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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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Vincent Jackson willing to give the Chargers a hometown discount?

San Diego Chargers wide receiver Vincent Jackson (83) catches a pass against Green Bay Packers cornerback Tramon Williams (38) during their NFL football game in San Diego, California, November 6 , 2011. REUTERS/Mike Blake (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY)

According to the Union-Tribune San Diego’s Kevin Acee, there’s a belief that free agent receiver Vincent Jackson is willing to give the Chargers a hometown discount.

The Chargers are believed to be willing to pay Jackson between $10-11 million annually on a five-year deal, but they are inclined to let the market be set by others. Jackson is expected to receive more in offers from other teams.

Jackson, too, has expressed his desire to remain in San Diego, with Rivers and Turner, despite past tensions with the front office. There is even a belief by those who have talked with Jackson that he would take less from the Chargers than he could get elsewhere. However, he has desired a long-term commitment from the Chargers for more than three years and his list of suitors will make re-signing him a challenge once he gets to the open market.

V-Jax will have no shortage of teams interested in his services next month. The Bears come to mind as the most receiver-needy team, although one would think the Chargers would be pretty desperate to keep him in San Diego.

Philip Rivers threw for 4,710 yards and 30 touchdowns without having Jackson for most of 2010, but the Chargers can’t rely on an aging Antonio Gates to be their main weapon in Norv Turner’s vertical offense. When healthy and not in the midst of a contract dispute, Jackson is one of the most productive receivers in the game. He runs great routes, has soft hands, is a true vertical threat, and he’s a solid blocker in the run game. Even though his off-field issues make him somewhat of a risky signing, he’ll likely be worth his price tag this offseason.

It’ll be interesting to see how aggressive Smith is when it comes to retaining Jackson’s services. If V-Jax wants to stay in San Diego, the there should be no reason that the Bolts don’t have him locked up early in free agency. But nothing is easy when it comes to Smith and players’ contract situations.

Chargers to use the franchise tag on Vincent Jackson?

Fans hoping that their favorite team had a shot at acquiring free agent Vincent Jackson this offseason may have to wait another year. According to the San Diego Union-Tribune, Jackson expects the Chargers to use their franchise tag on him in 2011.

Jackson, according to someone familiar with the player’s thinking, expects the tag and plans to play for the more than $10 million it would guarantee him.

That is, if the franchise tag is part of a new CBA.

The NFL Players Association says teams have no right to a franchise tag since the current Collective Bargaining Agreement will expire March 3. The NFL says the franchise tag is included in the CBA under which the league is operating.

I have to side with the NFLPA on this one. If the current CBA deal is set to expire March 3, then how is it fair that teams can use their franchise tags for the 2011 season when the current contract applied to the 2010 season? I get that the NFL wants to keep things business as usual because it believes that a new deal will eventually be worked out. But how about the league just work on getting a new deal in place before worrying about whether or not teams can use their franchise tags. If the owners and NFLPA agree to a new CBA deal, then everything can go back to normal and all of this becomes a moot point.

Getting back to Jackson, his situation comes down to money. He sat out most of last season because the Chargers were only willing to pay him for one year at $3.2 million. If he’s tagged for the 2011 season, he’ll make roughly $10 million for one year and then the Chargers can let him walk in 2012 while accepting a future compensatory draft pick.

Vincent Jackson will sign tender, report to Chargers at the end of month

SAN DIEGO - AUGUST 25:  Wide receiver Vincent Jackson #83 of the San Diego Chargers carries the ball on a 59 yard pass play in the second quarter against the Seattle Seahawks on August 25, 2008 at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, California, setting up a Chargers touchdown.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

Vincent Jackson and his agent know that if V-Jax doesn’t play in at least six games this season, then he won’t become eligible to sign with another team as an unrestricted free agent after this season.

That’s why it’s no surprise to hear his representative Neil Schwartz say on Thursday that V-Jax will sign what’s left of his prorated $583,000 tender and join the Chargers on October 29.

Jackson still must sit out three games due to his Roster Exempt status, which means he won’t play until Week 12 at the earliest. Given the Chargers’ early-season struggles this year, they can take all the help they can get, when they can get it.

If he’s motivated (which is a big question mark), Jackson is a complete player. He can stretch a field, he’s a weapon in the red zone and he’s arguably the best blocker in the league from the wideout position. He has also reportedly kept in good shape because he was hoping to be traded by this point. He’ll help the Chargers once he reports.

Of course, this isn’t about helping the Chargers for Jackson. It’s about accruing the six games needed so he can become a free agent at the end of the year. Neither he nor his agent want to deal with GM A.J. Smith and go through all of this again next offseason.

Is Vincent Jackson’s career with the Chargers over?

SAN DIEGO, CA - JANUARY 3:  Wide Receiver Vincent Jackson of the San Diego Chargers watches from the sidelines during the Washington Redskins v San Diego Chargers NFL Game on January 3, 2010 at Quolcomm Stadium in San Diego, California. The Chargers won 23-20. (Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images)

Kevin Acce of the San Diego Union-Tribune hints that receiver Vincent Jackson may not play another down for the Chargers.

If Jackson is not signed by 3 p.m. Saturday, his Roster Exempt status means he will be out for six games. That won’t preclude a trade, because the trading deadline is the Tuesday after the sixth game. But his limited availability for 2010 will take down the compensation both Jackson and the Chargers could expect.

People close to Jackson have long indicated, despite rhetoric he was only interested in a multi-year deal — that he would play for a one-season contract that paid him in line with the top 10 receivers in the NFL. Maybe he’ll take that deal from another team, though that would likely bring down even further the price the Chargers could fetch in trade, because Jackson’s new team wouldn’t be assured of having him more than this season.

And, as we all know, Smith will not be compelled to make a trade he doesn’t feel is best for the Chargers.

Although not surprising with Smith in charge, it’s rather amazing how this situation continues to unravel. Last year, Jackson was arguably the most productive receiver in the NFL in terms of his pass catching, deep threat and run-blocking abilities. Now it appears that he may not play at all in 2010.

There’s still time for the two sides to come together on an agreement, but Jackson’s camp and Smith both appear to have dug their heels in long ago. If Jackson is going to play for the Bolts this season, one of the two sides will have to cave.

And that doesn’t appear to be likely.

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