This season is a great year for NFL Free Agents for a number of reasons. First off there are many teams with needs which always makes for an interesting off-season. Secondly there are a bumper crop of unrestricted free agents. Finally this is a no cap season so teams with money can pull a NY Yankees and buy a championship.
With some positions there isn’t much out there. There are no real free agent QBs to speak of this season. Kyle Orton is probably the best of the bunch and he is a RFA which means he will get another year behind the wheel of the Broncos offense. Tavaris Jackson will also stay put in Minnesota because Favre is done. Or is he? LOL
There are a bumper crop of quality running backs during this free agent period. Recently released Brian Westbrook and Ladainian Tomlinson lead the group. I look for Westbrook to sign with a team that already has a main back to carry the load. Minnesota or Arizona Cardinals could be a good bet. Westbrook’s head injuries could be enough to scare off most teams. Tomlinson could be re-united with Brees in New Orleans but he could also wind up in Chicago to play in the Mike Martz offense. Tomlinson’s former teammate Darren Sproles will also be looking for work for a team that can use his multiple skill sets. The Miami Dolphins and Chicago Bears could take a peak at Darren. Chester Taylor will more than likely pull a Michael “the Burner” Turner and bolt his long time team for a starting gig. Seattle, NY or Miami could be the best spot for him. Willie Parker will probably not be retained by Pittsburgh. He is coming off an injury plagued subpar season. A team like Houston or Green Bay could take a shot on Willie Parker. Another free agent back is Ronnie Brown. Now Miami might do what they can to retain him and he may not want to leave. However with teams giving away money this season he might go where the money is. New Orleans or Minnesota could be a really nice fit for him. Finally Leon Washington of the Jets should remain with the team. He is an UFA but I think he is in a great situation in NY and he knows it. Tommy Jones won’t be so lucky. The recently released Jet RB will have to find a new team. Denver or Houston could use his services as a 2nd string veteran back up to those teams young stud starters.
There are a decent crop of wide receivers and tight ends in the draft. The first is obviously Terrell Owens. The downside is that he is the 36 year old Terrell Owens. Most teams will take a look but won’t budge on him. Look for him to start the season unemployed. A team might take a flyer on him if they lose a top receiver to injury. Baltimore and Cincy should be the two teams most interested in his services. Tampa Bay WR Antonio Bryant is a free agent but Tampa is interested in retaining his services. They are a good fit for one another and I don’t look for him to leave town. Kevin Walter might leave Houston. He is nothing more than a complimentary receiver so the really big bucks won’t be there for him. Tennessee, NY Jets or Kansas City could be in the mix for Walter. WRs like Braylon Edwards, Brandon Marshall, Steve Breaston, Miles Austin and Vincent Jackson are all Restricted FAs and will probably remain with their teams one more season. The only one that could be shown the door in a sign in trade type of a deal is Brandon Marshall who doesn’t fit in well in Denver. Brandon would love to play in Chicago with Jay Cutler but the NY Jets might be the best situation for him.
There are quite a few guys who look to change teams and make bank on the offensive line. Some of the top guys who will garner interest are Logan Mankins (NE), Chad Clifton (GB), Bobby Williams (CIN), Jahri Evans (NO), Kevin Mawae (TEN), Justin Hartwig (PIT), Daryn Colledge (GB) and Jared Gaither (BAL) just to name a few. I look for a lot of 1 and 2 years deals to be tendered with the impending work stoppage in 2011. However, a guy like Chad Clifton and Kevin Mawae could get very rich one year deals to play else where.
The defensive ends, like the offensive linemen, are in for big pay days. The two top prospects should be Julius Peppers (CAR) and Aaron Kampman (GB). I don’t look for either guy to be back with their 2009 team. I look for Peppers to end up in Chicago or Philly. Kampman will garner interest from teams that still run the 4 down linemen. Chicago could be interested if Peppers goes to Philly. Kampman could also end up in Indianapolis, New Orleans, Detroit or Washington. One FA End who could be high on teams with a 3-4 scheme would be Elvis Dumervil from Denver. I would think Denver would tag him and keep him in-house. Stay tuned on that one. Other FA Ends who should be changing addresses are Adewale Ogunleye, Leonard Little (STL), Marcus Spears (DAL), Jevon Kearse (TEN) and Kyle Vanden Bosch (ARI).
