Insider: NFL Notebook

49ers In the Manning Sweepstakes

According to this ESPN report by Chris Mortensen and Adam Schefter, the San Francisco 49ers are a real player for the services of Peyton Manning. Last week the 49ers worked out Manning and gave him a physical, and are said to be one of three remaining teams in the running for the 11-time Pro Bowler’s services, along with the Denver Broncos and Tennessee Titans.

Our take: If San Francisco’s defense can pick up where it left off last season and they sign a presumably healthy Manning, the 49ers would be the early Super Bowl favorites.

Mario Looks To Change A Culture

Before Tuesday’s start of free agency, the Buffalo Bills were not one of the expected target cities for former Texans defensive end Mario Williams. Three days and 50 million guaranteed dollars later, the two-time Pro Bowler will now look to turn around a defense that finished 30th in scoring and 26th overall in 2011.

“You don’t get many chances like this to be the guy to help the team get across the hump and that’s what I’m definitely here for,” Williams explained.

Getting across the hump will be difficult for a Bills team which hasn’t made the playoffs since 1999. Buffalo does seem like a team on the rise as they now have a defensive line that consists of Mario Williams, Kyle Williams and Marcel Dareus, and a solid quarterback in Ryan Fitzpatrick.

Buffalo will need another good draft and some injury luck to achieve their playoff goal in 2012 but it appears as if they are collecting the talent to do so, starting with Williams who is quite possibly the best defensive end in football.

The Replacement Game

Absent from the hustle and bustle of the first week of free agency are teams like the Giants, Packers, Patriots and Steelers. Those teams are historically not big free agent spenders and just so happen to be some of the most successful franchises in football.

Although the San Diego Chargers have missed the playoffs for the past two seasons, they have abstained from spending in free agency during the A.J. Smith era, and have normally had solid results. San Diego decided not to place the franchise tag on wide receiver Vincent Jackson, and ultimately let him walk as he inked a five-year, $55,555,555 contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Instead of paying elite money to a very good receiver, the team was able to replace him with a pair of lower priced players with upside. San Diego struck a deal on Wednesday with former Saints wideout Robert Meachem, as they agreed on a four-year, $25.9 million deal with $14 million guaranteed. A day later they came to terms with former Broncos wideout Eddie Royal on a three-year, $13.5 million contract.

Although we’ll have to see in the fall what the results will be, San Diego appears to have made a prudent financial decision. They let a player who is one DUI away from a year-long suspension in Jackson walk, while replacing him with the 27-year old Meachem and 25-year old Royal, while saving over $15 million in the process.

Best/Worst Deals of Free Agency

We will begin with the best bargains of the first week and we start in Kansas City with their signing of former Browns running back Peyton Hillis. Hillis might be self-indulgent, prone to injury due to his running style and mostly a one-hit wonder, but to get the “Madden Coverboy” one year removed from a 1,500+ total yard, 13-touchdown performance at $2.5 million is a deal.

Two other solid deals come from guys who if their new teams had their druthers would never play a snap in 2012. The Jets inked backup quarterback Drew Stanton for one year at $1.25 million, according to Scout.com’s Aaron Wilson. Jacksonville signed former Dolphins quarterback Chad Henne to a two-year, 6.75 million deal to back up Blaine Gabbert.

Both quarterbacks are backing up shaky starters and both have starting experience. Many around the league believe that Chad Henne might be better than Blaine Gabbert already.

The worst deals of free agency both involve teams overpaying for wide receivers. The Washington Redskins kicked off free agency by making former Mount Union wide receiver Pierre Garcon a very wealthy man. The Skins inked Garcon to a five-year, $42.5 million deal which included $21.5 million in guaranteed money.

Not to be outdone, the Jacksonville Jaguars, also desperate for receiver help hooked up with former journeyman receiver Laurent Robinson to the tune of five years and $32.5 million with $14 million guaranteed. This will be Robinson’s fourth team in six seasons and he cashed in at the right time following a 54-catch, 858 yard, 11 touchdown 2011 season in Dallas.

With each of these deals, the receivers were not the primary focus of opposing defenses and they will be asked to fill much greater roles in their new cities. Good luck with that.

Charlie Bernstein is the NFL Insider for ESPNFlorida.com and ESPN 1080 and 1040 in Orlando/Tampa and Editor-in-Chief of Sports Media Interactive, covering the National Football League, NCAA, and National Basketball Association. Charlie covers the Jacksonville Jaguars for FoxSports and has been featured on the NFL Network and Sirius NFL Radio. Charlie is also a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. You can follow Charlie on Twitter @nflcharlie

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