The NFL’s Top 30 Free Agents: Who Will Sink And Who Will Swim in 2010
When a team signs a free agent, it's done under the impression that the player will produce up to the paycheck they're receiving.
Let's face it, though: that doesn't always happen.
Every free agent has a different background—from young ones to veterans, from established to unproven, from a better team to a worse team or vice versa.
There are so many potential outcomes for each player that it would take me a year to write every one of them.
In a race to the finish, these guys will sink or swim in 2010.
OJ Atogwe / UFA / STL—STL
Atogwe has delivered for the Rams in the recent past, even with their defense in dregs much like now. Despite returning from a shoulder injury, there’s no reason to expect less from Atogwe than he’s given the Rams over the course of his career; he’s still a young body, and still in his prime.
Leigh Bodden / UFA / NE—NE
He may be New England’s no. 1 cover corner, but he’s not a top-flight NFL cornerback, and isn’t being paid like one, either. He has sound fundamentals, and can serve as a veteran anchor for a young but talented secondary.
If the defense can get after the quarterback, Bodden is set to have a respectable outing in 2010.
Antonio Bryant / UFA / TB—CIN
The situation doesn’t look great on paper, because Bryant could see decreased looks with Chad Ochocinco on the field, and because the Bengals have recently shifted their focus to a balanced attack.
There’s little doubt, though, that Antonio Bryant is still a talented receiver, and that Carson Palmer is still a talented quarterback. With that, the two seemed destined for good-to-great things in 2010.
Nate Burleson / UFA / SEA—DET
Detroit’s offense is a work in progress, but Burleson can contribute to that. He won’t see top numbers, but he's taking measures to contribute to leadership in the locker room.
His presence gives Matthew Stafford a formidable trio of talented pass-catchers (Burleson, Calvin Johnson, and Brandon Pettigrew) to potentially stunt his growth.
Ryan Clark / UFA / PIT—PIT
Clark had one of his most productive seasons in the league at 30 years old, all this without Troy Polamalu. The two are much better with one another, and Polamalu’s return can only mean good things for Clark. Although he had an opportunity to sign with other teams, Clark really made the right choice coming back to the Steelers.
Chad Clifton / UFA / GB—GB
Clifton has a history of injuries, but he's as healthy as he's been since 2007. Clifton also catches flack for penalties, but he protects the quarterback from being touched at all costs and rarely gives up sacks. Clifton's elite pass-blocking is prime in an offense that relies more and more on the pass with every passing year.
Karlos Dansby / UFA / ARI—MIA
Dansby had a down year by his standards, but that could be attributed to lack of familiarity with the Cardinals' newly-installed 3-4 scheme. We've seen Calvin Pace hit stride in the 3-4 scheme as an outside linebacker for the Jets, and Dansby has the tools to do the same for the Dolphins.
Jake Delhomme / Released / CAR—CLE
I almost called Delhomme a sinker until I read this very convincing article from Browns FC Daniel Wolf. With Delhomme looking on top of his game, it’s not too extreme to think he could bounce back from a bad showing in 2009.
He may not have a career resurrection, but his mentorship and leadership will be invaluable to the growth of the Browns young locker room, especially to rookie Colt McCoy.
Alan Faneca / Released / NYJ—ARI
With Kurt Warner watching from home, do the Cardinals really have a choice but to beef up their rushing attack? Alan Faneca will do just that.
He opened holes for the No. 1 rushing attack in the year last year, making his release that much more of a head-scratcher. The Cardinals are quite content signing on the highly-touted guard to run-block for them as they shift gears toward a more balanced offense.
Scott Fujita / UFA / NO—CLE
Fujita may be of declining physical skills, but that doesn't stop him from having a very high football IQ. He'll take that and his leadership skills from the Super Bowl Champion New Orleans Saints to Cleveland, where the youth and new faces in the locker room need a leader more than anything.
He can still produce on the field, but his veteran presence could be even more valuable than that.
John Henderson / Released / JAC—OAK
Even at 31 years old, John Henderson's run-stuffing presence on the defensive line allows the Raiders to play both the 4-3 and the 3-4 fronts. He hasn't been surrounded by much talent in Jacksonville recently, but playing alongside Richard Seymour should help a bit. He has the intensity to be a leader, both in body and in spirit, for the Raiders defense.
Thomas Jones / UFA / NYJ—KC
One has to wonder what the expectations will be for Thomas Jones. Coming off the best season of his career at the age of 30, how much gas does Jones have left in the tank?
He signed a cheap contract, so even a decreased role as a spell back to Jamaal Charles will still be good bang-for-the-buck signing for the Chiefs.
Aaron Kampman / UFA / GB—JAC
Kampman will be back in a familiar and comfortable position for him at 4-3 defensive end after struggling through the 3-4 scheme as an outside linebacker, but an ACL tear is hard to overcome, and at his age, with his playing style, it could be detrimental.
The Jaguars don’t have a very talented defensive line, so it would seem that he’ll be grabbing most of the attention from offensive linemen, and if he’s not at 100-percent, that could spell bad things for him.
Willie Parker / UFA / PIT—WAS
“Fast Willie” suffered a knee injury last year, and hasn't been the same since. The Steelers didn’t seem too eager to bring him back, so there could be a red flag in there that we don’t know about.
