If they cost so much, why do they call them 'free' agents?

You can tell how an NFL team is doing by the stories in the local newspapers. If the hometown team is firmly in the playoffs, the talk is about playing for home-field advantage and bye weeks.  If it's a bubble team, then the stories try to figure out all the playoff scenarios and tie-breakers.

But if your team is like the Ravens, then the attention turns to the offseason, namely the draft and free agency.


We started looking at the draft last week and earlier today mentioned that the loss to Miami moves the Ravens up in the draft pecking order -- likely somewhere between the fifth and eighth positions.

So how about those free agents?


After perusing Web sites that track the free-agent market, as usual, there are some Pro Bowl names and among them, there are a few that will probably be re-signed by their current teams or possibly slapped with a franchise tag. Others have anti-franchise tag language in their contracts, such as Patriots cornerback Asante Samuel.

Also in New England, wide receiver Randy Moss will be an unrestricted free agent, but are the Patriots going to let him go after this season? Meanwhile, Samuel is also an unrestricted free agent, but can New England possibly keep them both, considering the salary cap ramifications?  Some of this is a guessing game, but the best guess in that situation is Moss stays and Samuel goes.

Other Pro Bowl-types on the road to free agency at the moment include safety Bob Sanders and tight end Dallas Clark from Indianapolis, Kansas City DE Jared Allen, Tennessee DT Albert Haynesworth, Chicago LB Lance Briggs, Pittsburgh OG Alan Faneca and Dallas RB Julius Jones.

If you're one of those folks who think the Ravens should have a veteran quarterback on their shopping list, don't get too hopeful. The top ones who may be available are Chicago's Rex Grossman and Oakland's Daunte Culpepper. Also on the list is yesterday's winning QB, Miami's Cleo Lemon. Cleveland's Derek Anderson, a former Raven, is a restricted free agent.

For their part, the Ravens have LB Terrell Suggs coming up as an unrestricted free agent. Offensive guard Jason Brown, their most consistent and durable offensive lineman throughout the season, is a restricted free agent.

Considering that the Ravens' cornerback situation has been terribly exposed and there are concerns about Samari Rolle's return, the free agent I find intriguing is Seattle's Marcus Trufant, who has a career-high seven interceptions this season and has missed just one game in five seasons. He may have franchise tag written all over him, though.

Of course, the Ravens' own salary cap circumstances will dictate how aggressive they can be in free agency, plus Baltimore is usually cautious coming out of the gate when the free agency chase starts, preferring to let the marketplace settle down. It'll be interesting to see whether what may end as a four-win season changes past practice.