In lean market, Peppers, Dansby are biggest prizes

NFL free agency will be less frantic this year. With no collective bargaining in place, only free agents with six or more years of service are unrestricted. Meanwhile, some prominent free agents are likely to be designated with the franchise tag by the Feb. 25 deadline.

"There are not as many free agents out there this year," Texans owner Bob McNair told reporters at a news conference last week.

Things will remain fluid between now and the start of free agency on March 5. Some free agents will agree to new contracts. Some veterans will be released, once teams decide that their 2010 contract terms are too costly.

Safety Darren Sharper, a 13-year NFL veteran, played in 14 regular-season games for the Saints in 2009.
Safety Darren Sharper, a 13-year NFL veteran, played in 14 regular-season games for the Saints in 2009.

But as things stand today, here is how things are shaping up for the top unrestricted free agents:

Expect them to be tagged and stay put

Aubrayo Franklin, NT, 49ers. He has become a valuable part of the defense, keeping blockers away from star inside linebacker Patrick Willis. The 49ers think they can win the NFC West next season, but they won’t if they let talented assets go. Franklin will either be re-signed or be hit with the franchise tag. Tag number: $7.033 million.

Casey Hampton, NT, Steelers. If the two sides can’t work out a deal, he is likely to be franchised, though there’s a slim chance the Steelers will let him go. At age 32, he is still an effective player, but don’t be surprised if the Steelers draft a nose tackle. Tag number: $7.003 million.

Ryan Pickett, DT, Packers. He wants to stay in Green Bay, and the Packers want him to stay. That means he is staying, either with a new deal or with the tag. Tag number: $7.003 million.

Richard Seymour, DE, Raiders. They traded a first-round draft pick to the Patriots to get him last year. So letting him go, without compensation, would make no sense. His agent is trying to forge a new deal. But if an agreement can’t be reached, the Raiders will franchise him. Tag number: $12.398 million.

Darren Sharper, S, Saints. He immediately became a key addition to a team that won the Super Bowl. Not only is he a terrific player, but he is a terrific leader. So the Saints won’t let him go. Tag number: $6.455 million.

Vince Wilfork, DT, Patriots. The Patriots already have defensive issues, and he is one of the best players in the league at his position. They can’t let him leave. If no new deal is struck, he will be franchised. Tag number: $7.003 million.

Top five who should be available

1. Julius Peppers, DE, Panthers. Since he carries a franchise tag near the $20-million range, the Panthers have no choice but to let him walk. Possible landing spots: Eagles, Patriots.

2. Karlos Dansby, LB, Cardinals. No way the Cardinals will pay the hefty franchise fee to their leading tackler. Possible landing spots: Chargers, Dolphins.

3. Dunta Robinson, CB, Texans. He could be franchised again, but if not, a player with his cover skills will be coveted. Possible landing spots: Falcons, Titans.

4. Chester Taylor, RB, Vikings. It will be tough for the Vikes to franchise a backup, so he is likely to hit the market. Possible landing spots: Redskins, Seahawks.

5. Terrell Owens, WR, Bills. The one-year experiment in Buffalo did not work for Owens or the Bills. Possible landing spots: Bengals, Buccaneers.

Larry Foote has said he'd like to retire with the Lions, but will he even get to stay in Detroit for the 2010 season?
Larry Foote has said he’d like to retire with the Lions, but will he even get to stay in Detroit for the 2010 season?

Others who should reach the market

Leigh Bodden, CB, Patriots. Bodden isn’t opposed to re-signing, but he can’t pass up the chance to test the market. Possible landing spots: Eagles, Ravens.

Antonio Bryant, WR, Buccaneers. Because of injuries and inconsistency, he isn’t worth franchising. Possible landing spots: Chiefs, Dolphins.

Keith Bulluck, LB, Titans. His best years could be in his rearview mirror. Possible landing spots: Colts, Giants.

Ryan Clark, S, Steelers. Always salary-conscious, the Steelers will likely find his asking price too high. Possible landing spots: Bears, Bills.

Larry Foote, LB, Lions. In rebuilding mode, the Lions will likely let him go. Possible landing spots: Patriots, Vikings.

Larry Johnson, RB, Bengals. He will be 31 next season, and the Bengals have running back depth. Possible landing spots: Chargers, Texans.

Aaron Kampman, LB, Packers. Out of place at linebacker in the Packers’ 3-4, he can return to end in a 4-3 someplace else. Possible landing spots: Bears, Lions.

Kevin Mawae, C, Titans. He is 39, and the Titans are reluctant to pay him starter’s money. Possible landing spots: Broncos, Eagles.

Willie Parker, RB, Steelers. Not sure what the market will be for a running back who will turn 30 this year. Possible landing spots: Texans, Chargers.

Jermaine Phillips, S, Buccaneers. The rebuilding Bucs will not spend big money to keep him. Possible landing spots: Giants, Steelers.

Josh Reed, WR, Bills. He needs a change of scenery, and there is demand for receivers. Possible landing spots: Chiefs, Patriots.

Kyle Vanden Bosch, DE, Titans. Barring a last-minute deal with the Titans, he will find some takers looking for a pass rusher. Possible landing spots: Browns, Jets.

Mike Vrabel, LB, Chiefs. His agent says Vrabel will not retire, which means he will draw some interest. Possible landing spots: Browns, Giants.

Kevin Walter, WR, Texans. Just 28, he could be a valuable pickup for a team needing receiver help. Possible landing spots: Chiefs, Lions.

Clifton Brown is a writer for Sporting News. E-mail him at cliftonbrown@sportingnews.com.

