NFL Free Agency Speculation: Predicting When and Where Top Free Agents Will Land

Gordon BlockContributor IIIJuly 25, 2011

NFL Free Agency Speculation: Predicting When and Where Top Free Agents Will Land

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    Game on, folks. The lockout is over.

    With the NFL’s ownership and player association agreeing on a new collective bargaining agreement, fans will soon see teams attempt to re-sign their current talent while adding new players to their rosters.

    With over 1,000 player signings looming in the next few weeks, the NFL will enter one of the most frenzied free agency periods in the history of professional sports.

    Fifteen days before the first preseason games begin, here are some predictions on where the top free agents will be signing (and a general idea on when they’ll be doing it). 

Nnamdi Asomugha

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    Cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha’s suffocating play has distinguished the former Oakland Raider as the top free agent of the 2011 class. Allowing only 10 catches against him in the 2010 season, Asomugha is in a rare class of corner that forces opposing coordinators and quarterbacks adjust their gameplans to account for him.

    At the same time, the Houston Texans will be one of the main teams looking to make a huge splash in free agency (with the money to do it). The team has struggled mightily last season in defending the pass, and having a shutdown corner would allow the team to shift their focus to their talented defensive line, including Mario Williams and Amobi Okoye.

    It wouldn’t be a huge surprise for the Texans to put up a big offer early in the free agency signing period for Asomugha.

     

    2011 Team: Houston Texans

Matt Hasselbeck

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    Veteran quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, only a few years out from taking the Seattle Seahawks to Super Bowl XL, now appears to be set to hit the open market. Despite his success over 12 years with the team, it appears the Seahawks just don’t seem interested enough in continuing employing Hasselbeck

    By far the top free agent quarterback available, Hasselbeck will be of interest for any team without a legitimate starter for the upcoming season.

    That’s where the Tennessee Titans come in. With only Jake Locker on the roster, the team may be interested in bringing in the veteran to take the reins in a caretaker role.

    With that said, it may be a few days into the free agency period that Hasselbeck signs onto any roster, as he could also see interest from the Minnesota Vikings.

     

    2011 Team: Tennessee Titans

Brett Favre

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    Brett Favre tries to get out the game, but he keeps getting pulled right back in.

    The retired quarterback recently hit headlines following speculation that he could be signed as a backup to Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick (who was said to be honored for a chance to play with him). Speculation of the move was downplayed by his agent Bus Cook.

    That might be a good thing. After years of fan fatigue about Favre's playing status, it would be nice to finally see him away from the game of football.

     

    2011 Team: None (please!)

DeAngelo Williams

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    There’s no guarantee that Carolina Panthers DeAngelo Williams will return to the team for 2011. After his struggles with injury the past few seasons, combined with the rise of Jonathan Stewart (who wants Williams to stay), the team may decide he isn’t worth it.

    If he were to leave, there would be plenty of teams looking to scoop him up. High on that list would be the Miami Dolphins, who would be interested to find a potential replacement for their own free agent Ricky Williams.

    There’s some signs that Williams would also be interested in taking his talents to South Beach as well.

    I don’t see any decision coming hastily from Williams, but it seems that he may be seen next in a Dolphins uniform.

     

    2011 Team: Miami Dolphins

Santonio Holmes and Braylon Edwards

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    Both New York Jets wide receivers Braylon Edwards and Santonio Holmes were very productive in 2010, and will both be hit with huge free agent offers for their services in 2011 (I'm looking at you, Dan Snyder). With that said, the Jets seem committed to their star receiving pair and will look to spend big to keep them in green. 

    Also helpful is that both receivers are happy in New York. These two are not going anywhere.

     

    2011 Team: New York Jets

Plaxico Burress

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    The freest of free agents, wide receiver Plaxico Burress will look to make a big statement in his first season returning from a lengthy prison sentence. While the New York Giants insist they aren’t interested in Burress, he could stay in the NFC East with the Philadelphia Eagles.

    The Eagles have shown interest in the receiver, and pairing Burress with receivers Desean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin would create an offensive aerial attack that would create nightmares for opposing defenses.

