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With lockout over, NFL free agent frenzy begins

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When it comes to rebuilding an NFL franchise or stocking up on future talent, the NFL Draft in April is often the most exciting time. For two days, fans eagerly await each pick to see which teams get the athletes ready to step in immediately, which teams gets the late-round sleepers and which teams fail.

But thanks to the extended NFL lockout, the excitement of the Draft pales in comparison to the current frenzy to sign free agents and begin training camp. Starting Tuesday, all NFL teams had the opportunity to negotiate with free agents but cannot sign them to contracts until Friday. In addition, teams cannot cut or waive players until Thursday by which time they must also be in compliance with the salary cap.

Nine teams open training camp Wednesday, including the Seattle Seahawks, Dallas Cowboys, Baltimore Ravens and the local San Diego Chargers. Not surprisingly, it was these teams who seemed to dominate headlines Tuesday afternoon.

Back in April, the Seahawks passed on drafting a quarterback and instead head coach and executive-Vice President Pete Carroll said he was preparing for the upcoming season with the belief that Matt Hasselbeck would be under center. Now it appears that Hasselbeck, after 10 seasons as Seattle’s QB, is headed elsewhere.

Matt Hasselbeck

In two, some-what surprising moves, the Seahawks agreed to contracts with quarterbacks Tarvaris Jackson and Matt Leinart. Jackson backed up Brett Favre in Minnesota for two years while Leinart backed up Kurt Warner in Arizona and Matt Shaub in Houston. By signing with Seattle, Leinart will be reunited with two former USC Trojans, Carroll and wide receiver Mike Williams.

Considered one of the top free agents this off-season, Hasselbeck is reportedly piquing the interests of the Tennesee Titans, Miami Dolphins and Seahawks’ NFC West rivals the Arizona Cardinals and San Francisco 49ers.

In Tennessee, Hasselbeck would immediately fill the veteran quarterback role vacated by the retired Kerry Collins. The Titans also drafted former University of Washington (UW) quarterback Jake Locker in the first round of the draft. Locker was a freshman at UW when Hasselbeck led the Seahawks to Super Bowl XL in 2006.

But, while Tennessee might be a great fit for Hasselbeck, teams can’t officially sign players to contracts until Friday. Because of this expedited timeframe for signing free agents, many players are receiving multiple offers from different teams. With the bidding process attracting so many suitors, rumors run rampant.

Most rumors focus on the top talent, including cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, wide receivers Santonio Holmes and Sidney Rice, and defensive end Ray Edwards. The potential trades of quarterbacks Kevin Kolb and Donovan McNabb out of Philadelphia and Washington D.C., respectively, are also commanding attention.

Nnamdi Asomugha

Asomugha is considered the best free agent on the market and is being linked to several teams, including the New York Jets and the Houston Texans. If he chooses to sign with the Texans, they immediately become a Super Bowl contender. Edwards is only 26 years old and had 16.5 sacks the past two seasons in Minnesota. He is considered one of the top pass rushers on the market and the Eagles have reportedly expressed interest.

Of the other teams dominating Tuesday’s headlines, the Baltimore Ravens announced the pending release of tight end Todd Heap and wide receiver Derrick Mason, among others. By the time the waiver wire opens at 4 p.m. ET Thursday, teams must be in compliance with the new salary cap; in cutting Heap and Mason, the Ravens can reduce payroll and then attempt to re-sign those players to lesser deals assuming they don’t sign elsewhere.

Heap, one of the premiere tight ends in the league is already said to be drawing interest from the Cardinals. According to ESPN’s Chris Mortensen, Heap has Arizona connections and has been working with Cardinal wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald.

The Dallas Cowboys also made several cost-cutting moves by releasing high-priced veterans, including running back Marion Barber, wide receiver Roy Williams and offensive lineman Leonard Davis. These three moves alone save the Cowboys $15.7 million they can now spend on free agents.

Other rumors of note include the potential return of Plaxico Burress to the New York Giants. Burress, who was recently released from jail after shooting himself in the leg in a New York City bar two years ago, helped the Giants win a Super Bowl but was not expected to be re-signed.

Carson Palmer of the Cincinnati Bengals made headlines today when it was officially announced the he had retired. Palmer has been publicly seeking a trade but Bengal Owner Mike Brown has steadfastly refused to trade Palmer. When Palmer threatened retirement, Brown stood his ground. At least the next year (his contract ends after 2011) Palmer will be out of the league.

In local news, the San Diego Chargers announced the signing of franchise player Vincent Jackson to a one-year tender and the re-signing of tight end Randy McMichael. Charger safety Eric Weddle is one of the free agents garnering the most attention from other teams. His suitors include Indianapolis, Cleveland, Houston and Jacksonville.

Images courtesy Chad Riley and Frank Osemeka via Wikimedia Commons

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