It is time to have a look at the best free agents that every team in the NFL has to offer. With the lockout drawing to a dramatic close, one of the most frantic free-agency periods in NFL history is just around the corner.Teams are going to have to make tough decisions on who to re-sign, who to let walk and who to pursue.
Guys like Santonio Holmes and Nnamdi Asomugha are likely to receive huge offers from other clubs and leave, while others may even take pay cuts to stay.
Fans out there will inevitably be heartbroken since not every team is going to be able to keep their best free agent. Since there is only 1 franchise tag per team, there are going to be plenty of organizations left out in the cold if they have multiple star UFAs.
Letting these guys walk would be a mistake for every respective club, and they should be doing everything in their power to keep these players.
(Note: This is not ranked in any kind of order, but rather broken down by division for easy organization.)
Brandon Mebane has always been great against the run; last year, he added some pass-rushing skills to his repertoire, allowing him to serve as an every-down player in the Seattle Seahawks' defense.
The Seattle Seahawks are in rebuilding mode, and Mebane is young. With Charlie Whitehurst slated to take over the quarterback position, the strength of the defense is more important than ever.
Without him, the Seattle Seahawks take a major step back in the rebuilding process.
Breaston's value lies in two very specific categories, which have a lot more to do with other players than Breaston himself.
If the Arizona Cardinals choose to go after Kevin Kolb and succeed, they are going to need another target besides Larry Fitzgerald for him to throw to. Kolb would have a sad year in Arizona if his only viable target is facing triple-teams on every down.
The other issue lies with Fitzgerald himself; this season is Arizona's last chance to keep him. If they have another dismal season, expect Fitzgerald to walk in 2012. Since the team clearly cannot afford that, they must keep Breaston in the fold to help keep Fitzgerald happy, or he's gone.
Takeo Spikes is certainly getting up there in age. However, the veteran linebacker is still a solid contributor to one of the most staunch run defenses in the NFL.
The San Francisco 49ers were heavily favored to win the NFC West going into the 2010 season, mainly due to lack of competition and their powerful defense headed by Spikes and Patrick Willis.
If they want to overcome the stiffer competition from their rivals in 2011, they will need to keep the Spikes-Willis tandem intact.
Though it feels silly to write these words, the St. Louis Rams do not want to let Mark Clayton walk in free agency.
Clayton was flirting with being a total bust with the Baltimore Ravens, but as soon as he arrived in St. Louis he developed an instant rapport with rookie sensation Sam Bradford. He recorded 22 catches for 300 yards in just a few short games with Bradford.
Clayton was heading for a career year before his injury, and having a veteran receiver who works well with a young quarterback is essential.
Since the St. Louis Rams have already changed offensive coordinators, the last thing they want to do is risk stunting Bradford's growth even more by taking away his favorite target.
This is the most obvious one on the entire list. Not only is Asomugha the best player the Oakland Raiders stand to lose, he is hands down the best player in the entire free agent class.
Though it is unlikely the Oakland Raiders will be able to keep him given his desire to contend and the mounds of cash that will be thrown his way, Oakland should do everything in their power to keep the man who made their pass-defense top-10 the last several years.
Outside of Darrelle Revis, he is unquestionably the best cover-corner in the NFL, so the competition will be fierce.
Good luck to the Oakland Raiders on this one!
With Brandon Flowers being the resident stud cornerback on the Kansas City Chiefs, Brandon Carr becomes the "other Brandon" despite being just as good. The Chiefs need him to complement their stellar secondary with sophomore Eric Berry and Brandon Flowers.
Though the Kansas City Chiefs have tendered Carr, he can still walk if a team is willing to make the necessary concessions, so they had better hope he decides to stay with them.
The bowling ball Mike Tolbert is a perfect complement to the lightning bolt Ryan Matthews. Having already franchised the big crybaby Vincent Jackson, the San Diego Chargers need to figure out how they are going to pay Tolbert enough to stay.
The problem is that the San Diego Chargers also have to worry about Malcolm Floyd and Darren Sproles. If they are smart though, the money goes to Tolbert. Malcolm Floyd is a talented receiver, but not so great that he cannot be replaced, and Darren Sproles is little more than an overly glorified return man.
Tolbert is their golden goose in short yardage scenarios. He'll surely be getting offers as a goal line back, but if they want to keep their offense balanced for once, the Chargers had better convince him to be THEIR goal line back.
Its sad to say this about a kicker, but since the Denver Broncos locked up their best free agent (Champ Bailey) with an extension, the best player they now stand to lose is none other than kicker Matt Prater.
Prater hit 16-of-18 field goals (2-of-3 from 50-plus; 4-of-5 from 40-49) in 2010 before going on IR. He was 30-of-35 (2-of-3 from 50-plus; 8-of-10 from 40-49) the year before, so last season was not a lucky break.
