Report: Bucs, Bears and Redskins all interested in Vincent Jackson

There have been conflicting reports over the last 24 hours about which teams are the supposed frontrunners to acquire free agent receiver Vincent Jackson. But this much is sure: V-Jax will have plenty of suitors when the NFL free agency period kicks off on Tuesday.

Over the weekend, The’s Lance Zierlein said that the “belief around the league” is that the Redskins will go “very hard” after Jackson following their trade with the Rams for the No. 2 overall pick. Washington is in desperate need of playmakers on the offensive side of the ball and without a first round pick in 2013 and 2014, the Skins need to be aggressive in free agency. After all, Robert Griffin III will need a big target to throw to when the Redskins draft him with the second overall pick in late April. (Or at least, that’s what the supposed plan is in Washington.)

The Redskins were also mentioned by the Union-Tribune San Diego as one of the two teams believed by them to be the frontrunners for Jackson. The other team mentioned in the Union-Tribune’s report was the Bears, who have been in need of a prototypical No. 1 receiver for what seems like the existence of their franchise.

Ironically, there was a story in Monday’s Chicago Sun Times that conflicts with the Union-Tribune’s report. According to the Sun Times, the Buccaneers have the “inside track” when it comes to signing V-Jax, and not the Bears. Tampa Bay has loads of cap space and a definite need at receiver, so the Sun Times’ report may have legs. That said, it’s not uncommon that reports conflict with each other around this time of year, as player representatives try to build a market for their clients.

Jackson is now the face of a very deep wide receiver pool in this year’s free agent class, especially with Wes Welker (franchised/Patriots), Dwayne Bowe (franchised/Chiefs), DeSean Jackson (franchised/Eagles) and Steve Johnson (re-signed/Bills) off the market. Reggie Wayne (Colts), Marques Colston (Saints), Brandon Lloyd (Rams), Robert Meachem (Saints) and Mario Manningham (Giants) are all unrestricted and will be available on Tuesday. Mike Wallace is a restricted free agent, but if a team is will to part with a first-round pick he might become available due to the Steelers’ cap issues.

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Report: Manning leaves Arizona after a 6.5-hour visit with Cardinals

Following a 6.5-hour visit with the Cardinals, Peyton Manning has left Tempe tweets Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic. Somers says that he’s not sure were Peyton is off to next as the quarterback continues his free agent tour around the country.

This is what Rotowold had to say on the matter:

If you’re keeping score at home, the visit lasted a half hour long than his Broncos trip. Manning was driven out of the facility by coach Ken Whisenhunt. OL coach Russ Grimm, Larry Fitzgerald, and president Michael Bidwill also participated in the meeting. There is still no indication as to where Manning will play football in 2012, and he’s not known to have set up a meeting with the Dolphins. He’s now expected to return to his Miami vacation home.

Boy, I bet Kevin Kolb is feeling pretty secure about his situation in Arizona right about now. While he sits at home following a bust of a first season with the Cardinals, his head coach, his No. 1 receiver, and his team’s president are all out wining and dining Peyton Manning. At least if Manning signs elsewhere Kolb is going to get a pretty nice “We’re sorry for flirting with Peyton Manning” gift in the form of a $7 million bonus due on March 17. But if Manning does indeed land in the desert then Kolb will likely be looking for work just one year after arriving to Arizona.

At least on the surface, the Cardinals look like the perfect fit for Manning. They play in a dome, they have one of the best receivers in the game in Fitzgerald, and they’re only four years removed from appearing in the Super Bowl. My gut says he’ll wind up in Denver but all signs point to Arizona at this point.

NFL Offseason Report: Brees, Saints remain far apart in contract talks

New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees talks to teammates on the bench as the Saints play the Carolina Panthers in an NFL football game in Charlotte, North Carolina on October 9, 2011. New Orleans won 30-27. UPI/Nell Redmond .

According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, the New Orleans Saints and free agent Drew Brees remain “well apart” in contract talks, which presents a problem with Monday’s franchise tag deadline approaching fast.

As of right now, the issue isn’t whether or not the Saints will be able to re-sign Brees. The issue is whether or not they’ll be able to re-sign him by Monday and therefore avoid having to tag him so he doesn’t hit the open market come mid March. Brees hasn’t given any indication that he wants to leave New Orleans but the Saints can’t risk losing their most valuable player.

If the two sides don’t come to an agreement by Monday and the Saints do use their franchise tag on Brees, then they’ll risk losing fellow free agents Marques Colston and Carl Nicks. Colston is the team’s No. 1 receiver while Nicks is one of the best guards in the league. Both players have stated that they want to return to New Orleans but they’re also due pay raises.

Per Schefter’s report, Brees told the New Orleans Times-Picayune last week that he was confident he would reach a deal with the Saints. But he appears to be targeting a contract that will make him the highest-paid quarterback in the NFL and when you’re dealing with that kind of money, a deal takes time to structure.

