Each year, there are a few big name free agents that teams will try to rush in to their facilities and sign them as soon as possible. However, over the last few years, it seems that free agency has been down past the top two or three players.
In 2010, free agency will be much differently with an uncapped year and former big name players on the market. Four years ago, it would have been crazy to think LaDainian Tomlinson, Brian Westbrook, and Jake Delhomme could all be on the market in one off-season.
Yet, in those four years, many things have changed and now teams are ready to make big moves with the top free agents.
(In no particular order)
1. Julius Peppers
Julius Peppers is said to be the top free agent on the market. He has a rare combination of size and speed that has made him one of the more productive defensive ends in the last decade.
The knock on Peppers is that it is hard to pay top dollar for a player that doesn't always give each play full effort and that he is moving past his prime. At 30, Peppers is still playing at a Pro-Bowl level and he will expect long term deal with plenty of guaranteed money.
Prediction: Chicago Bears
Without a first or second round pick, the Bears will need to make any splash this off-season in free agency. They desperately need a pass rusher and felt they had one in the late Gaines Adams. After his death, the Bears pass rush felt even worse.
The Bears proved late in the season that they could make a run in the NFC North, especially if Brett Favre decides not to come back. They will need to pay more than the Patriots or Eagles would, but Peppers will take the money and a lower chance to get back to the post season.
2. Karlos Dansby
Karlos Dansby is becoming increasingly more known for big play in the playoffs that sent the Cardinals to the second round. However, his production should not be overshadowed as he has been one of the most productive linebackers in the last three years.
The former Auburn standout averaged close to 110 tackles in his last three seasons and has over 25 sacks in his career. Dansby has played both the outside linebacker spot as well as in the middle. He will most likely be signed to play outside and rush the passer with more consistency as he showed in 2006 (eight sacks).
Prediction: Miami Dolphins
The Dolphins turned Joey Porter back into a Pro Bowl player in their defensive scheme. Now that Porter has been released, they need to get the production out of that spot as they did in their 2008 turn around season.
A big part of that season was Joey Porter's 47 tackles including 17.5 sacks. Dansby won't get the same number of sacks, but he will get more tackles and if used in the same way, does have the speed to hit double digit sacks.
3. Gary Brackett
The Indianapolis Colts are known for letting inside linebackers test the free agent market. However, none of the past players have meant so much to his team as Brackett has become the heart and soul of the Colts defense.
With that said, he is physical and can run. Brackett has averaged over 100 tackles for five straight years and has proven to be able to play in pass coverage (19 pass deflections, 11 interceptions in five years).
Prediction: Indianapolis Colts
The Colts know how different Brackett is from other middle linebackers in the past. He is not only productive, but has become the vocal leader of a top defense. Losing Brackett would set the Colts back and Indianapolis can't afford that right now. He should receive a contract in the beginning of free agency before teams can really go after him.
4. Thomas Jones
Thomas Jones is a rare athlete especially in the NFL. When players hit the 30-year old mark, they are supposed to drop in production.
However, Jones did the exact opposite.
Jones is coming off his best season of his career and proved last season there is more left in the tank. Jones ran for over 1,400 yards and 14 touchdowns, both in the top five from 2009. Jones isn't going to dazzle like other top running backs, but he gets tough yards and finds the end zone. Jones is also a terrific leader and it could be seen as Jets players have begged management to bring their leader back.
Prediction: San Diego Chargers
The Chargers desperately need an everyday back, a proven back, and, more importantly, a leader.
Jones brings all three of those aspects in one player.
San Diego could draft a running back in the first round, but for a team that is on the cusp of a Super Bowl, they need a veteran to handle the load. Jones would be a great leader and be able to team with Darren Sproles to bring San Diego back atop the AFC West.
5. Brian Westbrook
Brian Westbrook has been the most versatile running back in this decade. He may not have been a rushing champion, but his production has been matched only by other top running backs.
Westbrook was a perfect fit for the Eagles west coast offense and has proven to be a multi-dimensional back that can produce against any defense. With that said, Westbrook is a risky pick due to annual knee injuries and a pair of concussions in 2009. Westbrook will need to catch onto a team that needs a solid pass catcher out of the backfield and a solid third down back.
Prediction: Minnesota Vikings
If there was one prediction I feel the most confidence in, it is that Brian Westbrook will sign with the Minnesota Vikings. The match could not be more perfect in my opinion.
Brad Childress, former Eagles offensive coordinator, knows Westbrook better than anyone besides Andy Reid. The Vikings will probably lose Chester Taylor in free agency and will need a compliment to the hard-nose Adrian Peterson.
Peterson is a north-south runner who is willing to run over defenders. Westbrook would supply the pass catching role and play on third down to help protect the quarterback.
