As NFL teams scramble to sign free agents once the lockout is lifted, we are doing our best to identify the top free agents expected to be available once the clock strikes midnight on the day things go back to normal.
No one knows for sure at this point if franchise tags will be valid, or if players involved in the NFLPA lawsuit will be eligible for the franchise tag. It also remains to be seen how many years of service are required for unrestricted free agency.
Both players were tagged by their respective clubs as franchise players before the lockout began, but it remains to be seen how the franchise tag will be used under a new collective bargaining agreement. There is a chance that both Vick and Manning could hit the open market.
While we would not expect either player to leave their current city, it would definitely make the offseason a little more interesting.
|1||Peyton Manning||Indianapolis Colts||Franchise tag|
|2||Michael Vick||Philadelphia Eagles||Franchise tag|
|3||Alex Smith||San Francisco 49ers|
|4||Matt Hasselbeck||Seattle Seahawks|
|5||Matt Moore||Carolina Panthers|
|6||Matt Leinart||Houston Texans|
|7||Seneca Wallace||Cleveland Browns|
|8||Rex Grossman||Washington Redskins|
|9||Kerry Collins||Tennessee Titans|
|10||Brady Quinn||Denver Broncos|
|11||Dennis Dixon||Pittsburgh Steelers|
|12||Troy Smith||San Francisco 49ers|
The running back class of 2011 belongs to DeAngelo Williams.
While other running backs in this class will get some attention on the open market. Williams will be the highest-paid runner from this class once it's all said and done.
Outside of Williams, there are great options for starters, complementary backs and third-down options—unless Arian Foster, who should be an exclusive-rights free agent, gets out of Houston. The Texans will have incredible leverage in re-signing him but it is possible he could slip away.
We also like Ahmad Bradshaw, who is a powerful runner with great hands. He could be very tempting to many teams.
One player to keep an eye on as a sleeper is Michael Bush of Oakland. If given a chance as a starter, he could really do some damage.
|1||Arian Foster||Houston Texans||Exclusive Rights (ERFA)|
|2||DeAngelo Williams||Carolina Panthers|
|3||Ahmad Bradshaw||New York Giants|
|4||Michael Bush||Oakland Raiders||Restricted Free Agent (RFA)|
|5||Cedric Benson||Cincinnati Bengals|
|6||BenJarvus Green-Ellis||New England Patriots||RFA
|7||Ricky Williams||Miami Dolphins|
|8||Ronnie Brown||Miami Dolphins|
|9||Pierre Thomas ||New Orleans Saints |
|10||Tim Hightower||Arizona Cardinals|
|11||Leon Washington||Seattle Seahawks|
|12||Darren Sproles||San Diego Chargers|
The fullback position is enjoying a small revival in the NFL over the past few years. Players like Peyton Hillis making a successful move from fullback in Denver to star running back in Cleveland certainly help.
The 2011 fullback class is surprisingly strong, with classic blocking backs and athletic runner/receivers available.
|1||Vonta Leach||Houston Texans|
|2||Mike Tolbert||San Diego Chargers|
|3||Le'Ron McClain||Baltimore Ravens|
|4||John Kuhn||Green Bay Packers|
|5||Jason Snelling||Atlanta Falcons|
|6||Jerome Felton||Detroit Lions|
|7||Lawrence Vickers||Cleveland Browns|
|8||Brian Leonard||Cincinnati Bengals|
|9||Heath Evans||New Orleans Saints|
|10||Lex Hilliard||Miami Dolphins|
|11||Marcel Reece||Oakland Raiders|
|12||Korey Hall||Green Bay Packers|
Perhaps the deepest and strongest free-agent position this year is at wide receiver.
NFL teams will find themselves swimming with options at wide receivers who are of a Pro Bowl-caliber and able to make immediate impacts in their new cities.
