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NFL Indsider - Mark Maske

Slim Pickings in Free Agent Market

By Mark Maske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 22, 2005; 11:11 AM

This year's unrestricted free agent market lacked big-name players from the outset, and it is decidedly picked-over now.

But there are still a few intriguing players available, including:

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NFL Draft Predictions (washingtonpost.com, Mar 21, 2005)
Surplus Drives Down Price for Running Backs (washingtonpost.com, Mar 21, 2005)
Giants Sign Former Steeler Receiver Burress (washingtonpost.com, Mar 18, 2005)

Ty Law, CB: The New England Patriots managed to win the Super Bowl without him, then released him because of the foot injury that cut short his 2004 season and the $12.5 million that he was to count against next season's salary cap if he'd stayed with the club without renegotiating his contract. He still is doing rehabilitation on his foot, and there are concerns about whether he will return to the level of play that made him a four-time Pro Bowl selection.

But it's virtually certain that some team will risk giving him a lucrative contract because he is, quite simply, one of the best coverage cornerbacks in the league -- if not the best -- when he's healthy, and he will take the Patriots' aura with him wherever he goes. Pittsburgh, Kansas City, Indianapolis and the New York Jets have expressed interest.

Quincy Carter, QB: There are questions. Big questions. There were reports that he failed a drug test before the Dallas Cowboys released him in training camp last summer. The NFL Players Association filed a grievance over that move, claiming wrongful termination because a player cannot be released due to a failed drug test, and the case is to be heard by an arbitrator next month. Carter signed with the Jets but was absent from the team at the end of last season, and there have been reports that he was in drug treatment during that absence and was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

But there aren't many veteran quarterbacks still on the market who can win games, and Carter has shown that he can do that. He helped Dallas to the playoffs in the 2003 season as the Cowboys' starter, and he won two of his three starts for the Jets last season when Chad Pennington was sidelined by an ailing shoulder. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers brought in Carter for a visit last week.

Anthony Thomas, RB: He lost the Chicago Bears' starting tailback job last season to Thomas Jones, who does not appear to be bound for Canton, Ohio, quite yet. But he's only 27 years old. He had two 1,000-yard rushing seasons in his four years with the Bears, and he produced 182 rushing yards in the two games he started for Chicago last season. The problem is, he simply is lost in the shuffle, with Edgerrin James, Shaun Alexander and Travis Henry on the trading block and the draft well-stocked with centerpiece runners.

Chris Hovan, DT: He fell into disfavor with the Minnesota Vikings last season, and teams have been wary of him on the free-agent market. But he probably will have to settle for a modest contract, and he once was the sort of high-energy player who could make a difference on a defense.

Marques Douglas, DE: The Howard University product had 10 sacks for the Baltimore Ravens over the past two seasons, including 5-1/2 last season.

That's 5-1/2 more sacks than Courtney Brown -- the former top overall draft choice who was cut by the Cleveland Browns but is being treated like he's Bruce Smith in his prime on his free-agent tour -- managed last season. Douglas visited Denver on Monday, but the Broncos seem preoccupied with trying to outmaneuver the Washington Redskins, Jacksonville Jaguars and other teams to get Brown.

Falcons Upgrading Defense

General Manager Rich McKay said before the free-agent market opened that the Atlanta Falcons wouldn't be shopping with the same urgency to upgrade their defense that they felt a year ago. But that hasn't stopped the club from making a string of significant additions, including an agreement over the weekend with linebacker Edgerton Hartwell on a six-year, $26.25 million contract that includes $8 million in bonus money.

Hartwell becomes the starter at middle linebacker in Atlanta's four-linemen, three-linebacker alignment after playing alongside Ray Lewis at inside linebacker in Baltimore's 3-4 setup. He potentially could be a solid playmaker for a Falcons' defense that also has added linebacker Ike Reese and safeties Ronnie Heard and Rich Coady in free agency. . . .

Falcons owner Arthur Blank pledged to invest up to $150 million for improvements to the Georgia Dome to help the city's bid to host the 2009 Super Bowl. Blank indicated the proposed improvements would be scaled back if the team is unable to reach agreements with the state, which owns the facility, to ensure that the Falcons would be able to get a sufficient return on their investment. . . .

The New Orleans Saints are negotiating a contract extension with wide receiver Joe Horn, who has one season remaining on his current deal. . . . The Patriots continue to work on an extension with quarterback Tom Brady, who is signed through the 2006 season. . . .

Free-agent guard Roberto Garza, formerly of the Falcons, had a three-year, $7 million contract lined up with the Ravens a few weeks ago, when he suddenly learned that Baltimore's physical revealed he has no anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee, presumably due to an injury suffered during the 2003 season.

The Ravens withdrew their contract offer, even though Garza was healthy last season and helped Atlanta to have the league's top-ranked rushing offense. Green Bay also was too wary of the condition of his knee to sign him, and Garza ended up agreeing to a one-year contract with Chicago that can be worth as much as $1 million, with incentives. . . .

Carolina wants to re-sign linebacker Mark Fields, an unrestricted free agent who reached the Pro Bowl last season. But Fields is putting off contract negotiations until making certain he gets a clean bill of health from his doctors in early May. He sat out the 2003 season while undergoing treatment for Hodgkin's disease. . . .

It's possible that veteran tailback Eddie George could return to the Tennessee Titans. He spent an unsuccessful season in Dallas after being released by the Titans last summer, when the two sides couldn't agree to a reworked contract. . . .

New Orleans re-signed defensive end Tony Bryant, an unrestricted free agent, to a two-year, $1.5 million contract. The Saints also re-signed tight end Lamont Hall and linebacker Sedrick Hodge, both unrestricted free agents, and safety Mel Mitchell, a restricted free agent. . . . Cincinnati re-signed safety Anthony Mitchell, an unrestricted free agent. . . . Fullback Rob Konrad, cut by Miami, agreed to a one-year contract with Oakland. . . . The Dolphins agreed to a one-year deal with free-agent guard Damion Cook, formerly of Cleveland. . . . The Broncos seem unlikely to match the five-year, $15 million contract offer sheet that cornerback Kelly Herndon, a restricted free agent, signed with Seattle. The deal includes a $4.5 million signing bonus. Denver has until Thursday to decide. . . .

Green Bay signed guard Matt O'Dwyer, an unrestricted free agent formerly with Tampa Bay, to a one-year, minimum-salary contract. The Packers have signed two free-agent offensive linemen, Adrian Klemm and O'Dwyer, since losing both of last season's starting guards by releasing Mike Wahle and watching Marco Rivera sign with Dallas as an unrestricted free agent. . . .

The Jaguars re-signed safety Deke Cooper, a restricted free agent. . . . Another restricted free agent, fullback Joey Goodspeed, re-signed with St. Louis. . . . Henry told the Associated Press he will hold out from the Bills as long as it takes for the team to trade him, expressing displeasure that the club has not completed a proposed deal with Arizona involving Cardinals offensive tackle L.J. Shelton.

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