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It is that time of year when the NFL Free Agency starts. This is the time when players either re-sign with their own teams or sign with other teams. There are four classifications of free agents. Unrestricted, restricted, transition players and franchise players are the four classifications. Many teams can benefit from signing free agents, but there are also consequences of spending a lot of money on free agents. The 49ers are now suffering the consequences of signing many free agents in the 80’s and 90’s as a result of the salary cap. After years of manipulating the salary cap, the 49ers are now in a position where they do not have the extra money to sign free agents and even have to release some of their veteran players just to be under the salary cap.
I would like to take this opportunity to explain what the different classifications of free agency are as well as showing some of the players that are available as free agents this year. There are several star players eligible for free agency this year. With the 49ers having to cut players just to get under the salary cap it may be difficult for them to sign many of these players. I believe that they will sign a couple of their own free agents and perhaps bring in a few other players after adjusting their own payroll.
An unrestricted free agent is a player that has completed four accrued seasons with a team and whose contract has expired. This player is free to sign with any team with no compensation going to his former team. If he is not signed by July 16th his rights revert back to his former team if that team made him a tender offer (10% increase in salary) before June 1st. If no tender offer is given by June 1st the player is free to sign with any team throughout the season. Most players fit into this classification that are free agents.
A restricted free agent is a player that has completed three accrued seasons with a team and whose contract has expired. This player has received a qualifying offer from his former team and is free to negotiate with other teams until April 10th. After April 10th his rights revert exclusively to his former team. Prior to April 11th if the player accepts an offer sheet from another team, his former team can match the offer and retain his services as they have a “right of first refusal” option. If the former team chooses not to match the offer, they may receive draft-choice compensation depending on the size of their qualifying offer. A “right of first refusal” option means that the former team has the right to match any offer that is made to the player by another team.
To designate a transition player, a team must offer that player, a minimum of the average of the top 10 salaries of players at his position or a 20% increase in salary, whichever is greater. This designation gives the team “right of first refusal” to match any offer within 7 days. If the team matches the given offer, they retain the player’s services. If the team chooses not to match the offer, the player goes to the offering team with no compensation to the former team.
Teams are also allowed to designate one player as a franchise player. To designate a franchise player, a team must offer that player, a minimum of the average of the top 5 salaries at his position or a 20% increase in salary, whichever is greater. This designation gives the team the right to match any offer from another team and retain the player’s services. If the team chooses not to match the offer and lets the player go to the other team, the former team will receive two 1st round picks as compensation.
Following, I will be introducing some of the top players, at each position, that are available for free agency. We saw in the 2000 season both, teams that benefited from free agent signings and teams that spent a lot of money on free agents that did not benefit so well. The New York Giants, Baltimore Ravens and New Orleans Saints were examples of teams that improved drastically as a result of free agent signings. The Washington Redskins brought in more free agents than any team, but still did not make the playoffs.
At Quarterback, the top free agents are Brad Johnson, Brian Griese, Jon Kitna, Trent Dilfer and Randall Cunningham. Other free agents at this position include Gus Frerotte, Bubby Brister, Jim Harbaugh, Scott Mitchell, Rick Mirer, Danny Kannell, Danny Wuerfell, Alex Van Pelt, Billy Joe Hobert, and Tony Graziani. Here are the statistics for the top free agents, at the QB position, for the 2000 season.
Brad Johnson started 11 games, completing 227 out of 364 passes for 2,505 yards, 11 touchdowns, 15 interceptions, 58 yards rushing and one touchdown rushing. He was replaced at starter with Jeff George, after the Redskins were unable to generate much of an offense, during the mid part of the season. His rating was only 75.6, down from 90.0 in 1999 when he threw for over 4,000 yards and 24 touchdowns. Johnson has drawn interest from several teams including Baltimore, Tampa Bay, Miami, San Diego, Atlanta and Seattle. The head coaches of Baltimore and Tampa Bay were both with Minnesota, when Johnson was the starting QB there.
Brian Griese played for the Denver Broncos and played most of the season with a separated shoulder. In his 10 starts he completed 216 out of 336 passes for 2,688 yards, 19 touchdowns and only 4 interceptions for an excellent rating of 102.9. Griese was having a fantastic year until he injured his shoulder and missed some games and then only was used sparingly the rest of the season. He has solidified himself as a starting Quarterback in the NFL. I am sure that Denver will do whatever they can to sign him.
Jon Kitna was the starting Quarterback for the Seattle Seahawks. He did not have a great season and was replaced as the starter by coach Holmgren. He finished the season completing 259 out of 418 passes for 2,658 yards, 18 touchdowns and 19 interceptions for a rating of 75.6. Kitna has the ability to be a good QB, but throwing 19 interceptions is not good especially when he threw only 18 touchdowns. He is likely to draw some interest from teams, but I would be surprised if he ends up being the starter no matter where he goes.
Trent Dilfer was the Quarterback for the Super Bowl Champion Baltimore Ravens. Dilfer became the starter midway through the season. Although, he did not have a great season statistically, he did enough to get his team to the big game. He completed 134 out of 226 passes for 1,502 yards, 12 touchdowns and 11 interceptions for a rating of 76.6. Trent shows flashes of greatness sometimes, but other times he looks like the QB he was when playing in Tampa Bay. He is likely to be signed as a second string Quarterback for a team that does not have much depth.
