The NFL’s new league year begins Tuesday at 4:00pm eastern time. That is also when the NFL free agency window opens. Teams have been able to negotiate with certified NFL agents who represent players who are due to be unrestricted free agents since Saturday morning at 12:00am. While the memo that the league sent out Friday to teams essentially renders this “legal tampering period” moot, it’s still an opportunity for teams to get an idea of how the market is setting up for Monday.
In honor of free agency and the start of another football year, let’s take a look at my favorite free agents at each position. These aren’t necessarily the best players at each position. Instead these are the guys that I would be most interested in if I were a GM.
In free agency it’s more about money, age, and fit than overall talent. I don’t want to overpay for anyone, especially if he’s older. I want to make sure that I’m also getting a guy who wasn’t just a good fit for the system he played in. The player needs to be a good fit for the system that my team employs. I think this is a critical point that some teams overlook. Just because a player is successful in one system doesn’t mean he’ll be successful in mine even if he’s supremely talented.
Here are the guys whose agents I’d be on the phone with this weekend (just discussing terms of course, not actually coming to an agreement).
1. Chase Daniel – Chase is an intriguing prospect. He’s only 26 and he hasn’t gotten much playing time but he certainly possesses plenty of tools. The lack of playing time could be beneficial for negotiations with Chase’s representatives. He’s “unproven” so I’d play up the negotiations as “taking a chance” on a guy when in reality I would be excited to see what he’s got to show. He has tutored behind one of the best quarterbacks in the game today — and ever, for that matter. I would want Daniels as either a backup to a veteran or a potential starter for a seriously QB needy team. He could come in and compete for a starting position on teams those type of teams. Had Matt Moore hit the market, he would have competed with Chase for this top spot simply because of his experience starting.
2. David Carr – Carr is a veteran who has been around the block and back. I think he provides value as a capable backup who can step up and start in a pinch. He may even be capable enough to win a few games as a starter should the incumbent starter go down to injury. Carr is going to cost a little more than I’d probably like to spend but I think it’s very important to have a solid backup QB in the NFL today. I’d test his price and see where the market value is if I needed a veteran backup.
Guys I want nothing to do with: Brady Quinn, Charlie Batch, Matt Leinart
1. Reggie Bush – Running backs are tough to rank because it really depends on what the team needs and on scheme. Am I looking for a bruiser between the tackles or a change of pace back? A 3rd down specialist or an every down back? A one-cut runner for a zone blocking system or a full featured back? I think Bush is fairly transcendent. He can fit on a lot of teams and he showed he still has the talent by breaking off some jaw-dropping runs last season. There isn’t a lot of players who possess the speed, agility, and hands of Bush. In the right system, Bush could still be an impact player. I wouldn’t throw a huge contract at any running back in free agency. Bush would probably out price me on the market but I’m still going to poke around and see if he’s interested.
2. Ahmad Bradshaw – Bradshaw has serious injury concerns so he’d have to clear medical evaluations before ever even being considered. He’s only 26 and is a strong downhill runner and a powerful blocker in the pass game. He has a lot of upside and could really prove to be a big pickup for a team in need of his type of game. He could come fairly cheap depending on how much teams are concerned about his injuries. His agent will want guarantees. I’d likely negotiate skill guarantees in exchange for a lack of injury guarantees in the contract.
3. Mike Goodson – Goodson is an interesting prospect. He has solid potential as a three-down back. He’s got a shot at a being a very good starter but he’s always been stuck behind talent in both Carolina and Oakland. He’s only 25 with a lot of potential. I wouldn’t sign him as a number one back but he could develop into one or at least provide some competition. He’ll fit in a traditional downhill system better than a zone blocking scheme.
4. Justin Forsett – I’ve always been a Forsett fan. He is dynamic and explosive and can really get through the hole. He also provides value for kick returns. He’s a good option for any zone blocking scheme team as a backup option and can start should the original starter go down.
5. Jalen Parmele – Parmele got a chance to start when Jones-Drew went down with an injury early in the season. He showed decent burst and ability and showed he’s a capable backup. That’s all I would be interested in him for.
