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Thursday, Feb. 26 at 11 a.m. ET

Where Will Albert Haynesworth, Ray Lewis, Matt Cassel and Other Top NFL Free Agents Land?

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Mark Maske
Washington Post Sports Columnist
Thursday, February 26, 2009; 11:00 AM

Ray Lewis, Albert Haynesworth and Matt Cassel are just a few of the big names who could soon be moving to other teams when the NFL free agent signing period for 2009 begins Friday. Washington Post NFL columnist and blogger Mark Maske was online Thursday, Feb. 26 at 11 a.m. ET takes your questions about start of NFL free agency, the scouting combine and more.

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The transcript follows.

Mark writes the NFL News Feed blog for the washingtonpost.com's pro football group blog, The League. He is the author of War Without Death: A Year of Extreme Competition in Pro Football's NFC East.

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New England: Scott Pioli must know exactly what Matt Cassell is able to do and what he is not able to do. For example, I have read that Matt plays much better in the shotgun than he does lining up under the center.

Scott must also have a very good idea of the Patriots intentions for the quarterback position. By that I mean he knows if the Patriots are truly comfortable having to highly paid QBs next year.

So given those two items - I would expect KC to be able to drive a hard bargain with NE but ultimately a fair trade to both teams.

But would Scott Pioli have political/public relationship reasons for not wanting to trade with New England?

As a Pats fan, I feel whatever NE does -trade or keep him] is the best decision for the team.

"In Bill We Trust"

P.S. -- This might sound contradictory to above but I am happy that Matt Cassell was smart enough to accept the Tag, doing that prevents NE from screwing him later when everyone has their QBs.

Mark Maske: The real question, to me, in the Matt Cassel situation is whether the Patriots can afford to trade him this offseason. Tom Brady says he'll be ready for training camp. But that doesn't necessarily make it so. The Patriots might feel like they have to keep Cassel around in case Brady's knee is not right.

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Philadelphia: Do signing bonuses count against the salary cap?

Mark Maske: Yes, in a prorated amount. So if you sign a player to a five-year contract, say, with a $20 million signing bonus, the bonus counts $4 million against the cap in each season of the deal. Other things can change that later, but that's the basic idea.

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Boston: You thoughts on most likely place for Matt Cassell to end up?

Mark Maske: It's a very good question. For now, I would still call New England the most likely place, for one more season at least, until the Patriots are completely satisfied that Brady's knee is sound. We'll see. If Cassel is traded, that's pretty good evidence that the Patriots are confident in Brady's ability to be ready for the season. If Cassel isn't traded, that's a clear signal the Patriots have some doubts, no matter what they end up saying publicly.

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Washington, D.C.: The Bills apparently cut Derrick Dockery. Do you think the Redskins would consider bringing him back?

Mark Maske: Yes, he has been cut by the Bills two seasons into a seven-year, $49 million contract. It would make a lot of sense for the Redskins to try to re-sign him, given that Pete Kendall is a free agent and Randy Thomas is coming off surgery for a neck injury. I always thought of Dockery as a promising player but clearly not a $7 million-a-year player.

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Slimbo Rice: Any chance the Skins make a quick play for TJ? They loved CJ last year and it would keep him away from the Eagles and G-men.

Mark Maske: I don't see how they could sign both Houshmandzadeh and Haynesworth, no. I do think they can create salary cap maneuverability for one big signing, but not two. And even if they don't sign Haynesworth, I think they need to address other areas of need and hope their issues at wide receiver are solved by either Devin Thomas or Malcolm Kelly developing into a contributor.

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Herndon, Va.: Mr. M: With the Redskins cap situation - is there any way they have a realistic chance of going after Haynesworth - or Lewis for that matter? If not, who/what can they afford?

Mark Maske: For sure, I think the Redskins can create enough salary cap space for at least one big signing in free agency and a few other smaller ones. If a team has the willingness and the cash to make a big move, it almost always can create the salary cap room to make it work. Another factor is that the salary cap just went up by about $4 million per team. When the labor deal was struck in 2006, a mechanism was put in there for an automatic adjustment upward if the teams collectively failed to reach a certain threshold in their player spending in the previous season. That's what happened here, and that $4 million jump was more than teams had been anticipating. So it's found salary cap space for a team like the Redskins.

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TJ and Chad: Any chance that either of them ends up in Baltimore?

Mark Maske: I would think the Ravens would be in the running for Houshmandzadeh in free agency, yes. Assuming that Joe Flacco continues to develop at quarterback, adding a receiver like that would make a lot of sense. We'll see how much cash the Ravens have left at their disposal after dealing with Terrell Suggs, Ray Lewis, Bart Scott and Jason Brown, however those situations end up.

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Bowie, Md.: Mark, There's been a lot of bloviating about the Skins cap situation. Why is this a story? The Skins are always in a cap situation, but it never prevents them from paying big bucks. Plus, don't you think Snyder is counting on a cap-less 2010? Surely his cap experts can defer enough until next year and pay the big bucks then. Having said that, I think Haynesworth would be a Stubblefield-sized mistake here. Is Canty a viable alternative?

Mark Maske: I agree with you about the salary cap considerations. If you have cash to spend and a willingness to spend it, you can usually make it work against the cap. There can be repurcussions down the line for that sort of approach, but those repurcussions usually aren't as dire as predicted. The Redskins' problem in the past hasn't been their spending. It's been the players they've chosen to spend on. On your other points, I don't think the Redskins or anyone else should be planning on a season without a salary cap in 2010. Clearly it's a possibility, but you can't plan that way, I don't think. I don't know that I see Canty really making a major difference on the Redskins' defense.

