentially the most valuable free agent in NFL history (The Decision, NFL version?)

Manning’s pending free agency brings up an interesting issue with the Franchise tag. Knowing that the Colts could lose Manning to a crazy offer without the Tag – and there are owners that would make a wild offer for Manning -- the union can play the game of tag with the Tag.

Through Condon and Manning’s negotiating tactic with the Colts, and knowing Bill Polian and Jim Irsay will be banging the table to keep the Tag, the NFLPA just scored a bargaining chip. At the least, the union should be able to wrangle some concessions about the Tag, making its application less of a hammer in allowing teams to go year-to-year with players.

Manning playing in a different uniform certainly seems sacrilegious, but as we know from recent events in Green Bay and Philadelphia, anything can happen. Speaking of which…

Donovan McNabb

As sure as it seemed that Manning would have an extension from the Colts months ago, it seemed equally likely the Redskins would have extended their newly-acquired franchise quarterback going into the last year of his deal.

The Redskins have traditionally been among the most proactive teams in the last decade in aggressively signing up players, especially marquee players such as McNabb.

They are operating differently in 2010, though. They shed a slew of former free agent mistakes – Randy Thomas, Antwaan Randle-El, Fred Smoot, etc. – in February. They restructured contracts of Albert Haynesworth and DeAngelo Hall in a way that protects their future Cap accounting. And now they are being patient and prudent before extending McNabb.

The Redskins are telling McNabb and his agent that they are reluctant to jump into a major commitment with him due to the labor uncertainty ahead and potential lockout. That, however, was something they knew about when they gave up a high second-round pick to acquire him, as that part of the Draft is as valuable as any.

Now with the curious benching of McNabb on Sunday, the message seems clear. The Redskins seem unlikely to commit tens of millions of guaranteed dollar to a player that is not their first choice to run a two-minute drill. It now seems the Redskins may look for another option. Speaking of which…

Michael Vick

Although Vick and agent Joel Segal negotiated vigorously in 2009 for a one-year deal to allow Vick the chance to re-establish his image and game in Philadelphia for one year before a free agent contract in 2010, the Eagles demanded and secured a two-year deal.

It has worked well for both sides: the Eagles could trade McNabb and now are reaping the benefits of Vick’s “redshirt” year. Vick is proving himself the player he was five years ago – some say better – in setting up a potential large payday next year.

Vick was once the highest-paid player in football and will not approach those numbers again. However, with a dearth of talent at the position and the scarcity of quarterbacks available, he could draw significant interest. Of course, the Eagles can control the situation by negotiating a new deal or applying the Franchise tag, although that amount will approach $20 million and there is the matter of Kevin Kolb and his large number next year as well.

The fact that Michael Vick reluctantly agreed to a two-year contract with the Eagles has set him up well for the future. And for someone not set up well for the future…

Randy Moss

Haven’t heard much about him, have we? Moss being claimed today will not affect next season. If the Vikings weren’t willing to extend Moss after giving up a 3rd round pick for him, his new team will not extend him after assuming his contract.

Moss has some delusion about his present value and believes he is worth the contract now expiring, a three-year deal worth $27 million with $14 million guaranteed. That won’t happen. Moss now brings a reputation of selfishness and – more damaging -- the potential to infect younger players with a bad attitude. That was the feeling in Minnesota regarding his influence on Percy Harvin and Sidney Rice.

Moss may be at the stage of his career that Terrell Owens has been over the past couple of years, selling his services as a mercenary to the highest bidder on one-year contracts.

Stay tuned.

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