2004 AFC free agents with analysis
Pro Football Weekly
It seems like just yesterday that Jake Plummer was mulling offers from the Broncos and Bears, trying to decide where to continue his playing career after escaping Arizona as an unrestricted free agent.
The same could be said of Hugh Douglas, who chose the Jaguars and $27.11 million, or of Takeo Spikes, who shuffled off to Buffalo after the Bengals refused to match the Bills' offer to the transitional free agent.
It all happened only eight months ago, as the 2003 free-agent signing period began last March.
Although we are only two months into the '03 regular season and still three months from determining the champion of Super Bowl XXXVIII, we are only four months away from the start of the next free-agent signing period.
Almost 500 NFL players currently are playing for more than wins and losses; they are playing for their next contracts. For those players who are set to have their current deals expire on March 2, 2004, how they perform now will determine what type of compensation they receive on the market -- whether it be from their current team or from a new team. And don't think NFL teams aren't aware. Pro scouts are studying tape and surveying games in person, filling notebooks and laptops with reports on the members of the free-agent class of 2004.
With that in mind, we have obtained a copy of the 2004 free-agent list, which details all of the players who are set to become restricted (RFAs) and unrestricted (UFAs) free agents in March. It is an unofficial list, as the NFL Players Association doesn't release this information until late January.
Some of the players on the list never will reach the open market, instead opting to sign contract extensions with their current teams rather than test the sometimes tumultuous (and sometimes very lucrative) free-agent market. In addition to each team's list of potential free agents, we report how each team is expected to approach free agency next offseason.
Potential UFAs: TE Mark Campbell, FB Sam Gash, DE Keith McKenzie, RB Sammy Morris, LB DaShon Polk, CB Dainon Sidney, CB Antoine Winfield.
Potential RFAs: FB Phillip Crosby, DT Ron Edwards, OT Marques Sullivan, C Ross Tucker.
Analysis: The Bills' major overhauls via free agency have come the past two offseasons, and this year could be as calm as a muggy summer day, comparatively speaking. However, the Bills will have some areas to address, such as possible safety help if they are not pleased with the play of Pierson Prioleau or Izell Reese this season. Of their own potential UFAs, Winfield clearly is the most important target, and the team will work to get him signed as quickly as possible. Winfield has had a great season thus far, particularly vs. the run, and the Bills want to keep him around to continue to tutor fellow CB Nate Clements. Buffalo probably would try to bring back blocking FB Gash and Morris, the team's third-down specialist. However, if Willis McGahee shows well in the second half of the season and improves dramatically in the pass-catching department, he could make Morris expendable.
Potential UFAs: FB Obafemi Ayanbadejo, CB Terrell Buckley, DE Rob Burnett, S Arturo Freeman, LB Tommy Hendricks, OG Jamie Nails, LS Ed Perry, RB Charlie Rogers, P Matt Turk, OT Todd Wade, S Shawn Wooden.
Potential RFAs: LB Morlon Greenwood, RB Travis Minor, DE Adewale Ogunleye, QB Sage Rosenfels.
Analysis: Priority No. 1 will probably be addressing the QB situation. Both Jay Fiedler and Brian Griese are due costly roster bonuses next March, and we hear Dolphins' management still isn't sold on either as the long-term answer. Don't be surprised if Miami adds another veteran to keep the QB seat warm for an early-round rookie drafted in 2004. Getting Ogunleye, the team's up-and-coming defensive end, signed to a sensible long-term deal is a priority. The Dolphins might have high interest in retaining Greenwood as an RFA, but given his limited playmaking ability, they probably won't overpay for his services. Rosenfels also should warrant a decent tender from the team. RB-RS Rogers and Turk could secure new contracts if they turn up their performances a few notches in the second half of the season, since Miami's special teams have been off a bit up to now. But there will be questions on the offensive line, where the team has a couple youngsters in the wings behind Nails and Wade, although the team will need to decide quickly if those youngsters are ready for full-time duty. Wade could end up out of the Dolphins' price range if they don't decide to slap the franchise tag on him, which, in and of itself would be a bit pricey.
New England Patriots
Potential UFAs: S Chris Akins, TE Fred Baxter, S Je'Rod Cherry, RB Mike Cloud, C Mike Compton, LB Don Davis, RB Kevin Faulk, DE Bobby Hamilton, S Antwan Harris, QB Damon Huard, DT Rick Lyle, RB Patrick Pass, DE Anthony Pleasant, DT Ted Washington, C Damien Woody.
Potential RFA: OG Russ Hochstein.
