With tags attached, free-agent market takes shape

Now that Thursday’s franchise tag deadline has passed, we have a clearer picture of who is available — and who is not.
 
Pittsburgh Steelers nose tackle Casey Hampton went off the market Thursday, re-signing for three years and around $21 million, with $11 million guaranteed.
 
LaDainian Tomlinson has been cut, but he might have to wait for a free-agent offer.
LaDainian Tomlinson has been cut, but he might have to wait for a free-agent offer.

However, Carolina Panthers defensive end Julius Peppers and Arizona Cardinals linebacker Karlos Dansby are days from becoming free agents on March 5.

 
They could be joined by New York Jets running back Thomas Jones and Cardinals safety Antrel Rolle — two of the prominent veterans still in danger of being released. LaDainian Tomlinson and Brian Westbrook have been cut, leaving them uncertain about their future.
 
"I’m like a guy coming into the league again," Tomlinson said Wednesday during an emotional press conference. "I just want an opportunity to prove that I can play."
 
Here is a rundown of some top players who appear headed to free agency:
 

Their phones will be blowing up

Gary Brackett, MLB, Indianapolis Colts: He wants to stay, but the Colts are running out of time to sign him by March 5. They will miss him if he signs elsewhere.
 
Karlos Dansby, ILB, Cardinals: A tackling machine in his prime, he can fit well into almost any defensive system. Don’t be surprised to see the Dolphins make a run at him.
 
Look for the Dolphins to jump into the bidding for tackling machine Karlos Dansby.
Look for the Dolphins to jump into the bidding for tackling machine Karlos Dansby.

"I would say it (linebacker) is a need of the team," Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland told reporters Thursday at the Scouting Combine. "You got some age at the position right now. You got to get younger there, and (get) better performance on the field. Inside and outside are key positions for free agency and the draft."

 
Julius Peppers, DE, Panthers. He is the top player on the market, a premier pass rusher who can be dominant when motivated. Look for the Eagles and Patriots to come calling.
 
Dunta Robinson, CB, Houston Texans: He’s not a superstar, but he is a solid 27-year-old player at a valuable position. Both the Vikings and Ravens are looking for cornerback help and could be interested.
 
Darren Sharper, S, New Orleans Saints: He tied for the NFL lead in interceptions and was an integral part of a Super Bowl-winning defense. The Saints want him back, but by letting Sharper hit the open market, they risk letting a team like the Giants make an offer that Sharper can’t refuse.
 

They should land on their feet

Leigh Bodden, CB, New England Patriots: He wants to remain in New England, but can the two sides agree on a contract? He is only 28 and coming off a good season, so he will find suitors if things do not work out in New England.
 

Barring a pay cut, the Jets likely will let Thomas Jones walk. The Eagles are waiting.
Barring a pay cut, the Jets likely will let Thomas Jones walk. The Eagles are waiting.

Thomas Jones, RB, New York Jets: His situation is in flux because of money, not performance. Unless he agrees to a pay cut, the Jets are likely to release him and turn to Shonn Greene as their new starter. If the Jets decide to part ways with Jones, he could still be an effective complementary back for a team like the Eagles.

 
Derrick Mason, WR, Baltimore Ravens: He is the Ravens’ all-time leading receiver, has kept himself in great shape at age 36 and wants to return to Baltimore. However, he also wants at least a two-year deal. Even with the recent addition of Donte’ Stallworth, look for the Ravens to keep Mason in the fold.
 
Antrel Rolle, S, Cardinals: The Cardinals want to restructure his deal rather than pay the $4 million roster bonus he is due next week. For that reason, he may be cut. If he is, the Dolphins or the Bears should have strong interest.
 
Darren Sproles, RB, San Diego Chargers: He is a restricted free agent, but the Chargers are not expected to tender him an offer of $7.27 million to prevent him from hitting the market. His skills as a runner, pass catcher and returner would make him attractive to teams looking for a multi-purpose back. The Packers or Lions are potential landing spots.
 
Chester Taylor, RB, Minnesota Vikings: His agent is scheduled to meet with the Vikings at the Combine, so a deal may still be worked out. If not, a team like the Bears could use Taylor’s running and pass-catching skills.
 
Kevin Walter, WR, Texans: Walter, who will be 29 at the start of next season, has averaged almost 60 catches over the past three years. He could be a bargain as a possession receiver for a team like the Panthers or Broncos.
 

Their future is unclear

Kevin Mawae, C, Tennessee Titans: He still wants to start, but at 39, how much longer will he play?
 

Terrell Owens, WR, Buffalo Bills: His one-year stay in Buffalo did not work out well for him or the Bills. If the Bengals do not bite, maybe the Ravens, Bears or Jaguars will.

 
Willie Parker, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers: He turns 30 in November, and his numbers declined in each of the past three seasons. Aging NFL running backs are not highly coveted.
 
LaDainian Tomlinson, RB, Chargers: If the Vikings are not interested, he might have to wait awhile to get a shot.
 
Brian Westbrook, RB, Philadelphia Eagles: After two concussions last season, his durability is an issue.
 
This story appears in Feb. 26’s edition of Sporting News Today. If you are not receiving Sporting News Today, the only daily digital sports newspaper, sign up today.
 