But time isn’t on the Saints’ side. Again, the Saints aren’t in immediate danger of losing Brees but if they would be in much better shape if they can get a deal done this weekend and then at least have the option to tag either Colston or Nicks.

2012 NFL Free Agency: Finding defensive value

Carolina Panthers running back DeAngelo Williams (#34) tries to avoid the tackle of Atlanta Falcons defensive end John Abraham (#55) in the first half of an NFL football game at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, Georgia on October 16, 2011. The Falcons defeated the Panthers 31-17. UPI Photo/Erik S. Lesser

Here is Part 2 of my two-part series on finding value in NFL free agency this offseason. You can check out Part 1 (offensive value) here.

DEFENSIVE END: John Abraham (Falcons)
At this point in his career, Abraham reminds me of Leonard Little and his final years in the NFL. At 34, Abraham isn’t a full-time player any more but he’s still very productive as a situational pass rusher. The Falcons did a great job keeping him fresh the past two years by constantly rotating him in and out of the lineup. He racked up 9.5 sacks last season and there were a handful of games when he was the Falcons’ lone pass rusher. He wants one more shot at a championship before he walks off into the sunset and seeing as how Atlanta is content with him testing the market, he would be a great addition for a Super Bowl contender looking to beef up its pass rush. In fact, the Falcons better hope the Saints don’t find a way to fit him under their cap.

DEFENSIVE TACKLE: Brodrick Bunkley (Broncos)
Bunkley recorded 43 tackles but no sacks in 16 regular season games last season, which could turn some folks off. But according to Pro Football Focus, 11.3% of all plays Bunkley was in run defense ended up with him making a defensive stop (which was the most of all defensive tackles in the league). Injuries ransacked his 2010 campaign but Bunkley has always been a force against the run and at 28, he still has three or four quality years left in him.

OUTSIDE LINEBACKER: Manny Lawson (Bengals)
Some had their doubts about whether Lawson could play in Cincinnati’s 4-3 front after spending his first five years playing in San Francisco’s 3-4. But he played very well against the run and offers teams versatility in that he can stand up or stick his hand in the dirt while rushing the quarterback. He’s only a two-down linebacker because his coverage skills are nothing to write home about, but at 28 he still has plenty of quality years ahead of him and now teams know he can play in either a 43 or 34.

INSIDE LINEBACKER: Channing Crowder (Dolphins/Retirement)
Crowder flirted with retirement last season while taking the entire year off but he stated a couple of weeks ago that he wants to return to the NFL. If he can get back into shape, Crowder would be a nice addition to any defense looking for a two-down ‘backer. Most of his experience in the NFL has come in a 3-4 but he did play some 4-3 in Mike Nolan’s hybrid scheme in Miami. Crowder played very well in 2010 and while he may have to settle for a limited role in the early going next season, he could be a solid, cheap signing for a team looking for a run thumper.

CORNERBACK: Terrell Thomas (Giants)
Thomas tore his right ACL during the 2011 season but when healthy, he’s an above average No. 2 corner that plays the run very well. Apparently he’s ahead of schedule with his knee and at 27 he’s still relatively young. If he doesn’t re-sign with the Giants he would be a perfect fit in any Cover-2 team looking for a physical corner to set the edge. And with Carlos Rogers, Brent Grimes, Cortland Finnegan and Brandon Carr already set to hit the open market, Thomas will be a cheap signing offseason. (Especially seeing as how he’s coming off the ACL injury.)

SAFTEY: James Sanders (Falcons)
After being released by the Patriots last season Sanders was picked up by the Falcons and notched starting time at both safety spots. While he can be a liability sometimes in coverage, Sanders plays the run well and has plenty of postseason experience. Good safeties are extremely hard to find and while Sanders isn’t the best player on the market, the 28-year-old vet would be a welcome addition to a team starved for safety help. (He’s also not going to break the bank after playing as a spot starter last season.)

2012 NFL Free Agency: Finding offensive value

New Orleans Saints receiver Robert Meachem (17) prepares to throw the ball into the stands after pulling his secound touchdown pass against the Seattle Seahawks during action at the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans on November 21, 2010. UPI/A.J. Sisco

There are a handful of players in this year’s free agent pool that I would break the bank for because I know what kind of production I’ll be getting for my dollar. Mario Williams is one, while Carl Nicks is another. Even though he turns 29 in July and suffered a knee injury down the stretch last season, the highly underrated Brent Grimes is another player that I wouldn’t hesitate to pony up for, especially with cornerbacks in such high demand these days.

But if I were given the opportunity to be a general manager for an offseason, I’d focus my attention on finding value in free agency. Granted, the word “value” is a relative term to teams. A free agent like Vincent Jackson will have more value to the Bears than he would the Packers. But that doesn’t mean that the Bears should spend max value on V-Jax just because they have a glaring need at receiver.

