Free agency begins

Free agency begins

Free agency begins

The NFL season doesn't begin for another six months, but in some ways it began at 12:01 a.m. EST today when free agent players hit the open market. Last season, 126 of the 308 unrestricted free agents

Best available

* CB Asante Samuel -- The jewel of New England's secondary, Samuel intercepted 16 passes over the last two seasons and will command a deal similar to the eight-year, $80 million Nate Clements got from San Francisco last year. Eyeing Samuel most closely are the New York Jets, New Orleans and Cleveland.

* OG Alan Faneca -- Faneca is too pricey for Pittsburgh. The seven-time Pro Bowl player, a great run blocker, could get $20 million guaranteed. The Jets are interested.

* WR Randy Moss -- Reborn in New England, Moss wants to finish his career with the Patriots. They didn't apply the franchise tag to him -- a goodwill gesture allowing him to strike an even more lucrative deal.

* LB Lance Briggs -- Chicago would love to keep its defensive anchor, but it also needs to re-sign No. 1 receiver Bernard Berrian. Briggs could land in San Francisco.

* RB Michael Turner -- If not for the guy in front of him, LaDainian Tomlinson, Turner might already be a household name. He's the most promising running back of a class that includes Marion Barber, Julius Jones, Chris Brown, Derrick Ward, Ron Dayne, Jesse Chatman and T.J. Duckett.

* QB Derek Anderson -- Even though they traded up last year to grab Brady Quinn, the Browns desperately want to keep Anderson, who came out of nowhere to have a terrific season. The best days of the other available quarterbacks -- Daunte Culpepper, Todd Collins, Trent Green, Byron Leftwich -- are far behind them.

Questions and answers

* Q: What determines an unrestricted and restricted free agent?

* A: A player with four or more accrued seasons whose contract has expired is an unrestricted free agent and is free to sign with any club with no compensation owed to his old club.

Players become restricted free agents when they complete three accrued seasons -- one accrued season is six or more games on a team's roster -- and their contract has expired.

If a restricted free agent accepts an offer sheet from a new club, his old club has the right of first refusal to match.

* Q: What's a franchise player?

* A: A team can designate one franchise player per year, virtually ensuring it will not lose him in free agency. A franchise player must be offered a minimum of the average of the top five salaries at his position. His old club can match a new club's offer, or receive two first-round draft choices if it chooses not to match.

* Q: What's the free agent time period this year?

* A: For restricted free agents, the period lasts through April 18; for unrestricted free agents, through July 22 or the opening of any NFL training camp, whichever is later; and for franchise players, through the 10th week of next season.

Pricey positions

A franchise tender is the average of the top five annual salaries at each position. A player given the franchise tag must be paid at least:

Cornerbacks, $9,465,000; defensive ends, $8,879,000; defensive tackles, $6,363,000; linebackers, $8,065,000; safeties, $4,396,000; punters/kickers, $2,514,000; running backs, $6,538,000; quarterbacks, $10,730,000; offensive linemen, $7,455,000; tight ends, $4,522,000; wide receivers, $7,848,000.

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