Originally Published: July 24, 2011
First post-lockout move for NFL teams
The move each NFL team should make first, once the lockout has officially ended
By Brian McIntyre
Kevin Kolb, Nnamdi Asomugha and Santonio Holmes Getty Images, US PresswireWhere will these big names go once the lockout is officially over?
While their bosses have spent the past six months negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement with the NFL Players Association, NFL general managers and personnel executives have been tweaking their free-agency strategies and adding contingency plans for multiple sets of free-agent rules so they would be ready to act when a new CBA was completed. With a deal now in place, hundreds of players will be looking for new contracts.
For some teams, the most important thing will be to keep one of their own players. For other teams, there's a specific free agent who would be a perfect fit. Here are some suggestions for what each team's first move in free agency should be.
Arizona Cardinals -- Trade for QB Kevin Kolb
Of the 46 quarterbacks with more than 100 passes in 2010, Cardinals quarterbacks Derek Anderson and John Skelton ranked 41st and 45th, respectively, in DYAR. Arizona chose to not add a quarterback in the 2011 draft, which means the Cardinals should attempt to acquire Kolb from the Philadelphia Eagles. The 26-year-old Kolb is only one year younger than Larry Fitzgerald, and the two could form a formidable QB-WR connection for years to come.
Atlanta Falcons -- Re-sign RT Tyson Clabo
After ranking 24th in adjusted sack rate in 2007, the Falcons' offensive line has ranked in the top six in that category in each of the past three seasons. Keeping QB Matt Ryan upright will be a key ingredient for Atlanta to continue its unprecedented run of winning seasons, which makes re-signing Pro Bowl right tackle Clabo a priority this summer.
Baltimore Ravens -- Sign OLB Matt Roth
In the 2011 draft, the Ravens did not address a pass rush that ranked 27th in adjusted sack rate in 2010. Roth, a free-agent outside linebacker, recorded just 3.5 sacks last season but, according to our game charters, posted 24.5 QB hurries, a sign that he could be the pass-rushing answer opposite Terrell Suggs.
Buffalo Bills -- Re-sign LB Paul Posluszny
Buffalo used a third-round pick on LSU inside linebacker Kelvin Sheppard, but that shouldn't make re-signing Posluszny any less of a priority. In his first season in George Edwards' 3-4 system, the 26-year-old Posluszny had a team-high 151 tackles in 2010.
Carolina Panthers -- Re-sign DE Charles Johnson
Playing in the same division as Drew Brees, Ryan and Josh Freeman, the Panthers cannot afford to lose defensive ends Julius Peppers and Johnson to free agency in back-to-back offseasons. Johnson is coming off a breakout season, posting 11.5 sacks and, according to our game charters, tying Peppers with 30.5 QB hurries. The Panthers will need to spend money to reach the salary floor, and a defensive end capable of posting double-digit sack totals is worth the cost.
Chicago Bears -- Sign DT Brandon Mebane
The Bears released veteran defensive tackle Tommie Harris before the lockout. When he was general manager of the Seahawks, current Bears vice president of player personnel Tim Ruskell drafted Mebane in the third round of the 2007 NFL draft. A solid run-stuffer, Mebane would be a good fit at tackle next to Matt Toeaina in the Bears' four-man front.
Cincinnati Bengals -- Re-sign RB Cedric Benson
Since joining the Bengals in 2008, Benson has led the club in rushing in each of the past three seasons. Re-signing the 28-year-old likely got a whole lot easier as Benson faces misdemeanor assault charges after allegedly assaulting his roommate in Austin, Texas.
Cleveland Browns -- Sign DE Ray Edwards
As they convert to a 4-3 system under Dick Jauron, the Browns added a pair of defensive linemen (Phillip Taylor, Jabaal Sheard) with their first two picks in the 2011 NFL draft. That overhaul should continue in free agency, with Cleveland having the need and, after releasing a handful of expensive veterans, the means to go after free-agent defensive end Edwards, who is looking for a big-money deal this offseason.
Dallas Cowboys -- Sign S Michael Huff
The Cowboys passed on signing a pair of high-profile street free-agent safeties in February and did not address the back end of their secondary in the draft. Look for Dallas to target Huff, the former University of Texas standout, when free agency opens.
