2011 NFL Free Agency Speculation: 6 Teams Positioned Well in Free Agency
I'd like to take this time to comment on the utter ridiculousness of the NFL lockout. This is by far the most bizarre NFL offseason that I have ever been a fan for (having been too young for either lockout in the 80s).
It's a menace that's existed in the background, flaring up only occasionally. And the labor stoppage has reared its ugly head at various moments, the draft probably being the most prominent.
In most cases, the lockout has meant different things to different people. Obviously the ramifications for the lockout aren't the same for NFL coaches as they are for sporadic fans.
Yet one aspect to the current dispute that has created identical reaction across the spectrum has been the 2011 free agent period.
Or, more accurately, its absence.
The baffling absence of free agency has created an equal amount of frustration and uncertainty among coaches, fans, owners and players. No one has been left without a general degree of astonishment at the departure from normalcy.
Still, there seems to be a general confidence that this will get resolved at some point. And when that happens, some teams will be better positioned to take advantage of free agent shopping than others.
For arguments sake, I'll assume that any new CBA (collective bargaining agreement) has a salary cap (which I don't think is too much of a stretch).
So here's a glance at some of the teams who would stand to do well in the once and future 2011 NFL free agency period.
No. 6: Chicago Bears
The Bears, despite advancing to the NFC title game, will continue to fly relatively under the radar. It didn't help that the Super Bowl champions came out of their division. Plus the Lions are starting to create a buzz.
Yet it's the Bears that stand to gain in free agency.
Something Chicago was missing last year was a go-to wide receiver. And from Randy Moss to Steve Smith, there's a plethora of possible targets waiting to be had.
If Lovie Smith knows what's good for him, he'll go after (at least) one of the available pass catchers.
No. 5: Houston Texans
After they eventually sign their draft picks, they might not have as much cash to spend as some of the other teams on this list, but Houston will still have a comparatively low payroll.
And they'll certainly have some solid pieces to build on.
Along with the Bears, the Texans could probably use another wide receiver.
But they really need help on defense. Their draft will help, but why not pursue some veterans to help fill the holes? That's the glory of cap space: it can be used as a luxury.
No. 4: Detroit Lions
While the Bears could stand to benefit in free agency, their divisional foes could catch a windfall.
After assuming the position as the butt-end of jokes in the NFL for many years, bottoming out with an 0-16 season in 2008, the Lions at least appear to be on the way up.
No one will know for sure whether or not they're for real until Matthew Stafford can stay healthy and productive for an entire season. If he can, then timely free agent pickups could make the difference.
Adding help in their linebacking corps or defensive backfield could go along way to helping Detroit.
With their defensive line looking scary, thanks to the drafting of Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley in consecutive years, the Lions defense could help prop up whatever Stafford and the offense ends up being.
No. 3: St. Louis Rams
Like Detroit, the Rams are an up-and-coming team who will have the salary space to make a splash.
And unlike Daniel Snyder's idea of "making a splash," the Rams shouldn't just look to spend it all on one player.
Finding a couple of pieces (another team who could use a receiver) could be the difference between being 8-8 and 10-6. And in the NFC West, even 9-7 might be good enough to win the division crown.
No. 2: San Diego Chargers
The Chargers may have lost their defensive coordinator, but they're still a talented group.
Offensively, Phillip Rivers leads a unit that's high on talent, if not high on consistency. The Chargers, having ditched players like LaDainian Tomlinson and Shawn Merriman, actually have some financial flexibility to work with.
I'm not sure what direction they go in, but the fact that such a talented team has options to add even more is a daunting thought.
No. 1: Atlanta Falcons
When I wrote my very early prediction of division winners a few days ago, people killed me for not putting the Falcons ahead of the Saints in the NFC South.
I had my reasons for that, but then again I could change my mind depending on free agency.
Most likely, the Saints won't be able to do much in adding more players unless they ditch some current contracts (...ahem Reggie Bush).
Yet the Falcons still have more than a little wiggle room. Even after they sign first-round pick Julio Jones, Atlanta will have some space to work with.
Improving their pass rush/linebacking corps will be key. And why not pursue some more help in the defensive backfield or even on their defensive line?
It's all in play for the 2010 NFC South Division champions.
Now all we need is an agreement that actually gives us a free agent period.
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