Senior writer Clifton Brown covers the NFL for Sporting News. E-mail him at cliftonbrown@sportingnews.com.
Now that Thursday’s franchise tag deadline has passed, we have a clearer picture of who is available — and who is not.
 
Pittsburgh Steelers nose tackle Casey Hampton went off the market Thursday, re-signing for three years and around $21 million, with $11 million guaranteed.
 
LaDainian Tomlinson has been cut, but he might have to wait for a free-agent offer.
LaDainian Tomlinson has been cut, but he might have to wait for a free-agent offer.

However, Carolina Panthers defensive end Julius Peppers and Arizona Cardinals linebacker Karlos Dansby are days from becoming free agents on March 5.

 
They could be joined by New York Jets running back Thomas Jones and Cardinals safety Antrel Rolle — two of the prominent veterans still in danger of being released. LaDainian Tomlinson and Brian Westbrook have been cut, leaving them uncertain about their future.
 
"I’m like a guy coming into the league again," Tomlinson said Wednesday during an emotional press conference. "I just want an opportunity to prove that I can play."
 
Here is a rundown of some top players who appear headed to free agency:
 

Their phones will be blowing up

Gary Brackett, MLB, Indianapolis Colts: He wants to stay, but the Colts are running out of time to sign him by March 5. They will miss him if he signs elsewhere.
 
Karlos Dansby, ILB, Cardinals: A tackling machine in his prime, he can fit well into almost any defensive system. Don’t be surprised to see the Dolphins make a run at him.
 
Look for the Dolphins to jump into the bidding for tackling machine Karlos Dansby.
Look for the Dolphins to jump into the bidding for tackling machine Karlos Dansby.

"I would say it (linebacker) is a need of the team," Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland told reporters Thursday at the Scouting Combine. "You got some age at the position right now. You got to get younger there, and (get) better performance on the field. Inside and outside are key positions for free agency and the draft."

 
Julius Peppers, DE, Panthers. He is the top player on the market, a premier pass rusher who can be dominant when motivated. Look for the Eagles and Patriots to come calling.
 
Dunta Robinson, CB, Houston Texans: He’s not a superstar, but he is a solid 27-year-old player at a valuable position. Both the Vikings and Ravens are looking for cornerback help and could be interested.
 
Darren Sharper, S, New Orleans Saints: He tied for the NFL lead in interceptions and was an integral part of a Super Bowl-winning defense. The Saints want him back, but by letting Sharper hit the open market, they risk letting a team like the Giants make an offer that Sharper can’t refuse.
 

They should land on their feet

Leigh Bodden, CB, New England Patriots: He wants to remain in New England, but can the two sides agree on a contract? He is only 28 and coming off a good season, so he will find suitors if things do not work out in New England.
 

Barring a pay cut, the Jets likely will let Thomas Jones walk. The Eagles are waiting.
Barring a pay cut, the Jets likely will let Thomas Jones walk. The Eagles are waiting.

Thomas Jones, RB, New York Jets: His situation is in flux because of money, not performance. Unless he agrees to a pay cut, the Jets are likely to release him and turn to Shonn Greene as their new starter. If the Jets decide to part ways with Jones, he could still be an effective complementary back for a team like the Eagles.

 
Derrick Mason, WR, Baltimore Ravens: He is the Ravens’ all-time leading receiver, has kept himself in great shape at age 36 and wants to return to Baltimore. However, he also wants at least a two-year deal. Even with the recent addition of Donte’ Stallworth, look for the Ravens to keep Mason in the fold.
 
Antrel Rolle, S, Cardinals: The Cardinals want to restructure his deal rather than pay the $4 million roster bonus he is due next week. For that reason, he may be cut. If he is, the Dolphins or the Bears should have strong interest.
 
Darren Sproles, RB, San Diego Chargers: He is a restricted free agent, but the Chargers are not expected to tender him an offer of $7.27 million to prevent him from hitting the market. His skills as a runner, pass catcher and returner would make him attractive to teams looking for a multi-purpose back. The Packers or Lions are potential landing spots.
 
Chester Taylor, RB, Minnesota Vikings: His agent is scheduled to meet with the Vikings at the Combine, so a deal may still be worked out. If not, a team like the Bears could use Taylor’s running and pass-catching skills.
 
Kevin Walter, WR, Texans: Walter, who will be 29 at the start of next season, has averaged almost 60 catches over the past three years. He could be a bargain as a possession receiver for a team like the Panthers or Broncos.
 

Their future is unclear

Kevin Mawae, C, Tennessee Titans: He still wants to start, but at 39, how much longer will he play?
 

Terrell Owens, WR, Buffalo Bills: His one-year stay in Buffalo did not work out well for him or the Bills. If the Bengals do not bite, maybe the Ravens, Bears or Jaguars will.

 
Willie Parker, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers: He turns 30 in November, and his numbers declined in each of the past three seasons. Aging NFL running backs are not highly coveted.
 
LaDainian Tomlinson, RB, Chargers: If the Vikings are not interested, he might have to wait awhile to get a shot.
 
Brian Westbrook, RB, Philadelphia Eagles: After two concussions last season, his durability is an issue.
 
This story appears in Feb. 26’s edition of Sporting News Today. If you are not receiving Sporting News Today, the only daily digital sports newspaper, sign up today.
 
Senior writer Clifton Brown covers the NFL for Sporting News. E-mail him at cliftonbrown@sportingnews.com.

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