With the completion of the pro bowl, we officially begin the NFL’s off-season. This is the lull in most football fans life where they are forced to focus their attention on another sport like basketball or baseball. But for a true die hard fan, the off-season can actually be fairly exciting. First of all, we can watch as the coaching carousel spins to a stop. Next, players will be offered contracts and extensions from their current teams. Then, free agency will begin on February 27, 2009. After that, there will be the biggest event of the NFL off-season (and the second biggest sporting event of the year in terms of coverage), the NFL Draft. If your team has a glaring weakness or a veteran who is nearing the end of the line, they may make a move this off-season. Here is a look at the free agent class of 2009. (Please note: all of these are subject to change if they re-sign or retire.)
(R) = Restricted Free Agent
Top 10 Quarterbacks
1. Kurt Warner – After leading Arizona to the Super Bowl will consider retirement, but will most likely resign with the Cardinals for next season.
2. Kerry Collins – The Titans will make Collins a great offer to stay and provide a solid veteran presence at quarterback.
3. JP Losman – JP wants to start, but Buffalo loves him as a backup. He won’t beat out Trent Edwards in Buffalo and may end up going to a team who needs a decent quarterback (like Kansas City, San Francisco, or Minnesota).
4. Jeff Garcia – Garcia is getting older and with the change of leadership in Tampa he may be trying to catch on with another team. Tampa may try to return him, but if he goes somewhere else, it may be in a backup role.
5. Matt Cassel (FRANCHISE) – New England tagged Matt with the franchise tag which means he will make over $14 million next year. They may try to trade him if Tom Brady heals up, but this probably means that, barring a trade, he will be a Patriot next year.
6. Byron Leftwich – Byron was content to back up Big Ben this year, but he would really like to start and really wants to play quarterback for a certain Chicago team (“Da Bears”). They didn’t look at him last year, but he may be able to catch on with Rex Grossman’s departure and Kyle Orton having limited upside.
7. Kyle Boller – The Ravens had a lot of hope for him, but he never could put it together. Now he will likely seek a backup role, possibly backing up Joe Flaco again next year.
8. Ryan Fitzpatrick – Why would he make the top ten? He wasn’t great this season, but he got the job done. He had the Bengals, who were awful this year, in many games that they shouldn’t have been in. He will probably go somewhere to challenge another mediocre quarterback or maybe just to back up a guy like Carson Palmer who is a good quarterback, but tends to get hurt a lot.
9. Rex Grossman – Rex would be wise to move on from Chicago. However, his demand might be low because of how he has faltered in big games.
10. Dan Orlovsky – Started the last few games for a Lions team that lost every game this year, but though he may re-sign with them, he may go somewhere where teams win a few games.
Other Free-Agents – Luke McCown, Charlie Batch, David Carr, Todd Bouman, Charlie Frye, Patrick Ramsey, Marques Tuiasosopo, and Anthony Wright
Top 10 Running Backs
1. Brandon Jacobs – The bruising Jacobs is a staple of the Giants offense and they will do well to get him back. If by some chance they don’t and someone else gets him, they will have a quality product on their hands.
2. Derrick Ward – The Giants would love to bring Ward back, but signing Jacobs may limit what they can spend and Ward will probably try to find a team where he can be the main guy.
3. LaMont Jordan- Battling through injuries he missed a lot of time for the Patriots this year. He may try to stay in New England, but could possibly be part of a duel threat backfield somewhere if the right team calls.
4. Maurice Morris – Mo missed some time this season, but the Seahawks are not sold on Julius Jones, so they will try to hold on to him or pick up one of the guys on this list. Should he move on, he won’t be a featured back anywhere, but could be a serviceable backup or part of a duel threat backfield.
5. Darren Sproles – Sproles will probably get a couple of big offers after his HUGE playoff performances, but he would be best served staying in San Diego and being a change of pace back with LT. If the Chargers want to get him more involved, they could use him as a pass threat and he would tear up defenses. If he leaves, he will not make it as a featured back.
6. Rudi Johnson – Rudi was cut by the Bengals and then didn’t make much of an impact for the Lions, so he probably won’t be picked up quickly, but may be a decent backup for a team somewhere.
7. Dominic Rhodes – His best option is stay with Indy, but he did try going out on his own and lasted just over a year in Oakland. Should he try, there are probably a couple of takers, but Indy would be the best road for him.
