NFL Free Agency 2011: Which Teams Would Be Hit Hardest If Free Agency Occurs?

Marci NobleAnalyst IApril 14, 2011

NFL Free Agency 2011: Which Teams Would Be Hit Hardest If Free Agency Occurs?

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    CHICAGO, IL - JANUARY 16:  Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck #8 of the Seattle Seahawks runs off the field after the Seahawks 35-24 defeat to the Chicago Bears in the 2011 NFC divisional playoff game at Soldier Field on January 16, 2011 in Chicago, Illinois.  (
    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    The NFL and representatives from the recently disbanded NFL player’s association entered court-ordered mediation on Thursday as they await Judge Sarah Nelson’s ruling on an injunction that could end the NFL’s player lockout and return the league to business.

    Meanwhile, the National Labor Relations Board is responding to a complaint from the owners and determining the validity of the union’s decertification.

    To the consumers, this could mean any of three things.

    The NLRB could rule that the NFLPA’s decertification was, indeed, a sham which would then, quite probably, turn back time and return the NFLPA and the NFL to negotiations until the amount of time stipulated for negotiations (six months from the date the previous CBA expires) runs out and the NFLPA files an antitrust lawsuit anyway.  (Highly unlikely since the NLRB is a pro-labor organization.)

    If the NLRB doesn't in favor of the owners, the NFL and the player’s representatives could come to a new agreement and the season could start as normal.  (Also unlikely considering the uninspiring events in March coupled with the player’s hope for an injunction that would put them back to work anyway.)

    If negotiations fail again, Judge Nelson could rule in favor of the players and the season could start under last year’s (cap-free, I might add) agreement.  Free agency would begin and, at least until the NFL’s appeal, the season would be continue as normal.

    If and when free agency happens, which teams’ seasons are most at risk?

Indianapolis Colts

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    INDIANAPOLIS, IN - JANUARY 08:  Quarterback Peyton Manning #18 of the Indianapolis Colts looks to pass against the New York Jets during their 2011 AFC wild card playoff game at Lucas Oil Stadium on January 8, 2011 in Indianapolis, Indiana. The Jets won 17
    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    The Indianapolis Colts did the smart thing before the lockout by placing an exclusive rights franchise tag on quarterback Peyton Manning.  Manning, however, is one of the primary players named in the lawsuit against the NFL and declined to enter into any type of negotiation and is, wisely, waiting to see what sort of agreement will come out of litigation. 

    His intentions could be due to him being a plaintiff in the case and not wanting to stand against his fellow players, or he simply wants to make sure he gets the most he can. 

    A new agreement can bring on new salary caps, new minimums, new franchise tag rules, or no tag at all. 

    If the tag rules change or dissolve, Manning will have the opportunity to play the market.

    Everyone expects Manning to put Jim Irsay’s money where his mouth is and to garner a deal that will put Tom Brady’s four-year, $72 million contract to shame. Some time on the open market would only make that more likely.

    Then, if the Colts lose Peyton Manning, other hallmark free agents such as running back Joseph Addai, strong safety Melvin Bullitt, and left tackle Charlie Johnson would be likely to jump ship as well.

    The dynasty that has been the Colts of the last decade would crumble.

Cincinnati Bengals

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    CINCINNATI - DECEMBER 26: Cedric Benson #32 of the Cincinnati Bengals runs with the ball during the NFL game against the San Diego Chargers at Paul Brown Stadium on December 26, 2010 in Cincinnati, Ohio. The Bengals 34-20.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Imag
    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    Starting quarterback Carson Palmer has made his opinion on playing for the Bengals’ franchise any longer abundantly clear over the past few months, threatening to retire if the Bengals don’t trade him.  So when free agency kicks off, Cincy has the option of parting ways with Palmer amicably or otherwise—assuming Palmer is good to his word. 

    If they weren’t already planning to leave without Palmer’s departure, the other stars in the Bengals’ run-down offense would surely be looking for other offers. 

    Running back Cedric Benson is especially marketable, having rushed for over 1,000 yards in each of his last two seasons. 

    Wide Receiver Terrell Owens' play has diminished slightly from his days with the 49ers, Eagles and Cowboys, but he still manages, at 37 years old, to produce solid numbers that many receiver-starved NFL teams must be drooling at.  And, if he doesn’t get an offer, why not just retire and retain what’s left of his legacy?