Analysis: The biggest target in the offseason, either via free agency or the draft, could end up being running back, where Faulk and Cloud are set to be UFAs, and Antowain Smith could end up joining them if the team opts to decline the option on his contract. That would leave the team with an empty backfield. Compton, who is out for the year, likely won't be back in a Patriots uniform, simply because rookie Dan Koppen has stepped up and been good thus far. But given that OL depth is a problem, if the market dries up on Compton, the Pats could get him cheap and use him as a guard. It's likely, though, that New England will bring back Woody and spot him at guard, though he could play center with another team, and that's where the big money would lie for him if he hits the open market. DLs Hamilton, Pleasant, Lyle and Washington are all aging players whose asking prices shouldn't be high, but they are declining in ability. The secondary also will need some shoring up, so expect the Pats to make a push there in the offseason.
New York Jets
Potential UFAs: WR Michael Bates, PK Doug Brien, OG J.P. Machado, DT Chester McGlockton, OG Brent Smith, P Dan Stryzinski.
Potential RFAs: LB Jason Glenn, CB Jamie Henderson, OT Kareem McKenzie, DT James Reed, LB Quincy Stewart, WR Kevin Swayne, LB Kenyatta Wright.
Analysis: The Jets will have plenty of hole patching to do via free agency, as they are expected to make salary-cap cuts left and right. Smith could be allowed to walk if the running game doesn't continue to improve in the second half. The Jets don't have a bull's-eye on any of the potential UFAs, unless they decide they can't do better at placekicker and punter. Then Brien and Stryzinski could be brought back. McKenzie likely will draw a high tender, and the Jets' other potential RFAs are players the team would like to keep around.
Potential UFAs: OT Orlando Brown, C Mike Flynn, LB Bernardo Harris, TE John Jones, CB Tommy Knight, CB Chris McAlister, DE Riddick Parker, QB Chris Redman, PK Wade Richey, WR Marcus Robinson, PK Matt Stover, DE Adalius Thomas, WR Dedric Ward, QB Anthony Wright.
Potential RFAs: OG Bennie Anderson, OT Damion Cook, DE Marques Douglas, DT Kelly Gregg, LB Edgerton Hartwell, LS Joe Maese, OG Casey Rabach, FB Alan Ricard, CB Raymond Walls.
Analysis: McAlister is the big name here, but concerns about his off-the-field troubles might send him onto the open market. The Ravens are unlikely to put the franchise tag on him again. The Ravens likely will make a play to bring back Thomas, a surprise starter at strongside linebacker. Thomas' versatility - he can also play defensive end if need be - is a strength. Brown is healthy again and could well earn another shot with the Ravens. The Ravens will bring back either Redman or Wright to back up Kyle Boller. Neither figures to stir up too much interest on the open market, so the Ravens, who after the Elvis Grbac fiasco are adamant about not overpaying for quarterbacks, don't figure to spend too much to bring them back. Stover is getting up in age, but he remains one of the AFC's most accurate kickers, and the team could push to sign him for another go-around. Robinson has not made an impact and will not be back. Of the restricted free agents, Hartwell is the most likely to get signed to an extension. Rabach, a valuable, versatile, interior line player, also could earn an extension.
Potential UFAs: S Rogers Beckett, RB Brandon Bennett, C Rich Braham, OG Mike Goff, QB Shane Matthews, OG Matt O'Dwyer, S Mark Roman, TE Brad St. Louis, DT Glen Steele.
Potential RFAs: PK Shayne Graham, WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh, LB Riall Johnson, RB Rudi Johnson, S Kevin Kaesviharn, OG Victor Leyva, TE Tony Stewart.
Analysis: Look for the Bengals to try to improve the interior of their offensive line in free agency. O'Dwyer was the starting right guard at the beginning of the season, but he lost his job after a disastrous outing in Week One, and the Bengals will likely let him go. Goff replaced him on the right side, but he too is unlikely to be re-signed. Braham, who took over for Goff at center during the line shuffle, could be back. Braham is well-respected by his teammates and has proved he has something left in the tank with his play this season. The Bengals will make an effort to bring back Roman, who has played well at free safety. Beckett, the former Chargers safety, could also be back. Head coach Marvin Lewis is said to be pleased with Beckett's play at strong safety. With current starting QB Jon Kitna likely to be the backup to Carson Palmer in 2004, the Bengals probably won't make a push to bring back Matthews. Graham and Kaesviharn have won over Lewis and are candidates to earn contract extensions. Of course, the Bengals' plans may hinge on what happens with Corey Dillon, who is once again making noise about wanting out of Cincinnati.