Denver Broncos -- Sign RB DeAngelo Williams
Defensive tackle is a priority as the Broncos convert to a 4-3 under coach John Fox, but so is adding a running back to pair with Knowshon Moreno. The free agent Williams, who ran for 4,211 yards and 31 touchdowns for Fox in Carolina, would be a good addition to what's expected to be a run-heavy offense in Denver.
Detroit Lions -- Sign CB Johnathan Joseph
After ranking 32nd in pass defense DVOA in 2008 and 2009 (explained here), the Lions' defense improved to 19th last season. To take that next step forward, Detroit should look to sign the free agent Joseph, a physical corner with solid cover skills who fits perfectly in Jim Schwartz's defense.
Green Bay Packers -- Trade or release LB Nick Barnett
Barnett has finished two of the past three seasons on injured reserve and turns 30 in May. With projected starters A.J. Hawk and Desmond Bishop signed to contract extensions late last season, the Packers should look to trade or release Barnett, which would free up $5.5 million in cash and $5.2 million in cap space in 2011.
Houston Texans -- Sign S Gerald Sensabaugh
In the past two drafts, the Texans have invested early-round picks (Kareem Jackson, Brandon Harris) in the cornerback position. Adding a veteran would help a pass defense that ranked last in pass defense DVOA last season, and with Glover Quin moving to free safety, defensive coordinator Wade Phillips could look to sign Sensabaugh, his strong safety with the Cowboys the past two seasons.
Indianapolis Colts -- Sign S Quintin Mikell
Oft-injured strong safety Bob Sanders was released in February, and the Colts did not address the position in the draft. Indianapolis rarely ventures into free agency, but Mikell is the durable, playmaking safety the Colts should seek to pair with Antoine Bethea.
Jacksonville Jaguars -- Sign S Eric Weddle
Three straight seasons of ranking 30th or worse in pass defense DVOA is a sign the Jaguars need a playmaker in the secondary. The free agent Weddle has been one of the league's most underrated players, performing at a Pro Bowl level the past two seasons. Assuming San Diego doesn't re-sign him, he would be an outstanding -- and much-needed -- addition to the Jacksonville defense.
Kansas City Chiefs -- Sign T Jermon Bushrod
The Chiefs ranked 18th in adjusted sack rate in 2010, and don't have much depth at the offensive tackle position. With quarterback Matt Cassel due a $7.5 million option bonus this year, the least the Chiefs can do is protect him better. The best tackle on the free-agent market is Bushrod, who has been protecting Brees' blindside the past two seasons in New Orleans.
Miami Dolphins -- Trade for QB Donovan McNabb or Kyle Orton
Chad Henne took on a leadership role during the lockout, but his on-field performance the past two seasons hasn't convinced anyone that he's the answer at quarterback. Carson Palmer would be a good addition, but Bengals owner Mike Brown is unlikely to accommodate his trade request. Veterans like McNabb or Orton could be options Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland pursues when the trading period begins.
Minnesota Vikings -- Trade for a veteran QB
2011 first-round pick Christian Ponder didn't get to work with offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave this offseason, so it would be wise for Minnesota to add a veteran quarterback to start while Ponder acclimates to the NFL. With Tim Tebow likely to start for the Denver Broncos, Orton and McNabb are options in Minnesota, as well.
New England Patriots -- Sign G Logan Mankins to a long-term deal
The Patriots should make an attempt to lock up the three-time Pro Bowl left guard Mankins for the long term. Another prolonged training camp absence from Mankins won't help an offensive line that has first-round offensive tackle Nate Solder penciled in as the starting left tackle.
New Orleans Saints -- Trade RB Pierre Thomas or Reggie Bush
New Orleans traded back into the first round to add Alabama running back Mark Ingram to an already crowded backfield that includes Bush, the newly re-signed Thomas and undrafted rookie Chris Ivory, who ranked sixth in rushing DVOA in 2010. There likely won't be enough carries to go around, and since Ingram and Ivory aren't going anywhere, the Saints will need to make a call on Bush or Thomas. Bush is willing to renegotiate his $11.8 million base salary to remain in New Orleans in 2011, and provides value as a receiver and on punt returns. Thomas signed a four-year extension in March, but Ingram and Ivory could fill his role and his contract is one that would be appealing to other teams in trade.
