NFL Nation: 2012 free agency

Bills: One big question

May, 4, 2012
5/04/12
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Did the Buffalo Bills fix holes on offense?

The Buffalo Bills, who finished 6-10 and last in the AFC East, get a solid "A" for their offseason acquisitions in free agency and their selections in the draft. General manager Buddy Nix made very aggressive moves to get the team in position to make a run in 2012.

But did the Bills, my sleeper pick for 2012, do enough to plug their holes on offense? Buffalo invested a majority of its free-agent dollars on defensive ends Mario Williams and Mark Anderson. The team also used its first-round pick on cornerback Stephon Gilmore. But the Bills didn't start to address the offense until the second round.

Buffalo's biggest offseason holes on offense were at left tackle and wide receiver. The Bills used their second-round pick on offensive tackle Cordy Glenn and their third-round pick on receiver T.J. Graham. Buffalo hopes both rookies can fill these important positions in Week 1.

Glenn is a solid prospect, but there are questions whether he can handle playing left tackle in the NFL. He split time at guard and tackle at Georgia. That helps in terms of versatility, but the Bills hope Glenn can fill the open left tackle spot full time.

Graham has a chance to compete for the No. 2 receiver position opposite Steve Johnson. Graham does not have prototypical NFL size (5-foot-11), but he does have very good speed to blow the top off the defense. A deep threat is something Buffalo's offense lacks. Graham will have a chance to compete with David Nelson and Donald Jones to be the No. 2 receiver. Nelson is more suited to the slot, and Jones has durability questions. Can Graham, a third-round pick, beat out a pair of veterans?

The Kansas City Chiefs are giving Peyton Hillis one season to prove he is more like the 2010 version, who excelled under Brian Daboll, and not the 2011 version who struggled with several issues.

In an attempt to bolster their potentially dangerous offense, Kansas City brought the powerful running back -- who spent his first two NFL seasons with the Denver Broncos -- back to his AFC West roots. Hillis, who was traded from Denver to the Cleveland Browns in a deal for quarterback Brady Quinn two years ago, signed a one-year deal worth $3 million with Kansas City.

Under new offensive coordinator Dabol in 2010 Hillis ran for 1,177 yards and 11 touchdowns. Hillis will be a complementary back to Jamaal Charles, who is expected to be back after tearing an ACL in Week 2, and provides insurance if Charles is not 100 percent by the start of the season. The Chiefs are also still visiting with San Diego Chargers free agent Mike Tolbert and there is a chance Tolbert could be added to the backfield as well.

The Chiefs are a ground-based team and Hillis is a good fit. Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. loves the addition in Kansas City.

“Hillis runs with extreme aggression and also catches the ball much better than many realize since he is a big power," Williamson said. "I worry about his durability, but with Charles, he should be the complementary piece.”

Last season without Daboll, Hillis struggled in several areas. He had just 587 yards and averaged 3.6 yards a carry during a year where he graced the cover of the Madden video game.

It was a strange season for Hillis. He was questioned for missing a game when he was ill, there was a reported player’s intervention for him because of his unhappiness over his contract, he went through several agents, and he has denied a report that he thought about quitting football last season to join the CIA.

Because the Chiefs are not committing to Hills for the long term, the team is protected if Hillis does not revert to his 2010 days. I expect Hillis to play very hard as he tries to prove to the Chiefs and to the rest of the league he deserves the long-term deal he has long desired.

Hillis is another interesting component to Kansas City’s offense. An offense featuring Charles, Hills, receivers Dwayne Bowe, Steve Breaston, Jon Baldwin and tight end Tony Moeaki is powerful. It has the potential to both wear down opponents and to score quickly. The Chiefs are trying to make it even better. They are trying to sign Tolbert and former Houston standout right tackle Eric Winston. Plus, the team is bringing in former Oakland tight end Kevin Boss to pair with Moeaki.

Instead of trying to replace quarterback Matt Cassel, it seems that the Chiefs are bent on giving him as much help as possible. Potential Cassel competitors Jason Campbell, Kyle Orton and Chad Henne have all signed elsewhere.

With a defensive-minded head coach in Romeo Crennel, it is clear the Chiefs believe pumping up the offense is the team’s biggest priority and securing Hillis to a team-friendly deal is a solid start.
The San Diego Chargers may say goodbye to another running back.

Mike Tolbert is a free agent and there is a solid chance he could leave San Diego. The Chargers may make a play to keep him because he is so versatile. However, San Diego has other needs, and it could have trouble keeping Tolbert because several other teams may show interest and make it difficult for San Diego to keep the role player.

