Every year, we hear “this is a thin crop of NFL free agents” in the NFL. With the uncapped year, it’s thinner than ever. And older.
Under the new rules, players don’t hit unrestricted free agency until they have been in the league six seasons. With few exceptions, players only get to the market because their teams didn’t truly want to keep them.
Behold: the top-50 unrestricted free agents for 2010. We did not include restricted free agents that require trade compensation in return.
Previous team is listed in parenthesis.
1. Julius Peppers, DE (Panthers)
He’s not Reggie White, but Peppers is the best pass rusher to hit free agency since the Hall of Famer. He’ll cost an insane amount of money for a player with inconsistent effort, but is undoubtedly one of the league's most talented players. Seattle, Washington, and Chicago are possibilities.
2. Karlos Dansby, LB (Cardinals)
It’s a big drop to number two on this list. Dansby is a smart, versatile linebacker who excels in coverage. He a knack for big plays, but has yet to make a single Pro Bowl.
3. Dunta Robinson, CB (Texans)
He’s a good, not great, young cornerback who is about to be paid like a Hall of Famer. The Falcons are interested.
4. Aaron Kampman, DE (Packers)
Kampman looked like a fish out of water as a linebacker in Green Bay’s 3-4 defense. He fits better as a rock-solid starting defensive end. He’s coming off a torn ACL.
5. Antonio Bryant, WR (Bucs)
Sure, he's a head case. But he's a head case in his prime who can stretch the field! Towels not included.
6. Antrel Rolle, S (Cardinals)
He’s going to do well for someone who was once benched for Rod Hood. A failed cornerback, Rolle is an above-average free safety. In this market, he may become the richest player at his position.
7. Leigh Bodden, CB (Patriots)
A solid starting cornerback who has size and playmaking ability. He should be a better value than Dunta Robinson.
8. Chad Clifton, T (Packers)
Clifton has some knocks against him (34-years-old, so-so run blocker), but he’s easily the best pass protector on the market.
9. Dwan Edwards, DE (Ravens)
Young linemen who don’t mind doing the dirty work are hard to find. The Ravens pedigree helps.
10. Gary Brackett, LB (Colts)
A classic undersized linebacker with incredible leadership skills, Brackett is worth more to the Colts than anyone else.
11. Ben Watson, TE (Patriots)
Watson is athletic, can play every down, and will help a team in the red zone. Just don’t expect him to be a huge difference maker.
12. Kevin Walter, WR (Texans)
A secondary receiver with size, Walter gets a huge bump because he’s only 28 and is low maintenance.
13. Terrell Owens, WR (Bills)
He’s like Walter, except the exact opposite. T.O. can still help a team out as a second receiver if he can accept the role.
14. Darren Sharper, S (Saints)
Overrated because he’s a stat-hound who struggles in run support, Sharper still is a weapon if used correctly. He’ll likely wind up back in New Orleans.
15. Thomas Jones, RB (Jets)
Was his late-season decline because of overuse or is age about to catch up to Jones, 31? He’s a committee back stopgap at worst.
16. Chester Taylor, RB (Vikings)
Taylor is one of the best third-down backs and doesn’t have nearly as much mileage on his legs as bigger-named over-30 backs.
17. Lito Sheppard, CB (Jets)
He’s competent, young and has starting experience. An acceptable starter, but two teams have let him go.
18. Kyle Vanden Bosch, DE (Titans)
The Titans can spot good defensive linemen, so it’s not a great sign they are letting him walk away.
19. Derrick Mason, WR (Ravens)
Still putting up 1,000-yard seasons as a possession receiver, year after year.
20. Ryan Clark, S (Steelers)
He wouldn’t look as good away from Troy Polamalu, but Clark could be a good value for a team looking for an enforcer.
21. Justin Bannan, DT (Ravens)
Little known Ravens reserve has some upside.
22. Bobbie Williams, G (Bengals)
Williams, 33, is a mauler in the running game.
23. Derrick Burgess, LB/DE (Patriots)
Took a while to adjust to playing linebacker in New England, but he closed the season strong. New England traded two mid-round picks for him only a year ago.
24. Adewale Ogunleye, DE (Bears)
He would best be used as a situational pass rusher now. Quality linemen swallow him whole.
25. Stephen Neal, G (Patriots)
We’re afraid of what the former NCAA champion wrestler would do if we didn’t rank him this high.
26. Jason Taylor, LB (Dolphins)
Far from his peak, Taylor is still a useful tool when his snaps are limited.
27. Leonard Little, DE (Rams)
Washington and St. Louis would both love to have Little as a situational pass rusher if he chooses not to retire.
28. Chad Pennington, QB (Dolphins)
There are two ways to look at his last shoulder surgery — He had no arm strength anyway; and what arm strength will he have left?
29. Joey Porter, LB (Dolphins)
His mouth is looking for a check his play can no longer cash.
30. Nate Burleson, WR (Vikings)
Wildly up-and-down career went back up during a contract year. Where the cash at?
31. Brian Westbrook, RB (Eagles)
Westbrook could help a team if he gets medically cleared. Huge if.
32. Scott Fujita, LB (Saints)
Valued veteran leader seems likely to return to New Orleans.
33. Keith Bulluck, LB (Titans)
A torn ACL late in the season crushed his free agent stock. He’s worth a shot because of his leadership.
34. Chris Chambers, WR (Chiefs)
He’s a stop-gap solution, but not a bad one. He re-ignited his career with a nice run in Kansas City.
35. Tully Banta-Cain, LB (Patriots)
9.5 sacks have rarely been given so little league-wide respect. (His unsuccessful try to leave the Patriots last time is one reason why.)
36. LaDainian Tomlinson, RB (Chargers)
We’re not even sure he would be a good role player at this point. And we’re almost certain he doesn’t truly want to be a role player.
37. Jamal Williams, DT (Chargers)
It’s not a good sign the Chargers couldn’t find anyone to trade for him before they cut him.
38. Roy Williams, S (Bengals)
The former Cowboy can hit, but he can’t cover.
39. Tony Pashos, T (49ers)
He could slip under the radar because he was hurt all last year. A fine run-blocker, Washington should show interest.
40. David Carr, QB (Giants)
He’s sat on the bench long enough for everyone to forget how bad he was. (In all seriousness, he’s worth a gamble.)
41. Jimmy Kennedy, DT (Vikings)
He could help a team in a defensive line rotation.
42. Shayne Graham, K (Bengals)
His season ended horribly in the playoffs, but he’s had a solid career.
43. Willie Parker, RB (Steelers)
Not Nearly As Fast Willie Parker doesn’t have the same ring to it. He doesn’t help on passing downs.
44. Neil Rackers, K (Cardinals)
Once named the NFL’s sexiest man.
45. Torry Holt, WR (Jaguars)
He needs to play on turf and came off the bench.
46. Nick Harper, CB (Titans)
Way older than you think (35) because he didn’t play a NFL game until he was 27. He fits best in a zone defense.
47. Kevin Faulk, RB (Patriots)
The godfather of third-down backs may find a home with a Belichick disciple.
48. Chris Redman, QB (Falcons)
He’s quietly a competent backup if you need quarterback help.
49. Larry Johnson, RB (Chiefs)
Dick Vermeil once said it was time for L.J. to get out of his diapers. In running back years, he’s now closer to Depends.
50. Laveranues Coles, WR (Bengals)
A great competitor, Coles’ body has taken a lot of abuse. He’s a small receiver without any speed, which is not an ideal combination.