As the NFL and its players move toward a potential labor agreement it's looking more and more like unrestricted free agency will be granted after four years, rather than the six it was in 2010.
That would mean the most hectic, crazy, free-for-all in free agency we've ever had. We would have a player pool as deep as it has been in a long time. In years past when putting together a list of the top-50 free agents, I've always struggled at the end of the list to come up with players I felt truly worthy.
|Charles Johnson is only 24 and coming off a season where he recorded 11 1/2 sacks for Carolina. (Getty Images)|
When the free-agency window opens, hold on for a wild ride. Good teams, with good general managers, will strike early and often. Those not prepared will get left in the dust.
It will be a buyer's market, considering the depth of the class, but there will be a lot of movement. There will be too many good players available for it not to be.
Oakland Raiders cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha tops my list, and might become the highest-paid defensive player in the NFL when he does sign. But he is only one of a good corner class, which means a premium position has talented players available.
There are eight corners on my top-50 list. That means a team wanting to avoid spending big on Asomugha will have other options to upgrade a key position.
That's what this free-agent class will be about: Options. The pool is so deep.
Dive in, folks. It's going to be fun:
1. Nnamdi Asomugha, CB, Oakland Raiders: He is the top player on any list regardless of years of service. He will get a top-dollar deal, one that might make him the highest-paid defensive player in the league.
2. Charles Johnson, DE, Carolina Panthers: At 24, he is coming off his best season and one of the best by a defensive end last season. He had 11 ½ sacks, and he was around the quarterback a lot. He's also good against the run.
3. Johnathan Joseph, CB, Cincinnati Bengals: He didn't have a great season in 2010, but he's still at top cover player who can play man coverage, which makes him valuable.
4. Ray Edwards, DE, Minnesota Vikings: His best sack season came in 2009 when he had 8½, followed by eight last season. But some team is going to pay him big money because he's got the potential for more, and he plays a value position. He's also pretty good holding up against the run, which means he can play either right or left end.
5. Sidney Rice, WR, Minnesota Vikings: He had a breakout season in 2009, but he missed the first part of 2010 with a hip injury. That might be a concern, although he did come back and play well.
6. Eric Weddle, S, San Diego Chargers: He is a rangy safety in a league that craves them. Weddle is a former corner, which speaks to his pass-coverage skills. He will be a wanted commodity.
7. Zach Miller, TE, Oakland Raiders: He led the Raiders with 60 catches last season despite missing time with a foot injury. He would put up even bigger numbers if the passing game around him was better.
8. Brandon Mebane, DT, Seattle Seahawks: At 26, he has been a good starter for the Seahawks the past four seasons. He is a perfect 4-3 defensive tackle. Seattle would love to have him back.
9. Carlos Rogers, CB, Washington Redskins: He's been a good, sound starter for the past four years. He doesn't get a lot of picks -- bad hands -- but he is around the football.
10. Tyson Clabo, T, Atlanta Falcons: He's a tough-guy right tackle who makes up for his lack of athletic ability with a fighter's mentality. He uses all the tricks of the trade.
11. Michael Huff, S, Oakland Raiders: He was able to void his contract, which puts him on the market at the right time -- coming off his best season. He is a cover safety who improved in all areas last season.
12. Jared Gaither, T, Baltimore Ravens: He missed the 2010 season, but he is a young, athletic tackle who is a good pass protector. The Ravens missed him last season.
13. Marshal Yanda, T, Baltimore Ravens: Yanda can play both guard and tackle, which will help his value. He played well at right tackle last season, but I think he can be a Pro Bowl guard. The money, though, is at tackle.
14. Doug Free, T, Dallas Cowboys: He took over as the starter at left tackle last season and was the Cowboys best lineman. Was it a one-year thing or a sign of things to come? The Cowboys want him back.
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15. Paul Posluszny, LB, Buffalo Bills: He's not a great athlete, but he's an instinctive player who has a nose for the football. He is a good, solid starter, but nothing more.
16. Antonio Cromartie, CB, New York Jets: He is a tall, lanky corner who can excel playing man coverage. But he gives up a lot of plays and gets a ton of penalties. The skill set is certainly there for him to be a top corner, although he doesn't tackle well.
17. Ahmad Bradshaw, RB, New York Giants: He's battled through some injury and fumbling problems, but he's a good runner who is just 25 years old. He averaged 5.4 per carry last season. The Giants would love to have him back -- at the right price.
18. Stephen Tulloch, LB, Tennessee Titans: He was a tackling machine for the Titans in 2010. He is a smart, heady player who knows how to find the football.
19. DeAngelo Williams, RB, Carolina Panthers: He had a career-low 361 yards last season as he missed time with injuries. He is 28 now, so that might be a concern for a team looking to give him a long-term deal. Backs have a tendency to fade when they hit 30.
20. Jammal Brown, T, Washington Redskins: This former left tackle moved to the right side in his first season with the Redskins and did a decent job. He might be wanted as a left tackle, which would help his value.
21. Jason Babin, DE, Tennessee Titans: He is coming off a breakout season for the Titans. This former Texans first-round pick (2004) had 12½ sacks and played the run well. Can he do it again?
22. Cullen Jenkins, DE, Green Bay Packers: Jenkins is a rare 3-4 end who can rush the passer. He might move inside for a 4-3 team. The Packers would love to have him back but he should be a hot commodity when the market opens.
