The NFL Lockout looks to have finally come to a close and we can expect some signings maybe as early as today. Those signings will only be teams re-signing their own players but the meat of free agency is right around the corner.
Free agency should be intriguing now that teams are being forced to spend 90% of their available cap space. This should make for some major deals for those lucky enough to be free agents right now.
Here are the best landing spots for the top 20 available free agents from this class.
1. Nnamdi Asomugha—Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Asomugha is the best free agent on the market but to most teams he has absolutely no value because he will cripple the team's cap figure. One team that could offer Asomugha $20 million for the coming season and still have $30 million to spend elsewhere is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Bucs have the most money to spend as well as being a team on the verge of contending deep in the playoffs.
Asomugha fits in the defense also because Ronde Barber is better suited to playing the slot at this stage in his career while Aqib Talib would give them probably the best three players at that position on any single roster. Talib is a player that can take advantage of all the balls that would be going his way while the Buccaneers new potentially potent pass rush would be boosted by the improved coverage. In a division with the New Orleans Saints, having depth at corner and a good pass rush is key if you are to be a legitimate contender.
2. Santonio Holmes—Chicago Bears.
The Bears have two major needs. One is to improve the offensive line with two or three key additions while the other is to add a legitimate first choice receiver. Johnny Knox would be one of the best second choice receivers in the league but is not good enough to consistently beat the opposition's best cover man. Devin Hester remains a project that may never pan out while Earl Bennett and Devin Aromashodou are reliable but not spectacular receivers.
With over $30 million to spend in free agency, the Bears have a good chance of landing the biggest impact player in free agency. The only problem with Holmes is that should he have another infraction with drugs off the field then he will be suspended for a whole season. If he keeps his nose clean, he could be the difference in the team making it to the Super Bowl next season. That is providing the defense has one more year left.
3. Johnathan Joseph—San Francisco 49ers.
The 49ers passed on a cornerback in the most recent NFL draft but it still remains a glaring need for the team. With the addition of pass rusher Aldon Smith to an already talented front seven, Joseph could be the final piece to giving Jim Harbaugh a strong defensive group to rely on in his rookie season. Joseph would instantly become a starter for the team and receive a big contract. He could get both of those things if he returned to Cincinnati but the 49ers are closer to being a competitive unit than the Bengals.
4. DeAngello Williams—New York Giants.
The Giants will need to make some room to spend if they are to bring in a free agent of Williams caliber but I don't doubt that they will look to do that considering Ahmad Bradshaw is also a free agent. Bradshaw is nowhere near as good as Williams and will probably cost around the same on the open market. With Williams in the backfield, the Giants look set to make a run at the Super Bowl. Defensively the addition of Prince Amukamara has made their defense one of the stingiest on paper while offensively Hakeem Nicks and co look set to break out into one of the best offenses in the league. The return of Shaun O'Hara should have a huge impact on the team's fortunes next year also.
5. Carl Nicks—New Orleans Saints.
The first of our free agents to re-sign with his original team, Carl Nicks is already in the perfect spot in Louisiana. The Saints have a substantial figure to spend which could grow even greater if they part ways with Reggie Bush.
Nicks knows the offense, the Saints should be contenders and he will be paid. This one is a no brainer.
6. Sidney Rice—San Diego Chargers.
Presuming Vincent Jackson is traded, but even if he is not, the Chargers would be a perfect marriage with Rice. The Chargers have $19 million to spend on re-signing key free agents like Eric Weddle and Kevin Burnett or even Mike Tolbert. However should Jackson sign a long term deal that figure will grow or even if he is traded then the team will definitely look to bring in another receiver.
Rice would make the offense everything it had hoped it would be when they added Chris Chambers a few years back. He specializes in catching the deep ball which Philip Rivers loves to throw. The idea that a defense has enough on the back end to match up to a trio of Antonio Gates, Vincent Jackson and Sidney Rice is just something that occurs in the dreams of Rex Ryan.
7. Antonio Cromartie—Philadelphia Eagles.
Cromartie is going to have to wait as the third best cornerback available on the open market. He lands in a great spot either way as the Eagles would have to settle for him after missing out on Nnamdi Asomugha. The Eagles desperately need help in the secondary and would have one of the most play making pairs in Asante Samuel and Cromartie should he sign there.
Samuel and Cromartie like to get their hands on the ball and while they are not shut down corners in the mold of Revis or Asomugha they do make a lot of plays. With what figures to be a high powered offense on the other side of the ball in Philadelphia, guys like Cromartie and Samuel should be able to take more risks without worrying about costing their team.
8. Eric Weddle—Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The Buccaneers are going to be forced to spend a big chunk of that $59 million free in cap space by the new Collective Bargaining Agreement rules. Weddle is already one of the best safeties in the league and at 26 years of age is still young enough to be part of the Bucs youth movement.
While he may not be receiving that much attention nationally, Weddle is a major part of that Chargers defense that was one of the best in the league last season. The Buccaneers have the money and slotting him in the depth chart over Cody Grimm would make for a much better defense. The Buccaneers main needs remain at receiver and linebacker but with $59 million to spend they will be forced to add elsewhere or tie up their own players to big contracts.
9. Brandon Mebane—St. Louis Rams.
In what would be a major coup for the Rams, stealing away one of their rivals best players would drastically help their defensive line in the long term. The Rams added defensive end Robert Quinn as the heir apparent to 34-year-old James Hall while Chris Long is tied down as the other defensive end for the foreseeable future.