6. LaDainian Tomlinson
LaDainian Tomlinson's situation is tough to judge. He has been the best running back in this decade and may end up going down as one of the top ten of all time.
Tomlinson did have a good season in 2009 getting into the end zone (12 touchdowns), but that's about it.
The Chargers knew they couldn't give Darren Sproles the ball 25 times a game and needed Tomlinson to be the work horse. However, with his lowest yards per carry (3.3), Tomlinson looks like he will need to shut it down soon.
He wants to win and will only sign with a team that he feels has a shot to be in the playoffs and make a run at the Super Bowl.
Prediction: Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles aren't in dire need of a 30+ running back as they released one only weeks ago.
However, this is almost a default pick.
Of the playoff teams from 2009, the Eagles and the Saints are the only two teams that could sign a running back. I think Drew Brees will make a pitch to the Saints management, but they already have a crowded back field with Pierre Thomas and Reggie Bush.
It will be hard to give Tomlinson a couple million dollars and take them away from possibly a Darren Sharper contract. The Eagles would like to add a back to take the heat off of second year player, LeSean McCoy. Tomlinson gives the Eagles a year to help McCoy become a premier back and the Eagles give Tomlinson a chance to get back to the playoffs and into the Super Bowl.
7. Darren Sharper
Sharper was one of the only players in the NFL hoping to receive the franchise tag. Instead, he wasn't and is now a free agent.
Sharper was the leader of the Super Bowl champions on defense and will be missed greatly if he leaves. Sharper is a ball hawking safety that likes to make the big hit and has the ability to take any interception back for six. Sharper leads a young secondary and proved in 2009 that he could still play at a high level.
Predication: New Orleans Saints
I just do not see the Saints letting Sharper go. He has not only become very important to the Saints defense, but has become a big fan favorite in a city that loves their players.
I think Darren Sharper needs the Saints as much as the Saints need him.
He played terrific in his role, where they could rush the passer and quarterbacks felt the rush and threw the ball off their back foot and too early. Sharper is not the best deep safety cover man who is going to be able to take great angles and make sideline to sideline plays.
However, he is great in Coach Williams' system and will be back for something around a two year deal.
8. Dunta Robinson
Dunta Robinson has been a foregone conclusion to leave Houston for the last couple of years. It seemed that he was going to be franchised until they realized they were overpaying for him.
Robinson is a solid cover corner who has proved his worth in the last couple of years. He may not be thought of as one of the top corners, but has been covering top receivers since he was drafted in 2004. He could be even better on a team that can get to the quarterback on a consistent basis.
Prediction: Atlanta Falcons
This is another confident selection as Robinson is from the Atlanta area and has already expressed interest in returning near his home town.
The Falcons need a top corner especially in a division that includes Marques Colston and Steve Smith. The Falcons missed the playoffs last season and their secondary was the biggest issue they had.
Robinson isn't going to be the best corner in the league, but will be an instant upgrade for Atlanta and could help them get back into the playoffs in 2010.
9. Antrel Rolle
Antrel Rolle is a tough judge because a playoff team (Arizona) is letting him go after a Pro Bowl season. Rolle is good player who was drafted as a corner and moved to safety. He helped the Cardinals get over the hump in 2008 and into the playoffs and eventually to the Super Bowl.
There are plenty of teams that could use a safety to get their defense back in tact and Rolle could find a big contract somewhere in the East.
Prediction: New York Giants
Antrel Rolle will look for a team that can give him a big contract and he could use his versatility to advantage.
The Giants can get to the quarterback and he will be able to roam center field and become a big time play maker. He will pair with fellow Miami product Kenny Phillips that could turn the Giants defenses back to one of the top in the league.
10. Terrell Owens
Terrell Owens accepted a contract in 2009 because he wanted to prove that a team would sign him relatively quickly.
Owens did not have a good year and wasn't even the best receiver on his own team. He played with average quarterbacks and disappeared from games rather quickly.
However, Owens could help a team that needs to take pressure off their quarterback (Baltimore) or help out their passing attack and take pressure off another big name receiver (Cincinnati).
Owens could be drawn by both Baltimore and Cincinnati.
Prediction: Baltimore Ravens
The Bengals will talk about it and we will hear their name more than not because of Chad Ochocinco. They could use Owens to form a pretty solid receiver corps.
However, the Ravens management has already shown their interest and they missed out on Owens in 2005, which I don't think they will let happen again. The Ravens are much more set to be a contender in 2010 than the Bengals. Joe Flacco is going into his third year starting and a big target would help his progression.
Owens will take a back seat to the running game in Baltimore, but after a year in Buffalo, everything sounds better.