2011 NFL Free Agency: One Ideal Player for Every Team
Well, the dog days of summer appear to be setting in and it’s only late May. At least football is about to start and we'll be treated to the tales of sweating athletes from two-a-days.
That's right—the NFL's in a lockout. Well, then let's close our eyes and dream a little dream. A new collective bargaining agreement has been reached and all 32 NFL teams are getting ready for a quick 2011 free agency period before putting in the work necessary to deliver fans an exciting season of football.
Each team will start by getting to pick one free agent that ideally suits its needs. The order of picks will follow the 2011 NFL draft order for no other reason than fairness. Also, each will receive a pick even though a team like the Oakland Raiders traded away their 2011 first-round draft pick to the Patriots.
This method seems as good as any, given that picking free agents by top dollar is hard to guess and too much a reminder of the lockout.
It's a dream, so just play along.
Of course, some team's ideal free agent might already have been on the roster and just needs to be re-signed, while others better be able to make a quick transition to their new locale and new squad.
For our purposes, a player will need four years of service (although five years is more likely) to be an unrestricted free agent, not the nightmarish scenario of six years.
Mind you, this list won't be the 32 best free agents to hit the market, just the best fits for 32 teams.
Enjoy, before you wake up.
1. Carolina Panthers: Charles Johnson, DE
There are better unrestricted free agents that the Panthers could sign, but Johnson had 11.5 sacks last season in Carolina and I'm a firm believer in the adage that you are better off re-signing your own players over someone else's if the value is close.
Johnson is only 25 years old and with four years' service he might only be a restricted free agent in a new collective bargaining agreement.
Carolina right defensive end Tyler Brayton is likely to be released (high salary, poor production) before the season begins, meaning the Panthers can't afford to let both of their starting bookends walk.
2. Denver Broncos: Brandon Mebane, DE/DT
Denver needs a defensive tackle about as badly as boxing needs a marketable heavyweight.
In other words, the team is dying without one. Mebane is the best of the remaining bunch, and while he won't bring a significant pass rush, he will help the league's 31st-best run defense.
Besides, the pass rushing is going to be the job of defensive end Elvis Dumervill and rookie outside linebacker Von Miller.
Mebane is another four-year player and should improve with experience.
3. Buffalo Bills: Paul Posluszny, LB
Talk about a dilemma.
Paul Posluszny had 151 tackles last year in his best year as a pro. They can't afford to lose the only worthy starter they have on the entire unit.
Buffalo hasn't added anything to an offensive line that went from ninth to 18th in rushing offense and averaged less than 200 yards passing per game and finished 24th in that category. Considering the skill players arguably improved from 2009 to 2010, you have to look to the grunts for responsibility.
As tempting as OG Carl Nicks or OT Jared Gaither would look here, Posluszny is the choice.
4. Cincinnati Bengals: Johnathan Joseph, CB
The Bengals have a ton of needs and you could argue that cornerbacks Brandon Ghee or Morgan Trent could fill in adequately, but Joseph is one of the more underrated players in the league and, at 27, is entering his prime.
If Cedric Benson were to leave, proactively pursuing DeAngelo Williams would make sense here.
But no player added is going to provide as much value to the Bengals as Joseph staying.
5. Arizona Cardinals: Davin Joseph, G
With most people expecting the Cardinals to swing a trade for Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Kevin Kolb, some additional protection makes all the sense in the world for a new signal-caller who is less than mobile.
Road grader Carl Nicks is the better player, but Davin Joseph is the more athletic fit.
6. Cleveland Browns: Santonio Holmes, WR
The Cleveland Browns' leading wide receiver last year, Chansi Stuckey, caught 40 passes for 346 yards.
Oprah might be more productive split wide. Besides, she needs a new gig and Cleveland isn't that far from Chicago.
Seriously though, Holmes would make way too much sense here. The Browns drafted big wide receiver Greg Little (6'3, 220) in the second round, so the speedy Holmes would make a nice complement.
Besides, Holmes would get to stick it to his old team, the Steelers, twice a year.