Randall Cunningham was Troy Aikman’s back up in Dallas this past season. He is getting older but still shows signs of greatness. He only started 3 games completing 74 out of 125 passes for 849 yards, 6 touchdowns and 4 interceptions. I believe if given the chance, Randall could still start for another year or two. It was in 1998 when he started 14 games for the Minnesota Vikings and threw for 3,700 yards and 34 touchdowns and was in the Pro Bowl. I think he would be a good fit in Tampa Bay where he could tutor Shawn King into being a better player.
The other Quarterbacks I mentioned are mostly career back ups. Gus Frerotte, Bubby Brister, Scott Mitchell and Rick Mirer have all proven to be capable players. I believe that they will all be signed, but not likely as starters.
At running back this year there are some big name free agents. Corey Dillon, Charlie Garner, Tiki Barber, Ahman Green, Jerome Bettis, James Allen, Michael Pittman and Priest Holmes are the biggest names. Other players available at this position are Jonathan Linton, Terry Kirby, Kenny Bynum, Terry Allen, Chris Warren, Skip Hicks, Adrian Murrell and Mario Bates. I believe that the teams that most of these players played for last season would like to try and keep them. With the salary cap it will be impossible for some teams to re sign these players.
Corey Dillon had another great season for the Cincinnati Bengals. He rushed for 1,435 yards and 7 touchdowns for a 4.6 average, while also catching 18 passes for another 158 yards. The Bengals have named Dillon as a transition player hoping that it will keep him in Cincinnati for another season. Dillon has expressed an interest in playing for a more competitive team. By making him a transition player, the Bengals have made it more difficult for another team to make him an offer. I do believe that a team with some room under the salary cap and in need of a star running back may make Corey Dillon an irresistible offer. Personally I would like to see Corey Dillon playing on a playoff caliber team.
Jerome Bettis has been the star of the Pittsburgh Steelers offense for the past few years. This season was no different as he rushed for 1,341 yards and 8 touchdowns. Bettis has said he would like to continue playing in Pittsburgh as long as they make him a reasonable offer. The Steelers have some depth at the running back position, but I believe that keeping Bettis would be in their best interest.
Charlie Garner is coming off back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons with the San Francisco 49ers. This season he rushed for 1,142 yards and 7 touchdowns with a 4.4 average. He also caught 68 passes for 647 yards and 3 touchdowns. San Francisco would love to re sign him, but they do not have the money to do so. Garner has said that Chicago, Carolina and Kansas City are all teams he would have an interest in playing for. I do believe that he will be one of the first free agents to change teams this year. I can see him fitting in nicely with Kansas City, but we will have to wait and see what happens.
Tiki Barber played for the New York Giants where he had his best season. Sharing time with Ron Dayne, he still rushed for 1006 yards and 8 touchdowns. Barber is also a very good receiver. He caught 70 passes for 719 yards and one touchdown. I think the Giants are likely to keep Barber as part of their “Thunder and Lightning” package at running back. He provides the Giants with the perfect one two punch in their running game. He is the perfect compliment to Ron Dayne.
Ahman Green is a restricted free agent with the Green Bay Packers. They signed him to be a back up to Dorsey Levens. Levens was injured early in the year and Green became the starter. He had a great season, finishing with 1,175 yards and 10 touchdowns with a 4.5 average. He also caught 73 passes for 559 yards and 3 touchdowns. The Packers are likely to do everything in their power to keep him. I think that he would likely become the permanent starter for them if he does not change teams.
James Allen played for the Chicago Bears and had a pretty good season. He finished with 1,120 yards and 2 touchdowns for a 3.9 average. He also caught 39 passes for 291 yards and one touchdown. The Bears will definitely be looking to sign a big name running back. They may make an offer for Charlie Garner, but Allen seemed to be a nice fit in their offense and he is a restricted free agent so it is likely they may keep him.
Michael Pittman played for the Arizona Cardinals for the last few seasons. He had a decent year finishing with 719 yards and 4 touchdowns. He also caught 73 passes for 579 yards and 2 touchdowns. His pass catching skills make him a nice fit in a west coast offense. He also is a restricted free agent likely to re sign with Arizona.
Priest Holmes played for the Baltimore Ravens splitting time with Jamal Lewis. He rushed for 588 yards and 2 touchdowns with a 4.3 average. He also caught 32 passes for 221 yards. Holmes was a nice fit in the Ravens offense, but I believe has the talent to be a starter on another team. It will be interesting to see which teams express an interest in signing him.
The other players I mentioned at this position are all interesting players as well. Terry Kirby, Terry Allen and Chris Warren all have seen time as starters. They certainly have the talent to draw some interest. Also Skip Hicks, Mario Bates and Adrian Murrell, who all have not seen much, playing time in recent seasons, could make interesting additions to teams looking to add depth. Good news for the 49ers, coming out of Santa Clara is that Garrison Hearst’s condition seems to be improving each day.
At full back there are some very good players hitting the free agent market as well. These may be players that do not put up big numbers, but help other runners with their superior blocking skills. The best players available at this position are Fred Beasley, Greg Comella, Sam Gash, Marc Edwards, Howard Griffith, and Tony Carter.
Fred Beasley is a restricted free agent, coming off his best season with the San Francisco 49ers. He had 147 yards rushing and 3 touchdowns and caught 31 passes for 233 yards and 3 touchdowns. Beasley has become a great blocker and has proven to be a good receiver as well. The 49ers are likely to give him a qualifying offer so that if he were to leave for another team they would be compensated with a first round pick. I hope the 49ers are able to keep him, as I believe he is a big reason for the success the 49ers have had in their running game the last few seasons.
