One hallmark of the NFL offseason is free agency. It’s interesting to watch players negotiate to be brought back to their original teams, but the truly interesting part is when players move around the league.
When players switch teams it’s not often a sure thing that they will be starters, even if that is a role that they filled with their last team. Age, history of injury or positional depth can all be factors that can bump a former starter down on the depth chart.
At the same time, there are some players who will move to greener pastures because they can’t break the starting lineup on their former teams.
With all of those shake-ups it can be hard to know whether a free agent will be a starter or a backup. In some cases, though, there are some guaranteed locks. Keep reading to learn the 14 NFL free agents who will definitely be starters from day one.
Is there any question that Peyton Manning will start for the Denver Broncos?
After creating huge headlines during his brief free agency period, Manning has settled well in Denver. The Broncos may not have a lot of big-name talent at wide receiver, but Manning will surely find diamonds in the rough with what he has to work with.
He may not have more than a handful of years left in his career, but that is certainly plenty of time for him to groom a successor and perhaps bring a few glory years to the Broncos.
After starting for most of his four years with the Houston Texans, Amobi Okoye spent most of 2011 playing a secondary role in Chicago.
He will be incredibly motivated to take advantage of his new position within Tampa Bay’s struggling defense to regain his starting slot.
He should be able to easily wrestle the position away from Gerald McCoy and will provide an immediate boost to the Tampa Bay defense.
One of the most buzz-worthy quarterbacks on the market, Matt Flynn has finally graduated from backing up Aaron Rodgers. He accepted an offer from the Seattle Seahawks, an excellent fit for the offensive style that he has been groomed into.
Flynn will have to prove in training camp that he’s a better choice than Tarvaris Jackson, but that should be no problem for the much more reliable Flynn. He’s already turning heads at training camp, and the separation between the two quarterbacks should only grow during the preseason.
For four years, Pierre Garcon worked his way up the depth chart for the Indianapolis Colts. Now, he has to start all over in Washington.
Except this time he has the power of his name behind him.
The Redskins have a very, very young wide receiver corps—so young, in fact, that Garcon is one of the veteran players. Santana Moss, the most veteran player on the team, had a poor year in 2011 as well as grappled with injuries.
Both starting slots are likely up for grabs, and Garcon should have no problem at all walking away with one of them.
The Green Bay Packers parted ways with center Scott Wells this offseason. A good center is hard to find in the NFL, and the Packers have been a little bit spoiled by Wells.
While it seemed that the Pack may not have had much of a backup plan for replacing Wells, this normally-quiet team turned to free agency for the answer by signing veteran center Jeff Saturday from the Indianapolis Colts.
Saturday is getting up there in years, but he still has a few good seasons left in him. He’s a solid center who will be able to groom a young replacement. In the meantime, he’ll have zero competition for the starting job.
The San Francisco 49ers landed a wide receiving stud when they brought Mario Manningham in from the New York Giants.
Manningham’s contributions to the Giants' offense may not have been outstanding in 2011, but part of that was due to injury and to jockeying for position behind outstanding talent on the depth chart.
In San Francisco he won’t have quite the talent at quarterback to depend on, but he will have a group of wide receivers among whom he will certainly stand out as starting material.
A former Indianapolis Colt, Jacob Tamme made the most of the opportunity he was given when starter Dallas Clark fell to injury in 2010. He proved himself to be a reliable receiving option who was capable of blocking and gaining yards after the catch.
Now Tamme will be reunited with Peyton Manning in Denver, where he will be Manning’s only remotely familiar target. None of the competition at tight end has demonstrated Tamme’s on-field skills, nor have they already developed a relationship with Peyton Manning.
For those two reasons alone, Tamme will start for the Broncos.
The St. Louis Rams are in need of a lot of changes after a disaster season in 2011. Center Scott Wells is one of many new faces on the team’s roster.
Wells will be a veteran, stabilizing presence on the team’s offensive line, which will hopefully translate into better protection for Sam Bradford than he had last season.
Wells may be a bit undersized, but he is very good at his job. The Rams may have paid a lot for Wells, but he will be a good investment for their team.
BenJarvus Green-Ellis seems to have fallen into the strange cycle of New England Patriots running backs, where after one outstanding season he has faded into relative obscurity.
The Cincinnati Bengals have parted ways with Cedric Benson, and although they currently have eight running backs on their roster, none stands out as clear starting material besides Green-Ellis.
There will surely be competition in training camp for the available roster slots, but Green-Ellis should be able to run away with the starting spot.
Curtis Lofton was brought into New Orleans to make a difference, which he is certain to do now that Jonathan Vilma faces a season-long suspension.
Lofton was one of the biggest free agency prizes available, and the Saints were clever in landing him at a time when there was such defensive uncertainty.
With Lofton on the team, the Saints will be able to move forward knowing that their defense is in good hands.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were near the bottom of the league in offensive production in 2011, and part of the problem was their passing game.
Although some potential new stars emerged like Arrelious Benn, Mike Williams and Preston Parker, the Bucs lack a true No. 1 wide receiver option.
Vincent Jackson will fill that role nicely. A veteran from the San Diego Chargers, Jackson should be able to come in and help this young offensive unit settle down for better production overall.
The St. Louis Rams need all of the defensive help they can get, which makes the splurge on defensive back Cortland Finnegan completely justifiable.
Finnegan should face no competition when it comes to deciding on a starter. The Rams paid dearly to bring him in, for good reason—he was the best available player at that position on the free-agent market.
He should be an immediate difference-maker on the field, which is good news for the Rams who struggled on both sides of the ball in 2011.
Laurent Robinson has bounced around the league during his five years in the NFL, but he really had a breakout year with the Dallas Cowboys in the 2011 season. Right now, he’s riding a reputation that is his to lose.
Moving to Jacksonville to play with the Jaguars will give him every opportunity to continue to shine.
Jacksonville may be the home of potential rookie sensation Justin Blackmon, but in the NFL, experience is often a key factor in determining starting players. Until Blackmon proves his mettle in the NFL, Robinson should have a comfortable starting slot alongside Mike Thomas.
The Denver Broncos are sitting pretty on offense thanks to the acquisition of Peyton Manning, but they’ve been busy on the defensive side of the ball as well. Tracy Porter has joined the Broncos after four years in New Orleans.
Porter is an emerging defensive star, although thanks to injury and positional depth, he has never had a chance to truly shine. In Denver, he will hopefully be able to elude the injury bug with his new team.
Porter should be able to outperform all of the competition at training camp, much of which lacks the experience in the NFL that he has accrued.