NFC West: free agency

Those following along recently should know NFL free agency begins March 12, which is Tuesday of next week.



The process gets a running start after midnight Friday. That is when rules allow teams to begin negotiating with projected free agents around the league. There can be no signings until free agency begins. Free agents cannot meet with teams for physical examinations or any other purpose. But if an agent wants to shop deals around the league, this window provides that opportunity.

I'm not sure how the three-day window is going to change things from this end. The flow of information -- and misinformation -- could increase as teams and agents seek leverage. We could hear about players and teams reaching agreements in principle, pending passage of a physical examination.

Miami Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland, speaking to reporters at the NFL scouting combine last month, predicted relative quiet during the initial stages of the negotiating window. Perhaps that is what he's hoping for.

"I don't know that there's going to be a lot done in that 24 hours of that time period," Ireland said. "That's just a guess, but some of the bulk of what we can get done needs to happen before that time. That three-day window, it's obviously going to be competitive because of that openness in negotiating. Exactly how it's going to change things, I'm not exactly sure."

Ireland used the word "sketchy" to describe the idea that an agent could have a couple of days to shop offers. While the window could contribute to a more frenzied atmosphere when the signing period begins, it also could give teams a chance to reconsider the wisdom of overpaying for veteran players.

UFA market revisited: How NFC West fared

February, 28, 2013
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Those eagerly awaiting the start of NFL free agency March 12 with visions of your favorite team loading up on accomplished veterans should revisit the list of unrestricted free agents NFC West teams signed last season.

St. Louis, badly in need of a talent infusion following the worst five-year run in NFL history, opened its checkbook to sign a long list of veteran players, some of them at high cost.

That was the exception in the NFC West and I'd be surprised if St. Louis took a similarly aggressive approach this offseason. The Rams have stabilized their roster and positioned themselves to build around young talent.

With that in mind, I'll take a team-by-team look at the unrestricted free agents each NFC West team signed last offseason. UFAs are defined as veterans who reached the market when their contracts expired. Teams also acquired players by other means.

Arizona Cardinals

2012 UFA signings from other teams: cornerback William Gay, linebacker Quentin Groves, safety James Sanders and guard Adam Snyder

Comment: Gay started and played 93 percent of the defensive snaps as a replacement for Richard Marshall, who left in free agency. He wasn't a star, but the defense was solid. Gay gave Arizona the snaps it sought. Groves played 43 percent of snaps as a situational pass-rusher. The Cardinals needed him when an injury sidelined O'Brien Schofield. Sanders played 11 percent. Snyder started 14 games and played much of the season with an injury for a line that was among the NFL's least effective for much of the season. Arizona's young tackles made progress. I thought the team overspent for Snyder, a player San Francisco eagerly replaced with the undrafted Alex Boone, who provided a clear upgrade. Note that three of the four UFA additions last offseason played defense. Arizona needs to target offense this offseason. New coach Bruce Arians and new general manager Steve Keim have praised the existing talent. Arizona might not load up on free agents the way some teams do when new leadership takes over.

St. Louis Rams

2012 UFA signings from other teams: linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar, cornerback Cortland Finnegan, linebacker Mario Haggan, defensive end William Hayes, defensive tackle Kendall Langford, defensive lineman Trevor Laws, guard Quinn Ojinnaka, tackle Barry Richardson, receiver Steve Smith, center Robert Turner and center Scott Wells

Comment: The Rams were major players in the UFA market. Results were mostly positive. Finnegan gave the Rams the production and veteran presence they sought. He was instantly a playmaker for St. Louis. Dunbar was much better than I had anticipated and well worth his contract, which included a $1 million signing bonus and $1.5 million annual average. Hayes provided good depth on the defensive line, and at a reasonable cost ($900,000 for one year). Langford needed time to transition from the 3-4 scheme he ran previously in Miami. The Rams signed him after Jason Jones signed with Seattle instead. Injuries prevented Wells from stabilizing the offensive line, a major disappointment and a reminder of the risks associated with signing older players from other teams.