8. Deshaun Foster – After being replaced in Carolina, he signed with San Francisco last year and was a non-factor for the 49ers. He will probably look for a team who wants a young back with potential, but won’t get a blockbuster deal.
9. JJ Arrington – His performance as a number three back and return man will give him a shot at a role in a duel back system. He won’t see a starting job, but could find some playing time if he lands with the right team. If used as a receiving back, he could find an even bigger contract in a couple of years. He won’t stick around Arizona as a number three, but if Arizona cuts “Edge” loose, he could end up as a great complement to Tim Hightower if he comes back.
10. Jason Wright – As a backup in Cleveland, he saw the field a few times, but his chances of a starting role are almost none. He will probably stick around in Cleveland.
Other Free-Agents – Aaron Stecker, Correll Buckhalter, Jesse Chatman, and Travis Minor
1. Tony Richardson – Expect the Jets to lock up this 14 year veteran.
2. Terrelle Smith – Arizona would do well to keep him and full backs don’t usually do well on the market.
3. Lorenzo Neal – Neal was cut loose last year after San Diego thought he was done. He is one of the better fullbacks to play the game. The Ravens finally picked him up, but rumors point to them using McClain as a full back in front of McGahee and Rice and not needing the veteran in their back field. In the end, he may call it a career.
4. Leonard Weaver – One of the best up and coming full backs in the league, Seattle will hold onto him if they can.
5. Dan Kreider – Will probably hit the market and find someone who is in need of a good fullback.
6. Zak Keasey (R) – This restricted free agent will probably stay in San Francisco.
Top 10 Wide Receivers
1. TJ Houshmandzadeh – Cincinnati will do their best to hold on to him, maybe even using the franchise tag, but should he escape them, he will make a welcome addition to a team who needs a star receiver (like Philadelphia).
2. Antonio Bryant – Tampa will try to hold onto him and may consider the franchise tag to do so if they cannot get a deal worked out before the end of February.
3. Bobby Engram – Bobby has been good to the Seahawks, but worries about his health will cause him to either take less in a contract to stay or maybe retire.
4. Bryant Johnson – May stay with San Francisco, but could consider his options. He may want to find a team that will be better next year, but could consider trying to help San Francisco rebuild.
5. Brandon Lloyd – Lloyd will check his options, but Chicago will try to keep him around. Odds of him ending up somewhere else are probably about 50%.
6. Brandon Jones – Tennessee was not a passing team, but they will keep Jones or McCareins or possibly both to help keep their offense effective.
7. Nate Washington – Pittsburgh has lost a few good receivers over the years and with Limas Sweed coming up, Washington will be catching deep balls as a number two receiver for someone else next year.
8. Amani Toomer – Amani was frustrated by being phased out by the Giants, but will most likely hang it up after his 13th season.
9. Justin McCareins – McCareins will probably test the market. He hasn’t been the best receiver, but is a decent number two.
10. Shaun McDonald – Shaun has been the backup to a number of really good receivers and will hope to play second fiddle to someone else. He may consider staying in Detroit where he is one of the better liked players. And things can only go up from where the Lions are now.
Other Free-Agents – Hank Baskett (R), Jabar Gaffney, Lance Moore (R), Ashley Lelie, Drew Carter, Devery Henderson, Demetrius Williams (R), Darrell Jackson, Sam Hurd (R), Malcom Floyd (R), David Anderson, Miles Austin (R), Dante Hall, Dane Looker, Robert Ferguson, Jeff Web (R), and Tab Perry
Top 5 Tight Ends
1. Owen Daniels (R) – The Texans haven’t made an offer yet, but Owen playing anywhere but Houston next year is about as likely as likely as the Lions winning Super Bowl XLIV.
2. Bo Scaife – With a guy like Kerry Collins (or maybe Vince Young) under center, a good dump off receiver will be essential to the Titans success. They had hoped that Alge Crumpler would become an option, but Scaife will most likely stay in Tennessee.
3. Leonard Pope (R) – After their post season success, Pope will probably sign a decent extension and hope that they can repeat as NFC West champs and maybe more.
4. LJ Smith – Pack your bags, LJ. The Eagles slapped you with the tag, and you were a non-factor this season. There are options out there that would be much better for the Eagles – one being a trade for Tony Gonzalez. LJ will catch on somewhere and may actually have success there, but it probably won’t be in Philly.