Greg Comella played with the New York Giants and was very successful as the lead blocker to Tiki Barber and Ron Dayne. He only rushed for 45 yards, but did catch 36 passes for 274 yards on the season. He is a solid lead blocker that I believe the Giants will try to bring back. Greg is a restricted free agent.
Sam Gash was the lead blocker for Jamal Lewis and Priest Holmes of the Super Bowl Champion Baltimore Ravens. Gash was not used in the offense much as a runner or receiver. He spent his time on the field as a primary blocker. He has proven to be very effective in all aspects of the game over the years. When he played for Buffalo and New England he was utilized in the offensive game plan much more. He is likely to draw a lot of interest on the market.
Marc Edwards, the former 49er, played for the Cleveland Browns this season. He scored 2 touchdowns receiving while mostly being used as a blocker. In my opinion Marc is one of the most under-rated players at this position. He is a great fit into a west coast offense, as he is a very capable runner, blocker and receiver. If the 49ers were to lose Fred Beasley to another team, Edwards would be a nice replacement.
Howard Griffith has played for the Denver Broncos the past few seasons. He has been a part of what has become the best running team in the NFL. He has great hands, as he showed on his 16 catches for 101 yards and 2 touchdowns. The Broncos have had a lot of injuries at the running back position, but no matter whom they put in to run behind Griffith has been successful. This definitely says something about his blocking ability. I would be surprised if Denver does not try to re sign him.
Tony Carter had a solid season for the New England Patriots. He rushed for 90 yards and 2 touchdowns and caught 9 passes for 73 yards. Again, he is more of a blocker than a runner or receiver. He is a solid blocker and very good in short yardage situations.
At wide receiver there are many free agents this year. The best of the bunch are Eric Moulds, Az-Zahir Hakim, Donald Hayes, Derrick Mason, James McKnight, Willie Jackson, James Thrash, Eddie Kennison and Dedric Ward. Other players available at this position that are less well known or did not have great statistical seasons include Andre Rison, Hines Ward, Leslie Shepherd, Kevin Lockett, David Patten, Matt Hatchette, Macey Brooks, Albert Connell, and Tim Dwight. Some of these players were also very good kick and punt returners. There will surely be a lot of interest in these players.
Eric Moulds is already in contract negotiations with the Buffalo Bills. He is likely to sign with them, as he was their offensive star last season. He finished the season with 94 catches for 1,326 yards and 5 touchdowns. Eric has become one of the premier receivers in the NFL. He makes all the catches, whether it means going over the middle or out jumping a defensive back for the football. Actually, I just found out he has signed a six year contract with Buffalo.
Az-Zahir Hakim was a member of the most potent offense in football with the St. Louis Rams. He has excellent speed and hands. He had 53 catches for 734 yards and 4 touchdowns as the third receiver. He also served as the Rams primary punt returner, with a 15.3 average and one touchdown. Hakim is a restricted free agent that the Rams are likely to hold on to. He is a perfect fit in their offense and accepts his role as the third receiver very well.
Donald Hayes had a great season with the Carolina Panthers. He finished with 66 catches for 926 yards and 3 touchdowns. He was the primary target for Steve Beurlein, as the Panthers suffered from a lot of injury at the wide receiver position during the season. He is a restricted free agent and it is likely the Panthers will try to re sign him or get compensation for his departure.
Derrick Mason came into his own this season with the Tennessee Titans. He became a big part of their offense after injuries to Yancey Thigpen and Carl Pickens. He was also the primary kick off and punt returner. On offense he finished with 63 catches for 895 yards and 5 touchdowns. He had a 27-yard average on kick offs and a 13-yard average and a touchdown on punt returns. Mason will surely draw a lot of interest on the free agent market. With the depth the Titans have at wide receiver it will be interesting to see where Derrick Mason ends up.
James McKnight was the leading receiver for the Dallas Cowboys this past season. He received a lot of playing time after injuries to Joey Galloway and Rocket Ismail. He made the most of his playing time with 52 catches for 926 yards and 2 touchdowns. He proved that he is capable of making plays and will draw some interest from teams looking to upgrade their receiving core.
Willie Jackson is a player that came on strong at the end of the season and in the playoffs for the New Orleans Saints. He caught 37 passes for 523 yards and 6 touchdowns in the regular season. In 2 playoff games he caught 15 passes for 267 yards and 4 touchdowns. After Joe Horn was injured in the playoffs, Jackson became almost the entire Saints offense. I am sure that the Saints will try and keep Jackson, since he seems to compliment Joe Horn very nicely in their offense.
James Thrash played for the Washington Redskins and received a lot of playing time considering, the depth they had at wide receiver. He finished with 50 catches for 653 yards and 2 touchdowns and also had a 22.2-yard average on kick off returns. Washington has made it known that they would like to try and keep him. He is likely to stay with Washington as the second receiver to Michael Westbrook.
Eddie Kennison became one of the leaders on the Chicago Bears offense this season. He finished with 55 catches for 549 yards and 2 touchdowns. He played for the Rams before going to Chicago and has shown that he has the ability to make things happen when he is on the field. Eddie is a productive receiver that should draw some interest from teams looking to add a receiver.
With the departure of Keyshawn Johnson to Tampa Bay, Dedric Ward was thrust into the starting line up for the New York Jets. He responded with 54 catches for 801 yards and 3 touchdowns. I think the Jets will try to keep him or possibly dip into the free agent market themselves. The Jets are one of the teams that Jerry Rice has mentioned he would like to play for.