San Francisco 49ers

2012 UFA signings from other teams: fullback Rock Cartwright, quarterback Josh Johnson, receiver Mario Manningham

Comment: Does this look like a team poised to strike for Darrelle Revis in the trade market? Does this look like a team ready to throw around cash in free agency? Not based on the list of signings last offseason. The interest San Francisco showed in Peyton Manning doesn't apply here. Indianapolis released Manning. Manning was not a UFA. I'd put him in a separate category, anyway. Teams make exceptions for Hall of Fame quarterbacks. Back to the 2012 UFA list. Cartwright and Johnson never played for the team. Neither earned a spot on the 53-man roster. Both served a purpose by initially increasing competition at their positions. For example, Anthony Dixon moved fro halfback to fullback and became a more valuable player, including on special teams. Johnson provided early insurance, but in retrospect, Colin Kaepernick was obviously ready to serve in the No. 2 role before becoming the starter. Manningham provided sufficient value before a knee injury ended his season. The 49ers missed him late in the season, including during the Super Bowl.

Seattle Seahawks

2012 UFA signings from other teams: quarterback Matt Flynn, defensive lineman Jason Jones, guard Deuce Lutui and linebacker Barrett Ruud

Comment: Flynn would have started if Russell Wilson hadn't emerged unexpectedly as the clear choice. Seattle invested $6.5 million per year in Flynn, a sum the team could live with even if Flynn became the backup. It's tough to fault the Seahawks for signing Flynn. They had no idea Wilson would be available in the draft, or that Wilson would perform at such a high level so early in his career. Jones finished the season on injured reserve. That made it impossible for him to provide the interior pass-rushing push Seattle sought when signing him to a one-year deal worth $4.5 million. Lutui and Ruud never earned roster spots. Neither was a liability financially. Both were low-cost insurance policies. Seattle parlayed Ruud into a 2013 draft choice by trading him to New Orleans after the Saints lost Jonathan Vilma.


The Seattle Seahawks could use a good second tight end such as John Carlson.

The Minnesota Vikings could use a receiver with size to threaten opponents downfield the way Sidney Rice did for the team a few years back.

Of course, the Seahawks had Carlson on their roster last season. They lost him to Minnesota when the Vikings paid a premium for him in free agency. Carlson has been hurt and unable to help his new team much. Seattle had had trouble finding a reliable second tight end. The Seahawks released Kellen Winslow. They watched Evan Moore drop what would have been a game-changing reception at San Francisco two weeks ago.

The Vikings had Rice on their roster two seasons ago. They lost him to Seattle when the Seahawks paid a premium for him in free agency. Rice struggled with injuries last season. He remains in the early stages of fulfilling expectations with the Seahawks even while emerging as clearly the team's top receiving threat in 2012.

The lesson here is that free agency can often do more harm than good to teams and careers.

The money can make it all worthwhile for players, of course. Teams likewise have budgets to maintain. And in the cases of Carlson and Rice, there were no guarantees either would have flourished had they remained with their original teams.

But with the Vikings and Seahawks facing one another in Week 9, the stories of Carlson and Rice have come into focus. Both were young players when they left their original teams. Both had been relatively high draft choices. Both were worth keeping, but not at any price. And both are missed.

NFC North blogger Kevin Seifert offers additional thoughts in the video.

On Carlos Rogers' rebirth with 49ers

October, 13, 2011
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The San Francisco 49ers haven't been big spenders in free agency recently.

None of the unrestricted free agents they added from other teams during the 2011 offseason received a deal exceeding three years in length or $4.25 million in average compensation.

One player in particular has stood out as a bargain.

Rogers' aggressive play at cornerback has given the 49ers a needed edge in their secondary. It's tough to say any other corner in the NFC West has made as positive an impact through Week 5. Rogers' 31-yard interception return for a touchdown against Tampa Bay was the latest in a string of impact plays from him for San Francisco.

Sometimes a change of address frees a veteran player to reach more of his potential. That seems to be the case with Rogers, a seventh-year veteran known during his six-year run with Washington for letting would-be interceptions slip through his hands. Rogers' three picks through five games exceed by one his single-season career high. He now has 11 for his career.