5. Jim Kleinsasser – With the emergence of Visanthe Shiancoe, the Vikings will most likely let Kleinsasser test the market and if he gets any hits, he will be gone.
Other Free Agents – Bubba Franks, Will Heller, John Madsen (R), Jeb Putzier, Jerramy Stevens, Mark Bruener, Mark Campbell, Tony Curtis (R), Darnell Dinkins, Joel Dreessen (R), John Owens, Tony Stewart, Daniel Wilcox, and Justin Peelle
Top 5 Centers
1. Jeff Saturday – An essential part of the Colts line, when Peyton Manning lines up behind Saturday, the Colts win – anyone else and they struggle. Expect a good contact from the Colts before the start of Free Agency.
2. Matt Birk – The Vikings will do whatever they can to keep Birk. They will do their best to sign him long term and if they can’t franchise him.
3. Jason Brown – The Ravens will sign him to an extension.
4. Tom Nalen – The Broncos are trying to get younger. Nalen is not going to get any younger. They may sign him to a short extension, but Tom may hang it up if he can’t find a good, long term deal.
5. Richie Incognito – Richie has played most of the positions on the offensive line, having started at center and both guard positions and played as a tackle. Richie will return to the Rams if they can afford him. If they don’t, someone will get a quality lineman on the market.
Other Free Agents – Eric Heitmann, Brad Meester, Eric Ghiaciuc, Melvin Fowler, Jeremy Newberry, Rudy Niswanger (R), and Matt Lehr
Top 5 Guards
The guard position on the free agent market isn’t particularly strong this year, but someone may grab one of these players to bolster a struggling line.
1. Stacy Andrews
2. Jahri Evans (R)
3. Mike Goff
4. Cooper Carlisle
5. Pete Kendall
Other Free Agents – Mark Setterstrom (R), Chris Naeole, Kynan Forney, Chris Kemoeatu, Fred Weary, Stephen Peterman, Floyd Womack, Elton Brown, Milford Brown, Russ Hochstein, Adrian Jones, Ray Willis, Evan Mathis, Jason Whittle, Barry Stokes, Seth McKinney, Tutan Reyes, BillyYates, and Lennie Friedman
Top 5 Tackles
1. Jordan Gross – It would be a disaster if the Panthers let him go. Their running game was incredible down the stretch last season and with the emergence of Jeff Otah, their line could be great if they keep Jordan employed there. If not, he will get a great deal somewhere else.
2. Marvel Smith & 3. Max Starks – The Steelers are notorious for letting their talented offensive linemen leave in free agency and promoting from within. Considering that their top three tackles are free agents, they will probably try to keep Starks around for a few more years and let Smith go earn a huge contract somewhere.
1. Jon Runyan & 5. Tra Thomas – The other Pennsylvania team will either have to shell out some money or risk losing one of their two solid tackles. Thomas leaving wouldn’t be good for the team, but losing Runyan would be devastating to their offense. Runyan will get a multi-year deal and they might offer Tra a smaller contract for a couple of years.
Other Free Agents – Mark Tauscher, Marc Colombo, Willie Colon (R), Khalif Barnes, Vernon Carey, Jon Stinchcomb, George Foster, Oliver Ross, Brandon Gorin, Adam Goldberg, Wesley Britt (R), Tyson Clabo (R), Trai Essex, Fred Miller, Rob Petitti, John St. Clair, Zach Strief (R), Todd Wade, and Seth Wand
Top 5 Defensive Ends
1. Terrell Suggs (on both OLB and DE list) – Suggs will be the Ravens top priority this off-season. They want him to stick around for a while and will have to pay him for it. Suggs wants to keep the defense together (Ray Lewis and Bart Scott are both free agents as well), so he might take a hometown discount, but the Ravens won’t be able to afford to keep all of their big names together.
2. Julius Peppers – Peppers has had a lot of success, but has trailed off a little bit in the last couple of seasons. He may get a big contract somewhere this year and that would bolster any defensive line. He has expressed interest in getting out of Carolina, so his departure might be eminent.
3. Bertrand Berry – A big part of the strong defense that emerged in the playoffs. He wasn’t great in the regular season, often playing hurt and would love to stay in Arizona. Should he leave, he won’t get the big contract, so he might sign a short term contract and be a situational player before riding off into the sunset.
