Third 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: DT Anthony Adams (8), WR Devin Aromashodu (4), S Josh Bullocks (6), TE Desmond Clark (12), QB Todd Collins (16), WR Rashied Davis (6), CB Corey Graham (4), QB Caleb Hanie (3), OLB Brian Iwuh (5), C Olin Kreutz (13), LS Patrick Mannelly (13), S Danieal Manning (5), P Brad Maynard (14), OLB Nick Roach (4), OLB Pisa Tinoisamoa (8), DT Matt Toeaina (3), ILB Rod Wilson (5), RB Garrett Wolfe (4).
Analysis: Chicago opened the coffers to land Julius Peppers, Chester Taylor and Brandon Manumaleuna in free agency earlier this year. It wouldn't be a big surprise if the Bears decide to scale back their approach this coming offseason, although they still have major needs to address on the offensive line. One of the most glaring holes could be at center. The Bears probably aren't going to be willing to offer Kreutz, who is in his 13th year with the club, more than a one-year deal, and he may look elsewhere for a longer commitment. Mannelly, another player who has spent his entire career with the Bears, is expected to be back. Adams has started every game this season at nose tackle, but Chicago has a potential replacement for him in Marcus Harrison. There's a good chance the team will let Adams walk. Clark could follow him out the door. He has been a dependable player for a long time, but it's been difficult for him to make it onto the active roster for games, even though he's been healthy. While he hasn't excelled on defense, Manning is versatile and helps on special teams. He should be back. Graham, who has developed into an ace on special teams, can help at corner and likely will be re-signed. The Bears could consider other options at punter, since Maynard isn't having his best season, but they could stick with him for another season. Lovie Smith likes Tinoisamoa, and the team might be willing to offer him another one-year deal.
Potential FAs: QB Drew Stanton (4), DE Cliff Avril (3), S C.C. Brown (6), DE Jared DeVries (12), FB Jerome Felton (3), DT Andre Fluellen (3), C Dylan Gandy (5), CB Chris Houston (4), ILB Landon Johnson (7), DE Turk McBride (4), PK Dave Rayner (4), TE Tony Scheffler (5), RB Kevin Smith (3), CB Nathan Vasher (7), S John Wendling (4).
Analysis: As the Lions continue to build a roster and try to be competitive, there is sure to be a lot of turnover until they find the right mix. Martin Mayhew has been among the more active general managers in terms of making free-agent moves the past two seasons, although most of those signings have been of the lower-rung variety. It would be difficult to expect the Lions to make big splashes, like they did with Kyle Vanden Bosch and Nate Burleson, a second year in a row. Avril and Houston fit into the team's plans, though they might be RFAs and could be tendered easily before long-term deals are worked out over the next year. None of the others on this list offers too much excitement as they fit more in the quick-fix department, but Stanton, Felton, Fluellen, Gandy, McBride, Scheffler and Smith are young enough to warrant a return. It's possible, though, that none of them will line up as regular starters in 2011, so their pay grade will be proportional to that if they want to be back in Detroit. The good news is that the team has few young players it needs to lock up long term a year ahead of time, so there could be room for one or two significant free-agent additions — perhaps at linebacker, which is a major weakness.
GREEN BAY PACKERS
Potential FAs: CB Josh Bell (3), S Atari Bigby (5), ILB Desmond Bishop (4), OG Daryn Colledge (5), PK Mason Crosby (4), LS Brett Goode (3), FB Korey Hall (4), RB Brandon Jackson (4), DE Cullen Jenkins (7), DE Johnny Jolly (5), WR James Jones (4), FB John Kuhn (5), S Charlie Peprah (5), C Jason Spitz (5), LB Matt Wilhelm (8), CB Tramon Williams (4).
Analysis: GM Ted Thompson's m.o. of emphasizing the re-signing of valuable players on the cusp of becoming free agents and steering clear of the free-agent market remains unchanged. Williams, who has come on like gangbusters, very likely could get a well-deserved new contract in the near future. To a lesser extent, the Packers also could re-up not too far down the road with Jenkins, using the four-year, $24.9 million deal they gave fellow DE Ryan Pickett last March as a parameter. Bishop, Jackson and Peprah are playing well enough to have improved their stock and are probably good bets to be re-signed if they can keep it up. Jones' future in Green Bay could in great part hinge on just how much gas veteran Donald Driver has left in the tank. Crosby has a big leg but has been inconsistent. Expendable veterans whose releases could free up more money to take care of the aforementioned free-agents-to-be are OT Mark Tauscher and Driver. Also, because of the way Bishop has come on, ILBs Nick Barnett, who suffered a season-ending wrist injury earlier this season, and A.J. Hawk, whose current contract is structured to likely make him a free agent next year, could be expendable.
Potential FAs: S Husain Abdullah (3), WR Hank Baskett (5), C Ryan Cook (5), DE Ray Edwards (5), DT Fred Evans (5), QB Brett Favre (20), S Eric Frampton (4), OLB Chad Greenway (5), OLB Erin Henderson (3), QB Tarvaris Jackson (5), OLB Ben Leber (9), WR Greg Lewis (8), PK Ryan Longwell (14), WR Sidney Rice (4), DE Brian Robison (4), CB Lito Sheppard (9), FB Naufahu Tahi (5), S Madieu Williams (7), DT Pat Williams (13).
Analysis: The biggest question for the team clearly will be at quarterback, where Favre has said he will not return in 2011 and Jackson is likely to try to find work elsewhere, knowing his options in Minnesota are likely to be limited. But the uncertain status of head coach Brad Childress makes it nearly impossible to determine what direction the team will take at QB for next season and beyond. The Vikings have a core of three or four young players they want to lock up long term, team sources have told PFW. That list likely starts with Rice, Greenway and Edwards. Rice's status is foggy because some believe he delayed his hip surgery because he was upset about not getting a long-term deal. He played his first game of the season in Week 11, catching three passes for 56 yards. As a fourth-year player, he's in free-agency limbo and could be restricted once more. Greenway has played some of his best ball this season, but he will want a big payday. Do you spend big money on a linebacker who doesn't sack the quarterback and hasn't otherwise made a ton of game-changing plays? It will be a tough call if the salary demands are sky-high, though some 4-3 team probably will be willing to pay for his services. Edwards hasn't had the breakout season many expected, but he's a strong-side end who could flourish in the right system and is said to be seeking big money, too. Sources have said some Vikings officials are more fond of Edwards than others, so it will be interesting to see how he's treated. Disappointing Madieu Williams, whose deal is voidable, has only three interceptions in 35 starts with the Vikings, so his days with the team could be numbered. Pat Williams says he wants to play another season or two after talking retirement previously, though he might not fit into the team's plans after this year. There are no other must-sign guys on this list, though a few could return as reserves.