Guys I’m not interested in: Danny Woodhead, Michael Turner
1. Jerome Felton – Felton plowed the way for the best running back in football last year. Peterson did a lot of running but Felton was one of the better run blockers in the game last year. He doesn’t provide a whole lot outside of run blocking, however. I wouldn’t go crazy on a contract to any fullback so I’d likely end up passing on a guy like Felton who someone will overpay.
2. James Casey – Casey is an h-back type who can play both fullback and tight end. He’s athletic and a very good pass catcher. I would only go after Casey if I were specifically looking for his type of player. Again, this is another guy who might price me out of the negotiations.
Not interested in: Greg Jones
1. Victor Cruz – Oddly enough, Cruz is the least talked about wide receiver hitting the free agent market as a restricted free agent, yet he’s clearly the best combination of age and skill. He’s the only player I’ve included that is an RFA because he’s the only one with any chance to receive a qualifying offer from another team. He’s not going to come cheap but he provides great matchup benefits. This definitely deserves some investigating.
2. Greg Jennings – Yes, I am more interested in Jennings than Mike Wallace. I think the law of recency comes into play here. Jennings was one of the league’s best receivers when healthy. I don’t know that he’s healthy, and Jennings is 29, but he was a stud that deserves a look. I think Jennings needs to go to a smart team that will get him the ball (Hello, New England?). If Jennings goes to the right team, I think he’ll remind everyone of just how good he was at one time.
3. Danny Amendola – I love Amendola. I got into a conversation about Welker or Amendola on Twitter with some people. I see the similarities between the two, but I believe Amendola is better (and younger). Amendola is much stronger to the football and isn’t afraid to go up and get the ball at it’s highest point — something Welker isn’t really known for. I think that ability gives Amendola a much better chance at succeeding on the outside and that’s a huge benefit. I think the Rams have to resign Amendola but the 27-year-old will likely be one of the most pursued wide receivers on the market.
4. Mike Wallace – I have my reservations about Wallace and how successful he’ll be on a different team and in a different system. A lot of Wallace’s success comes from when the play breaks down. He can blow the top off of a defense but he’s not a great route runner. When the play is extended by Roethlisberger, that’s when Wallace has time to get separation and get lost behind the safeties. I probably wouldn’t touch Wallace in free agency because of this and the high price tag he’s going to command, but I would at least give him a call.
5. Wes Welker – At this point, we know what Welker is and what he isn’t. I think he’s best suited for what New England does. Welker is 32 and he’s not getting any better at this point. I can’t (and no one should) reasonably expect Welker to be as productive as he was in New England. He’s not getting a lengthy contract so Welker is worth a look if you’re just trying to add a reliable pass catcher who can give a QB and good short option.
6. Brandon Gibson – Gibson is a young (26) and fairly talented receiver who could be useful as a solid number 3. That’s what I’m signing him for. No more. If he finds the right coach, he could still grow into a decent 2nd receiver. Gibson is on the lower tier of wide receivers but all it takes is one team to overpay him.
Not interested in: Tedd Ginn, Kevin Ogletree, Jerome Simpson, Randy Moss
1. Delanie Walker – If you followed me on Twitter during the season, you know I love Walker. He’s good at everything he does but has very inconsistent hands. If he promises to spend some time on the Juggs machine I’m going for him. I think he’s capable of being a joker type of tight end that lines up mostly off the line of scrimmage or in the back field and create matchup problems. Walker was a swiss army knife in San Francisco and I would want to use him in the same way. If I needed a tight end, Walker would be my first call and I would offer him market value of a 2nd tight end and see how he responded while I was really willing to pay above market value but not quite number-one-type money. One other concern is that Walker is already 29.
2. Jared Cook – Cook is a big move tight end that plays more like a large slot receiver. He’s only 26 and he’s going to get paid by someone and I doubt I’d be willing to pay what he’s going to receive. He’s proved that he can be a matchup problem if he has someone to get him the football. Unfortunately, in Tennessee he didn’t have that.