NFL free agency will be less frantic this year. With no collective bargaining in place, only free agents with six or more years of service are unrestricted. Meanwhile, some prominent free agents are likely to be designated with the franchise tag by the Feb. 25 deadline.

"There are not as many free agents out there this year," Texans owner Bob McNair told reporters at a news conference last week.

Things will remain fluid between now and the start of free agency on March 5. Some free agents will agree to new contracts. Some veterans will be released, once teams decide that their 2010 contract terms are too costly.

Safety Darren Sharper, a 13-year NFL veteran, played in 14 regular-season games for the Saints in 2009.
Safety Darren Sharper, a 13-year NFL veteran, played in 14 regular-season games for the Saints in 2009.

But as things stand today, here is how things are shaping up for the top unrestricted free agents:

Expect them to be tagged and stay put

Aubrayo Franklin, NT, 49ers. He has become a valuable part of the defense, keeping blockers away from star inside linebacker Patrick Willis. The 49ers think they can win the NFC West next season, but they won’t if they let talented assets go. Franklin will either be re-signed or be hit with the franchise tag. Tag number: $7.033 million.

Casey Hampton, NT, Steelers. If the two sides can’t work out a deal, he is likely to be franchised, though there’s a slim chance the Steelers will let him go. At age 32, he is still an effective player, but don’t be surprised if the Steelers draft a nose tackle. Tag number: $7.003 million.

Ryan Pickett, DT, Packers. He wants to stay in Green Bay, and the Packers want him to stay. That means he is staying, either with a new deal or with the tag. Tag number: $7.003 million.

Richard Seymour, DE, Raiders. They traded a first-round draft pick to the Patriots to get him last year. So letting him go, without compensation, would make no sense. His agent is trying to forge a new deal. But if an agreement can’t be reached, the Raiders will franchise him. Tag number: $12.398 million.

Darren Sharper, S, Saints. He immediately became a key addition to a team that won the Super Bowl. Not only is he a terrific player, but he is a terrific leader. So the Saints won’t let him go. Tag number: $6.455 million.

Vince Wilfork, DT, Patriots. The Patriots already have defensive issues, and he is one of the best players in the league at his position. They can’t let him leave. If no new deal is struck, he will be franchised. Tag number: $7.003 million.

Top five who should be available

1. Julius Peppers, DE, Panthers. Since he carries a franchise tag near the $20-million range, the Panthers have no choice but to let him walk. Possible landing spots: Eagles, Patriots.

2. Karlos Dansby, LB, Cardinals. No way the Cardinals will pay the hefty franchise fee to their leading tackler. Possible landing spots: Chargers, Dolphins.

3. Dunta Robinson, CB, Texans. He could be franchised again, but if not, a player with his cover skills will be coveted. Possible landing spots: Falcons, Titans.

4. Chester Taylor, RB, Vikings. It will be tough for the Vikes to franchise a backup, so he is likely to hit the market. Possible landing spots: Redskins, Seahawks.

5. Terrell Owens, WR, Bills. The one-year experiment in Buffalo did not work for Owens or the Bills. Possible landing spots: Bengals, Buccaneers.

Larry Foote has said he'd like to retire with the Lions, but will he even get to stay in Detroit for the 2010 season?
Larry Foote has said he’d like to retire with the Lions, but will he even get to stay in Detroit for the 2010 season?

Others who should reach the market

Leigh Bodden, CB, Patriots. Bodden isn’t opposed to re-signing, but he can’t pass up the chance to test the market. Possible landing spots: Eagles, Ravens.

Antonio Bryant, WR, Buccaneers. Because of injuries and inconsistency, he isn’t worth franchising. Possible landing spots: Chiefs, Dolphins.

Keith Bulluck, LB, Titans. His best years could be in his rearview mirror. Possible landing spots: Colts, Giants.

Ryan Clark, S, Steelers. Always salary-conscious, the Steelers will likely find his asking price too high. Possible landing spots: Bears, Bills.

Larry Foote, LB, Lions. In rebuilding mode, the Lions will likely let him go. Possible landing spots: Patriots, Vikings.

Larry Johnson, RB, Bengals. He will be 31 next season, and the Bengals have running back depth. Possible landing spots: Chargers, Texans.

Aaron Kampman, LB, Packers. Out of place at linebacker in the Packers’ 3-4, he can return to end in a 4-3 someplace else. Possible landing spots: Bears, Lions.

Kevin Mawae, C, Titans. He is 39, and the Titans are reluctant to pay him starter’s money. Possible landing spots: Broncos, Eagles.

Willie Parker, RB, Steelers. Not sure what the market will be for a running back who will turn 30 this year. Possible landing spots: Texans, Chargers.

Jermaine Phillips, S, Buccaneers. The rebuilding Bucs will not spend big money to keep him. Possible landing spots: Giants, Steelers.

Josh Reed, WR, Bills. He needs a change of scenery, and there is demand for receivers. Possible landing spots: Chiefs, Patriots.

Kyle Vanden Bosch, DE, Titans. Barring a last-minute deal with the Titans, he will find some takers looking for a pass rusher. Possible landing spots: Browns, Jets.

Mike Vrabel, LB, Chiefs. His agent says Vrabel will not retire, which means he will draw some interest. Possible landing spots: Browns, Giants.

Kevin Walter, WR, Texans. Just 28, he could be a valuable pickup for a team needing receiver help. Possible landing spots: Chiefs, Lions.

Clifton Brown is a writer for Sporting News. E-mail him at cliftonbrown@sportingnews.com.

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