I have recently been evaluating the top free agent talent to be had in latter stages of the signing period.
With training camp looming, there are sure to be a flurry of signings to fill rosters and replace sustained injuries.
With roster turnover affecting 33 percent of the average NFL roster, wading into free agency cautiously is vital. A few mishaps, and a team can turn its salary cap into a three-headed monster that makes life unpleasant.
Just ask the Jacksonville Jaguars.
In 2007, they won a gritty playoff game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Two six-year, $30 million dollar deals with wide receiver Jerry Porter and cornerback Drayton Florence later, a 5-11 2008 record ensued. Both players, who were expected to be major contributors, flopped and were cut this offseason.
Other teams strike gold.
The Atlanta Falcons landed a franchise running back in Michael Turner. The Seahawks landed their best wide receiver in 20 years in TJ Houshmandzadeh. The Saints landed top quarterback Drew Brees on the open market a few years ago.
With things simmering down, it is never too early to begin speculating about next year. The day after the draft, ESPN already had a 2010 Mock Draft up, so why not begin to examine the top potential free agents that can hit the market in 2010?
First, let's dive into the top quarterbacks, running backs, and wide receivers that can be had. My subject material will definitely become more appealing.
Signability does play a factor, which is the reason why a guy like Philip Rivers will be kindly left out of speculation.
He will be 34 when his contract is up. With young quarterbacks Pat White and Chad Henne waiting in the wings, the Dolphins may choose not to retain the veteran signal-caller beyond this season.
Since Pennington's game is all about accuracy, he will be in high demand for teams who do not need a quarterback to heave the deep ball on every drive.
If the Vikings/Favre saga falls through, look for Minnesota to make a play for him in the 2010 offseason.
Next season is a tryout for Orton to see if he can be a franchise quarterback with all of the weapons that surround him in Denver. He was a great game manager for Chicago, but he never had a Brandon Marshall or an Eddie Royal to throw to.
Orton has a career 21-12 record, which is actually better then that Jay Cutler guy (17-20).
If Orton fails to perform, the Broncos will probably select a quarterback in the earlier rounds of next year's draft. If he can throw for 3,500 yards and 25 TD's, then Jay Cutler becomes a headache worth getting rid of.
Perhaps the best quarterback that could be had next offseason.
Campbell has taken some heat from the Redskins' front office, in addition to the team attempting to trade for Jay Cutler and then trying to move up to get Mark Sanchez in the draft.
Campbell is obviously not Washington's first choice at quarterback, and I would not be surprised to see them cut him loose.
Despite all the negativity, he has put up decent numbers in his short career, tossing for 7,242 yards, 35 touchdowns, and 23 interceptions with an 80.4 quarterback rating. If we were to expand his stats out for three full 16-game seasons, he would have 9,532 yards, 50 TD's and 32 INT's.
Not bad for the first three seasons, either way you look at it.
With a quarterback-loaded 2010 class, look for Campbell to hit the market and garner some serious interest.
A team like the Seahawks could take a serious look at him as the heir to Hasselbeck, depending on what they do in the draft with guys like Colt McCoy and Tim Tebow on the board. With Seattle stacked at the wide receiver position, Campbell would finally be able to break away from mediocrity.
A team like Jacksonville also would be a perfect fit with their run-first mentality, depending on what they do with the high-priced David Garrard.
If Sage Rosenfels beats him out for the starting job, the Vikings may cut ties with the bi-polar Jackson. He seems to either play like a Pro Bowler or play terribly.
He has been a disappointment to the majority of Vikings fans, and he had a dreadful playoff showing against the Eagles this season.
A team like the 49ers could make a play for the unproven quarterback, depending on how Shaun Hill does as starter.
If for some reason the Giants and Chargers cannot resign Eli Manning and Philip Rivers (the apocalypse would have to strike), they would easily garner the largest contracts in NFL history if they were to hit the free-agent market.
He has not proved he is a true franchise-type running back, but he has posted a solid 4.4 yards per carry average in his first four seasons.
At 27, Brown should be entering his prime and is poised for some career years running the ball. He has had to split the load even since his college days, and if given the bulk of the carries, he could become the next Michael Turner.
I predict San Diego could make a run at him, because the Chargers learned from their mistake of letting Turner go by putting the franchise tag on Darren Sproles.
With LaDainian Tomlinson getting up there in age, if Brown were to hit the market, they may view him as more of a feature back than the dynamic Sproles. A move like this would lead to the phasing out of Tomlinson
With both Jets running backs demanding $5-6 million annual salaries, it is unlikely they will keep both running backs beyond 2010.
