NFL personnel people are busy readying for the open of the free-agency period at the end of the month.
They have already done the in-house evaluations of their rosters, which means it's time to start looking around at the other 31 teams for players who can help.
|Asante Samuel, can you smell the cash? (Getty Images)|
In other words, great players will get paid a ton, good players too much and so-so players way too much.
Once again, look for name players to be the guys the fans want to sign quickly. That is a mistake.
We don't fall into that trap here. When I put together my list of the top 32 free agents, it is done with an eye on the future, not on the past.
That's why you might think the list that follows is a bit different than the norm. Two other things about my list: It doesn't include any players we expect to be hit with the franchise tag and it doesn't include restricted free agents.
In the franchise category, that leaves off players like Oakland corner Nnamdi Asomugha, Kansas City defensive end Jared Allen, Carolina tackle Jordan Gross, Baltimore defensive end Terrell Suggs, Seattle corner Marcus Trufant, Tennessee defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth, Arizona linebacker Karlos Dansby and Philadelphia tight end L.J. Smith (already tagged).
Those players can still move, but the tag basically makes it almost impossible, the compensation far too great to prevent a team from signing them.
So they're all off the list.
Age is also a consideration. I'm not big on putting guys over 30 on my list, although there are exceptions.
You might notice me leaning toward young, rising players. Those are the players I would look to sign. That's why a player like Tennessee Titans defensive end Antwan Odom is ranked at No. 2. He is just touching the surface of his ability.
There are other young players who might be higher on this list than others. It's looking to the future, not the past. That's the key to any free-agency class.
1. Asante Samuel, CB, New England Patriots: He is a premier corner who is coming off an All-Pro season. He will get the biggest contract on the market.
2. Antwan Odom, DE, Tennessee Titans: In a league starved for pass rushers, here's a 26-year old coming off an eight-sack season. The Titans will be hard-pressed to keep him considering they will have to franchise Haynesworth.
3. Randy Moss, WR, New England Patriots: I love the way he plays. But he turns 31 this week and one has to wonder how he'll be as a player in another system, without the peer pressure to toe the line. The Pats might still franchise him, but that's not a definite.
|Lance Briggs (Getty Images)|
5. Lance Briggs, LB, Chicago Bears: The Bears would love to keep him but they can't franchise him, so he will hit the market. He's coming off a heck of a season and should cash in on it.
6. Flozell Adams, T, Dallas Cowboys: After a so-so year in 2006, he played well last season. Was it a money push? The Cowboys would love to have him back, but only at the right price.
7. Justin Smith, DE, Cincinnati Bengals: He had only two sacks last season, which hurts his marketability. But he's a better player than that. In a league looking for pass rushers, he will get overpaid some.
8. Alan Faneca, G, Pittsburgh Steelers: If he were four years younger, he'd be even higher. He played at a really high level last season after a so-so 2006. But at 31, how much more does he have left?
9. Bernard Berrian, WR, Chicago Bears: He had a little case of the drops last season, but his deep speed is enticing. He's the next-best deep threat on the market after Moss.
|Michael Turner (Getty Images)|
11. Jacob Bell, G, Tennessee Titans: He has developed into a power player for the Titans. He is part of a good offensive line that doesn't get the attention it deserves. He has 31 starts the past two seasons.
12. Gibril Wilson, S, New York Giants: He is coming off a good playoff run that probably upped his value. He led the Giants in tackles in two playoff games. He is a physical safety with range.
13. Ken Hamlin, S, Dallas Cowboys: The Cowboys signed him to a one-year deal and he responded with a Pro Bowl season. That's cashing in. He is a big hitter who played better against the pass last season than he did when he was with Seattle.
14. Ryan Lilja, G, Indianapolis Colts: He has developed into a good player the past two years and he is a big reason the Colts' running game has improved. The way guards got paid last year, he will get his this time around.
15. Bryant Johnson, WR, Arizona Cardinals: He is the third receiver in Arizona, so bringing him back is a luxury. The Cardinals want to keep him but it might be tough. He has good speed. He caught 46 passes and made eight starts last season.
16. Drayton Florence, CB, San Diego Chargers: He lost his starting job to Antonio Cromartie, but played well as a nickel corner after that. With teams searching for corners to match up against the spread offenses, he should be a wanted commodity.
17. D.J. Hackett, WR, Seattle Seahawks: He played in only six games due to injury, but he is 26 and was being counted on as a big part of the Seattle offense. In one three-game span in November, he had 23 catches for 294 yards and three scores.
18. Calvin Pace, LB, Arizona Cardinals: The former defensive end moved to linebacker and responded with a 6½-sack season. He also showed he has the foot speed to play the position.
19. Tommy Kelly, DT, Oakland Raiders: Before tearing an ACL, he was a quality starter for the Raiders, a player on the upswing. If he can show that the knee is rehabbing right, he will get a nice deal. The team that signs him will be getting a good defensive lineman.
20. Travis LaBoy, DE, Tennessee Titans: He was used mostly as a speed rusher and had six sacks. Injuries have held him back, but he's only 26. He plays with a lot of effort.
|Jerry Porter (Getty Images)|
22. Rex Grossman, QB, Chicago Bears: In a quarterback-famished league, he's bound to get some action. Grossman did lead a team to the Super Bowl two years ago. Maybe a new team will be good for him.
23. Jamal Lewis, RB, Cleveland Browns: He signed a one-year deal with the Browns and surprised a lot of people -- me included -- with a big season. But can he expect a long-term deal after eight years as an NFL running back? For a season or two, he could be a bargain.
24. Kawika Mitchell, LB, New York Giants: He's another player who took a one-year deal and will now cash in. Mitchell exceeded a lot of expectations for the Giants
25. Eugene Wilson, S, New England Patriots: He has started 55 games the past five seasons, playing both corner and safety. He started six games last season and has range for a team looking for a free safety.
26. Stacy Andrews, T-G, Cincinnati Bengals: He can play both guard and tackle and filled in nicely last year when injuries hit Willie Anderson. Andrews moved to right tackle and played well.
|Julius Jones (Getty Images)|
28. Josh Brown, K, Seattle Seahawks: Brown made 28 of 34 field-goal attempts, his misses all coming from outside 40 yards, two from outside 50. I don't normally put kickers on the list, but he's worth a look.
29. Sean Locklear, RT, Seattle Seahawks: He has 42 starts the past three seasons at right tackle. In a league where there aren't a lot of them, he has some value. He's another 26-year-old player.
30. Maurice Williams, T-G, Jacksonville Jaguars: He was benched as the team's right tackle this season when the Jags signed Tony Pashos, but Williams played well when he started the final two months at guard. He can play both positions, which will help his value.
31. Max Starks, T, Pittsburgh Steelers: He was a starter at right tackle in the Super Bowl season of 2005 and in 2006, but lost his job this season in camp. When injuries hit, he moved to left tackle and played well. He's a huge man at 6-8 and 335 pounds. He did end the season on IR with a knee injury, but it isn't serious.
32. Jake Scott, G, Indianapolis Colts: He has started 48 games the past three seasons for a good offense. And he's only 26. At 290 pounds, he's not big enough to play in all systems.