4. Chris Canty – Dallas will work the market and try to pick up some big names in free agency, but if they can’t find someone better, Canty will return.
5. Kevin Carter – He might decide to play a couple more years, but don’t be surprised if he hangs it up this off-season.
Other Free Agents – Ebenezer Ekuban, Victor Adeyanju (R), Antonio Smith, Dwan Edwards, Michael Montgomery, Earl Cochran (R), Otis Grigsby (R), ND Kalu, Jerome McDougle, Orpheus Roye, Josh Thomas, Renaldo Wynn
Top 5 Defensive Tackles
1. Albert Haynesworth – Big Al will make a splash in the market. He is a monster that is constantly drawing double teams. However, his temper has been a problem for him. Albert will get a huge contract no matter where he goes. Though Tennessee was hoping for a hometown discount, they may make a good offer to keep their solid defense together.
2. Rocky Bernard – Seattle had a very rough year, but they will want Bernard back.
3. Jovan Haye – Will probably try to stay in Tampa.
4. John Thornton – After last season, he may want out of Cincinnati.
5. Tank Johnson – Tanks legal troubles behind him, he may try to catch on outside the Folsom County Prison…I mean Dallas Cowboys. He could get a decent contract, especially with the small number of good tackles ahead of him.
Other Free Agents – La’Roi Glovers, Larry Tripplett, Kedric Golston (R), Shaun Cody, Darwin Walker, Mike Wright, Colin Cole, Grady Jackson, Gabe, Watson, Ryan Sims, Kenderick Allen, James Reed, Jeff Zgonina, Fred Evens (R), and Chris Cooper
Top 5 Outside Linebackers
1. Terrell Suggs (on both OLB and DE list) – See DE description.
2. Bart Scott – Bart may have to take a lot less money than he could get if he wants to stay in Baltimore. The Ravens will make him an offer, but he may opt to move on and make some better money for another team.
3. Leroy Hill – Seattle will try to hold onto Hill, but he may try the market to get his full value.
4. Clark Haggans – The Cardinals have a number of free agents and even though they want to keep Haggans and Dansby (see MLB list), they probably can’t afford them both. Haggans will make some decent money on the market, but won’t be the best linebacker out there.
5. Marques Harris – San Diego hasn’t done much in free agency lately, but this could be the year they make a splash. They may look to get Harris back on board in the hopes the when Shawn Merriman returns next season, they will be dominant on defense again.
Other Free Agents – Michael Boley, Angelo Crowell, Willie McGinest, Keith Ellison (R), Rashad Jeanty, DD Lewis, Shantee Orr, Darryl Blackstock, Troy Evans, Gilbert Gardner, Gary Stills, and Sam Williams
Top 5 Middle Linebackers
1. Ray Lewis – Ray wants paid. The Ravens are going to be stretched as it is. Dallas is interested. What does all this mean? Ray Lewis as a Cowboy could happen sooner than you think.
2. Karlos Dansby – Dansby will get paid this year. He is young and coming off his best year ever. The Cardinals will make him a big offer, but his age and potential will probably lead to a huge offer from a team (like the Chiefs) who wants to improve their front seven.
3. Jonathan Vilma – Vilma will try to re-sign with New Orleans where he fit in very well last year. Should he not get back with them, he will make mid range money somewhere in the league.
4. Mike Peterson – A very talented player who is fully capable of destroying plays (and locker rooms). The biggest bash on Mike is that he isn’t a locker room leader. However, he will probably catch on with a team (Jacksonville is still possible, but not likely) and have moderate success.
5. Channing Crowder – The Dolphins will most likely keep Crowder around; unless it turns out that he is not a Bill Parcells guy. If that is the case, he will get a mid-upper range contract on another team in the 4-5 year range.
Other Free Agents – Eric Barton, Takeo Spikes, Andra Davis, Nate Webster, Paris Lenon, Ryan Nece, John Digiorgio (R), and Heath Farwell
Top 5 Cornerbacks
1. Nnamdi Asomugha – The best player on the Raiders team will want to be wearing another uniform next year. Though the Raiders may make a huge offer to lure him to stay, Nnamdi will try to find a team who gives him a shot at winning. Expect him to sign a contract similar to what Asante Samuel got last year.
