2011 free-agent previews
First of an eight-part series
With the absence of a new Collective Bargaining Agreement threatening to delay the start of the 2011 free-agent signing period, PFW identifies the players whose contracts expire March 3 and analyzes the likely free-agent game plan for each of the AFC West teams. Without a new CBA, free agents will be in limbo, unable to negotiate with any team.
The number of accrued seasons of service is shown in parentheses following each prospective free agent's name. The new CBA will dictate how many accrued seasons are required to qualify as an unrestricted free agent.
Unsigned players: RB Kyle Eckel (4), DT Ronald Fields (6), OT Ryan Harris (4), RB Laurence Maroney (5), DE Ryan McBean (2), DT Matt McChesney (2), PK Matt Prater (3), DT Marcus Thomas (4), OLB Wesley Woodyard (3).
Analysis: Re-signing veteran CB Champ Bailey was the first major personnel move made by executive vice president of football operations John Elway, but the team still has a long way to go in its quest to restore the integrity of the organization. Harris was an All-Pro right tackle in 2008 but has been unable to put together a complete season since then. After being benched and nearly sent to Chicago at the trade deadline, Harris came on strong and started the final eight games of the season. With so many holes to fill on the defensive side, it has yet to be seen if the team will shell out the necessary money to bring Harris back. In an attempt to turn around the NFL's 32nd-ranked defense, new head coach John Fox and defensive coordinator Dennis Allen made the decision to switch primarily to a 4-3 scheme. That means Thomas would have to make a switch to a 4-3 tackle if he were retained, and special-teams captain Woodyard could plug in as a strong-side 'backer. Prater is almost a lock to come back. However, Maroney, who gained just 2.1 yards per rush in four games after being acquired via trade with New England, is unlikely to return.
Kansas City Chiefs
Unsigned players: OLB Charlie Anderson (7), RB Jackie Battle (4), CB Brandon Carr (3), RB Tim Castille (4), WR Terrance Copper (7), TE Brad Cottam (3), RB Mike Cox (3), QB Brodie Croyle (5), WR Kevin Curtis (8), CB Travis Daniels (6), DT Ron Edwards (10), DE Wallace Gilberry (3), ILB Cory Greenwood (1), OLB Tamba Hali (5, franchised), S Reshard Langford (1), 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), DT Shaun Smith (6), OLB Mike Vrabel (14), C Casey Wiegmann (15).
Analysis: Coming off an impressive 10-win season and AFC West title, the Chiefs don't have many major decisions to make in free agency, but they do have a few. They ultimately would like to work out a long-term deal with sack artist Hali, but with the two sides reportedly far apart on contract terms, they wisely used the franchise tag on him. Carr and Gilberry each have only three years of service and also won't be going anywhere. After that, however, none of K.C.'s free agents is a lock to be back in 2011. Smith played well in his first year as a Chief and probably will be retained, but the GM Scott Pioli isn't about to overpay for him. Croyle also will be an interesting decision, as Pioli will have to decide if he is still the guy the team wants backing up Matt Cassel after Croyle's disastrous 2010 effort. And the Chiefs will have tough calls to make on aging veteran contributors like Edwards, McGraw, Vrabel and Wiegmann, who could be re-signed to short-term deals. In an effort to stay atop the division, K.C. shouldn't be afraid to spend money trying to bolster its roster at receiver, O-line and in the defensive front seven.
Unsigned players: CB Nnamdi Asomugha (8), OT Khalif Barnes (6), MLB Ricky Brown (5), DT Desmond Bryant (2), RB Michael Bush (3), RB Rock Cartwright (9), LS Jon Condo (4), OLB Bruce Davis (2), QB Charlie Frye (6), OG Robert Gallery (7), QB Bruce Gradkowski (4), OT Mario Henderson (4), WR Johnnie Lee Higgins (4), OLB Thomas Howard (5), S Michael Huff (5), WR Nick Miller (2), TE Zach Miller (4), DE Jarvis Moss (4), QB J.T. O'Sullivan (8), RB Marcel Reece (1), C Samson Satele (4), OT Langston Walker (9), OLB Sam Williams (8), OLB Kamerion Wimbley (5, franchised).
Analysis: While some teams have held off on throwing money at key potential free agents with a work stoppage looming, managing general partner Al Davis took a different tact, signing DT Richard Seymour and CB Stanford Routt to lucrative contract extensions in February. They placed the franchise tag on Wimbley, but that's not the only player the Raiders would like to keep from hitting the open market. Before they tagged Wimbley, there were rumblings that Oakland would use the tag on Gallery or Zach Miller. Miller recently told PFW that his agent and the team had been discussing a long-term deal and he's interested in staying in Oakland. Gallery is the club's best O-lineman, and his departure would leave a considerable void. The biggest name on the list above, however, is Asomugha's. His contract voided after the season, and the Raiders could not place the franchise tag on him. He's considered one of the best corners in the game. It would be no surprise if Davis makes him a nice offer, but Asomugha is going to explore his options and might end up with a team that's better-prepared to compete for a championship. The Eagles are reportedly interested, and the Raiders might not have salary-cap space for him if the cap is reinstated. Bush is due to become a restricted free agent, and he likely will be tendered. Huff, the starting free safety, is also a potential key free agent looking to drive up interest on the open market, but Oakland would re-sign him at the right price.
San Diego Chargers
Unsigned players: OLB Antwan Applewhite (3), OLB Antwan Barnes (4), ILB Darry Beckwith (1), ILB Kevin Burnett (6), S Tyrone Carter (11), DE Jacques Cesaire (8), OT Jeromey Clary (4), ILB Stephen Cooper (8), TE James Dearth (10), OT Brandyn Dombrowski (2), WR Malcom Floyd (5), LB James Holt (2), CB Dante Hughes (4), WR Vincent Jackson (6, franchised), DT Travis Johnson (6), FB Billy Latsko (1), TE Randy McMichael (9), ILB Brandon Moore (7), OG-C Scott Mruczkowski (6), WR Legedu Naanee (4), DE Ryan Neill (4), DT Ogemdi Nwagbuo (2), CB 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: GM A.J. Smith and Co. have a lot of work ahead of them this offseason if they hope to keep the Chargers relatively intact in 2011. One of their first orders of business will be inking Weddle to a long-term deal, as he has become one of the league's top free safeties. Next on the agenda will be figuring out what to do at inside linebacker, where both Burnett and Cooper are free agents. It's unlikely San Diego will be able to keep both, so Smith might have to pick between the two defensive stalwarts. Receiver is also a key spot for the Bolts, who have already put the franchise tag on Jackson. With V-Jax probably in his final year with the club, signing Floyd to a long-term deal becomes even more important. Naanee, on the other hand, could be done in San Diego. Meanwhile, the Chargers like what they have in Clary and probably will re-sign him, and Tolbert definitely will be brought back after a breakout year. The same isn't true for Sproles, however, who is due too much money for a third-down back. In free agency, expect Smith to target linebackers and D-linemen, possibly adding a receiver or two, as well.
Later Monday: NFC North free-agent preview