Everyone is looking forward to the start of free agency tomorrow at 4 p.m. ET, but there continue to be a wide variety of stories on the eve of one of the most rumor filled events in the NFL. Let’s check in on the top stories before the NFL landscape gets shook up even more.
– Ravens WR Anquan Boldin is to be traded to San Francisco for a 6th round draft pick – Boldin was asked by Baltimore management to take a $2 million “pay cut” and refused. He said he loved Baltimore, but refused on “principle” because he felt that when the initial contract was finalized for 4 years back in 2010, he assumed the contract would be paid in full. Now he has reportedly been traded to the 49ers pending his physical. Baltimore is set to receive a 2013 6th-round pick in the deal. While it is unfortunate for Baltimore that they couldn’t retain one of their better players who played his best during last season’s postseason stretch, getting something for him is valuable. Boldin made it clear he wouldn’t accept the reduction in pay, so the only other option for Baltimore was to simply cut him like many other teams are doing with their veterans. San Francisco is getting a 32-year old receiver who should continue to be a difference maker on the 49ers’ explosive offense. The 49ers needed to find some more receiver help and have it with Boldin whose physical playing style should continue to pay dividends. You can’t really ask for much more on either side.
– Veterans are continuing to be released – Washington CB DeAngelo Hall and Arizona RB Chris “Beanie” Wells were just recently released, adding their names to the incredible list of veteran talent currently looking for work. Thoughts were that the pickings this year in free agency were slim – they still are – but with teams having to unload players because of bad contracts, the talent available is increasing. Some of the players being released are a bit surprising, while others were expected by many because of the salary cap issues going on around the league. By that I mean teams simply don’t have the space they used to have in order to maneuver. With the cap becoming more static without much change, teams who currently employ players with frustratingly large contracts must do what they can to free up space. So, you see big names with big contract numbers being released. Sure, Hall is getting older and Wells certainly was expendable because of how fragile he has been, so many of these moves are certainly based off of football rather than purely the business, but still… this is setting in motion what figures to be a very odd offseason as teams adapt.
– Former Carolina Panthers CB Chris Gamble is retiring – This comes after Gamble was released on March 8th and then celebrated his 30th birthday on the 11th. Gamble was released because of what I mentioned above. Carolina is strapped on cap space and couldn’t afford the star cornerback. This is one of the moves that was simply business. Gamble is the best cornerback in Panthers’ history and was still playing well, at least when healthy. Following his release there was already buzz about his next stop, but he has reportedly decided to retire and focus on life after football despite his continuing love for the game. Gamble has been dealing with some injuries in the past couple years and health seemed to play a role in his decision. I wish Gamble would continue to play. He was one of the most underrated and supremely talented cornerbacks in the game after being drafted in the first-round of the 2004 draft. He holds the Panthers’ record for career interceptions (27), is second in career interception-return yards (326) and third in career tackles (558). It’s unfortunate he didn’t receive more national recognition.
– Speaking of national recognition… Minnesota WR Percy Harvin to Seattle – Percy Harvin has been upset with Minnesota for awhile now and they finally broke down and gave him his wish: at ticket out of Minneapolis. Harvin will now be suiting up for Pete Carroll and the Seattle Seahawks. The deal will reportedly mean Seattle is giving up their 2013 first-round draft pick to the Vikings and Minnesota is giving up…well… Harvin. This move shakes up the NFC West as Seattle continues to look like a very, very early favorite to push for the Super Bowl. With QB Russell Wilson and RB Marshawn Lynch back and the Seahawks defense continuing to look like a top-5 defense, Seattle was already threatening, but with the addition of Harvin, they are frightening. I wouldn’t get too excited just yet, but on paper, a 2nd-year pro Wilson led Seahawks offense with an explosive playmaker like Harvin could mean a deep playoff run. Get excited Seahawk fans, but keep in mind that things don’t normally pan out like how we think they will only a month removed from the Super Bowl. As for Minnesota, they sit in a surprisingly comfortable spot. Harvin was a headache and, while talented, was worth letting go. Headaches who don’t want to be there are worthless in my book, especially if you can get great value for them. A first-round pick this April is good value. It allows them to use their top three picks in the first 52 to shore up a multitude of holes. One possibility is drafting West Virginia prospect WR Tavon Austin, who reminds many of Harvin and could be utilized in many of the same ways. Either way, both teams seem to win here. There is risk for both, but what good trade doesn’t live life a little on the edge? It will be interesting to see what Minnesota does with their acquired pick and it will be equally as interesting to see what the Seahawks do with their new dynamic offensive tool.
UPDATE (March 12, 10:00 a.m.): Harvin reportedly was disgruntled because he “lacked faith” in QB Christian Ponder. It wasn’t the only reason, but was significant enough, apparently, to put Harvin over the edge with Minnesota. If this is the case, the Vikings are certainly better off without Harvin. Ponder hasn’t been a “superstar” or really even a “star” to this point, but he is still young and continues to show potential. Potential is worthless unless it is eventually realized, but Harvin’s “lack of faith” could have been an awful influence on the developing quarterback. At this case, Minnesota seems to have had no choice, received plenty of compensation and should be better off for it. Also, the deal will reportedly include more than just the first-rounder I referenced above. The deal, according to CBSSports, also means Minnesota will receive Seattle’s seventh-round pick this year and a mid-round pick in 2014.
– New York Giants WR Victor Cruz receives first-round tender – Cruz, if available, would be the delicacy of the free agent class this season, but alas, he is not (forgive me… “alas” just seemed appropriate). Instead, Cruz sits behind a first-round tender placed on him by the Giants. This essentially means that Cruz can test his value on the market, but if anyone is serious about pursuing the 26-year old (trying to sign him), they will have to give up a first-round pick in the process. These tenders are placed across the league every year and are normally successful in retaining the player. Then again, not many players who are tendered with first or second-round picks possess the ability of Cruz. Cruz has emerged as a star in New York and could be a huge piece to any offense in the NFL. A first-round pick is a lot to give up, but some teams may think it is worth it. Look at St. Louis sitting with two first-round picks and no receivers to speak of. Heck, now throw Minnesota into the mix with their newly acquired first-round pick from Seattle in the Harvin trade. The Vikings could use the pick to bring in Cruz and then still draft as they wish in the first-round with the other pick (the same goes for St. Louis). There is a very good chance New York has nothing to worry about and this first wave of free agency will come and go without any team going after Cruz, but of all years and all players… this is the year a high profile with a first-round tender may not be safe.