New York Giants -- Sign LB James Anderson
The Giants won't just hand over the starting strongside linebacker position to 2009 second-round pick Clint Sintim, who lost the job during last year's training camp and is coming off a torn ACL. If the Carolina Panthers can't re-sign Anderson, the linebacker-needy Giants should move to scoop up one of the more underrated linebackers in the league.
New York Jets -- Re-sign WR Santonio Holmes
Since they'll both likely have multiple suitors when the league year begins, re-signing Holmes and Braylon Edwards during the pre-league year period is unrealistic. Though Holmes and Edwards were nearly identical in receiving DYAR and DVOA in 2010, Holmes is the more dynamic play-maker and should be the player general manager Mike Tannenbaum focuses his attention and free-agent dollars on.
Oakland Raiders -- Re-sign TE Zach Miller
Before the lockout, the Raiders were very active when it came to securing the services of Richard Seymour, Stanford Routt and Kamerion Wimbley. Now that the lockout has ended, the focus should shift to locking up Pro Bowl tight end Miller, who has led the team in receiving in each of the past three seasons.
Philadelphia Eagles -- Sign CB Nnamdi Asomugha
Adding a starting-caliber cornerback opposite Pro Bowler Asante Samuel was believed to be a first-round draft target for the Eagles, who went offensive line instead. Corner remains a need, and the Eagles have the means to go after a big-name target such as Asomugha.
Pittsburgh Steelers -- Re-sign CB Ike Taylor
The veteran cornerback has appeared in 107 consecutive games for the Steelers but is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent. Pittsburgh has used multiple midround picks on cornerbacks in recent drafts, but none appear ready to replace Taylor, so re-signing the 31-year-old is a priority this offseason.
San Diego Chargers -- Re-sign S Weddle
San Diego ranked seventh in defensive DVOA and was fourth against the pass in 2010. Weddle, a free safety, was a big part of that unit's success, and re-signing the former second-round pick out of Utah to a long-term deal should be high on general manager A.J. Smith's priority list.
San Francisco 49ers -- Re-sign S Dashon Goldson
During the brief period when the lockout was lifted, the 49ers showed that quarterback Alex Smith is in their plans for 2011 by giving him a playbook. Re-signing the former first overall pick appears to be a fait accompli, which allows the 49ers to turn their attention toward re-signing Goldson, who has 174 tackles, three quarterback sacks, three forced fumbles and five interceptions as a starter the past two seasons.
Seattle Seahawks -- Re-sign QB Matt Hasselbeck
With the Seahawks poised to start one of the league's youngest offensive lines in 2011, they will want to have an experienced veteran under center. Too many roster holes remain unfilled to part with valuable draft picks for a Kolb or a Palmer, making re-signing Hasselbeck to a two-year deal the more sensible option.
St. Louis Rams -- Sign RB Darren Sproles
Reducing Steven Jackson's workload was an offseason priority for the Rams, who passed on adding a running back in the draft. Bush could be an option if he's set free by the Saints, but Sproles has ranked in the top five in receiving DYAR among running backs in each of the past three seasons and could be an ideal third-down back in Josh McDaniels' offense.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers -- Re-sign G Davin Joseph
The Buccaneers ranked 25th in adjusted line yards in 2010 and both members of the right side of their starting offensive line -- Joseph and tackle Jeremy Trueblood -- are unrestricted free agents. James Lee provides protection at right tackle should Trueblood leave, which makes re-signing Joseph the top post-lockout priority for Buccaneers general manager Mark Dominik.
Tennessee Titans -- Make a run at QB Hasselbeck
First-round quarterback Jake Locker could use a season under a veteran mentor, and with Kerry Collins retiring, Titans general manager Mike Reinfeldt could move quickly to sign Hasselbeck if Seattle lets him reach the market. Reinfeldt negotiated Hasselbeck's last contract with the Seahawks, and Hasselbeck and Locker are no strangers, sharing both the football spotlight in the Emerald City the past few years and the services of player agent David Dunn.
Washington Redskins -- Sign DE Cullen Jenkins
As always, when free agency opens up, Redskins owner Daniel Snyder will definitely have his plane gassed up and ready to go. Jenkins is coming off a career-high seven quarterback sacks last season with the Packers, and would fit in nicely in Jim Haslett's 3-4 defense.
Brian McIntyre is a staff writer for Football Outsiders; he also writes about the NFL for the Tacoma News-Tribune and his own site, Mac's Football Blog. You can follow him on Twitter here.
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