Big names could be on the move by the end of February

INDIANAPOLIS –- News flash: The Seahawks slapped their franchise tag on cornerback Marcus Trufant. The Titans slapped theirs on defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth. The Cowboys have put their franchise tag on safety Ken Hamlin. The Packers placed their franchise tag on defensive tackle Corey Williams. And the Oakland Raiders slapped the exclusive franchise tag on cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha.

But forget the players who have been slapped with the franchise tags. It's the one that haven't that are the most intriguing.

It's a group that includes Dallas offensive tackle Flozell Adams, Cincinnati defensive end Justin Smith, Seattle kicker Josh Brown, New England cornerback Asante Samuel, Chicago wide receiver Bernard Berrain and Chicago linebacker Lance Briggs.

Unless any of these players receives the franchise tag by Thursday's 4 p.m. eastern deadline -– and Brown, Smith, Samuel and Briggs can't –- then they will be the most coveted free agents on Friday Feb. 29, when the NFL's free-agent signing period kicks off.

But it all could change Thursday, should any get tagged. But here is a glance as to where each stands now and whether he will be an actual unrestricted free agent next Friday.

»Flozell Adams – Dallas already is discussing the idea of inserting Pat McQuistan at left tackle to protect Tony Romo's blind side. But the fact that the Cowboys did not tag Adams indictates that the Cowboys are preparing to move on without one of the most physically dominant offensive linemen in the game.

Adams will be 32 this summer but another team is expected to be willing to hand him the massive contract he will be seeking. Without Adams, Dallas could turn to McQuistan or it could move Leonard Davis from guard back to his old left tackle position.

»Ken Hamlin – Franchising safeties is an affordable alternative. But when a team slaps a franchise tag on a player, it usually does so with the intention of trying to sign him to a long-term contract extension.

For now, it doesn't appear as if Hamlin is in the Cowboys' long-term plans. But enough teams need safeties, and the one that should be most distressing to Dallas is Philadelphia. With one signing, the Eagles could strengthen their roster and weaken the Cowboys.

»Justin Smith Last season the Bengals franchised Smith; this season, they opted to franchise offensive tackle Stacey Andrews and elected to let Smith hit the open market. Opponents are rejoicing.

Teams love getting a chance to sign a high-motor, pass-rushing defensive end in the prime of his career. Smith is expected to be gobbled up on the opening weekend of free agency, commanding the type of deal that premier pass rushers get.

»Josh Brown Another player who got the franchise tag last year, Brown will be allowed to leave this year.

Seattle still will want to retain Brown. But the two sides have failed to reach a long-term deal and now the Seahawks face the prospect of potentially losing him to another team. Enough teams have kicking concerns that Brown is expected to draw substantial interest.

And consider this: The last two high-profile kickers that changed teams went to a rival. Former Green Bay kicker Ryan Longwell signed with Minnesota, and former New England kicker Adam Vinatieri signed with Indianapolis.

Usually, a team that makes a play for a kicker strengthens itself while weakening an opponent.

»Bernard Berrain – If the Bears do not franchise Berrain by Thursday, he will become the top available free-agent receiver. Chances are, Chicago won't. Like Dallas, it does not have a history of franchising many players, which is what Berrain would prefer.

A former third-round pick, Berrain has dreamed of a big pay day for a while now. By Thursday night, Berrain will have a better idea of whether he is returning to Chicago or running free to another team.

»Asante Samuel Ever since last summer, Samuel has plotted for free agency. He got New England to promise that it would not franchise him if he reported. He did, and now Samuel will be the marquee cornerback available, thanks to the tags to Asomugha and Trufant. No tag for Samuel –- only a big payday.

»Lance Briggs Last offseason, Washington tried trading for Briggs.

Would it surprise anybody if the Redskins pursued him now, especially being that they don't have to compensate the Bears, only Briggs?

Other players who have been hit with the franchise tag aside from Trufant, Haynesworth and Asomugha: Arizona linebacker Karlos Dansby, Baltimore linebacker Terrell Suggs, Carolina offensive tackle Jordan Gross, Cincinnati offensive tackle Stacy Andrews, Kansas City defensive end Jared Allen, Indianapolis tight end Dallas Clark (who signed a long-term deal on Wednesday) and Philadelphia tight end L.J. Smith.


The eyes of Texas have been on linebacker Zach Thomas since he starred at Texas Tech. But they will be zeroing in on him again next week, when Thomas is scheduled to meet with the Cowboys in Dallas on Tuesday, and the Texans in Houston on Wednesday.

Thomas already has visited the New England Patriots, who made a contract offer, and the New Orleans Saints.

The Patriots seem to thrive on signing former Dolphins, a list that includes linebackers Junior Seau and Larry Izzo, running back Sammy Morris and wide receiver Wes Welker.


»The Vikings released former starting safety Dwight Smith, who is expected to catch on with a new team shortly.

»The Cardinals restructured the contract of former Pro Bowl defensive end Bertrand Berry.

»Hard to believe how much the combine has grown, but maybe the best way to measure it is this: the Chicago Tribune actually published a special section Wednesday devoted to the combine. Before, newspapers barely had an article on the combine.

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