Fourth 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: CB Champ Bailey (12), DT Ronald Fields (6), OT Ryan Harris (4), RB Laurence Maroney (5), Ryan McBean (2), PK Matt Prater (3), DT Marcus Thomas (4), DT Kevin Vickerson (5), OLB Wesley Woodyard (3).
Analysis: After failing to strike a deal with Bailey earlier this season, the Broncos will need to decide how valuable the 12th-year veteran is to the team. Denver pulled out of contract negations with Bailey in early October after the 32-year-old had said he wanted to remain with the team. Since talks broke down, Bailey has said there's no guarantee he'll stick with the Broncos and that he would have a lot of options when the offseason begins. Formerly considered a cornerstone of a rebuilding team, Denver will have a decision to make when it comes to Harris. The 25-year-old was an All-Pro in 2008 and started 24 consecutive games for the Broncos from 2008-09 before being placed on injured reserve with a toe injury halfway through the '09 campaign. He sprained his ankle prior to the start of this season but has regained his starting spot. Maroney was unimpressive when given the chance to fill in for Knowshon Moreno. Although the Broncos had to give up a fourth-round pick to get Maroney, he is not expected to be retained. The Broncos appear to be more willing to take care of their own guys and very hesitant to spend large amounts of money. They gave contract extensions to QB Kyle Orton, OLB Elvis Dumervil and OG Chris Kuper in the offsseason, and the return of Dumervil from a torn pectoral muscle will almost seem like a free-agent addition. If they do spend money, it will likely be on the defensive line.
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS
Potential FAs: OLB Charlie Anderson (6), RB Jackie Battle (3), CB Brandon Carr (3), FB Tim Castille (4), RB Jamaal Charles (3), WR Terrance Copper (7), TE Brad Cottam (3), FB Mike Cox (3), QB Brodie Croyle (5), CB Travis Daniels (6), DT Ron Edwards (10), LS Thomas Gafford (3), DE Wallace Gilberry (3), OLB Tamba Hali (5), CB Maurice Leggett (3), ILB Corey Mays (5), S Jon McGraw (9), C Rudy Niswanger (5), OT Ryan O'Callaghan (5), TE Leonard Pope (5), OT Barry Richardson (3), DL Shaun Smith (6), OLB Mike Vrabel (14), C Casey Wiegmann (15).
Analysis: GM Scott Pioli has done an impressive job turning over the Chiefs' roster in a short period of time in order to get them back in playoff contention this season. However, the team still has plenty of needs, especially at wideout, along the offensive line and in the defensive front seven. Pioli was wise to lock up ILB Derrick Johnson with a long-term deal earlier this month, and the next thing on his agenda has to be hammering out a contract with Hali. Hali has been a pass-rushing force and is the only sack artist on the club, so K.C. will do all it can to keep him. The Chiefs could do the same for Smith, who has been a huge surprise and has a good relationship with Romeo Crennel. Other vets they could opt to keep for the short term include Edwards, Vrabel and McGraw. K.C. could have an interesting decision with Croyle, who is considered a terrific No. 2 but won't ever start ahead of Matt Cassel. And obviously the team won't let potential RFAs like Charles or Carr get away, even if a long-term deal isn't worked out. On the other hand, it's unlikely the Chiefs will make an effort to re-sign Mays, Copper, Daniels or O'Callaghan. And with two centers hitting free agency, one of them is surely gone.
Potential FAs: CB Nnamdi Asomugha (8), OT Khalif Barnes (6), RB Michael Bennett (10), QB Kyle Boller (7), OLB Ricky Brown (5), RB Michael Bush (3), RB Rock Cartwright (9), LS Jon Condo (4), S Hiram Eugene (5), QB Charlie Frye (6), OG Robert Gallery (7), QB Bruce Gradkowski (5), DT John Henderson (9), OT Mario Henderson (4), WR Johnnie Lee Higgins (4), OLB Thomas Howard (5), S Michael Huff (5), OG Daniel Loper (6), TE Zach Miller (4), CB Stanford Routt (6), C Samson Satele (4), DT Richard Seymour (10), OT Langston Walker (9), OLB Sam Williams (8), OLB Kamerion Wimbley (5).
Analysis: It was only a little more than two years ago that managing general partner Al Davis went on a spending binge, overpaying to land several players. He has been more selective in his pursuits since then, and he might need to devote much of his budget to bringing back a few key players in 2011, including one of the best cornerbacks in the league. To keep Asomugha, the Raiders will have to pay him the amount of the franchise tag for quarterbacks — the average of the top five highest-paid players at the position — or $16.875 million, depending on which number is greater. If Oakland doesn't exercise that option, it cannot use the franchise tag on him and he will become an unrestricted free agent. Chances are Davis won't let Asomugha get away. Seymour, who was acquired from the Patriots for the Raiders' first-round pick in '11, is playing under the franchise tag this season and also will require a major investment to keep. He has been dominant at times this season and will be open to staying in Oakland if the price is right. Miller will be looking for a substantial raise, and he'll likely be rewarded with a high tender or a long-term deal. Injuries have plagued Gallery in each of the past two seasons, but he has been the team's best offensive lineman and would be tough to replace. The Raiders will try to keep him.
SAN DIEGO CHARGERS
Potential FAs: OLB Antwan Applewhite (3), ILB Kevin Burnett (6), S Tyrone Carter (11), DE Jacques Cesaire (8), OT Jeromey Clary (4), ILB Stephen Cooper (8), LS James Dearth (10), WR Malcom Floyd (5), CB Dante Hughes (4), WR Vincent Jackson (6), DL Travis Johnson (6), TE Randy McMichael (9), C Scott Mruczkowski (6), WR Legedu Naanee (4), LS Ryan Neill (4), S Paul Oliver (4), ILB Brandon Siler (4), RB Darren Sproles (6), FB Mike Tolbert (3), QB Billy Volek (11), WR Kelley Washington (8), S Pat Watkins (5), S Eric Weddle (4).
Analysis: Just as they were last offseason, the Chargers should be one of the more interesting teams to follow during the 2011 free-agency period. GM A.J. Smith is always one to go against the grain, and how he handles the club's upcoming free agents should be intriguing. After the team worked out contract extensions with TE Antonio Gates and OLT Marcus McNeill, Jackson is the highest-profile remaining FA. However, he also happens to be the one least likely to return. The team's refusal to give the Pro Bowler a long-term deal last offseason and his subsequent holdout have probably damaged the relationship beyond repair. It's possible the Bolts could franchise him if he finishes strong, but that's a long shot. Floyd is the receiver more likely to earn a contract. Smith has an important choice to make at inside linebacker, as Cooper, Burnett and Siler are all free agents. The GM would like to keep all three, but he won't break the bank. If he can get Siler on the cheap, it's possible he could let one of the other two walk. The Chargers will find a way to keep Weddle, a solid safety with good character. On the other hand, they will finally part ways with Sproles and will probably move on from Clary at right tackle. Smith's main priorities next March will be at receiver, outside 'backer and the D-line.