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Scramble for football’s free agents kicks off

Scramble for football’s free agents kicks off

TIME TO SIGN: Over 100 players populate a free agent class that includes proven veterans and Pro Bowl players in their prime, who may have cheaper, younger players ready to step in for them on their former teams. Photo: Reuters/Shannon Stapleton

(Reuters) – Strategic maneuvering for next season’s Super Bowl campaign gets underway in earnest on Tuesday when the National Football League’s free agent signing period kicks into action.

Over 100 players populate a free agent class that includes proven veterans and Pro Bowl players in their prime, who may have cheaper, younger players ready to step in for them on their former teams.

The deepest pools of talent match the current emphasis on the aerial game in the league, with a host of talented wide receivers and defensive backs available to the highest bidder.

Free agent wide receivers include two players showcased in last month’s Super Bowl in Golden Tate of the champion Seattle Seahawks and Eric Decker of the runner-up Denver Broncos.

Also on the list are Emmanuel Sanders of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Julian Edelman of the New England Patriots and Hakeem Nicks of the New York Giants.

The NFL salary cap will increase by about $10 million to $133 million and teams have been paring high-priced players from their rosters with an eye toward opening their pocketbooks to address specific areas of need.

Teams needing to fortify their defensive secondaries have good candidates to ponder.

Three-time Pro Bowl safety Jairus Byrd, 27, of the Buffalo Bills, who has intercepted nine passes in the last two seasons, is available along with Cleveland Browns safety T.J. Ward, who made his first Pro Bowl last season.

Cornerbacks on the free-agent market include 25-year-old Alterraun Verner of the Tennessee Titans, who had five picks last year, Vontae Davis of the Indianapolis Colts, Aqib Talib of the Patriots and Sam Shields of the Green Bay Packers.

The quarterback class is less impressive, though it includes four-time Pro Bowler Michael Vick, who lost his starting job with the Philadelphia Eagles to Nick Foles.

Among other signal callers looking to find a new team are Josh McCown of the Chicago Bears and Matt Cassel of the Minnesota Vikings.

Pass rushers are well represented, with Seattle’s 28-year-old Michael Bennett, who registered 17.5 sacks over the last two seasons, available.

Former Vikings’ stalwart Jared Allen, a 31-year-old five-time Pro Bowler, can be signed after notching at least 11 sacks in each of the last seven seasons.

The market for running backs features Ben Tate, 25, available after years of backing up Arian Foster for the Texans, Super Bowl back Knowshon Moreno of the Broncos, Darren McFadden of the Raiders and Donald Brown of the Colts.

Among the available linemen who block for the backs and protect the quarterbacks are two prized left tackles in Branden Albert of the Chiefs and Eugene Monroe of the Ravens.

Teams can start signing free agents at 4 p.m. ET on Tuesday.

(Reporting by Larry Fine in New York; Editing by Frank Pingue)

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