NFL Free Agency: What Year Will Each Team's Best Player Be a Free Agent?
With the NFL's players ranking themselves in a top 100 list that is currently being presented by the NFL Network, it's extremely interesting to see the disparities between the players' and fans' perceptions.
While players can obviously witness aspects of a teammate or opponent fans can't, there are usually a handful of players on each team who are generally considered to be the best, the most valuable and the most essential to winning.
Taking a look at each team and a single player who could be considered their best, let's determine when each organization will have to be concerned with losing them to free agency.
Arizona Cardinals: Larry Fitzgerald
Larry Fitzgerald has been a part of the Arizona Cardinals organization for seven straight years, missing just four games during that time. In his 108 games in a Cardinals uniform, Fitzgerald has amassed 613 receptions for a total of 8,204 yards and 65 TDs. He's also been selected to five Pro Bowls in that time.
He was in his usual impressive form last season, ending with 90 receptions and 1,137 yards.
Fitzgerald's four-year deal with the Cardinals will end after the 2011 season.
Atlanta Falcons: Roddy White
Roddy White has been a consistently great receiver for the Atlanta Falcons for six straight seasons. He's amassed more than 1,000 yards in each of the last four years.
Last year though, White managed to catch a career-high 115 receptions for 1,389 yards.
Since joining the Falcons' organization, White has accumulated 430 career receptions, 6,078 yards and 37 touchdowns. He received a six-year deal from Atlanta for $48 million in August of 2009. The Falcons won't need to be concerned with losing him until 2015.
Baltimore Ravens: Ray Lewis
Although Ray Lewis is now 36, he's still the most valuable player on the Baltimore Ravens and has been for some time.
Lewis has been a Raven for 15 seasons, playing 210 games for them. Over that time, he's accumulated 1,909 total tackles, 38.5 sacks and 30 interceptions.
In his most recent season, he showed no signs of slowing down, breaking 100 solo tackles for the first time since 2004.
Lewis signed a seven-year deal in March of 2009 that will keep him in Baltimore until 2016, at which point, he'll likely be retired.
Buffalo Bills: Ryan Fitzpatrick
The Buffalo Bills are one of the few teams analysts generally agree do not have a player in the top 100.
Still, their most valuable one is probably their quarterback, Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Fitzpatrick is hardly the experienced, consistent veteran of the previous two teams on this list, although he put together a solid 2010 season. He threw for 3,000 yards in 13 games, including 23 touchdowns to his 15 interceptions. He also rushed for an additional 267 yards.
The QB out of Harvard will be signed through 2011, after which point he'll become a free agent.
Carolina Panthers: DeAngelo Williams
Although there are players on the Carolina Panthers who had a much better 2010 (like Charles Johnson) or have been with the Panthers longer (like Steve Smith), running back DeAngelo Williams is still an extremely valuable asset.
While he hasn't repeated his unbelievable 2008 season in which he had 1,518 yards rushing, 121 yards receiving and 20 touchdowns, Williams will look to rebound from his disappointing 2010, in which he played just six games.
Williams still has a couple of seasons before he hits the dreaded 30-year-old mark, although he'll be a free agent in 2011.
Chicago Bears: Julius Peppers
It's difficult to measure the impact Julius Peppers had on the Chicago Bears simply through stats, although he did have 54 tackles, eight sacks, three forced fumbles and two interceptions. He brought new life to an ailing Bears defense.
Peppers was given a six-year deal that will keep him signed until 2016.
Cincinnati Bengals: Carson Palmer
While Carson Palmer didn't have his best season statistically in 2010, he's played an extremely important role in the seven seasons he's started for the Cincinnati Bengals. He's thrown for 22,694 yards in 97 games with an impressive 62.9 completion percentage. He's also thrown 144 touchdowns and 110 interceptions.
In 2010, he threw just shy of 4,000 yards with 26 TDs and 20 INTs.
A contract extension will keep him from becoming a free agent until 2015.
Cleveland Browns: Peyton Hillis
After two seasons with the Denver Broncos, Peyton Hillis acquired just 397 yards rushing.