The availability of the franchise tag will affect teams here as well. San Diego would love to keep Vincent Jackson if the franchise tag can be applied. Minnesota confused many when they chose to tag linebacker Chad Greenway over Sidney Rice—who will be a hot player on the market this summer.
|1||Sidney Rice||Minnesota Vikings|
|2||Vincent Jackson||San Diego Chargers||Franchise tag|
|3||Santonio Holmes||New York Jets|
|4||Steve Smith||New York Giants|
|5||Braylon Edwards||New York Jets|
|6||Malcolm Floyd||San Diego Chargers|
|7||Mike Williams||Seattle Seahawks|
|8||James Jones||Green Bay Packers|
|9||Santana Moss||Washington Redskins|
|10||Terrell Owens||Cincinnati Bengals|
|11||Brad Smith||New York Jets|
|12||Randy Moss||Tennessee Titans|
The tight end class of 2011 is not as strong as those at wide receiver or cornerback, but there are three Pro Bowl-caliber tight ends hitting the market this summer.
No. 1 among them is Zach Miller.
Miller has been the best offensive weapon in the passing game for Oakland over the last two seasons. He's not just a receiver though; Miller can get dirty as an in-line blocker.
|1||Zach Miller||Oakland Raiders|
|2||Marcedes Lewis||Jacksonville Jaguars||Franchise tag
|3||Owen Daniels||Houston Texans|
|4||Kevin Boss||New York Giants|
|5||David Thomas||New Orleans Saints|
|6||Matt Spaeth||Pittsburgh Steelers|
|7||Bo Scaife||Tennessee Titans|
|8||Ben Patrick||Arizona Cardinals|
|9||Leonard Pope||Kansas City Chiefs|
|10||Desmond Clark||Chicago Bears|
|11||Reggie Kelly||Cincinnati Bengals|
|12||Daniel Felts||St. Louis Rams|
Matt Light of the New England Patriots may be the most accomplished tackle available this offseason but it is the young guns at the tackle position who are worth watching.
Players like Tyson Clabo, who has become one of the best right tackles in football, will be the early signings once free agency begins.
Light and other veterans like Doug Free will be attractive options at left tackle, but it's Clabo who will command the early attention.
|1||Tyson Clabo||Atlanta Falcons||RFA|
|2||Doug Free||Dallas Cowboys|
|3||Jared Gaither||Baltimore Ravens|
|4||Matt Light||New England Patriots|
|5||Willie Colon||Pittsburgh Steelers|
|6||Jermon Bushrod||New Orleans Saints|
|7||Ryan Harris||Denver Broncos|
|8||Jamaal Brown||Washington Redskins|
|9||Ryan Cook||Minnesota Vikings|
|10||Mario Henderson||Oakland Raiders|
|11||Sean Locklear||Seattle Seahawks|
|12||Jeremy Trueblood||Tampa Bay Buccaneers|
Rarely do offensive guards who have made All-Pro teams hit the open market, but that will happen if no franchise tag is allowed to be used this year.
Logan Mankins, one of the best guards in the NFL, has an expired contract and a bad relationship with the ownership in New England. Without a franchise tag he will see huge money on the open market.
Mankins might not be the best guard available though. That could be Carl Nicks.
|1||Carl Nicks||New Orleans Saints||RFA|
|2||Logan Mankins||New England Patriots||Franchise tag|
|3||Ryan Kalil||Carolina Panthers||Franchise tag|
|4||Harvey Dahl||Atlanta Falcons||RFA|
|5||Marshall Yanda||Baltimore Ravens|
|6||Daryn Colledge||Green Bay Packers|
|7||Davin Joseph||Tampa Bay Buccaneers|
|8||Justin Blalock||Atlanta Falcons|
|9||Lyle Sendlein (center) ||Arizona Cardinals |
|10||David Baas (center)||San Francisco 49ers|
|11||Chris Chester||Baltimore Ravens|
|12||Kyle Kosier||Dallas Cowboys|
There are not any "can't-miss" players in the 2011 defensive end class of free agents, but there is a solid group of pass-rushers and run-stuffers for both the 4-3 and 3-4 defense here.
