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The 10 biggest questions entering NFL free agency

03.13.12 at 12:57 am ET
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Peyton Manning holds all the cards in free agency. (AP)

With free agency set to start at 4 p.m. on Tuesday, here’s a look at the 10 most important questions, with an eye toward what the Patriots might do:

1. Where’s Peyton going to end up? The quarterback is the biggest name in the free agent class, and will almost certainly command the biggest deal on the open market. Manning and agent Tom Condon are playing their cards close to the vest to this point, but it sounds like Arizona, Miami, Denver and Seattle are in the mix to this point. In addition, Tennessee is also reportedly poised to make a full-court press for Manning’s services.

2. What sort of impact is Peyton going to have on the rest of the free agent market?
A lot of his former Indianapolis teammates are also now available, including wide receivers Reggie Wayne and Pierre Garcon, running back Joseph Addai and tight end Dallas Clark. Chances are good that whoever will land Manning probably has a very good shot at landing at least one of his former mates, and subsequently, revamping a sizable portion of their offensive scheme.

3. How will Peyton affect the market for quarterbacks?
It’s not just the free agent signal callers like Matt Flynn who stand to be affected by Manning’s decision. Incumbents like Kevin Kolb (Arizona) and Tim Tebow (Denver) could find themselves on the street if Manning ends up in their respective area codes. That could ultimately create a secondary series of ripples for a handful of quarterbacks.

4. What’s going to be the course of action for the Patriots?
In New England last year, it was either a boom-or-bust with last year’s free agents: the big names (Albert Haynesworth and Chad Ochocinco) were busts, while the middle of the road guys (Andre Carter, Mark Anderson and Brian Waters) were some of the best free-agent signings of the Bill Belichick Era. This year? There are some intriguing fits for this team that wouldn’t break the bank, including Brandon Lloyd and Richard Marshall, while Mike Wallace remains a big-ticket possibility that would also cost them a draft pick.

5. Who will the Patriots lose?
New England isn’t necessarily on danger of losing any of its elite players, but there are some intriguing UFA’s on the roster, including wide receiver Deion Branch, running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis, offensive linemen Dan Koppen and Dan Connolly and Anderson and Carter, all of whom have been important pieces of the puzzle over the last few seasons with the Patriots. Anderson figures to be a sought-after commodity: a 28-year-old who finished with 10 sacks, he could be in line for a decent-sized payday.

6. How will the Patriots approach the safety spot?
New England will almost certainly be looking to improve the safety position this offseason, but it’s considered a relatively weak crop in the draft. Will this cause them to be more aggressive in free agency? LaRon Landry is certainly an interesting name who has been peripherally attached to the Patriots as a possible fit in New England.

7. What will be the focus for the Patriots’ divisional rivals?
Look for Buffalo to focus on upgrading its pass rush, while Miami will be looking at Manning as a possibility at quarterback (barring that, maybe Flynn), as well as a variety of other spots, including the secondary. And the Jets will likely zero in on some offensive line help, as well as some help for their pass rush. New York could also try and sift through the remains of the Manning Sweepstakes for a backup for Mark Sanchez.

8. How will the wide receiver market shake out?
This is a buyers’ market, and any team in the market for a premier pass catcher has to like the way things have developed this offseason. There will be a lot of really talented receivers available, including Wayne, Garcon, Vincent Jackson, Marques Colston and Brandon Lloyd, as well as Wallace. If you’re looking for a receiver, this is a good year to go shopping.

9. Whither Super Mario?
If Manning weren’t a free agent, Mario Williams would almost certainly be the biggest name available, even coming off a torn pectoral injury. As it stands right now, Williams figures to make a big splash for a team looking for an outside linebacker/defensive end to give a jolt to its pass rush.

10. Which team/owner will lose its’ collective mind?
Always a fun guess. In the past, we’ve seen Washington and Tennessee go off in free agency, making big splashes when free agency opens (only to regret those moves down the road). Last year, it was Philadelphia that assembled a dream team that ultimately turned nightmarish. While its one thing to win the offseason, more often than not, throwing money at a collection of veterans’ isn’t the wisest course of action when it comes to team building.

Read More: 2012 free agency, 2012 NFL Free Agency, Albert Haynesworth, Andre Carter
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