NFL market watch

For the second straight year, the Cleveland Browns didn't waste any time going straight for the upper-tier free agents.

One year after snatching New England Patriots guard Joe Andruzzi in free agency, the Browns jumped all over this year's top offensive line talent – inking New Orleans Saints center LeCharles Bentley and Atlanta Falcons tackle Kevin Shaffer. Bentley is arguably the best center in the NFL, while the 26-year old Shaffer is continuing to get better. The pair should be the final blocks in a solid Cleveland line. The Browns also added wide receiver Joe Jurevicius, addressing the need for a dependable veteran to pair with Braylon Edwards.

Bentley and defensive end Aaron Kampman, who re-signed with the Green Bay Packers, were the first of this year's top 10 to get snapped up in free agency. That makes room in the top 10 for New Orleans Saints defensive end Darren Howard and Washington Redskins linebacker LaVar Arrington, who was released late this week.

Here are the best players available after Saturday's activity:

1. Drew Brees, QB, San Diego Chargers – The surgery on his throwing shoulder after the season is disconcerting, but all indications are that Brees will be ready to go full bore by training camp. Some teams still don't like his size, and you can bet that's a big reason Chargers general manager A.J. Smith has maintained his favoritism for Philip Rivers. But the fact remains that Brees has been a Pro Bowl-level quarterback for two straight seasons, throwing 51 touchdowns and completing 65 percent of his passes in that span.

He has a strong enough arm to thrive in a West Coast system and actually gained more zip going into 2005 (thanks to core-strengthening workouts last offseason). With the premium on quarterbacks, Brees' age (he just turned 27) and his ability, it makes him the best free agent out there.

2. Julian Peterson, LB, San Francisco 49ers – Peterson has the potential to be a huge free-agent signing this offseason, but he also has the risk of being just another above-average linebacker. Peterson is still young (he turns 28 in July), and last season he clearly was still coming back from the torn Achilles he suffered in 2004. At times, Peterson looked tentative last season – like he was about 90 percent there mentally and physically. There is a possibility that he gains back that last 10 percent this season and returns to being one of the league's dominant play-making outside linebackers.

3. Edgerrin James, RB, Indianapolis Colts – James has age working against him. He'll turn 28 in August, and he most likely has about four more top-level years in the tank. James looks like he has fully bounced back from injuries suffered from 2001 to 2003. He's running tougher than ever, leading all backs in yardage after the initial hit in 2005.

He's a bigger factor in the passing game than Shaun Alexander and a year younger, but past durability issues make him more of a risk – even if he has been healthy the last two seasons. He's going to be looking for a deal at least commensurate to Alexander's deal, which means something in the neighborhood of $15 million to $20 million in the first year, and at least $25 million paid in the first three years of a pact.

4. LaVar Arrington, OLB, Washington Redskins – Arrington turns 28 in June, so he's still got plenty of good football left ahead. He has the talent to be a big-time playmaker but has always lacked discipline. He's earned the reputation as a freelancer, and there were plenty of his former coaches willing to badmouth him when he was in defensive coordinator Gregg Williams' doghouse earlier this year. Arrington is what he is – a pricey free agent who goes for the kill shot a little too much, but who is capable of being a game-changer. Whoever signs him should know they are getting a player who takes chances and must design a defense that lets Arrington do what he does best – roam.

5. Rocky Bernard, DT, Seattle Seahawks – After three years as a backup, Bernard materialized as an impact player last season, finally seizing a starting spot in his ninth game. Bernard had 8½ sacks in 16 regular-season games and two more sacks in the NFC championship win over the Carolina Panthers. He's precisely the kind of free agent that teams covet – he's young (turning 27 in April) and getting better. He's quick off the ball and athletic, but the 6-foot-3, 293-pound Bernard will have to be paired with another big tackle to balance out his own size issues against the run.

6. Jamal Lewis, RB, Baltimore Ravens – It's hard to know which Jamal Lewis teams will be getting for their money. Is he the guy with injury issues who seemed to be protecting himself last season while feuding with the Ravens over his contract? Or is he the punishing superstar runner of 2002 and 2003 who often looked unstoppable?

The bottom line: Lewis looks like he could be dominant, but his legal issues in 2004 and suspected half-hearted effort in 2005 raise plenty of character concerns. But he doesn't turn 27 until August, and there have been other running backs who rebounded from similar issues (see: Corey Dillon).

7. Charles Woodson, CB, Oakland Raiders – Once considered a shut-down corner, Woodson has really lost his luster over the last few seasons. But there are some personnel people who think Woodson just needs a change of scenery and a defense a little more talent-rich than Oakland has been over the last two years. It helps that he has demonstrated that he can play both corner and free safety. He's no longer young (he turns 30 in October), but for the right team, he could reclaim his Pro Bowl stature.

8. Will Witherspoon, OLB, Carolina Panthers – Witherspoon is young (he turns 26 in August) and can add speed to the linebacker mix of whichever team signs him. He's fast enough to handle his own in coverage, and can cover the field against the run. And although he's been a tad inconsistent – the Panthers grumbled a bit about his slow start last season – his last two years make him the best option beyond Julian Peterson. He's probably cheaper, too.

9. Adam Vinatieri, K, New England Patriots – Vinatieri turns 34 at the end of next season, but he could have five dependable years left in him. Obviously, Vinatieri has the reputation of being money when the game is on the line, but he never has had a huge leg, converting only eight field goals of 50-plus yards over the last 10 seasons. He has missed his last four 50-plus attempts since 2003. Still, he has iced two Super Bowl victories with his leg and is great in the pressure cooker. That makes him perfect for potential playoff teams with shaky kicking games (hello, Dallas Cowboys?).

10. Darren Howard, DE, New Orleans Saints – Howard turns 30 this November, but he is the best available option for teams that need an immediate pass rush. He may only have three to four effective years left, but that should be plenty for prospective buyers. Despite being inconsistent in his time with the Saints, he can be an impact pass rusher at the top of his game. He is quick and explosive, but can be reckless, too. He is the type of player who could put up Pro Bowl numbers if he was paired with another top-notch defensive end.