Last 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: QB Marc Bulger (10), OLB Prescott Burgess (4), CB Chris Carr (6), OG Chris Chester (5), OT Oniel Cousins (3), PK Billy Cundiff (6), DT Lamar Divens (3), OT Jared Gaither (4), ILB Tavares Gooden (3), S Ken Hamlin (8), WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh (10), P Sam Koch (5), OT Scott Kooistra (8), S Dawan Landry (5), ILB Jameel McClain (3), FB Le'Ron McClain (4), OG Tony Moll (5), S Haruki Nakamura (3), DT Haloti Ngata (5), RB Jalen Parmele (3), WR Marcus Smith (3), WR Donté Stallworth (8), DT Kelly Talavou (3), CB Fabian Washington (6), CB Josh Wilson (4), OT-OG Marshal Yanda (4), S Tom Zbikowski (3).
Analysis: With the belief they had a Super Bowl-contending team, the Ravens were one of the NFL's more aggressive teams in the trade market and free agency in the offseason, thanks to the uncapped year. It will be interesting to see how they proceed in the coming offseason. Re-signing Ngata has to be their top priority; if they can't ink him to a contract extension, the franchise tag would be a logical solution. He has emerged as their most important player on defense. Carr and Wilson are more likely to be back than Washington, who lost his starting job to Wilson in Week 10. Along the offensive line, retaining versatile, dependable Yanda — whose future appears to be at right guard beyond this season — is the priority. Gaither's future in Baltimore is very much up in the air after he missed the season with a back injury. Le'Ron McClain is one of the game's top players at a throwback position; the question is whether he'll get a bigger offer from another team that the Ravens would hesitate to match. Landry is a solid in-the-box safety who doesn't stand out in coverage. The Ravens would welcome him back but are unlikely to overpay. The team likes Koch, and it will be no surprise if they bring him back. The Ravens would like to re-sign Bulger, but could he get a starting shot elsewhere? Houshmandzadeh could depart; he hasn't had the expected impact on, or opportunities in, the offense. Stallworth could be back as a reserve. He has made a good impression in his first season in Baltimore.
Potential FAs: RB Cedric Benson (6), OT Kirk Chambers (6), C Kyle Cook (3), DE Jonathan Fanene (6), OLB Brandon Johnson (5), ILB Dhani Jones (11), CB Johnathan Joseph (5), TE Reggie Kelly (12), FB Brian Leonard (4), OG Nate Livings (3), OG Evan Mathis (6), S Chinedum Ndukwe (4), WR Terrell Owens (15), QB Jordan Palmer (3), OT Dennis Roland (3), S Roy L. Williams (9), S Gibril Wilson (7).
Analysis: With head coach Marvin Lewis' contract set to expire and the Bengals disappointing in a major way this season, the team is left with some big decisions in the offseason. The most productive receiver, Owens, will be 38 in December 2011, making the call on whether to bring him back somewhat complicated. The decision could be made for them if he receives a multiyear deal elsewhere, but that is no sure thing. The Bengals also have to decide whether to exercise a contract option on Chad Ochocinco for 2011. They have struck out in each of the last two years on veteran free-agent wideouts (Laveranues Coles and Antonio Bryant) but might have to consider plunging back into the market for WR help if Owens and/or Ochocinco is no longer in the picture. Another issue to watch is whether the Bengals can bring back Joseph, a good player at an in-demand position. An extension for CB Leon Hall might be the priority. Whether the team will pay handsomely to bring back Benson remains to be seen; if he leaves, Cincinnati will definitely be in the market for a running back. Fanene and Johnson are reserves who could get starting jobs elsewhere. Fanene impressed as a starter two seasons ago; Johnson is one of the NFL's better backup linebackers.
Potential FAs: RB Mike Bell (5), ILB Blake Costanzo (4), PK Phil Dawson (12), S Abram Elam (5), TE Greg Estandia (4), P Reggie Hodges (4), ILB D'Qwell Jackson (5), CB Eric King (6), DE Jayne Mitchell (5), TE Evan Moore (3), DE Derreck Robinson (4), OLB Matt Roth (6), TE Alex Smith (6), DE Robaire Smith (11), S Nick Sorensen (10), WR Chansi Stuckey (4), ILB Jason Trusnik (4), FB Lawrence Vickers (5), QB Seneca Wallace (8), OG Floyd Womack (10), CB Eric Wright (4), OT Billy Yates (7).
Analysis: The Browns made some shrewd free-agent signings a season ago but no real big-ticket ones as in past seasons. Given the improvement they have shown this season — but with big-play potential on offense still lacking — they might be a little more aggressive this time around. Wallace could be back as a backup but could draw interest from other teams. With so many teams employing "30" fronts, Roth's value increases, and the Browns are likely to push to re-sign him. However, he will likely draw interest elsewhere. Vickers is an important part of the running game, but it is not known how big of a priority he is. Wright doesn't lack for talent but does lack consistency and has given up way too many big plays this season. Dawson, who has been with the franchise since it re-entered the league in 1999, has proven he can kick in tough conditions, but whether Cleveland will give him a multiyear contract remains to be seen. Jackson isn't an ideal fit in the team's 3-4 scheme and has missed most of the past two seasons with pectoral injuries; he may not be back. Moore and Hodges are intriguing sleepers — Moore has flashed good pass-catching ability, and Hodges is having his best season.
Potential FAs: OT Willie Colon (5), QB Dennis Dixon (3), DE Nick Eason (8), OG Trai Essex (6), ILB Keyaron Fox (7), CB William Gay (4), CB Tuff Harris (3), OT Tony Hills (3), NT Chris Hoke (10), CB Anthony Madison (5), RB Mewelde Moore (7), OT Jonathan Scott (4), P Daniel Sepulveda (4), TE Matt Spaeth (4), PK Shaun Suisham (5), CB Ike Taylor (8), LS Greg Warren (6), OLB LaMarr Woodley (4).
Analysis: The Steelers have never been known for being huge spenders on players other than their own in free agency, and they figure to follow the same blueprint. Retaining Woodley should be a priority; he plays such an important position in the Steelers' scheme, and he's in the prime of his career. Note that ROLB James Harrison will be 33 in May. Re-signing Taylor also looks to be a necessary move. He has been the team's best cornerback this season. While he turns 31 next May, he keeps himself in great shape. Colon has missed the 2010 campaign with a knee injury, but he was the Steelers' best lineman the previous season and figures to be back. The same goes for Hoke, a key reserve who has been reliable relief for Casey Hampton for years. Sepulveda is in the midst of his finest season and figures to be back. Dixon showed promise before suffering a season-ending knee injury; could another team make him an offer? Of the other players listed, Essex and Eason may be the most intriguing. Essex can play multiple positions. Eason is a serviceable 3-4 end and could draw interest elsewhere.