One may be the standard pocket passer, the other a duel threat, but star quarterbacks Peyton Manning and Michael Vick do have something in common—they both received the Franchise Tags from their respected team. But there are a number of available unrestricted free agents on the market that can make any NFL team improve immediately from their respectable position.
Word on the street in NFL free agency, comes in the basis of the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA)—an all-out messy situation between the players union and team owners and stomach-churning conflict amid two parties on different ends of the spectrum that now seems like a never ending fight back and forth now all in the hands of the courts.
In any event, the 76th NFL Draft took place two weeks ago woke both parties up again on building the teams started once again regardless of the labor issues.
But the highly anticipated question facing the league in what unfolds with the current free agents and unsigned players, remains unknown.
Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis stepped away from the norm prior to this all getting more sticky back in March and avoided a circus, signing Pro Bowl DL Richard Seymour to a multi-year contract, preventing him from having to receive the Franchise Tag or exploring the marketplace.
There are several top-tier NFL free agents. Here is a list of the top five that can provide a serious impact from day one on any team.
1. Nnamdi Asomugha, CB
Oakland was prohibited from placing the Franchise Tag on Nnamdi Asomugha. It was determined that he didn’t meet the incentives in his contract in order to warrant a $17 million deal in 2011, so his contract was voided upon season’s end.
Asomugha, 29, is very versatile and considered the top free agent in this year’s class. Although he doesn’t light up the stat sheet, his abilities in placing elite receivers on an island are right up there with Darrelle Revis. He played in man-coverage in the secondary the majority of the time with the Raiders, but could easily switch to a new system and excel.
Raider Nation is well-aware that the Pro Bowl shut-down slot corner is the crème de la crème in the league today, but they also recognize there are many other needs to address and that “money doesn’t grow on trees.”
Raider fans will rejoice if he returns in Silver and Black. With four consecutive Pro Bowl appearances, he has undoubtedly become a fan favorite and had a tremendous impact on his fellow teammates.
The Raiders will most likely take a different course of action and take a stab at acquiring two or three players in assorted areas where there’s prevalent need. If he doesn’t return, expect Asomugha to end up in the Big Easy, where the Saints had one of the league’s worst secondaries in 2010. Defensive Coordinator Gregg Williams would be like a fat kid in a candy store. Other potential destinations are Dallas, Houston, Miami, Seattle, and San Francisco.
2. Tyson Clabo, OT
Tyson Clabo, a very dominate run-blocking tackle and excellent pass protector, is a strong, mean, elite lineman that can fit well into any system.
If the Atlanta Falcons decide to bring him back, it will come with a very pricey deal. Look for many teams to try to reel him in if the Falcons don’t make it happen very soon.
3. DeAngelo Williams, RB
When healthy, DeAngelo Williams is one of the best running backs in the game, but recent injuries have plagued him from playing up to his full potential. Despite missing 10 games last season, and a rise in Jonathan Stewart, these two star backs have provided a lethal 1-2 punch in the past, which I don’t see coming to a close anytime soon.
The Panthers were dead last in points, total offense, and in the passing game in 2010. The running game was a solid 13th.
Why get rid of the one good thing you have?
Moreover, in his five seasons, Williams has started 37 games, accumulating 4,211 rushing yards on 841 carries (5.0 YPC) and 31 touchdowns on the ground. But of course if the team decides to foolishly part ways, expect many teams to look to sign him as a complimentary back, as he will instantly boost the capabilities of any NFL offense.
Selecting quarterback Cam Newton as the number one overall pick in this years draft the Panthers hope to improve the passing game to compete in the tough NFC south. But bringing back their solid running attack of Williams remains in question.
4. Santonio Holmes, WR
Contrary to other receivers who’ve changed teams near the middle of their career, Santonio Holmes was a perfect fit with the N.Y. Jets and his performance was superb, racking up 56 catches and 6 TDs, even after missing the first four games of the regular season.
Holmes is a strong receiver and very dangerous when he gets in the open field and of course unstoppable when he’s in the corner of the end zone. Despite having some character issues in the past in Pittsburgh, and being in the center of the most controversial team in the NFL, Holmes stayed out of trouble. Look for the Jets to resign their big name wide out soon, otherwise his options will be wide open.
5. Sidney Rice, WR
A hip surgery kept Sidney Rice from receiving more than five starts in 2010 and Percy Harvin’s struggles to stay healthy made matters worse for the Minnesota Vikings.
But Sidney Rice rose to stardom in 2009, accruing 83 receptions for 1,312 yards and eight touchdowns and there’s reason to believe the young lethal deep threat will return to 1,000 plus yard seasons in 2011, even with the twelfth overall rookie quarterback Christian Ponder or an in-house project like Tavaris Jackson or Joe Webb.
Rice has a very athletic build and equipped with the natural ability to snatch the ball, even in a crowd of defenders. Minnesota will try its best to resign the star receiver and he could become one of the highest paid receivers in the NFL. With a new era of Viking football on the way, I see the team doing what it takes to bring him back to Minnesota in 2011. If not, teams like San Diego to make a push for him.
Let’s all begin to pray we will soon have a better indication of where things are headed shortly. Many player contracts can be changed and tweaked, and many may have to take pay cuts in their next deal. Hopefully everything will work out and these deals between the players union and owners will soon get settled prior to the season begin. Keeping in mind once free agency opens for current player’s trades will also take place and rookie free agents can be signed.