Sometime in the next week the NFL lockout is expected to end and the league will be re-opened for business. The first move for every team will be approaching free agency so this is your primer of some of the top names available on the 2011 free agency market.
Teams are first expected to have a three-day window to re-sign their own free agents so some of the players won't ever hit the open market as teams will re-sign them to new deals. The next move will be looking at unrestricted free agents which is expected to be defined as A.) a player with an expired contract B.) with four years or more of service time in the league and C.) that hasn't been hit with the franchise tag.
First, we'll take a look at the top available unrestricted free agents on the offensive side.
Quarterback: Peyton Manning and Michael Vick are the top two names on this list but each received the franchise tag so they're not going anywhere. The top non-franchise tagged free agent quarterback would probably be Matt Hasselbeck. It's unclear if he'll stay with Seattle or move on but if he does leave the Cardinals are a team to watch. Among the other free agent quarterbacks are Marc Bulger, who is expected to sign someplace as a backup, and Alex Smith, who is expected to return to the 49ers.
Running back: Arian Foster was tendered by the Texans so he won't go anywhere even though he doesn't have a 2011 contract. After him, the top name on the free agent running back market is DeAngelo Williams who will command a decent contract. Ahmad Bradshaw and Michael Bush are two other names to watch on the free agent market.
Wide receiver: The Jets are the leaders in the clubhouse with big name free agent receivers including Santonio Holmes, Brad Smith and Braylon Edwards. One, maybe two, of those guys will remain in New York. Vincent Jackson is the most talented free agent receiver but he received the franchise tag from the Chargers so he's likely staying in San Diego. The Jets' moves will determine whether this will be a talented free agent group.
Tight end: Owen Daniels already re-signed with the Texans so he won't be hitting the market as the biggest name available. Zach Miller with the Raiders is at the top of the free agent tight end list and we're not sure what he'll do. The Jaguars plan to make Mercedes Lewis one of their free agent priorities.
Offensive line: Willie Colon and Doug Free are the top tackles available. Colon missed the 2010 season with the Steelers because of an injury so it's hard to figure out what he's worth. The Cowboys may want Free back in Dallas but he'll be pricey after his solid 2010 season. Logan Mankins is the top guard on the market but the Patriots have once again restricted his movement via the franchise tag. At center, Ryan Kalil is the best young option but, like Mankins, he's been given the franchise tag. Meanwhile Olin Kreutz is a little older but still a solid option at center.