Andre Rison caught 6 touchdown passes for the Oakland Raiders and always seems to be a threat when he is on the field. Hines Ward and Bobby Shaw are restricted free agents with the Pittsburgh Steelers that both scored 4 touchdowns. Leslie Shepherd has played for a lot of teams, but always is consistent. Tim Dwight played for the Atlanta Falcons, where he has been a productive receiver as well as a kick off and punt returner. Matt Hatchette and Chris Walsh both worked their way into the Minnesota Vikings offense alongside Chris Carter and Randy Moss. Albert Connell seems to be the odd man out in Washington, where he caught 39 passes for 762 yards and 3 touchdowns. Kevin Lockett had an impressive rookie season with the Kansas City Chiefs with 33 catches and 2 touchdowns. There are other free agents at this position, but I believe that I have covered the best players available.
Other wide receivers available in free agency but used mostly as kick returners include Desmond Howard, Kevin Williams, Michael Bates, Dwight Stone, David Dunn and David Patten. Howard is one of the NFL’s best return men. Williams had a 17.9 average on kick off returns with the 49ers. Dwight Stone had an average of 22.2 on kick offs with the New York Jets. David Dunn had an average of 24.4 as well as one touchdown return on kick offs. David Patten had a return average of 21.3 as well as catching 38 passes for 546 yards for the Cleveland Browns. The Oakland Raiders have just signed Eric Metcalf, a great returner and receiver. Teams needing help in their return game will be very interested in these players.
A position that seems to becoming more and more valuable is the tight end position. This year there are quite a few free agents at this position. The big name free agents are Marcus Pollard, Rickey Dudley, Itula Mili, and Byron Chamberlain. Other players available include Ben Coates, Troy Drayton, Cam Cleeland, Pete Mitchell, Kaseem Sinceno, Johnny McWilliams, Jeff Thomason, Kris Mangum and Roland Williams.
Marcus Pollard split time at tight end with Ken Dilger for the Indianapolis Colts. He had a decent season with 30 catches for 439 yards and 3 touchdowns. Pollard has great hands and the ability to make the difficult catch over the middle or downfield. I think he is going to draw the most interest in free agency at this position. I think that Indianapolis would like to try and keep him, but since they have Dilger they may let him go in order to use that money to sign another player.
Rickey Dudley has been a very inconsistent player with the Oakland Raiders. He has shown flashes of greatness, but at the same time he drops a lot of passes. This year he had 29 catches for 350 yards and 4 touchdowns. The Raiders do not have much depth at this position so I believe they will try to re sign him, although they are said to be interested in ex Green Bay Packer Mark Chumura as well. Dudley has the ability to be one of the better tight ends in the league; he just needs to spend some time with a good coach.
Itula Mili played for the Seattle Seahawks and had a pretty good season with 28 catches for 288 yards and 3 touchdowns. Mili is not that well known, but he has shown the ability to be an effective player. He is likely to sign with a team looking for a new tight end or looking to add depth.
Byron Chamberlain is one of the tight ends for the Denver Broncos. He has proven to be a very good receiver over the middle. He finished the season with 22 catches for 283 yards and 3 touchdowns. He fits nicely into the Broncos offense. I would be surprised if Denver does not try to keep him.
Ben Coates did not see much playing time with the Baltimore Ravens this season, as he was the back up to Shannon Sharpe. Over the years, he has proven to be a very reliable receiver and blocker. Cam Cleeland is a restricted free agent with New Orleans that has suffered from many injuries in his career, but has the ability to be one of the best. In 1998 his only full season, he caught 54 passes for 684 yards and 6 touchdowns. Pete Mitchell, a very reliable receiver, from the New York Giants caught 25 passes this season. Jeff Thomason, from the Philadelphia Eagles, was used mostly in goal line situations, scoring 5 touchdowns on only 10 catches. Johnny McWilliams caught 22 passes for 180 yards and 3 touchdowns for the Minnesota Vikings making a good impression in their high-powered offense. Roland Williams, a restricted free agent with the St. Louis Rams, scored 3 touchdowns on only 11 catches. Kris Mangum was the back up to Wesley Walls for the Carolina Panthers. He is a restricted free agent that caught 19 passes for 215 yards and one touchdown. Kaseem Sinceno is a restricted free agent with the Chicago Bears that caught 23 passes for 206 yards. I believe that all of these players are capable of starting at this position. Teams in need of a tight end this year seem to have quite a few choices in the free agent market.
Playing on the offensive line is not a place where a player gets a lot of statistics, but is yet one of the most important positions. Offensive linemen are the ones responsible for protecting the Quarterback as well as opening up holes for the running backs to run through. This year there are several linemen available through free agency. Some of the better-known veterans available include Bruce Armstrong, Jumbo Elliot, Richmond Webb, Will Shields, Mark Schlereth, Corbin Lacina, Tim Grunhard and Chris Dishman. Other players that have not been around as long include Scott Gragg, Jeff Hartings, Ross Verba, Matt Birk (restricted), Frank Garcia, Jerry Wunsch, Pete Kendall, Jason Fabini (restricted), Steve McKinney, Kevin Long (restricted), Jamie Nails, Kevin Donnalley, and Jeff Mitchell. These are not all of the players available at this position. For more information on these players and other offensive linemen available, see the free agent listings at ESPN.com or NFL.com. Scott Gragg is a 6’8” 325lb tackle that the 49ers are very interested in trying to re sign. Gragg was one of the few linemen for the 49ers to remain healthy the entire season.