After being traded to the Browns, Hillis had his break-out season in 2010.
The running back out of Arkansas rushed for 1,177 yards, in addition to 477 yards receiving, and 13 total touchdowns.
Hillis will be making $555,000 in 2011, after which he will become a free agent and will likely get quite a bit more.
Dallas Cowboys: Tony Romo
Although it's difficult not to choose DeMarcus Ware, Tony Romo has the single greatest impact on the Dallas Cowboys, and it was felt when the organization lost him for the last 10 games of 2010.
Judging from his previous four seasons, Romo has been one of the league's elite quarterbacks. He has a career QB rating of 95.5, which ranks fourth all time. In 2009, he threw for a ridiculous 4,483 yards, in addition to 26 touchdowns and just nine interceptions.
Fortunately for the Cowboys, his six-year, $67.4 million contract extension will keep him in Dallas until 2014.
Denver Broncos: Brandon Lloyd
While the Denver Broncos are the fourth team Brandon Lloyd has played for, his 2010 season—his eighth in the NFL—was his break-out year.
Lloyd had 77 receptions for 1,448 yards—an impressive 18.8 yards per catch. He also had 11 touchdowns.
The Broncos will have Lloyd for 2011 before he becomes a free agent.
Detroit Lions: Calvin Johnson
After another great season in 2010, WR Calvin Johnson is becoming quite the staple in the Detroit Lions' organization.
Johnson has already accumulated 4,191 yards his first four seasons in Detroit, in addition to 33 touchdowns. 2010 was one of his better seasons; he had 77 receptions, 1,120 yards and 12 TDs.
At just 25 years old, Johnson still has many years ahead of him. The six-year, $55.5 million contract he signed in August of 2007 will keep him signed until 2013.
Green Bay Packers: Aaron Rodgers
Yet another quarterback makes the list.
Aaron Rodgers isn't just the best player on the Green Bay Packers, he's one of the best quarterbacks in the league. In fact, his 98.4 QB rating is the highest in NFL history.
In his last three seasons in Green Bay, Rodgers has been more than just a worthy replacement for Brett Favre—he's thrown for more than 12,000 yards, as well as 86 TDs and just 31 INTs.
Winning a Super Bowl isn't a bad thing to put on a resume either.
A six-year, $65 million contract signed on Halloween of 2008 will keep Rogers in a Packers uniform until 2015.
Houston Texans: Arian Foster
Arian Foster put together an unbelievable season in 2010 for the Houston Texans, averaging more than 100 yards per game and rushing for 1,616 yards on 327 carries. Foster also had 66 receptions for a total of 604 yards and 18 total touchdowns.
In just his second season and at 24 years old, Foster is already proving to be one of the league's premiere running backs.
He'll be a value in 2011, costing Houston just $480,000 before becoming a restricted free agent in 2012.
Indianapolis Colts: Peyton Manning
Four-time MVP Peyton Manning doesn't really have much left to accomplish in his Hall of Fame career.
He's spent all of his 13 seasons in the NFL with the Indianapolis Colts, amassing 54,828 yards without missing a single game. He's thrown for 399 TDs and just 198 interceptions, consistently brought his team to the playoffs and won a Super Bowl. His 4,700 passing yards in 2010 was a career high.
Manning becomes a free agent this season, but it's unlikely the Colts will let him go anywhere. He's the face of their franchise, perhaps even the face of the NFL.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Maurice Jones-Drew
Maurice Jones-Drew has spent his entire career playing for the Jacksonville Jaguars. He's been such an important asset to their team for so long, it's almost unbelievable he's just 26 years old.
Jones-Drew rushed for more than 1,300 yards in each of the last two seasons. He's also been a valuable asset receiving and returning.
In April of 2009, Jones-Drew signed a five-year, $30.95 million contract that will keep him in Jacksonville until 2014.
Kansas City Chiefs: Jamaal Charles
Jamaal Charles' 6.38 yards per carry in 2010 has only been outdone once in the history of the NFL—Jim Brown's 6.4 average in 1963.
