Personally, I like surprises about as much as I enjoy black licorice, or eating black licorice while getting kicked in the groin. The former is considered a delicacy to some, while the latter isn’t fun for anyone.
The exception, of course, is what’s about to happen over the next few days. The surprises of free agency and the keyboard mashing that follows are just the bestest, and for those who are truly obsessed with the March open market aphrodisiac, this week matches the excitement, hype, and abundance of joy that comes with Super Bowl week. We salute you, people who spend every waking hour looking at a screen (*hangs head*).
While the surprises are brewing (where you at, Brett Favre?) there are a good handful of likely developments you can expect to hear about very early on in free agency, either later tonight or sometime tomorrow. We’ve discussed most of them, and some at length, but here’s a handy little refresher.
Let’s talk about talking points, OK? OK.
1. Will the Dolphins overspend on a wide receiver?
We begin with the most obvious of the obvious. But for Miami and owner Stephen Ross, the fact that every man, woman, and child around the continent knows they’re after another wide receiver to complement Brian Hartline (who was re-signed) may actually become a problem financially.
The stealth approach is the best one in free agency, because otherwise opposing bidders can elevate the price of your desired goods. For the Dolphins, their stiffest opposition will almost definitely be Minnesota, a team that was already set to dip into the wide receiver market yesterday even before the Percy Harvin trade. Earlier this morning there was already a report that Vikings general manager Rick Spielman will make a strong play for Wallace, and even if they lose, the result will be a far more expensive purchase for one Mr. Ross.
How expensive? Quite possibly in the $13 million range. Wallace is good, and he’s fast, and he’s a vertical threat, and he’s all the wonderful things the Dolphins need in a receiver opposite Hartline. But he’s not even worth Vincent Jackson money, and to put $13 million annually in the proper perspective, Brandon Marshall had 672 more receiving yards than Wallace this past season and 49 more receptions, yet he’s due to make a base salary of $9.1 million in 2013.
2. Will Reggie Bush attempt to finally give the Lions consistent running back play?
That’s what we’ve been hearing repeatedly, and it hasn’t changed this morning, with ESPN’s John Clayton the latest to throw a few more logs on the Bush to Detroit fire. But while this will be greeted with so very little surprise if it becomes a reality, is running back really the primary need for the Lions? Yes, the Jahvid Best experiment has ended, and Bush can be inserted as the next Best immediately. He’s the closest commodity on the market to a Best clone with his edge quickness, and pass-catching ability.
But this is a team set to possibly/likely lose Chris Houston, Cliff Avril, and Louis Delmas in free agency. That’s two starting defensive backs and a defensive end who had 9.5 sacks for a unit which finished tied for 20th overall in that metric in 2012 (34 sacks). The need to finally have security at running back and to complement Mikel Leshoure is a looming one, but perhaps the greater priority should be either retaining defensive free agents, or hotly pursuing replacements.
3. Is Paul Kruger the riskiest defensive end?
Alongside a deep safety free agent class that’s headlined by Dashon Goldson and Ed Reed, pass rushers will also be the epicenter for the early free agency battle. That sort of thing happens when names like Avril, Dwight Freeney, John Abraham, and James Harrison are available for hire. Among the list is also Paul Kruger, who could come at a somewhat cheaper price than some of the aforementioned names due to the lack of longevity in his production. Although teams are aware that the likes of Freeney and Harrison are aging, there’s also some comfort in buying an established product. Or maybe that will be completely and entirely false, with teams far too willing to bury a young pass rusher in cash at the peak of a passing era.
It can be argued that Kruger is young and budding, but there could still be some hesitancy due to his lack of playing time prior to the past two seasons. He’s showed some encouraging skill, but he still hasn’t recorded a double-digit sack season yet (he had nine in 2012). The Browns are interested, and they’re reportedly closing in on a deal. Elsewhere in the deepest free agent pool, a Freeney-Peyton Manning reunion in Denver is looking increasingly likely given the also quite likely pending release of Elvis Dumervil.
4. How much will the Ravens be dismantled?
The Anquan Boldin trade yesterday was a painful necessity because the champs had one of the crunchiest cap situations. They’re still tight against it, but having about $3 million in space (where they were) is a lot worse than having approximately $10 million in space (where they are). So that’s nice, but with far too many free agents elsewhere set to leave — most notably Paul Kruger, Ed Reed, and Dannell Ellerbe — how much will their defense be destructed?
A lot, likely. The focus is now on re-signing Ellerbe, since losing two inside linebackers following Ray Lewis’ retirement would be especially devastating. That makes Kruger’s departure nearly a formality at this point, and it’s beginning to seem like Reed may not be far behind. There’s enough space to retain both Reed and Ellerbe, but if someone waves enough cash at Reed — damn you all to hell, 49ers — Baltimore will quickly resemble the Monopoly man when you go bankrupt, a look I’ve seen far too many times.