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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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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 . . .

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.

Reggie Wayne vents about only being targeted once during Jets game

Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Reggie Wayne (87) dives for a 17-yard gain against the Dallas Cowboys during the fourth quarter in the Cowboys 38-35 overtime win at Lucas Oil Field in Indianapolis on December 5, 2010. UPI /Mark Cowan

After hauling in a whopping one catch for one yard in the Colts’ 17-16 loss to the Jets on Saturday night, receiver Reggie Wayne vented to the Indianapolis Star about his role in the game.

“It’s bull. It’s bull, man,” the five-time Pro Bowl receiver said after being a non-factor in the Indianapolis Colts’ 17-16 loss to the New York Jets in Saturday night’s AFC wild-card playoff game at Lucas Oil Stadium.

“I give everything I’ve got no matter what. Every day, I give it everything. And . . . one ball, that’s all.”

“I shouldn’t have even suited up,” Wayne said. “I should have watched the game like everybody else. I was irrelevant.”

Like all great competitors, Wayne should be frustrated about only being targeted once in the biggest game of the year. Give credit to Darrelle Revis for shutting him down, but one would think Peyton Manning would have looked his way more than once.

Of course, it was a combination of factors that kept Wayne in check. The biggest reason was Revis’ performance. But Manning should have given his top target more looks in the passing game and Wayne himself could have outperformed Revis to garner more looks from his QB. I’m not saying he doesn’t work hard because he does. But there had to be a reason why Manning only targeted him once.

Chances are, Wayne’s comments will be water under the bridge by the time the Colts take the field again. But what’s interesting is that Wayne made a play for a contract extension last season, even though he’s signed through 2012. Will his frustrations boil over into the offseason?

2010 NFL Preview: AFC South Predictions

Indianapolis Colts' Peyton Manning throws a pass against the Buffalo Bills during the first half of their NFL preseason football game in Toronto August 19, 2010.  REUTERS/Mark Blinch (CANADA - Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

2010 NFL Division Previews & Predictions: AFC East | AFC North | AFC South | AFC West | NFC East | NFC North | NFC South | NFC West | 2010 Question Marks Series

For over a decade, the Colts have been the models for consistency in the NFL. But will things change that the Texans and Titans are strong? Can guys like Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson of Houston, and Vince Young and Chris Johnson of Tennessee help their respective teams overcome Peyton and the Colts?

We’ll find out soon.

Here’s how I see things shaking out in the AFC South this season. Be sure to check out the link entitled “2010 Question Mark” under each team’s preview, which is a breakdown of one or two potential weaknesses that could derail that squad’s hopes in 2010. (If no link is provided, check back because one will be before the start of the season.)

1. Colts

What to Like: First Name: Peyton. Last Name: Manning. As long as Peyton Manning is still playing football, the Colts are going to be contenders – I don’t care if he has to use a walker to get out to the field. The Colts retain a top 3 offense led by Manning, who has a slew of playmakers at his disposal in Reggie Wayne, Dallas Clark, Joseph Addai, Anthony Gonzalez, Pierre Garcon and Austin Collie. The offensive line isn’t the best running blocking unit in the game (or the best in pass protection, for that matter), but it plays well collectively and Manning masks any weaknesses. Defensively, the Colts own two of the best pass-rushing ends in the NFL in Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis. Gary Brackett and Clint Session are solid from their linebacker positions and the return of Bob Sanders (if he can stay healthy) will dramatically help the run defense.
What Not to Like: The defensive tackle position is a huge concern. Daniel Muir and Antonio Johnson are weak as the starters and rookie Fili Moala failed to impress as a rookie. Their play is masked thanks to the ends, but the interior of the Colts’ line is soft and could become a problem come playoff time. At cornerback, Kelvin Hayden struggled with injuries but the bottom line is that quarterbacks were able to complete 65.8 percent of passes on him last season. There’s no excuse for that. On the other side, Jerraud Powers is expected to start but he had surgery to repair his foot in February and missed the final two preseason games.
Keep Your Eye On: Philip Wheeler
The 25-year-old out of Georgia Tech has the physical ability to start at the outside linebacker position – now he just has to prove he can stay there. He enters his first full season as a starter and coaches have already remarked how much he’s improved in his defensive reads. He’ll have the fortune of playing alongside quality veterans like Sessions and Brackett.
The Final Word: Another 10-plus win season is on the horizon for the Colts, who only play five playoff teams from a year ago. The interior of the defensive line, cornerback and special teams are this team’s greatest weaknesses, but the Colts have remained the most consistent team in the NFL for over a decade. They know how to win and with Manning under center, they’re going to challenge for the AFC title once again. That said, they will get pushed by the Titans and Texans in the division.

Indianapolis Colts 2010 Question Mark: Defensive Tackle

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