10-Pack: Cowboys, Redskins oddly quiet during first few days of NFL free agency

ProFootballTalk.com’s Mike Florio weighs in on the biggest story lines of the free-agency period:

1. Where have all the Cowboys gone?

It was long presumed that, with the disappearance of the salary cap, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones would behave like Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, spending as much money as necessary to ensure the purchase of a berth in a Super Bowl that will be hosted at Jones’ brand-new stadium in 2011.

Jerry Jones and his Cowboys have been quiet players in the free-agency market so far.
Jerry Jones and his Cowboys have been quiet players in the free-agency market so far.

Even though the Cowboys fall within the confines of the "Final Eight Plan," they can still blow the budget for one unrestricted free agent, as long as his first-year salary exceeds $5.8 million.

But they haven’t, and by all appearances they won’t. The Cowboys have shown no interest in any of the available players. They’ve also shown no interest in locking up one of their own, receiver Miles Austin.

Though Austin, a restricted free agent, has been limited by the highest possible tender, which would require compensation in the amount of first- and third-round picks in the 2010 draft, the Cowboys’ decision not to lock him up for the long term leaves him exposed. It’s a risk the Cowboys shouldn’t have to take in the absence of a salary cap.

So what’s going on? The Cowboys already have lined up significant cash commitments for ’10, because of contracts signed in the recent past based on the assumption that the salary cap will go away. Also, Jones still has that brand-new stadium to pay for, and the thinking is he simply doesn’t have the cash on hand to spend like everyone thought he would.

2. Optimism returns to Chicago, again

Last year, a trade that brought to Chicago the team’s first franchise quarterback since Sid Luckman triggered a flood of euphoria.

Then, the season started.

In the wake of expectations that the organization failed to manage and the team failed to meet, the front office and the coaching staff found themselves in a situation so poisonous that offensive and defensive coordinator candidates with other options consistently opted to go elsewhere. A strong sense of gloom and despair developed.

In one day, the dark cloud was moved away. Hope has returned to Halas Hall with the arrival of defensive end Julius Peppers, tight end Brandon Manumaleuna and running back Chester Taylor.

But winning the offseason press conferences won’t be enough this time around, and that’s why general manager Jerry Angelo followed up last year’s "all in" move by throwing the deed to his house and his car keys into the middle of the table.

The cards will be turned over come September, but is there any reason to think the moves will make the Bears any better?

The focal points remains the ability of Mike Martz to get the most out of Jay Cutler. If Martz can coax Cutler into playing like he did in Denver, then Angelo & Co. will have a chance to remain gainfully employed. If not, Cutler, Peppers, Manumaleuna, Taylor and every other player on the roster will be someone else’s problem come 2011.

3. Dockett shouldn’t be upset about Arizona exodus

In roughly a month, the Arizona Cardinals have lost a large chunk of their nucleus. Quarterback Kurt Warner has retired. Then, in one fell swoop, linebacker Karlos Dansby, safety Antrel Rolle and receiver Anquan Boldin were gone.

Defensive tackle Darnell Dockett, never shy about making his feelings known via Twitter, has been venting about the developments.

He shouldn’t be upset. After all, the departures mean more money will be available for him.

Currently, Dockett is signed through 2011 at base salaries of $3.75 million and $4 million. He has wanted a new deal for a while, and the Cardinals now have the money to give him one.

Of course, without a salary floor in place, they have no need to do anything other than squat on Dockett’s rights. Besides, if they were willing to pay big money, Dansby and/or Rolle and/or Boldin would still be on the team.

So maybe Dockett’s anger comes from the fact he’s heading for the same outcome as the others — to get paid, he’ll have to leave Arizona.

4. Vikings have wiggle room; Colts don’t

With the salary cap disappearing, the NFL’s labor agreement places strict limitations on the ability of the best teams from 2009 to sign unrestricted free agents.

The "Final Eight Plan," applicable to the teams that played in the divisional round of the playoffs, places even tighter limits on the final four teams — the Saints, Colts, Vikings and Jets. Put simply, these franchises cannot sign an unrestricted free agent from another team until one of their own unrestricted free agents leaves.

