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SAM FARMER / ON THE NFL

Big NFL names may be on the move

Kurt Warner, Ray Lewis are among the available free agents.

February 27, 2009|SAM FARMER | ON THE NFL

Every NFL team dreams of doing the Super Bowl shuffle.

But that requires doing well in the free-agency reshuffle, the league's annual game of musical chairs that sends even some of the best players packing.

The free-agency and trading periods began Thursday at 9:01 p.m. PST -- a minute past midnight on the East Coast -- opening the door for free agents such as Arizona quarterback Kurt Warner, Baltimore linebacker Ray Lewis, Tennessee defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth and Cincinnati receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh to sign with other teams.

It's an uncertain time, when teams can get better or worse with the stroke of a pen. Maybe that's why ardent NFL fans pay such close attention to websites such as ProFootballTalk.com, which chronicle the minute-by-minute maneuverings of teams, and the rumors of deals that might or might not materialize.

"It feels like the Jerry Lewis telethon around here," said Mike Florio, the site's editor. "It's nonstop activity. Get up early, stay up late. Make sure we have something available for anybody who checks in day or night."

Although teams have the green light to spend a little more this off-season -- the salary cap is $127 million, about $4 million more than projected -- clubs have tended to be a bit more pennywise in the turbulent economic climate.

Still, there are some deals to be had.

The big boys

* Warner, coming off Arizona's first Super Bowl appearance, couldn't strike a deadline-beating deal with the Cardinals. Does that mean Arizona is finally ready to put the ball in Matt Leinart's hands for good?

* Houshmandzadeh, the Bengals' best receiver, is expected to have several teams competing for his services, among them Philadelphia, Baltimore, Seattle and the New York Giants.

* The Ravens will have a hard time keeping their two top linebackers, Lewis and Bart Scott. Which one will stay and which will go? Or will they both be elsewhere?

* To retain All-Pro Haynesworth, the Titans will have to shell out huge bucks, something team owner Bud Adams has been historically reluctant to do. That could mean the big man heads to Tampa Bay.

* Indianapolis, which earlier this week released star receiver Marvin Harrison, re-signed center Jeff Saturday in the nick of time. But the Colts will also purge seven veterans, among them running back Dominic Rhodes.

* The two best running backs in this crop of free agents are Derrick Ward, formerly of the New York Giants, and Fred Taylor, the longtime standout from Jacksonville. Ward could land in Cleveland. Taylor has met with Buffalo and New England.

* Weeks after showing coach Jon Gruden and general manager Bruce Allen the door, Tampa Bay continued its shake-up Wednesday by dumping five popular veterans, including 11-time Pro Bowl linebacker Derrick Brooks. Also in that purge were running back Warrick Dunn, receivers Joey Galloway and Ike Hilliard and linebacker Cato June.

* With Tom Brady on the mend from a season-ending knee injury, will the Patriots keep two high-priced quarterbacks? There are a lot of teams interested in Matt Cassel, who did an impressive job stepping in for Brady last season. By applying the franchise tag to Cassel, the Patriots assured him of a one-year, $14.65-million deal for the 2009 season.

* Houston quarterback Sage Rosenfels was in Minnesota on Thursday, awaiting an expected trade to the Vikings. Minnesota Coach Brad Childress started both Tarvaris Jackson and Gus Frerotte last season.

* The New York Jets are in the market for a starting wide receiver after cutting Laveranues Coles this week. They rejected his bid for a long-term contract extension and voided the final year of his deal.

On trading block?

Less than three years ago, San Diego's LaDainian Tomlinson was the NFL's most valuable player.

Soon, he could be out the door.

Tomlinson's future with the team was up in the air heading into the trading period, with the Chargers trying to rework his deal to lower his $6.725-million base pay for the 2009 season. He's signed through the 2011 season.

Hampered by injuries to his toe and groin, Tomlinson finished with a career-low 1,110 yards rushing and had to sit out the divisional playoff loss at Pittsburgh -- the second consecutive year his postseason was cut short by injury.

The Chargers turned to Darren Sproles, a 5-foot-6, 181-pound player they later franchised, but he's probably too small to be an every-down back.

General Manager A.J. Smith told reporters Thursday that the Chargers are still working to strike a deal with Tomlinson but didn't shed much more light on the situation.

"All I can tell you is everything's ongoing," he said. "I've got nothing more to add at this time. But I will add this: We'd love to have him. We hope he returns."

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sam.farmer@latimes.com

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