3. Martellus Bennett – This is a guy that scares me. New York Giants’ tight ends coach Mike Pope is one of the best in the league. Every year he seems to take whatever tight ends he has and gets the absolute best out of them. It seems like all of the tight ends that leave the Giants underperforms at his next stop. I liked Bennett before he went to the Giants. I think he’s strong as a player and a good pass catcher. He’s not explosive but he gets the job done athletically. He’s a very good player but I’m concerned that after he gets paid he’ll lose focus. Tread carefully.
4. Dustin Keller – Keller is an athletic pass catcher that can stretch the field. It didn’t really help being on the Jets. He’ll eventually find a home where someone will use him a little better. He could be a weapon in the right system I think. I wouldn’t pay him top dollar but if the price is right, he’s worth a shot.
5. Anthony Fasano – If I’m running a team that likes to run the ball, Fasano might be the best option at tight end. He’s the best blocker out of this group but provides very little in terms of pass catching. Pay him like a 2nd tight end, in my opinion.
Not interested in: Ben Watson, Dallas Clark
1. Jake Long – Long is a very good football player. He seemed to struggle at times this year so I’m curious if he was fully healthy. I would make sure to give him a full medical evaluation before signing him just to make sure. He’s worth good money and will probably get it. Long could play either left tackle or right tackle and that’s a very good skill to have. What isn’t good for Long is that the draft is loaded with very good tackles. Anyone in desperate need of one could choose to look there first and that would be my primary negotiating point.
2. Andre Smith – I really like Andre Smith as a player. He is a right tackle only who is a road grader in the run game and very capable in pass blocking. If someone is looking for a run blocker who is still young enough to give them plenty of production for years to come, this is their guy.
3. Sebastian Vollmer – Vollmer is a very good right tackle whose contract demands have just become too much for the Patriots to handle. He’ll still be a good player for someone for a few years and is solid in both run and pass blocking.
4. Phil Loadholt – I have a ton of concerns about Loadholt. He’s a great run blocker but he’s an awful pass blocker. He is capable as a right tackle but he still scares me even there.
Not interested in: Eric Winston, Sean Locklear, Jamaal Brown
1. Andy Levitre – Levitre is the clear headliner at guard of this free agent class. He is strong and athletic and he has very good footwork. He’s still young (27) and could end up getting paid very well – though I don’t think he should be paid like Carl Nicks. Levitre can also play a little tackle should a team need it in a pinch.
2. Louis Vasquez – Vasquez had a solid year for a team that really didn’t perform well on the offensive line. If you extract Vasquez’s play from the offensive line he performs well in especially tough circumstances. He’ll get paid this offseason.
3. Donald Thomas – For those that aren’t familiar, Thomas is a backup guard from New England who didn’t get a lot of playing time behind Mankins/Conolly. He’s a very intriguing prospect who should garner a lot of interest. He could be signed as a backup who will probably win out as a starter.
Not interested in: Deuce Lutui, Dan Koppen
1. Michael Bennett – Bennett really exploded onto the scene this year. He has been a hidden gem as a speed rusher in Tampa but hasn’t been given the same chance as early round draft picks Bowers and Clayborn. Bennett isn’t the best against the run but he also is superb in pass rushing. Anyone in need of a pass rushing defensive end will be beating down Bennett’s door.
2. William Hayes – Hayes is another relative unknown who doesn’t get enough credit because of the people playing in front of him in St. Louis. He fits the Michael Bennett mold of a pass rushing defensive end who uses speed to get to the QB. He’ll probably come much cheaper than Bennett but isn’t far behind in terms of skill. He’s only 28 and could be an impact player for a less than impactful amount of money.
3. Cliff Avril – Avril is much like the other 2 on this list in that he’s pretty much just a pass rusher but he’s going to be too expensive for what I would pay. The Lions offered him 3 years for $30 million before last season and Avril turned it down. No, thank you.