For the Colts, who have only two unrestricted free agents and who already have re-signed one of them (linebacker Gary Brackett), the "Final Eight Plan" represents a set of Super Bowl loser handcuffs. They can sign no unrestricted free agent until kicker Matt Stover, who was unsigned throughout the entire 2009 offseason and into the regular season, inks a new deal. Even then, the Colts would be able to pay any new unrestricted free agent the same first-year salary that Stover receives.

For the Vikings, greater flexibility applies, thanks to the free-agent departures of running back Chester Taylor and offensive lineman Artis Hicks. Minnesota now can sign two unrestricted free agents from other teams, with first-year salaries matching those paid to Hicks and Taylor — and 30-percent growth moving forward.

By now, Redskins owner Dan Snyder would have made some player an instant millionaire. That hasn't happened yet during this free-agency period.
By now, Redskins owner Dan Snyder would have made some player an instant millionaire. That hasn’t happened yet during this free-agency period.

But the Vikings aren’t rushing to spend that money; through the first weekend of free agency, they have arranged a visit only with kicker Rhys Lloyd — and they have been linked to only one other player, Colts restricted free agent Marlin Jackson.

5. Redskins change their ways, dramatically

If the Cowboys were going to mimic the Yankees in the uncapped year, the Redskins were poised to make like the Red Sox.

But then came general manager Bruce Allen, who has been charged in part with the task of protecting owner Daniel Snyder from himself. To date, Allen has persuaded Snyder not to overspend. They’ve hosted a couple of offensive linemen, like Chad Clifton and Tony Pashos. Unlike past years, they didn’t make them instant multi-millionaires.

Indeed, the only new player they’ve signed is a backup from Minnesota who hardly received a market-busting deal.

It’s a stunning change in philosophy for the Redskins, and it came at the right time. If the uncapped year had unfolded in any other offseason, Snyder would have already spent $200 million.

6. Seahawks should pull an end run around the Broncos

With the Seattle Seahawks flirting with Brandon Marshall, the Broncos are getting the word out, loud and clear: If the Seahawks want Marshall, they need to sign him to an offer sheet and be prepared to give up the No. 6-overall pick in the draft.

The position is more than a little donkey-headed, given that the Seahawks also hold the 14th-overall pick, which Denver sent to them in ’08 for a second-round pick. With the Broncos essentially begging someone to sign Marshall to an offer sheet by tendering the restricted free agent at the first-round level only, the Broncos should be happy with any first-round pick they can get.

So here’s what the Seahawks should do. They should communicate to a team like the Saints or the Colts or anyone who picks below No. 14 the terms they’d be comfortable paying to Marshall, and the Seahawks should offer to those teams the 14th-overall pick for Marshall’s contract. Then, one of the teams picking below No. 14 should sign Marshall to an offer sheet.

It would be a lot easier for the Broncos just to take the 14th-overall pick and send Marshall to Seattle. But if they refuse to relent, then the Seahawks should give some other team an easy chance to upgrade to No. 14 — and to stick the Broncos with a pick a lot lower than No. 6.

7. Rolle’s arrival raises questions about Phillips’ return

New Giants safety Antrel Rolle has said he looks forward to playing with Giants safety Kenny Phillips, a good friend who like Rolle played college football at Miami.

Rolle apparently hasn’t considered the possibility that he’ll be Phillips’ replacement.

Rolle and Phillips share an agent, and Drew Rosenhaus recently told Sirius NFL Radio that Phillips will be making a complete recovery from a knee condition that has caused more than a few whispers that he’ll never play again.

Either way, the Giants decided it would be wise to pay a guy who isn’t regarded as one of the top safeties in the NFL as if he were, and it would be foolish to not at least consider the possibility that Rolle’s unspoken leverage was the uncertain status of his good friend’s knee.

8. Bengals could be taking yet another risk

For the past several years, the Cincinnati Bengals have been more than willing to take risks when it comes to acquiring players with checkered pasts. In 2009, the gambles paid off, creating a team that surprised the rest of the league by making it to top of the AFC North.

Now, the Bengals could be rolling the dice yet again. But not with a player who has had one or more arrests, for a change.

