Free agency still offers solid starters

Marques Colston (Larry French/Getty)

Despite 21 franchise tags being used, the free-agent market still has a lot of top talent to offer. About half of the top 20 free agents were taken away, but the pile remains healthy.

Last week, Viking Update projected that, despite the complete lack of franchise tag activity to date, the NFL would see plenty of tagging – predicting that the old single-season record of 14 set in both 2009 and 2011 would be exceeded. Our guess last Friday, when only DeSean Jackson had been assigned the franchise tag, was that 20 teams could end up using the franchise designation by Monday's 4 p.m. ET deadline.

In the end, they did us one better, as 21 teams used the franchise tag – six of them using the tag on kicking specialists (five kickers, one punter). As a result, the free agent pool was diminished considerably, as 21 players were essentially taken off the market. They were DE Calais Campbell (Arizona), CB Brent Grimes (Atlanta), RB Ray Rice (Baltimore), RB Matt Forte (Chicago), K Mike Nugent (Cincinnati), K Phil Dawson (Cleveland), LB Anthony Spencer (Dallas), K Matt Prater (Denver), DE Cliff Avril (Detroit), DE Robert Mathis (Indianapolis), K Josh Scobee (Jacksonville), WR Dwayne Bowe (Kansas City), WR Wes Welker (New England), QB Drew Brees (New Orleans), P Steve Weatherford (New York Giants), S Tyvon Branch (Oakland), WR DeSean Jackson (Philadelphia), S Dashon Goldson (San Francisco), K Connor Barth (Tampa Bay), S Michael Griffin (Tennessee) and TE Fred Davis (Washington).

The list would have been even higher had not Monday also brought some big signings – running backs Arian Foster in Houston and Marshawn Lynch in Seattle and Buffalo wide receiver Stevie Johnson – to go along with the Packers signing TE Jermichael Finley earlier.

According to the free-agent rankings from Scout.com, the franchise tag took away nine of the top 17 potential free agents, with the Finley signing making it 10 of 17. But even that figure is somewhat misleading. Topping the list is Peyton Manning, who is still technically under contract with Indianapolis. Of the other six, three of them – G Carl Nicks of New Orleans, CB Cortland Finnegan of Tennessee, CB Brandon Carr of Kansas City – were on teams that used their franchise designation on another player and couldn't use it on them. That leaves only three players – DE Mario Williams (Houston) and wide receivers Mike Wallace (a restricted free agent with Pittsburgh) and Vincent Jackson (San Diego).

In all, about 25 players that were likely on the radar of several potential suitors were taken off the market. That doesn't mean that the pool has been diluted to the point that it isn't viable – there are more than 440 free agents for teams to pick through.

Among them are star players like Williams, Nicks, Wallace (for a compensatory price) and Jackson, as well as G Ben Grubbs (Baltimore), DEs Jeremy Mincey (Jacksonville), Robert Mathis (who is rumored to be close to re-signing with Indianapolis) and Andre Carter (New England), OTs Jared Gaither (San Diego) and Demitrius Bell (Buffalo), DTs Red Bryant (Seattle), Paul Soliai (Miami), Sione Pouha (New York Jets), Jason Jones (Tennessee) and Brodrick Bunkley (Denver), centers Scott Wells (Green Bay) and Chris Myers (Houston), linebackers Curtis Lofton (Atlanta), London Fletcher (Washington), and Jarret Johnson (Baltimore), CBs Carlos Rogers (Washington) and RFA Lardarius Webb (Baltimore), WRs Marques Colston (New Orleans), Mario Manningham (New York Giants), Pierre Garcon (Indianapolis) and Reggie Wayne (Indianapolis) and quarterbacks Alex Smith (San Francisco), Matt Flynn (Green Bay) and Kyle Orton (Kansas City).

For those teams who were planning on shopping when free agency begins next week, the shelves aren't bare, but some of the more enticing products have been reserved for the employees … as expected. There will still be shoppers fighting for the available players, but several of the best ones won't be available.

TUESDAY NOTES

  • Randy Moss will get his first workout since announcing his retirement a year ago. Moss has a workout scheduled today with the Saints, a team that isn't exactly flying under the radar with the media attention Moss is sure to receive.

  • NFL Network was scheduled to show a replay of the 2009 NFC Championship Game between the Vikings and Saints. But, given the scrutiny the Saints are getting from that game in the Bountygate scandal, the network pulled the game, opting instead to show a replay of the 1992 NFC title game between the 49ers and Cowboys.


    John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.


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