I was among several reporters gathered around Rogers in the 49ers' locker room Monday. A few highlights:
  • On matching up with Detroit's Calvin Johnson: "He present a lot. A big, strong guy that can run. Then you got a quarterback who gets him the ball no matter if he is covered or not. We’re going to have to have something special for him, roll some coverages to him. They’ve been rolling, he’s been outjumping everybody, scoring touchdowns, catching balls in many different places. You see him all over ESPN and what they are doing."
  • On his time with the Redskins: "I had coach (Joe) Gibbs, he basically ran our team. I had coach Gregg Williams as a defensive coordinator that everyone would die to play for. After that, it was coach (Jim) Zorn, and he didn’t really run our team. Guys were able to run over him and get things they wanted by just going to the ownership. After that, coach (Mike) Shanahan is a good coach, but my mindset by the time he came in, I was just ready to leave."
  • On what bothered him about the Redskins: "We only re-signed Chris Samuels and Chris Cooley, which they deserve it, but everybody else was new guys they had brought in. It wasn’t guys who were drafted that we re-signed. I’m thinking once it comes to my turn, I’m not going to be here anyway. My whole mindset was like, 'Just get out of Washington, get a fresh start.' I’m always compared to what Shawn Springs do, what Fred Smoot do, what DeAngelo Hall do. I just couldn’t be Carlos. ... As a player, you get tired of that. You want something fresh. With this team, they just let me be me. They just let me play. I think right now I’m just playing at a level I know I can play at. I think back and it’s just like college. I’m back to my Auburn days, having fun."
  • On the 49ers' 4-1 start: "We got a long way to go. I was with coach Zorn and we went 6-2 into our bye. The next eight games, we was 2-6. It’s a long season. We have a long way to go. Right now, (Jim Harbaugh) is just leading us in the right direction, keeping our mind strong on what we’ve got to do, and the right mindset of thinking throughout this whole process. It’s better than people thought. I tell people, we was supposed to be sorry. We’re surprising everybody. But we don’t want all the credit now. We want it at the end of the season when we get to our ultimate goal."

The chart shows basic contract information for Rogers and the other unrestricted free agents added during the offseason. Manny Lawson, Takeo Spikes, Aubrayo Franklin, Jeff Reed, Travis LaBoy and David Baas were the UFAs leaving the 49ers for other teams.
The NFL has not yet distributed its official list of unrestricted free agents for 2011.

ESPN.com has put together the following unofficial list, to be updated, if necessary, once the league produces its list.

Our list shows only those players with four accrued seasons whose contracts expired following the 2010 season. It does not show street free agents (those released following the season).

As PatriotsBeatDown921 noted, the chart does not show all unsigned franchise players. There are eight: Haloti Ngata of the Baltimore Ravens, Ryan Kalil of the Carolina Panthers, Paul Soliai of the Miami Dolphins, Chad Greenway of the Minnesota Vikings, David Harris of the New York Jets, Kamerion Wimbley of the Oakland Raiders, Michael Vick of the Philadelphia Eagles and LaMarr Woodley of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Teams can begin negotiating with unrestricted free agents from their own and other teams at 10 a.m. ET Tuesday. Teams can begin signing unrestricted free agents at 6 p.m. ET Friday.

NFC: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Reports suggest the next NFL labor agreement will begin with a 72-hour window for teams to re-sign their own free agents.

Palmer
Palmer
Players could not change teams during this period, but I expect teams to conduct business the way they've always conducted business -- ahead of schedule, despite the rules. Barring unforeseen new rules with stiffer penalties for tampering, they'll still reach out to agents for players from other teams in an effort to keep up with their rivals.

The thought came to mind Monday upon reading through the NFC West mailbag. Paul from Butte, Mont., noticed that Ken Whisenhunt and Carson Palmer were playing in the same golf tournament over the weekend. Whisenhunt's Cardinals could use a quarterback. Palmer is a quarterback looking for a new team. When opportunity and motive combine ...

In this case, I doubt players and coaches would use a forum as public as a nationally televised golf tournament to conduct business outside NFL rules. However, it's no secret teams have lined up handshake deals before the official start to free agency, usually beginning at the scouting combine in February.

"We all do it,'' one team executive told ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas for a 2008 story. "Up until a few years ago, there were still a few teams that wouldn't do it. But they were the last bastion and they finally gave in because they realized they were losing out on players at the start of free agency because they weren't doing it.''

Teams and agents have little incentive to report one another because all parties want to continue benefiting from business as usual.

An agent I spoke with Monday said he expects business as usual from teams unwilling or unable to restrain themselves. He said teams have been operating that way for years, and in his experience, the teams were the ones initiating the contact.

Teams face additional pressures to land targeted free agents this offseason. The lockout has wiped out minicamps and left teams less prepared. Teams with new coaching staffs and quarterback issues are worse off. The free-agent signing pool figures to be bigger than usual this year if, as expected, the new labor deal requires free agents to have only four accrued seasons to become unrestricted, down from six seasons a year ago.

