Free Agency Ripple Effects; Draft Picture Begins to Clear


DENVER AND TENNESSEE: Well the Peyton Manning saga continues today in Durham as he’s working out for the Denver Broncos. The hometown Titans is the other team in the Manning sweepstakes and yesterday they re-signed Pro Bowl Guard Steve Hutchinson and signed Peyton’s old Center, Jeff Saturday. Clearly, Titan owner Bud Adams is doing all he can to sign the HOF QB. With Denver sending the team jet to North Carolina to work Manning out, however, and it appears that the Titans are not a lock to land him. Since Manning is from Tennessee, the Titans would be the natural fit, but I think Peyton developed a good relationship with John Elway during his visit to Colorado. After all, who understands a situation like Manning’s than another HOF QB? The Titans are glad they at least have Jake Locker and hope he has learned the ways of the NFL after a disappointing rookie season. He has work to do. Denver picks at 25, and with a deep DT class, they’re probably eyeing a Michael Brockers and hoping he falls to them there. The Titans probably have one of the best OLs in the NFL by signing Saturday and Hutch (too bad Saturday’s last name isn’t Starsky) and should be looking for WRs and CBs as they lost Cortland Finnegan in FA to the Rams. ‘Dre Kirkpatrick is an option in round one as there’s a good possibility he will be available when the Titans are on the clock at 20. If Manning does sign, they could take a look at a Kendall Wrignt or roll the dice on a Stephen Hill to give the oft-injured Kenny Britt some help.

SEATTLE AND MIAMI: Manning isn’t the only Free Agent that can send ripples through the draft process, either. QB Matt Flynn is visitng with the Seattle Seahawks and is thought to be going to Miami next. Dolphins owner Stephen Ross has swung and missed on things lately more often than batters facing Nolan Ryan back in the day and they appear to be an organization heading the wrong direction. Trading away Brandon Marshall can’t make Flynn happy as Davone Bess is now their top WR. V-Jax signed elsewhere and Miami’s cupboard is bare at the position other than Bess, but they received 2 3rd round picks for Marshall so they’ll be draft-nimble. The big name FA WRs have signed – V-Jax in Tampa Bay and Marques Colston re-signed with the Saints, so look for Miami to improve their WR corps with at least 2 selections in the draft and take a hard look at Undrafted Free Agents post-draft. However, they still need help at RT, a pass-rushing DE, and a competent FS. At #8, they’ll likely pick Best Available because it should be RT Reilly Reiff. Reiff is basically a Matt Kalil clone with better run-blocking skills and has near-flawless game tape. He’s big, strong, nimble, durable and can play either tackle spot. What more do you want from a guy, seriously? Miami HC Joe Philbin may want to rebuild from the inside out, so shoring up the OL is likely their top priority as they do have one good pass rusher in Cameron Wake already. If the brass can convince Flynn they’re going to go OL at 8 to protect him first, and along with Pro-Bowl LT Jake Long, Flynn will likely sign in Miami. If not, look for the ‘Fins to take Ryan Tannehill at that 8 spot and sit a year behind Matt Moore. If they do sign Flynn, Tannehill likely goes to Seattle at 12 and I’ve said from the start that Miami is Flynn’s most natural spot since Philbin was his OC last season in Green Bay. Signing Flynn would mean the ‘Fins have a system QB running the system that he’s shown great aptitude for. Then again, look at the receivers in Green Bay, then look at Miami’s. Brian Hartline, Davone Bess, and Clyde Gates? Thank goodness for Reggie Bush; if he stays healthy again in 2012, he’ll likely be the team MVP. The strange thing is the ‘Fins also have intimate knowledge of Ryan Tannehill since new Dolphins OC Mike Sherman was Texas A and M’s Head Coach last year, so the Dolphins are armed with what no other NFL franchise can possibly have. It will be interesting to see which direction they press. If somehow the Seahawks grab Flynn in Free Agency, Mark Ingram won’t get by them at 12. If he’s gone, Luke Kuechley would help seal the middle of that defense, or perhaps WR Michael Floyd will make a nice toy for Flynn as they already have a solid OL. If the Dolphins like a particular WR other than Floyd, they have the draft-pick firepower this year to trade back into the latter half of the first round where Hill should be available, and he has Brandon Marshall-type size, sub-4.4 speed that Marshall lacked, and as far as we know, just one personality. The big knock on him is he played in an option offense at Georgia Tech. The upside is comparisons to Megatron. If this kid can learn and has a good work ethic, he could wind up being the steal of the entire draft. He’s that talented.

