Nearly a week into free agency NFL front offices are starting to sober up from their typical happy-hour binges, and headaches are lingering.
While the 2005 class offered a plethora of slightly damaged goods, the most seriously damaged items are still dangling: Ty Law's broken foot, Plaxico Burress' broken reputation and Fred Smoot's back-breaking contract expectations. Eventually, someone is going to have to pay the price for each of that trio, but as mid-March approaches, the players are the ones losing dollars with each passing day.
Smoot might be the most glaring example. A young and talented player at a constant "need" position, the cornerback was expected to fetch one of the most lucrative deals of this offseason. But there have been plenty of complications along the way, beginning with cornerback Ken Lucas' ridiculous $13 million in bonus money from Carolina, and then the mad cornerback shuffling between Baltimore (Samari Rolle), Cleveland (Gary Baxter) and Dallas (Anthony Henry).
Now Smoot's in a tough spot. He thinks he deserves as much bonus money (or more) than Lucas, but he doesn't have many suitors left to drive up his price. Washington had been holding firm with an offer of a $10 million signing bonus, but now that the Redskins are suffering cap issues after trading Laveranues Coles to the Jets, Smoot's fallback bonus cash is likely history.
His saving grace might be the Kansas City Chiefs, who (despite all their talking about defensive improvements) have done nothing but lose players on the free-agent market.
With that in mind, here's an updated look at the top 10 free agents in the pool of remaining players.
TOP 10 FREE AGENTS
1. Fred Smoot, CB, Washington Redskins (5-11, 176)
He's another quality cornerback who's young (25) and packs Pro Bowl potential. He was good enough to be franchised by the Redskins, but the price would have been too steep. Some thought Shawn Springs outplayed him anyway. Unlike Rolle, Smoot probably is a little too aggressive at times and has been known to go for the big play a bit too much. But his youth, talent and cockiness make him a very, very attractive free agent who is just entering his prime.
2. Plaxico Burress, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers (6-5, 226)
Burress didn't have a spectacular year, but he missed some games due to injury and played hurt in others. He's had flashes of greatness, but at 27 it's time for him to step up and become a consistently dominant player. He's got the skills to do it. One concern dating all the way back to his Michigan State days is that he has dropped balls, and he may always struggle with it. But he still has a lot of untapped potential.
Interested teams: Redskins and New York Giants.
3. Ed Hartwell, ILB, Baltimore Ravens (6-1, 250)
He was a huge and underrated part of the Ravens' run-stopping defense. Some question what he will be able to do without Ray Lewis. Hartwell isn't the fastest guy in the world, but he didn't seem to have a problem getting the job done with the Ravens. He turns 27 this offseason and has plenty of good years left.
Interested teams: Chiefs and Ravens.
4. Ty Law, CB, New England Patriots (5-11, 200)
The broken foot is killing his prospects, and a lot of teams wouldn't put him this high on a free-agent list. But Law entered 2004 as the best cornerback in the NFL. And before he went down, he showed he still could be a great player, even with the emphasis on illegal contact. Forget the stuff about the Patriots winning without him – he's the real deal. The only question is that foot. It's a considerable red flag.
Interested teams: Chiefs and Vikings.
5. Kendrell Bell, LB, Pittsburgh Steelers (6-1, 257)
Bell missed 13 games last season, so obviously there are concerns about his health. But he has been very productive when in top shape. The Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2001, he's got a ton of starting experience and still doesn't turn 25 until late July. Bell might not be the fastest guy, but he is built like a brick and can hit with the best of them. He also is flexible enough to play in a 3-4 or 4-3 defense.
Interested teams: Chiefs, Cincinnati Bengals and Vikings.
6. Andre Dyson, CB, Tennessee Titans (5-10, 183)
He's young (25) and although he's never really distinguished himself as an upper-tier cornerback, he is solid and could develop into one of the NFL's best No. 2s. He's a bit short and not going to bully anyone in the secondary or support the run all that well, but he could be a very effective cover man if he has a good, physical safety behind him.
Interested teams: Oakland Raiders and Titans.
7. Rick DeMulling, OG, Indianapolis Colts (6-4, 304)
He's not as polished or skilled as Marco Rivera, but DeMulling still has some room for his game to grow. He was a seventh-round pick in 2001 but has started every single game he's played since 2002. Though he played only 11 games last season due to injury, he was a legitimate cog (and arguably a Pro Bowler) in a good Indy offensive line. He's a little light and not a mauling run blocker.
Interested teams: Green Bay Packers and Colts.
8. Stockar McDougle, OT, Detroit Lions (6-6, 335)
McDougle has fantastic size, yet he rarely is dominating. He has his share of problems against quicker defensive ends. After some early injury issues, he made a commitment to staying in shape before the 2003 season and has since strung together 32 straight games. He can be a solid player but isn't going to be a cornerstone on a line.
9. Derrick Burgess, DE, Philadelphia Eagles (6-2, 266)
He's a little small and just now is coming back into form after a good rookie season in 2001 was followed by injuries that curtailed almost all of 2002 and 2003. His two postseason sacks of Michael Vick kind of put him into the spotlight, but that was probably his most productive game in almost three years. He might be a little better pass rusher and have more untapped potential than Chike Okeafor, but he could be a total bust, too.
Interested teams: Arizona Cardinals and Packers.
10. Corey Bradford, WR, Houston Texans (6-1, 201)
Bradford is capable of having huge games but never can seem to turn the corner and become a consistent player. It looked like he was ready to make that leap after a strong 2002, but he has strung together back-to-back disappointing seasons. He has great speed and still could develop into a very good No. 2 receiver at the tail end of his career and become a poor man's Muhsin Muhammad.
- Fred Smoot
- Plaxico Burress