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Tuesday, March 12, 2013
Catch them if you can

By John Clayton
ESPN.com

The aggressiveness of the San Francisco 49ers and the Seattle Seahawks changed the landscape of free agency Monday.

First of all, not many thought the 49ers and Seahawks would be big players in the trade market. Both teams had assembled championship caliber-rosters and are loaded with Pro Bowl-caliber players.

Then, out of the blue, the Seahawks traded three draft choices for Percy Harvin and the 49ers gave up a sixth-round pick for Anquan Boldin. No one knows if they are done dealing. Some believe the 49ers could make a play for Ed Reed to replace Dashon Goldson and maybe go after Josh Cribbs to replace Ted Ginn Jr. The Seahawks are after a pass-rusher and could end up with John Abraham, Dwight Freeney or Osi Umenyiora.

Even after the Boldin trade, the 49ers have 14 picks in this year's draft and what could end up being an extra second-rounder next year from the Alex Smith trade. The Seahawks have eight picks and that could grow to 10 next week if the Seahawks get two compensatory picks for lost free agents.

As everyone witnessed Monday, it's time to expect anything from the wild, wild NFC West.

Here are the five late things to know heading into free agency.

1. Desperation at wide receiver could lead to fast bidding: The Miami Dolphins almost have to find a way to land Mike Wallace. They traded Brandon Marshall last year and didn't replace him. Wallace offers the speed Ryan Tannehill could use to develop into a big-play quarterback.

But the Percy Harvin trade could throw the Vikings into the mix. The Vikings have now changed their top three wide receivers, trading Harvin, cutting Michael Jenkins and letting Jerome Simpson hit free agency. They offered a seventh-round pick for Anquan Boldin but lost out to the 49ers. Getting Wallace makes sense, but it's debatable whether the Vikings would be willing to give him the five-year, $60 million contract it might take to land him.

If they don't go for Wallace, they could make a quick move to sign Greg Jennings. With the draft being deep but not great for wide receivers, the Vikings will need to scramble.

2. Paul Kruger sets the stage for movement on defense: The Baltimore Ravens figure the cost of keeping Kruger might be too much as they continue to work on re-signing linebacker Dannell Ellerbe. Kruger will be targeted by Indianapolis and Cleveland. The Browns are trying to re-stack a 3-4 defense and could use a pass-rusher such as Kruger. They are also looking at a nose tackle, which is why Ricky Jean Francois of the 49ers is linked to them. This will be a critical period for the Ravens. They gave away Boldin for $6 million worth of cap room. Matt Birk and Ray Lewis retired. They could not only lose Kruger, but they could lose Reed.

3. The Jets are in rebuilding mode: If the New York Jets do indeed trade Darrelle Revis, they officially enter the franchise rebuilding stage. Early Tuesday, the thought was the Jets were going to deal Revis. If it's simply matter of taking the best offer -- a No. 2 or possibly a No. 1 -- he could be moved quickly.

The draft isn't offering a great class of corners and free agency follows suit with a suspect class. Teams such as the Broncos and the 49ers could jump in if the Jets are willing to deal Revis at a discount. Sean Smith of the Dolphins is one of the top names in free agency at cornerback. Aqib Talib could end up heading to Washington if the Patriots can't sign him. But the general manager who jumps on Revis Island could make the most impact.

Wes Welker
Will Wes Welker stay with the Patriots or throw a wrench in the free-agent market?

4. The Welker roller coaster: The slot receiver market took a jolt Monday with the Boldin trade. Now, the never-ending Wes Welker negotiations could finally get some resolution. Welker has been talking to the Patriots but hasn't been satisfied with their offers.

After five 100-catch seasons, he may not be willing to sign for less than tight ends Rob Gronkowski or Aaron Hernandez. But the Patriots need a resolution and need it soon. If they feel they can't land Welker, they might jump on Danny Amendola. But others could go for two of the best slot receivers available in free agency. Would it be out of line for the Broncos to go for Welker or Amendola to help Peyton Manning? What about the Colts? And somewhere the St. Louis Rams have to make a move. They want to keep Amendola. Can they?

5. Further restrictions in the restricted free-agency market: Normally, little happens in restricted free agency. The reasons are simple: Teams have the right to match any offer for seven days. It's lucky for a player to even get an offer in restricted free agency. This year's class is even more restricted. It started with about 100 players eligible for restricted free agency and there figures to be fewer than 50 players on the market.

Victor Cruz of the New York Giants is the headliner, but a team going after him has to be willing to part with a first-round pick. Most teams took a different approach this year as several teams signed potential restricted players to multiyear contracts so those players didn't have to have a $1.323 million cap number. More than two dozen players didn't even get tenders and have become free agents.

Each year the low tender increases, which causes more teams to opt not to keep the potential restricted free agent. More teams weren't willing to pay the $2.879 million cap number for a first-round tender and used the second-round tender at $2.023 million.

So don't expect much action in restricted free agency.