JACKSONVILLE must realize Blaine Gabbert isn’t the answer as they signed former Dolphin QB Chad Henne to shore up play there. Henne’s a decent QB, but his years in Miami proved he’s a bit timid as far as taking many chances downfield. He’s also somewhat erratic not game to game, but play to play. One pass you see and go “wow, nice throw” and the next you scratch your head wondering what he was thinking. His nickname in Miami was “Captain Checkdown,” so that should say something right there. He was rumored to be liked by the Jets, as their OC is Former Dolphins HC Tony Sparano, but Mark Sanchez’ hissy over the Manning talk probably forced their hand and they didn’t pursue Henne. Jacksonville still needs WRs in a desperate way and the same goes for 4-3 DEs. Since the Jags have a history of drafting busts there, they should love Quinton Coples at #7 overall. He probably is about as close as you can get to a lock at this point, and for the record I’m coming around on Coples and his “taking plays off” label. His rep isn’t nearly as bad as a Vernon Gholston’s was, and frankly DEs get tired chasing the QB every play over and over again. Hopefully the new regime in Jacksonville can make sure Coples’ head is on straight and keep him motivated. If they pass on him, they’ll take a WR. It will be very interesting if Justin Blackmon somehow falls here, but he shouldn’t get by the Rams at 6.

SAN DIEGO signed WRs Robert Meachem and Eddie Royal in an attempt to replace Vincent Jackson’s production with two lesser players. Both have their strengths, but neither one is a guy who can help take over a game or make that big play regularly. Royal is a possession guy and has a 1,000 yard season on his resume. The upside is the Chargers should be able to turn attention to their defense and OL in the draft. Hard to say exactly which direction they’ll be going, but a Tackle wouldn’t surprise me – it’s a deep draft for OTs that can play LT, so guys like Stanford’s Johnathan Martin, OSU’s Mike Adams, and FSU’s Zebrie Sanders are all possibilities here and the Chargers need some youth injected into the tackle position. Otherwise, they’ll address the front seven. At 18, Courtney Upshaw or Big Board-riser Lavonte David out of Nebraska would make sense.

BUFFALO: The biggest defensive Free Agent signing this year was the Bills landing Super Mario and making him the highest-paid defender in history. He’s shown great versatility in his career in going from a 4-3 DE and successfully becoming a 3-4 OLB – at 300 pounds! OUCH!!! The point is, he can play either spot and do damage. Give the Bills some credit; they’ve been hitting that porous defense with some talented young players (the failed Aaron Maybin experiment, Marcell Dareus, and now Super Mario) and their offense has, in the last couple of years, been able to move the ball and put some points up. They’re now not-so quietly headed in the right direction and still have the 10th choice in the draft. Could they put a Melvin Ingram opposite Super Mario, following the Denver model last year with Von Miller/Elvis Dumervil? It sure seemed to work out there, but I wonder if they’d not be better served to take an ILB like Luke Kuechley. He’s only 20 years old and one of those sideline-to-sideline tackling machines in the Patrick Willis mold. Luke also showed up bigger and more athletic at the combine than many expected, so he kept his draft stock as high as it could be for the position – a borderline top-10 pick. He’d shore up Buffalo’s run defense in the middle and Super Mario will be putting some heat on opposing QBs – neither of which the Bills D was good at last season. Without the injury bug hitting again, they could be setting up for a playoff run, if only a wild card in the AFC Pats division. If they want to follow the “win your division first” model, Ingram will be the likely choice (if available) because of the presence of the New England Patriots.