23. Santonio Holmes, WR, New York Jets: He has some baggage -- see four-game suspension by the league for violating the league's policy on substance abuse -- but there is no denying he is talented. He had 52 catches last season, but made a lot of big ones. The issue is whether he's worth the risk.
24. Barry Cofield, DT, New York Giants: He was one of the Giants' better defenders in 2010. He is a good player against the run and at 27 he has some good football left his body.
25. Brent Grimes, CB, Atlanta Falcons: This smallish corner led the Falcons in picks with five and earned high praise from scouts. He is a fighter who doesn't back down from a challenge. He is a good leaper, which helps offset his 5-9 size.
26. Davin Joseph, G, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: He is a mauler in the run game who missed five games last season after breaking his foot. Joseph struggles at times with quick tackles in pass protection. He was better in 2007 and 2008 than he was the past two seasons.
|As one of the league's best slot receivers, Lance Moore will be a hot commodity. (US Presswire)|
28. Malcom Floyd, WR, San Diego Chargers: At 6-5, he has the speed to stretch a defense. He averaged 19.4 yards per catch last season, which shows his big-play ability. He will be 30 when the season begins, which is a bit of a concern.
29. James Anderson, OLB, Carolina Panthers: He is one of the more underrated players in the league. Anderson had his best season in 2010 and might be ready to cash in on it.
30. Braylon Edwards, WR, New York Jets: He averaged 17.1 yards per catch last season, which shows his big-play ability. He also had seven touchdown catches. He has improved on cutting down his drops.
31. Quintin Mikell, S, Philadelphia Eagles: He is a solid player, but he's 30 and he isn't a difference maker. He isn't a rangy safety, which sometimes shows up. He missed tackles last season.
32. Chris Carr, CB, Baltimore Ravens: He was a 16-game starter in 2010 and showed great improvement. He is 28, so he has some good years left. He is also a return man.
33. Aubrayo Franklin, NT, San Francisco 49ers: This run-stuffing nose tackle was given the franchise tag in 2009, but the 49ers passed on that this time around. He is a good run player, and he improved as a penetrating rusher.
34. Ike Taylor, CB, Pittsburgh Steelers: He is 31, so age is a bit of a concern. But he played some of his best football last season. He fits in a scheme similar to the Steelers, who use a lot of zone. He did play more man at times last season and did a nice job.
35. Jermon Bushrod, T, New Orleans Saints: He was the starting left tackle the past two years and has improved. The question is whether he is anything more than just a solid player. If teams think he is, he could cash in big.
36. Justin Blalock, G, Atlanta Falcons: He outplayed fellow free-agent guard Harvey Dahl last season, which is why the Falcons want him back. He is good in the run game but has improved in pass protection. That gives him the edge over Dahl.
37. Kevin Burnett, ILB, San Diego Chargers: He is coming off his best season and with teams moving to more 3-4 he will have a market.
38. Barrett Ruud, LB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: I had him ranked higher on an earlier list, but after evaluating him I am not as high on him. He's a good player, not a great one. He does have a knack for getting to the football, but he sometimes isn't as good in coverage.
39. Mathias Kiwanuka, DE, New York Giants: He played in only three games because of a neck injury, but he had a sack in each one. When he's healthy -- and that's the key -- he's a good pass rusher.
40. Lance Moore, WR, New Orleans Saints: He is the perfect slot receiver, a tough guy who isn't afraid to go over the middle. He has emerged as a big part of the New Orleans offense, and now it's time he gets paid like it.
41. Willie Colon, T, Pittsburgh Steelers: He missed all of the 2010 season with a torn Achilles tendon, but he played well in 2009. He has done a nice job as a pass protector while also improving as a run blocker.
42. Dawan Landry, S, Baltimore Ravens: He is a good run-support safety, but he sometimes struggles in coverage. He's also been bothered by injuries, including a spinal injury in 2008.
43. Quincy Black, OLB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: He is a physical freak, a speedy, strong player who seems ready for big things. He missed five games with a broken wrist last season. He might be higher on this list at 27 years old if he didn't.
44. Manny Lawson, OLB, San Francisco 49ers: He was pretty good in 2010, better than the previous two seasons, but he doesn't get the sack numbers. That is a concern with a 3-4 rush linebacker. It doesn't look like the 49ers will bring him back.
45. Harvey Dahl, G, Atlanta Falcons: This nasty player is another who isn't great in terms of athletic ability but does a nice job compensating for it with his toughness. His play did drop off some in 2010.
46. Ray McDonald, DE, San Francisco 49ers: He is a 3-4 end who is just now coming into his own. With so many teams now playing that defense, he will get play on the market.
47. Santana Moss, WR, Washington Redskins: He caught 93 passes last season, but his best football is behind him. He isn't a No. 1 anymore, but he could help as a second or third option.
48. Clint Session, OLB, Indianapolis Colts: He missed much of the 2010 season with an elbow injury, but he was a standout in 2009. The Colts don't usually re-sign linebackers, so look for him to go.
49. Steve Smith, WR, New York Giants: He played in only nine games last season because of injuries, one to his knee. In 2009, he caught 107 passes, so he has the potential to put up good numbers as a slot receiver.
50. Josh Wilson, CB, Baltimore Ravens: He started the final nine games of 2010 and had a game-winning interception against the Texans. He has good speed and can play man coverage. At 26, he's the right age.