NFL Free-Agent Signing Starts Today as Harvin, Boldin Move Teams

Former Pro Bowl wide receivers Percy Harvin and Anquan Boldin are on the verge of switching teams as the National Football League’s free-agent signing period begins today with fellow wideouts Mike Wallace, Greg Jennings and Wes Welker among the top players on the market.

The trades involving Harvin and Boldin may have strengthened Super Bowl contenders in the National Football Conference’s West division.

The Seattle Seahawks yesterday agreed to acquire Harvin from the Minnesota Vikings in exchange for first- and seventh-round picks in the draft next month, and a mid-round pick in 2014, according to Fox Sports. Boldin went from the Super Bowl-champion Baltimore Ravens to the runner-up San Francisco 49ers for a sixth-round draft pick, according to the Baltimore Sun.

“He’s a great player and he’s another great weapon for this team,” 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick said yesterday in a televised interview with ESPN. “The NFC West is a very tough division now. It’s only getting tougher.”

The NFL’s free-agency and trading periods begin at 4 p.m. New York time, at which time deals with players’ new teams can become official. For the past three days, NFL teams were permitted to negotiate with agents of players who will become unrestricted free agents when their 2012 contracts expire at today’s deadline.

Clubs also have until the deadline to submit qualifying offers to restricted free agents. The New York Giants will assign a first-round tender worth $2.9 million to receiver Victor Cruz, a restricted free agent, co-owner John Mara said yesterday, according to the Newark Star-Ledger.

Other Offers

Other teams are free to make offers to Cruz, while the Giants can retain their leading receiver by matching any offer he gets, or accept a first-round pick as compensation for allowing the 26-year-old to sign elsewhere.

“It’s a risk for us, and he is an exciting, dynamic player,” Mara said, according to the Star-Ledger. “It’s not going to shock me if somebody makes him an offer.”

Even with Harvin and Boldin changing teams and the Kansas City Chiefs re-signing leading receiver Dwayne Bowe earlier this offseason, receivers are among the top targets as free agency begins.

Wallace, a 26-year-old deep threat who’s led the Pittsburgh Steelers in yards receiving the past three seasons, is being targeted by the Miami Dolphins and Vikings, reported. Jennings, 29, has 53 touchdown catches over seven seasons with the Green Bay Packers, and Welker, 31, has had more than 110 catches in five of his six seasons with the New England Patriots. The Packers are seeking to re-sign Jennings, while the Patriots want to retain Welker, said.

Running Backs

Steven Jackson, who rushed for 10,135 yards over nine seasons with the St. Louis Rams, headlines the free agent running backs available. Other running backs eligible for free agency include Reggie Bush, Ahmad Bradshaw, Rashard Mendenhall, Beanie Wells, Michael Turner and Shonn Greene. Bradshaw, 26, has spent his entire career with the New York Giants, rushing for 4,232 yards and 32 touchdowns in six seasons.

Safety Ed Reed, who won a Super Bowl title with the Ravens last season, is also set to become a free agent, along with pass-rushers Dwight Freeney, Osi Umenyiora and James Harrison, and offensive linemen Sebastian Vollmer and Andre Smith. Dashon Goldson, Brent Grimes and Aqib Talib will be among the top defensive backs available.

The Giants yesterday said they had signed defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins, who played on the Green Bay Packers’ 2010 Super Bowl championship team and started every game the past two seasons for the Philadelphia Eagles. The New York Jets signed 2009 Pro Bowl quarterback David Garrard, who was out of the NFL the past two seasons, to compete with Mark Sanchez.

Stomach Kick

Minnesota’s trade of Harvin to the Seahawks led Vikings All-Pro running back Adrian Peterson to say yesterday on Twitter that he felt like he was “kicked in the stomach” several times. The trade will become official once Harvin, 24, passes a physical, according to Fox.

Harvin led the Vikings last season in receptions, with 62, and yards receiving, with 677, despite missing seven games with an ankle injury. Harvin, a 2009 first-round draft pick who also has five career kickoff returns for touchdowns, is entering the final season of his rookie contract.

Boldin’s move to San Francisco from Baltimore will send him from one Harbaugh brother to the other, as he played under Ravens coach John Harbaugh and the 49ers are coached by Jim Harbaugh. Boldin, 32, scored the Ravens’ first touchdown in their Super Bowl victory against the 49ers last month. A three-time Pro Bowl selection, he caught 65 passes this season for 921 yards and four touchdowns.

Championship Odds

“We have great receivers already but he’s another great addition,” Kaepernick said on ESPN. “Everybody saw what he was capable of this past year and what he did in the Super Bowl. That’s just another playmaker on our team.”

With 7-1 odds of winning the Super Bowl, the 49ers are the second choice behind the New England Patriots (6-1), according to Las Vegas-based handicapping information website The Seahawks are tied with the Denver Broncos for the third-best odds at 8-1.

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