The shopper's guide to free agency in the AFC
The longest work stoppage in NFL history presumably is about to end. And that will lead to the shortest window of opportunity to sign free agents in history.
There will be no time for window shopping and little time for haggling. Smart shoppers will prevail. Here's a team-by-team Shopper's Guide to get the most out of the NFL's version of the day after Thanksgiving at the local mall. We're focusing here on the AFC. Click here to check out the Shopper's Guide to the NFC.
Money is no object: Want to get twice the bang for your buck? If the Ravens could somehow pry Ike Taylor from Pittsburgh, they could hurt their division rivals and bolster their secondary. The priority at wide receiver should be Sidney Rice, who could take the double-team pressure off Anquan Boldin and give the Ravens the deep threat that Donte Stallworth never was.
Smart shopper: The answer to the Ravens' secondary problems may already be in uniform. The rest of the league seems to appreciate Josh Wilson more than the Ravens do -- more specifically Ravens fans. At receiver, Sam Hurd may not be a Cowboy anymore and offers speed and potential at a value price, as would Jacoby Jones, whom the Texans may not re-sign as a restricted free agent.
Money is no object: Eric Weddle is about to get paid big money, after establishing himself as an elite safety with the Chargers. The Bengals are going to have to pay CB Johnathan Joseph if they want to keep him. But if somehow, someway they can do both, they'll be a factor in one of the toughest divisions in football. Another place to splurge might be on DE Charles Johnson.
Smart shopper: The Bengals will prioritize re-signing Cedric Benson, but even if they do, he had an uneven year and needs help. Stock is trending downward on Miami's Ronnie Brown and he's about to hit the perilous 30-year-old mark. But he can run and catch in spots, as well as still make big plays.
Money is no object: The Browns' search for a top-tier receiver to pair with QB Colt McCoy should begin with Malcolm Floyd. He's a young 27, can stretch the field and is not your typical diva WR. Saints receiver Lance Moore could hit the open market as well and could thrive in the Cleveland offense.
Smart shopper: Presuming the Browns prioritize WR and Jason Babin is off the board, they must build the defensive front. The best value signings could be found by one-stop-shopping in Tampa Bay, where DLs Stylez White and Tim Crowder could be available.
Money is no object: The Steelers know what they have in Ike Taylor, but he may be swayed by a bigger payday elsewhere. Nnamdi Asomugha likely will be too expensive and will be wooed by many, but still worth a look. The best fit, given the window of opportunity for the Steelers to make another run, may be Richard Marshall. He won't come cheap, but won't get Nnamdi money.
Smart shopper: Robert Gallery and Chris Chester should be getting calls from the Steelers, who must finally address OL issues. Both could come at a good price, if Gallery can stay healthy and Chester, 28, produces more consistently.
Money is no object: If the Houston Texans don't fortify their secondary with a talented and proven veteran, nothing Wade Phillips does with the front seven will matter. Phillips should be camped out on Nnamdi Asomugha's doorstep.
Smart shopper: The Texans' return game was among the worst in the league. A third receiver/kick returner who can shorten the field for Matt Schaub could help win a lot of games. The smart shopper also will kick the tires on Ravens free agent CB Josh Wilson, who stepped in for Fabian Washington and recorded 37 tackles and three interceptions. Another value possibility: Buffalo free agent Drayton Florence.
Money is no object: The Colts have not been major players on the free agent front, but with Peyton Manning's career winding down, now is the time. A bidding war with the Giants may be a no-win proposition, but the No. 1 target should be Giants free agent Ahmad Bradshaw. He could offer power and perhaps the best blocking back Manning has ever had.
Smart shopper: There's sparkle in the bargain bin if the Colts want to take a chance. Reggie Bush may not have anything left on that bad knee. But if he does, no one could electrify Manning's attack more, while bolstering a bad return game as well. And if Bush doesn't look right, little-used Brandon Jackson could be a big bargain as a pass-catcher and blocker.
Money is no object: Paul Posluszny took a step back in the Buffalo 3-4 experiment in 2010, but was a force in the 4-3, which the Jaguars run. He will have many suitors and has said he'd like to stay in Buffalo, but the Jags defense was atrocious, especially in the red zone.
Smart shopper: No matter how the Jaguars settle their linebacking and safety issues, it would be smart to put Aubrayo Franklin at DT to free up playmakers. Elsewhere, there may not be a lot of tread left on the tires for Shaun Ellis, but he is consistent, earns his money and would make plays transitioning the defense.
Money is no object: Given the length of the lockout, Kerry Collins' retirement and that rookie Jake Locker's head will be spinning, the need for a proven veteran quarterback is paramount. Donovan McNabb has to be the No. 1 target, then Matt Hasselbeck.