Prater is one of the most accurate range kickers in the league, and Denver would be very foolish to let him go.
It is pretty obvious DeAngelo Williams is the best player the Carolina Panthers stand to lose in the 2011 free agency pool, being that he is the best running back in the class. Strangely, it is looking like this might be a case where the team lets the player go without a fuss.
That would be a mistake. Williams is still an excellent back despite his injury-cursed 2010 campaign, and Carolina is going to need the 1-2 punch of Jonathan Stewart and Williams while Cam Newton goes through his growing pains.
Williams is a consistent 1,000 yard back when healthy, so if his price is right, there is no reason to let him go.
This spot for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers may have been occupied by Ronde Barber had he been a few years younger and not already signed an extension.
Barrett Ruud is a solid middle linebacker who had an unfortunate 2010 campaign. He was top-ten in tackles for several seasons before 2010. Having said that, he is young, very talented and part of a defense that is steadily getting itself back to relevance.
Keeping Barrett Ruud would be an excellent step for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to make sure their rebuilt defense performs as it should.
The New Orleans Saints have a solid roster filled with plenty of good players who are more likely to depart than Carl Nicks now that he has been tendered.
However, there is always that outside chance that some team makes an offer the New Orleans Saints don't want to match, so he isn't definitely staying with them.
There are few guards in the league who can match Carl Nicks' ability, and outside of Logan Mankins, there is not a single free agent guard in this class who is better.
Another NFC South guard, Harvey Dahl is due for a big payday.The Atlanta Falcons have a major decision to make with him, as they do not have a ton of cap space to play with.
However, the Atlanta Falcons rely heavily on their offense to win games, and that becomes a whole lot tougher if you lose your best offensive lineman for nothing.
Don't expect big things from Michael Turner if he doesn't have Dahl clearing the way for him.
Stephen Tulloch is a stud, hands down. He is 26 years young and one of the best 4-3 middle linebackers in the NFL. The Tennessee Titans have gold sitting right in their lap, and Stephen Tulloch is not one of those players you can just go replace in the draft or free agency.
He was a tackling machine in 2010 with 160 tackles, he is solid in coverage with 6 passes defended and a beast against the run. There are no demands of the linebacker position that Stephen Tulloch cannot fill.
He is due for a massive payday, and if the Tennesee Titans don't give him one, they are fools.
Arian Foster has been tendered as an exclusive rights free agent, so he isn't actually "free" at all. Barring him, the next best player the Houston Texans stand to lose is his lead blocker, Vonta Leach.
Leach is going to get a huge payday, seeing as he is one of the best run-blocking fullbacks in the NFL. Arian Foster is an excellent back in his own right, but nobody has a breakout season like he did without somebody exceptional paving the way.
Expect Foster's stud numbers to drop off a bit if Vonta Leach is not retained.
The Jacksonville Jaguars are one team that doesn't really have any free agents worth fretting over. Kirk Morrison is the only player they stand to lose who is at all reliable since Marcedes Lewis was franchised.
Look for them to sign Morrison to a middle-of-the-road deal, then worry about the ungodly amount they need to spend to meet the minimum salary cap.
Danieal Manning is a solid safety/corner. He had a great year for the Chicago Bears, he's on the right side of 30 and he is in line for a big payday.
There is a low chance of him sticking around if he gets a better offer than Chicago is giving, but he is still the best free agent on their roster.
Chicago will be lucky to keep him if they can, and another team would be lucky to lure him away.
Cullen Jenkins is a monstrous force on the Green Bay Packers' championship defensive line. With 7 sacks as a 3-4 end in 2010, he was a key cog in the Super Bowl winning defense.
Teams had to fear him simply because he runs free thanks to the attention heaped upon Clay Matthews and B.J Raji.
They made no move to re-sign him after the Super Bowl, so there is little chance he will be back.
Still, the Packers don't really need much help, as they're a totally solid team on all fronts. Jenkins would be silly not to take a pay cut to stay.
The Minnesota Vikings have a plethora of high-value free agents. Chad Greenway has been franchised, leaving it down to Sidney Rice and Ray Edwards.
Since we don't know if Edwards can hold his own when he is getting equal attention to Jared Allen, we're going to give it to prolific receiver Sidney Rice, who had more than 1,300 yards in his last full season.
Rice is going to command a ton of money and years given his age. If the Vikings don't want to stunt the growth of Christian Ponder, they had better keep Rice around for the long haul.
The Detroit Lions barely have any free agents worth noting, with pass-rusher Cliff Avril being the only one who needs discussion. With 8.5 sacks in 2011 he is due a raise, so it's no wonder he was tendered
It is unlikely anyone will try to pry him from the Lions with a first/third tender on him. Clearly the front office has some faith in this guy.
