NFL Free Agents 2011: 5 Best Players Still on the Market
With the NFL lockout still hindering off-season activity, one can only speculate about where the league's top free agents will land once a deal is made.
But others decided against such action for one reason or another. In cases such as these, high-profile players are left to decide where they want to play next.
Based on teams' salary caps and priorities, player movement is an inevitable part of the NFL off-season. Players with breakout seasons command more money, and teams with higher needs are willing to dish out enticing contracts to land the player they want.
Here are five players that teams may be placing on top of their list of priorities once the lockout is lifted.
5. Doug Free, OT, Dallas Cowboys
Doug Free, a 6'6", 320-pound left tackle for the Cowboys, edges out Willie Colon of Pittsburgh for the top free agent tackle still available based on left tackle being widely considered the more important position (Colon is a right tackle).
Free, a former fourth-round pick out of Northern Illinois, started seven games in 2009 and all 16 in 2010. He has proven to be a solid all-around left tackle and should get a lot of interest from teams who are hurting at left tackle, such as the Detroit Lions.
4. Santonio Holmes, WR, New York Jets
Ever since the 2009 Super Bowl, when he hauled in a game-winning touchdown catch to end the Arizona Cardinals' cinderella playoff run, Santonio Holmes has been regarded as one of the league's premier wide receivers, second only to the likes of Andre Johnson, Calvin Johnson and Arizona's own Larry Fitzgerald.
The following season, Holmes racked up 79 receptions for 1,248 yards and five touchdowns, cementing his elite status.
But after a run-in with the law, the New York Jets nabbed him for a surprising bargain from the Steelers.
Once his suspension was up, Holmes never missed a beat, grabbing 52 passes for 746 yards and six touchdowns in just 11 games for the Jets.
Along the way, he also reinforced his reputation for making big catches by developing a strong rapport with Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez in situations when it mattered most.
With his 2010 suspension an afterthought, he could be a top target for teams hurting at receiver, such as the Redskins, Browns, Rams and Bears, among others.
But if the Jets must choose between Holmes and Braylon Edwards, expect them to do all they can to hold onto Holmes.
3. Stephen Tulloch, LB, Tennessee Titans
Stephen Tulloch had a monstrous 2010 season, with 160 tackles, a sack and an interception to follow up a strong 2009 season in which he began to come into his own.
Now widely considered one of the top inside linebackers in the league, Tulloch will command a huge contract. At just 26 years old, Tulloch likely has at least four prime years ahead of him barring a major injury, which means he'll be getting a lot of attention once the lockout ceases.
The Titans star will not be easily let go by his current team, but other teams such as the Chargers, Buccaneers and Ravens (who need to find an eventual successor for Ray Lewis) might make a push for his services.
Whoever ends up landing him will significantly upgrade its linebacker corps, but will have to pay a considerable price.
2. DeAngelo Williams, RB, Carolina Panthers
After a breakout 2008 season in which he dashed for 1,515 yards and 18 touchdowns, DeAngelo Williams was thrust into elite status. A second consecutive 1,000-yard season cemented that status.
But after a tumultuous 2010 season which saw Williams rush for 361 yards in six games before getting injured, he and Carolina seem to be at a crossroads.
Because Carolina is now in rebuilding mode, the Panthers may not be able to afford keeping Williams. And with Jonathan Stewart leading the running back corps, they can afford to lose him.
Now that it seems Williams and the Panthers are parting ways, teams in need of a running back will be lining up for his services.
One team that may push hard to get him is the Redskins, and if the Giants and Colts lose their starters to free agency, they may enter the hunt as well.
No matter who he plays for, he will be paid like the elite back he is.
1. Nnamdi Asomugha, CB, Oakland Raiders
Widely considered the top free agent still available, chances are every team in the league will be legitimately interested in signing Nnamdi Asomugha.
Many of those won't do much to pursue Asomugha based on his high salary demands, but teams like the Texans, Lions, Saints, Patriots, Eagles, Redskins, Seahawks, Rams, Buccaneers and Cowboys might be willing to throw a lot of money at the former Raiders star.
While a quick look at Asomugha's stats would tell you he is an average corner at best, the numbers don't tell half the story.
In other words, he lacks stats because teams like to completely avoid his side of the field. After a 2006 season in which he recorded eight interceptions and 11 pass deflections, quarterbacks got wise.
Because of a contract clause that Asomugha did not complete, his contract with the Raiders was voided. ESPN reports:
"To achieve his incentives, Asomugha had to play in a greater number of defensive plays in 2010 than he did in 2009, and this season Asomugha played in only 14 games whereas he played in all 16 in 2009. He also could have achieved his incentives by improving upon on his interceptions, fumble recoveries or sacks this season -- but he didn't have any interceptions, fumble recoveries or sacks this season."
Since that occurrance, Asomugha seems open to going elsewhere and may have his sights set on a Super Bowl-caliber team.
Even though Asomugha will command a pricey contract, chances are there will be many teams vying for his services.