    Look at it this way: The last time the Eagles signed an embattled former inmate to their squad (Michael Vick), it turned out pretty well.

    2011 Team: Philadelphia Eagles

Ahmad Bradshaw

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    Ahmad Bradshaw, who has proven his productivity the past few seasons with the New York Giants, may be one of the players who are let go by the team due to their looming salary cap issues.

    The opening might draw a high amount of interest from the Denver Broncos, who had the worst rushing attack in the league last season.

    While Bradshaw could see several high paying suitors, it wouldn’t be too big of a stretch for the Broncos to make a play early for the veteran running back.

     

    2011 Team: Denver Broncos

Cedric Benson

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    Running back Cedric Benson, who improved his game in three seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals, was set for a high free agent price tag heading into the offseason.

    However, his stock may have taken a nasty fall in value based on a recent arrest on assault charges.

    Benson, who wanted to remain in Cincy, may get his wish (but definitely not at the price he was hoping).

     

    2011 Team: Cincinnati Bengals

Jonathan Joseph

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    Cincinnati Bengals cornerback Johnathan Joseph may see his value rise as teams looking to add depth to their secondary (but can’t get Nnamdi Asomugha) throw money his way.

    While teams including the Philadelphia Eagles, Detroit Lions and the Houston Texans may offer big money his way, the Bengals know their team would lose tremendously if they let him slip away.

    Knowing the demand for Joseph, expect to the Bengals to throw big money his way to make sure he stays in town.

     

    2011 Team: Cincinnati Bengals

Charles Johnson

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    It’s not a big surprise that Carolina Panthers defensive end Charles Johnson is the focus of major attention, especially after his 11.5 sacks during the 2010 season (after the loss of Julius Pepper).

    While some teams may shy away at the possibility of Johnson being a one-year wonder, he has attracted interest from the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Atlanta Falcons.

    While the Panthers will try (and throw big money) to keep their star defensive lineman, Johnson will be pulled in at the possibility of playing for a major contender in Atlanta.

     

    2011 Team: Atlanta Falcons

Jason Babin

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    Don’t expect Tennesee Titans defensive end Jason Babin to return to the team in 2011. In addition to his desire to look elsewhere, the return of Derrick Morgan will give the Titans the room to let the veteran lineman go elsewhere.

    His future could be with the birds: Babin has drawn interst from the Philadelphia Eagles and Arizona Cardinals.

    While the Cardinals will likely make a big play to draw for the Pro Bowler, Babin would most likely enjoy a reunion with the Eagles new defensive line coach Jim Washburn.

     

     

    2011 Team: Philadelphia Eagles

Brent Grimes

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    Atlanta Falcons cornerback Brent Grimes, who will be a restricted free agent in 2011, will draw attention from teams looking to bolster their secondary and don't get a chance at other top free agents.

    While teams like the New Orleans Saints may want to make a move for Grimes, other teams may be turned off at the prospect of giving up a first round draft pick for the cornerback.

    Grimes may also be interested in playing out one more year in black and red to give the opportunity for unrestricted free agency in 2011.

    Expect Grimes to stay in Atlanta for the upcoming season.

     

    2011 Team: Atlanta Falcons

Antonio Cromartie

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    New York Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie has indicated his desire to test the waters of free agency, and many teams will want to make an offer to acquire his services.

    While he may not be the same value as fellow free agent Nnamdi Asomugha, Cromartie’s athleticism has many teams salivating.

    The Detroit Lions, who have quietly improved their play in the last few seasons, may be willing to take a risk and throw big money Cromartie’s way.

     

    2011 Team: Detroit Lions

Peyton Manning

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    Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning is not going anywhere. No, seriously. Manning will stay in Indianapolis.

     

    2011 Team: Indianapolis Colts

Michael Vick

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    While it’s fun to envision Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick to make a surprise move like the fictional Willie Beaman in the movie Any Given Sunday, the reality is Vick will be returning as an Eagle.

    Expect Vick, the breakout star of 2010, to stay in The City of Brotherly Love.

