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Love Me Tender – NFL Free Agency Begins

Brandon MarshallFootball fans who feel sad about the fact the season has ended, this is for you. Yes no sooner did the Saints and Colts walk off the Super Bowl field did the football buzz come right back around with scouting combines, rumors, lockouts, salary caps and of course the biggie (with no disrespect to draft day) NFL Free Agency!

So far we have been introduced to the NFL’s new buzz word “tender”, which is a number teams put on restricted free agents for other teams to match, plus the leagues value of draft compensation should a player be taken by another team (confused? you will be). Several big name players fit the restricted bill, so not as many may be on the move this season.

Then there are the trade rumors. One biggie has the Eagles trading Donovan McNabb to the St. Louis Rams possibly for draft picks. Another annual rumor is as common as free agency itself, the Arizona Cardinals are looking to unload Anquan Boldin. Most believe the Baltimore Ravens will part with a 3rd round pick to grab him.

[adinserter block=”1″]With no salary cap in place for this year, it is expected that there won’t be many NFL teams unloading huge amounts of cash on players. Many restricted NFL free agents have already spoken up about how they feel they have been screwed out of a chance to make bigger dollars because of the cap rule. Hmm I still think it beats being a hot dog vendor. Vikings DE and restricted free agent Ray Edwards went public a few weeks back, questioning commissioner Roger Godell’s big new contract and salary, and how he can make much more money then the guys “risking their lives out on that field”. I can not help but agree, but keeping this league in line is a tall order, and one the commissioner’s office has done better then the NHL, NBA and even MLB for years.

So what I have done is gathered a list of the top 10 unrestricted and restricted free agents for this season and the team or teams they may be best suited for. Who knows what March 5th will bring, but it is always fun to guess.

Unrestricted Free Agents:

1. Julius Peppers, DE, Carolina Panthers
Peppers is easily this years Albert Haynesworth. Julius Peppers is a big time defensive player and has freakish athletic ability for a guy who stands 6 foot 7 inches. Last season’s decline in stats was a simple combination of not wanting to be in Carolina and the team’s amazing flop. While many may not get big money this off-season, Peppers may easily bring $100 million dollars in a deal. He can go anywhere, as he has the ability to be a great pass rusher in a 4-3 or a speedy stealth linebacker in a 3-4.
Possible Suitors: Bears, Eagles, Patriots, Colts, Jets

2. Karlos Dansby, LB, Arizona Cardinals
For years the Cards were not known much for defense, yet Dansby has played all over the field and has had big numbers. Now comes his turn, and he will draw interest from a lot of teams looking for a quality linebacker that can play weak or strong, 4-3 or 3-4. He also has the leadership skills coveted by today’s NFL.
Possible Suitors: Patriots, Titans, 49ers, Colts, Rams

3. Dunta Robinson, CB, Houston Texans
A big surprise here is that the Texans did not apply a franchise tag on Robinson. He is easily the best corner on the market, when healthy. He is physical, fast and tough. Robinson is the one bright spot in a usually suspect Texans secondary, but now it seems evident that another team will come hard for him.
Possible Suitors: Jets, Browns, Broncos, Lions, Dolphins

4. Aaron Kampman, DE, Green Bay Packers
Yes, as a defensive end only. Seen as Juluis Peppers light this off-season, in my opinion Kampman is the best available pass rusher. As a 3-4 linebacker he struggled and it is not his game. As a DE he collected 22 sacks between 2007 and 2008. He may be the best value for the money in this market. He did miss half of last season with an injury, but his excellent work ethic will have him more then ready for camp.
Possible Suitors: Eagles, Bears, Panthers, Titans, Texans, Jaguars

5. Gary Brackett, LB, Indianapolis Colts
As poor as many think the Colts defense usually is, they do have some good athletes. Brackett looks like a fire hydrant with a jet engine on his back. He plays the middle fast and hard, and rarely misses a down. The Colts will be working hard to re-sign him, but in this market he will command some high dollars. Any team with a 4-3 scheme and a strong front would love to have this guy.
Possible Suitors: Colts, Giants, Saints, Bengals, Broncos

6. Darren Sharper, S, New Orleans Saints
At 34 years old, how much more big hits can we expect from Sharper? Darren Sharper is a field general and plays hard every down. Sharper has his Super Bowl ring, so you wonder how much intensity could be left. In my opinion it’s worth a two-year deal to find out.
Possible Suitors: Bears, Seahawks, Jaguars, Raiders

7. Kyle Vanden Bosch, DE, Tennessee Titans
Very much like Kampman, Vanden Bosch is a good pass rusher. He usually thrives when he has a good supporting cast surrounding him. His numbers were way down last year, but then again so was everything with the Titans. A change of scene may be the best thing for Vanden Bosch, and his non-stop on field motor may be worth it.
Possible Suitors: Falcons, Eagles, Bears, Dolphins, Jaguars

8. Leigh Bodden, CB, New England Patriots
[adinserter block=”2″]Bodden took full advantage of the spotlight he got in New England last year. For the third straight season he collected at least five interceptions, and with his size and speed is considered by some to be the top CB on the market. I do not see him being a number one corner, so a team with good CB play can grab him and use him in a very formidable pass defense. He is truly a guy who deserves a shot with a contender this year.
Possible Suitors: Jets, Giants, Buccaneers, Rams, Ravens, Texans, Chargers

9. Keith Bulluck, LB, Tennessee TitansAll out tough guy Bulluck may be getting older at 33, but he still has some game left in him. Bullock missed half of the last season with an injury and the Titans may not be looking to bring him back. For any team in need of line backing help, it is hard to imagine that even a slower version of Bulluck would not be worth having for two years. Maybe a team young in defense could bring him in as a teacher as well, the guy knows the game.
Possible Suitors: Giants, Redskins, Saints, Patriots, Broncos, 49ers