Receiver Terrell Owens never has gotten himself in trouble with the law. However, he has left in his wake a slew of quarterbacks who became the targets of his insults and/or finger pointing.

Receiver Chad Ochocinco wants T.O. to join him in Cincinnati. It appeared for a while that management would not be interested. It now appears, however, that the Bengals could be making a run at him.

With quarterback Carson Palmer making his desire to embrace the enigmatic Owens publicly known, it might only be a matter of time before the Bengals become the next stop on the T.O. tour.

It could turn out well, and it could turn out poorly. The only sure thing is that it will not be boring.

9. Chargers benefit the most from the rules of the uncapped year

Whenever the appropriate time comes to determine the winners and losers in free agency, the Chargers will be among the winners, even if they don’t sign a single player.

The system propelled them to victory. With the disappearance of the salary cap, and the service time required for unrestricted free agency increasing from four years to six, the Chargers automatically were able to retain the rights to five key players who otherwise would have been able to walk away.

If the salary cap had survived the stroke of midnight on March 5, linebacker Shawne Merriman, left tackle Marcus McNeill, receiver Vincent Jackson, receiver Malcom Floyd and running back Darren Sproles would have been unrestricted free agents. The Chargers could have used the franchise tag on only one of them; the rest would have been free to leave.

With the salary cap gone, the Chargers applied the highest possible restricted free agency tender to each of them, guaranteeing that their rights will be retained, at least for a year.

Though things could get very interesting for the Chargers come 2011, the system is smiling on them right now.

10. Falcons’ draft needs suddenly changed

Before Friday, everyone assumed Atlanta would target a cornerback with its first-round pick in the 2010 draft.

But now that they have signed former Texan Dunta Robinson, they don’t need a cornerback in Round 1.

So why does anyone bother to talk about a team’s draft needs before free agency? Every year, the signings made (and not made) have a huge impact on draft-day decisions.

Then again, reality and practicality rarely invade the ever-burgeoning cottage industry that the NFL draft has spawned.

Mike Florio writes and edits ProFootballTalk.com and is a regular contributor to Sporting News. Check out PFT for up-to-the minute NFL news.

ProFootballTalk.com’s Mike Florio weighs in on the biggest story lines of the free-agency period:

1. Where have all the Cowboys gone?

It was long presumed that, with the disappearance of the salary cap, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones would behave like Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, spending as much money as necessary to ensure the purchase of a berth in a Super Bowl that will be hosted at Jones’ brand-new stadium in 2011.

Jerry Jones and his Cowboys have been quiet players in the free-agency market so far.
Jerry Jones and his Cowboys have been quiet players in the free-agency market so far.

Even though the Cowboys fall within the confines of the "Final Eight Plan," they can still blow the budget for one unrestricted free agent, as long as his first-year salary exceeds $5.8 million.

But they haven’t, and by all appearances they won’t. The Cowboys have shown no interest in any of the available players. They’ve also shown no interest in locking up one of their own, receiver Miles Austin.

Though Austin, a restricted free agent, has been limited by the highest possible tender, which would require compensation in the amount of first- and third-round picks in the 2010 draft, the Cowboys’ decision not to lock him up for the long term leaves him exposed. It’s a risk the Cowboys shouldn’t have to take in the absence of a salary cap.

So what’s going on? The Cowboys already have lined up significant cash commitments for ’10, because of contracts signed in the recent past based on the assumption that the salary cap will go away. Also, Jones still has that brand-new stadium to pay for, and the thinking is he simply doesn’t have the cash on hand to spend like everyone thought he would.

2. Optimism returns to Chicago, again

Last year, a trade that brought to Chicago the team’s first franchise quarterback since Sid Luckman triggered a flood of euphoria.

Then, the season started.

In the wake of expectations that the organization failed to manage and the team failed to meet, the front office and the coaching staff found themselves in a situation so poisonous that offensive and defensive coordinator candidates with other options consistently opted to go elsewhere. A strong sense of gloom and despair developed.

In one day, the dark cloud was moved away. Hope has returned to Halas Hall with the arrival of defensive end Julius Peppers, tight end Brandon Manumaleuna and running back Chester Taylor.