At 26 Mebane would be the best defensive tackle for a 4-3 defense that the Rams could add while also bringing some youth to a position where Fred Robbins is carrying the load at 34 years of age. Mebane would get to work with one of the best defensive line coaches in the league as his head coach in St. Louis also which would get the best out of him.
10. Zach Miller—Cleveland Browns.
Zach Miller is extremely underrated. Playing for the Raiders has hugely affected his status as one of the best pass catching tight ends in the league.
Leaving Oakland makes sense as the team's merry-go-round at quarterback is still unsettled and the team don't really look like taking that next step that they threatened to last season. Landing in Cleveland would be great for Miller's career. He is still very young at 25 and could thrive in Pat Shurmur's west coast offense. Colt McCoy doesn't have the best receivers while there is no standout tight end. A great tight end is a young quarterbacks best friend. McCoy and Miller could form a dangerous partnership over the coming years. Just look at how important Dustin Keller has been for Mark Sanchez during his career.
11. Davin Joseph—Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
It doesn't make sense for Joseph to leave Tampa. The team is emerging into what could be a Super Bowl group over the coming years. He is still young enough to be part of that or even lead it while the team has enough money to keep him around.
12. Cliff Avril—Detroit Lions.
Surprised? Avril is a much better option for teams than Charles Johnson or Ray Edwards. He is a young pass rushing stud that has been very impressive on a poor Lions defense despite his age. Avril looks set to break out in Detroit as he would be part of one of the most talented defensive lines in the league.
His talent is undoubted but the only question that remains is can he stay fully healthy on a consistent basis.
13. Ray Edwards—Atlanta Falcons.
The Falcons gave up too much for Julio Jones. They definitely have to add another pass rusher to take the pressure off of John Abraham during free agency. Because of this players, and more importantly, their agents will be able to hold them to ransom.
Edwards is a good player but has been part of one of the most talented defensive lines in the league for most of his career. He is a secondary pass rusher and would probably be nullified as the main threat on most teams.
14. Cullen Jenkins—New England Patriots.
The Patriots have some money to spend which could rise should Bill Belichick do any squad trimming. The team needs to improve it's pass rushing but an outside linebacker isn't that important as Jermaine Cunningham could step up. Improving the depth of the defensive line is a big need for the Patriots.
Last year it was a problem and the addition of Jenkins would give the team a player with a unique skill set. No other player can match Jenkins ability to get to the quarterback and play multiple positions on the defense. Jenkins gives the team another pass rusher as well as adding to the depth of a solid group that consists of other veterans Marcus Stroud, Vince Wilfork and Ty Warren. That is a much better looking unit than what they worked with last year.
15. Charles Johnson—Cleveland Browns.
Johnson could re-sign with the Panthers who would be willing to offer him big money. However he would be better off going to Cleveland and being part of what looks like an exciting building process. The Browns have good coverage on the back end and the addition of Phil Taylor in the draft has improved their line but they still need a pass rushing specialist from the outside.
16. Steve Smith—Kansas City Chiefs.
Staying in New York would be an ideal spot for Smith too but the difference in money would make Kansas City a better place for him.
The Chiefs drafted Jonathan Baldwin in the first round last year but they still need help at the position. Steve Smith is the best slot receiver available just ahead of Lance Moore. He has great hands and would be a perfect complement to Dwayne Bowe's deep threat. The trio of Smith, Bowe and Baldwin would make the Chiefs a balanced offense, provided that Matt Cassell is capable of getting the ball to them.
17. Stephen Tulloch—Tennessee Titans.
I don't see Stephen Tulloch attracting a huge amount of interest on the open market. His best deal will come from his current team who know what to expect. Tulloch may benefit from what is a weak linebacker class but at the end of the day the Titans is the team he should be playing for.
18. Jared Gaither—Dallas Cowboys.
Gaither may have had his struggles with injuries but when he's been on the field during his career he's been a franchise caliber left tackle. Those don't come around very often which is why he is 18th on this list.
He was hugely missed last season for the Ravens who went from having potentially the best tandem of tackles in the league to what was ultimately an area of weakness.
A return to Baltimore could be on the cards but Gaither deserves to be a blindside protector not playing right tackle. He would be a worthy protector of a quarterback looking to lead his team to their first Super Bowl in a long time in Dallas.
19. Barry Cofield—St. Louis Rams.
The Rams have enough money to bring in two new defensive tackles and it wouldn't surprise anyone if Steve Spagnuolo went back to his old team to add Cofield. Having had a lot of success with Fred Robbins, Cofield could follow the same route.
The Rams have a lot of money to spend and will probably look to fortify the defensive line as well as add a safety. Cofield would be a great fit. The team doesn't need much offensively as the return of Donnie Avery should vastly improve the receiving corp and Mark Clayton could be re-signed at a low cost.
20. Braylon Edwards—New York Jets.
Braylon Edwards has actually been a very good receiver for the Jets. He has had his drops as he always will throughout his career but he has been a big playmaker for Mark Sanchez.
The Jets will be doing everything they can to re-sign Holmes but as he has said he will go to the team that offers him the best deal, their next step will be to make sure that they bring back some sort of familiarity in the offense so Edwards should get a good offer in a place he is already comfortable.
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