With the franchise tags having been applied, it’s time to take a look and see the top players at each position and their grade. We’ll break it down position by position and speculate potential landing places for some of them.
The quarterback market is remarkably thin…. incredibly thin. Made only worse by the perception that the upcoming draft is equally weak at this most critical position. The best player hitting the market this year might be Jason Campbell. He’s got a wealth of starting experience, but has never really put all the talent he has together. Quarterback needy teams could look to him as a stop-gap option while they groom a rookie.
There’s also a plethora of former high draft picks – Matt Leinart, Vince Young, Brady Quinn, David Carr, etc. Most of these guys have had their second and third shots and are likely career backups at this point, but with the read option growing, anyone with some mobility might be interesting as either a backup or a change of pace type of quarterback. Young’s experience with the option in particular, or Josh Johnson’s excellent combination of arm strength and speed will likely find them some landing spots.
The running back position is fairly deep in talent this year. Steven Jackson could be the biggest name, but has a lot of tread on the tires. Atlanta looks poised to make a play for him, where he could be an excellent addition to an already potent offense. Reggie Bush and Felix Jones bring a lot of potential to the table, particularly Jones whose only concern is his ability to stay healthy. Reggie Bush could be a devastating addition to a spread concept offense like New England, but I haven’t heard a lot of reports of that pairing. Shonn Greene was the horse in New York for a couple of years, but never really broke out. He could find work as a complimentary back. Similarly, Mendenhall couldn’t keep the starting gig in Pittsburgh, but also has some off field running-of-the-mouth syndrome to deal with.
Another good group in this years free agency is the wide out group. With the draft seemingly not containing a wealth of prospects, the free agency group looks that much better. A short list: Mike Wallace, Greg Jennings, Wes Welker, Danny Amendola, Braylon Edwards, and Steve Breaston. These guys should get decent contracts, particularly the top four.
Wallace will have offers across the board and join a line of ex-Steeler WRs who have defected for big money deals. Jennings is a bit old but is such a polished receiver that he’ll find a sizable market. Miami features to be in the mix for both, as well as the Vikings who are looking for a reliable target to see if Ponder is truly their man.
Wes Welker’s best fit is in New England, but the Patriots (for whatever reason) don’t seem very interested in retaining him.
Amendola is the Ram’s top wideout and has been productive if unspectacular and should find a good market for his services.
Another interesting name is now ex-Giant receiver Ramses Barden (a favorite of mine I admit), who has great size (6’6′ 224) He got stuck behind Manningham and Nicks and then the pre-season star Victor Cruz, but with all those elite guys working with him might be worth kicking the tires. Plus that size never hurts for a WR.
The tight end group has some former big names,. but doesn’t really bring the wow factor in years past. Jared Cook might be biggest name because he was angling for a WR/TE tag like Jermichael Finley did last year. He’s got a great combination of size and speed and already reports link the Bears to him (who bailed on the tight end position for Martz’ offense).
Behind him I like Martellus Bennett. Large bodied tight end with blocking skills and excellent hands, he could shine if given an opportunity to headline instead of splitting time as he did in Dallas and New York.
Another New York product on the market is Dustin Keller, who languished behind Mark Sanchez and the pitiful New York Jets offensive line. He has some elite potential and could blossom if given the chance. A couple other good names: Fred Davis, Visanthe Shiancoe, and Kevin Boss.
This is the cream of the free agency crop this year. The number of top offensive linemen available is stunning to me. Let’s start at tackle. First overall pick Jake Long is set to hit the market, and while he never lived up to his Joe Thomas comparisons, he is still a reliable pass blocking left tackle, with decent run game potential. He might shift to the right side at his next location, but there are too many teams in need of tackle help for him not to make a decent pay (see Arizona, Oakland, Indianapolis and maybe Kansas City).
Behind him, Sebastian Vollmer is still available from New England. I don’t expect him to leave New England, but certainly will entertain offers from other teams. Bryant McKinnie is going to test the waters of free agency. His playoff run proved he’s still a capable left tackle, but has very, very notorious off-season work ethic issues. He should see a decent salary, but not nearly as big of a market for his services.
Right tackle seems even more wealthy than left, with Andre Smith headlining the group. While Hard Knocks showed a rough start to his NFL career, he has since developed into a mauler of a run blocking right tackle.
Gosder Cherilus, Phil Loadholt, Sam Baker, and Jermon Bushrod are all available as well. The last two might be left tackles, but I think their best location is on the right side in a pass first scheme, which there are plenty of in the NFL. All should see some excellent deals in free agency.
Past them we still have Chad Clifton, Sean Locklear, Jamaal Brown, Max Starks, King Dunlap, and Winston Justice – all with good potential but have struggled in their careers.
At guard the top of the list is Andy Levitre and Louis Vasquez. Both have become excellent guards and should see good markets for teams in need of some run blockers. Eben Britton should see some value for his versatility and his high draft grade coming out.
At center, reliable Todd McClure and Dan Koppen will get a lot of looks. Another favorite of mine is Jason Brown who thrived in Baltimore and languished in St. Louis. If he can convince a team that Baltimore was his true potential (and I think he handles 34 nose tackles better than most in the NFL) then he should find another home as a G or C.
We’ll do defense next post, where there is again a decent amount of talent, but more competition against incoming rookie potentials.