It all adds up to a more chaotic, pressure-packed signing period if and when free agency finally does open.

25 NFC West free agents to watch

January, 28, 2011
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Sean writes via Facebook: Mike, yesterday on 710ESPN here in Seattle, Brock and Salk had a guest talking about the number of free agents this year is around 500, which is more than double most years because of the amount of unrestricted free agents last offseason. Seattle has 27 going into this offseason. Is it a disadvantage or advantage with the free-agent pool as large as it is to have a lot of free agents this offseason? Also, how many does San Francisco have?

Mike Sando: There are a few key points to keep in mind here. One, there is no free agency without a new labor agreement. Two, the next labor agreement will define terms for free agents. About 500 players with four accrued seasons could become unrestricted under the previous system. Another roughly 100 players will have three accrued seasons.

Teams have had a long time to anticipate a work stoppage. It's never a good time to have a long list of good players without contracts. But in most cases, teams have already re-signed the players they think they absolutely have to keep. Some teams have a long list of free agents by design. I would put Seattle in that category.

The Seahawks promoted competition during the 2010 season by shortening contracts in a few cases. They re-signed a couple players they wanted to target, but overall, I think they feel just fine going into the labor period with unsigned players. The number you cited -- 27 -- is in the right ballpark. The totals are unofficial until the league releases its annual list.

The 49ers have a shorter projected list featuring five starters from last season: Takeo Spikes, Aubrayo Franklin, Manny Lawson, Alex Smith and Dashon Goldson.

I've put together an initial list of 25 projected NFC West free agents to watch. These are not necessarily ranked in order of abilities. A couple "name" players did not make the list, and I'm noting there are only two St. Louis Rams on there (could have considered Adam Goldberg, Billy Bajema, Gary Gibson, Daniel Fells, Laurent Robinson, Clifton Ryan, etc.).

NFC West: Free-agency primer

March, 3, 2010
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Arizona Cardinals

Unrestricted free agents: TE Anthony Becht, LB Monty Beisel, LB Bertrand Berry (retired), LT Jeremy Bridges, CB Ralph Brown, LB Karlos Dansby, LT Mike Gandy, FB Dan Kreider, WR Sean Morey, LB Chike Okeafor, K Neil Rackers, NT Bryan Robinson, QB Brian St. Pierre, S Matt Ware.

Restricted free agents: SS Hamza Abdullah, WR Steve Breaston, G Ben Claxton, FB Justin Green, LG Deuce Lutui, TE Ben Patrick, C Lyle Sendlein, TE Stephen Spach, WR Jerheme Urban, NT Gabe Watson.

Franchise player: none

What to expect: The Cardinals generally do not pursue marquee free agents from other teams. That trend figures to continue. The Cardinals have too many of their own free agents to re-sign for them to worry about chasing other teams' castoffs. We might see Arizona plug the roster with a few lower-tier free agents. They had success doing that last offseason, particularly with Becht at tight end. Dansby leads the list of 2009 starters expected to depart. Arizona is reportedly interested in quarterback David Carr.

St. Louis Rams

Unrestricted free agents: QB Kyle Boller, DE James Hall, SS Clinton Hart, LB Paris Lenon, DE Leonard Little, LS Chris Massey, TE Randy McMichael.

Restricted free agents: S Eric Bassey, S Craig Dahl, TE Daniel Fells, LS Ryan Neill, DT Clifton Ryan, CB Jonathan Wade, DE Victory Adeyanju, FS Oshiomogho Atogwe, T Alex Barron, RB Sam Gado, DT Gary Gibson, WR Ruvell Martin, G Mark Setterstrom.

Franchise player: none

What to expect: The Rams could be in the market for a veteran quarterback such as Chad Pennington. Beyond quarterback, coach Steve Spagnuolo said the Rams could use a little more seasoning in the form of veteran role players. The Rams will remain a young team, but they could add some experience. The team parted with players fitting that profile last offseason, but most had inflated salaries. The ones St. Louis adds this year figure to carry lower price tags in most cases. The Rams have said they want Little and Hall back. McMichael figures to be gone.

Seattle Seahawks

Unrestricted free agents: WR Nate Burleson, FB Justin Griffith, LS Kevin Houser, LB D.D. Lewis, CB Ken Lucas, T Damion McIntosh, S Lawyer Milloy, DE Cory Redding, LS Jeff Robinson.

