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Draft King Analysis
March 12, 2012
Lou Pickney,

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This is an awkward time of year for those of us who do NFL mock drafts -- the days and then hours leading up to the start of free agency. Many need-based projections are changing in some cases on an hour-by-hour basis, with teams cutting veterans to free up cap space and early free agency underway for those cut players, such as former Oakland CB Stanford Routt being released by the Raiders and signing with the Kansas City Chiefs. That move in turn allowed the Chiefs to franchise tag WR Dwayne Bowe and risk losing impending free agent CB Brandon Carr to another team.

When I finished yesterday's column about the Titans having a reported serious interest in free agent QB Peyton Manning, I dismissed it as Bud Adams stirring the pot a bit. But apparently he is serious, and ESPN's Adam Schefter has reported that the Titans have turned their free agent focus from signing DE/OLB Mario Williams (who is free to sign anywhere after 4:00 p.m. EDT tomorrow) to signing Manning.

It's hard to keep track of who is going where, and you can expect to see mock draft boards shift considerably in the next week or so to reflect the wholesale forthcoming changes that all 32 teams are making. People who were new to the mock draft game in 2011 might have obtained an unrealistic view of how projecting/slotting goes in the vacuum of the expired CBA, which stopped teams from signing, cutting, and even talking with their own players. But the apple cart is about to be toppled over, and while the elite players will likely stay in some semblance of order at the top, you can expect to see plenty of changes overall between now and late April.

Moreover, with the new CBA restricting the sizable guaranteed money amounts that the top five picks had been able to land in recent drafts, trading into or out of the top five isn't the financial nightmare as it once was, as evidenced by the pending deal between the Rams and the Redskins for Washington move up from #6 to #2 overall to presumably draft Robert Griffin III. First-round picks are gold, though even the lower end of the first round could be impacted if a team like the 49ers or Patriots signed RFA WR Mike Wallace. The Steelers have the right to either match any offer sheet signed by Wallace or let him go and accept a first-round pick as compensation, which would be more likely for teams drafting low than high since there is no accounting for where in a given round a compensatory pick has to come from as per the CBA.

Speaking of the Redskins, both they and their NFC East rival Cowboys received some bad news today, with multiple reports indicating that the NFL will penalize Washington $36 million in cap space and the Cowboys $10+ million in cap space for front-loading multi-year contracts in the uncapped 2010 season, which happened under the unusual rules of the "Final Year Plan" under the old CBA. It's no secret that Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and Redskins owner Daniel Snyder would like to be able to gain a competitive advantage by outspending other teams, and ultimately their mistake might have been leveraging multi-year deals as opposed to making one-year mega-deals.

Literally as I finished that last paragraph, I read this release from the Redskins saying that the team has "received no written documentation from the NFL concerning adjustments to the team salary cap in 2012 as reported in various media outlets." The Cowboys issued a statement which included this: "The Dallas Cowboys were in compliance with all league salary cap rules during the uncapped year."

There are many storylines going on, and the frenetic pace of information planting, swerving, and maneuvering likely won't end until after the top undrafted players sign free agent deals after next month's NFL Draft. It should be a wild ride: hold on and enjoy.


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