4. Osi Umenyiora – Osi is just a gap filler at this point in my opinion. He’s still very solid but I’m only signing him if I’m a good team who is in need of a solid all-around 4-3 defensive end who is past his prime. I probably wouldn’t be able to pay him what he wanted.
5. Robert Geathers – Geathers is a very good football players. He’s sturdy in the run game but possesses the athleticism and technique to get to the quarterback at times as well. He’s a good veteran player that at 30 years old is going to serve as a backup or fill in.
Not interested in: Israel Idonije, John Abraham, Dwight Freeney
1. Desmond Bryant – Bryant is one of the most underrated players in the NFL. His recent run in with the law doesn’t help his status. He played well as a 4-3 defensive tackle last season and is 27. He is best at getting penetration but is sturdy versus the run as well. He’s worth a shot for someone needing an upgrade at the 3 technique of defensive tackle.
2. Jason Jones – Jones was very well coached last year but he is also a solid player in his own right. I expect him to head to Jacksonville if Seattle doesn’t resign him. It’s a need for the Jaguars and he’d be following his old coordinator Gus Bradley and his former defensive line coach Todd Wash. He’s a versatile player who can play in many different fronts. He’s not far behind Bryant in my opinion but he also is probably going to cost a little more than Bryant.
3. Ricky Jean-Francois – I know the rest of the 49ers defense gets a lot of credit but Jean-Francois is a starter in most 3-4 defenses. He’s stout versus the run and can get penetration at times but it’s not his strong suit. Any team would be lucky to have him.
4. Glenn Dorsey – Dorsey has been unfortunate in the coaching that he’s received since he’s been in the league. He’s still a decent enough player with a high enough upside that for the right price he might be worth a shot.
5. Arthur Jones – Jones played well in the time that he got this year after the Ravens’ defensive line was riddled with injuries. Jones is nothing special but has shown that he can play consistently well over multiple starts.
6. Roy Miller – Miller is a penetrating defensive tackle who likes to get dirty in the run game. He changed his stance before last season and he credits that to how well he played. I also think it helped having Gerald McCoy back to take away some of the attention. I think Miller is serviceable somewhere but I don’t think he goes anywhere to be an every play starter.
7. Sammie Lee Hill – Honestly, I don’t know enough about Hill but he’s played behind studs on the Lions defensive front. He deserves at least a look just to see what he’s got. He could be a super sleeper that I could get on the cheap.
1. Paul Kruger – Kruger was the Ravens’ best defensive player this year. He rushed the quarterback and holds the edge against the run fairly well. He’s the top linebacker of this class and is 27. He’s going to get paid and if I were in need of a pass rushing linebacker, he’ll be worth shelling out the money for.
2. Brad Jones – Jones played well in the absence of Desmond Bishop this year. He deserves a look by any team looking for an inside linebacker. I think he can play in either a 4-3 or a 3-4. Jones will draw some serious interest from a lot of teams I think.
3. Dannell Ellerbe – I put Jones ahead of Ellerbe because I think the talents are the same but Ellerbe is going to command a higher price tag. This is another situation where I wonder why a team like the Ravens are letting a player like Ellerbe walk. They’re cap strapped but the Ravens don’t let players like Ellerbe test free agency without good reason.
4. Larry Grant – Grant isn’t the most athletic linebacker of this group but he is a good football player. He has strong instincts and can start for many teams across the league. I want to see him get a chance to start.
5. Connor Barwin – I like Barwin but not as much as a lot of people I think. He’s a solid football player but he’s nothing special. I think he can play and I think some team is going to overpay for his services.
6. Erin Henderson – Henderson is a stud versus the run but leaves a lot to be desired in the pass defense. He’s strong but stiff. He’s still only 27 so with the right team he could really turn out to be a great player. I am intrigued by Henderson to say the least and I think he could even play linebacker in a 3-4 if asked. It may even be a better fit.
