Even though there isn't a salary cap in place for the 2010 season, more teams than not have placed an internal cap on how much they will spend in free agency. That doesn't mean they won't be busy, just that those teams simply might not try to bust the bank on a player like Julius Peppers or Karlos Dansby.
There also are teams, like Pittsburgh and Indianapolis, that probably won't do much in free agency. They typically don't, and there is little reason to believe that will change, especially with the Colts.
With that in mind, let's look at some teams who figure to get after it when the clock strikes midnight on Friday:
Of course. The Redskins are always players in free agency. It's their nature. Do you think Mike Shanahan would have come to Washington if it wasn't going to spend to spend for players? Shanahan will want to revamp the roster, and he picked the right owner, Daniel Snyder, to give him the green light. The Redskins will be in the thick of the Peppers and Dansby discussions, and the movement won't stop there.
We've all been sleeping on the Seahawks, but like Shanahan, Pete Carroll wouldn't have left his situation at USC if he wasn't going to be given the chance to spend to acquire players. Seattle also could be in play for Peppers and will be in the market for a running back, although the Seahawks could wait for the draft to address that need. Look for Seattle to be very busy.
The Lions don't have enough draft picks over the next three seasons to upgrade the roster enough to make the gains coach Jim Schwartz would like. Detroit might be the most active team in free agency. The Lions may not make a big financial commitment to one player, but running back Chester Taylor and wide receiver Nate Burleson are on the radar. Don't be shocked to see Schwartz pluck his former Titans defensive end, Kyle Vanden Bosch, at some point.
Top 50 free agents
Coach Todd Haley has his staff in place, telling me that preparations and meetings are already running far smoother than his initial year. Now, it's time to get players. The Chiefs are going to make a run at Burleson for help at wide receiver, and they're going to try and bolster every spot on the field.
With no first- or second-round picks and their jobs hanging in the balance, coach Lovie Smith and general manager Jerry Angelo have no choice but to get players on the open market. Though they would like to sign Peppers, the money probably is going to be too high, so Packers defensive end/outside linebacker Aaron Kampman could be Plan B if he is cleared medically. Chicago also is in the Burleson market and figures to add a safety -- possibly Antrel Rolle or Darren Sharper.
Teams that won't be too busy:
Indianapolis, Pittsburgh and Green Bay
These teams typically don't do much, but the Packers might want to re-sign safety Nick Collins. Although they've placed a high restricted tender on Collins, there is some concern that he could get poached by another team.
The Final Eight
New Orleans, Indianapolis, Minnesota, Arizona, the Jets, Dallas, San Diego, and Baltimore are handcuffed by the Final Eight Rule that pretty much keeps them from signing unrestricted free agents until one of their own is signed by another team. That doesn't mean they won't be active, though. They can sign players who've been cut, such as Sharper or Rolle.
Some post-combine musings
» If you talked to anyone at the NFL Scouting Combine other than the Rams -- coaches, scouts, those types -- St. Louis is picking Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford with the No. 1 overall pick. In conversation after conversation, the football types said the Rams "have" to take Bradford and not just because they need a quarterback. Many feel he is the best player in the draft.
After all, had Bradford come out after his junior season, he likely would have been selected over Matthew Stafford and Mark Sanchez. There is no reason to believe he dropped off. If the medical results on his shoulder check out, he seems like an ideal fit for a team that can't keep using its top picks on interior players when some of the skill positions, like quarterback, need upgrades.
The only people not talking about taking Bradford No. 1, mind you, were the Rams. They weren't tipping their hands at all.
» The abundance of running backs will continue the trend of teams being able to find high-value talent in the second round and beyond. A player to keep an eye on is Tennessee's Montario Hardesty. He had a solid combine, but several personnel people, including scouts, said on-site scouting and film review have Hardesty ascending potentially to the first-round. Hardesty's one-cut-and-it's-time-to-get-serious running style is tailor made for the NFL, and there's no guessing what his intentions are when he's got the ball in his hands, I was told.