2. Dunta Robinson – The Texans want him back – bad. If they don’t franchise him, they will sign him to a long term deal that will make sure his family will be taken care of for a long time.
3. Phillip Buchanon – Tampa will try to keep Phillip around for another year, but should he test the market, there are a lot of teams looking for a good corner.
4. Bryant McFadden – Word has it that the Steelers are already working on signing this guy long term. Sorry to everyone else, but Bryant will probably be a Steeler for the next 4-5.
5. Ricky Manning, Jr. – The Rams may make Ricky an offer, but he will probably test the market to see if he is worth anything.
Other Free Agents – Eric Green, RW McQuarters, Deltha O’Neal, Jabari Greer, Justin Miller, DeMarcus Faggins, Daven Holly, Ronald Bartell, Jr., William James, Lewis Sanders, Ralph Brown, Reynaldo hill, Chris Carr, Charles Gordon (R), Ahmad Carroll, Travis Daniels, Kevin Dockery (R), Aaron Glenn, Andre’ Goodman, Corey Ivy, Karl Paymah, Keiwan Ratliff, Benny Sapp, Scott Starks, Donald Strickland, and Stanley Wilson.
Top 5 Safeties
1. Jermaine Phillips – Tampa will make signing Phillips a top priority this off-seasons.
2. Darren Sharper – Darren is getting older and is slowing down a little. The Vikings are probably going to let him go, as he hasn’t been great the last few years. He will sign somewhere for 2-3 years and a small end contract.
3. Mike Brown – Mike has been great for the Bears when healthy, but he has been hurt more than he has played recently. He may not return to Chicago, where his departure has been expected for some time now, but he will find a team in need of a decent safety and will fill in nicely there.
4. Lawyer Milloy – Lawyer is getting older, but will try to stay in Atlanta for a couple more seasons where the Falcons would love to have him.
5. Rodney Harrison – Rodney is strongly leaning toward retirement, which means the Pats will come knocking about October when someone gets hurt.
Other Free Agents – Sean Jones, Oshiomogho Atogwe, Dawan Landry (R), Jarrad Page (R), Atari Bigby (R), Will Allen, Marlon McCree, James Sanders, Eugene Wilson, CC Brown, Nick Ferguson, James Butler, Renaldo Hill, Chris Crocker, Yeremiah Bell, Gerald Sensabaugh, Jim Leonhard, Anthony Smith (R), Reed Doughty (R), Tank Williams, Mike Adams, Michael Boulware, Matt Giordano, Jon McGraw, Pierson Prioleau, JR Reed, and Nate Salley (R)
Top 5 Kickers
1. Rob Bironas – If the Titans don’t sign Bironas long term, someone needs to be removed from their managerial position. Rob is one of the best young kickers in the game and should he test the market, he won’t last long.
2. John Kasay – Carolina may try to hold on to Kasay who is one of the best kickers to play the game. He is getting older, but is still one of the most accurate kickers and better than any option they have.
3. Mike Nugent – A good young kicker, the Jets will try to hold on to him.
4. Shayne Graham – Cincinnati will try to find a way to bring him back. Should he leave, he may find a market.
5. Matt Stover – If Matt doesn’t retire (an even if he tries to), the Ravens will bring back the man who basically wrote the Ravens kicking record book.
Other Free Agents – Jason Hanson, Jay Feely, John Carney, Shaun Suisham, and Martin Gramatica
Top 5 Punters
1. Shane Lechler – The Raiders may pull the franchise tag out for this guy. They want him back, but should he leave, he will get a great contract somewhere.
2. Sam Koch – One of the best young punters in the game, Sam will be re-signed by the Ravens.
3. Craig Hentrich – A seasoned veteran, Craig should be signed long term by the Titans, but they may check for younger players coming up in the draft first.
4. Michael Koenen – Atlanta will try to keep their young punter around as he has been solid for them thus far.
5. Mitch Berger – The Steelers may check what is on the market and if there isn’t anything they like will try to sign Berger. If not, Mitch will probably wait for someone who can’t find a better option.
Other Free Agents – Dirk Johnson, Steve Weatherford, and Chris Hanson
Your favorite team will have good options for improving this off-season, should they be willing to make a move. Signing one of these guys could fill a hole, but letting one slip from your grasp could leave an even bigger one for your team. Free agency is an exciting time and could end up making or breaking a team next season. So sit back and let the countdown to February 27th begin!