    Plus, on the free agent block is veteran middle linebacker Dhani Jones, who leads the team in tackles each year and whose talents and veteran leadership could benefit many other teams for a few more years.

    Let’s also not forget that Chad Ochocinco is “playing” Major League Soccer currently.

New York Giants

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    EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - DECEMBER 19:  Ahmad Bradshaw #44 of the New York Giants runs against the Philadelphia Eagles during their game on December 19, 2010 at The New Meadowlands Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
    Al Bello/Getty Images

    The New York Giants opted not to place franchise tags on any players last February because none of the impending free agents had contracts dramatic enough to warrant a tag. 

    That does not mean that there are not a number of significant players on the Giants’ squad entering free agency whenever free agency occurs.

    These include running back Ahmad Bradshaw, who led the team in rushing yards last season, and wide receiver Steve Smith, who led the team in receiving yards only a year ago.  Plus, there’s tight end Kevin Boss and five-year veteran defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka. 

    The Giants have placed tenders on many of these and others but, in the event of a new CBA, this New York team stands to lose many of its main playmakers from the past few years.

New York Jets

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    PITTSBURGH, PA - JANUARY 23:  Santonio Holmes #10 of the New York Jets celebrates after he scored a third quarter touchdown against the Pittsburgh Steelers during the 2011 AFC Championship game at Heinz Field on January 23, 2011 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvani
    Nick Laham/Getty Images

    East Rutherford’s other tenants, the New York Jets, are another team with many cornerstone players up for grabs. 

    Most of their wide receiver depth is up for free agency, including playmakers Braylon Edwards and Santonio Holmes. 

    Pro Bowl center Nick Mangold as well as veteran defensive lineman Shaun Ellis are other noteworthy potential Jet free agents.

    The Jets have placed the highest tender on cornerback Antonio Cromartie and will be happy to retain him. They are also reportedly looking towards Tennessee free agent Randy Moss to help pick up slack from any receivers who sign contracts elsewhere.

Minnesota Vikings

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    PHILADELPHIA, PA - DECEMBER 28:  Sidney Rice #18 of the Minnesota Vikings in action against Asante Samuel #22 of the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field on December 28, 2010 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
    Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

    The Minnesota Vikings have long been that team that is just a quarterback away from the Super Bowl.  They almost had it two years ago when they signed legend Brett Favre out of retirement.  Favre has since re-re-retired, leaving the Vikings looking to the draft and free agency for another viable quarterback option.

    The quarterback situation looks to get worse before it gets better; Patrick Ramsey is a free agent this year and is not expected to be re-signed.  This leaves rookies Rhett Bomar and Joe Webb as the only options pending some offseason solution.

    This doesn’t bode well for their other free agents as star wide receiver Sidney Rice may hit the market when it opens. 

    If Rice flees to a team with more immediate, or merely sustainable postseason hope, Minnesota will be lucky to still have Percy Harvin, but the offense will lose a lot of its heat.  We saw it last year when Rice missed all but six games recovering from hip surgery and the Vikings only won six games on the season.

    The Vikings also have defensive end Ray Edwards to worry about.  Edwards is spending his lockout free time in the boxing ring.

Miami Dolphins

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    MIAMI - AUGUST 23: Running backs Ricky Williams #34 and Ronnie Brown #23 of the Miami Dolphins chat prior to a preseason game against the Kansas City Chiefs on August 23, 2008 at Dolphin Stadium in Miami, Florida.  (Photo by Marc Serota/Getty Images)
    Marc Serota/Getty Images

    Both of the Miami Dolphins’ leading running backs (not to mention their fullback, Lousake Polite) are up for free agency this offseason and no one would be surprised if they left Miami’s backfield barren in favor of greener pastures. 

    Ricky Williams and Ronnie Brown were both productive behind a continually shifting offensive line and should find teams willing to give them a chance in the backfield.  And why shouldn’t they go?  Most pundits agree that Miami will be taking Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram in the first round.