7. San Francisco 49ers: Nnamdi Asomugha, CB
This actually makes too much sense. Opposing teams threw for 25 touchdowns against the 49ers last year. San Francisco only gave up nine rushing TDs by comparison.
Nate Clements is limited in how far downfield he can maintain tight coverage.
Asomugha will lock one side of the field down and Shawntae Spencer should be good enough to cover the other side.
8. Tennessee Titans: Carl Nicks, G
Its hard to imagine that Tennessee Titans' best move would be to let their star middle linebacker Stephen Tulloch leave. But Tulloch appears to want to go elsewhere and the Titans drafted two linebackers in the draft's first four rounds in Akeem Ayers and Colin McCarthy.
Nicks can solidify the interior of the line that has do a better job of blocking for all-world tailback Chris Johnson and might have to protect a rookie starting quarterback in Jake Locker.
9. Dallas Cowboys: Doug Free, OT
Free is Dallas' best offensive lineman and it would be a huge mistake not to re-sign him. The 'Boys drafted rookie offensive tackle Tyron Smith with the ninth overall pick in the first round, but the former USC Trojan only played right tackle during his collegiate career.
Losing Free would make a returning-from-injury Tony Romo pretty skittish behind center.
10. Washington Redskins: Cullen Jenkins, DE
The decision here comes down to defensive ends Cullen Jenkins or Ray Edwards. Yes, Washington drafted DE/OLB Ryan Kerrigan and NT Jarvis Jenkins in the first two rounds but in Jim Haslett's 3-4 defense, Kerrigan will definitely play outside linebacker and the Redskins need a stout defensive end with the flexibility to move inside in a pinch.
With this in mind, the former Packer in Jenkins, who has experience in a 3-4, is much better fit than a 4-3 end in Edwards, a former Viking.
11. Houston Texans: Antonio Cromartie, CB
Yes, the Texans took three defensive backs in the draft to shore up perhaps the worst unit I have ever seen this side of Randy Johnson's "acting" in a Geico commercial.
That being said, none of the three (Brandon Harris, Rashad Carmichael or Shiloh Keo) are guaranteed starters. Although could they be any worse on a defense that gave up 49 touchdowns, including 33 through the air?
I initially had safety Eric Weddle penciled in here, but there is a school of thought that Texans cornerback Glover Quin is a better free safety—the position he played at New Mexico.
Cromartie seemed to regain his confidence with the Jets and while a big contract might not be the best thing for his production, the Texans need to take that chance.
12. Minnesota Vikings: Sidney Rice, WR
It's tough enough for the Vikings to either start Joe Webb or rookie Christian Ponder at quarterback in 2011. They can't afford to take away the team's best receiving option, too.
Yes, Rice went through hip surgery and only started five games last season, but he is 24 years old and just a year removed from being on the receiving end of 1,312 yards and eight touchdowns.
Minnesota had to put its franchise tag on stalwart linebacker Chad Greenway, but the Vikings could really regret losing a player like Rice.
13. Detroit Lions: Brent Grimes, CB
This will be a tough decision for Detroit. There is no question that the Lions have to address the cornerback position that they did not address in the draft. The question is how to address the position. Their best cover corner, Chris Houston, is a free agent.
I'm just not as high on Houston as others and I think Grimes is an emerging upgrade. The fifth-year player had 87 tackles and five interceptions for the Atlanta Falcons last year. Houston had 56 tackles and just one pick.
14. St. Louis Rams: Malcom Floyd, WR
No offense to rookies Austin Pettis or Greg Salas, but I am not sure you are what Sam Bradford ideally wished for to improve on the likes of Donnie Avery, Mark Clayton, Brandon Gibson and Danny Amendola.
Rookie receivers often have difficulty making an impact historically and Malcom Floyd is a 6'5", 220-plus pound receiver that averaged 19.4 yards per catch last season.
The Rams didn't have a receiver last season who caught over 20 passes and averaged more than 13.3 yards per catch; Clayton pulled in 23 passes for 306 yards.
15. Miami Dolphins: DeAngelo Williams, RB
The Dolphins desperately need a speedy back and could also use a veteran to complement second-round draft pick Daniel Thomas.