Smart shopper: Depending on new collective bargaining agreement, Matt Leinart could be a free agent after the lockout. The Titans would be crazy not to give him a shot. If they can't re-sign Jason Babin, the Titans may be even better off if they go get Mathias Kiwanuka from the Giants. Also, rush end Antwan Barnes could be a steal. He made the most out of very few snaps in Baltimore.
Money is no object: DeAngelo Williams has Broncos written all over him. He has the game to complement what would be a conservative passing game, whether or not Tim Tebow is quarterback. If Williams cannot be signed, the next best choice would be to spend the money on Cedric Benson.
Smart shopper: OT Langston Walker never has been a good fit for the Raiders, who like to throw the ball long and have had statues for quarterbacks. He's a power blocker who's not quick enough against rush ends. With a run-oriented scheme and mobile quarterback, he could thrive.
Money is no object: If the Chiefs don't go hard after offensive tackles Willie Colon or Doug Free, they'll be doing Matt Cassel and their fans a severe injustice. They broke through in 2010, but the offensive line is aging and needs help. Atlanta's Tyson Clabo is another who would fit in nicely.
Smart shopper: Jacoby Jones has been an enigmatic talent in Houston, showing flashes of big-time playmaking ability, but never putting together a consistent year. As a complement to Dwayne Bowe, he could fit in nicely. If San Diego's Legedu Naanee hits the open market, he could be the better target. He missed some games with injury last year, but is still young and has value.
Money is no object: The Nnamdi Asomugha era clearly is over in Oakland, but Ike Taylor could fit as an impact-type playmaker, which the Raiders desperately need. If he's out of the price range, Ravens corner Chris Carr could come to Oakland just the way Al Davis likes 'em -- with a chip on his shoulder.
Smart shopper: The league is down on Tampa Bay free agent Barrett Ruud after he had a horrible 2010 season and looked to be slowing down. But he's only 28, probably played injured and is a sure tackler. Browns free agent Eric Barton likely won't fetch a big price, but is a consistent tackler as well.
Money is no object: If money truly is no object, the Chargers will sign their own, Malcolm Floyd. But if Floyd bolts, so to speak, Arizona's Steve Breaston could be the perfect fit. He's thrived as the No. 3 in the past and will come at a slightly cheaper price.
Smart shopper: DT Tony McDaniel figured out how to play more consistently and smarter in 2010, but was not an overwhelming force. He'll get interest from a lot of teams, but won't break the bank. Another definite option could be Stephen Bowen, who was productive in place of Marcus Spears in Dallas and may be pried away for starter's money.
Money is no object: If the Bills are going to break the bank anywhere, it must be on left tackle Doug Free or tackle Jared Gaither. The line is a mess and needs an anchor around which to build. If they want to spend big on the defensive side, it should be on end Ray Edwards, who would be a perfect fit.
Smart shopper: Thomas Howard could fit in the 3-4 and would be a front-line player at less than a king's ransom. Perhaps an even better value as a fix for the defensive issues in Buffalo could be Vernon Gholston, who may also be a target of Cleveland's.
Money is no object: If you're going to have a question mark at quarterback, you'd better not have one protecting up front. Marshall Yanda could be the best interior offensive lineman on the market. And if it's not Yanda, it could be Atlanta's Harvey Dahl. The Dolphins must take a run at one of them.
Smart shopper: If Matt Leinart becomes an unrestricted free agent, he'll be a risk worth taking. After not panning out in Arizona, Leinart drew raves as Matt Schaub's backup, working under Gary Kubiak. Carolina's Matt Moore could be another under-the-radar QB.
Money is no object: With Randy Moss gone and Deion Branch aging, the Pats must put Braylon Edwards and more likely Sidney Rice on their priority call list. Edwards' baggage won't bother the Pats and Rice is young and explosive.
Smart shopper: Tampa Bay's Barrett Ruud is the prototype Patriots linebacker target. He's coming off a bad season, but extremely talented, still young and a sure tackler that could be reborn in the Pats' system.
Money is no object: Rest assured, Rex Ryan will go for it with guns a'blazin. Contacting cornerbacks Johnathan Joseph and Ike Taylor should be a priority, as will be putting another playmaking receiver on the field. Plaxico Burress with Rex Ryan? Yeah, sure.
Smart shopper: If Josh Wilson hits the market, he's exactly the type of corner that could thrive and improve on a good 2010 season under Rex Ryan. On the receiver front, T.J. Houshmandzadeh could bring experience and consistency at a value price.