Potential UFAs: LB Brant Boyer, P Chris Gardocki, TE Rodrick Monroe, WR Dennis Northcutt, OG Shaun O'Hara, DE Tyrone Rogers, CB Lewis Sanders, OG Barry Stokes.
Potential RFAs: WR Andre King, OG Paul Zukauskas.
Analysis: How the Browns choose to handle the QB situation is worth watching. Tim Couch earns too much money to start a second straight season on the bench. But Kelly Holcomb wasn't living up to expectations, either, before getting hurt. The most intriguing player on this list is Northcutt,who doesn't start but was second on the team in receptions heading into Week Eight. Whether Northcutt returns to Cleveland depends on whether he expects to be paid like a starting wideout. If he does, the Browns will likely let him go. Stokes moved over from left guard to left tackle when Ross Verba was injured at the end of the preseason and has shown great toughness playing on a badly sprained right ankle. The Browns like his versatility and want him back. The Browns also will push to re-sign O'Hara. Gardocki's tenure in Cleveland could well be over, as the team may look to bring in a cheaper alternative. Boyer gives the special teams a big boost and could return. No. 3 CB Sanders might be back, but he could also be squeezed out by rookie DBs Michael Lehan and Chris Crocker.
Potential UFAs: DT Kendrick Clancy, TE Matt Cushing, WR Chris Doering, LB Clark Haggans, FB Dan Kreider, S Mike Logan, LS Mike Schneck.
Potential RFAs: DE Rodney Bailey, DE Chris Hoke, CB Chidi Iwuoma, OT Mathias Nkwenti, C Chukky Okobi, OG Keydrick Vincent.
Analysis: Logan, thought to be all but out of the picture in Pittsburgh after the team drafted Troy Polamalu, might be back after all. Logan's coverage skills are integral to the secondary, and Polamalu has been unable to wrest the starting free-safety job from him. If the Steelers decide to cut LB Jason Gildon after the season, Haggans would be a logical replacement at left outside linebacker. Haggans could draw interest from other 3-4 teams; the Texans showed some interest when he was a restricted free agent last offseason. The Steelers would like to bring Kreider back. Doering, the team's No. 4 receiver, could be back, as could Cushing, who provides depth at tight end and help on special teams. Schneck is a dependable long-snapper who could be brought back. Restricted free agents Nkwenti, Okobi and Vincent have each flashed some talent, and the Steelers would likely try to match a reasonable offer for them. Okobi could replace Jeff Hartings at center.
Potential UFAs: FB Greg Comella, LB Steve Foley, OT Jimmy Herndon, RB Stacey Mack, DT Steve Martin, OT Greg Randall, DE Corey Sears, CB Jason Simmons, OG Todd Washington.
Potential RFAs: CB Jason Bell, DE Jerry DeLoach, TE Jabari Holloway, S Marlon McCree, FB Moran Norris, CB Darrick Vaughn.
Analysis: Because the Texans, who will be entering only their third year of existence, are not established like other teams, they are constantly overhauling their roster. However, they have some clear weaknesses to address. The Texans hope to improve their defensive line, which has not generated much of a pass rush or stuffed the run. The futures of DeLoach, Sears and Martin will be determined by whether NT Seth Payne returns to form following season-ending knee surgery. Before the surgery, Texans officials felt that he was the team's best defensive lineman. He almost single-handedly held Dolphins RB Ricky Williams to 69 yards in Week One. If Payne comes back healthy, Houston will welcome back DeLoach and Sears only at the right price. Martin was signed during the season and looks to be on his way out. The Texans will have a big decision to make regarding Gary Walker, who is due a $6 million bonus in March. That, coupled with a $5.85 million base salary in 2004, means Houston will likely have to re-negotiate or release their star defensive tackle. In the secondary, the Texans really like McCree, who quickly took the starting job away from Matt Stevens. Simmons and Vaughn could be re-signed at the right price, unless Houston finds better options in the draft. The offensive line has improved this year, and the Texans want to re-sign Washington and Randall to give the line more consistency. RBs Domanick Davis and Tony Hollings are the future; so, Mack likely will not be re-signed.
Potential UFAs: CB Cliff Crosby, CB David Macklin, QB Peyton Manning, LB Jim Nelson, LB Marcus Washington, DT Josh Williams.
Potential RFAs: S Cory Bird, TE Joe Dean Davenport, OG Rick DeMulling, OT Ryan Diem, S Jason Doering, CB Nick Harper, RB Dominic Rhodes, LB Donnel Thompson.
