NFL Free Agency 2011: 15 Sleeper Free Agents Who Offer the Most Value
NFL Free Agency 2011 Full of Potential Surprises
Whenever someone talks about NFL free agency, they talk about who will sign Vincent Jackson, who will take a chance on Randy Moss or who will look to snag DeAngelo Williams.
But hardly anyone ever addresses the potential surprises, the under-the-radar guys who could wind up being just as important—or more instrumental—to a team's success than some of the huge names out there.
Football is obviously a team sport, and sometimes the smaller moves pay bigger dividends.
Here are 15 sleeper free agents who offer the most value.
15. Pat Williams, DT, Minnesota Vikings
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At 38 years old and already the NFL's oldest defensive player, one would think that Pat Williams would be considering retirement.
But alas, the 317-pound defensive tackle has gone on record to say that he'd like to be back in Minnesota next season if the Vikings want him.
If not, he's expressed his desire to play for a team who has a chance at winning a Super Bowl.
Williams may not be what he once was, but he's still been very productive and will only command a cheap, one-year deal.
14. Seneca Wallace, QB, Cleveland Browns
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Seneca Wallace is never going to be a guy who throws for 300 yards or leads a team to 12 wins in a season, but he's a very solid game manager whom a team can feel comfortable with if their starter goes down.
In four games of extensive action in 2010, Wallace completed 64 percent of his passes and threw twice as many touchdowns (four) as interceptions (two).
Again, don't expect stellar, jaw-dropping performances from this guy, but having a backup quarterback with plenty of experience under his belt certainly can't hurt.
13. Richard Marshall, CB, Carolina Panthers
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Richard Marshall is never going to be confused for a shutdown cornerback, but he's one of the league's best corners in run support.
He's had exactly 88 tackles in three of the past four seasons and has at least 73 tackles in each of his five NFL seasons.
Marshall also had four interceptions in 2009 and three picks in 2010, and he's got age on his side.
He just turned 26 years old last December, and he brings a ton of experience to the table, along with 46 career pass deflections and 14 career picks.
12. Drew Stanton, QB, Detroit Lions
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Don't get me wrong here; I'm not saying Drew Stanton should be a starter anywhere in 2011.
But he could provide a team with a young (and cheap) backup next season.
On a bad Detroit Lions team in 2010, Stanton went 2-2 as the team's starter, with the two wins coming against Green Bay and Tampa Bay and the two losses coming by a combined 12 points against the New York Giants and the Chicago Bears.
Stanton performed pretty well in those three games and may have earned himself a backup job somewhere rather than being stuck as the third-stringer in Detroit.
11. Thomas Davis, LB, Carolina Panthers
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In 2008, Thomas Davis really emerged as a heck of a linebacker, racking up 114 tackles and 3.5 sacks in his fourth NFL season.
But seven games into the 2009 season—and after totaling an impressive 64 tackles and 1.5 sacks—Davis suffered a torn ACL.
He returned during this past offseason, only to suffer another torn ACL and miss the entire 2010 season.
Davis' proneness to injury isn't something any team likes to see, but that's precisely why I like him.
If he can return to his pre-injury form, some team will have gotten a huge steal at a cheap price.
10. Tanard Jackson, S, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
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Tanard Jackson is the ultimate example of high-risk/high-reward.
The hard-hitting Buccaneers safety showed a ton of promise on the football field—particularly in 2009 when he had five interceptions—but was suspended indefinitely by the NFL after the second game of 2010 for his third violation of the league's substance abuse policy.
Jackson won't be able to return to the field until Sept. 22, but he's got all the making of a playmaking safety.
If some team wants to take a shot on him, it could backfire.
Or the team could reap some huge benefits.
9. Mike Sims-Walker, WR, Jacksonville Jaguars
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Mike Sims-Walker has missed 10 games in his first three NFL seasons and saw a big dip in production in 2010, but much of his struggles this season can be attributed to the success of Marcedes Lewis.
When Sims-Walker is actually on the field though, he's provided David Garrard with a nice target on a team that doesn't have a ton of options in the passing game.
Sims-Walker has more than 1,430 receiving yards and 14 touchdowns over the last two seasons.
