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Five Quick-Hit Observations from Day 1 of 2012 NFL Free Agency

Miami Dolphins wide receiver Brandon Marshall (19) pops up off the ground after beating New England Patriots cornerback Kyle Arrington (42) on a 19-yard touchdown reception in the second quarter at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts on December 24, 2011. UPI/Matthew Healey

As expected, teams didn’t waste any time making a splash on Day 1 of the 2012 NFL free agency period. (Funny how so many deals get done minutes after the opening of free agency when teams and players aren’t supposed to talk to each other until then.) While the receivers stole the show on Tuesday, the biggest name on the market is still without a home. Below are quick-hit observations from the first day of the NFL free agency period.

1. The Bears and Brandon Marshall are a perfect marriage (at least for now).
Most of the speculation involving the Bears the past 24 hours was centered on Mario Williams. But it was another big name acquisition that rookie general manager Phil Emery had his eye on. The Bears have been without a prototypical l No. 1 receiver for decades but Marshall will change all of that. From what I’ve read, Marshall deeply respects Jay Cutler and the feeling is mutual. Cutler targeted Marshall early and often while in Denver and as long as the latter can keep his head on straight, this trade should benefit the Bears greatly. And while some Chicago fans were clamoring for Emery to sign Vincent Jackson, the Bears’ faithful have to be ecstatic about landing Marshall instead. As for the Dolphins, two third-round picks are nice but Miami is now left with Davone Bess, Brian Hartline and Clyde Gats as its top three receivers. The Dolphins lacked offensive talent coming into the offseason and today they just sent their top playmaker to Chicago. While they may have parted with a headache, they just created another need for themselves in the process.

2. The Redskins overpaid for Garcon, but they’ve upgraded their receiver corps nonetheless.
The Daniel Snyder-led Redskins have been overpaying free agents for the better part of a decade. So when I read that they gave Pierre Garcon a five-year, $42.5 million contract it was hardly surprising. There’s no doubt they overpaid for Garcon’s services, but at least the fit is good. The former Colt is very good after the catch, which certainly suits head coach Mike Shanahan’s West Coast offense. Along with Garcon, the Skins also added Josh Morgan and Eddie Royal, so a team that desperately needed more playmakers on offense has come out of the gates strong this offseason. Robert Griffin III should sleep easy tonight knowing that his future receiving corps just got dramatically better over the last 24 hours.

3. It’s good to see the Glazer Family spend some of the Bucs’ cap money.
Two years ago the Buccaneers won 10 games and nearly qualified for the playoffs mostly because of a weak schedule. So the Glazer Family decided that they weren’t going to spend money last offseason in order to improve a young team that still needed to be tweaked. (Oh sorry, unless you want to consider the six-year, $19.5 million contract they gave free agent punter Michael Koenen.) This year, however, the Bucs made a statement by signing Vincent Jackson on day one of free agency. Even though Jackson could be limited in new head coach Greg Schiano’s run-heavy offense, at least Tampa Bay is actually trying to make improvements to its roster. When healthy and you know, playing, Jackson is a multi-faceted receiver. He’s a deep threat, he has great hands, he runs excellent routes, and he blocks extremely well. He’s the complete package and while $26 million in guaranteed money is steep, at least the Glazers finally cracked open that checkbook of theirs.

4. I can’t see Mario Williams winding up in Buffalo.
If I were Mario Williams I would go on as many visits as were offered to me. Premier edge rushers aren’t exactly available down aisle three at Wal-Mart, so he might as well make the most of the opportunity that he’s been given. Thus, there’s no reason not to go to Buffalo and listen to what the Bills have to offer. Apparently they’re willing to pay him as the top defensive player in the league, which is obviously great for Williams. But at the end of the day I just can’t see Williams signing with a team that’s not a contender. Sure Buffalo came out of the gates hot last year and maybe Williams would be their missing piece. But Ryan Fitzpatrick eventually cooled off and the team’s play fell off a cliff. There’s no doubt that Williams would improve their chances greatly, but there has to be another team willing to pay his asking price. Granted, he may have to take less to go to a contender but at least he would have a legitimate shot at reaching a Super Bowl. With the Patriots in the same division as the Bills, I just don’t see Buffalo contending for a playoff spot soon.
UPDATE: As I was saying, Mario Williams is a perfect fit for Buffalo.

5. Weren’t the Colts rebuilding?
I have no idea what the Indianapolis Colts are doing these days. Last year proved how devoid of overall talent they had when Peyton Manning didn’t play a snap and the team fell apart. And with Peyton off to destinations unknown, the Colts have a long ways to go before being respectable again. After cleaning house last week by parting ways with players like Manning, Dallas Clark, Joseph Addai and Gary Brackett, I thought the team was going to start over with a massive rebuilding project this offseason. Instead, they re-upped with 31-year-old Robert Mathis on a lucrative deal and today signed Reggie Wayne to a three-year, $17.5 million contract. Mathis, and to a lesser extent, Wayne, are still productive players but I’m just not sure what the Colts’ game plan is here. Are they rebuilding or are they just trying to hold onto the past in any way they can?

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The Colts have a potential mess on their hands regarding Wayne

Peyton Manning needs a new contract, as do 18 other Colts players that are set to become free agents in 2011.

Reggie Wayne doesn’t need a new contract, but he wants one. He’s also willing to skip the team’s mandatory three-day mini-camp this weekend in order to show the Colts that he’s unhappy with his current deal.

Wayne has two years remaining on the six-year, $39 million contract he signed in 2006. He’s making less than $6 million per season, which is where the root of the issue comes in. Larry Fitzgerald, Brandon Marshall and Randy Moss – three players that Wayne outperformed last year – are just some of the receivers that are making more than Indy’s star receiver. Those three are all making $9 million a year, while four other receivers had multiyear contracts in 2009 that reached more than $8 million annually.

The problem is that the Colts’ main focus (and rightfully so) is on Manning. The quarterback that has led them to two Super Bowls over the past five years needs a new deal to help him finish out his career in Indianapolis and the Colts have made re-signing him priority No. 1 on their to-do list.

No matter how good they may be, the Colts’ front office doesn’t make it a habit of re-working players’ contracts that still have two years remaining on them. Wayne may be one of the team’s most productive players, but Manning, Joseph Addai, Antonie Bethea, Melvin Bullitt, Clint Session and Adam Vinatieri all need new deals when 2010 wraps up. Wayne is set through 2011.

There’s no doubt that Wayne is underpaid. But the Colts’ hands are tied at the moment until Manning gets his new deal and they have a plan in place to retain the other potential free agents. He may have to show some patience and have faith that the team will re-work his deal after the season. That said, if he continues to hold out through training camp, he may force the Colts into a making a decision that they didn’t think they’d have to make for another year or so.


Photo from fOTOGLIF

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