NFL free agency is officially set to begin on March 11, but teams can negotiate with their own players now. Several teams have already begun working on retaining key players for next season and beyond, including contract extensions for others. What's the latest on Thursday with less than a month to go before free agency?
49ers want to re-sign Boldin, extend Harbaugh and Kaepernick
The San Francisco 49ers have been on the cusp of an NFL championship in each of the last three years, and they aim to keep it that way. Mike Florio of NBC Sports reports, per a league source, that the team plans on re-signing wide receiver Anquan Boldin, and give contract extensions to quarterback Colin Kaepernick and head coach Jim Harbaugh.
The 49ers traded for Boldin last offseason after the receiver compiled 104 yards and a touchdown in the Baltimore Ravens Super Bowl win over San Francisco. But the Ravens were unable to afford the final year of Boldin's deal, and head coach John Harbaugh traded him to his brother Jim. Boldin led the team in receiving with 85 catches for 1,179 yards, and with receiver Michael Crabtree on the shelf for most of the season, proved very valuable to the team.
Boldin carried an average annual salary of $8.3 million on his last deal, and the 33-year-old is probably looking at one more lucrative contract. San Francisco is projected to have a little more than $7 million in cap room for next season without making any moves, but will likely make changes with cornerback Carlos Rogers and running back Frank Gore. However, the Niners also must consider the future of their quarterback.
Kaepernick is entering the final year of his rookie contract, and an extension would avoid potentially placing an expensive franchise tag on him next offseason or the risk of losing him. Though his play has been inconsistent, Kaepernick has also provided highlights and single-game numbers that few players in the NFL can. The 49ers have made three straight NFC Championships, the last two with Kaepernick, and reached the Super Bowl in 2012.
They are also reportedly in negotiations with Harbaugh, now entering the fourth of a five-year contract signed in 2011 when he left Stanford to take over for San Francisco. He has coached the team to those three NFC title games after eight straight seasons of missing the playoffs before Harbaugh arrived. His brother John is making roughly $7 million per season with Baltimore, and Jim may want a similar number or more, and there's speculation that he could also ask for more team control amid possible disagreements with general manager Trent Baalke.
Chargers, Butler resume talks
The San Diego Chargers were a surprise playoff team in 2013, but if they want to build on that momentum, they likely don't want to lose one of their top defensive players. Eric Williams of ESPN reported that the Chargers have reopened negotiations with linebacker Donald Butler, who is set to become a free agent in March.
Butler, a third-round pick out of Washington in 2010, was second on the team in tackles last season and was one of the most consistent players on a defense that finished 23rd in yards allowed and 27th in yards per carry allowed. The team selected inside linebacker Manti Te'o in the second round of last year's NFL Draft, but clearly still has a need for Butler.
The two sides tried to work on a contract extension before last season but were unable to come to an agreement. It seems like San Diego would like to avoid a franchise tag for Butler so it will have more flexibility in free agency. A tag for an inside linebacker would cost an estimated $9.6 million, per OvertheCap.com.
Jets' Howard looking to get paid
Last offseason, the New England Patriots signed right tackle Sebastian Vollmer to a four-year, $27 million contract. That is apparently a number similar to the one that right tackle Austin Howard is looking to get from the New York Jets this year, per ESPN.
Right tackles have been given more value in recent years, with players like Phil Loadholt of the Minnesota Vikings and Gosder Cherilus of the Indianapolis Colts striking it rich in 2013. Like Loadholdt and Vollmer, Howard could be looking to remain with his original team and avoid free agency. Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News reported that the two sides have begun negotiations.
The Jets had many offensive woes last season, but were sixth in rushing yards and clearly view Howard as an integral piece along the offensive line.
Cardinals look to be aggressive in free agency
The Arizona Cardinals were perhaps the biggest surprise in 2013, even if they didn't make the playoffs. While most assumed improvement from the Kansas City Chiefs, the Cardinals seemed to come out of nowhere in the NFL's toughest division to go 10-6 under first-year head coach Bruce Arians and first-year general manager Steve Keim. Another huge surprise last season was the play of veteran linebacker Karlos Dansby, and it's safe to assume that the team would like to retain its leading tackler.
Keim told Darren Urban of AZCardinals.com that even though players and agents sometimes like to test the waters of free agency and see how the market lands, that they feel "pretty good about" the offers they have made to some of their own pending free agents.
After restructuring Larry Fitzgerald's contract, the Cardinals are estimated to have about $10 million in cap space for next season. If they re-sign players like Dansby, Jay Feely, Rashard Mendenhall or Eric Winston, they will likely have far less to work with. But Keim added that they will be aggressive in pursuing free agents from the onset of the free agency period.
Keim also stressed that drafting well, so they can replace good players with cheaper rookies, is also helpful when dealing with contracts and the salary cap. The team did well last year with Tyrann Mathieu and Andre Ellington, and if the Cards do re-sign Dansby to a large deal, they'll likely need to have a good draft again without much money left to spend on veterans.