He's also relatively young at just 26 years old.
8. Willie Colon, OT, Pittsburgh Steelers
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Willie Colon had started 50 straight games at right tackle for Pittsburgh before missing the entire 2010 season with a torn Achilles.
During that stretch, however, he was the Steelers' best and most consistent offensive lineman, so the team will likely be looking to re-sign him.
But if Pittsburgh chooses to go in another direction, look for a number of teams to jump at the chance of signing Colon.
He'll be just 28 years old at the beginning of next season.
7. Michael Bush, RB, Oakland Raiders
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If would be a dumb move for Oakland to fail to re-sign Michael Bush, but this is Al Davis we're talking about here, so nothing surprises me.
In any case, Bush would be a nice pickup for a team looking for some thunder to complement another running back's lightning.
He's coming off his best season as a pro, in which he rushed for 655 yards and eight touchdowns despite splitting the carries with Darren McFadden and missing two games because of injury.
Bush, a 245-pound bruiser, is going to get a ton of looks from teams looking for a between-the-tackles runner and goal-line back.
6. Kamerion Wimbley, OLB, Oakland Raiders
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Although Kamerion Wimbley's never been much of a tackler—having never registered more than 69 tackles in a season—he's done a nice job of getting to the quarterback.
In his first (and maybe only) season with Oakland in 2010, Wimbley had an impressive nine sacks, and he also had an 11-sack rookie campaign with Cleveland in 2006.
His ideal fit would be as an outside rush linebacker on a team with a 3-4 defense, and there are plenty of those in the NFL.
If Wimbley isn't re-signed by the Raiders, he'll have a ton of suitors on the free agent market.
5. Ricky Williams, RB, Miami Dolphins
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As crazy as it seems, Ricky Williams can still be a valuable addition to an NFL team that needs another running back.
Though he'll be 34 years old by the time the 2011 season begins, he's rushed for nearly 2,500 yards and racked up 21 total touchdowns over the last three seasons.
Williams has also added 83 catches and has rushed for at least 4.1 yards per carry in every season during that span.
He would be a solid pickup for someone willing to give him a one- or two-year deal that is incentive-laiden.
4. Lance Moore, WR, New Orleans Saints
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Despite the fact that some people may tell you otherwise, Lance Moore is Drew Brees' go-to guy.
Moore can do anything and everything, from catching passes to running reverses to returning kicks and punts.
In 2008, he caught 79 passes for 928 yards and 10 touchdowns, and in 2010, he caught 66 passes for 763 yards and eight touchdowns.
Moore is as sure-handed as they come and would be a good fit for a team looking to add an extra wrinkle to their offense.
3. Owen Daniels, TE, Houston Texans
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After a stellar start to the 2009 season, Owen Daniels missed the second half of the year because of an injury.
In 2010, he missed five games in the middle of the season too, but he caught 22 passes for 271 yards and two touchdowns in the final four games.
Daniels' strong end to the season gave teams a sneak-peek at how good he can be when healthy.
If he's finally fully recovered, expect him to be the top tight end on the market as long as Marcedes Lewis re-signs with Jacksonville.
2. James Jones, WR, Green Bay Packers
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The Green Bay Packers have a number of key young players they need to lock up, and James Jones just might not be in the cards for a team that's stacked with offensive weapons.
Jones, however, did have a very good 2010 campaign, during which he caught 50 passes for 679 yards and five touchdowns.
Perhaps more important than stats though, were the flashes of playmaking ability Jones showed.
If Green Bay can't come up with the money to re-sign Jones, look for teams in need of a No. 2 receiver to try to sign him.
1. Mathias Kiwanuka, DE, New York Giants
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Before being sidelined by a herniated disc early in the 2010 season, Mathias Kiwanuka had racked up four sacks in just three games.
The New York Giants defensive end didn't play the rest of the season though, and now finds himself in a tricky situation.
His production was there (albeit briefly), but the Giants are loaded with defensive ends.
They may want to keep Kiwanuka, but he could be one of the most sought-after defensive linemen in this year's free agent class and might choose to go somewhere where he can start.