In my opinion, this is how teams often get into trouble. It’s almost like they take a grocery list into free agency and say, ‘Ok, this is my budget and here are my biggest needs – let’s go shopping!’ Then they wind up overspending, the player under-performs his contract, and sooner or later the team is looking to dump said player well before his contract is set to expire.

Again, there are certain players that are worth max value. In terms of pure talent, Vincent Jackson may be one of those players. Seeing as how Chicago has a ton of cap space, maybe the Bears should go all out for V-Jax next month. But generally speaking, general managers are better off shooting for value so that they don’t get into cap hell down the road. At worst they’ll spend less to receive less and at best they’ll spend less to receive equal or better production than if they went for the high profile signing. Plus, if teams constantly search for value in free agency, then they’re more likely to have cap space to spend on re-signing their own players when the time comes.

With that in mind, here are my free agent value picks on offense for the 2012 NFL offseason. On Thursday I’ll take a look at the defensive side of the ball.

QUARTERBACK: David Garrard (Jaguars)
Garrard took last year off to allow his back to heal and is already 34. At this point in his career he clearly isn’t a quarterback that should be counted on as a long-term answer. But if he’s healthy, he makes a lot of sense for a contender that has a need for a backup or for teams like the Bills and Jets, whose situations under center are shaky at best. Garrard has never dazzled anyone with is passing numbers but he’s always been more productive than people give him credit for. He would be a nice, cheap signing that would add solid value to the right team.

RUNNING BACK: Mike Tolbert (Chargers)
Some may view Cedric Benson as a value play but keep in mind that he has 922 carries in the past three years and is entering his age 30 season. Tolbert, on the other hand, is only 26 and has carved out a nice niche for himself as an excellent utility back. He’s a bowling ball at 5-foot-9 and 247 pounds, and is a powerful downhill runner. He isn’t a true No. 1 but just like the Chargers did by pairing him with Ryan Mathews, he could be a solid complementary piece in the right backfield. Plus, with big names like Matt Forte, Ray Rice, Marshawn Lynch and Peyton Hillis set to hit the open market, Tolbert could be had at a reasonable price.

RECEIVER: Robert Meachem (Saints)
There are probably plenty of Saints fans that view Meachem as a bust. But the former first-round pick has never had the opportunity to flourish as a No. 1 receiver either. Sean Payton and Drew Brees do an excellent job of spreading the wealth in New Orleans, which is great for the Saints but not for individuals like Meachem. The former Tennessee star is extremely talented and won’t break the bank unlike V-Jax, Dwayne Bowe, DeSean Jackson, Mike Wallace, Steve Johnson, Marques Colston and/or Reggie Wayne.

TIGHT END: Joel Dreessen (Texans)
The tight end pool is shallow this year but that doesn’t mean there isn’t value to be had. Look at Dreessen for example. He’s already 30 and hasn’t put up gaudy receiving numbers in Houston so people will overlook him. But he also doesn’t have a lot of tread on his tires for a 30-year-old tight end and is a solid blocker in both the running game and in pass protection. He had touchdowns of 43 and 56 yards the past two seasons, which also suggests he has big-play capabilities. His age and limited production will keep the cost way down and teams could do much worse than a guy like Dreessen at tight end.

TACKLE: Anthony Collins
Jared Gaither will receive plenty of attention because of his name and the fact that he played very well for San Diego down the stretch last year. If the Chargers release former Pro Bowler Marcus McNeill, he’ll garner some attention as well (assuming he’s healthy after two straight seasons of injury issues). But at 26, Collins might be the best value on the market. His body of work isn’t very impressive because he’s only compiled five starts the last two seasons. But back in 2008 when he started 13 straight games, he proved to be an adequate blocker and could be a value to a team that loses out on Gaither. A team could essentially plug Collins into the starting lineup for a year or two while looking for a more long-term solution in the process.

GUARD: The Draft
I realize that this article is about finding value in free agency but I’m not going to shoehorn a player into a position that I don’t believe is a true value. Teams in need of a guard have one of two options in my eyes: Either pony up big for Carl Nicks or Evan Mathis, or look to fill the position in the draft. Nicks and Mathis will likely be worth the money but for teams with cap problems, the draft is their best bet. Brandon Washington (second round), Amini Silatolu (second or third), Brandon Brooks (third), Jeff Allen (fourth), Lucas Nix (fourth or fifth), Derek Dennis (sixth or seventh) and Joe Looney (seventh) would all be value picks if they were drafted in their projected round. Washington, Silatolu and Brooks might even be able to start right away depending on how they perform in training camp and preseason. Outside of that, guys like Chad Rinehart (Bills) and Geoff Schwartz (Panthers) offer some value in free agency, but both players are restricted free agents so who knows if they’ll even hit the open market.

CENTER: Nick Hardwick (Chargers)
Hardwick flirted with retirement following the season but he has since said the he will return for another year. He’s one of the better centers in the league when it comes to pass protection and he’s likely to be available if the Chargers want to get younger at the position. Hardwick would be a nice one or two-year signing for a pass-heavy team looking for a leader to fill the center position.

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