Assuming the lockout gets lifted before there is a labor agreement -- and that seems a likely scenario at the moment, the free-agency period will open under the same rules that were in place in 2010.
Lots of you have been asking for months about guys who may or may not be unrestricted free agents. I’ve been hesitant to answer that one because so many guys were in uncertain territory. But, if free agency does open under the 2010 rules, a lot of young stars, such as Carolina running back DeAngelo Williams, will remain with the Panthers as a restricted free agent.
Without guys like Williams, the list of potential unrestricted free agents doesn’t look nearly as tantalizing. Here’s a good list of potential unrestricted free agents at each position.
I’m scanning it and not really seeing many big names from NFC South teams who can test the open market. There’s Tampa Bay running back Cadillac Williams, who developed into a nice niche player as a third-down back last season. The Bucs would like him back and it might be difficult for Williams to find more money or a bigger role elsewhere.
There’s Tampa Bay middle linebacker Barrett Ruud. I’m thinking he’ll get some interest on the open market because he’s a quality player. Ruud’s been looking for a long-term contract extension for a couple years and the Bucs haven’t given it to him. If he gets a chance to run out the door, I think he might take it.
New Orleans outside linebacker Scott Shanle also is on the list, but I doubt he’ll test the free-agent market. I think Shanle is one of those guys the Saints talked to before the lockout about a new deal. The Saints did this with the agents for several players and I think they were being pro-active to make sure they keep guys they want.
There also are guys like Atlanta cornerback Brian Williams and New Orleans safety Darren Sharper. I think those veteran guys will be allowed to test the market. They’re the kind of guys you can still sign in July, maybe even August, if there’s a sudden need for veteran depth on your team.