The fight for top dollars will come down to Ray Edwards, formerly of the Vikings, and defensive end/outside linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka. Edwards is a traditional 4-3 defensive end, which bodes well for his bank account, but Kiwanuka is a stand-up pass-rusher made for the 3-4.
|1||Mathias Kiwanuka||New York Giants|
|2||Ray Edwards||Minnesota Vikings|
|3||Charles Johnson||Carolina Panthers||RFA|
|4||Jason Babin||Tennessee Titans|
|5||Cullen Jenkins||Green Bay Packers|
|6||Cliff Avril||Detroit Lions||RFA|
|7||Shaun Ellis||New York Jets|
|8||Stephen Bowen||Dallas Cowboys|
|9||Ray McDonald||San Francisco 49ers|
|10||Tim Crowder||Tampa Bay Buccaneers|
|11||Jason Hatcher||Dallas Cowboys|
|12||Kenny Iwebema||Arizona Cardinals|
Looking for a game-changing defensive tackle? Unfortunately, the free-agent class at the position is weak.
The NFL's best defensive lineman, Haloti Ngata, will become available this summer, and so will savvy veteran nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin.
Ngata is a likely recipient of the franchise tag, if one exists, and deservedly so.
|1||Haloti Ngata||Baltimore Ravens||Franchise tag|
|2||Aubrayo Franklin||San Francisco 49ers|
|3||Brandon Mebane||Seattle Seahawks|
|4||Barry Coefield||New York Giants|
|5||Pat Williams||Minnesota Vikings|
|6||Anthony Adams||Chicago Bears|
|7||John Henderson||Oakland Raiders|
|8||Gerard Warren||New England Patriots|
|9||Alan Branch||Arizona Cardinals|
|10||Eric Foster||Indianapolis Colts|
|11||Clifton Ryan||St. Louis Rams|
|12||Gabe Watson||Arizona Cardinals|
If there is no franchise tag when the 2011 offseason rolls around, the talent at outside linebacker will be simply incredible.
With a franchise tag, this is still a talented group, but nothing like the flood of marquee players we will see if there is no franchise designation.
|1||LaMarr Woodley||Pittsburgh Steelers||Franchise tag|
|2||Tamba Hali||Kansas City Chiefs||Franchise tag|
|3||David Harris||New York Jets||Franchise tag|
|4||Paul Posluszny||Buffalo Bills|
|5||Stephen Tulloch||Tennessee Titans|
|6||James Anderson||Carolina Panthers|
|7||Barrett Ruud||Tampa Bay Buccaneers|
|8||Rocky McIntosh||Washington Redskins|
|9||Kevin Burnett||San Diego Chargers|
|10||Thomas Davis||Carolina Panthers|
|11||Quincy Black||Tampa Bay Buccaneers|
|12||Manny Lawson||San Francisco 49ers|
No position group has the number of dominant players available to free agency like the cornerback position this summer.
The NFL's best cornerback, Nnamdi Asomugha, is joined by other elite cornerbacks—Johnathan Joseph and Antonio Cromartie—to form an exceptionally talented and deep group of free agents for cornerback-needy NFL teams to bid for.
|1||Nnamdi Asomugha||Oakland Raiders|
|2||Johnathan Joseph||Cincinnati Bengals|
|3||Antonio Cromartie||New York Jets|
|4||Brent Grimes||Atlanta Falcons||RFA|
|5||Carlos Rogers||Washington Redskins|
|6||Ike Taylor||Pittsburgh Steelers|
|7||Eric Wright||Cleveland Browns|
|8||Josh Wilson||Baltimore Ravens|
|9||Richard Marshall||Carolina Panthers|
|10||Chris Carr||Baltimore Ravens|
|11||Jason Allen||Houston Texans|
|12||Ronde Barber||Tampa Bay Buccaneers|
The group at safety this summer is not particularly strong or heavy, but Eric Weddle of the San Diego Chargers figures to cash in big time.
Weddle has excellent range and is a good tackler—basically the only two things you need from a safety. He will be a top-10 player on the open market.
|1||Eric Weddle||San Diego Chargers|
|2||Quintin Mikell||Philadelphia Eagles|
|3||Michael Huff||Oakland Raiders|
|4||Dawan Landry||Baltimore Ravens|
|5||Roman Harper||New Orleans Saints|
|6||Tanard Jackson||Tampa Bay Buccaneers|
|7||Atari Bigby||Green Bay Packers|
|8||Bernard Pollard||Houston Texans|
|9||Tom Zbikowski||Baltimore Ravens|
|10||Tyrell Johnson||Minnesota Vikings|
|11||Melvin Bullitt||Indianapolis Colts|
|12||Danieal Manning||Chicago Bears|