The conventional thinking is that if the NFL plays in 2011 -- barring a new CBA -- the 2010 rules will be in place.
That means the free-agent pool will be like one of those blowup pools kids have in their backyard -- not very deep.
Under 2010 rules, the franchise and transition tags would be in play, taking some of the top free agents off the market.
|Nnamdi Asomugha figures to break the bank with lots of eager employers waiting in line. (US Presswire)|
That would cut out many of the prime free agents, the 25-to-27-year-olds nearing the height of their careers.
The pickings will be slim.
But there will be some marquee players and a few gems. The top player will be Oakland Raiders corner Nnamdi Asomugha, who should become the highest-paid defensive player in the league.
After that, the drop is considerable. That doesn't mean teams can't fill some spots with what is on the market. It just means don't expect a lot of stars out of this class -- and expect a lot of overpaying because the pool is so small.
1. Nnamdi Asomugha, CB, Oakland Raiders: He is by far the elite of this group. Expect a real bidding war for him among several teams. Cover corners with his skill who aren't yet 30 are worth their weight in gold.
2. Carlos Rogers, CB, Washington Redskins: He is a solid cover player who is also a good tackler. He has started 31 games the past five seasons, so he will get action once the free-agency period begins. He is 29 years old.
3. Tyson Clabo, T, Atlanta Falcons: He is a self-made player who has turned from a scrap-heap pickup into a Pro Bowl-caliber tackle. He isn't the most athletic player, but he gets by with his smarts and toughness.
4. Michael Huff, S, Oakland Raiders: He is coming off his best season after moving off the line of scrimmage. He has proven to be more of a coverage safety than a run-support guy, which is what you want in this pass-happy league. His value has gone up, and he gets a break because his contract voided the same way Asomugha's did.
5. Jammal Brown, T, Washington Redskins: He played right tackle for the Redskins last season, but he's more of a left tackle. He started slowly last season while battling back from a knee injury, but he showed well as the season moved along. He would be a nice option for a team looking for tackle help since he's only 29.
6. Alex Smith, QB, San Francisco 49ers: He's relatively young and he has had some moments where he has looked like he could be a solid starter. He might just need a change of scenery, but it looks like he's heading back to San Francisco.
7. Chris Spencer, C, Seattle Seahawks: This 2006 first-round pick hasn't quite lived up to the expectations, in part because of injuries, but he is a capable starter and at 29 is still relatively young by center standards.
8. Jason Babin, DE, Tennessee Titans: He had his big season (12½ sacks) at the right time since he's ready to become an unrestricted free agent. Teams have to ask if he is coming into his own or whether that was a one-year aberration since he had 19½ sacks in his previous six seasons. He plays hard, that's for sure.
9. Cullen Jenkins, DE-DT, Green Bay Packers: He had seven sacks last season in 11 games. He has 29 the past four seasons. That's why he will be attractive to teams. He can rush the passer from an end spot in the 3-4 or inside as a tackle in the 4-3.
10. Barrett Ruud, ILB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: The Bucs would like to keep him, but the price might get out of hand. He isn't fancy, but he's a solid middle linebacker who always seems to be around the ball.
11. Braylon Edwards, WR, New York Jets: Receiver-hungry teams will take a long, hard look at Edwards. He is 28 years old and can stretch the field, as evidenced by his 15.8 career average per catch. He averaged 17.1 yards per catch last season. He does have trouble with drops at times.
12. Quintin Mikell, S, Philadelphia Eagles: This strong safety went to the Pro Bowl two years ago and remains a nice cover player. He has good range for a strong safety, which you need now. He is 29 years old.
13. Chris Carr, CB, Baltimore Ravens: He started 16 games last season for the Ravens and had his best season. He had two interceptions and played well in coverage. He can also return kicks, and at 28 he has good football left in his body.
14. Aubrayo Franklin, DT, San Francisco 49ers: The 49ers put the franchise tag on him in 2010, but they didn't this season. He had another decent season, even if it wasn't as good as his 2009 season, but the price to tag him again was too much.
15. Santana Moss, WR, Washington Redskins: He had 93 catches last season, but only averaged 12 yards per catch. The latter number might mean he's slowing down entering his 11th season.
16. Kevin Burnett, ILB, San Diego Chargers: After being acquired from the Cowboys, Burnett had his best season in 2010. He was one of the better defenders for San Diego. He is a perfect 3-4 inside backer.
17. Ike Taylor, CB, Pittsburgh Steelers: He is a physical corner who would fit better in a scheme that didn't ask him to play a lot of man coverage. But he did improve as a man cover player late last year, which could help his stock. At 31, he isn't a kid anymore.
18. Donte Whitner, S, Buffalo Bills: The Bills have indicated they don't want him back, so he's likely gone, even though he only has five years of service. Whitner is an in-the-box safety who was a top-10 pick. If a team is looking for a special coverage safety, this shouldn't be the choice. He struggles there.
19. Tommie Harris, DT, Chicago Bears: This former first-round pick wore out his welcome in Chicago, but he was a starter for six games last season and he's only 28 years old. He did have 1½ sacks in the playoff victory over Seattle. Maybe a change of scenery would do him good.
20. Ben Leber, OLB, Minnesota Vikings: He gets lost on the Vikings defense, but he is a good, solid player. He isn't in the same class as Chad Greenway, the Vikings' other linebacker who was given the franchise tag, but he is more than a journeymen.
21. Robert Gallery, G, Oakland Raiders: Even though most would consider him a draft bust, he has been a solid starter after moving from tackle to guard. He would be a quality starter for most teams.
22. Olin Kreutz, C, Chicago Bears: The Bears would like to re-sign this 13-year veteran, but what if some team gives him a nice deal to leave? He's still a quality player, but for how long? Age is a concern.
23. Terrell Owens, WR, Cincinnati Bengals: Surprised to see his name here considering his age? Well, he was the Bengals' best receiver last season and showed he's far from done. He can help a team for a couple of years. Wouldn't be worth a long-term deal, but a short-team one might make sense.
24. Darren Sproles, RB, San Diego Chargers: If a team wants a speed back who can be a nice change of pace, coupled with a good return man, this would be their guy.
25. Cedric Benson, RB, Cincinnati Bengals: He has been reborn in Cincinnati, but he isn't a kid anymore (29 in December) by running back standards. That could keep a team from spending money -- especially in a league where backs get used up quickly.