Top 50 free agents: The younger, the better
March 1, 2005
By Pete Prisco
SportsLine.com Senior Writer
Tell Pete your opinion!
Rule No. 1 of NFL free agency: Don\'t get caught up in names.
Rule No. 2: Don\'t give big money to any player over the age of 30.
Samari Rolle has the kind of coverage skills many teams badly need. (Getty Images)
Naturally, a lot of teams don\'t follow those rules. But they should. As the free-agent period is about to begin Wednesday, teams are preparing to strike fast (if you don\'t think many of these deals are done already, then I have a piece of swamp land I\'d like to sell you). In some cases, that means name players will be signing. In others, it\'s players over 30, which means on the downward slope of their careers.
That\'s where cap problems come into play. Signing a player for big money who is over 30 can blow up a team\'s cap. That\'s why teams that are close to getting to the Super Bowl have to be careful whom they pay. The lure of winning can sometimes cloud prudent thinking.
\"We\'ve seen that before with a lot of teams,\" said one NFL personnel director. \"They get so close, and it\'s killing them to get it that they pay a player they have no business paying, thinking he will fill a key spot. Then that player struggles, the team doesn\'t get to the Super Bowl and they\'re on the books for a big contract that they don\'t want.\"
So in compiling our Top 50 list of free-agent players, we took age very much into account. There is no player 30 or older in our top 10. Of the 10, two are 28, two are 27, four are 26 and two are 25. They all fall into the key target age. And there are no players who have been slapped with franchise tags because that takes them off the market.
The top player on this board is Tennessee Titans cornerback Samari Rolle. He is a premier cover player who was set free for cap reasons. The Titans coaches love the guy, as will the team that gets him.
He isn\'t a great tackler, but in terms of coverage skills he\'s outstanding. He\'ll be 29 when the season starts, which is a little older than I would prefer, but he can give a team 4-5 good years of coverage play. That\'s too valuable to ignore.
There are two other corners in the top 10: Fred Smoot of the Redskins at No. 3 and Anthony Henry of the Browns at No. 8. That\'s because in my book, good, young corners have a lot of value.
Hope you enjoy the list. And if your team violates one of the two main tenets of free agency, don\'t say you weren\'t warned.
1. Samari Rolle, CB, Titans: At 28, he is a premier cover player. Even if he isn\'t a great tackler, that is a valuable ability to have on your defense.
2. Mike Wahle, G-T, Packers: The Packers plan to cut him for cap reasons Wednesday. This 27-year-old is a heck of a guard, but some teams have him targeted as a tackle.
3. Fred Smoot, CB, Redskins: At 25, he\'s an outstanding cover player who talks a big game, too. Some like their corners more physical, but we like this kid a lot.
4. Plaxico Burress, WR, Steelers: This is the best receiver available, even if he didn\'t put up big numbers last year. Plus, he\'s only 27.
5. Antonio Pierce, LB, Redskins: This guy is coming off a heck of a season in which he played every play for the Redskins. At 26, his best football is ahead of him. 6. Reggie Hayward, DE, Broncos: In a league desperate for pass rushers, he had 10 1/2 sacks last year, which makes him a hot commodity. Plus, he\'s only 25.
7. Edgerton Hartwell, LB, Ravens: Played next to Ray Lewis the past couple of years, but will leave his shadow for bigger things. He\'s 26.
8. Anthony Henry, CB, Browns: He\'s an underrated corner the Browns\' new brass wants back, but he may get too pricey. Plays the ball well, although at 28 he\'s a little older than most in this top group.
9. LaMont Jordan, RB, Jets: There aren\'t a lot of carries on his body, which makes him appealing. He\'s a power back who has his best days ahead of him. At 26, he has five good years left of taking a pounding.
10. Ken Lucas, CB, Seahawks: A quality younger corner who will get some play on the market because he\'s been a consistent starter. Has good size and speed and he\'s just 26.
11. Derrick Mason, WR, Titans: At 31 years old, he has a few years left. But it\'s risky giving an older receiver big money. It should be buyer beware.
12. Marco Rivera, G, Packers: Rivera went to the Pro Bowl in 2004, but he\'s not as good as Wahle. But he is an above-average starter.
13. Ben Hamilton, G, Broncos: Has played guard with the Broncos, but he was a college center and some teams think that\'s his best position.
14. Gary Baxter, CB, Ravens: Here\'s another player with versatility, having started at both corner and safety. The Ravens want him back badly.
15. Kendrell Bell, LB, Steelers: Injuries have derailed his career, but if he\'s healthy he\'s a force inside or in the middle. 16. Chike Okeafor, DE, Seahawks: A speed rusher who will get play in large part because there aren\'t a lot of them.
