Franchise Monday

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Today’s 5pm deadline for franchising players has brought a  whole slew of activity from various teams from around the league. Franchising a player means a player is slapped with the franchise tag. It gives the team essentially one year to wait to go into further contract negotiations. It is a guaranteed amount of money for the player. It is a win-win situation. Some of the key franchise tag uses of the day include:

  • According to Adam Schefter of ESPN, the Colts used their franchise tag on DE Robert Mathis. Mathis is a huge part of that vaunted Colts passrush. If the Colts are to successfully rebuild their team, then they will need veterans like Mathis to guide younger talent.
  • Lost in the talk of heroes from Super Bowl XLVI is Giants punter Steve Weatherford. Weatherford’s punting was nothing short of phenomenal on Super sunday. He consistently put the Patriots in bad field position. That forced the Pats to go the length of the field to score rather than quick strikes. It was his first quarter punt that helped lead to the first points of the game, a safety.
  • Another key special teamer getting the tag is Broncos kicker Matt Prater. The fifth-year kicker might have the strongest leg in the league. He was instrumental in some of the comeback wins for the Broncos and maybe does not get his due credit. I don’t see why after all of the game winning or tying kicks he made this season. Might I also add that those kicks were not chip-shots either. The Broncos just ensured themselves a clutch boot for at least another season.
  • Speaking of the Super Bowl the Patriots just gave Super Bowl goat  veteran WR Wes Welker the franchise tag. It is apparently worth over $9 million dollars. Welker is one of Tom Brady’s favorite targets and bringing him back made too much sense. It gives Welker another chance at a dropped pass Super Bowl championship.

This deadline also brought with it some key free agent signings. The big signing of the day is, of course, the Texans resigning star RB Arian Foster. To say that Foster has been a pleasant surprise would be an understatement. Foster was a beast in only 13 games last year where he piled up 1,224 yards and 10 touchdowns.

Fantasy owners in the Houston area are rejoicing.

The deal is for five years and is worth $43.5 million overall; $20.75 million of that is guaranteed. Beyond the obvious of this giving the Texans a chance at repeat postseason appearance, this signing (as well as one other) may have implications for other big-name free agents. The other signing is Bills WR Steve Johnson getting a five year, $36.25 million contract.

The player most likely affected by these deals in Pittsburgh WR Mike Wallace. The Steelers did not give the franchise tag to Wallace. that puts them in a big hole for resigning the young wideout. Wallace will most likely demand more money than what Johnson received from the Bills. That is not money that the Steelers can pay. It entirely possible that no team will try for Wallace.

Although not likely.....

It is also possible, with the Pats tagging Welker, that they are trying to keep room open for Mike Wallace. Wallace would the Patriots a scary group of targets for Brady and something they have not had in while: a deep threat. The Bengals are also another team that may have interest. Since the Steelers are only putting a franchise tender on Wallace, that gives these teams an opportunity to go after the speedster (did I mention that he’s fast?).

The Steelers are only $10 million under the cap limit thanks to the plethora of cuts they have made in the last week. Even with that kind of money it is not a given that the Steelers can compete with the Bengals or Patriots in a bidding war over Wallace. Time will tell, but the hits may be far from over for the Steelers organization.

Bounty Hunters

I know that there has been a lot of talk in recent days about the New Orleans Saints and their bounty program. Believe me I will be covering it. I am just soaking in the details and waiting for me concrete details to come out. If it is true then its truly one of the more despicable things to come out of the NFL in recent years.

The concept of paying a player extra money to injure someone goes against everything sports should stand for. I will not speculate in this blog what potential repercussions should be for the Saints. But I will say this: if the allegations are true (and it looks like they are) then the Saints need a clean house. Now.

I will be posting more on this in the coming days. And yes, ESPN, this is worse than Spy Gate. I would rather see a team cheat then do this. But more on that later. Until then, have a happy Monday everyone!

A frustrating game of “wait and see”

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The March 13th deadline to sign players looms like an ominous thunder storm. Over the past few weeks a few players have attracted more attention than others. I posted a blog about one of those players the other week. Another name has garnered a bit of attention: Pittsburgh’s Mike Wallace. Why has Wallace gotten so much attention recently? Well, for one thing, he is fast.

