Second 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 NFC North teams.
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: DT Anthony Adams (8), WR Devin Aromashodu (3), OG Johan Asiata (1), RB Kahlil Bell (2), S Josh Bullocks (6), TE Desmond Clark (12), QB Todd Collins (16), WR Rashied Davis (6), CB K.J. Gerard (2), CB Corey Graham (4), QB Caleb Hanie (3), OL Levi Horn (1), LB Brian Iwuh (5), LB Chris Johnson (1), C Olin Kreutz (13), S Danieal Manning (5), P Brad Maynard (14), OLB Nick Roach (4), OLB Pisa Tinoisamoa (8), FB Eddie Williams (2), OG-C Edwin Williams (2), MLB Rod Wilson (5), RB Garrett Wolfe (4).
Analysis: The most difficult player to replace on the Bears' list of potential free agents would be Kreutz, and it's expected that GM Jerry Angelo will try to re-sign him. Kreutz, a 13-year veteran, brought stability to an offensive line that had a lot of moving parts for much of last season and his voice is one of the strongest in the huddle. He's past his prime but still is a dependable, savvy player. Re-signing Adams, who is coming off a solid season as the starting nose tackle, is also a priority. Hanie, who will be a restricted free agent, could draw the interest of other teams. Offensive coordinator Mike Martz had more confidence in Collins as a backup to Jay Cutler, but Hanie sparked the offense in the NFC championship game. Collins, who might retire this offseason, looked incapable of doing as much when he had opportunities. Martz had little use for Clark last season, so he's expected to depart after eight seasons in Chicago. Graham was an ace on special teams last season, and the Bears would like to have him back, but he'll explore opportunities with other clubs. The same could be said for Manning — Chicago will not overpay to bring him back with 2010 third-round pick Major Wright waiting to step in if he departs. The Bears recently signed P Richmond McGee to a two-year deal, so Maynard, one of the longest-tenured members of the team, will have to compete for the punting job if he re-signs.
Unsigned players: DE Cliff Avril (3), LB Korey Bosworth (1), S C.C. Brown (6), OLB Caleb Campbell (1), OLB Bobby Carpenter (5), MLB Vinny Ciurciu (8), WR Brian Clark (5), DE Jared DeVries (12), FB Jerome Felton (3), DT Andre Fluellen (3), C Dylan Gandy (5), CB Tye Hill (5), OT Corey Hilliard (2), CB Chris Houston (4), OLB Landon Johnson (7), RS Stefan Logan (2), DE Turk McBride (4), CB Brandon McDonald (4), CB Prince Miller (1), TE Jake Nordin (1), OLB Ashlee Palmer (2), S Randy Phillips (1), CB Paul Pratt (1), PK Dave Rayner (4), RB Kevin Smith (3), QB Drew Stanton (4), DE Barry Turner (1), CB Nathan Vasher (7), S John Wendling (4).
Analysis: Linebacker might be a position the Lions will have to address through free agency. Head coach Jim Schwartz spoke at the Combine about how the team was able to fill needs in the secondary last season through free agency and trades, and that same approach might be how they fix the two OLB spots this year. Carpenter could return after flashing for the first time in his career; Palmer also had a few nice moments, although he might be best as a special-teamer and backup. Re-signing Houston will be a priority, no matter if the Lions add defensive backs in the draft — he had a strong season and fits the competitive style that Schwartz wants. Because most of the team's free agents are backups, it will be interesting to see if the Lions retain the majority of them or if they'll have to recoup some of that depth elsewhere. The Lions spent big in free agency last year but might be a little quieter this time around, although Schwartz can't say enough about the effect that Kyle Vanden Bosch had last season. One or two more veteran leaders of his caliber could push this team over the top.
Green Bay Packers
Unsigned players: OG Adrian Battles (1), CB Josh Bell (3), S Atari Bigby (5), OT Chris Campbell (1), OG Daryn Colledge (5), PK Mason Crosby (4), S Michael Greco (1), FB Korey Hall (4), TE Spencer Havner (2), RB Brandon Jackson (4), LB Cardia Jackson (1), DE Cullen Jenkins (7), DE Johnny Jolly (5), WR James Jones (4), FB John Kuhn (5), S Anthony Levine (1), S Charlie Peprah (5), DT Jay Ross (1), S Anthony Smith (5), OL Jason Spitz (5), WR Brett Swain (2), WR Chastin West (1), LB Matt Wilhelm (8), DE Curtis Young (1).
Analysis: GM Ted Thompson faces challenging decisions on two free agents in particular — Jenkins and Jones. Jenkins is a quality inside pass rusher who finished the season as the Packers' second-leading sacker with seven. But he missed the last four regular-season games with a calf injury and has had problems staying healthy. Jones, who finished second among receivers with five TD catches, has excellent natural talent and a great body. But his penchant for dropping passes and losing his concentration at inopportune times could make him expendable. RBs Brandon Jackson, Kuhn and Hall each made their share of worthwhile contributions in the storybook Super Bowl run and could return at the right price. Kuhn, a huge fan favorite, is the most likely of the three to be back. Hall's inability to stay healthy hurts his chances of returning. Bigby, who also had his share of injury problems, is probably on the way out, with Peprah, who held his own as the starting strong safety much of the season, a much better bet to be re-signed. Spitz, who has been hindered on and off by back problems, is expected to be sent packing. Colledge, who was widely considered the weak link on the offensive line as the starting left guard, played well enough to warrant strong consideration for a return engagement, but it's far from a given that the Packers will re-up with him. Crosby is a probable keeper who could be franchised.
Unsigned players: S Husain Abdullah (3), WR Hank Baskett (5), OL Ryan Cook (5), DE Ray Edwards (5), DT Fred Evans (5), S Eric Frampton (4), OLB Chad Greenway (5, franchised), OLB Erin Henderson (3), QB Tarvaris Jackson (5), WR Jaymar Johnson (2), OLB Ben Leber (9), WR Greg Lewis (8), PK Ryan Longwell (14), QB Patrick Ramsey (9), WR Sidney Rice (4), DE Brian Robison (4), CB Lito Sheppard (9), FB Naufahu Tahi (5), CB Frank Walker (8), S Madieu Williams (7), DT Pat Williams (13), RB Albert Young (2).
Analysis: By franchising Greenway, the Vikings are rolling the dice that they can re-sign Rice, who may or may not be an unrestricted free agent this offseason depending on the parameters of the new CBA. However, Rice's agent, Drew Rosenhaus, has indicated that his client will test the market if he's unrestricted. The offense was a mess without Rice last season, and the Vikes know he can't easily be replaced. They also clearly would like to sign RB Adrian Peterson, who is also playing under his rookie contract, to an extension. He's set to hit the market next year, but something very well could happen with his deal this offseason. The club appears to be allowing Edwards to test the market. He had another solid statistical season, and the Vikings appear to like him, but they believe he could break the bank as one of the few ends available and are not likely to get into a serious bidding war for him with so many other financial concerns. If Edwards leaves, Robison could be brought back cheaply, allowing him to compete with Everson Griffen for the DLE spot that would be vacant. The Vikings need a quarterback, which could come from the draft or via free agency, although there aren't many FA options worthy of a starting job. If they draft a QB, it's possible they let Jackson walk and sign another mid-career veteran to help shepherd the youngster. Don't expect a lot of spending on free agents from other teams this offseason as the team transitions.
Tuesday morning: AFC East free-agent preview