Under-the-radar free agents

January, 19, 2010
1/19/10
4:00
PM ET
While everyone has their attention on the big names this offseason, here are five under-the-radar free agents in the AFC North I think you should keep an eye on:

Williams
Williams
Bobbie Williams

Position/team: Offensive guard, Cincinnati Bengals

Why he's important: Williams is the heart and soul of Cincinnati's offensive line and one of the longest-tenured Bengals. He's a good run blocker and extremely durable, missing just three starts in the past six seasons. But Williams is 33, so age will be a concern. But considering that he's still a quality player and a leader in the locker room, I would be surprised if the Bengals don't offer Williams at least a short-term deal.

Chances of staying: 70 percent

Vickers
Vickers
Lawrence Vickers

Position/team: Fullback, Cleveland Browns

Why he's important: Everyone in Cleveland is clamoring to re-sign tailback Jerome Harrison. But few Browns fans are thinking about the person who paved the way for Harrison's hot streak in the second half of the season. Vickers played all 16 games and had one of the best seasons of his career. Some thought he should've received consideration for the Pro Bowl. At 26, Vickers completed his rookie deal and is still in the prime of his career. But it's unknown at this point if new Browns president Mike Holmgren and general manager Tom Heckert want to keep Vickers or have another fullback in mind.

Chances of staying: 60 percent

Smith
Smith
Troy Smith

Position/team: Quarterback, Baltimore Ravens

Why he's important: With the beatings quarterbacks take in the NFL, it's never a bad idea to have a good backup. Smith has been that security blanket behind starting quarterback Joe Flacco for two years. But Smith is tired of waiting and feels he deserves an opportunity to start. That won't happen in Baltimore as Flacco has solidified the position. Smith is a restricted free agent and his representation recently requested a trade. I don't think the Ravens would be against the idea if the value was right.

Chances of staying: 35 percent

Reed
Reed
Jeff Reed

Position/team: Kicker, Pittsburgh Steelers

Why he's important: As we alluded to earlier on Tuesday, there has been a lot of bad kicking in the NFL this season. The Steelers have a reliable kicker in Reed, and that's likely enough to keep him. Heinz Field is a very difficult stadium to kick field goals, but Reed often makes it look routine. He's had some off-the-field incidents recently, and that's probably the only reason Pittsburgh may have reservations.

Chances of staying: 70 percent

Jackson
Jackson
D'Qwell Jackson

Position/team: Linebacker, Browns

Why he's important: Jackson was the team's most productive defensive player for two straight years until a shoulder injury shortened his 2009 season to just six games. It's always tricky for players to get injured during contract years, because you're never sure how much that hurts their value in free agency. Jackson will be restricted and should get some interest based on his productivity when healthy. This will be another interesting decision for Holmgren and Heckert.

Chances of staying: 50 percent

James Walker | email

ESPN Miami Dolphins reporter

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