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Brandon Marshall reunited with Jay Cutler

Brandon Marshall. REUTERS/Joe Skipper (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

Jay Glazer is reporting on Twitter that the Miami Dolphins have traded Brandon Marshall to the Chicago Bears for two 3rd round draft picks. This is huge news for Jay Cutler and the Bears, and many are speculating that the Dolphins are clearing out Marshall to make room for Peyton Manning and Reggie Wayne. It also impacts the Vincent Jackson sweepstakes. We’ll see . . .

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2012 NFL Free Agency: Breaking down the Wide Receivers

Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson celebrates a touchdown against the Buffalo Bills in the fourth quarter of their NFL football game in Orchard Park, New York October 9, 2011. REUTERS/Doug Benz (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

Free agency in the NFL begins on March 13 and leading up to that date I’ll go position by position while highlighting the best players, best bargains, as well as the riskiest investments.

Best in Class: Take your pick.
This is the deepest pool of free agent receivers that I’ve seen in a long time. Wes Welker, Mike Wallace, Vincent Jackson, Dwayne Bowe, Marques Colston, Brandon Lloyd, Stevie Johnson, DeSean Jackson, Reggie Wayne and Robert Meachem comprise the top 10 free agents, but Mario Manningham, Laurent Robinson and Harry Douglas could also be available next month. Welker seems like a perfect fit for the Patriots’ offense and will likely stay in New England, but Wallace could be available if the Steelers can’t figure out a way to fit him under their cap. When healthy and not in the midst of a contract holdout, V-Jax is one of the more versatile receivers in the league in that he’s a vertical threat with soft hands who can also block in the running game. Bowe, Colston, Lloyd, Johnson, Jackson and Wayne have been, or still are No. 1 options in the passing game and Meachem certainly has the talent to be a No. 1 given his skill set. Teams needing a receiver have no excuse not to address that hole this offseason.

The Biggest Risk: DeSean Jackson
Jackson is only 25 and is drenched in big play ability. But he has 35 drops over the last four seasons, was a ghost at times last year because he was seemingly worried about his contract situation, and sometimes costs his team on the field with his immaturity. Because of his big play ability and success as a punt returner, plenty of teams will be interested in Jackson’s services next month. But with so many other free agent receivers available, teams weary of his inconsistency and maturity issues can cross his name off the list if they want to. His agent must pull his hair out thinking about how much money Jackson has cost himself over the past year.

The Best Value: Brandon Lloyd
Lloyd is still going to be paid like a low-end No. 1 but at 31 he’ll be cheaper than guys like Welker, Jackson, Bowe, Wallace and Colston. He didn’t post the same numbers in 2011 as he did in 2010 but don’t forget that the quarterback situation in Denver was brutal and Sam Bradford couldn’t stay healthy in St. Louis (the team Lloyd was traded to midseason). Even at 31, Lloyd is an explosive downfield threat who also has a large catch radius. The Rams would be wise to keep him in St. Louis but if he were to hit the open market, he could turn out to be a real value for his eventual production.

Best Cost-Effective Bargain: Robert Meachem
Meachem doesn’t have the numbers or name power as other receivers that could become available next month but at 27 his ceiling is still somewhat high. He’s consistent, as he’s averaged a touchdown every 10 receptions in the regular season and has just 11 drops over the last four years. He may never develop into a No. 1 but he’s worth a shot for a team like Jacksonville that is thin at receiver and has other holes to address this offseason (and thus, might not want to spend big at one position). Meachem could wind up being a cost-effective alternative to Jackson, Bowe, Colston and the other big-name receivers in this free agent pool.

NFL Free Agency Update: Forte, Wallace and V-Jax

Chicago Bears running back Matt Forte (R) is brought down by San Diego Chargers’ Steve Gregory (L) in the first half of their NFL football game in Chicago, Illinois, November 20, 2011. REUTERS/Jeff Haynes (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

Bears set to open contract talks with Forte
NFL Network’s Albert Breer reports that the Bears will open contract talks with free agent running back Matt Forte in Indianapolis this weekend. Head coach Lovie Smith believes that signing Forte is “only a matter of time” for the Bears, but the franchise tag remains very much in play.

Seahawks to tag Lynch if no long-term deal is reached
Seattle general manager John Schneider stated that running back Marshawn Lynch would receive the franchise tag if the two sides can’t reach a long-term deal before the March 5 franchise deadline. Schneider remains optimistic that a four-year deal can be reached, however.

V-Jax expected to stay with San Diego?
In somewhat surprising news, NFL Network’s Jason LaCanfora reports that “people close to” free agent receiver Vincent Jackson are convinced he’ll be franchised despite contrary reports. The two sides haven’t made much progress when it comes to a long-term deal but it seemed as if the Chargers were willing to let him test the market instead of tagging him. At the end of the day, the Bolts are, and should be worried about trying to replace Jackson’s production. Norv Turner’s vertical passing game would take a hit if the Chargers had to rely on an aging Antonio Gates to carry the load.

Franchise tag still a possibility for Wallace
Pittsburgh general manager Kevin Colbert said on Thursday that the Steelers will extend a first-round tender to restricted free agent receiver Mike Wallace and that the franchise tag remains a possibility. The Steelers clearly want their No. 1 receiver back but they have limited cap space and Wallace is due for a huge pay raise. His contract situation will be one of the more intriguing storylines this spring.

Falcons willing to let Abraham test the market
John Abraham was the Falcons’ lone pass rusher last season but he turns 34 in May and still wants to be paid like one of the best defensive ends in the game. With a slew of other free agents that also need contracts, the Falcons are apparently willing to allow Abraham to test the market. If that’s the case, then Atlanta GM Thomas Dimitroff has a huge task on his hands in trying to beef up the Falcons’ pass rushing situation for the 2012 season.

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