Insert DeAngelo Williams here and Miami would be extremely happy. Disregard his sprained right foot that caused him to miss most of last season. Despite being 28 and going into his sixth season, he only has about four seasons' worth of tread on his tires.
Sharing time with Jonathan Stewart in Carolina probably means that Williams still has a number of productive—perhaps even dynamic—seasons in his future.
Thomas is a workhorse, which is essentially the kind of back they had in Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams even though the duo split time. The "speedy, turn the corner" back is the kind that arguably hasn't been seen in Miami since Mercury Morris.
16. Jacksonville Jaguars: Ray Edwards, DE
Jacksonville had a whopping 26 sacks last season, with just one player racking up five sacks (Jeremy Mincey). Edwards had eight by himself last season.
17. Oakland Raiders: Zach Miller, TE
The Raiders will lose Asomugha, and guard Robert Gallery appears determined to look for greener pastures.
Losing three marquee players would devastate a team that already can't find an identity.
After Miller, who had 60 catches for 685 yards and five touchdowns, Oakland's next best receiver was running back Darren McFadden, who caught 13 fewer passes for 178 fewer yards. Yeesh.
18. San Diego Chargers: Eric Weddle, S
The Bolts drafted two defensive backs with some versatility in Marcus Gilchrist and Shareece Wright. Several different sources, including the San Diego Union-Tribune, suggested that ex-Colt Bob Sanders would sign with San Diego, although that seems to have been halted at least temporarily by the lockout.
All of these moves are hard to understand since Weddle is a bigger and better player than all of these other guys. If Sanders can stay healthy or Gilchrist and Wright develop who knows, but those are pretty big ifs.
There is a palpable feeling that San Diego is going to let Weddle walk, but that doesn't mean he isn't the best free-agent fit for the Chargers at this point.
19. New York Giants: Jared Gaither, OT
New York can probably survive the loss of Ahmad Bradshaw in free agency. Brandon Jacobs doesn't necessarily break tackles like he once did, but he can be a workhorse. Keep an eye on seventh-round draft pick Da'Rel Scott. Bet on the speedster to see some carries in limited duty.
If Gaither is healthy and if current tackle Shawn Andrews' back holds up, then the Giants could have a dominant offensive line.
It seems counter-intuitive to add another injury concern to a line that includes Andrews, Rich Seubert (dislocated knee cap), Shaun O'Hara (offseason ankle surgery) and David Diehl (hamstring and hip injuries), but Gaither is too much of a talent to pass up.
20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Harvey Dahl, G
In an ideal world, Tampa Bay would be able to re-sign Davin Joseph and bring in a former Falcon in Dahl or offensive tackle Tyson Clabo.
This isn't a perfect world, and part of the reward for improving as the Bucs did in 2010 is that other teams will covet your players. Therefore, Joseph will get a hefty raise elsewhere and Tampa will need to bring in a suitable replacement.
21. Kansas City Chiefs: Matt Light, OT
Think of the Patriots/Scott Pioli pipeline here. Light is 33 years old and the Chiefs could stand to get younger here, but they already drafted former Florida State guard/center Rodney Hudson in this year's draft. Light can step right in at either tackle spot and give the Chiefs three good years.
Just as importantly, he'll add a nastiness to the line and maybe light a competitive fire under Chiefs tackle Branden Albert.
22. Indianapolis Colts: Ahmad Bradshaw, RB
Now the Colts need a running back to take some of the pressure of Manning. The team did draft Delone Carter from Syracuse, but Joseph Addai is a free agent and Bradshaw is an upgrade over Addai.
Bradshaw's 1,235 yards and 4.5 yards per carry would be more than welcome in Indy, even if his six lost fumbles from 2010 would get the nasty glare from No. 18 if repeated.
23. Philadelphia Eagles: Stephen Tulloch, LB
Virtually everyone in the industry expects the Eagles to make a serious run at signing Asomugha, and they probably will, but not in this format. So Eagles fans will likely be disappointed to see this name.
Philadelphia should only be so lucky to get Tulloch. Asomugha will likely receive a seriously over-inflated salary and he is 30 years old.