Parker is approaching 30 quick, and it seems most NFL fans and pundits agree that Parker is the odd man out in Washington’s loaded backfield.
Chad Pennington / UFA / MIA—MIA
The Dolphins have entered the Chad Henne era of their franchise—that much can’t be denied. Pennington wasn’t brought back to be a starter, though. He can still act as a mentor for Henne during this important stage in his growth, and can also be a serviceable back-up should an injury befall the incumbent starter.
Julius Peppers / UFA / CAR—CHI
Many speculated on the possibility that Peppers could play a 3-4 outside linebacker, but I bet he's happy that's not the case. He's being asked to do exactly the same things as in Carolina, which will make it easy for him to put up numbers. The Bears have some talent to line up next to Peppers, as well, so expect good things from him early on.
Joey Porter / Released / MIA—ARI
Porter didn't like having to keep his mouth shut last year as a result of not producing. He only put up nine sacks after racking up 17.5 of them in 2008. With Arizona's defense underperforming recently and having said goodbye to a lot of talent on defense, Porter can't be expected to carry the load.
Dunta Robinson / UFA / HOU—ATL
The Falcons have taken serious measures to improving their defense across the board. With the addition of Robinson, they now have a respectable option to lead their secondary. Robinson hasn't put up a lot of big plays over the past few years, but is a fundamentally sound cornerback who has the toughness and confidence to continue to succeed.
Antrel Rolle / Released / ARI—NYG
Rolle is the type of talented, diverse safety that the Giants have lacked for a long time. He isn't the fastest player on the field, but he knows how to make big plays in pass defense. He also fearlessly enters the box and defends the run with grit and toughness. He has great instincts, and can help the Giants defense turn things around in a hurry.
Darren Sharper / UFA / NO—NO
The Saints have a wealth of depth in the secondary, but even coming off a knee injury, they never gave up in trying to retain Sharper.
To be honest, though, he probably has more value to the team as a mentor. Malcom Jenkins is being groomed as the successor to Sharper, so expect the two to split time this season, which could be Sharper's last.
Lito Sheppard / Released / NYJ—MIN
Sheppard had plenty of opportunities to deliver big-time for the Jets defense last year and failed to provide a consistent counterpart to Revis Island. His man coverage skills are down with his speed. He's been injured four times in the past three seasons, so expecting week-in week-out contribution from Sheppard at this point is dreaming hard.
Chester Taylor / UFA / MIN—CHI
Taylor will be hungry for a starting job after being unceremoniously supplanted by Adrian Peterson in 2007. Matt Forte had a great rookie year, but faltered in his sophomore year; Taylor will compete for carries from the start, and I wouldn't put it past Lovie Smith to pick the veteran over the young gun.
Jason Taylor / Released / MIA—NYJ
Jason Taylor is no longer the monster off the edge that he used to be. His skills have obviously declined after injury slowed him down for much of 2008. If anyone can get some juice out of the blitz motor, it's Rex Ryan, but it seems there's not a lot of mileage left on Taylor.
LaDainian Tomlinson / Released / SD—NYJ
There's no question as to whether he's behind Shonn Greene on the depth chart; it's whether he'll also be behind USC running back Joe McKnight, drafted in the fourth round.
It's not a question of whether or not the Jets will run the ball; it's whether Tomlinson is an effective runner anymore.
Kyle Vanden Bosch / UFA / TEN—DET
There's reason to believe that Vanden Bosch could experience a career resurrection with former defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz at the helm. If he can stay healthy, he now has a top prospect playing beside him in defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh.
Benjamin Watson / UFA / NE—CLE
Watson goes from the New England Patriots with a future Hall-of-Fame quarterback to the Cleveland Browns who have Jake Delhomme, Seneca Wallace, and Colt McCoy. Watson had a bad case of the drops in New England, so how bad do you think things can get in Cleveland?
Vince Wilfork / Franchise / NE—NE
New England took a good approach to their offseason by ensuring that their key free agents hung around to help build continuity. Vince Wilfork is as key as they came, and he was paid for it. He does everything the Patriots ask him to do and more by being one of the best at it all. Wilfork is ready to take on a leadership role with the defense.
Jamal Williams / Released / SD—DEN
Jamal Williams can still be effective as a 3-4 nose tackle, but for how much longer? The Broncos fill a huge position of need, and for only 3 years at $16 million, but Williams has been so fragile of late that it might not even be worth that much.
Gibril Wilson / Released / MIA—CIN
Wilson has been exposed recently as a situational run-stopping safety. He hasn't been incredibly effective in pass defense, and adds to a Bengals secondary that sorely needs a safety to defend the pass. Chris Crocker is a better pass-defending safety, and will likely win the position battle at the free safety spot.
Will Witherspoon / Released / PHI—TEN
Witherspoon has been productive throughout his career, and still has a few good years left in him at 29 years old. The Titans defense doesn't surround him with talent, but he has a nose for the ball and will put up good numbers for them from an outside position, which he played in last year.
As usual, there are others who could have made this list, but someone will always be left off inevitably.
Did I get it wrong with someone? Are you in disagreement with me? Did I miss a player entirely? I'd love to hear any feedback you have to give me.
Thanks for reading!