Another big aspect of the Mike Wallace situation is its uniqueness. Wallace’s rookie contract is up this year making him a restricted free agent. In the past, that would mean the Steelers could sign Wallace with limited to no interruptions from other teams. Under the new collective bargaining agreement (CBA), the rules have changed.

Could the Bengals steal one from their rivals?

Essentially, a team can offer Wallace any amount of money they wish. If the Steelers cannot match that offer, then Wallace goes to that team and Steelers get compensated with a high draft pick. In the case of Wallace that might mean a first round choice. But as this past Friday, the Ravens GM Ossie Newsome effectively took the Ravens out of the Wallace Sweepstake. To be fair, the Ravens have a solid group of receivers.

So if the Ravens do not feel like punching their rivals in the gut, who will? The Cincinnati Bengals may have vested interest in the Pittsburgh wideout. For one, they have the third most money to spend in free agency. More importantly, the team has two first round draft picks to spare. The question for the Bengals is whether or not they want to give up a first round choice for Wallace.

The Bengals are currently trying to rebuild their franchise and getting rid of a first round pick may deter that. They could spend that that pick solidifying a running game that will be missing Cedric Benson. For the Steelers, the extra first round pick would help mend their current offensive and defensive line problems.

The Steelers are ancient along the defensive line and this year’s draft looks deep for both lines. But looking more immediate, the Steelers have to remedy a major cap problem. The Steelers were $25 million over the salary cap when this offseason started. A process of cuts and contract restructurings have brought that number down, but they still need to just break even by March 8th (when free agency begins).

If the Steelers cannot find cap room to match offers for Mike Wallace, then some other team will cash in on the youngster’s talents. If the Steelers are to sign Wallace, then that will mean cutting ties with such veterans as Hines Ward, Aaron Smith, and maybe even James Harrison. There are a lot of questions in Pittsburgh and none of them will be quick fixes for Kevin Colbert.

Colbert has some tough choices to make in the coming weeks.

Meanwhile, things have gotten messy on the end of Peyton Manning. For the most part, it is still a game of he said/she said, but the Chiefs have made thing interesting. Romeo Crennel ignited an apparent fire when he expressed interest in Manning last week in a press conference. According to league rules, that is tampering.

It's wrong to speak your mind, Romeo.

According to pro football talk, the Colts do not appear to be interested in pressing charges (surprise, surprise). Meanwhile the league has been silent so far. Like most offseason issues, fans will just have to wait and see what happens to the Chiefs.

Personally, this is such a futile matter that it is almost laughable. This is part of what makes the offseason so humorous sometimes. Media outlets seem to look to fill gaps when nothing is there and fodder like this is just not really worthy of several reports. Reporting happenings at Pro Days and the Combine, for example, is worth reporting.

Moving on to other news, according to several reports, it appears that Mario Manningham is done with the Giants. Manningham had a huge post season which included a fantastic Super Bowl performance. This is a sight all too familiar to those that closely follow the NFL. Players have had big Super Bowls before and gone on to less than stellar careers with other teams.

Desmond Howard and Larry Brown are two names that jump out here. Brown had two huge interceptions in Super Bowl XXX. The Raiders signed him to a fat contract after the 1995/96 season and Brown went on to a pretty pedestrian career after that. I am not saying that Manningham is headed for that, be he may be over-stating his value.

According to the NFL.com article, Manningham just wants to see more passes thrown his way. The question is whether or not Manningham is ready to be a leading man yet. He had a very mediocre 523 yards this season in the regular season and only hauled in three touchdowns. Part of the reason for those number may be teams keying on him as well as the emergence of Victor Cruz.

Ah yes. The catch that changed it all.

Whatever the case was for his drop off in production, it raises a lot of questions about his status as the number one wideout on another team. There are a good number of teams out there that would love a receiver as talented as Manningham. The Bears are certainly a team that stands out and the Browns have lacked a number one receiver for years.

As I have mentioned in previous posts, the clock is ticking to March 13th. One big factor that may deter teams from signing free agents is the draft. Teams like the Bears may decide to take a chance on one of the fresh young bucks in the drafter rather than signing a free agent. The draft is over 58 days away which is a ton of time for teams to sign, trade, or release players.