NFL Free Agency: Landing Spots for 25 of the Top Unrestricted Free Agents
The true makeup of the 2011 free agency pool is unknown due to the lack of a collective bargaining agreement, creating uncertainty as to which players are actually unrestricted free agents in 2011.
Under the old rules, players that have accrued four or five seasons are restricted free agents, six years needed to reach the unrestricted level.
While it’s no sure bet the league will operate under old rules, it’s likely the number of years needed to be eligible for free agency won’t rise.
Unfortunately, the current crop of unrestricted free agents is one of the weakest in recent memory. Add the fact that the draft happened before free agency, and many of the six year plus players are at a disadvantage in terms of finding a new home next season.
Furthermore, salary structure is unknown for the next league year, making it tougher to accurately project how a given team will structure salaries in 2011.
With so much uncertainty surrounding next season, I’ll try to keep it simple and identify 25 of the top unrestricted free agents and one, or a few, likely landing spots them.
Nnamdi Asomugha, CB
Asomugha's three year, $45 million deal was voided when he didn't achieve the incentives to trigger a third season.
He is one of the league's elite corners and perhaps the prize of this year's free agency class. A skilled, shutdown corner that allows defensive coordinators to happily scheme knowing they have a true number one corner on the field.
Add in the fact he is durable (five games missed in his eight year career), and he is as much of the total package as anyone in the 2011 free agent class.
Hence the question: Is there any way Al Davis can re-sign the lockdown corner after two more unsuccessful years in Oakland, not to mention the fact Asomugha earned nearly $30 million in his two years in Oakland.
I think he'll land with a winner, a team that is a lock down corner away from being a contender. With the departure of Ellis Hobbs, there is room for Asomugha in the Eagles' starting lineup. Paired with Asante Samuel, they would have a veteran, lock down duo to contend with the dynamic receiving units in Dallas and New York.
The Eagles would be able to become even more aggressive on defense and focus on creating more turnovers to get Michael Vick back on the field.
Thomas Davis, LB
Davis was very successful in an outside linebacker role through 2009, but has not played since. He is coming off two knee surgeries, not the ideal way for one to increase their free agency value.
His combination of size, speed and tackling ability make him a strong complement to the rest of the panthers front seven likely on the weak side, as his versatility and range will allow for Ron Rivera to enhance the defensive scheme.
Davis has decided to test free agency even though he spent 2010 on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list, but both sides hope to work out a deal. Davis staying in Carolina seems like the most plausible scenario as long as the goals of both sides remain mutual.
Quintin Mikell, DB
However, there should not be a shortage for the veteran safety's services. Mikell is a tough hitting strong safety that can play cornerback, a hard worker and team leader.
The Houston Texans have major holes in their secondary and will expose their lack of depth if they choose to move Glover Quin to safety.
Mikell would be a solid veteran addition, especially for a young defense that is transitioning to a hybrid 3-4 scheme, effectively a 5-2, that needs veteran leadership in the secondary.
Darren Sproles, RB
The speedy change of pace back and return man has built a reputation as a dynamic and versatile play maker in his six years in San Diego.
I think the Chargers would make a huge mistake by letting him go, especially as a complement to the more bruising second year runner Ryan Matthews and rookie Jordan Todman.
Sproles' role in the offense has only grown as his career has progressed, a career high 59 catches in 2010 with only 50 carries. There remains room for Sproles in San Diego as the veteran leader of a young running back group, a unique playmaker because of his vision and ability to use his size as an advantage.
Aubrayo Franklin, DL
The run stuffer is the premiere nose tackle on the market in 2011 and will likely command a large contract.
The 49ers are hoping to keep him but understand that may be difficult.
With the days of the Williams duo coming to an end in Minnesota, Franklin would be a sound fit as an inside stuffer for a 4-3 defense that relies on the four man front as the strength of the defense.
Terrell Owens, WR
Despite the media circus that has followed Owens for much of the new millenium, he is among the game's most prolific receivers.
He has missed only 12 regular season games due to injury in his 16 years, amassing nearly 16,000 yards and over 150 touchdowns.
Owens played for only $2 million in Cincy, but may have trouble returning for a similar price with the addition of first round pick A.J. Green—unless Chad Ochocinco departs, creating room for Owens.
His season was shortened by a cartilage tear in his knee, stunting his value on the open market.
The Patriots have questions at receiver and are lacking a true down field playmaker. Not an expected marriage, but Owens to New England would be a very intriguing free agency headline.
Ronnie Brown, RB
Brown came into the league with high expectations to fill as the second pick in the 2005 draft.
He has encountered durability issues throughout his career, but has three 900 yard seasons under his belt and only one season with less than 30 catches.
Furthermore, Brown has proven he is a team player as the leader of the wildcat formation and his shared spotlight with Ricky Williams; Brown is a triple threat.
Brown believes he can still be an asset to the Dolphins even though they drafted Kansas St. bruiser Daniel Thomas.
