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Manning decision looms as total free agency begins today

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Associated Press
3/12/2012 5:27:50 PM
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Open for business, wild as it might get.

The NFL's calendar turns toward a new season today when free agency begins. As if there hasn't been enough news with the Peyton Manning tour, Saints bounties and veterans being cut by their teams, now comes the roster feeding frenzy.

Four-time MVP Manning is, of course, the top free agent after he was released last week by Indianapolis. So far, he's met only with the Broncos and Cardinals.

Manning did not show at the Dolphins' headquarters Monday despite speculation he would meet with the team.

Dolphins owner Stephen Ross arrived at the team complex at midmorning, and several players -- including quarterback Chad Henne -- showed up around the same time to work out. Henne is a free agent and not expected back this season.

A media stakeout at the complex began when a local TV station camera crew arrived at 4 a.m. Half a dozen TV cameras and a handful of reporters eventually gathered across the street. They weren't allowed on the team's property, but a Dolphins official brought out water, pizza and napkins.

Curious motorists occasionally pulled up to ask for an update.

While Manning is pursued, many other game-changers, such as Ray Rice, Wes Welker, Matt Forte and DeSean Jackson, were given franchise tags and will require compensation if they switch teams.

Still, there are dozens of enticing options, from Mario Williams to Mario Manningham, from Vincent Jackson to Matt Flynn.

"You go into pro free agency to try to address a need, hopefully not needs," Jaguars general manager Gene Smith said. "You want to get a couple of players out of it that can come in here and help you right away. You're looking for a quality starter or maybe trying to fill a situational role on your team. But filling huge holes, that's not where you want to be."

Addressing those needs is best done in the draft. But that grab bag isn't until late April, by which time many teams will have spent many millions of dollars on free agents.

Several others will let players walk to clear salary cap space. On Monday, the Redskins released safety Oshiomogho Atogwe, who signed a five-year, $26 million contract just before the NFL lockout began last March. They also cut veteran fullback Mike Sellers.

So Washington has 16 players who could leave, plus tight end Fred Davis, who received the franchise tag and would bring two No. 1 draft picks if he signs elsewhere. Not that the Redskins would mind an extra pick or two considering the high price they paid to St. Louis to move up to the second slot in the draft so they can choose Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III.

A few teams were busy placing tenders on restricted free agents to avoid losing them without compensation. The Steelers did so with Pro Bowl receiver Mike Wallace and five others.

The Bills did the same with offensive linemen Chad Rinehart and Kraig Urbik. San Francisco tendered cornerback Tramaine Brock and linebacker Larry Grant.

Cincinnati re-signed four potential free agents: fullback Chris Pressley, running back Cedric Peerman, linebacker Vincent Rey and defensive tackle Nick Hayden.

The Jets said their top priority in free agency was keeping nose tackle Sione Pouha and the seven-year veteran agreed to a three-year deal Monday.

"Every player that approaches the last year of their contract and enters the screen door of free agency knows there's always the possibility (of leaving)," Pouha said, "but in my mind I always wanted to be with the Jets, remain with the Jets."

A slew of veterans have taken the opposite route after being released by their teams. Indianapolis' housecleaning went far beyond Manning, with RB Joseph Addai, TE Dallas Clark, LB Gary Brackett, QB Curtis Painter and safety Melvin Bullitt cut last week.

Minneapolis went down the same path, cutting guards Steve Hutchinson and Anthony Herrera and cornerback Cedric Griffin.

Peyton Manning (Photo: Joey Foley/Getty Images)

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(Photo: Joey Foley/Getty Images)
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