Denver could be one of several teams to make a play for Tolbert. I know Ryan Mathews is the Chargers’ starter and he has showed great signs of coming on, but I don’t think the Chargers can let Tolbert walk.

He is a threat as a runner, blocker, receiver and on special teams. He is one of the team’s toughest players and he is adored in the locker room.

It may not be prudent to lose a player like Tolbert a year after Darren Sproles left in free agency to New Orleans. The Chargers regretted letting Sproles go to New Orleans. He was sorely missed. Tolbert would be, too.

While Sproles was a threat to score every time he touched the ball as a runner and as a receiver, Tolbert brings a different element as Mathews’ backup. He’s a punishing runner and he’s solid in short-yardage situations. He averaged 4.0 yards per carry last season and had eight rushing touchdowns, while adding 54 catches.

The Chargers would have to go out and find a replacement for Tolbert if he walks. After seeing Michael Turner leave after the 2007 season and Sproles go last season, I think it’s time for the Chargers to do what it takes to keep a running back from running away in free agency.
INDIANAPOLIS -- Our Franchise Focus series last week accounted for the possibility, but I'm not sure if anyone considered it a likely scenario. Namely: Would the Green Bay Packers use their franchise tag on anyone other than tight end Jermichael Finley?

Our clearly-flawed assumption was that the sides wouldn't agree on a long-term contract extension, forcing the Packers to use their tag to retain the 24-year-old tight end. But Wednesday's two-year agreement represented an unexpected compromise from both sides and opened the possibility of using the tag on another player. The two candidates would seem to be quarterback Matt Flynn and center Scott Wells, in that order.

[+] EnlargeMatt Flynn
Jeff Hanisch/US PresswireWould the Packers franchise quarterback Matt Flynn with hopes of trading him?
Conventional wisdom suggests that the Packers wouldn't commit to paying Wells a 2012 salary upwards of $8 million, the projected value of the franchise tag for offensive linemen. But we've now learned our lesson about assuming the Packers' likely path this offseason, and it's only fair to point out that the franchise tag sometimes serves as a temporary stop for teams on the way to a long-term agreement.

That's what happened with Ryan Kalil and the Carolina Panthers last summer. The Panthers first tagged Kalil at $10.1 million before the sides agreed in August to a six-year deal worth $49 million, which made him the highest-paid center in the NFL.

The more intriguing scenario, of course, is tagging Flynn and then trading him for a high draft choice in a sign-and-trade deal. That would net the Packers at least an extra second-round draft pick for a player who projects as a starter elsewhere and thus would never have agreed to return as their backup.

The move would temporarily consume about $14 million in 2012 salary cap space, and a trade couldn't be executed until after free agency begins March 13. The Packers would also have to be confident that they will be able to find a trade partner, a tricky proposition given tampering rules in effect through March 12. It's true that NFL teams can rescind franchise tags, but not if the player signs the offer sheet -- which Flynn almost certainly would do to force the trade and ensure he isn't a late arrival to the free agent market.

Those are all reasons why franchising Flynn has seemed unlikely. But we've already had one unlikely occurrence Wednesday, and the Packers are now dealing from a position of strength with Finley now under contract. So stay tuned. I'll be roaming the scouting combine for the next three days. Packers general manager Ted Thompson and coach Mike McCarthy are both scheduled to speak with reporters Friday. We'll see what we turn up.

Abraham unlikely to stay with Falcons

February, 22, 2012
2/22/12
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It appears veteran defensive end John Abraham will not be returning to the Atlanta Falcons.

Steve Wyche reports Abraham’s agent said he has been given indications by the team that Abraham will be allowed to test free agency. If an agent says that it probably means he’s been told there’s no chance of his client re-signing. The Falcons are usually pretty straight shooters when it comes to these matters, so it’s likely Abraham’s been told he won’t be back.

That’s not a real big surprise. Abraham was Atlanta’s top pass-rusher with 9.5 sacks last season. But Abraham is 33 and played only on a part-time basis last season while dealing with lingering injuries.

The Falcons have Ray Edwards, a high-priced free agent from last year. Edwards played the run well, but didn’t have a big impact on the pass rush. The Falcons also have Lawrence Sidbury. The indication that Abraham won’t return probably means the Falcons will try to re-sign Kroy Biermann, who can become a free agent.

But it’s not likely the Falcons will be content with Edwards, Sidbury and Biermann. They probably will add a pass-rusher in the draft or free agency.

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