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News » Teams protect their young

Teams protect their young

Teams protect their young
With NFL Free Agency beginning today, there could be an unusual number of marquee players on the market: Albert Haynesworth, Ray Lewis, T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Kurt Warner were unsigned at press time early this morning.

But what the class has in name recognition, it lacks in youth and potential. The headliners are on the wrong side of their prime, which is not unusual.

More and more, NFL teams are locking up their best young players a year or two before they are eligible for Free Agency, leaving few franchise-changing players up for bid.

"When you feel good about a guy after his second year, if you can get something done, it puts money in his pocket and you get him extended out through the middle part of his career," Cincinnati Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said. "I think it's a win-win for both sides."

In a twist on their recent history, the Bengals have been at the forefront of this trend. They extended the contracts of receiver Chad Ocho Cinco and offensive tackle Levi Jones in 2006, locked up defensive end Robert Geathers in 2007, then did the same with third-year linemen Domata Peko and Andrew Whitworth before the 2008 season. They are expected to negotiate similar extensions with cornerbacks Leon Hall and Johnathan Joseph before the coming season.

The New York Giants (with defensive end Justin Tuck, defensive back Corey Webster and four starting offensive linemen) and Philadelphia Eagles (running back Brian Westbrook, defensive linemen Trent Cole and Mike Patterson and a handful of other starters) are among the teams that have aggressively prevented their young players from reaching the open market.

"You can't always do that, but it's important for us to try to get deals done ahead of time," Giants general manager Jerry Reese said. "It's worked out for us so far. It doesn't always work."

The risk is that two or three years is not enough time to accurately judge a player. For instance, the Bengals signed Geathers to a six-year, $33.75 million contract following a 10 1/2 -sack season in 2006, and he has only six sacks in two seasons since.

"There have been guys we signed that we feel we only got short-term value on," said Kevin Colbert, director of Football operations for the Pittsburgh Steelers. "You can't have too many of those or you'll hurt yourself financially with the cap space.

"But there is less risk involved signing your own (players), even if you sign them early, as opposed to signing a free agent. Your own players, you've seen them, you've worked with them, you know what they can do. Sometimes you're just projecting a little bit early."

That said, the Steelers have a long-standing policy of not renegotiating a player's contract until he has only one season remaining, with the notable exception of quarterbacks. So the Steelers did not negotiate with linebacker James Harrison after his breakthrough 2007 season, and Harrison did not complain.

"We've been consistent with it, and that eliminates any kind of potential problem," Colbert said. "Our players know our policy. Right, wrong or indifferent, it works for us and they accept it."

Like many teams, the Steelers use Free Agency to fill specific holes in the roster. New Detroit coach Jim Schwartz said his years with Tennessee taught him that Free Agency is best as a means of acquiring "your middle-class, blue-collar players" -- core players come through the draft.

Atlanta coach Mike Smith said the team's front office will consult with its college scouts to get a feel for the 2009 and 2010 draft classes before committing big money to a free agent this winter.

"If it's going to be a deep draft at a certain position, we may forego taking a player in Free Agency because we know next year it's a very deep draft at that position," Smith said. "I think you have to be very forward-thinking. If not, you're not doing your due diligence."


Box Story: Headliners

Albert Haynesworth, DT

Ray Lewis, MLB

Derrick Brooks, OLB

Marvin Harrison, WR

T.J. Houshmandzadeh, WR

Kurt Warner, QB

Kerry Collins, QB

Brian Dawkins, S \


Solid starters

Bart Scott, LB

Jonathan Vilma, LB

Bryant McFadden, CB

Jermaine Phillips, S

Sean Jones, S

Marvel Smith, OT

Khalif Barnes, OT

Chris Kemoeatu, G

Jason Brown, C \ \

\ How much is left?

Jeff Garcia, QB

Warrick Dunn, RB

Joey Galloway, WR

Amani Toomer, WR

Mark Tauscher, OT

Mike Goff, G

Matt Birk, C

Takeo Spikes, LB

Zach Thomas, LB

Keith Brooking, LB

DeAngelo Hall, CB \ \

\ Can fill a role

Cedric Benson, RB

Correll Buckhalter, RB

Derrick Ward, RB

Mike Furrey, WR

Nate Washington, WR

L.J. Smith, TE

Chris Crocker, S

Domonique Foxworth, CB

Jovan Haye, DT

John Thornton, DT

Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: February 27, 2009

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Kyle Boller Name: Kyle Boller
Position: QB
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