17. Dwight Smith, S, Bucs: Has played corner in the past, but he is a free safety who loves to tackle. A recent arrest may impact his value, although it\'s doubtful.
18. Jermane Mayberry, G, Eagles: He missed a lot of time with injuries last year, but he is a quality guard. Can also play tackle. At 31, age is an issue.
19. Ty Law, CB, Patriots: He is coming off a major injury and he\'s 31 years old. That\'s two red flags. But for a team that is close, and willing to risk money on an older player, he might be worth it.
20. Jason Ferguson, DT, Jets: He had a good season in 2004, but he\'s getting up there in years. Somebody will pay him well, though.
21. Kurt Warner, QB, Giants: The Cardinals will make a strong push to get him, and that will be a great fit. He can still play.
22. Oliver Ross, T, Steelers: He was a 16-game starter for the second-best running team in the league. Says something about his drive-blocking ability. 23. Pat Williams, DT, Bills: A wide-body in the middle who can plug the run, but he\'s getting up there in years.
24. Andre Dyson, CB, Titans: If he were two inches taller, he\'d be higher on this list. He\'s a scrappy little corner who will start for somebody.
25. Jonas Jennings, T, Bills: He\'s not a top-grade tackle, but he is a consistent starter. Has also played guard.
26. Rick DeMulling, G, Colts: Here\'s a player we like more than most. He\'s a battler who knows what it takes to get the job done.
27. Kareem McKenzie, T, Jets: With quality right tackles at a premium, he will get some play. He\'s a good run blocker.
28. Kenoy Kennedy, S, Broncos: A big hitter who clearly outplayed John Lynch, who went to the Pro Bowl playing next to him.
29. Stockar McDougle, T, Lions: The Lions would like him back after signing center Dominick Raiola.
30. Morlon Greenwood, LB, Dolphins: He is a smallish linebacker who can run. But he has trouble when teams run at him.
31. Casey Rabach, C/G, Ravens: He played center last year when Mike Flynn went down, which is his college position, but he can also play guard. He\'s worth a strong look.
32. Derrick Burgess, DE, Eagles: Don\'t let his postseason success fool you, he\'s had problems staying healthy. If he can stay on the field, he\'s a quality speed rusher.
33. Corey Bradford, WR, Texans: He is a guy who can stretch a defense with his speed, even if he isn\'t consistent.
34. David Terrell, WR, Bears: So maybe it didn\'t work out for him in Chicago, but this guy still has good skills. A new venue might do him well.
35. Victor Riley, T, Saints: In 2003, he had an outstanding year. Then he tailed off last season. He is capable of bouncing back.
36. Allen Rossum, KR, Falcons: Normally, I wouldn\'t have a return man on the list, but Rossum is coming off a heck of a season and he won\'t cost all that much.
37. Tommy Polley, LB, Rams: This is a kid (27) with loads of potential who hasn\'t quite lived up to it. Maybe a fresh start will be a good thing.
38. Mark Fields, LB, Panthers: He played well in 2004 after missing 2003 with cancer, but age (32) is a factor for any team signing him.
39. Anthony Thomas, RB, Bears: The A-train doesn\'t have big-time speed, but he can be a tough runner for a team looking for that type of player.
40. Jeremiah Trotter, LB, Eagles: He played well for the Eagles when he was inserted into the lineup last year, but he has bad knees that will scare off some people.
41. Vonnie Holliday, DE, Chiefs: If the Chiefs\' woeful defense doesn\'t want you, there\'s something wrong. Holliday\'s skills have eroded.
42. Fred Miller, T, Titans: The Titans released him for cap reasons, but he\'s still a solid right tackle. Age (32) is starting to be a concern.
43. Keydrick Vincent, G, Steelers: He stepped in when Kendall Simmons went down and played well. He made some money in 2004.
44. Kevin Carter, DT-DE, Titans: He played mostly inside at tackle last year, but there are teams that feel he can go back out to end. Most likely, he\'s re-signing with the Titans.
45. Bryce Fisher, DE, Rams: He\'s an effort player who had his best year in 2004. A decent first step helps him with his pass-rush ability.
46. Floyd Womack, T, Seahawks: He\'s been a quality starter at both guard and tackle, but guard might be his better position.
47. Seth Payne, DT, Texans: Aside from durability issues, Payne is a force in the middle when he\'s on the field. He can clog things up in the run game.
48. Marques Douglas, DE, Ravens: With more and more teams going to a 3-4, he has played the 3-4 end the past couple of seasons. He\'s not a great player, but in that defense the ends don\'t have to be.
49. Itula Mili, TE, Seahawks: He is getting up in age (31), but he\'s still an effective player in the passing game. He\'s a tough cover for linebackers.
50. Derrick Blaylock, RB, Chiefs: Had success when Priest Holmes went down but there are some concerns over whether he is a product of the system.