As you can see on the Offensive side there are many high quality free agents available. I believe that many teams are in a position where they are most interested in signing there own free agents because of the salary cap. There will be players changing teams, of course, just not as many as in the past. Good news for the 49ers is that Greg Clark has agreed to restructure his contract in order to remain with the team. Also this week the 49ers signed Derrick Deese to a 5-year, $16.5 million contract extension. Other rumors around the NFL include that both, Seattle and Dallas, are interested in Ryan Leaf. Jerry Rice is drawing interest from Tampa Bay, Detroit, New York Jets, Seattle, Carolina and Oakland. Lastly, former Green Bay Packer, Mark Chumura, is getting interest from Oakland, Philadelphia and New England if he is allowed to play again.
Moving on to the Defense, there are also several key free agents available. In fact, I think that there are more prominent players available on defense than there are on offense. I will be showing the best available linemen, linebackers, cornerbacks and safeties. Many of the free agents available fall under the restricted classification. Not to worry though, there are still several talented players that are unrestricted.
On the defensive line the biggest names include Kevin Carter, Simeon Rice, Eric Swann, Brentson Buckner, Marcellus Wiley, Michael Bankston, Regan Upshaw, Kenny Holmes, Tracy Scroggins and Darren Mickell. Other players available include Trace Armstrong, Jason Ferguson, Mark Smith, Clyde Simmons, Bryce Paup, Anthony Pleasant, Leon Lett, and Christian Peter. I am sure some of these names are very recognizable to you. It will be very interesting to see where some of these players end up.
Kevin Carter played for the St. Louis Rams, where he had a falling out with some coaches and was benched for a game. This incident did not stop him from having another solid season. He finished the season with 31 solo tackles, 10.5 sacks and a forced fumble. Kevin seems to have worked out his problems with the Rams coaching staff and is likely to remain in St. Louis. Carter has become one of the best pass rushers in the league and would definitely draw much interest if he were unable to work out a deal with the Rams.
Simeon Rice, the long time Arizona Cardinals, seems to be in contract disputes every year. Rice had another good season finishing with 30 solo tackles, 7.5 sacks, a forced fumble and 3 defended passes. I am sure the Cardinals would like to keep him, but he may still be frustrated over the contract disputes with that organization last season. I am sure wherever he ends up he will make an impact.
Eric Swann was injured much of the season and only had 1 sack, 6 defended passes and 10 solo tackles. Swann was a big free agent acquisition of the Carolina Panthers before this season, but because of injury did not live up to their expectations. A team that feels that he still has the talent he displayed in his first few seasons in Arizona will likely take a chance on signing him.
Brentson Buckner is a player that the 49ers would very much like to re sign. Buckner was able to fill in for the injured Junior Bryant this past season. He has added depth to a position the 49ers have been very weak in. He finished the season with 44 solo tackles, 7 sacks and 3 defended passes. If the 49ers are not able to come up with the money needed to bring him back, I am sure that he will draw interest from other teams.
Marcellus Wiley is the man that replaced Bruce Smith on the Buffalo Bills defensive line. He did so admirably, finishing the season with 45 solo tackles, 10.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles and one defended pass. The Bills biggest off-season concerns were to sign Eric Moulds and Marcellus Wiley. They have already come to terms with Moulds so now they will focus their attention on getting a deal worked out for Wiley.
Michael Bankston played for the Cincinnati Bengals, where he led all defensive linemen with 51 solo tackles. He did not have any sacks, but played very well against the run. He is likely to draw a lot of interest in the free agent market from teams needing to add depth to their line.
Regan Upshaw played with the Oakland Raiders after several seasons in Tampa Bay. He finished the season with 18 solo tackles, 6 sacks and a forced fumble. Upshaw is a player that the 49ers showed some interest in signing, before the start of the season. He has always been a solid pass rusher and will definitely have several teams interested in signing him.
Kenny Holmes plays for the Tennessee Titans. Holmes has become one of the better pass rushers in the NFL. He had 32 solo tackles, 8 sacks, 5 forced fumbles and 3 defended passes. I am sure the Titans would love to keep him and will do whatever possible to do so. If the Titans are not able to sign him to a contract, he will become one of the most sought after players in free agency.
Tracy Scroggins is a long time veteran that played for the Detroit Lions this past season. He finished with 35 solo tackles, 6.5 sacks, a forced fumble and 2 defended passes. Scroggins is a player that any team would like to have on their side. I am sure that Detroit will make an effort to keep him.
Darren Mickell, of the San Diego Chargers, is another solid player that will be available. He had a good season finishing with 34 solo tackles, 6 sacks and 2 forced fumbles. I believe that Darren is another player that will draw his share of interest in the free agent market.
Trace Armstrong is a long time veteran that is coming off his best season with the Miami Dolphins. Armstrong was among the league leaders in sacks and earned his first trip to the Pro Bowl this season. He finished the season with 26 solo tackles, 16.5 sacks and 7 forced fumbles. After a season like that he is definitely going to be highly sought after. I think that Miami will make every effort to keep him.
Clyde Simmons, Leon Lett, Anthony Pleasant and Bryce Paup are all veterans that are coming off seasons in which they did not play as well as they have in the past. Jason Ferguson, Christian Peter, Mark Smith, Michael Myers, and Fernando Smith are all younger players with the ability to develop into talented pass rushers. I am sure there will be a lot of interest in theses players.