Analysis: Obviously, Manning is the name that jumps out. Colts President Bill Polian refuses to discuss contract negotiations publicly but will not let Manning leave under any circumstances. After re-signing Manning, the Colts' next priority will be Washington. With Washington and David Thornton, the Colts are very excited about their young outside linebackers. In the secondary, Macklin is a definite question mark. With young, athletic CBs Donald Strickland and Joe Jefferson on the roster, Macklin may become expendable. The Colts will re-sign Harper, who replaced Macklin in the starting lineup this year. Although Harper has slumped a bit after a hot start, they like his explosiveness. Crosby has turned into a special-teams ace and is a priority for his work on that unit rather than his DB work. The offensive line continues to provide solid protection for Manning. Diem has done a good job in his first year as a starter and will be re-signed. The Colts will also keep DeMulling because of his ability to play both guard andcenter. With James Mungro, Ricky Williams and Rhodes, the Colts have excellent depth at backup running back, but Rhodes is the best of the bunch.
Potential UFAs: DE Lionel Barnes, CB Fernando Bryant, LB Danny Clark, S Donovin Darius, WR Matthew Hatchette, OT Leander Jordan, C Brad Meester, LB Keith Mitchell, OG Jamar Nesbit, LB T.J. Slaughter, DE Paul Spicer, WR J.J. Stokes, CB Kiwaukee Thomas, CB James Trapp, OT Sammy Williams, TE Joe Zelenka.
Potential RFAs: P Chris Hanson, LB Joe Tuipala.
Analysis: The Jaguars' secondary could have a very different look next year. Bryant is more impressed with his skills than anyone else and is expected to test the free-agent waters. Darius, a former first-round draft pick, has never matched his expectations. But, he does have good size and speed, and some team will take a chance on his talent. The Jaguars will only re-sign Thomas and Trapp at the right price. Although the offensive line has struggled this year, Meester continues to perform as one of the line's few bright spots and will be re-signed. Both Jordan and Nesbit play backup roles, and their jobs are on the line. Their status will be determined by who the Jaguars draft. Jacksonville will not exert any effort to re-sign Stokes, who looks finished. Hanson will be re-signed if he comes back from the season-ending gash he suffered during the "Keep choppin' wood" incident. Spicer has a good motor and will be welcomed back if he accepts a low salary. Like Spicer, LBs Slaughter, Clark and Mitchell could go either way. Ultimately, their status will be decided by whether they willingly agree to minimum salaries. With Byron Leftwich taking over at quarterback, Mark Brunell is a lock to be released after this season.
Potential UFAs: PK Gary Anderson, DE Jevon Kearse, TE Erron Kinney, S Scott McGarrahan, DT Robaire Smith, QB Billy Volek.
Potential RFAs: WR Drew Bennett, WR Eddie Berlin, WR Justin McCareins, TE Shad Meier, DE Juqua Thomas.
Analysis: Kearse has returned to the form he showed before injuring his foot last year. The Titans would love to keep one of the league's best pass rushers. However, the Titans do not have much cap room. To get a deal done, they will have to sign him before the season ends. Otherwise, his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, will guile some team into signing him for an outrageous sum. Tennessee won't break the bank to keep him. With DEs Kevin Carter and Carlos Hall also on the roster, the Titans would miss Kearse but could survive without him. The rest of the defensive line is perilously thin. So, expect both Thomas and Smith to be re-signed. Once PK Joe Nedney returns to health, Anderson, who is serving as a one-year stop-gap, will not be re-signed. When they let QB Neil O'Donnell go, the Titans showed how much they value Volek, who they will make an effort to keep. TE Frank Wycheck continues to battle concussions and will probably retire at the year's end. As a result, re-signing both Kinney and Meier becomes a priority. The Titans like to use two-TE sets and feel that Meier will adequately replace Wycheck, while Kinney has played well all year. At wide receiver, McCareins and Bennett will be re-signed unless another team signs them to expensive offer sheets. With their newfound depth at wide receiver, Berlin has become expendable.
Potential UFAs: DE Bert Berry, OT Blake Brockermeyer, LB Keith Burns, WR Chris Cole, FB Reuben Droughns, S Nick Ferguson, LB Ian Gold, TE Patrick Hape, TE Mike Leach, CB Jimmy Spencer, LB Al Wilson.
Potential RFAs: OG Ben Hamilton, DE Reggie Hayward, OG Steve Herndon, LB Donnie Spragan.