Tulloch is the best linebacker in this free-agent class and he's only 26. Philadelphia doesn't traditionally value the linebacker position, but it would be a mistake to pass on Tulloch, a tackling machine who had 160 in 2010 (59 more than the next highest Titan).
Oh, and he'll probably receive a contract worth less than half of Asomugha's.
24. New Orleans Saints: Tyson Clabo, OT
With the prediction of Nicks' departure, the Saints could really use a guard, but truthfully the whole offensive line struggled in 2009.
New Orleans gave up 26 sacks, which doesn't seem like a lot, except it's the most the team has given up since before Sean Payton became coach in 2006.
Drew Brees, like most quarterbacks, becomes less effective the more he is hit. Unlike most quarterbacks, if he has even a reasonable amount of time to throw, he'll pick a defense apart.
Clabo, at 6'6" and close to 340 pounds, could easily play guard and is one of the few men who could physically pass as a substitute for Nicks.
25. Seattle Seahawks: Barry Cofield, DT
Cofield is a replacement pick for Mebane and one who will probably be expensive, as it appears the former Giant wants to strike it rich in free agency.
On the plus side, Cofield did play very well last season with an injured shoulder and could initially be a better player than Mebane.
26. Baltimore Ravens: Dawan Landry, CB
Landry is physical in run support and the Ravens don't want to lose that presence. This is really a toss-up between which player Baltimore can afford to lose less, Landry or cornerback Chris Carr.
The Ravens selected cornerback Jimmy Smith with their first-round selection in April's draft. Josh Wilson is adequate and Domonique Foxworth will return from a season-ending knee injury that he suffered just before training camp in 2010.
27. Atlanta Falcons: Justin Blalock, G
Given that Dahl, Clabo and Blalock all stand to be free agents, Atlanta will be lucky to retain two of them and might only secure one.
I think that Atlanta would prefer to sign Clabo first and that Dahl might be the odd man out, but given the format of this free agency mock, the only one to stay will be Blalock.
28. New England Patriots: Braylon Edwards, WR
Do you really think that Bill Belichick is going to miss a chance to tweak the New York Jets, especially when it fills a need for his team?
Edwards is the big downfield receiver that the Pats have lacked since they traded away Randy Moss.
Speaking of Moss, can you guess where he might just land?
Hint: You won't have too wait long.
29. Chicago Bears: Ronnie Brown, RB
Chester Taylor had an awful year and the truth is that Chicago has nothing behind Forte.
Brown would also give offensive coordinator/mad genius Mike Martz some flexibility with play-calling with his own version of the Wildcat. After all, I can't imagine why he would want to take some pressure off of quarterback Jay Cutler. Wink-wink.
30. New York Jets: Randy Moss, WR
Consider this quote by Jets owner Woody Johnson to the NFL Network's Albert Breer: "There's no question that Randy Moss has the capability, has the God-given talent to be a superstar, and he has been a superstar, particularly with the Patriots. That's about all I can say about him, other than I admire his skill and what he's accomplished during those years."
Sounds like a match to me, especially since Broadway will need to make a splash if they lose Holmes, Edwards and Cromartie.
31. Pittsburgh Steelers: Willie Colon, OT
Quite simply, Pittsburgh's offensive line wasn't the same when Colon went down with an Achilles tear last summer. Flozell Adams was adequate, but that's all.
Colon is only 28 and it figures to take second-round pick Marcus Gilbert some time to develop before he is ready to contribute, considering he wasn't exactly a finished product at the University of Florida.
32. Green Bay Packers: Marcus Spears, DE
How nice it is to be the Green Bay Packers without a single, significant hole on the roster. Or not...
But in the interest of fairness, I did have Cullen Jenkins departing and that's seven sacks gone. Marcus Spears is a good fit as a 3-4 end and will command a reasonable contract in all likelihood.
Well, that's it. I hope you enjoyed it. Maybe you noticed that there was a notable position missing from this list. You got it; there is not one quarterback among these free agents and that was by design.
Even in a dream world, there isn't a quarterback good enough on the free-agent market to be the ideal fit for a team in free agency.
You can wake up now.