While it may be premature to finalize free agent predictions when the new CBA rules will determine salary cap numbers, restricted and unrestricted free agents, perhaps even the chance to dump "dead money" contracts without cap penalties - it is clear the Dallas Cowboys need to make moves when the offseason begins (unlocks?). Depending not only on uncertain cap space and released players, but even the ability to resign their own free agents - Doug Free and Stephen Bowen top my personal wish list - circumstances could lead the Cowboys to start a half dozen free agents if they try to fill the public's demands for new safeties, defensive and offensive linemen, and perhaps a corner.
Of course, free agency means any team can make a bid for a player and the market isn't as simple as buying all the groceries on your list. There are no guarantees you will get the brand names you'd prefer. Even worse, your rivals could end up with the best pickings. As we await the beginning of the 2011 season, we can at least ponder where in the free agent market competitive bidding could force a confrontation between NFC East foes.
Jason La Canfora of NFL Network reported sources within the Washington Redskins' organization believe the team will make a strong push in the FA market, usually a safe bet with owner Dan Snyder and savvy general manager Bruce Allen. Names atop their list, and possibly the Cowboys', include Cullen Jenkins, Kris Jenkins, NY Giant's Barry Cofield, and Aubrayo Franklin. With both teams needing upgrades to their 3-4 defensive fronts things could get heated. The report also tells of the ‘Skins serious interest in offensive tackle Marshal Yanda, likely headed by offensive line coach Chris Foerster who has ties to the Baltimore Ravens. Yanda played RT in 2010 but has more experience as OG. It is unclear if the 'Skins would look to replace veteran Jamal Brown at RT, now a free agent, or if they are looking to bolster their interior line. Now, Yanda is a restricted free agent. This means that they are considering what happens if certain restricted FAs become unrestricted under the new CBA guidelines and possibly looking to pair a younger OT opposite Trent Williams...could the ‘Skins also target Doug Free?
What other FA battlegrounds may be in store for the NFC East?
As the chill from the thought of Free in a ‘Skins uniform subsides, I remember that the Giants currently have the oldest starting o-line in the NFL...
Trying not to sweat, suppressing the fear of the Cowboys without the promising prospect of Doug Free and Tyron Smith book-ending the o-line for years to come, let's shift to the interior oline, a place the Redskins, Giants and Cowboys could all share FA targets. The Giants' interior o-line has been a very solid unit over the past years with battle tested veterans David Diehl (before moving to LT), Shaun O'Hara, Chris Snee, and Rich Seubert. But Cowboys fans know the dangers of relying only on your battle scarred veterans and the GMen could be shopping for an heir apparent. Over at the Mothership, Josh Ellis wrote a piece on Daryn Colledge of the Green Bay Packers and his potential fit with the Cowboys. After the unattainable (in my opinion), Logan Mankins and Carl Nicks, Colledge actually tops my list of guards realistically available in the FA market, again assuming some restricted FAs may become unrestricted. A post over at Acme Packing Company provides some insight on why Colledge may be an acceptable lose to the Pack - two OT/OG candidates in TJ Lang and rookie Derek Sherrod are possible replacements - with a fan poll that appears to support the idea.
Actually, I don't think the 'Skins and Giants will be the only NFC East competition in the o-line aisle. I think there is a dirty little secret about the Philadelphia Eagles' 2010 high powered offense and Tommy Lawlor's post over at SBNation Philly seems to concur. The Birds have issues along the o-line. Rookie draft choice Danny Watkins is a testament to the fact, but with their interior o-line carousel, there are still some roster spots that could be filled by a FA. In fact, Winston Justice at RT has had some injury issues and never been consistent, though did play well in 2009, so the Eagles could be considering replacing him sooner than later since the right side is now the Eagles QB's blind side...and there goes another shiver far too frightening to ignore...is Doug Free a legitimate FA target for all the NFC East teams?
Unlike what appears to be popular opinion, I do not think Nnamdi Asomugha will be the big NFC East FA battle. Reports have dubbed both the Cowboys and Eagles as interested parties in the Nnamdi sweepstakes and while the prospect of such talent should make every team a little interested, I just don't expect a franchise known for not re-signing big name veterans over the age of 30 (go ask Brian Dawkins) and another franchise likely lacking the cap space to become the top bidders. Jerry Jones has claimed the Cowboys are happy with their current list of cornerbacks, though most fans seem to disagree, and the Eagles are certainly looking to upgrade the man opposite Asante Samuel so there could be cross-bidding with defensive backs, and not just at cornerback.
The Eagles have two talented but young safeties, sophomore Nate Allen and rookie Jaiquawn Jarrett, but considering the aforementioned aversion for aged players, veteran safety Quintin Mikell seems a candidate for a bus ticket out of Philly so they could be looking for someone to compete with Jarrett for a starting spot. Could the Cowboys' need for more leadership in their secondary and the Eagles' search for a less seasoned veteran lead to the old switcheroo con where Gerald Sensabaugh and Quintin Mikell trade lockers? It's tough to tell what plan former Philly o-line coach and new defensive coordinator Juan Castillo has in store for the Birds, but the extreme notwithstanding, the bitter rivals could both be preying on the same defensive backs in the FA market.
So where do you think we may see some clashes between NFC East checkbooks?