Big names, big values remain on NFL free-agent market

The Bears and Lions made the biggest splashes on the opening day of free agency — storming the market like early-bird shoppers on Black Friday — but several other teams spent money for players they hope will fit their plans.

Players such as defensive ends Julius Peppers (Bears) and Kyle Vanden Bosch (Lions); cornerbacks Dunta Robinson (Falcons) and Antonio Cromartie (Jets); wide receiver Anquan Boldin (Ravens); and linebacker Karlos Dansby (Dolphins) were grabbed off the shelves quickly.

Iyer: Signings cut both ways
The Trenches: 
Keep track of the latest news
Free-agent rankings: 
Iyer’s Top 50War Room’s Super 99

Lions coach Jim Schwartz, formerly Tennessee’s defensive coordinator, was eager to sign his former player — he was camped out in Vanden Bosch’s driveway when free agency started at 12:01 a.m. ET Friday — even though Vanden Bosch is 31. Schwartz understands that older veterans still can have value.

"Most of the unrestricted players available in free agency are going to be players who are 29, 30, 31 years old," Schwartz told reporters. "You can get mileage out of (such an older player) as long as you have a very specific role in mind for him and he fits in your scheme."

By Sunday night, the shopping had slowed to a trickle. But that doesn’t mean there won’t be a second wave. There still are several free agents worth a look (if not a purchase):

Top unrestricted offensive players

1. Thomas Jones, RB. A running back’s career is supposed to start declining at age 30, but Jones had his best season last year—1,402 yards rushing and 14 touchdowns. The Jets released him instead of paying him a $3.3 million roster bonus. And Jones is durable, starting 89 of 96 games the last six seasons.

If he's OK with being a No. 2, Terrell Owens can still help teams.
If he’s OK with being a No. 2, Terrell Owens can still help teams.

"This is one of the tough decisions we had to make for our organization," Jets coach Rex Ryan said of Jones’ release. "When I got here, Thomas immediately became one of my guys. He had one of his best years last season; might have been his best."

2. Terrell Owens, WR. He no longer is a big playmaker, but he could be a solid complementary receiver who could gain 1,000 yards and score six to eight touchdowns.

3. Willie Parker, RB. "Fast" Willie is now more like "Medium" Willie. Parker, 29, still has straight-line speed and could contribute on a team with a running backs-by-committee philosophy.

4. Benjamin Watson, TE. He’s an athletic receiver (29 catches, five touchdowns last season for New England) and a solid blocker. Given the key role a tight end has on most teams, Watson has a lot to offer.

5. Antonio Bryant, WR. Even though he battled a knee injury most of last season in Tampa Bay, he still started 11 games, averaged 15.4 yards per reception and scored four touchdowns.

Top unrestricted defensive players

Darren Sharper can fill a need for a ballhawking safety.
Darren Sharper can fill a need for a ballhawking safety.

1. Darren Sharper, FS. Patrolling center field for the Super Bowl champion Saints, he intercepted nine passes last season. His play tailed off near the end of the season, but he still can have a big presence on defense.

2. Leigh Bodden, CB. Arguably the best corner in the free-agent market after Robinson, Bodden had a solid ’09 season for the Patriots with five interceptions and 18 pass breakups.

3. Ryan Clark, FS. Troy Polamalu overshadowed him in the Steelers’ secondary, but don’t overlook Clark. He’s one of the most instinctive and hardest hitters in the league, and he had 100 unassisted tackles last year.

4. Adewale Ogunleye, DE. Better in a rotation than as an every-down player, Ogunleye is solid against the run and can get a half-dozen sacks a year.

5. Dwan Edwards, DE/DT. He played end in Baltimore’s 3-4 scheme but probably would be a tackle in a 4-3 system. He’s a good run defender who occasionally can pressure the quarterback.

Top restricted players

(require draft-pick compensation)

A familiar face might help persuade Brandon Marshall to come to Seattle.
A familiar face might help persuade Brandon Marshall to come to Seattle.

1. Brandon Marshall, WR, Broncos. The Seahawks are making eyes at him. He might be a good fit in Seattle, because Seahawks offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates was one of Denver’s offensive coaches in Marshall’s first three seasons.

2. Vincent Jackson, WR, Chargers. He’s a big playmaker who has the speed to get downfield and the size to be a mismatch for most defensive backs.

3. O.J. Atogwe, S, Rams. Wherever he is on the field, a turnover seems to follow. In the last three seasons, he has intercepted 15 passes and forced nine fumbles.

4. Antoine Bethea, S, Colts. A key cog in the secondary, Bethea led Indianapolis in tackles (120 total) and interceptions (four) last season.

5. Jahri Evans, G, Saints. Evans is one of the few restricted offensive linemen worth the price. He has been a durable anchor on the Saints’ line, starting all 64 games since he came into the league and was named to the All-Pro team for his work last season.

This story appears in March 8’s edition of Sporting News Today. If you are not receiving Sporting News Today, the only daily digital sports newspaper, sign up today for free.

Dennis Dillon is a writer for Sporting News. E-mail him at ddillon@sportingnews.com.