Restricted free agents: T Brandon Frye, WR Ben Obomanu, LB Lance Laury, G Rob Sims, G Chris Spencer, DE Darryl Tapp.

Franchise player: K Olindo Mare

What to expect: The Seahawks are a little difficult to figure. Their owner has the money to bankroll aggressive spending if Seattle chooses to go that route. Coach Pete Carroll surely realizes the team could use talent upgrades. The new general manager, John Schneider, comes from the Ted Thompson school of personnel. Thompson's aversion for free agency is well established, although Schneider has characterized himself as slightly more aggressive. The problem, of course, is finding good players on the market. Burleson will hit the market. He could return if the price is right. Carroll has said nice things about Redding, who should be affordable.

San Francisco 49ers

Unrestricted free agents: WR Arnaz Battle, CB Dre Bly, CB Walt Harris, T Tony Pashos, FS Mark Roman, T Barry Sims, LB Jeff Ulbrich (retired), LB Matt Wilhelm.

Restricted free agents: LG David Baas, LB Ahmad Brooks, CB Marcus Hudson.

Franchise player: NT Aubrayo Franklin

What to expect: The 49ers have largely turned their back on free agency now that they feel better about their roster. I would expect the team to lay low again when the signing period begins late Thursday night on the West Coast.
Darren Urban's item on the "final eight" rules provides a good opening to discuss what an uncapped year means for the Cardinals.

Basically, the final eight teams alive in the playoffs, including Arizona, will have a harder time signing free agents from other teams if the NFL and its players fail to extend the collective bargaining agreement. I don't think this is a huge deal, though, because rules will also dramatically reduce the number of players available in free agency. And remember, there haven't been many good players hitting the market, anyway.

Without a new CBA, players must have six years in the league, not four, to become free agents. Teams will also be able to use one franchise tag and two transition tags to restrict veteran players.

Pat Kirwan of NFL.com has done a good job explaining some of the implications here and here.

Last offseason, Arizona lost (and in some cases did not want back) Terrelle Smith, Eric Green, J.J. Arrington, Antonio Smith and the since-re-signed Monty Beisel in unrestricted free agency. The Cardinals added Bryant McFadden and Jason Wright as unrestricted free agents. The team re-signed unrestricted free agents Brian St. Pierre, Ben Graham, Kurt Warner, Ralph Brown, Clark Haggans, Bertrand Berry and the since-released Elton Brown, with Karlos Dansby re-signing as a franchise player.

Players affected by uncapped year

December, 30, 2009
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NFC South maestro Pat Yasinskas has acquired and shared a list featuring NFL players scheduled to become restricted free agents again if the league and its players fail to extend the collective bargaining agreement.

Basically, these players might have to wait an extra couple seasons to become unrestricted free agents.

Among NFC West players, this could prove particularly costly for Ahmad Brooks, Oshiomogho Atogwe and Deuce Lutui.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

The Titans liked Travis LaBoy when the defensive end became a free agent before the 2008 season. The team probably would have re-signed LaBoy if the organization thought the pass rusher could stay healthy.

Instead, LaBoy hit the market and cashed in with the Cardinals, pocketing a $5.75 million signing bonus and $750,000 in first-year salary. LaBoy also collected a $1.5 million roster bonus this offseason, bringing his 13-month haul to $8 million.

This is often how free agency goes. The other players Arizona released Tuesday, running back Edgerrin James and cornerback Rod Hood, were also marquee free-agent signings. James fulfilled three years of his four-year deal, collecting $25 million -- not a horrible outcome by free agency's standards. Hood lasted two of five seasons, collecting $8 million.

Don't call the Cardinals cheap. They took a high-stakes risk on LaBoy and paid the price when it didn't work out. They shelled out $41 million for James, LaBoy and Hood over the last three seasons. Such can be the price of becoming players in free agency.

UFA by Pos. ARI SF STL SEA Top FA
QB 2 2 0 1 Kurt Warner
RB 2 1 1 2 Leonard Weaver
WR 0 1 2 2 Bryant Johnson
TE 1 2 0 1 Billy Bajema
OL 2 1 7 4 Ray Willis
DL 2 1 2 2 Antonio Smith
LB 2 2 1 2 Takeo Spikes
DB 2 1 4 0 Ron Bartell
ST 1 1 0 1 Allen Rossum
Totals 14 12 17 15 58

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

NFC West rosters stand to shrink considerably in the short term as free agency begins Friday.

