First of an eight-part series
The players listed in each team report below are not signed for the 2011 season. Because of the expiring Collective Bargaining Agreement between NFL players and owners, it is not yet known how many accrued years of service will be necessary to qualify for free agency and, thus, what type of free agent a player would be. After a player's name, we show his years of NFL service (including 2010), which will determine his free-agent type. It is likely that any player with six years or more of NFL experience will qualify for unrestricted free agency in 2011. However, it is possible that five years, or even four (as was the case in 2009 and before), will be enough to become unrestricted. Players with three years of experience are likely to continue to be restricted free agents, as well as those players with more experience but who fall short of the new CBA cutoff for unrestricted free agency.
Potential FAs: S Alan Ball (3), OT Alex Barron (6), DE Stephen Bowen (5), DE Jeremy Clark (4), OT Doug Free (4), DE Jason Hatcher (5), WR Sam Hurd (5), OG Kyle Kosier (9), S Gerald Sensabaugh (6), DE Marcus Spears (6), ILB Leon Williams (4).
Analysis: With both starting safeties, Ball and Sensabaugh, possibly hitting the market, the Cowboys could wipe the slate clean, as neither has played all that well this season. But Ball is likely to return — albeit in a lesser role — as a probable RFA. Sensabaugh, though, probably will be allowed to leave. With three of the team's defensive ends likely set to hit unrestricted free agency, it's very likely that at least one of the group of Spears, Bowen and Hatcher would return. However, we don't know who the new head coach will be, and that man might have different ideas about which defense should be run. The other major area of focus could be the offensive line, where Barron and Kosier are FAs and either Leonard Davis or Marc Colombo could be cut. Davis is not playing with the same power he once did in the run game, and Colombo has been an injury risk every season. There could be some major changes at this position in the offseason. Prior to this past offseason, the Cowboys had been spenders — and sometimes big ones. The humbling results of this season could spur Jerry Jones into more action in terms of signing free agents, or it could lead him more toward the successful model of building through the draft. That said, he also would want to appease an angry fan base, and a flashy new coach might not be the only way to achieve that.
NEW YORK GIANTS
Potential FAs: OLB Chase Blackburn (6), OG Kevin Boothe (5), TE Kevin Boss (4), RB Ahmad Bradshaw (4), CB Courtney Brown (3), OLB Keith Bulluck (11), DT Barry Cofield (5), LS Zak DeOssie (4), S Deon Grant (11), WR Derek Hagan (5), WR Domenik Hixon (4), S Michael Johnson (4), DE Mathias Kiwanuka (5), C Adam Koets (4), WR Darius Reynaud (3), WR Steve Smith (4), QB Jim Sorgi (7), DE Dave Tollefson (4), RB Danny Ware (3), OLB Gerris Wilkinson (5).
Analysis: The Giants have been among the more proactive teams in terms of re-signing their core of talent before those players hit free agency. In 2008 and '09, they locked down OT Dave Diehl, OG Chris Snee, DE Justin Tuck and QB Eli Manning in advance and probably would have done the same for Smith, Kiwanuka and Cofield had we not been in such uncertain times with regard to NFL economics. Now, Kiwanuka, for instance, faces an uncertain future with the team — and his season-ending neck injury compounded things. Drafting Jason Pierre-Paul this year could mean the Giants allow Kiwanuka to walk and focus more on re-signing Smith, Cofield, Bradshaw and perhaps Boss and Blackburn. Cofield is underrated and fits the Giants' system well. The Giants like Bradshaw better than Derrick Ward, whom they let walk, but he could be a restricted free agent depending on the new CBA. Boss is what he is, a functional tight end, but he's the best they have. And Blackburn remains a key special-teamer. There are no other essential players the Giants absolutely must keep, but they like Boothe, DeOssie, Grant, Koets, Sorgi and Tollefson and could opt to try to keep the majority of this group.
Potential FAs: DE Victor Abiamiri (4), PK David Akers (12), ILB Stewart Bradley (4), OG Nick Cole (5), ILB Omar Gaither (5), CB Antoine Harris (4), RB Jerome Harrison (5), CB Ellis Hobbs (6), OG Max Jean-Giles (5), OLB Akeem Jordan (4), S Quintin Mikell (8), CB Dimitri Patterson (5), P Sav Rocca (4), OLB Ernie Sims (5), QB Michael Vick (9), OG Reggie Wells (8).
Analysis: The big name on this list obviously is Vick, who, in the span of a few months, has gone from a player likely looking for a starting job elsewhere to a player the Eagles absolutely believe they have to keep. His stellar play this season would make him perhaps the most intriguing free agent on the market, but the Eagles will do everything in their power — including using the franchise tag, if there is one in the new CBA — to keep him under wraps. The next-most important in-house player would be Bradley, who has started to play better of late and remains one of the building blocks on defense. He'll have to wait to find out if he's going to be a UFA, but if he is, he can expect the Eagles to make him an offer to stay. Other players likely to return include Akers, Harrison, Jean-Gilles, Mikell, Patterson and Sims. Akers probably would like to come back, and the others have played well enough to vie for playing time. Mikell has rebounded from his poorest season as a starter, and Sims has started to look more comfortable in the defense. Cole, Gaither, Jordan and Wells all have either lost starting jobs or chances to start and would be considered expendable. The team has made splashes in free agency before and would not hesitate to spend again — especially if the right offensive lineman tickled Andy Reid's fancy. That's an area the team likely will look to upgrade next offseason.
Potential FAs: ILB H.B. Blades (4), OT Jammal Brown (6), CB Phillip Buchanon (9), S Reed Doughty (5), WR Mike Furrey (8), WR Joey Galloway (16), DE Kedric Golston (5), QB Rex Grossman (8), CB DeAngelo Hall (7), OT Stephon Heyer (4), ILB Rocky McIntosh (5), WR Santana Moss (10), C Casey Rabach (10), CB Carlos Rogers (6), P Hunter Smith (12), DE Chris Wilson (4).
Analysis: The biggest name of all — Donovan McNabb — is not on this list because he signed a contract extension last week with a reported total value of $78 million. Of course, the Redskins have an out on the deal that would allow them to walk away with only having paid him an additional $3.5 million. That said, it's unlikely they would do that and leave themselves exposed at the QB position without a long-term replacement on the roster. As for the next-biggest name not on the list, Albert Haynesworth, it's very likely the team will part ways with the miscast and underperforming defensive lineman. Hall had a four-interception game this season and has played some good cornerback, but he also has allowed a lot of receptions and isn't a complete corner. The team is in a tough spot with both he and Rogers set to be free, so it's very likely only one will return. Bet on Rogers, who has the more well-rounded game, though Rogers is the anti-Hall in that he has terrible hands and has only seven interceptions in six seasons with the team. McIntosh is a solid player the Redskins likely would want back at reasonable money. Moss is the best they have at receiver, so he too could return, but he might want front-line money. The other potential RFAs and UFAs might not fit into the team's long-terms plans, though solid veterans such as Rabach could return.