Linebacker may be the position with the most talent available in free agency. Many of the players at this position are restricted free agents, but there are several unrestricted players also available. The big name restricted free agents include Jeremiah Trotter, London Fletcher, Kailee Wong, Shawn Barber, Jamie Duncan, Leonard Little, Darren Hambrick and Jeff Posey. Unrestricted free agents include Dwayne Rudd, Dexter Coakley, Mike Jones, Henri Crockett, William Thomas, George Koonce, Jamie Sharper, John Mobley, Derrick Rodgers and Dwight Hollier.
Jeremiah Trotter is a young and very impressive player for the Philadelphia Eagles. He had a great season with 103 solo tackles, 3 sacks, an interception for a touchdown and 4 defended passes. Philadelphia would be insane to let this young player switch teams.
London Fletcher, of the St. Louis Rams has solidified himself a starting position on their defense. He finished the season with 106 solo tackles, 5.5 sacks, a forced fumble, 4 interceptions and 8 defended passes. As you can see he was effective in every aspect of the game. He can cover a running back or tight end down the field or come up and put a big hit on a running back. The Rams are surely going to hold on to one of their best defensive players.
Shawn Barber played for the Washington Redskins, on a defense loaded with high-priced free agents, this past season. He finished with 56 solo tackles, 2 sacks and 2 defended passes. Barber is a young player that would draw some interest from other teams if he does not stay in Washington.
Jamie Duncan played on the Tampa Bay defense, which is among the best in the NFL. He had a very productive season with 53 solo tackles, 4 interceptions, a touchdown and 6 defended passes. Tampa Bay is not going to let Duncan get away. He is a nice fit in their defense.
Leonard Little is another linebacker from the St. Louis Rams. He had 14 solo tackles, 5 sacks, a forced fumble and 2 defended passes. With so many free agent players at this position the Rams are very likely to try to hold on to him.
Darren Hambrick played for the Dallas Cowboys this season. He finished with 64 solo tackles, one sack and 2 defended passes. Hambrick combined with Dexter Coakley to give the Cowboys an impressive duo in their line-backing core. He is likely to stay in Dallas.
Jeff Posey is a player that switched to linebacker form defensive end this season. He had his best season with the 49ers finishing with 22 solo tackles, a half sack and 2 defended passes. Jeff is a player that the 49ers really need to keep for depth at the position. Since Ken Norton and Winfred Tubbs are likely to be casualties of the salary cap, the 49ers would like to keep Posey to team with Julian Peterson and Jeff Ulbrich.
Dwayne Rudd has become one of the leaders in the Minnesota Vikings defense. He had a solid season with 53 solo tackles and 2 defended passes. Rudd is an excellent run stopper. Minnesota is in a tough position with the salary cap, but I know this is one player that they would like to hold on to if possible.
Dexter Coakley, as mentioned before played with the Dallas Cowboys. He finished the season with 78 solo tackles and 3 defended passes. He is another player that is more effective against the run than in pass coverage.
Mike Jones is another free agent from the Rams defense. He finished with 62 solo tackles, 2 sacks, a forced fumble and 6 defended passes. Jones is likely to sign with another team, as the Rams are more likely to re sign London Fletcher and Leonard Little.
Henri Crockett was a surprise star for the Atlanta Falcons this past season. He had 37 solo tackles, 2 sacks, a forced fumble and 2 defended passes. Atlanta would like to keep Crockett if possible. He is a player that is likely to sign for less money than some of the others available at this position, thus making him more attractive to a team that is tight on money.
William Thomas is coming off an incredible season for any line backer. He played for the Oakland Raiders and finished the season with 69 solo tackles, one sack, 2 forced fumbles, 6 interceptions, one touchdown and 11 defended passes. Thomas is likely to be one of the most sought after linebackers in the free agent market.
George Koonce is a long time veteran that played with the Seattle Seahawks last season. He had another productive season with 77 solo tackles, 1.5 sacks, one interception for a touchdown and 5 defended passes. I am sure that Seattle would like to bring him back as one of the leaders on their defense.
Jamie Sharper had the benefit of playing alongside the Defensive Player of the Year, Ray Lewis for the Baltimore Ravens. He finished the season with 60 solo tackles, 5 forced fumbles, an interception and 4 defended passes. Sharper has been disappointed with the Ravens attempt to keep him in Baltimore and has expressed an interest in playing for the Cleveland Browns.
John Mobley has become one of the leaders in the Denver Broncos defense. He had 71 solo tackles, 2 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, an interception and 11 defended passes. Mobley is a player that the Broncos would very much like to keep in Denver. He plays, both the run and pass very effectively, making him a player worth keeping.
Derrick Rodgers worked himself into a starting position with the Miami Dolphins. He finished the season with 59 solo tackles, a half sack, a forced fumble and 3 defended passes. I think that Miami is likely to try to keep him. He is a young player that fits in nicely with the rest of their defense.
Dwight Hollier is an old veteran of the Indianapolis Colts coming off of another productive season. He had 65 solo tackles, one sack and one defended pass. Hollier is another player that specializes in stopping the run. The Colts are likely to try and keep him, unless they bring in someone else through free agency. As you can see, by the number of available players, the linebacker position is the deepest in free agency.
At the safety position there are also some high quality players available. Darren Sharper, Mike Minter, Darren Perry, Eugene Robinson, Lance Shulters, Kim Herring, Brock Marion, Marquez Pope, Jay Bellamy, and Mike Logan are the free agents available at this position.
