Now it gets very, very interesting.
Thanks to the whopper contract the Carolina Panthers doled out to cornerback Ken Lucas ($13 million in bonus money), the top two cornerbacks on the board – Samari Rolle and Fred Smoot – should be licking their chops.
For a player we thought was the fourth-best corner available, Lucas got a jaw-dropping deal. And though the free agency period started a little slow Wednesday, it's been picking up steam, thanks almost single-handedly to the Dallas Cowboys, who have inked defensive tackle Jason Ferguson, cornerback Anthony Henry and guard Marco Rivera.
After only two days, four of our top 10 players have been swiped off the board – Ferguson, Lucas, Derrick Mason (to Baltimore) and Reggie Hayward (to Jacksonville). Here's an updated look who remains:
TOP 10 FREE AGENTS
1. Samari Rolle, CB, Tennessee Titans (6-foot, 175 pounds)
He's easily the best free agent out there, especially with the premium placed on good cornerbacks. While Rolle dipped a bit below his Pro Bowl standards last season, he did play nicked up and still remained one of the top 10 corners in the league. At 28, he still has plenty of years left and is expected to return to top form after healing this offseason. His biggest weakness – that he wasn't physical – isn't such a huge concern anymore with the emphasis on illegal contact.
2. Fred Smoot, CB, 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.
Interested teams: Redskins, Vikings and Chiefs.
3. 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: Vikings, Redskins and New York Giants.
4. Kevin Carter, DT, Titans (6-5, 290)
He can line up at defensive tackle or end – a flexibility that adds considerable value. Though he is 31, Carter still seems to have plenty of quickness and speed. There is concern with how fast those qualities will deteriorate in the next few years, especially with some of the questions about his work ethic.
Interested teams: Titans.
5. 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, Philadelphia Eagles.
6. 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 the fact remains that Law entered 2004 as the best cornerback in the NFL. And before he went down, he showed he could still 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: Cleveland Browns, Chiefs and Vikings.
7. Gary Baxter, CB, Ravens (6-2, 204)
He had a down year, but he's simply too young (26) and too talented to ignore. He's not going to come up and help the against run much, and he might have some problems with smallish, quick receivers. But he's a great No. 2 corner to have, and he has tons of experience at a young age. Plus, he's played some safety, so he gives you flexibility if you need it. The Ravens didn't have to let him hit the open market, so that says something, too.
Interested teams: Jaguars, Browns and Ravens.
8. Kareem McKenzie, OT, New York Jets (6-6, 327)
It seems like McKenzie's been around forever, but he's only been in the league four years. He'll never be a world-beating tackle (like, say, Jonathan Ogden), but he doesn't have to be on the right side. His weight is an issue, but for the money you'll get a 25-year-old player who can dominate in streaks.
Interested teams: Browns, Panthers, Detroit Lions.
9. Jeremiah Trotter, MLB, Philadelphia Eagles (6-1, 260)
Yes, he's a guesser, which gets him into trouble sometimes. But he's also a great run-stopper who can juice up a defense. We all saw what he did for the Eagles when he was inserted into the starting lineup last year. His failings in Washington weren't a total aberration, but he had some injuries, so he's not nearly as questionable as some make him out to be.
Interested teams: Chiefs and Eagles.
10. Dwight Smith, SS, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-10, 201)
Like Baxter, he gives you flexibility because he's played at cornerback. He's a great hitter and a guy who brings some emotion and leadership to a secondary. He's had some off-the-field issues the last couple of years, but he also stepped up and took the criticism for one of them (a gun charge following Tampa's Super Bowl win).
Interested teams: Vikings, Lions and Jaguars.
- Samari Rolle
- Fred Smoot