NFL Free Agency 2011: 15 Free Agents Who Will Re-Sign with Their Current Teams
With only four teams left in the 2011 NFL playoffs, the other 28 franchises in the league now turn their attention to the offseason. As always, uncertainty abounds, and there is an extra element of danger this spring and summer: The league's current labor strife could prevent anyone from doing very much, and it could really throw a wrench into free agency.
Of course, there will still be player movement, one way or another. It may be, however, that more players will be inclined to stay home, rather than test what could become a very unsteady, or even a non-existent, open market.
These are the best 15 players who will probably be back in their usual colors in 2011.
1. Matt Hasselbeck
Hasselbeck seemed a goner with just two weeks to go in the season. He threw 12 touchdowns and 17 interceptions in the regular season, and missed its final week with a hip injury. Charlie Whitehurst captained the Seahawks to the playoffs, and though he hardly looked like the future of the franchise in doing so, there seemed little reason for Seattle to stick with Hasselbeck.
Then, like a man possessed, Hasselbeck stepped up and threw four touchdown passes in the stunning upset over New Orleans. He even led an impassioned rally with three fourth-quarter touchdowns against Chicago, though the comeback was ill-fated from the start.
2. Braylon Edwards
New York is a win away from the Super Bowl, and though Braylon Edwards has hardly been a model citizen in the process, he is a huge reason why the Jets are playing so well. Edwards and Santonio Holmes have been able to work off one another late in the season, and their synergy is as good a reason as any for the apparent maturation of Mark Sanchez into a great NFL passer.
3. Matt Light and Logan Mankins
Tom Brady loves the big men in front of him, and while there will certainly be clamoring across the league for their services, the smart money says both Matt Light and Logan Mankins will be back to protect their meal ticket again in 2011.
New England’s postseason flop could give its free agents pause: Whereas those guys might have left with their final championship rings if the Pats had won, they could now feel a sense of unfinished business.
Both Light and Mankins are unrestricted free agents, but both will likely be back in Foxboro.
4. DeAngelo Williams
Williams, like many on this list, is a restricted free agent, and it is hard to imagine that the Panthers will eagerly let anyone else swoop in and poach him. He looked sluggish and not himself during his partial season in 2010, but Carolina never found a replacement sufficiently exciting to displace Williams, who looked like a dangerous breakout candidate coming into the year.
5. Tim Hightower
Beanie Wells projected as the Cardinals’ top rusher entering the season, even as a rookie, but Hightower took control of the job when Wells went down in the preseason, and never relinquished it.
Arizona can retain the restricted Hightower if it so chooses, and the good bet is that with uncertainty still surrounding Wells, the Cardinals will hang onto Hightower and try to cobble together a passing game that could open more lanes for him in 2011.
6. Steve Smith
In perhaps half a season of total field time interspersed into an injury-riddled campaign, Smith snagged 48 passes for nearly 600 yards. If he had been fully healthy, the Giants’ passing attack likely would have been too good for the team to miss the playoffs the way they did.
Few teams feel the need to carry three elite receivers; even fewer can afford the luxury. Therefore, Hakeem Nicks and Mario Mannigham could displace Smith to another NFL destination. Ultimately, though, Smith is still the best receiver this team has and the Giants will probably at least try their best to retain him.
7. Sidney Rice
Brett Favre has filed his retirement papers with the NFL. Insert joke here.
Assuming his decision sticks this time, though, the Vikings will be in a rebuilding mode on offense in 2011. They have a strong running game and a good, explosive option in Percy Harvin in the passing game. If they believe Bernard Berrian still has a season’s worth of deep routes and occasional big plays in him, they may elect to let Rice go and focus on improving at quarterback and at linebacker.
If not, though, Rice (who, like Smith, battled injuries in 2010 after a 2009 breakout) may be back opposite Harvin for Minnesota next season.
8. Marcedes Lewis
The Jaguars came as close as they have in some time to unseating the Colts and winning the AFC South. It was enough to preserve Jack Del Rio’s job, and it should be enough to ensure the return of the team’s three big offensive weapons as well.
It will be easy to retain David Garrard and Maurice Jones-Drew, but Lewis’ combination of size and ball skills might inspire a bidding war. Jacksonville has some control over the situation with Lewis being just a restricted free agent, but they will need to be proactive to keep Lewis in Florida.
9. Charles Johnson
The Chicago Bears may have a big fan in Johnson this Sunday: He already ranks as perhaps the biggest defensive line Pro Bowl snub in the NFC and he should get the call to Hawaii if Julius Peppers becomes ineligible.
Ironically, it is the Peppers syndrome of public image from which Johnson suffered this season. Because of his team’s miserable season, Johnson’s 11.5 sacks look like stats padded by self-interest on a team with nothing to play for.
Johnson will be a restricted free agent, though, so unless the Panthers share that view of their star defensive end, they will probably hang on to him.
10. Haloti Ngata
A massive man at 6’5”, Ngata weighs 350 pounds and has the athleticism and mobility to make plays all up and down the line of scrimmage. He will not escape Baltimore, not yet, though the threat created by interest from around the league may help him earn a decent payday even as a restricted free agent.
11. Tamba Hali
Joe Flacco ultimately carved up the Chiefs during the Wild Card round of the playoffs, but Hali’s disruptive presence—and multiple big plays, including a takeaway on a sack and forced fumble—kept the Chiefs in the game longer than they likely ought to have been.
He recorded 14.5 sacks during the regular season, and forced four fumbles. He is the heart of the Chiefs defense, and they will not even entertain the notion of letting him get away now.
12. Stewart Bradley
Bradley and the Eagles are perfect fits for one another. He emerged as a poor man’s Brian Urlacher in 2009, covering the field from sideline to sideline and acting as perhaps the only good run stopper on the Eagles defense.
For its part, Philadelphia may have to deal with the departure of Michael Vick and with a pass defense with more than its share of holes. Bradley fills a crucial defensive role perfectly, and the Eagles will not let him slip away even after an injury-plagued season in which he took a definite step back after a Week 1 concussion.
13. Brent Grimes
Underrated corners abound in the NFC, but Grimes may be the most unheralded secondary stud around. He makes all kinds of plays, is a solid tackler on edge runs and can lock down most receivers with ease.
The Falcons like Dunta Robinson for obvious reasons, but Grimes is not going anywhere if Atlanta intends to return to the playoffs in 2011.
14. Quintin Mikell
Mikell is unrestricted, yet another key piece that could go missing in Philadelphia. The Eagles will be loath to give him up, though, as he proved a solid complement to their run defense and was one of only two decent pass defenders the team offered in 2011.
15. Dawan Landry
The Ravens defense works because of future Hall of Famers Ray Lewis and Ed Reed, but less renowned stud athletes like Landry and Terrell Suggs are the cogs that make the unit dominant.
Landry is as versatile and hawkish as Reed, though substantially less athletic, and he uses good footwork to get himself in position for tackles and interceptions on a regular basis.
Baltimore will hang on to him, too.