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papz 02-23-2005 02:45 PM

PFW Cream of the Crop
The cream of the free-agent crop isn't even available yet.

Nothing against Charles Woodson and Gary Baxter, two of the top available free agents at cornerback, but we'd prefer Ty Law or Patrick Surtain. Law, of the fabled $12 million cap number in New England and Surtain, holding a cap charge of $4 million less than Law and three full years younger, are more attractive at this point. The problem is, teams can only speculate as to when, and even if, either might hit the open market.

Bidding for Surtain is open, but the Dolphins want to let him go for a player or draft pick comparable to the prowess of the 28-year-old; Surtain has Pro Bowl credentials and has more interceptions in the last four years than anyone.

The CB market — scouts are sure Anthony Henry and Ken Lucas can cash in — has some value. But adding a player the caliber of Law, Surtain or Ronde Barber, rumored to be on his way out in Tampa Bay, would be too good to pass up.

So who else might join the free-agent fray? PFW spoke to a number of scouts to find out who will be filling out the Free Agency Class of 2005.

CB Ronde Barber / Buccaneers
The problem with Barber in the eyes of most scouts is that he can’t play press coverage and is strictly a zone cornerback who has earned Pro Bowl recognition for his development as a cover-2 player. Good news, though, for Ronde — the Colts are crossing their fingers a No. 1-type cornerback finds his way to Indianapolis to lead Tony Dungy’s cover-2 defense. If Barber hits the street, expect Dungy to be there to scoop him up, with curbside-service included. The Buccaneers want him to reduce his cap figure from $4 million, but Barber has all but ignored such overtures on at least two occasions.

QB Aaron Brooks / Saints
A base salary of $5.5 million isn’t ridiculous for a quarterback, but Brooks' development seems to have plateaued or, in the eyes of some, completely regressed. Brooks has been enigmatic at best over the last 25 games. Also, WR Jerome Pathon ($2.5 million base) won’t be back in New Orleans at that price.

LB Derrick Brooks / Buccaneers
Salary negotiations wiggled Brooks’ base salary to $1 million for 2004, but Bruce Allen might not be able to generally manage his way out of Brooks’ cash-heavy deal this year. His cap figure exceeds $10 million, meaning Brooks takes up more than 10 percent of the total cap allotment for 2005. Among other veterans, QB Brad Johnson is headed to the guillotine because of his $5.75 million base salary this season and $6.75 million in 2006.

DE Courtney Brown / Browns
Injuries have cost the former No. 1 pick more money than he can count. After restructuring his deal in 2004, Brown’s contract now calls for $5.5 million in 2005 and $7.5 million in ’06 with a balloon bonus that year. He has played just 47 regular-season games since being picked first overall in the 2000 draft and has 17 sacks in those five seasons.

QB Brian Griese / Buccaneers
Griese has been stubborn to take less than market value from Tampa Bay. But, other than Dallas, San Francisco and Arizona, few opportunities exist for a starter with an unfavorable history as a long-term starter. Knowing that, the Buccaneers are likely to take contract negotiations to the final gun (March 1) and may determine at that point whether the $6 million roster bonus Griese's due March 2 can instead be made into a signing bonus, greatly reducing Griese’s cap number if he gets a few more years tagged on.

WR Az-Zahir Hakim / Lions
He’s not worth $4 million, which is the tax bracket Hakim is in in 2005. Signed in 2002, Hakim had a solid first season with the Lions but hasn’t been the same slot-WR dynamo that he was in the Rams’ spread passing game. In the last two seasons, serious hip and ankle injuries have limited him to 17 starts and a total of 11 catches of 20-plus yards. Newcomer Roy Williams will start at “Z� for the Lions next season and Charles Rogers figures to be the “X.�

CB Ty Law / Patriots
Law’s cap number is $12.5 million next season and he’s in the twilight of a brilliant career. Plus, he's coming back from a season-ending foot injury that reportedly included a stress fracture and ligament damage.

WR Derrick Mason / Titans
It's not often that the NFL’s leading receiver gets dumped but Mason, who had 96 catches, more than any other wide receiver in the league, could be looking for work shortly. With QB Steve McNair, DL Kevin Carter and CB Samari Rolle expected to be potential cap cuts between now and mid-June, Mason’s release is looking more and more imminent for the cap-troubled Titans.

CB R.W. McQuarters / Bears
There’s less room at the inn now that McQuarters, who finished the year at safety, has stiff competition from Nathan Vasher, Jerry Azumah and others. McQuarters could stay around as a hybrid defensive back, useful in a coverage-disguising scheme like Ron Rivera’s, but not at the $3.05 base salary he’s due. Just 27 years of age, McQuarters’ open-market value could be higher than some expect.

WR Muhsin Muhammad / Panthers
Unwilling to pay the $10 million roster bonus due Muhammad for fear of crossing the “Welcome to Cap Hell� greeting mat, the Panthers feverishly worked to renegotiate the pact with a few years tagged on the contract. But the Eagles and Falcons, both of which reportedly have strong interest, have apparently persuaded Muhammad the grass can be greener.

ORT Jon Runyan / Eagles
Runyan made $4.5 million last season and gets a $1 million raise for ’05, salary figures that his play simply doesn’t justify. Shawn Andrews, the team’s top pick in 2004, is a natural replacement whose salary is far more palatable.

OLT Chris Samuels / Redskins
An albatross of a cap number ($9.6 million) makes moving Samuels a must for Washington. He’s not worth the level of signing bonus he could command with an extension and so, as with other veterans, Washington plans to cut its losses sooner than later. WR Laveranues Coles is reportedly ready to be released and WR Rod Gardner may be traded, leaving the Redskins holes to fill and, surprise, more money to spend.

OT Kyle Turley / Rams
He hates his coach and, frankly, the feeling is mutual. Turley didn’t play this season (back surgery) and is a literal unknown headed into 2005. A team will take a chance on the intense offensive tackle, but the money won’t be what Turley wants it to be.

OLG Mike Wahle / Packers
A hefty cap figure exceeding $11 million is the reason Wahle, an up-and-comer, has to be released. Green Bay wants to work on a new deal and keep Wahle in the fold, but don’t expect the Packers to get a hometown discount with Brett Favre’s future up in the air.

LKelley67 02-23-2005 04:09 PM

PFW Cream of the Crop
good info n food for thought

WhoDat 02-24-2005 08:00 AM

PFW Cream of the Crop
QB Aaron Brooks / Saints
A base salary of $5.5 million isn’t ridiculous for a quarterback, but Brooks\' development seems to have plateaued or, in the eyes of some, completely regressed. Brooks has been enigmatic at best over the last 25 games. Also, WR Jerome Pathon ($2.5 million base) won’t be back in New Orleans at that price.


PFW is suggesting that Brooks may hit the market?

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