This is the next in a series of unrestricted free agency and predraft reports Real Football Services is filing for newyorkjets.com.
By now, you've likely heard about 2010 being an uncapped year in the NFL. You may or may not have heard about the many restrictions and rule changes that come along with that scenario. In a nutshell, what everyone originally thought was going to be a spending spree for all has actually turned into the exact opposite.
The biggest deterrent to the typically wild ride of free agency is the change in status of many players. Due to the uncapped year, as many as 212 players who would have earned unrestricted free agent status under normal circumstances now remain restricted free agents. In short, these restricted players can be offered a tender that gives their current team the right to match most offers made by other teams. If they choose not to match the offer, the current team still receives compensation in the form of draft picks from the new team, depending on the level at which they tendered the player.
This makes it more difficult for other teams to sign these restricted players, and many organizations have already done a good job of locking up their best young athletes with the highest tender offer possible. It has also depleted the free agency pool a great deal.
Still, you're probably thinking to yourself, "There are still plenty of good unrestricted free agents out there." Yes and no. As part of the new uncapped rules, each team now has the ability to "tag" or restrict two players (normally each team can only use one tag). This has shortened the list further, as teams have tagged some of the top free agents in the league.
The group that remains still has its stars, but a closer look at the list reveals a talent pool with many players over 30 years old. This creates more pressure on personnel people around the NFL to make the right decisions about the length of the contracts they offer and the price they are willing to spend for players who are already headed toward the back ends of their careers.
There is a silver lining in that many veteran players are due to be paid roster bonuses in the coming weeks, and personnel departments will be making tough decisions about whether those veterans still fit into their teams' plans at their current salary. By midnight tonight, that will have brought players like Thomas Jones, Brian Westbrook and LaDainian Tomlinson onto the open market, which will bolster the free agent ranks.
So with all those things in mind, here is our short list of the top offensive and defensive free agents available beginning at midnight on Friday:
Chester Taylor, RB, Vikings — Even though he has hit the running back warning track age of 30, Taylor is a do-it-all back who can still run effectively, both inside and outside the tackles, is an excellent receiver, and is willing in blitz pickup. Don't let his age be too much of a deterrent. He's got fresh legs after standing on the sideline watching AP work the past couple years.
Thomas Jones, RB, Jets — Another aging back who will turn 32 before the season starts, but he has five straight 1,000-yard seasons under his belt and is an effective runner between the tackles.
Chad Pennington, QB, Dolphins — Chad and his shoulder have some medical tests to clear before he plays again, and he will be dogged by durability questions for the rest of his career. But throwing the ball 70 yards in the air was never a big part of his game. He's smart and accurate and has played in several different systems. He's still good enough to start in the league when healthy, and could be ideal in a backup/mentor role.
Derrick Mason, WR, Ravens — Admittedly, Mason is probably too old to be on this list or demand much of a long-term deal from anyone, but we just can't ignore his production. He has 256 catches over the last three seasons and has surpassed the 1,000-yard mark in four of the last five years. He possesses excellent hands and route-running skills and would be a great fit for a team looking for a possession-type receiver or third-down go-to guy.
Tomlinson, Chargers, and Westbrook, Eagles — At one time both of these players were among the most explosive and versatile playmakers in the game. That time may have passed for both men. Tomlinson seems to have lost some of his burst, and Westbrook will have to prove he has overcome his head injury situation. But in the right system, both can still be effective runners and receivers.
Casey Rabach, C, Redskins — A 10-year veteran, Rabach is smart, tough, athletic and consistent and has missed just one game in the last six seasons. He's not big or powerful, but he does a lot of things well week in and week out. Think a poor man's Kevin Mawae.
Julius Peppers, DE, Panthers — We don't like all his crying and complaining, but at the end of the day Peppers is one of the most productive and effective pass rushers in the league. He has at least 10 sacks in four of the last five seasons, can rush from a standup position in a 3-4 if need be, and still has plenty of years left in his career.
Karlos Dansby, LB, Cardinals — Dansby's versatility will be his calling card this offseason. After playing a variety of roles in Arizona's hybrid schemes in recent seasons, he can play inside or outside and can play the run and drop effectively in coverage. Though he's not a great pass rusher, he's a do-everything backer who could be a great fit for a 3-4 team like Miami or the Giants that lacks speed on defense.
Leigh Bodden, CB, Patriots — Before getting lost in the mess in Detroit in 2008, Bodden was making a name for himself as a consistent defender and playmaking corner. He resurrected his career in New England, and though he may not be a pure cover corner in the mold of fellow free agent Dunta Robinson, he had five interceptions a season ago, is a willing run defender and has been able to stay on the field (he's missed just one game the past three seasons). The Patriots would love to have him back, and unlike many players on this list, he's only 28.
Gary Brackett, LB, Colts — Though undersized, Brackett is quick, agile and instinctive. And he's made a TON of tackles, surpassing the 100-tackle mark in each of the last five seasons, and does a good job of getting into his drops in the Colts' Tampa-2-style defense (13 passes defensed and 5 INTs the last three seasons). Indy expects to work out a deal with him, but he will get some interest beginning at midnight.
Aaron Kampman, DE/OLB, Packers — Kampman really struggled as a standup pass rusher in the Packers' 3-4 scheme. If he can get back to full health after suffering a knee injury in 2009, he can still be a very effective pass-rushing DE in a 40 front that allows him to attack the QB.
Marques Douglas, DE, Jets — Most ends in a 3-4 scheme get very little fanfare, and Douglas fits that mold. A 12-year vet and a starter on the best defense in the league last year, he is still not a household name. But the growing list of coordinators running 3-4 defenses will know and understand his value.