Sunday, July 24, 2011
Updated: July 25, 9:00 AM ET
2011 free agency: It's going to be wild
By John Clayton
Get ready for the wildest free-agency period in the history of the NFL.
With the next NFL labor agreement nearly in place, here's a look at the top 10 free agents and where they might land. More than 400 free agents will be available when free agency begins this week.
(And remember, teams still must sign their own draft choices and scramble to sign undrafted free agents. Plus, trades soon will be allowed.)
1. Nnamdi Asomugha, CB, Oakland Raiders: Julius Peppers topped last year's market because of his ability to sack the quarterback. Asomugha, 30, the headliner of this free-agent class, closes off his side of the field to quarterbacks. Over the past three seasons, only 52 passes were completed against him. Like Charles Woodson, who left the Raiders to join the Packers, Asomugha has the type of body that could allow him to play until his mid-30s.
Leading suitors: Houston, Tampa Bay. Dark horses: Baltimore, San Francisco
2. Santonio Holmes, WR, New York Jets: His off-the-field issues led to the Pittsburgh Steelers giving him away for a fifth-round pick last year. On the field, though, Holmes is the type of stud needed to upgrade a passing offense.
He is the Jets' main priority and will command top dollar. As loyal as he is to Rex Ryan and the Jets, he likely will go to the highest bidder, which is why you must look out for Dan Snyder and the Redskins.
Leading suitor: Jets. Dark horse: Washington.
3. Charles Johnson, DE, Carolina Panthers: Johnson's 11½-sack 2010 season might make people think he's a one-hit wonder, but consider the circumstances. Johnson played on the other side of Peppers during his first three seasons and registered 10 sacks total. Often, defensive ends on the other side of superstar ends get the sacks because the star gets double-teamed. That Johnson had a career year with Peppers gone says something.
Leading suitor: Carolina. Dark horse: Cleveland.
4. Ray Edwards, DE, Minnesota Vikings: Edwards is a bigger name than Johnson because he has played on a high-profile Minnesota Vikings team, but he hasn't had a double-digit sack season yet. He's had eight and 8½ sacks in the past two seasons. Still, he has 10-sack potential, and for teams with desperate needs for a pass-rusher, Edwards could be the answer.
Leading suitor: Seattle. Dark horse: Atlanta.
|Santonio Holmes: Will he remain a Jet or are the Redskins lurking for the free-agent WR?|
5. Sidney Rice, WR, Minnesota Vikings: George Edwards, who coached Vikings receivers for years, talked the organization into drafting Rice when he was 20, noting that Rice would become a top receiver in three years. Edwards was right. Even though Rice doesn't have great speed, he's a big-play threat, particularly in a West Coast offense. Rice averaged 15.8 and 16.5 yards per catch in his two seasons with Brett Favre as his quarterback. There are some who believe Rice might be willing to leave the Vikings for the right price, and the price is going to be high.
Leading suitors: Minnesota, Washington. Dark horse: St. Louis.
6. DeAngelo Williams, RB, Carolina Panthers: Williams was one of the league's top backs in 2008 (1,515 yards) and 2009 (1,117). The Panthers still plan to be a run-oriented team and will do everything to keep him with Jonathan Stewart as a one-two punch.
Leading suitor: Carolina. Dark horse: Miami.
7. Braylon Edwards, WR, New York Jets: Edwards might go through periods in which he drops the ball, but he's still a top receiver. Not only does he still have 70-catch potential, but his career 15.8-yards-per-reception average is impressive. If he ends up with a run-oriented team, he has the body and the ability to help out as a blocker. If the Redskins can't get Holmes, they might turn their attention to Edwards.
Leading suitors: Jets, Washington. Dark horse: Chicago.
|Sidney Rice: Will he stay a Viking or will Redkins, Rams come calling?|
8. Cullen Jenkins, DE, Green Bay Packers: Jenkins is one of the better 3-4 defensive ends in the game. However, because he's 30, the Packers are expected to replace him with a younger option. Most people around the league believe he's going to be the main target of the Redskins, who are expected to be the big spenders in free agency. Jenkins has a high motor and would speed the Redskins' transition to the 3-4.
Leading suitor: Washington. Dark horse: Buffalo.
9. Brandon Mebane, DT, Seattle Seahawks: Mebane is considered the best 4-3 defensive tackle on the market, which will make him popular in places such as Chicago, Denver and Cleveland. Former Seahawks general manager Tim Ruskell now works with the Bears and will probably push to sign him. Mebane also played for Mike Holmgren and could help the Browns switch back to the 4-3. The Seahawks can't afford to lose him, but the price could be high.
Leading suitor: Seattle. Dark horse: Chicago.
10. Johnathan Joseph, CB, Cincinnati Bengals: With more than $50 million to spend in free agency and re-signings, the Bengals can't afford to let Joseph slip away. Joseph and Leon Hall form one of the league's best cornerback combos. But the teams that don't get Asomugha might come quickly after Joseph, who is an excellent man-to-man coverage corner.
Leading suitor: Cincinnati. Dark horse: San Francisco.
|Cullen Jenkins: Will Redkins swoop in for the Packers' free-agent defensive end?|
John Clayton, a recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's McCann Award for distinguished reporting, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.