|Steve Mitchell / US Presswire|
|Mike Sims-Walker has been a hit in the fantasy football world, but his reality could mean a new team in 2011.|
Besides gearing up on which free agents to sign, teams also are preparing to lose certain free agents, either because their price tag could get too rich or those teams have replacements ready. It's a gamble, especially losing a young free agent -- the Titans still haven't replaced Albert Haynesworth and the Texans missed Dunta Robinson last season -- but it's one of the ways the NFL has managed to retain its semblance of parity.
There are plenty of big-time free agents whose departures could leave sizable voids -- Nnamdi Asomugha, Sidney Rice -- but general managers have prepared for all scenarios. The consistently successful teams, like Indianapolis, New England and Pittsburgh, groom draft picks to be ready when attrition strikes. Others, like Washington, look to free agency to fill gaps.
Let's survey the landscape and see how the teams that could lose free agents stack up.
Oakland and CB Nnamdi Asomugha: By ponying up for Richard Seymour and fellow corner Stanford Routt, the Raiders seem poised to let Asomugha, who will command a large contract, hit the road. Chris Johnson has started 26 games the past three seasons, including four in 2010. The Raiders also drafted cornerbacks DeMarcus Van Dyke and Chimdi Chekwa. One could emerge as the starter, but there is still faint hope a deal could be brokered for Asomugha.
Minnesota and WR Sidney Rice: The Vikings are going to try hard to retain Rice. If they lose him, rookie QB Christian Ponder won't have a game-breaker other than slot receiver Percy Harvin. Veterans Bernard Berrian and Greg Camarillo are options, but neither does what Rice can. The Vikings drafted Stephen Burton in the seventh round. If Rice is lost, the Vikings could get into the free-agent market, but probably wouldn't splurge -- they would have done that on Rice. They could pursue big receivers like San Diego free agent Malcom Floyd or see if Atlanta's Michael Jenkins, who has worked with wide receivers coach George Stewart and offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave, gets released.
Green Bay and DE Cullen Jenkins: Jenkins will be desired by a few teams that play a 3-4 front, but there could be a better chance than many of us think of Green Bay being competitive to retain the highly effective end. If Jenkins is lost, you know the Packers feel they have people to step up. Second-year man Mike Neal appears to be the player being spoken most highly about to step in for Jenkins. He didn't get a lot of playing time last season due to a shoulder injury, but there's a lot of positive buzz about him in Green Bay.
Minnesota and DE Ray Edwards: This parting seems like a done deal. Edwards doesn't want to be back and the Vikings seem prepared to move on. Brian Robison, whose three-year contract extension set Edwards off because Edwards didn't get an extension offer and feels underpaid, could step in as the starter. Minnesota also hopes that Everson Griffen finally plays to his talent so the Vikings can have a solid rotation with Jared Allen at right defensive end.
Carolina and DE Charles Johnson: The Panthers figure to do whatever it takes to retain the talented Johnson, but other teams are going to make a strong push. If the Panthers lose this talented player, it would be a huge blow -- especially since Carolina is thin along the defensive front. Upstart Greg Hardy -- a sixth-round pick a year ago -- could be next in line. Despite his late-draft selection, he is a very talented player with incredible upside. He also was strong on special teams. Everette Brown seems to be more of a situational player than a starter.
Jacksonville and WR Mike Sims-Walker: Sims-Walker has been productive -- and injured -- and it's very clear the player that's accounted for 14 touchdowns over the past two seasons won't be back in Jacksonville. He'll draw strong interest from some other teams. Mike Thomas was the Jags' best wide receiver last season and the diminutive player should continue to blossom. Rookie Cecil Shorts is a small-school standout who's really being hurt by the lockout, so his impact could be marginal. Jason Hill could develop and Kassim Osgood might get his wish to get more touches, but the Jags might need to add some help in free agency like Packers free agent James Jones.
Follow Steve Wyche on Twitter @wyche89.