But winning the offseason press conferences won’t be enough this time around, and that’s why general manager Jerry Angelo followed up last year’s "all in" move by throwing the deed to his house and his car keys into the middle of the table.

The cards will be turned over come September, but is there any reason to think the moves will make the Bears any better?

The focal points remains the ability of Mike Martz to get the most out of Jay Cutler. If Martz can coax Cutler into playing like he did in Denver, then Angelo & Co. will have a chance to remain gainfully employed. If not, Cutler, Peppers, Manumaleuna, Taylor and every other player on the roster will be someone else’s problem come 2011.

3. Dockett shouldn’t be upset about Arizona exodus

In roughly a month, the Arizona Cardinals have lost a large chunk of their nucleus. Quarterback Kurt Warner has retired. Then, in one fell swoop, linebacker Karlos Dansby, safety Antrel Rolle and receiver Anquan Boldin were gone.

Defensive tackle Darnell Dockett, never shy about making his feelings known via Twitter, has been venting about the developments.

He shouldn’t be upset. After all, the departures mean more money will be available for him.

Currently, Dockett is signed through 2011 at base salaries of $3.75 million and $4 million. He has wanted a new deal for a while, and the Cardinals now have the money to give him one.

Of course, without a salary floor in place, they have no need to do anything other than squat on Dockett’s rights. Besides, if they were willing to pay big money, Dansby and/or Rolle and/or Boldin would still be on the team.

So maybe Dockett’s anger comes from the fact he’s heading for the same outcome as the others — to get paid, he’ll have to leave Arizona.

4. Vikings have wiggle room; Colts don’t

With the salary cap disappearing, the NFL’s labor agreement places strict limitations on the ability of the best teams from 2009 to sign unrestricted free agents.

The "Final Eight Plan," applicable to the teams that played in the divisional round of the playoffs, places even tighter limits on the final four teams — the Saints, Colts, Vikings and Jets. Put simply, these franchises cannot sign an unrestricted free agent from another team until one of their own unrestricted free agents leaves.

For the Colts, who have only two unrestricted free agents and who already have re-signed one of them (linebacker Gary Brackett), the "Final Eight Plan" represents a set of Super Bowl loser handcuffs. They can sign no unrestricted free agent until kicker Matt Stover, who was unsigned throughout the entire 2009 offseason and into the regular season, inks a new deal. Even then, the Colts would be able to pay any new unrestricted free agent the same first-year salary that Stover receives.

For the Vikings, greater flexibility applies, thanks to the free-agent departures of running back Chester Taylor and offensive lineman Artis Hicks. Minnesota now can sign two unrestricted free agents from other teams, with first-year salaries matching those paid to Hicks and Taylor — and 30-percent growth moving forward.

By now, Redskins owner Dan Snyder would have made some player an instant millionaire. That hasn't happened yet during this free-agency period.
By now, Redskins owner Dan Snyder would have made some player an instant millionaire. That hasn’t happened yet during this free-agency period.

But the Vikings aren’t rushing to spend that money; through the first weekend of free agency, they have arranged a visit only with kicker Rhys Lloyd — and they have been linked to only one other player, Colts restricted free agent Marlin Jackson.

5. Redskins change their ways, dramatically

If the Cowboys were going to mimic the Yankees in the uncapped year, the Redskins were poised to make like the Red Sox.

But then came general manager Bruce Allen, who has been charged in part with the task of protecting owner Daniel Snyder from himself. To date, Allen has persuaded Snyder not to overspend. They’ve hosted a couple of offensive linemen, like Chad Clifton and Tony Pashos. Unlike past years, they didn’t make them instant multi-millionaires.

Indeed, the only new player they’ve signed is a backup from Minnesota who hardly received a market-busting deal.

It’s a stunning change in philosophy for the Redskins, and it came at the right time. If the uncapped year had unfolded in any other offseason, Snyder would have already spent $200 million.

6. Seahawks should pull an end run around the Broncos

With the Seattle Seahawks flirting with Brandon Marshall, the Broncos are getting the word out, loud and clear: If the Seahawks want Marshall, they need to sign him to an offer sheet and be prepared to give up the No. 6-overall pick in the draft.

