No off-season situation is being watched more intensely than that of Peyton Manning. The Colts must decide by March 8 whether to pay the four-time league MVP a $28 million roster bonus or cut him loose. But he's far from the only big-name player whose future is under scrutiny as the March 13 opening of free agency looms.
• The Texans, coming off their first playoff appearance, must decide what to do with Mario Williams, whose contract is up. Having moved from defensive end to outside linebacker in 2011, the former No. 1 overall pick was averaging a sack a game before tearing a pectoral muscle in Week 5 and missing the rest of the season. His absence didn't hurt too much: The Texans had 15 sacks in five games with him and 29 in 11 without him, and finished second in the league in defense. No question, Williams is an impact player, but franchising him—meaning he stays with the Texans for a 20% salary bump—would cost in the neighborhood of $22 million for 2012.
• The 49ers are another playoff team facing tough choices. Quarterback Alex Smith, cornerback Carlos Rogers, safety Dashon Goldson and linebacker Ahmad Brooks are among their potential free agents. Each played a key role in San Francisco's first winning season since 2002. But the team's hands will be tied somewhat if it can't get at least one of them signed to an extension in the next few weeks. Smith is the priority and is expected to receive the franchise tag—at an estimated $14 million for 2012—if the sides fail to come to terms on a contract.
• The Chiefs, starting fresh with new coach Romeo Crennel, would like to retain two of their best players: cornerback Brandon Carr, a four-year starter, and receiver Dwayne Bowe, their best wideout. They could use the franchise tag—estimated at $10.2 million for a corner, $9.5 million for a wideout—on one of them, but if they don't sign the other to an extension they could find themselves in a bidding war they'd like to avoid.
• One situation that has been resolved is that of Oakland defensive tackle Richard Seymour. Thanks to a clause in his contract, Seymour's $15 million base salary for 2012 quietly became guaranteed last week because he was still on the roster on Feb. 10. New general manager Reggie McKenzie could have released the 32-year-old Seymour before then but would still have been on the hook for half that amount. "I have unfinished business," says Seymour, who had six sacks for the Raiders in 2011. "It's a personal challenge to me to get the Raiders back to where they belong in the NFL."
REED HOFFMANN/AP (SEYMOUR)
CALL WAITING While Seymour (92) got his $15 million for 2012, the Niners' Smith (below) is one of those still in limbo.
PETER READ MILLER (SMITH)
[See caption above]