The Bears and Lions made the biggest splashes on the opening day of free agency — storming the market like early-bird shoppers on Black Friday — but several other teams spent money for players they hope will fit their plans.

Players such as defensive ends Julius Peppers (Bears) and Kyle Vanden Bosch (Lions); cornerbacks Dunta Robinson (Falcons) and Antonio Cromartie (Jets); wide receiver Anquan Boldin (Ravens); and linebacker Karlos Dansby (Dolphins) were grabbed off the shelves quickly.

Iyer: Signings cut both ways
The Trenches: 
Keep track of the latest news
Free-agent rankings: 
Iyer’s Top 50War Room’s Super 99

Lions coach Jim Schwartz, formerly Tennessee’s defensive coordinator, was eager to sign his former player — he was camped out in Vanden Bosch’s driveway when free agency started at 12:01 a.m. ET Friday — even though Vanden Bosch is 31. Schwartz understands that older veterans still can have value.

"Most of the unrestricted players available in free agency are going to be players who are 29, 30, 31 years old," Schwartz told reporters. "You can get mileage out of (such an older player) as long as you have a very specific role in mind for him and he fits in your scheme."

By Sunday night, the shopping had slowed to a trickle. But that doesn’t mean there won’t be a second wave. There still are several free agents worth a look (if not a purchase):

Top unrestricted offensive players

1. Thomas Jones, RB. A running back’s career is supposed to start declining at age 30, but Jones had his best season last year—1,402 yards rushing and 14 touchdowns. The Jets released him instead of paying him a $3.3 million roster bonus. And Jones is durable, starting 89 of 96 games the last six seasons.

If he's OK with being a No. 2, Terrell Owens can still help teams.
If he’s OK with being a No. 2, Terrell Owens can still help teams.

"This is one of the tough decisions we had to make for our organization," Jets coach Rex Ryan said of Jones’ release. "When I got here, Thomas immediately became one of my guys. He had one of his best years last season; might have been his best."

2. Terrell Owens, WR. He no longer is a big playmaker, but he could be a solid complementary receiver who could gain 1,000 yards and score six to eight touchdowns.

3. Willie Parker, RB. "Fast" Willie is now more like "Medium" Willie. Parker, 29, still has straight-line speed and could contribute on a team with a running backs-by-committee philosophy.

4. Benjamin Watson, TE. He’s an athletic receiver (29 catches, five touchdowns last season for New England) and a solid blocker. Given the key role a tight end has on most teams, Watson has a lot to offer.

5. Antonio Bryant, WR. Even though he battled a knee injury most of last season in Tampa Bay, he still started 11 games, averaged 15.4 yards per reception and scored four touchdowns.

Top unrestricted defensive players

Darren Sharper can fill a need for a ballhawking safety.
Darren Sharper can fill a need for a ballhawking safety.

1. Darren Sharper, FS. Patrolling center field for the Super Bowl champion Saints, he intercepted nine passes last season. His play tailed off near the end of the season, but he still can have a big presence on defense.

2. Leigh Bodden, CB. Arguably the best corner in the free-agent market after Robinson, Bodden had a solid ’09 season for the Patriots with five interceptions and 18 pass breakups.

3. Ryan Clark, FS. Troy Polamalu overshadowed him in the Steelers’ secondary, but don’t overlook Clark. He’s one of the most instinctive and hardest hitters in the league, and he had 100 unassisted tackles last year.

4. Adewale Ogunleye, DE. Better in a rotation than as an every-down player, Ogunleye is solid against the run and can get a half-dozen sacks a year.

5. Dwan Edwards, DE/DT. He played end in Baltimore’s 3-4 scheme but probably would be a tackle in a 4-3 system. He’s a good run defender who occasionally can pressure the quarterback.

Top restricted players

(require draft-pick compensation)

A familiar face might help persuade Brandon Marshall to come to Seattle.
A familiar face might help persuade Brandon Marshall to come to Seattle.

1. Brandon Marshall, WR, Broncos. The Seahawks are making eyes at him. He might be a good fit in Seattle, because Seahawks offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates was one of Denver’s offensive coaches in Marshall’s first three seasons.

2. Vincent Jackson, WR, Chargers. He’s a big playmaker who has the speed to get downfield and the size to be a mismatch for most defensive backs.

3. O.J. Atogwe, S, Rams. Wherever he is on the field, a turnover seems to follow. In the last three seasons, he has intercepted 15 passes and forced nine fumbles.

4. Antoine Bethea, S, Colts. A key cog in the secondary, Bethea led Indianapolis in tackles (120 total) and interceptions (four) last season.

5. Jahri Evans, G, Saints. Evans is one of the few restricted offensive linemen worth the price. He has been a durable anchor on the Saints’ line, starting all 64 games since he came into the league and was named to the All-Pro team for his work last season.

This story appears in March 8’s edition of Sporting News Today. If you are not receiving Sporting News Today, the only daily digital sports newspaper, sign up today for free.

Dennis Dillon is a writer for Sporting News. E-mail him at ddillon@sportingnews.com.

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