The position is more than a little donkey-headed, given that the Seahawks also hold the 14th-overall pick, which Denver sent to them in ’08 for a second-round pick. With the Broncos essentially begging someone to sign Marshall to an offer sheet by tendering the restricted free agent at the first-round level only, the Broncos should be happy with any first-round pick they can get.

So here’s what the Seahawks should do. They should communicate to a team like the Saints or the Colts or anyone who picks below No. 14 the terms they’d be comfortable paying to Marshall, and the Seahawks should offer to those teams the 14th-overall pick for Marshall’s contract. Then, one of the teams picking below No. 14 should sign Marshall to an offer sheet.

It would be a lot easier for the Broncos just to take the 14th-overall pick and send Marshall to Seattle. But if they refuse to relent, then the Seahawks should give some other team an easy chance to upgrade to No. 14 — and to stick the Broncos with a pick a lot lower than No. 6.

7. Rolle’s arrival raises questions about Phillips’ return

New Giants safety Antrel Rolle has said he looks forward to playing with Giants safety Kenny Phillips, a good friend who like Rolle played college football at Miami.

Rolle apparently hasn’t considered the possibility that he’ll be Phillips’ replacement.

Rolle and Phillips share an agent, and Drew Rosenhaus recently told Sirius NFL Radio that Phillips will be making a complete recovery from a knee condition that has caused more than a few whispers that he’ll never play again.

Either way, the Giants decided it would be wise to pay a guy who isn’t regarded as one of the top safeties in the NFL as if he were, and it would be foolish to not at least consider the possibility that Rolle’s unspoken leverage was the uncertain status of his good friend’s knee.

8. Bengals could be taking yet another risk

For the past several years, the Cincinnati Bengals have been more than willing to take risks when it comes to acquiring players with checkered pasts. In 2009, the gambles paid off, creating a team that surprised the rest of the league by making it to top of the AFC North.

Now, the Bengals could be rolling the dice yet again. But not with a player who has had one or more arrests, for a change.

Receiver Terrell Owens never has gotten himself in trouble with the law. However, he has left in his wake a slew of quarterbacks who became the targets of his insults and/or finger pointing.

Receiver Chad Ochocinco wants T.O. to join him in Cincinnati. It appeared for a while that management would not be interested. It now appears, however, that the Bengals could be making a run at him.

With quarterback Carson Palmer making his desire to embrace the enigmatic Owens publicly known, it might only be a matter of time before the Bengals become the next stop on the T.O. tour.

It could turn out well, and it could turn out poorly. The only sure thing is that it will not be boring.

9. Chargers benefit the most from the rules of the uncapped year

Whenever the appropriate time comes to determine the winners and losers in free agency, the Chargers will be among the winners, even if they don’t sign a single player.

The system propelled them to victory. With the disappearance of the salary cap, and the service time required for unrestricted free agency increasing from four years to six, the Chargers automatically were able to retain the rights to five key players who otherwise would have been able to walk away.

If the salary cap had survived the stroke of midnight on March 5, linebacker Shawne Merriman, left tackle Marcus McNeill, receiver Vincent Jackson, receiver Malcom Floyd and running back Darren Sproles would have been unrestricted free agents. The Chargers could have used the franchise tag on only one of them; the rest would have been free to leave.

With the salary cap gone, the Chargers applied the highest possible restricted free agency tender to each of them, guaranteeing that their rights will be retained, at least for a year.

Though things could get very interesting for the Chargers come 2011, the system is smiling on them right now.

10. Falcons’ draft needs suddenly changed

Before Friday, everyone assumed Atlanta would target a cornerback with its first-round pick in the 2010 draft.

But now that they have signed former Texan Dunta Robinson, they don’t need a cornerback in Round 1.

So why does anyone bother to talk about a team’s draft needs before free agency? Every year, the signings made (and not made) have a huge impact on draft-day decisions.

Then again, reality and practicality rarely invade the ever-burgeoning cottage industry that the NFL draft has spawned.

Mike Florio writes and edits ProFootballTalk.com and is a regular contributor to Sporting News. Check out PFT for up-to-the minute NFL news.

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