The Kansas City Chiefs averaged 164 yards per game in 2010, which was the highest in the NFL. Charles managed 1,467 yards on just 230 carries, in addition to five TDs. He was also impressive receiving, totaling 45 receptions for 468 yards and an additional three TDs.
After his stellar 2010 season, Charles signed a six-year deal, therefore he won't be a free agent until 2016.
Miami Dolphins: Jake Long
Jake Long is an offensive tackle, and everyone knows that offensive lineman barely get any recognition.
Still, Long is one of the most important players on the Miami Dolphins and is consistently regarded as one of the NFL's best pass-protectors.
Although it's difficult for fans to recognize his importance, NFL players have ranked him as the 28th best player in the league.
A five-year, $57.75 million contract signed in April 2008 will keep Long in South Beach until 2013.
Minnesota Vikings: Adrian Peterson
Although he rushed for a career-low 1,298 yards, Peterson fumbled just once in 2010 after fumbling 20 times his previous three seasons. He also had just 283 rush attempts, therefore his 4.6 yards per carry was still better than 2009.
Peterson has been one of the best running backs in the league, accumulating 54 total touchdowns after just four seasons in purple. He'll be in Minnesota in 2011, but will become a free agent in 2012.
New England Patriots: Tom Brady
Easily the most obvious choice on this list, Tom Brady had an unreal season for the New England Patriots in 2010, throwing just four interceptions.
The ball left his hand 492 times last season, and it was caught by a player on the opposing team just four times.
I don't get how that's possible.
He also threw 36 touchdowns, accumulated 3,900 yards and had a completion percentage of 65.9.
Brady has amassed 34,744 career yards and 261 TDs. He's a two-time NFL MVP, two-time Super Bowl MVP and three-time Super Bowl champion.
He signed a five-year, $78.5 million contract in September of 2010, so he won't be a free agent until 2015. It doesn't really matter though, because he's never leaving the Patriots.
New Orleans Saints: Drew Brees
Another obvious choice, quarterback Drew Brees has been the emotional leader of the New Orleans Saints for five seasons.
In that time, he's pretty much become a god in Louisiana.
Although he threw an unusually high number of interceptions last season—22—Brees still had a great year, throwing for 4,620 yards and 33 touchdowns.
Brees will be a free agent in 2012, but it's improbable he'll be leaving the Saints.
New York Giants: Justin Tuck
Tied with Osi Umenyiora for the highest on the team in sacks with 11.5, Justin Tuck was elected to his second Pro Bowl in 2010.
He's been on the Giants since 2005, winning a Super Bowl with them in 2007. Last season, Tuck had 76 total tackles as well as six forced fumbles.
Tuck signed a five-year, $30 million contract extension through 2013.
New York Jets: Santonio Holmes
Although Santonio Holmes missed the beginning of the New York Jets' 2010 season, he made a big impact upon his return.
Through 12 games, Holmes caught 52 receptions for 746 yards and six touchdowns.
Holmes' tenure with the Pittsburgh Steelers has shown the type of seasons he is capable of having, and in five seasons, he's accumulated 4,581 receiving yards and 26 TDs.
Re-signing Holmes is a priority for the Jets, as he is a free agent in 2011. He'll be looking for a multi-year deal and is likely to go to the highest bidder, as he seems to have no qualms about leaving New York.
Oakland Raiders: Nnamdi Asomugha
Nnamdi Asomugha is another player who is difficult to describe through the use of statistics, but he is widely considered to be the greatest cornerback in the game today.
Asomugha was an integral part of the Oakland Raiders' pass-defense that allowed just 189.2 yards per game.
Unfortunately, he'll be a free agent this season and has expressed interest in leaving Oakland for a playoff-bound team.
Philadelphia Eagles: Michael Vick
Michael Vick has seemed to completely revitalize the Philadelphia Eagles' organization by putting together an impressive, nearly MVP-caliber season in 2010.
