Saints’ offseason gets even worse

Free-agency is less than 24 hours old, and it pays to be a quality NFL receiver or cornerback. Meanwhile, we all wait to hear what decisions Peyton Manning and Mario Williams will make.

The Denver Broncos, led by Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway and John Fox, a head coach willing to agree to most of Peyton’s offensive wishes, apparently are the leader to land Manning. What a coup that would be even if they pay him $15 million a season without even seeing him throw, taking Peyton at his word.

It would basically amount to a Get Out of Tebow Free card. Yes, like the monopoly game, when you get out of jail free. In this case, Elway and the Broncos get rid of fan favorite Tim Tebow without suffering much fan backlash because you’re replacing Tebow with a future Hall of Famer and a four-time NFL MVP.

And if Williams signs with Buffalo, as most expect him to do, it would be the equivalent of Albert Pujols signing with the Pittsburgh Pirates in baseball. In the NFL, the stars go where the big money is rather than waiting a few weeks and finding the right team, where they also have a chance to win.

Speaking of winners, the Redskins have done a great job considering the NFL penalized them $36 million in salary cap space because they didn’t live up to the spirit of the 2010 uncapped season, when they dumped almost $200 million of salaries into that year, hoping to rebuild their team. Some of that $100 million deal in 2009 to defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth was pushed into 2010.

The NFL also punished the Dallas Cowboys, but not as severely for basically front-loading receiver Miles Austin’s contract that year. Several owners who heeded the league’s advice not to spend wildly during the 2010 uncapped season complained loudly about what Daniel Snyder and Jerry Jones did and the NFL decided to punish both teams. You can bet that Snyder and Jones know who their owner friends aren’t now.

The bottom line in defense of what Washington and Dallas did in 2010 is that the NFL approved of all their player contracts that season. They may not have liked some of the financial language in those contracts, but the league signed off on them at the time.

Early free-agency winners

1. Tampa Bay

Quarterback Josh Freeman has to be rejoicing about the arrival of super deep threat Vincent Jackson from the Chargers. Jackson will create open spaces for young receivers Mike Williams and Arrelious Benn, who suffered sophomore slumps last season. The second coup was getting All-Pro guard Carl Nicks away from the Saints. These two moves make Tampa Bay relevant again in the NFC South. Former Lions cornerback Eric Wright is a solid addition in case Aqib Talib is jettisoned.

2. Redskins

The biggest coup remains the trade for Heisman quarterback Robert Griffin III, who is a special athlete with an arm better than Andrew Luck’s, at the moment. To help him succeed right away, Washington signed Colts receiver Pierre Garcon after the Rams backed out and then also got Alex Smith’s best big-play receiver, Josh Morgan. The 49ers struggled last season when Morgan got hurt; he’s someone who can definitely extend any play.

3. Chicago

OK, we know that Brandon Marshall will always have off-the-field issues, but he remains a top-10 receiver in the NFL, plus he’s very familiar with quarterback Jay Cutler since their Denver days. The Bears needed a legit receiver, and now they have one. Signing backup quarterback Jason Campbell away from the Raiders also means that if Cutler gets hurt again like he did last season, the Bears have a quarterback who can win some games in his absence.

4. St. Louis

Garcon would have been nice for Sam Bradford, but the defense got a whole lot meaner and tougher with bad boy cornerback Cortland Finnegan, who is reunited with his former Tennessee coach, Jeff Fisher. Finnegan’s cover abilities will be celebrated by pass rushers Chris Long and Robert Quinn. If the Rams can somehow draft LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne, the defense would be fixed. Granted, the Rams love Alabama running back Trent Richardson, but what do they do with Steven Jackson?

5. New York Giants

Some of the best moves in free agency are made with players on your own team. The Giants made a smart decision in giving Terrell Thomas a big-money contract even though he missed the entire 2011 season. Thomas is the best cornerback on the team.

Early free-agency losers

1. Houston

Yes, the Texans have some really good young defensive linemen and pass rushers, but they would be a legit Super Bowl contender with Mario Williams on their roster. Also, if they don’t re-sign right tackle Eric Winston, that’s a major loss for running back Arian Foster.

2. New Orleans

Saints coach Sean Payton figures to be suspended for a few games this season (and also fined) for his role in Bountygate, but right now he has an extremely unhappy franchised quarterback in Drew Brees. Yes, New Orleans was able to keep Marques Colston because they haven’t paid Brees, but they lost deep threat Robert Meachem to the Chargers and lost Nicks to the Bucs.

3. Miami

The Dolphins traded away one of their best players for a couple measly draft choices, and they still have a quarterback hole unless they sign Packers backup Matt Flynn. How they went from being the so-called favorite to land Peyton Manning to being nowhere with him is probably making Fisher feel a lot better about choosing to coach the Rams over the Dolphins.

4. Cleveland

The Browns still don’t have a quarterback and are still licking their wounds after offering the Rams three first-round draft picks for RGIII and losing out because the Redskins added a second-round pick. If they are going with Colt McCoy, shouldn’t they have signed one of these available receivers?

5. Kansas City

Wasn’t owner Clark Hunt telling everyone that the Chiefs were going hard after Peyton Manning? What happened? Aren’t the Chiefs every bit as talented on offense, maybe more so with Jonathan Baldwin and Dwayne Bowe, as the Broncos?