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Frederick, Md. : Why is Hall coveted by the Skins if he couldn't cut it for the Raiders? Also, where do you see them going with the 13th pick?

Mark Maske: I thought Hall played pretty well for the Redskins. I don't know that I consider him a real top-tier cornerback, but I do think you can get by with him under the right circumstances. On the 13th pick, it's a little early yet. A lot depends on what needs remain for them after free agency. My one early thought, though, is that offensive line or linebacker would be the way to go.

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Odenton, Md.: How much is the uncapped year next year going to affect free agency this year because of the change in salary cap rules? I read that some of the salary cap accounting that teams do with regards to pushing things into the following years cap don't apply this year. How does that affect free agency this year? Will it be like baseball has been, where only the premiere free agents still get the big contracts, while a lot of second-tier players will get less than they are expecting? Or could this be bad enough that all players -- even the premiere ones -- get less than they are expecting?

Mark Maske: The salary cap rules are a little bit different, but I don't see that as being a major factor in this free agent market. The biggest issue is the amount of cash that some teams are going to have available to spend under these economic conditions. I think it will be much as you described. The top players will get their money, and then everyone else could feel the squeeze.

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Ravens Fan: Regarding Ray Lewis, as a Baltimorean and a diehard Ravens fan, I'd hate to see him leave Baltimore. Having said that, if he's determined to get "big" money, I say wish him well and say good-bye. I'm guessing the franchise tag on Suggs was in part to give them some cap room to negotiate with Ray, Scott and Brown. It's not clear that the team will be able to re-sign all three or even 2 out of 3. So here's my question, Is the draft pool deep enough to get some talent, even if it takes a year or two to develop? And, will the other salary cap cuts in the league provide some suitable alternatives? Finally, how big is the loss of Ryan as Defensive Coordinator in adjusting to these changes?

Mark Maske: I think the Ravens franchised Terrell Suggs simply to ensure they wouldn't lose all three: Suggs, Ray Lewis and Bart Scott. Getting a longterm deal done with Suggs actually would be more salary cap-friendly for the Ravens. It will be very interesting to see what happens with Lewis. I expect him to explore the market, to see how much money he could get from the Cowboys or Jets. But when it comes down to decision-making time, I think it would be very difficult for him to leave Baltimore as long as the Ravens are in the same ballpark with their contract offer. I think it's important for the Ravens to keep either Lewis or Scott, and if that happens I don't think you'll see too much of a dropoff in their defense even without Rex Ryan there.

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Adams Morgan: Shouldn't the current combine format be scrapped for something akin to the "Battle of the Network Stars"?

Mark Maske: The main thing that's wrong with the combine is the emphasis that some people now put on it. It's not an event. It's a non-event. Nothing happens there. Nothing is decided there. It shouldn't be on TV. What's useful about it for teams is that they can see if a certain player is just too slow or just too this or just too that to succeed in the NFL. That's it. But no player should move way, way up in the draft just because he has a good workout at the combine. A fast guy who can't play doesn't do you any good.

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Durham, N.C.: What's the latest on Carlos Rogers and Shawn Springs? If the Skins resign Hall, then it seems very unlikely that both of these guys will be back. Which player would be more likely to return and what would be the expected trade value for each of them?

Mark Maske: If the Redskins re-sign Hall and make another big move in free agency, like signing Haynesworth, I would think it would be difficult to keep Springs under his current contract terms. That's just a guess, nothing more.

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Baltimore: The starting qb for the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 1 is: Tyler Thigpen? Matt Cassel? Mark Sanchez? None of the above??

Mark Maske: I think it's Thigpen.

There were some things I saw in him last season that I really liked, and I'm guessing that Todd Haley will think he can make his offense work--eventually--with Thigpen at quarterback.

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Washington, D.C.: Mark, Why do the Redskins (and Lions) have such a hard time drafting and developing WRs? In general, do WRs have a more difficult time adapting to the pro game? Theoretically, it shouldn't be any more difficult than other positions, considering NFL quarterbacks are more accurate.

Mark Maske: If you look at the receivers drafted in the first round over the last 10 or 12 years, it is even more hit-and-miss than players at other positions. Taking a wide receiver in the first round might be the biggest draft gamble of all. I've heard a bunch of reasons given and I'm not sure which is right, but NFL teams seem to make more mistakes at that position early in the draft than they do at other positions.

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Ronkonkoma, N.Y.: Last year free agency was fast and furious with Assante Samuels signing the first day with the Eagles. Will we see another start like that this year?. Or will the economic woes make the free agency period go slower than last year?

Mark Maske: No, I think it will go even faster. If you're a top player, you want to get your money and get it quickly. I think the big money could be gone after only a few days this time around.

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Washington, D.C.: Mark,

What are the chances Big Al is a Redskin in 24 hours? Are the reports supported and valid by the rest of the sports world? In Texas, they're guaranteeing it, so how do you see it?...and if we get him what happens to hall, springs, and taylor? Thanks man!

Mark Maske: Nothing is guaranteed. I do think the Redskins will be in the running. I do think they'll make an attempt to get something done quickly with Haynesworth. But that doesn't mean there isn't another team out there willing to pay him a little more.

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Rockville, Md.: Instead of breaking the bank for Albert Haynesworth, why don't the skins throw out the exact same amount to Jason Brown, Chris Canty and Antonio Smith?

Mark Maske: If they don't get Haynesworth, I think you very well could see that sort of approach where the money they would have given Haynesworth is spread among several players.

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Mark Maske: I'm going to run, folks. Thanks for the questions and talk to you soon.

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Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.


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