Darren Sharper led the league in interceptions and made it to his first Pro Bowl this past season with the Green Bay Packers. He finished with 77 solo tackles, one sack, 9 interceptions and 17 defended passes. Green Bay would like to keep him, but so far have not been able to come up with an offer that is satisfactory.
Mike Minter and Eugene Robinson were the starting safeties for the Carolina Panthers. They are both unrestricted free agents. The Panthers have made it known that they would like to keep Minter. Minter finished with 89 solo tackles, 2 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, 2 interceptions, a touchdown and 7 defended passes. Robinson finished with 66 solo tackles, a forced fumble and one interception. Both of these players will draw a lot of interest if not re signed by Carolina.
Lance Shulters is a restricted free agent with the 49ers. He has become the leader in the secondary for the 49ers. The 49ers will give him a qualifying offer so that if he were to leave for another team, they would be compensated with a first round pick. Lance finished the season with 70 solo tackles, a half sack, 3 forced fumbles and 3 defended passes in only 12 games. I do believe that Lance will return to the 49ers and once again be the leader of their young secondary.
Kim Herring played on the record setting defense of the Baltimore Ravens. He finished the season with 50 solo tackles, one sack, 2 forced fumbles, 3 interceptions and 9 defended passes. Baltimore is very likely to try and keep him to team up with Rod Woodson in their secondary. Herring suffered a few injuries during the season, but was back to his normal self in the playoffs and Super Bowl.
Brock Marion is a long time veteran that played with the Miami Dolphins this season. He is an excellent safety as well as kick returner. He finished the season with 84 solo tackles, 5 interceptions, 11 defended passes and a 23.3 yard average on kick off returns. Miami’s coach likes Marion very much and is likely to keep him. The other possibility would be for him to retire, but I think that is unlikely.
Marquez Pope has played for the Rams, 49ers, Browns and now the Raiders. He had a good season with 63 solo tackles, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble, 2 interceptions and 5 defended passes. Pope will draw some interest in the free agent market. He will likely be signed by a team looking to add some depth to their secondary.
Jay Bellamy is one of the leaders in the Seattle Seahawks secondary. He finished the season with 75 solo tackles, 2 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, 4 interceptions, one touchdown and 8 defended passes. Seattle will try and do what they can to keep him, since he is the leader of their secondary. If he does not sign with Seattle I am sure that another team will make a big effort to bring him in.
Mike Logan is a starting safety for the Jacksonville Jaguars. He had a productive season with 48 solo tackles, one sack, one forced fumble, 2 interceptions and 6 defended passes. I would imagine that Jacksonville would try to re sign him. Logan is a good player so it would be wise to keep him since he is familiar with their defense.
Zack Bronson and Monty Montgomery are two safeties that played with the 49ers. Bronson is a player that the 49ers would like to keep, but may not have the money to do so. He is a team player, willing to play where and whenever needed. He had 31 solo tackles, 2 forced fumbles, 3 interceptions and 5 defended passes this season. Montgomery switched to safety from cornerback, but seems to be the odd man out in the 49ers secondary. He finished the season with 51 solo tackles, a half sack, 3 interceptions, one touchdown and 11 defended passes. Montgomery seems to be better suited at the safety position. The 49ers will likely not try to sign him because of their salary cap position.
The top free agent corner backs this season include Ray Buchanan, Aenas Williams, Jason Sehorn, Ronde Barber, Damien Robinson, Todd Lyght, Emmanuel McDaniel, Samari Rolle, Denard Walker, Dainon Sidney and Jerry Wilson. These are the top players at this position available. Other players in free agency include Walt Harris, Corey Chavous, Alex Molden, Fred Weary, and Matt Stevens.
Ray Buchanan is the best coverage man in the Atlanta Falcons secondary. Atlanta wants to keep him if they can work out an acceptable deal with him. Ray finished the season with 72 solo tackles, 6 interceptions and 20 defended passes. He is an excellent cover man with great instincts as to where the ball is at all times. I believe that Atlanta will make him an offer to keep him in a Falcon uniform.
Aenas Williams has been the leader of the Arizona Cardinals secondary for a number of years. Williams is an excellent player with great leadership skills on the field as well as in the locker room. He finished the season with 50 solo tackles, 2 forced fumbles, 5 interceptions and 11 defended passes. The Cardinals would love to keep him, but rumor has it that he is considering retirement. I have always been a fan of Aenas Williams, in my opinion he has been one of the best players in the league, at his position for a long time.
Jason Sehorn is a long time New York Giant. The Giants would like to keep him as the leader of their secondary. Jason finished the season with 62 solo tackles, one forced fumble, 2 interceptions and 17 defended passes. He is a good corner back, but as we saw in the Super Bowl, he can be beaten deep. He has a good relationship the Giants head coach, so I really believe he will stay in New York.
Ronde Barber and Damien Robinson are the cornerbacks for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Both players had very good seasons. Barber had 71 solo tackles, 5.5 sacks, a forced fumble, 2 interceptions, one touchdown and 13 defended passes. From his stats, you can see that he is effective in pass coverage as well as pressuring the Quarterback. Barber is a player that Tony Dungy is unlikely to let go to another team. Robinson had 56 solo tackles, 6 interceptions and 11 defended passes. He is another player that Tampa would like to hold on to. Both of these players always seem to be at the right place on the field to make the big play.
Todd Lyght is a free agent with the St. Louis Rams. He has had an up and down career with the Rams. This season he had 47 solo tackles, one sack, one forced fumble, 2 interceptions and 9 defended passes. He has had some differences with the Rams coaching staff, leading me to believe that he may wish to change teams. He will certainly draw some interest in the free agent market.
