- Randy Mueller
In the past, if your team didn't address all its needs in the first flurry of free agency in March, or just couldn't get a tad lucky on draft day, you still had hope that needs could be filled when several players, who still could play at a high level, would be released and dumped on the market after June 1.
Team decision makers often would be heard saying, "We'll see what's available after June 1." But it seems each year brings fewer and fewer options for teams who are still building at this point in the offseason.
When a player is released after June 1, any remaining signing bonus he is due counts on the following year's salary cap. While that frees up cap space in the current year, it takes up space with dead money the next. Teams now seem more willing to release a player early and take the full cap hit in the current year, rather than tie up future cap money and leave themselves with little flexibility.
Baltimore and Arizona easily could have waited to release Boulware and Shelton after June 1 to free up cap space for this year. But both teams felt there was no time like the present to be accountable, so why wait if the cap room is already there? Seattle did the same thing when it released Simmons last month. Simmons had been paid an $8 million signing bonus just two years ago and he will count more on the Seahawks' books this year by not being on the roster than he would count if he were still there. Now that's biting the bullet.
There still may be a guy or two who will get released who can make a difference somewhere else. Cornerback R.W. McQuarters, who was released by the Bears, is one. But the list of guys looking for a home won't grow that much. For the most part, the guys who have been making visits for the last few weeks will continue to be the focus.
But there are still some good players on the market right now, and here is a list of my top five (wide receiver Troy Brown would have been on this list for sure had he not turned down a more lucrative offer from the New Orleans Saints over the weekend to stay with the New England Patriots). At some point, the price will be right and these five guys will find the right fit:
4hEric D. Williams
18hBy Dan Graziano
2dMatt Walks, ESPN.com
22hBy Michael DiRocco