Plenty of stars available in free agency besides Peyton Manning

Bizarre: What we’ve seen in the NFL over the last few days, with Peyton Manning zigzagging around the country on his first recruiting trip since high school.

Bazaar: What we’re about to see in the NFL, with free agency kicking off at 1 p.m. PDT Tuesday and some of the league’s more intriguing talent up for grabs.

You want a dominant defensive end? Mario Williams is on the market. The former No. 1 overall pick reached the Pro Bowl seven times with the Houston Texans but missed 11 games last season because of a torn chest muscle.

How about a receiver? Guys like Vincent Jackson and Mario Manningham should spark plenty of interest. The 6-foot-5 Jackson showed with San Diego that he not only has size but the ability to get deep. Manningham was last seen in the Super Bowl, just getting his feet down on the sideline on that beautiful, game-changing reception from Eli Manning of the New York Giants. Reggie Wayne, Peyton’s favorite target in Indianapolis, is available too.


Need an interior offensive lineman? There’s Carl Nicks of New Orleans, arguably the best guard in the league, or Steve Hutchinson, who left Seattle for Minnesota and took the Seahawks’ running game with him. There’s a good chance Hutchinson will make a U-turn now that he’ll no longer be with the Vikings, and head right back to the Pacific Northwest.

And Peyton Manning isn’t the only precision passer who will be in a new uniform this season, although he has overshadowed everyone else. Matt Flynn, who played sparingly but very well behind Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay, is another prize of free agency.

Because of the lockout last year, free agency couldn’t occur until the labor mess was resolved, three months after the draft. This year, the league resumes its traditional schedule, with free agency beginning more than a month before the draft.

That’s a welcome difference, said Thomas Dimitroff, general manager of the Atlanta Falcons.

“It allows us to make moves in free agency, and it takes the stress over the precariousness of how the draft is going to land,” he said. “I think that is an aspect of team building that I would suggest most of us, as coaches, general managers and team builders, would believe that is very beneficial for us.”

This free-agent class is more than 500 strong, with the vast majority of players being unrestricted, meaning they have completed four or more accrued seasons. Those players are free to sign with any club with no draft-choice compensation owed to his old club.

“I expect it to be a lot less hectic than last year,” said Rod Graves, general manager of the Arizona Cardinals. “I think we know what we are dealing with this go-round and I think there will be a certain calmness with how we approach it. I expect it to get back to normalcy.”

In the case of Peyton Manning, the process has been neither calm nor normal. He visited Denver and Arizona over the weekend before returning to Miami, where he owns a condominium. After an initial report Monday that he was through visiting teams, there were other reports that he would sit down with both the Dolphins and Tennessee Titans and might not make a decision this week.