Analysis: The crux of the Broncos' free-agency plans hinges primarily on the LB position, where both Pro Bowl MLB Wilson and weak-side playmaker Gold are unrestricted. The Broncos boast probably the fastest LB corps in the NFL and arguably one of its best. The drafting of MLB Terry Pierce in the second round this past spring sent off signals that perhaps the Broncos were preparing to part ways with Wilson, who, in his fifth season, figures to command a major raise in the offseason. Gold's price tag likely took a dip after he tore an ACL a couple of weeks ago. The thinking in Denver now is that the Broncos could be leaning toward keeping both, especially if Wilson isn't asking for the moon and Gold's injury limits his leverage. Ferguson has played well, and Droughns is versatile and a special-teams dynamo, so expect both of them to be re-signed. Berry's stock has gone up this season as he continues to make an impact in the pass rush. His agent says he likes Denver and the team's scheme, and there have been talks about a long-term deal.
Kansas City Chiefs
Potential UFAs: CB William Bartee, WR Dameane Douglas, TE Jason Dunn, LS Kendall Gammon, DE Eric Hicks, CB Darrius Johnson, QB Jonathan Quinn, OT John Tait, S Greg Wesley, S Lyle West.
Potential RFAs: P Jason Baker, LB Monty Beisel, RB Derrick Blaylock, LB Quinton Caver, DT Eric Downing, WR Curtis Jackson.
Analysis: Tait and Wesley are the two of utmost importance on this list. Tait is said to be making strides after being moved from the left side to the right to make way for Willie Roaf last season. Though he would never admit to holding any animosity, some question whether he feels respected by the team after an ugly contract negotiation process as a rookie and the team's decision about the need to upgrade when he was playing left tackle. The Chiefs really want to keep Wesley in the fold and feel he makes a good team with veteran FS Jerome Woods. Both he and Tait will be in line for sizable paydays, and Tait could increase his asking price by selling himself on the open market as a left tackle. Hicks' production has never really lived up to his talent, and the Chiefs shouldn't be expected to heavily pursue him. The same goes for Bartee, who lost his starting job and has rookie Julian Battle nipping at his heels on the depth chart.
Potential UFAs: OG Brad Badger, S Anthony Dorsett, FB Chris Hetherington, RB-KR Ronney Jenkins, S-LB Eric Johnson, CB Clarence Love, QB Rick Mirer, WR Scottie Montgomery, TE O.J. Santiago, CB Terrance Shaw, OL Matt Stinchcomb, DT Dana Stubblefield, WR Alvis Whitted, CB Charles Woodson.
Potential RFA: OT Chad Slaughter.
Analysis: Woodson is the one with his name in lights here, for obvious reasons. Some injury problems and inconsistent play from both him and the defense probably have dropped his potential worth on the free-agent market, but cover men who can do what he does are a luxury in this league, so he figures to be paid accordingly. If a good share of the team's aging veterans decide to retire, it could put the Raiders in a salary-cap hole and hinder how active they can be in the offseason. Still, the Raiders hold the trump card because they could always choose to franchise Woodson, who is believed to want to stay with the Silver & Black. What happens with Woodson should directly impact how much they pursue Shaw. Stubblefield figures to be done after one year in Oakland, as the Raiders aim to get younger at the position. Stinchcomb, who can play several positions, and Badger likely will be retained, as the Raiders like to avoid too much turnover on the line. The Raiders shouldn't have to break the bank to keep the services of Dorsett, Jenkins or Johnson, all of whom contribute enough to warrant a roster spot next August.
San Diego Chargers
Potential UFAs: P Darren Bennett, LS David Binn, PK Steve Christie, OG Kelvin Garmon, OG Bob Hallen, RB Leon Johnson, OT Damion McIntosh, OL Solomon Page, S Jerry Wilson.
Potential RFAs: DE Otis Leverette, LB Zeke Moreno, LB Carlos Polk, LB Jude Waddy.
Analysis: The offensive line is where it's at in San Diego, at least in terms of major decisions in the offseason. Page and Garmon are both Hudson Houck guys, so expect the Chargers to do what they can to retain them. Houck, the Chargers' valuable OL coach, tutored them both while in Dallas and was a key factor in their acquisitions. Page, because of his versatility to play both guard and right tackle, could earn decent money. The Chargers were hoping this would be a breakout year for McIntosh on the left side, but he has played just OK. He has a bunch of potential, but how much that potential will cost may be the deciding factor for him. Hallen, a veteran backup and part-time starter, will be coming off season-ending surgery for a torn pectoral muscle, so his options may be limited. The drafting of P Mike Scifres figures to make long-time P Bennett expendable, and it also would be considered a surprise if Christie is kicking field goals for San Diego beyond this year.
2004 AFC free agents with analysis
Since there has been some free agent talk I thought I\'d bump these back up.
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