The defensive tackles available are also impressive this year. The group is led by Vince Wilfork (NE) who I believe has already been tagged by New England. At only 30 years of age Richard Seymour (OAK) should still gain some interest. Injuries and lack of production may cost him a big pay day but someone like Dallas, San Diego or Detroit could go after him. Aubrayo Franklin (SF) is a surprise of the group. He had a very solid season last year and is very valuable to the improving Niners. Look for them to tag him. Two others who could change addresses are Casey Hampton (PIT) and Ryan Pickett (GB). Of the two Casey may stay put as ownership has shown interest in bringing him back to one of the better run defenses in football. Green Bay may not be pressed into bringing Pickett back with B.J. Raji waiting in the wings. Ryan could end up in Oakland or Cleveland.
The linebacker group is a pretty decent group but most of these FAs may end up staying where they are at. One that won’t will be Karlos Dansby (ARI). He has under performed and Arizona looks to shake up their defense this off-season. Several teams may take a gamble on Karlos because of his ability to play in many different schemes. Dallas would seem like a good fit. Kansas City or Indianapolis could work too. One LB of interest is Shawne Merriman (SD). The Chargers seem to be cleaning house and future plans don’t seem to include the former Pro-Bowler. He is listed as a restricted FA but that won’t stop teams from taking a look. A team like Arizona or San Francisco might offer him a short term deal to come in and lead their young defenses. Linebackers Barrett Ruud (TB), Demeco Ryans (HOU) and D’Qwell Jackson (CLE) are FAs but should remain where they are at. They are all at the top of their game and their current teams have indicated they will bring them back. Others to keep an eye on are Gary Brackett (IND), Thomas Howard (OAK), Bertrand Berry (ARI) and Scott Fujita (NO).
In the defensive backfield the corner crop is a little thin but the safeties are a bumper crop. Leigh Bodden (NE) is one of the better ones out there. Look for New England to try to bring him back. Bodden also wants to stay which is key. Dunta Robinson (HOU) has a boat load of talent but has worn out his welcome in Houston. He should bolt for another team. Miami, Arizona and Detroit are all possible destinations. Richard Marshall (CAR) is a young stud and is a restricted FA. Look for Carolina to try to bring him back. Other CBs that will be available include Carlos Rogers (WAS), Tramon Williams (GB), Will Blackmon (GB) and Kevin Dockery (NYG).
The safties as I mentioned are a different story. If you want a talented FA safety this is the year. Unfortunately most of them are going to cost you a draft pick. Antrel Rolle (ARI), CB switched to S, is probably the #1 target. It appears he is Chicago’s #1 target. We will see if Arizona retains him or Chicago snags him. Another top candidate could be Darren Sharper (NO). He is getting up there in age and all indications the Saints would love to have him back for 2010. In a capless off-season we will have to see about that. Good teams like New England, Philly, Indianapolis or Dallas could go after Darren. Antoine Bethea (IND), O.J. Otogwe (STL), Bernard Pollard (HOU) and Roman Harper (NO) will all get looks from other teams but will more than likely stay put. Some other intriguing guys that will probably change addresses are Will Allen (TB), Dewan Landry (BAL), Sean Jones (PHI) and Atari Bigby (GB).
It will be interesting to see what happens with the CBA moving forward. One thing is for sure, with a cap free season dozens if not a hundred players could be on a different team in 2010. This FA season is almost as important, if not more important, than the NFL Draft. Teams like Chicago and Seattle who aren’t going to be able to change much about their team in the draft will be able to address all of their needs this season. A team like Dallas that has said they want as many as a dozen new guys in the locker room will also be aggressive.
Friday is Day One of Free Agency 2010. This weekend should be very interesting and possibly confusing. Stay tuned.