Since LaMarr Woodley has been franchised, we must look to a different Pittsburgh Steeler in this slide.
Willie Colon missed the entire 2010 season with a torn Achilles tendon, but his recovery has allegedly gone without a hitch.
Colon is a tremendous, Pro Bowl-caliber right tackle, and the Pittsburgh Steelers' offensive line would benefit greatly from his return.
Expect his price to stay low due to his injury though, which may prompt teams to take a lower-budget risk on him.
Haloti Ngata was franchised as everyone expected, but the Baltimore Ravens have another critical cog they will look to keep.
Le'Ron McClain is a fantastic blocking fullback—just ask Ray Rice and Willis McGahee. McClain is also a solid pass-catcher and short-yardage runner, and the Ravens most likely will be giving him a raise to get him to stay.
Aside from Nnamdi Asomugha and possibly Champ Bailey, Johnathan Joseph is far and away the best cornerback in this free agent class. Due to Bailey's advanced age, I might even place Joseph above him.
The Cincinnati Bengals are a sorry outfit, and letting Joseph walk would just make them even sorrier.
Matt Roth was certainly nothing to scream about in 2010, but then again the Cleveland Browns don't have any significant players entering free agency.
He is still a solid player and will receive his share of offers.
Doug Free played exceptionally well in his first year as the Dallas Cowboys' left tackle. He'll command a huge contract this offseason.
The Cowboys surely are hoping to keep him in the fold, but there will be plenty of suitors out there. We'll see how this plays out, but there can be only one winner. Tackles are at a premium in this league.
As I said, tackles are at a premium in this league. The Washington Redskins are a bad roster in rebuilding mode, so any decent tackle would be the best free agent on the team—hence Jammal Brown.
That, and the Redskins don't have any other good free agents.
I loathe to give credit to a Philadelphia Eagles player given how much I hate them, but Philadelphia is in trouble if Stewart Bradley leaves.
He had a down year in 2010, but that can be attributed to his ACL surgery the year before. He had 108 solo tackles in 2008, so he is clearly a nightmare on the field when fully healthy. He is the anchor of Philly's defense, and they would do well to keep him around for the future.
As a longtime New York Giants fan, I have seen the suffering this man causes, and he has had a full 130 extra days to heal up that knee.
This one was difficult. One can make an equally good case for either Steve Smith or Ahmad Bradshaw being the best free agent on the New York Giants.
In the end, as I said here, Steve Smith is the more logical choice.
Bradshaw is an excellent running back, nobody can dispute that. However, the average shelf life of a running back who plays like he does is always going to be shorter than that of a receiver.
Smith is a solid receiver with reliable hands who plays the role of go-to guy. He has established himself as one of the best slot receivers in the league and should be treated as such. When called up to be the no. 1 guy in 2009, he made the pro-bowl with over 1,200 yards. Not bad for a natural no. 2 or 3 guy right?
Though New York Giants fans would prefer to see both of them stay, if it comes to a decision, New York should go with Smith.
Matt Light, despite his advancing age, still protects Tom Brady's blind side with vigor. The New England Patriots have had one of the NFL's most stellar offensive lines for years, and as the left tackle he is largely responsible for that.
He is one of the better tackles in the NFL and is coming off another Pro-Bowl year. With Logan Mankins franchised and BenJarvus Green-Ellis being the only other notable free agent, Matt Light earns his spot here.
Look for the New England Patriots to try and re-sign him.
Ronnie Brown is a conundrum. When healthy, he is a top-10 running back (not to mention one of the best fantasy assets in the league), and when injured, he is useless. The Miami Dolphins have to be scratching their heads here.
Mostly he is injured; Brown is almost like a Greg Oden-type of football player.
Still, his suitors can always hope the injury bug has finally left him. Look for Miami to go after him strong if they fail to get Ahmad Bradshaw or DeAngelo Williams.
Playing as the centerpiece of the defense for the Buffalo Bills, Paul Posluszny had 151 tackles in 2010. The Bills can't afford to lose him, especially now that Marcell Dareus has joined the fold to bolster the unit.
Posluszny is just far and away the Buffalo Bills' best defensive player and by far their best free agent.
This is an easy nomination and a difficult choice for the New York Jets.
Santonio Holmes is arguably the best receiver in this free-agent class and definitely the best receiver on the Jets.
He makes huge catches at critical moments, bailing Mark Sanchez out on more than one occasion. If it comes down to a decision between him and Braylon Edwards, the New York Jets would be wise to let Edwards walk and hold on to Holmes.
His off-the-field issues should keep his massive payday down to just a very very big payday.