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Peppers, L.T. top free-agent pickups

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Recent posts by Kevin Fishbain

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Posted Nov. 28, 2010 @ 11:16 a.m. ET
By Kevin Fishbain

There is no doubt who the worst free-agent signing of the 2010 offseason was: WR ­Antonio Bryant. The Bengals signed Bryant to a four-year, $28 million contract in March before releasing him five months later. Not only did he never take a snap for the team, but he earned nearly $7 million in guaranteed money for doing so. Ouch.

Determining the best free-agent signing wasn't as easy. Many of the top players on the market, such as Cowboys WR Miles Austin and Texans LB DeMeco Ryans, re-signed with their current team. Others, like Brandon Marshall and Jason Campbell, were traded and then given long-term deals by their new employers. And multiple players who switched uniforms haven't made the impact expected, such as Falcons CB Dunta Robinson and Bears RB Chester Taylor.

But some players have been positive additions to their new teams. Whether it is helping other players get better, mentoring rookies or leading a unit, these free-agent acquisitions are thriving in their new homes.

Here are the players acquired this offseason making the biggest impact with their new teams, as determined by the PFW staff:

1. Bears DE Julius Peppers — The biggest name with the biggest price tag has made the greatest impact of all of the '10 free agents. Peppers has been a dominant force for a Bears defense ranked third in the league in yards per game. When not clogging up run plays, blocking field goals, drawing holding penalties or deflecting interceptions to himself, Peppers has taken on multiple blockers, allowing his teammates to rush the quarterback with ease. He exploded for three sacks against the Dolphins in Week 11, giving him five on the season.

2. Jets RB LaDainian Tomlinson — Dismissed by the Chargers, the 31-year-old back has found a fountain of youth since coming to the Jets. Showing his trademark burst and elusiveness, Tomlinson has been a key to a balanced New York attack. Plus, he still has big-play ability, breaking off runs of 20 yards or longer in five games this season after doing it only three times all of last year. He was thought to be Shonn Greene's mentor, but L.T. has shown he still has it, giving the Jets a dynamic duo in the backfield.

3. Dolphins ILB Karlos Dansby — Along with new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan, Dansby has helped the Dolphins improve their total defense from 22nd to sixth in the league. Coming from Arizona, the seventh-year veteran leads the team with 78 tackles, including two sacks. With Channing Crowder out the first four games, Dansby was asked to help against the run and in coverage, and the 'backer has three passes defensed.

4. Bengals WR Terrell Owens — T.O. has had a monster season joining Chad Ochocinco to form the "Batman and Robin" crew in Cincinnati. He started the season slowly before exploding in Weeks Four and Five, when he had a combined 27 catches for 324 yards and two TDs. The Bengals have had a disappointing season, but Owens has outperformed Ochocinco, leading the Bengals in receiving. The 36-year-old has backed up all his talk with big plays all season long.

5. (tie) Seahawks WR Mike Williams — After Williams was out of football for nearly three seasons, Pete Carroll took a chance on his former USC wideout, and it's paying off. Williams has returned to the NFL in outstanding shape and has been a force for Seattle, gaining more than 12 yards per reception. He has disappeared for stretches of the season but has three games of 10 or more catches and is leading the team in receptions and yards. He is a candidate for Comeback Player of the Year honors.

5. (tie) Lions DE Kyle Vanden Bosch — The Lions' defense has not been great this season, but compared to last year's league-worst "D," it has been pretty stellar, and ­Vanden Bosch has been a tone setter. The former Titan is a fierce pass rusher and also a leader in the locker room, helping rookie DT Ndamukong Suh put together a Rookie of the Year type of season. Vanden Bosch has four sacks on an improved stop unit, but his contributions go way past statistics for the young Detroit defense.

Honorable mention (listed alphabetically) — Titans DE Jason Babin, Chiefs RB Thomas Jones, Jaguars DE Aaron ­Kampman, Giants S Antrel Rolle, Seahawks RB-RS Leon Washington, Patriots RB-WR Danny Woodhead.

 

PFW associate editor Eli Kaberon contributed to this article.

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