Additionally, Brown is rumored to be the first choice of the Miami front office, over Ricky Williams, to maintain the role as the leader of the wildcat backfield.
I think he ultimately stays put in Miami.
Ricky Williams, RB
So if Ronnie is likely to stay in Miami, where is Ricky running next?
Williams' largest red flag is his age, turning 34 later this month, but he has played 16 games for three consecutive seasons after tearing his shoulder in his abbreviated return to NFL action in 2007.
Williams has proven over his career to be a versatile, tough and savvy back that can take over a game. He is not suited to be the main back in an offense, but still can serve as an excellent change of pace back that is a solid receiver out of the backfield.
I could see Williams finding a home as a backup in Pittsburgh; a tough runner with solid hands, Williams is looking for a championship ring late in his career.
Bo Scaife, TE
Scaife has remained under the radar as a sure handed, all-around tight end for the Titans.
A consistent target for Vince Young and Kerry Collins, Scaife has shown the abilty to be a consistent safety valve and a reliable target.
I don't see Scaife going far in 2011, as the Titans would be wise to re-sign Scaife to pair with Jared Cook; Jake Locker would be happy to have the duo roaming the middle of the field for years to come.
Ike Taylor, CB
Taylor has been a mainstay in the Steelers secondary, a Steeler his entire career.
While his status to return remains uncertain as he is expected to test the market, there are few better options for the Steelers to pursue, especially if they don't desire giving out a larger deal than needed to retain Taylor.
Losing one of their veteran leaders would be a setback for the Super Bowl losers, especially with the danger of losing restricted free agent William Gay.
If the Steelers bring back Taylor, in addition to the talent acquired through the draft at the position, the back end would be set up for a smoother transition.
Cullen Jenkins, DL
Jenkins had one of his best seasons as a pro in 2010 despite only playing 11 games.
The former Packer appears to be on the move, and his next destination may have already been determined.
Jenkins and the Redskins reportedly have mutual interest in one another. Jenkins, a veteran presence that can come in and replace Albert Haynesworth, will likely be the veteran presence for Mike Shanahan that Haynesworth was not.
Jason Babin, DE
Babin had an up and down career before a breakout season in 2010 with 12.5 sacks as an aggressive defensive end for the Titans.
Babin is not sure where he will end up in 2011, but he hopes to return to Tennessee.
His inconsistent production and durability in the years prior to 2010 will be a red flag for some teams, but he proved he meshes very well in the current locker room after his breakout, first season with the team.
Even with the regime change, the staff is familiar with Babin and what he can bring to the table. However, a change in scheme may render Babin expendable.
If he doesn't return to Tennesee, Babin could look to re-unite with Philadelphia or Seattle.
Barrett Ruud, LB
Ruud has been a consistent player for the Buccaneers in his six years, but the teams selection of Mason Foster may spell the end for the linebacker.
Ruud's production and all around skill set will draw the attention of many teams, four straight 100 tackle season's and five sacks in the past three seasons a plus on the resume for Ruud.
With Keith Bulluck a free agent, the Giants have a hole at outside linebacker; Ruud would provide consistent production behind the Giants aggressive pass rush.
Robert Gallery, OG
The former Raider is widely believed to be done in Oakland. Gallery was the second pick in the 2004 draft and struggled to live up to the expectations placed on him. A change of scenery will likely help, especially after coach Tom Cable was fired after the 2010 season.
Gallery is widely believed to be headed for Seattle with his former coach, but Seattle may face the limitations of the final eight rule under the old CBA. Seattle wouldn't be able to compete with offers in the $6 to $8 million range.
The Giants, however, will not be restricted by regulations and face a re-building project on the interior line. Gallery would be a welcome veteran addition to a group in flux, a road paver for Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw.
Randy Moss, WR
2010 is likely a year Moss will try to forget, and quickly, as he was a member of three teams in the calendar year.
Moss rubbed some the wrong way after acknowledging his love for playing in New England when he returned as a member of the Vikings after being traded and never made the desired impact with the Tiatns after his brief stint in Minnesota came to a close.
So where does Moss go in 2011?
I'm going to double dip and say New England—the landing place I identified for T.O.—as I believe the Patriots would not be opposed to re-acquiring their down field playmaker.
Randy still lacks a championship ring, and New England may be the best chance he'll get at playing a key role on a contender.
Adam Vinatieri, K
Vinatieri's reputation as an uber clutch kicker comes from his days as a Patriot in the early 2000s, but the Hall of Fame kicker continued his success as a member of the Colts later in the decade; a 92.9 conversion percentage in 2010 proves as a strong rebound from an injury hampered 2009.
Kickers are often thought of as a dime a dozen in the NFL, but Vinatieri doesn't fall in that category in my opinion.
I expect the kicker to return to Indianapolis to finish his career kicking in the friendly confines of Lucas Oil Stadium, as the Colts understand the value of consistency at the kicker position.