And with Thomas Jones leading the AFC in rushing, Washington will have to turn it up a notch to warrant his desired salary.
If he were to hit the open market, he would be a highly sought-after player. He would likely get his desired salary even if he did not have a breakout season, and he would be able to land the bulk of the carries for another team.
Look for a team like Cleveland to go after him if current running back Jamal Lewis fails to up that 3.4 yards per carry average from last season.
I love this guy. He is one of my favorite running backs because he can do everything for a team.
Even though he is small, he has some power and will bull right through you.
My only knock on him is that his size is not capable of lasting through 16 games of constant pounding as a team's feature back. But he would be an excellent change-of-pace back for a team using a power runner.
He would mesh perfectly with a team like St Louis, the New York Giants, or Cincinnati. Putting Steven Jackson and Darren Sproles in the same backfield would be a matchup nightmare for any defense.
He had no idea when he signed with the Vikings that Adrian Peterson would soon become one of the NFL's best players.
Even as a change-of-pace back the last two seasons with Minnesota, Taylor has averaged 4.8 yards per carry and six touchdowns per season.
His path could lead one of two ways.
He could stay as a role player in one of the best rushing attacks in the league.
Or, he could test the market in search of one last big payday, and perhaps his last chance to be someones feature back.
He averages only 133 carries per season in his career, so even at the age of 29, he has plenty of production left in his legs.
If Laurence Maroney fails to stay healthy for New England, the Patriots could be in the market for a running back.
Taylor could give them the steady presence they have lacked in the backfield (Brady to Moss makes up for that) for the last several seasons.
This guy is a touchdown machine, and he could be the next Brandon Jacobs if given a feature role.
Much like Ronnie Brown, White has had to split the carries and the glory since he and Reggie Bush were embarrassing opponents in college.
I think he is more suited for a complement role, but if someone is willing to take a shot on him, he would seek an expanded role.
A team like Cleveland makes sense, depending on whether or not Mangini wants a power running back. New Orleans also seems logical, with Reggie Bush and his dynamic speed a perfect complement.
Because of recent contract disputes and a 2010 exit ability, Marshall would be the top wide receiver in a market that could be stocked with several No. 1 options.
He is due for a huge pay raise and will command top dollar on the open market.
He has not even hit his prime yet, and at 26, he has his best years in front of him. This is the kind of guy a team would cut someone it likes to be able to grab.
This would be the chance for the Eagles to finally give McNabb his No. 1 option they have lacked since Terrell Owens was with the team. If even half the guys eligible hit the open market, the Eagles would have absolutely no excuse to not be able to obtain one.
If the Eagles landed Marshall, they would become the NFC favorites, and McNabb would be one happy quarterback.
Another game-changer could hit the market in a star-studded wide receiver class of 2010.
If Edwards could wipe the butter off of those hands, the Browns would not even risk losing him. He had one breakout season when he hauled in 80 catches for 1,289 yards and 16 TD's in 2007.
Edwards has been the subject of trade rumors this offseason, mainly involving the Giants, so I would not be surprised to see him hit the open market.
Would any other teams besides the New York Giants be able to grab Edwards? If they were willing to maybe deal high draft picks to obtain him, why would the Giants hesitate if he hit the open market?
Jennings has emerged as a top wide receiver, averaging 1,106 yards and 11 TD's over the last two years.
I honestly do not see him hitting the open market, but with Green Bay's conservative stance on free agency, they may let him walk if the situation got too pricey.
A team like Miami would be a perfect destination for Jennings to thrive as the hands-down No. 1 option
Vincent Jackson and Chris Chambers
It is unlikely the Chargers will keep both of their top wide receivers, both of their top running backs, and Rivers.
Something's gotta give.
If they are able to retain 60 percent of those players, that should be considered a success. That likely means a wide receiver and running back will be packing their bags.
Jackson is a terrific slot wide receiver who finally had a breakout year in 2008, compiling 58 catches for 1,098 yards and emerging as the No. 1 wideout for the Chargers.
His age (26) likely means if it were to come down to choosing one or the other, Chambers (30) would get the ax.
Chambers is still a great No. 2 option, and he would generate serious attention on the open market. He could be a No. 1 wide receiver on a starved team like the St. Louis Rams.
Absolutely no way the Falcons get rid of Matt Ryan's best option.
With $50-60 in cap space, I see absolutely no way he does not sign a long-term deal to be the Buccaneers No. 1 wide receiver for years to come.
In my next article, I will be looking ahead to the top available tight ends and offensive linemen who can hit the open market in 2010.
If you have not already, check out the top free agents who are still on the market this offseason.