Items of importance as the Pro Bowl approaches:
-- Owners are meeting this weekend in Dallas to try and iron out revenue-sharing issues remaining between the teams. An agreement could set the stage for a new collective bargaining agreement. If the league and the players association fail to ratify a new one before free agency begins in roughly three weeks time, the '07 season will be uncapped and the free agent market will dry up considerably in the next two offseasons.
-- As things stand the top potential free agents are being removed from the market anyway. First, the Colts stated their intention to franchise WR Reggie Wayne. Earlier this week rumors spread the Jets will franchise DE John Abraham. Today comes word that Seattle will likely franchise guard Steve Hutchinson.
-- One more reason to think Dallas will go OLB in round one: Titans' GM Floyd Reese describes this year's LB crop as the best in years, leading to speculation that Tennessee will select one at the top of round two. The team does not have a third round pick and will likely use its third overall pick on either Vince Young or Matt Leinart, given Steve McNair's age and recent injury history.
-- The low relative cost of safeties could spur Dallas to sign one in March. The Baltimore Sun reports that Ravens Pro-Bowl FS Ed Reed, arguably the best at his position the past few years, is frustrated by the low pay at his position. Broncos Pro-Bowl SS John Lynch, for example, will make $2.9 million next year while Reed will make $2.19 million. Use these figures are benchmarks for a free agent deal.
Another contract to consider is the four year, $10 million deal Darren Sharper signed with the Vikings last March. Sharper received a $4 million signing bonus. Sharper was a multiyear Pro Bowler for Green Bay and made the squad again this year after snagging nine interceptions. The top free agent free safeties this year lack Sharper's, Lynch's or Reed's reputations and will certainly cost less.
-- Keep the name Chukky Okobi in mind the next couple of weeks. He's the backup C/G for the Steelers. His '05 salary was $540,000 but will jump to $2 million this year. That might lead Pittsburgh to either cut him or elevate him to starter. That choice will in turn depend on starting C Jeff Hartings, who is due a $4.75 million salary in '06. The Steelers would like Hartings to accept a pay cut and might cut him if he refuses. Hartings is the anchor of Pittsburgh's line but the ten year veteran has balky knees.
Okobi would be a big (6'1", 318 lb.) alternative to Andre Gurode. He has five years of pro experience and very little wear and tear. Okobi also plays special teams. If the Steelers like Okobi enough to consider him for starter, he must be good. Expect Dallas to inquire about him if he's the center the Steelers let go.