Braylon Edwards, WR
Edwards became a main piece of the offense in 2010, still at times showing inconsistent hands but consistenly flashing big play ability.
However, the Jets also have to contend with the literal contract demands of restricted free agent Santonio Holmes, and to a lesser extent, Brad Smith.
Keeping Edwards will be tough, though he wants to stay, and I believe the Jets would be wise to offer both players multi-year deals, but for a little less money. Try and keep the feeling equal, but appreciated, throughout the wide receiver group.
Keeping both, even all three, would be a savvy complementary roster move to the mass added on the defensive front line in the 2011 draft, Muhammad Wilkerson and Kenrick Ellis.
If the Jets can convince Edwards that he is a key piece to a Super Bowl offense, I believe he will stay in New York.
Matt Light, OT
A consistent and durable lineman that has been a main reason for the success of the Patriots offensive line.
With Tom Brady entering the back end of his career, Light would be a wise player to keep around beyond 2011.
However, with the selection of two big, strong offensive lineman in the 2011 draft, Light's time may be coming to a close. A short term deal may be all be receives from New England, but he would be an ideal bridge to the future for New England's young lineman.
Carlos Rogers, CB
Rogers has struggled to live up to his status as a top 10 pick.
He doesn't have the reputation as a play maker because he has intercepted only four passes the last three seasons.
On the other hand, he has 48 pass deflections in that same three year period.
Rogers is not the most instinctual cover corner, but he consistently finds his way to the ball and has been a solid presence in the Redskins secondary.
Losing Rogers would create a void at one of the top corner back spots on the roster, but he may be cheaper to bring back than the teams other free agent corner, Phillip Buchanon.
Marc Bulger, QB
Bulger has fallen from his spot as the prolific replacement for Kurt Warner in St. Louis in the middle of the decade, but has been rumored to be a possibility as the next starting quarterback in Arizona for months.
And after the teams selection of Patrick Peterson and not a quarterback in the 2011 first round let alone the entire draft, Bulger remains a popular pick to land in Arizona this offseason.
Bulger fits as a veteran quarterback that wont cost top starter dollar, as he was a backup last season in Baltimore.
The Cardinals have two young quarterbacks on their roster, Derek Anderson is likely to be released, and need a veteran presence for the right price.
Matt Hasselbeck, QB
Public opinion is split in regards to whether or not Hasselbeck should return to Seattle; some fans believe he ended 2010 on a high note, while others think the successful finish to the season is just a facade to the continued decline ahead for the veteran.
Hasselbeck has made it clear he wants to return to Seattle this offseason, and apparently the organization is beginning to show signs of mutual feelings.
In my opinion, the stage is set for Hasselbeck to return for a couple years to compete for the starting spot and usher in the future; the Seahawks did not draft a quarterback--Charlie Whitehurst cost a 2011 third rounder--and have continually expressed their interest in bringing back Hasselbeck.
If he can't reach a deal in Seattle I think he could end up on a team looking for a veteran to mentor a young quarterback.
Anthony Hargrove, DL
Hargrove played inside for the Saints, but he is a versatile lineman that can also be used as a rusher, evidenced by two seasons of 5.5-plus sacks in his career. He is also only 27 years old.
The Saints addressed their defensive line in the draft, and there appears to be less room for Hargrove.
He is a strong athlete that would be a solid fit as a versatile lineman, a possibility for the Denver Broncos or the Patriots.
Vonta Leach, FB
The Texans lead blocker is a prototypical fullback with solid receiving skills; he has 76 catches, compared to only three career carries.
A consistent safety valve for Matt Schaub, Leach has found a defined role as an H-back type in Gary Kubiak's offense.
Leach is a key secondary piece to the Texans dynamic offense, and would be a major loss as the road paver for Arian Foster.
Jamaal Brown, OT
Brown was a mainstay on the left side of the Saints offensive line after being drafted in 2005 until an injury knocked him out of the 2009 season. He was then traded to the Redskins for the 2010 season; he started 14 games.
A solid tackle with good body control and athleticism, Brown creates a solid bookend with second year Tackle Trent Williams. With the pending departure of Donovan Mcnabb and the release of Clinton Portis, there may be room to give Brown a contract similar to his $3.6 million dollar 2010 tender.
Plaxico Burress, WR
Burress is expected to be released from prison before the 2011 season.
The one time super bowl winner is determined to get back on the field and resurrect his budding career; with the success of Michael Vick, there is hope that Burress can endure a similar transition back into the game.
There have been mixed reports over the year as to whether or not the Giants will welcome Burress back, but Eli Manning and Steve Smith have said they are in favor of the former stud receiver returning to the team--he did catch the game winning touchdown in Super Bowl XLII.
If the Giants are able to bring back Burress, they will field a trio of Hakeem Nicks, Steve Smith and Burress; an explosive offense that would be among the leagues best.
I see The Giants as Burress' ideal landing spot, but I am not counting out the slight possibility he lands with the other New York team.