There are a thousand questions as free agency approaches. As a Jets fan, about 750 of them have to do with my team. Free agency has become such a dice roll in recent years. Giving money to Darren Sproles worked out for the Saints; throwing cash at Santonio Holmes has not worked for the Jets. For every great free-agent success story, there are three other players whose teams would like to cut bait after just one season of a huge contract.
With that in mind, let's deal with the most pressing questions as the calendar flips to March.
Since Manning still has to get a clean bill of health, plenty of teams will fall out of the chase, needing to address their QB situations in free agency or the draft. I'll give you two teams who can sit back until Manning throws and woo Wayne in the meantime. In the AFC, it's the Jets (I've been saying it since November). New York has close to Super Bowl-level talent, which puts it over the top. The Jets need a new mix at wide receiver to go with Captain Holmes, and they're brash enough to make this package deal happen.
In the NFC, it's Arizona. The path of least resistance is to hook up in the desert with Larry Fitzgerald and Ken Whisenhunt, who both know a thing or two about getting everything out of an older, talented quarterback at his last stop (see: Warner, Kurt).
In the end, it'll be a smaller bidding war for Manning. You have to be set at QB, but not so set you won't kick your current starter to the curb for him. As an ex-girlfriend once told me, "We can date, but if Nick's interested, then I'm going to date him."
2. If you need a wide receiver, whom do you go after?
There are many names out there that are tantalizing: Vincent Jackson, Mario Manningham, Brandon Lloyd, Wes Welker and Marques Colston, to name a few. But giving a wide receiver a lot of money is like trusting a gambler to make a bank deposit for you. It's the toughest position to get a return on investment in free agency, because you don't know what's in the minds and hearts of men who play the most individualized position in the game after you shower them with riches.
So who am I confident in? Dwayne Bowe, for one. We've seen how good he is, but you don't have to question effort after his 1,100-yard season catching passes from three different quarterbacks in 2011. The guy had 24 of his 81 receptions when Tyler Palko was starting. How many wideouts alligator-armed it through their big free-agent year while Bowe produced? I'd rather have him than Vincent Jackson, that's for sure.
I also like Stevie Johnson. One, he seems to be the only receiver who can have a semi-productive day against Darrelle Revis (11 catches for 159 yards and a TD in two games vs. the Jets last season), so that says something. But he also has a blast playing football. Guys like him are rare. Sure, he's a bit of a head case, but he's about having fun while trying to get his catches and win games. He still had a 1,000-yard season, despite the fact that Ryan Fitzpatrick fell off a cliff the final 10 weeks.
3. Who could wind up being the biggest bargain?
It could be Flynn. If Miami doesn't make a big play for him, what are other teams going to think? "Hey, Philbin knows him inside and out and he didn't try to get him?" Suddenly that $40 million contract Flynn expects ain't gonna happen, and he'll be in the mix with Jason Campbell and Chad Henne.
Secondly, it could be Peyton Hillis. Hillis is intriguing. Yes, someone will give him cash, but far less than it would've been after his breakout 2010 season. He had a bad attitude, was injured and washed out in Cleveland. So, now what? Someone's going to get him as part of a 1-2 backfield combo and best of all, they can do it for limited years and low money. So Hillis will have to prove himself again to get a shot at one more big contract when he's 28 or 29. He's low-risk, high-reward.