NEW YORK — The free agency frenzy doesn’t begin until March 12.
Tell that to general managers who have begun flooding the market with veterans they have cut — guys who can sign with any team at any time.
Joining that group Friday were such former Pro Bowl players John Abraham and Michael Turner, released by Atlanta along with cornerback Dunta Robinson.
Also available is 2009 Defensive Player of the Year Charles Woodson; the Green Bay Packers let the defensive back go last month.
While players whose contracts have expired can’t change addresses for another 11 days, the so-called “street free agents” now out there can joins teams immediately. That’s already happened with former Buffalo safety George Wilson, who signed with the Titans, and it certainly could occur again before the likes of Mike Wallace, Jake Long, Reggie Bush and Greg Jennings on offense or Dwight Freeney, Anthony Spencer, Paul Kruger and Cliff Avril on defense become available.
Wilson was coveted by Tennessee for reasons that stretch beyond the field, and Woodson also could fall into that category. Listen to what Titans general manager Ruston Webster says about Wilson, who twice was Buffalo’s Walter Payton Man of the Year nominee:
“George is a quality veteran player. He will contribute for us on the field, but his contributions also will come off the field, in the locker room and in the meetings rooms. He was respected as a football player and a leader during his career in Buffalo, and he will bring that veteran presence to our team.”
The 36-year-old Woodson would be a nice fit in a young secondary needing a boost of savvy and physicality, most likely as a safety. Such landing spots as New England, Cleveland and Indianapolis could work.
Abraham has a history of nagging injuries and he’ll most likely be a situational pass rusher at age 35 next season. Still, any club looking for such a boost could do worse than Abraham, who had 10 sacks as a part-timer when the Falcons went 13-3 last year.
Turner no longer seems capable of being an every-down back, but his power and quick feet could help a team that has an established starter but no proven backup. Or an offense with a speedy running back and not much inside presence. Tennessee, Cleveland and Green Bay could find him attractive at the right price.
A major reason these players are unemployed right now is salary. Atlanta saved about $16 million in cap space with its three cuts Friday. The New York Jets freed up $31 million when they released linebackers Calvin Pace and Bart Scott, safety Eric Smith and tackle Jason Smith last month.
Naturally, there are other factors, including age, health, depth at a position, a change in coaching staffs and, of course, production.
Players such as Packers center Jeff Saturday and Carolina DT Ron Edwards simply might be at the end of the line. Kansas City tight end Kevin Boss got onto the field for only two games in 2012. The Saints’ David Thomas was expendable because Jimmy Graham is among the best tight ends around, and New Orleans prefers to load the field with wideouts along with Graham.
Philadelphia released DTs Cullen Jenkins and Mike Patterson when Chip Kelly was hired as coach.
The Jets’ Pace and Scott and Chiefs receiver Steve Breaston became overpriced when their on-field contributions slipped dramatically.
Oddly, many of those players currently available figure to be left waiting until weeks into full free agency before they find new homes. Some teams will give out huge bonuses and long-term deals to Jennings, Kruger et al. Then they will seek ways to fit in the others.
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