The chart shows how many players at each pos
ition are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents if they do not sign contracts before Friday.

I also listed the division's top free agents at each position, with apologies to J.J. Arrington, Bobby Engram, Will Heller and Bertrand Berry.

Seahawks linebacker Lance Laury will join the list because Seattle does not plan to extend a contract to him as a restricted free agent. I'm also not sure what the Rams have in store for offensive lineman Mark Setterstrom.

The Rams have seven offensive linemen scheduled to become unrestricted free agents, matching the number they have under contract. The number under contract will shrink if the Rams release Orlando Pace.

How ties can bind in NFL free agency

February, 25, 2009
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Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

NFL teams routinely sign players with ties to their organizations. Those ties become more difficult to track this time of year because so many coaches and personnel people have changed teams recently. But we'll make an initial attempt here.

The Bucs' decision to release Derrick Brooks, Warrick Dunn, Joey Galloway and Cato June raises questions about the Seahawks' potential interest. Seahawks president Tim Ruskell and vice president Ruston Webster were with the Bucs when the team drafted Brooks and Dunn. New Seahawks defensive coordinator Gus Bradley was with all four released players last season.

The Raiders' recent moves -- releasing Gibril Wilson, Kalimba Edwards, Ronald Curry, Justin Griffith and Kwame Harris -- raise questions about the Rams, Seahawks and 49ers. Wilson played for new Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo with the Giants.

  • The Rams have quite a bit invested in free safety Oshiomogho Atogwe, making it unlikely they would invest heavily in Wilson. But the ties between Spagnuolo and Wilson are still worth mentioning.
  • Harris played for the 49ers before signing with the Raiders. San Francisco is looking to upgrade its depth on the offensive line. The team also needs a starting right tackle. Harris would not be the answer as a starter.
  • Curry played for new Seahawks offensive coordinator Greg Knapp in Oakland last season. The Seahawks will be looking to improve their depth at receiver. I do not know what Knapp thinks of Curry, but he would be familiar with him.

The Panthers' decision to release receiver D.J. Hackett makes available a familiar name for the Seahawks. Seattle appeared lukewarm in retaining Hackett last offseason. The interest might be cooler given changes to the Seahawks' staff. Mike Holmgren and his coaches knew Hackett, but the offense will be different under Knapp.

These are a few connections to keep in mind. Please offer up others if you have them.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Thanks to those who dropped by the NFC West chat this afternoon. You can jump directly to my portion of the transcript here.

As I looked at the list of free agents, sorted by grade, I noticed how many of those free agents already knew their fates for 2009. There simply aren't many premium free agents to discuss heading into the signing period.

Thirteen of the projected top 20 free agents will not become unrestricted free agents Friday. The seven still scheduled to hit the market: Albert Haynesworth, T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Ray Lewis, Kurt Warner, Bart Scott, Jason Brown and Chris Canty.

The Seahawks, Rams and Cardinals would be better with Brown at center. Houshmandzadeh would make sense for NFC West teams other than the Cardinals, but the Rams need fewer players in their 30s, not more of them. And I question whether Houshmandzadeh would want to join a rebuilding organization after years with the Bengals.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

The Cardinals' commitment to 3-4 principles as part of a hybrid defense means they'll want to keep nose tackle Gabe Watson from becoming an unrestricted free agent.

Watson and tight end Leonard Pope are restricted free agents this offseason. The Cardinals can retain rights to both by making minimum qualifying offers before the Thursday deadline.

The Cardinals would like more consistency at tight end. I would expect them to offer Pope at the minimum level. That would almost certainly be enough to dissuade other teams from making an offer, for if the Cardinals declined to match, the signing team would send a third-round choice to Arizona.

Arizona will likely take a safer approach with Watson. A minimum offer would return only a fourth-round pick to Arizona if the Cardinals declined to match an offer. The Cardinals could gain insurance by making a $1.545 million offer. In that case, Arizona would receive a second-round choice for failing to match offers on Watson.

The knee problems Watson overcame last season might dissuade other teams from valuing him as a second-round choice. But if Watson makes a full recovery and helps the Cardinals, he could be worth the $1.545 million investment.

Cardinals RFA Candidates Pos. Drafted Round Projected Tender Level Compensation if Lost
Gabe Watson
DT 4 $1.545M 2009 2nd-round pick
Leonard Pope
TE 3 $1.010M 2009 3rd-round pick

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