     

    2011 Team: Philadelphia Eagles

Doug Free

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    One of the best available pass blockers in the NFL, Dallas Cowboys offensive lineman Doug Free will be high on many team’s lists.

    The main decision that will affect Free’s status is the Cowboys’ ability to cut salary in order to keep him in town. Even then, there are a few teams who might want to toss big money his direction, such as the Arizona Cardinals.

    It wouldn’t be a huge surprise for the Cowboys to use the franchise player tag to keep Free from…uh…going free.

     

    2011 Team: Dallas Cowboys

Sidney Rice

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    Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Sidney Rice is high on many teams' lists, especially those who can’t sign either Braylon Edwards or Santonio Holmes. The big-bodied receiver, while hampered with injury concerns, has been linked to the Seattle Seahawks, Washington Redskins, New England Patriots and the Chicago Bears.

    While the Seahawks will move desperately to get Rice, don’t be surprised when Dan Snyder drops some major coin early in free agency to pick him up.

     

    2011 Team: Washington Redskins

Ike Taylor

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    Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor, who has said he felt “underappreciated” by the team, will draw a lot of interest from the open market. While he falls behind fellow free agent corners Nnamdi Asomugha and Antonio Cromartie, teams looking for a more reasonable deal will find a lot to like about Taylor.

    While the Philadelphia Eagles have shown interest in Taylor, he may receive more interest from the Arizona Cardinals. The Cardinals will most likely looking for depth in their secondary, especially with the prospect of the trade of corner Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie for Eagles quarterback Kevin Kolb.

    The Steelers may also struggle to keep Taylor as they face difficulties to move under the salary cap.

    Look for the Cardinals to move quickly for Taylor.

     

    2011 Team: Arizona Cardinals

Alex Smith

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    Quarterbacks Alex Smith, the 2005 first overall draft pick, has struggled in his time with the San Francisco 49ers.

    However, he has the endorsement of incoming coach Jim Harbaugh, and his team-first attitude is assuring to an organization that will have to break in a new system very quickly.

    Expect Smith to be on a short leash. In addition to fan concerns about his play, he will also have to hold off promising rookie Colin Kaepernick.

     

    2011 Team: San Francisco 49ers

Dashon Goldson

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    San Francisco 49ers safety Dashon Goldson will attract some interest from teams looking to shore up their safety position.

    However, suitors for the safety will have to pay big to pull him away from the Bay. Team GM Trent Baalke has stated his desire to re-sign the productive defensive back

    Goldson, who says he wants to return to the Niners, will most likely get his wish. Expect the team to sign him quickly.

     

    2011 Team: San Francisco 49ers

Eric Weddle

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    San Diego Chargers safety Eric Weddle will most likely be on the market, as Weddle's agent noted he was "baffled" the team hadn't talked more about a long term deal. 

    Outside of San Diego, Weddle's name has been linked mostly with a move to the Jacksonville Jaguars. Needing a safety, the team would be likely to throw decent money to bring the safety to town.

    While the Chargers might make a play to keep Weddle in town, it might be the case that Chargers General Manager A.J. Smith's media taunting may come back to haunt him.

     

    2011 Team: Jacksonville Jaguars

Paul Posluszny

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    While Buffalo Bills’ linebacker Paul Posluszny’s tackle numbers may make him seem like an all-world player (it was more a sign of how bad the Bills were), Posluszny will attract plenty of interest in the open market.

    While the Buffalo Bills will be in the mix to re-sign their star, he has also drawn interest from the New York Giants and Kansas City Chiefs. 

    The Chiefs, who won the AFC West last season for the first time since 2003, would be interested in bringing in Posluszny to add some depth as they try to take their team to the next level.

     

    2011 Team: Kansas City Chiefs

Randy Moss

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    It’s crazy to think that Randy Moss, only a few years removed from one of the best receiver seasons in league history, is now struggling to find a new home. After a tumultuous 2010 season, which saw him play for three different teams, Moss will hopefully land in a spot more appreciative of the skills he can bring to the roster.

