- The Washington Times - Friday, February 29, 2008

It’s a good time to be an NFL free agent.

As was true last year when the unheralded Derrick Dockery and Eric Steinbach were rewarded with All-Pro level contracts in free agency’s manic opening weekend, the signing period that began today surely will see teams throw millions on undeserving players.

When receiver Randy Moss, cornerback Asante Samuel and 35-year-old guard Alan Faneca are the only big-time players from this month’s Pro Bowl on the market, the pickings are slim. It’s hard to get too excited about fullbacks Lorenzo Neal and Tony Richardson and special teamer Brendon Ayanbadejo even though they, too, were in Hawaii.

Actually even if Moss re-signed with New England at the last minute last night, receiver is the lone deep position with the underrated Bernard Berrian, Patrick Crayton and D.J. Hackett available, plus Justin McCareins and former first-round pick Bryant Johnson, who was overshadowed by Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald in Arizona.

But a weak free agent class was made even weaker when defensive linemen Jared Allen and Albert Haynesworth, cornerback Marcus Trufant, linebacker Terrell Suggs and offensive tackle Jordan Gross were removed from the market with franchise tags. Dallas made things worse yesterday by re-signing Flozell Adams, the top offensive lineman other than Faneca.

“We’re 15 years into a salary cap era,” Cleveland general manager Phil Savage said. “Teams have figured out how to keep room under the cap, so a lot of teams are able to lock up their own players, and if they’re not … then they use the tag to maintain them for one more year. It makes for [fewer] players getting to the market for sure.”

No kidding. Other than Derek Anderson, who was tendered by the Browns yesterday, the best quarterbacks available are old enough to be president (Mark Brunell, Todd Collins, Gus Frerotte and Trent Green) or have been let go more often lately than one of Britney Spears’ boy toys (Daunte Culpepper, Byron Leftwich).

The running back class is basically three deep: Julius Jones, who lost out to Marion Barber in Dallas; Michael Turner, known as LaDainian Tomlinson’s backup in San Diego; and Chris Brown, a one-year wonder in Tennessee.

Some team likely will pay large for Alge Crumpler, a Pro Bowl tight end from 2004 to 2006, who was swept away in Atlanta’s housecleaning. Crumpler, 30, is the most accomplished tight end on the market.

At least Crumpler still might have a peak year or two left. The only linemen who might qualify are Indianapolis guard Ryan Lilja and defensive ends Justin Smith of Cincinnati and Antwan Odom of Tennessee.

Teams would be excited to see Larry Allen, Keith Traylor, Kevin Carter and Casey Wiegmann up for grabs if this were 1998, not 2008.

Other than Lance Briggs, Junior Seau (39) is the only available linebacker who has earned a Pro Bowl selection.

Other than Samuel, Ty Law (34) and safety Sammy Knight (33 soon), are the only defensive backs who have been to Hawaii. And the most accurate kickers on the market? Morten Andersen (47), Jason Elam (38 next month) and John Carney (44). That’s not over the hill. That’s almost in the valley.

“Free agency has changed drastically,” Pittsburgh director of football operations Kevin Colbert said. “If you’re looking to secure more talent in free agency, it’s probably not good.”

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