Emmanuel McDaniel is a restricted free agent with the New York Giants. He and Sehorn gave the Giants a nice pair of corners. McDaniel finished the season with 37 solo tackles, one sack, a forced fumble, 6 interceptions and 13 defended passes. I believe that the Giants will keep McDaniel and his excellent coverage skills.
Samari Rolle, Denard Walker and Dainon Sidney are three players from the talented Tennessee Titans defense. Rolle is a restricted free agent that is quickly becoming one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL. This season he had 36 solo tackles, 1.5 sacks, 7 interceptions, one touchdown and 16 defended passes. The Titans will surely keep him. Denard Walker is also a very good coverage man. He had 44 solo tackles, 2 interceptions and 16 defended passes. I am sure that the Titans would like to keep him as well, giving them one of the best combinations in the league at the cornerback position. Dainon Sidney, playing behind Rolle and Walker finished with 16 solo tackles, 3 interceptions and 4 defended passes. If signed by another team, where he would fit into the starting line up, I believe he could become a star.
Jerry Wilson is a cornerback with the Miami Dolphins. He is a player that seems to get better the more he is on the field. He had 34 solo tackles, a half sack, a forced fumble, one interception and 7 defended passes this season. I think Miami will try to keep him, but if not he is sure to be picked up by another team.
The other players mentioned at this position; Walt Harris, Matt Stevens, Deshea Townsend, Corey Chavous, Fred Weary and Alex Molden are all very capable players as well. Townsend, Chavous and Weary are all restricted free agents likely to remain with the same team. Harris is an aging player that will not be re signed by the Chicago Bears. Molden is a young guy who has shown promise at being a good cornerback.
Now you have seen the majority of players available in free agency in 2001.Although, I may have missed or forgotten to mention some players that are also available in the free agent market, I do believe that you now have a better idea of the players available as well as their capabilities. If you need any more information on what players are available please use ESPN.com or NFL.com.
One more important position to mention, with available players in free agency, is the kicker position. This year some of the best kickers in the league are free agents. Olindo Mare, Morten Anderson, Ryan Longwell, Jeff Wilkins, Steve Christie, Joe Nedney, Wade Richey, Brad Daluiso and John Carney are the available kickers.
Olindo Mare, the kicker for the Miami Dolphins, had an excellent season making 28 out of 31 field goals overall and 12 of 13 over 40 yards. Mare has become one of the best kickers in the league and will likely stay with Miami, although the New York Jets are said to be interested in his services.
Morten Anderson, the long time New Orleans Saint and Atlanta Falcon, has been one of the best, year in and year out. He may consider retiring, but still has the talent to play the game. This season he made 25 out of 31 field goals overall and 13 of 18 over 40 yards. Anderson has provided us all with much excitement, over the years, with his game winning kicks.
Ryan Longwell, the kicker for the Green Bay Packers, has also become one of the best. Green Bay definitely wants to keep him. This season he was good on 33 out of 38 field goals overall and 16 out of 20 over 40 yards. If Green Bay is unable to sign him to a deal, he will definitely find work with another team.
Jeff Wilkins, the only kicker not to miss a field goal or extra point this season, played with the St. Louis Cardinals. Wilkins missed a few games with an injury, but certainly made up for it when he was healthy. He was 17 of 17 overall and 4 for 4 over 40 yards. I would be very surprised if the Rams do not keep him.
Joe Nedney was unsigned at the beginning of the season, but finally ended up playing for the Carolina Panthers. He had a terrific season making 34 out of 38 field goals overall and 10 of 13 over 40 yards. I think that Carolina is likely to try and re sign him.
Steve Christie, the long time Buffalo Bills kicker, did not have one of his best seasons this year. He is a very good kicker that I am sure the Bills will try to keep. He finished the season making 26 out of 35 field goals overall and 9 of 14 over 40 yards.
Brad Daluiso played with the New York Giants and had an average season. He made 17 of 23 field goals overall and 4 of 7 over 40 yards. The Giants may dip into the free agent market to upgrade their kicking game.
Wade Richey is a restricted free agent with the 49ers. He had his worst season this year. He only made 15 out of 22 field goals overall and 3 of 7 over 40 yards. The 49ers would like to bring in a free agent, but it really depends on their salary cap position as to what they can do.
John Carney has been with the San Diego Chargers for many years. He finished the season making 18 out of 25 field goals overall and 9 of 14 over 40 yards. San Diego has some new people in the front office and may make a change here. I am sure that another team would sign Carney if he does leave San Diego.
The 49ers have begun to free up some money by restructuring contracts of some of their players. They signed Derrick Deese to a 5 year $16.5 million deal that will likely keep him in San Francisco for the rest of his career. Greg Clark and Dave Fiore have also agreed to restructured contracts. They are hoping some other players will follow suit and help them free up the money to keep some of their own free agents as well as bring in some that can help the team. I hope they are able to keep Scott Gragg, Jeff Posey, Brentson Buckner and Zack Bronson. I do believe that, with the qualifying offers they will give to Lance Shulters, Fred Beasley and Jeff Garcia, the 49ers will be able to keep all three players.
It is sure to be an interesting free agency period, starting on March 2nd. I know that I will be watching to see what players sign with which team. Sometimes free agents can make the difference between a winning and losing team. I am sure that either way, we will be in for another exciting season of NFL football in 2001.