Not interested in: James Harrison, Phillip Wheeler, Daryl Smith, Shaun Phillips, Calvin Pace
1. Sean Smith – Smith is a young and talented player. He sort of wavered on his play late in the season but he was super in about the first half of the season. I just need to see the kid put together a full season like that and he’ll be a Pro Bowl corner. That type of potential has me figuring out what a good price point is. I’d definitely have his contract built so that I could cut him without remorse should he not live up to it skill wise.
2. Brent Grimes – Again, remember this isn’t a ranking of players. These are the players that I’d be most interested in. Grimes is a little older and has some injury concerns but the guy is a damn good cover corner. If I could work out a suitable contract, I think Grimes could add a lot to my team (or any team for that matter).
3. Aqib Talib – This is probably where I’m taking the biggest risk. Talib is the most talented cornerback in this free agent class but we all know about the off field concerns but he’s also been injured a lot the last couple of seasons. I would have to have the right type of locker room to want to bring him in. He’s a very high risk-high reward player. This would be a very tense negotiation for me as I’d have to have a very team-friendly contract.
4. Chris Houston – This is one of those guys who gets a bad reputation for a poor performance on national television but was otherwise very strong. He’s kind of the Tony Romo of cornerbacks. He allowed 1 touchdown in 15 games outside of the Atlanta game. Houston isn’t really physical in the passing game but is strong enough in the run game. He’s certainly a guy that the Lions should keep around but Houston could be the sleeper of this class.
5. Nnamdi Asomougha – In the right system, Asomougha could return to Pro Bowl form but I don’t think you can pay him like that at this point. He may sign a one-year deal just to get his stock back on track and try to get that big deal next offseason. I’d give him a shot on the agreement that if he played well he’d let me have first crack the following off-season.
6. Kyle Arrington – Arrington played well as a slot corner this season. He’s still only 27 and has some good years ahead of him. I like the improvement that I saw this year.
7. Tracey Porter – Porter is a guy that I liked in New Orleans. He played well but not lights out in 2012. I think he’s worth a solid contract that falls somewhere around the number 2 cornerback amount.
8. Adam (Pacman) Jones – It’s nice to see that Jones has stayed out of the news off the field. I really respect that. He’s also played very well on the field. He’s a solid cornerback that could start as a 2 for a lot of teams. He’s 30 so age is becoming a concern but you could still get a couple of good years out of him. He also offers a plus as a punt returner.
9. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie – DRC is still a hard hitting corner. It’s going to take the right system to get him back on track but I think he can do it. He has to get better in actual coverage and relax with his aggressiveness a little. I doubt I would be willing to pay DRC what he thinks he’s worth.
10. Jacob Lacey – Lacey isn’t a stud at corner but could absolutely add some depth at a reasonable price. He’s proven he can hang with NFL wide receivers so he may be worth the extra money versus drafting a corner and hoping for the best. Lacey was very good as a nickel corner this year.
Not interested in: Antoine Cason, Cary Williams, Derek Cox
1. Dashon Goldson – Hands down the best safety hitting the free agent market. Goldson who was an All-Pro this year. He’s super fast to the ball when it’s in the air and loves to mix it up in the line of scrimmage. He is overly aggressive at times and that is both good and bad. He’s an absolute stud and someone is going to pay him handsomely. If I were in need of a safety – I believe that Goldson could play both FS or SS – then I would be willing to pay full value for Goldson.
2. Louis Delmas – I think people have forgotten how good Delmas was before he was injured all the time. If he can stay healthy, Delmas could be a top 5 free safety. This could be a tricky contract to workout for the team and the agent. There will be a lot of squabbling over the guarantees because of the injury concerns.
3. Glover Quinn – Quinn just seems to keep getting better. He used to be a corner so it’s kind of a natural growth as he continues to play more and gets a better feel for the position. He could turn out to be a Pro Bowler soon enough if he keeps progressing.
4. Chris Clemons – I think Clemons is underrated at this point. He is a sturdy player who is best when in run support but is a liability in man coverage. He could fit with plenty of teams. I would want him as a SS that hopefully wouldn’t have to cover athletic tight ends.
Not interested in: Ed Reed, Gerald Sensabaugh, Adrian Wilsonby