Once the lockout ends and player movement begins, which free agent is the most crucial for a team to re-sign?
<table align="right" width="315px"> <tbody> <tr> <td> <content:static src="/widgets/custom/packages/latest_debates.html"></content:static></td> </tr> </tbody> </table> You might not recognize the name Charles Johnson, but he's a pivotal part of the Carolina Panthers turning things around. He came into his own in his fourth season with 11.5 sacks, showing the ability to be a legitimate pass rusher and giving the team a critical piece on the front line. With new coach Ron Rivera and defensive coordinator Sean McDermott wanting to pressure opposing quarterbacks, it's essential that Johnson remains in Carolina. Retaining running back DeAngelo Williams and linebacker Thomas Davis is also a priority, but keeping Johnson will have the biggest impact on the Panthers' ability to climb out of the cellar in 2011.
He's franchised, but I must state the obvious -- Peyton Manning and the Colts. Now that that's over with, I have to say Cowboys offensive tackle Doug Free. Free is a pretty good left tackle, especially in that scheme. With quarterback Tony Romo coming back from injury and needing to have a good season to get Dallas into the playoff picture, Free needs to be in the mix. If the Cowboys were to lose Free, there really isn't a left tackle available who could step in and provide what he does. Free will have suitors as a result and Dallas likely is going to offer up some nice coin to retain him -- which it will.
The Jets need to keep a receiver. Should they lose both Santonio Holmes and Braylon Edwards, well, that would cause some consternation. QB Mark Sanchez needs weapons. That offense needs to score more points and help out the defense. It will be very difficult to get two receivers, or even one, with as much talent in this market. In a very challenging AFC, now is not the time for the Jets to lose assets that should cultivate growth from their young quarterback. Holmes is more diverse than Edwards. Sanchez needs that option on slants and screens and check-downs. Holmes will be the priority and replacing him, well, good luck with that.
There are so many quality free agents to re-sign that it's a tough choice. Taking Peyton Manning and the Colts out of the equation, the Raiders would love to keep cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha. However, they insulated themselves by doing a big deal with Stanford Routt.
Running back Ahmad Bradshaw, cornerback Ike Taylor and guard Logan Mankins would all be devastating losses for their respective teams, but let's focus on Santonio Holmes.
If lockout-itis has clouded your memory, the Jets were just a couple of plays away from meeting the Packers in Super Bowl XLV. Then again, they were just a couple plays away from watching the playoffs on TV. Holmes was the X-factor in those decisive plays. In consecutive midseason overtime games, Homes broke loose in the fifth quarter to pull out what proved to be essential wins for the Jets to reach the postseason. In fact, Rex Ryan and Co. need to keep Holmes and Braylon Edwards to be Super Bowl contenders.
So many ways to go here. The Cowboys need Doug Free, the 49ers have to make sure Alex Smith stays in town (at least temporarily), and the Seahawks must keep Matt Hasselbeck. Ditto the Panthers with pass rusher Charles Johnson.
But in my mind, the Vikings have to re-sign Sidney Rice. With rookie Christian Ponder at quarterback, and no Rice, Adrian Peterson's production would be neutered by eight-man fronts all day.