San Diego Chargers

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    SAN DIEGO - DECEMBER 12: Running back Darren Sproles #43 of the San Diego Chargers carries the ball against safeties Eric Berry #29 and Kendrick Lewis #23 of the Kansas City Chiefs at Qualcomm Stadium on December 12, 2010 in San Diego, California.  the Ch
    Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    The Chargers are not too far removed from playoff contention, but won’t likely be looking to 2011 for postseason success.  Six of San Diego’s nine linebackers are free agents this year (restricted and otherwise) and nearly half the current defensive line remains unsigned through the lockout. 

    The Chargers also need to replace running back Darren Sproles if he finds an option in free agency and hope that franchise tagged Vincent Jackson will improve on last year’s injury-laden numbers.

Arizona Cardinals

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    KANSAS CITY, MO - NOVEMBER 21:  Early Doucet #80 of the Arizona Cardinals attempts to catch the ball as Brandon Carr #39 and Eric Berry #29 of the Kansas City Chiefs defend during the game on November 21, 2010  at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Missour
    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    The Arizona Cardinals’ quarterback concerns may become a non-issue in the coming months as two of the team’s leading receivers (behind Larry Fitzgerald) hit free agency. Both Early Doucet (tendered) and Steve Breaston stand to go and behind them are two nearly untested rookies. 

    Maybe Andre Roberts, Stephen Williams and Max Hall can learn the trials of the NFL together?

    Arizona can only hope that veteran guard Alan Faneca doesn’t opt to retire and add more holes to an already thin offensive line.

    It doesn’t help the offense to know that two of the roster’s three tight ends, Ben Patrick and Stephen Spach, might head elsewhere, leaving Jim Dray the only option. 

    Neither TE received tenders, nor did cornerbacks Michael Adams and Trumaine McBride, leaving two rookies behind Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. 

    Just who did Arizona opt to try to retain?

    This squad is looking more and more rookie-based.  They’ll need to find a lot of veteran options to bring some leadership and direction into 2011.

San Francisco 49ers

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    SAN FRANCISCO - NOVEMBER 14:  Sam Bradford #8 of the St. Louis Rams throws the ball as he is hit by Manny Lawson #99 of the San Francisco 49ers at Candlestick Park on November 14, 2010 in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    The 49ers are another NFC West team with quarterback woes.  Troy Smith and Alex Smith split time last season and neither were able to gain any measurable amount of consistency. 

    This year, both QBs hit free agency and the Niners have offered just a one year contract to Alex and nothing at all to Troy.  If both Smiths sign offers elsewhere, San Francisco will be left with veteran backup David Carr, who threw for just 407 yards over the past three seasons.

    The 49ers also stand to lose a hefty chunk of their defense, including linebackers Takeo Spikes and Manny Lawson as well as defensive end Ray McDonald and nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin.  Any of these players (especially Franklin) are likely to garner tempting offers from other teams.

Seattle Seahawks

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    SEATTLE, WA - JANUARY 08:  Brandon Stokley #15 of the Seattle Seahawks reacts after his 45-yard touchdown catch late in the second quarter against the New Orleans Saints during the 2011 NFC wild-card playoff game at Qwest Field on January 8, 2011 in Seatt
    Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    The Seattle Seahawks failed to re-sign veteran quarterback Matt Hasselbeck before the lockout and now it is widely believed that Hasselbeck intends to take his talents elsewhere in 2011. 

    Hasselbeck can bring much needed experience and leadership to a faltering team (see: nearly any team in the NFC West and Minnesota) or serve as a formidable backup option on a more established roster (if the veteran is willing).

    Hasselbeck’s departure would leave Seattle reliant on Charlie Whitehurst, who failed to impress in 2010.  Third string quarterback J.P. Losman is also a free agent.

    Seattle opted not to employ their franchise tag on kicker Olindo Mare last February as they have done in years past, so he enters the market as an unrestricted free agent.

    Also up for grabs are center Chris Spencer, standout slot receiver Brandon Stokley, veteran strong safety Lawyer Milloy, and defensive lineman Brandon Mebane.

    Plus, while it won’t upset most to lose tackles Sean Locklear and Tyler Polumbus, their departure would only create more holes for Seattle to focus on in this shrinking offseason.

    Most of Seattle’s free agents are regular starters or saw significant field time last season.

    Seattle, it seems, stands to fair the worst when the lockout is finally lifted.

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