He showed his ability to attack on the ground and through the air, passing for 3,018 yards and 21 touchdowns, while rushing for 676 yards and another nine touchdowns.
All of this through 12 games in which he managed only nine turnovers.
Vick will be hitting the free-agent market in 2011, but it is extremely likely he'll stay loyal to Philadelphia.
Expect to see him sign a long-term contract and remain an Eagle.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Troy Polamalu
Perhaps it's the beautiful hair or his consistently great work on the field, but Troy Polamalu has the respect of his peers and NFL fans.
In his eight seasons, all with the Steelers, Polamalu has accumulated 27 interceptions—seven of which he had in 2010.
The Pittsburgh Steelers safety was the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2010, a six-time Pro Bowl selection, a two-time Super Bowl champion and chosen as part of the NFL 2000's All-Decade Team.
Polamalu is signed for the 2011 season, but will become a free agent in 2012.
St. Louis Rams: Steven Jackson
Although Steven Jackson had a career-low 3.8 yards per carry in 2010, he rushed for 1,241 yards—his sixth straight season breaking 1,000. He also managed to record 383 yards receiving.
In his seven seasons with the St. Louis Rams, Jackson has 7,948 yards rushing, another 2,670 yards receiving and 54 total TDs.
In August of 2008, Jackson signed a six-year, $44.8 million deal that will keep him in St. Louis until 2014.
San Diego Chargers: Philip Rivers
The San Diego Chargers are filled with talent, but their MVP is Philip Rivers.
He's started every game for the Chargers the last five seasons. He's cleared 4,000 yards passing in each of his last three seasons, ending with 4,710 in 2010. Rivers also has the second-highest QB rating in NFL history at 97.2 with an impressive 136 career touchdowns and just 58 interceptions.
The quarterback out of North Carolina State signed a seven-year, $98.25 million deal in August of 2009, which will keep him leading the Chargers until 2016.
San Francisco 49ers: Patrick Willis
LB Patrick Willis has managed to acquire 595 total tackles in just four seasons with the San Francisco 49ers. He also has four interceptions, eight forced fumbles, 28 passes defended and 15 sacks over that time.
At just 26 years old, Willis is already ranked among the top 25 players in the NFL by both his peers and fans.
In May of 2010, Willis signed a seven-year deal for $53.5 million, therefore he won't be worrying about free agency until 2018.
Seattle Seahawks: Mike Williams
The Seattle Seahawks don't really have any elite players, nor do they have a player considered to be in the top 100 in the NFL.
Mike Williams is probably their most valuable though.
Williams hasn't played a full 16-game season in his career, and although he's been playing since 2005, he only has 109 career receptions. Still, 65 of them came last season, along with 751 yards and two touchdowns.
Williams signed a four-year, $11.74 million deal earlier this year, so he'll likely remain a Seahawk until 2014.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Josh Freeman
Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman quietly put together an amazing season in 2010, showing he may be the most valuable QB from his draft class.
Although he struggled his first season in 2009, he accumulated 3,451 yards, 25 touchdowns and just six interceptions last year.
Freeman signed a five-year, $26 million contract in July 2009. He'll be a free agent in 2014.
Tennessee Titans: Stephen Tulloch
Although Jason Babin's 12.5 sacks is hard to compete with, 26-year-old LB Stephen Tulloch has steadily improved over the course of his five seasons with the Tennessee Titans and is now, likely, their most valued asset.
In those five seasons, Tulloch has played in every game, although last season was the first in which he also started every game. He has 457 career tackles and 4.5 sacks.
Tulloch was second in the league in tackles last season with 160. He also had six passes defended, a sack and an interception.
He'll be a free agent in 2011, and Titans GM Mike Reinfeldt seems to want to re-sign him.
Washington Redskins: DeAngelo Hall
Defensive back DeAngelo Hall put together an impressive 2010 in his third season with the Washington Redskins.
A veteran of seven seasons in the NFL, Hall accumulated 95 tackles, six interceptions, 16 passes defended and two forced fumbles.
Hall signed a six-year, $55 million deal, so he won't be a free agent until 2015.