    The Chicago Bears are one of the main teams in the market for a wide receiver, and will be attracted to the quality of play (and the low price tag) of bringing Moss into town.

     

    2011 Team: Chicago Bears

Zach Miller

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    Oakland Raiders tight end Zach Miller has impressed many with his quiet productivity in his time in black and silver.

    While he may not be an elite talent, he is high on the list of available tight ends available in free agency.

    Despite being linked to the Jacksonville Jaguars and New England Patriots, the Raiders are primed to bring Miller back for 2011.

    Miller is not going anywhere.

     

    2011 Team: Oakland Raiders

Jermon Bushrod

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    Imposing New Orleans Saints offensive lineman Jermon Bushrod has drawn a lot of interest from teams since entering free agency.

    In addition to the Saints, Bushrod has also drawn interest from the Arizona Cardinals, who would like some more support to strengthen their line for whatever quarterback they chase in the offseason.

    With limited funds to bring back Bushrod, the Saints will most likely have to let him go to a higher bidder.

    Hello Arizona!

     

    2011 Team: Arizona Cardinals

Jeremy Trueblood

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    Tampa Bay Buccaneers right tackle Jeremy Trueblood is not likely to return for 2011 after losing his starting role to James Lee last season.

    Despite his diminished role, he may find himself of interest to teams looking to establish a power running scheme. 

    One team in desperate need of assistance in their run game are the St. Louis Rams, who came in 25th for rushing yards per game despite having the talented Steven Jackson on their roster.

    If the price is right, it could be a nice pickup for a team on the rise.

     

    2011 Team: St. Louis Rams

Donte Whitner

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    With Buffalo Bills GM Buddy Nix ruling out the possibility of bringing back safety Donte Whitner, it looks like he’ll be a wanted man in free agency.

    Whitner, who has been linked to the New England Patriots and the Indianapolis Colts, would bring some stability to either of the team's secondaries. 

    Whitner, whose had some trouble with run-ins with the law, would most likely be better served with moving his talents to the Patriots, who have a knack of working well with players with less than stellar personal backgrounds.

    Either way, don't expect teams to rush to make an offer.

     

    2011 Team: New England Patriots

Terrell Owens

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    Wide receiver Terrell Owens may have bigger issues than where he will play. He first has to be healthy enough to suit up (even though he claims he’ll be ready to go).

    It could be a good fit with the Cleveland Browns, who have struggled to find a passing threat to go with their potent run game (and monster running back Peyton Hillis).

    He could also find a supporter in team general manager Mike Holmgren, who has a record of going for older receivers.

     

    2011 Team: Cleveland Browns

Davin Joseph

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    While there has been some flip-flopping from Tampa Bay Buccaneers guard Davin Joseph on his desire to remain in town, Joseph will be a highly desirable target on the market.

    Despite his underacheiving play, he was a big part of a line that helped show improvements for young quarterback Josh Freeman.

    There haven't been too many names linked with Joseph, but he has been linked to a move to the Washington Redskins and Seattle Seahawks.

    Despite the interest, the Bucs have stated their desire to keep Joseph in town, and will pay heavily to do so.

     

    2011 Team: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Joseph Addai

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    Indianapolis Colts running back Joseph Addai, who has seen inconsistent production the past few seasons, could see some value for teams looking for a back who can also catch out of the backfield.

    Among the teams that could be interested are the Denver Broncos, Miami Dolphins and San Francisco 49ers.

    However, Addai was offered free agent tender with the Colts, which indicates he should be back for the 2011 season.

     

    2011 Team: Indianapolis Colts

Marc Bulger

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    Ravens backup quarterback Marc Bulger is high on many teams’ lists looking for someone to fill in for the upcoming season.

    The Minnesota Vikings, who drafted Christian Ponder as their quarterback of the future, may not be convinced that he is ready to carry the load immediately. If that were the case, the team may be convinced that Bulger is the guy to come in for the job.

    With Bulger in high demand, the Vikings will have to act quickly to bring him in.

     

    2011 Team: Minnesota Vikings