Sixth 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: ILB Akin Ayodele (9), QB Brian Brohm (3), S Jon Corto (3), ILB Keith Ellison (5), CB Drayton Florence (8), RB Quinton Ganther (5), DT John McCargo (5), OLB Shawne Merriman (6), ILB Paul Posluszny (4), S Donte Whitner (5), S George Wilson (5), OG Mansfield Wrotto (4), CB Ashton Youboty (5).
Analysis: Buffalo isn't likely to make a big splash in free agency. Two top defenders, Florence and Whitner, are likely to be brought back, although it remains to be seen what Whitner's asking price will be. If it's manageable, the team will give the 2006 first-round pick another contract. One player who surely will get a new deal is Posluszny, the team's best linebacker and a fan favorite. On offense, the top free agents are Wrotto and Brohm, neither of whom will be high in demand. Wrotto played for Chan Gailey in college, and the coach appears to be loyal to the four-year vet. Brohm is untested and will likely be replaced in the draft by a young QB. The big question is Merriman. Buffalo claimed the former Charger off waivers in early November, but injuries have prevented him from playing for the team. If he impresses over the final weeks of the season, the team may try to re-sign him, as bolstering the front seven (especially outside 'backer) is seen as a major offseason priority. Other positions of need are offensive tackle, tight end, depth at receiver and every position on the D-line. The Bills will be picking early and often in the draft, and that appears to be the place they'll look to find many of their new players.
Potential FAs: RB Ronnie Brown (6), RB Patrick Cobbs (5), OT Nate Garner (3), CB Al Harris (13), TE Joey Haynos (3), OG Richie Incognito (5), DT Tony McDaniel (5), OG Pat McQuistan (5), DE Quentin Moses (4), QB Chad Pennington (11), OT Cory Procter (5), QB Patrick Ramsey (9), DT Paul Soliai (4), QB Tyler Thigpen (4), RB Ricky Williams (10).
Analysis: Having spent generously in the offseason on top free agents Karlos Dansby and Brandon Marshall, with the result being a third-place standing in the AFC East, the Dolphins might be a little more careful this offseason. The most notable free agent will be Brown, who delayed signing his one-year tender last summer in hopes of a long-term contract. His season hardly has been worthy of a lucrative, long-term deal, and the Dolphins could be ready to part ways. RB Ricky Williams' situation is a little different. He has said that he wants to sign a one-year deal with Miami before retiring after 2011 to focus on his schooling. The 33-year-old has played well this season, and as long as the asking price isn't too high, he should return for one more season. The Dolphins took a chance on Incognito in the offseason and it has paid dividends. Incognito has kept his temper in check and played well on an inexperienced interior offensive line. His play has gotten notice around the league, and he could have some suitors. The Dolphins will have to decide if he is worth signing long-term. McDaniel and Soliai are an intriguing pair of backups who have seen increased playing time because of injuries to Jared Odrick and Phillip Merling.
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
Potential FAs: S Josh Barrett (3), RB Kevin Faulk (12), PK Shayne Graham (10), RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis (3), OT Matt Light (10), OG Logan Mankins (6), S Brandon McGowan (6), RB Sammy Morris (11), OT Quinn Ojinnaka (5), S Jarrad Page (5), RB Fred Taylor (13), DE Gerard Warren (10), ILB Tracy White (8), RB Danny Woodhead (3).
Analysis: The Patriots took care of their most important free agent by signing QB Tom Brady, but they still have a list of free agents filled with veterans like Taylor, Light, Morris and Warren. ORT Sebastian Vollmer could be the left tackle of the future, so don't expect Light back unless it's a one-year deal. Taylor and Morris are candidates to retire and would have to battle for snaps because of the emergence of Green-Ellis. After injuries and the Laurence Maroney trade, Green-Ellis has become the team's primary back and played very well in a couple of big wins this season (Minnesota and Pittsburgh). He could attract competing offers, and Bill Belichick may be looking at a running back in the draft, which would make Green-Ellis expendable. But will his play this season and comfort in the offense reward him with an extension from New England? Faulk, like last offseason, could want one more year in New England after he rehabs a torn ACL, but he will have to battle with Woodhead to be the third-down back. The Pats like what they've seen from Arrington and could keep him for a moderate price as the third corner when Leigh Bodden returns. The Patriots likely will choose between free-agent safeties McGowan and Page to be the No. 3 safety.
NEW YORK JETS
Potential FAs: QB Kellen Clemens (5), CB Drew Coleman (5), CB Antonio Cromartie (5), WR Braylon Edwards (6), DE Shaun Ellis (11), PK Nick Folk (4), ILB David Harris (4), WR Santonio Holmes (5), OT Wayne Hunter (6), S James Ihedigbo (4), ILB Lance Laury (5), S Brodney Pool (6), DE Trevor Pryce (14), FB Tony Richardson (16), WR Brad Smith (5), S Eric Smith (5), OG Robert Turner (3), P Steve Weatherford (5).
Analysis: No team made more headlines in the 2010 offseason than the Jets, with big-name free-agent signings, trades and new deals for players already on the roster. That may continue next year, as well. Newly acquired players like Cromartie and Holmes are free agents. Meanwhile, the players who weren't able to get contracts redone last year, such as Harris and Brad Smith, also are in line for new deals. Harris is the top priority, and the team would love to bring the versatile Smith back, too. Cromartie is a perfect fit for Rex Ryan's defense, which suits corners who can play one-on-one on the outside, and the player seems to love his time in New York. But thanks to off-field issues, Cromartie has a lot of bills to pay, so he's likely to see what kind of big-money contract he can receive on the open market. Another player to watch is Edwards. He has been solid on the field but a distraction off of it, earning a DWI arrest and suspension earlier this year. If he considers himself a big-time player and wants a contract to match it, the team will likely let him go and focus more on bringing back Holmes. But if Edwards' price is reasonable, he could return. Ellis is a well-respected veteran in the locker room, and the team will try to bring him back. Still, finding a premier pass rusher will be the top offseason priority.