The top 10 free-agent steals who will get long looks
Posted: Thursday March 2, 2006 7:34PM; Updated: Wednesday March 8, 2006 11:28PM
Despite two excellent seasons in a row, Drew Brees might find himself jettisoned by the Chargers in favor of Philip Rivers.
Don Banks will periodically answer questions from SI.com users in his mailbag.
Whenever free agency really gets started in this most unusual of NFL offseasons -- and at this point, everything's written in pencil -- there will be players snapped up quickly, just as there are every year once the league's annual personnel shopping spree commences.
Here are our nominations for the market's 10 best free-agent buys, or at least the players we think will be most popular come Friday at 12:01 a.m.:
1. Drew Brees, San Diego, QB
Nobody but Chargers general manager A.J. Smith (and maybe Philip Rivers) seems to know why Brees is even available after posting the two finest seasons of his five-year career, but then again, the Chargers have stumped us on the quarterback front before. Brees, of course, faces a continued rehabilitation from surgery to his throwing shoulder, but he has been cleared to start working out at minicamp in May, and his injury isn't career threatening in any way. Brees' decision-making has been superb the past two years, and while he doesn't have the biggest of arms, his mental game has never been sharper and he throws a very catchable ball. If the Chargers do lose him, somebody will be getting a very polished player in the prime of his career.
2. Antwaan Randle El, Pittsburgh, WR
Unless you want to go shopping down the Terrell Owens aisle -- with all its inherent risks -- Randle El is the marquee name among free-agent receivers now that Reggie Wayne has re-signed with the Colts. Randle El is more than a young and improving No. 2 pass-catcher. He's a threat in the punt return game, and as versatile a talent as there is in the NFL. He went 4-of-5 as a passer last season, throwing for two touchdowns, including one pretty-as-a-picture scoring spiral in the Steelers' Super Bowl win. Randle El should be very busy this weekend, when teams such as Chicago, Arizona, Washington, Philadelphia, Denver, or even New England are expected to show interest.
3. Adam Vinatieri, New England, K
For the past 10 seasons, Vinatieri has been money in the bank for the Patriots. But they don't appear to be willing to put enough cash into his account this offseason, and so this idyllic marriage may be over. If so, there are teams out there ready and waiting with checkbook in hand. Green Bay would love to relocate Vinatieri from frosty Gillette Stadium to the frozen tundra of Lambeau. And don't discount kicking-needy Dallas, which is coached by the man who signed Vinatieri in 1996.
4. Josh McCown, Arizona, QB
I'm still not sure why Cardinals head coach Dennis Green was so hell-bent on giving up on the 26-year-old McCown in favor of the aging and immobile Kurt Warner, but I do know this: The 2002 third-round pick was 10-12 in the games he started in Arizona, and the Cardinals went 2-11 in the games in which he didn't appear the past two seasons. For not a ton of money, McCown could be had as a quality, young but still experienced second starting option. Are you listening Detroit, Miami, Dallas, Philadelphia, Giants?