10. Antonio Bryant, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Yes I am calling Antonio Bryant the best unrestricted free agent WR on the market. Then again the list is not that big. Bryant showed 2 years ago that when healthy and in a good system, he can haul it in 70 plus catches. 2008 was a nice bounce back for a guy many considered one big waste of talent. Bryant is not lightning fast, but he does have the strength and enough speed to get good separation and does well finding the end zone. Not quite a number one at this rate but is an excellent compliment as a number 2.
Possible Suitors: Panthers, Jaguars, Ravens, Chiefs, Bears

Restricted Free Agents ( these players may cost draft pick compensations if signed):

1. Brandon Marshall, WR, Denver Broncos
Marshall may cost a first and third-round draft pick if signed. Now I ask you, what other wide receiver can you get in the draft in the first round that has caught 300 passes in the last 3 years? None, and from the looks of the class none will. Marshall has some baggage, he can be feisty and can show displeasure with his team. Now, put him on a team with Super Bowl potential, put him in a new scene where he is clearly the man. Marshall is a no-brainer for me. 26 years young, fast, strong, and hands of glue. You build an offense around a guy like this, not question marked draft picks. Any team in need of a wide out would be wise to match the offer then lock him in. Deal with his antics later.
Possible Suitors: Ravens, Giants, Bears, Titans, Cowboys, Redskins

2. DeMeco Ryans, LB, Houston Texans
Averaging over 112 solo tackles a year, and being the unsung leader of the Texans defense makes Ryans well worth a look. It is possible he would cost a first-round pick, but once again, find me a LB in the first round so ready and still this young. Linebackers are the key to any solid defense, and as much as the Texans would like to keep him, it may require a huge tender to do so. I would however be shocked if he was not back in Houston next year.
Possible Suitors: Any team with sense

3. Marcus McNeil, OT, San Diego Chargers
Durable, tough, big, strong. Did I say enough? McNeil is the top offensive lineman available right now, but his asking price may be high. However in 4 seasons he has not missed a game and has been the one constant on a Chargers line that has been riddled by injury. We all love draft picks, and the beauty of grooming a youngster, however at 26 this is a well groomed youngster and if it cost a first round pick it may be the best move a team will make all season. Watching a QB’s blind-side is a tough job, but this kid is great at it.
Possible Suitors: Redskins, Cowboys, Rams, Bears, Dolphins, Bengals, Chargers

4. Jahri Evans, G, New Orleans Saints
Fresh off of a Super Bowl win, Evans has suddenly become a big name amongst O-Lineman. In four years he has become one of the games best and many believe the Saints, who have lots of free agent issues, will lay a big tender on him. If not, he may be well worth whatever a team surrenders to anchor a line.
Possible Suitors: Colts, Cardinals, Giants, Saints, Broncos

5. Shawne Merriman, LB, San Diego Chargers
Big time knee injuries and off-field spats have made some a little leery of Merriman. Oh so do the four sacks he recorded all of last year. Ok so he seemed slowed last year, but lots of players who dealt with similar injuries usually are. Many wonder if he is in the Chargers long term plans, and if not he is worth a shot. If he returns to the multi-sack guy he was pre-injury,then he is the steal of this market.
Possible Suitors: Patriots, Jets, Cowboys, Packers, Steelers

6. Logan Mankins, G, New England Patriots
Everything you see in Jahri Evans you can transfer to Mankins. Very durable, well rounded and has a great knowledge of the game. One of Tom Brady’s mainstay O Lineman, and a great asset to any team. If the tender isn’t high he is well worth a third round or even a second round pick, although I can not see the Pats letting him go that easily. A guy with many great years ahead of him and another great anchor for any teams line.
Possible Suitors: Colts, Patriots, Cardinals, Giants, Broncos

7. Oshiomogho Atogwe, S, St. Louis Rams
Perhaps the one bright spot in the last few years for the Rams has been Atogwe. A very unique blend of speed and hard hitting mixed in with great ball hawking skills at the Safety position. At 29 many feel he is not worth an early draft pick, so it is very likely he will stay with the Rams. Being a Philly guy myself perhaps a deal for McNabb should include Atogwe on a sign and trade basis. Still 5 or 6 good years left for this kid, and with talent around him he is a sure fire pro-bowler.
Possible Suitors: Eagles, Broncos, Cowboys, Bears, Vikings

8. Antoine Bethea, S, Indianapolis Colts
See above.

9. Dawan Landry, S, Baltimore Ravens
Did I mention, see above. 3 quality safeties, none may be worth the compensation.

10. Pierre Thomas, RB, new Orleans Saints
I never quite understood Sean Payton’s logic, but here we have a lightly used (415 touches in 3 seasons) talented running back who may soon need a new home. Yes they have Reggie Bush, Mike Bell, Lydell Hamilton, and in the past have had Deuce McAllister and Aaron Stecker, but seriously Thomas seems to be the best the of the bunch as far has having all the tools in place. He has good hands, terrific run power and is agile. So why do the Saints limit his touches? Clearly unknown, but if his tender is low, in a season in which guys like Westbrook and Tomlinson and even Thomas Jones have been sent packing, Thomas can jump right in and be an immediate lead back with big dividends.
Possible Suitors: With emphasis on 2 and 3 back systems, i’d say any team that has the pick to part with.

So here is my outlook. As I said once the frenzy begins who really knows what can happen. So let’s all tune in on Friday and check it out!

If you’d like to hear anything else from me on topics or ideas I can be reached at phillyphan1971@yahoo.com

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