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Top 50 players expected to be on the free-agent market

The free-agency signing period begins March 5, and it should be a slower process this offseason than in years past, for two reasons. First off, several teams did a good job of tying up their young players; second, more than 200 players that would have become unrestricted free agents will be restricted in an uncapped 2010 season.

Keep in mind, there are many players under contract that are due significant bonuses over the next few months. Some of them will be released instead of getting the bonus and that will sweeten the free-agent pool with some attractive free agents.

Expect at least a dozen veterans to join the free-agent ranks, much like Thomas Jones, LaDainian Tomlinson and Brian Westbrook have of late.

Assuming there's an uncapped season, here are my top 50 free agents.

Tier 1

1. Julius Peppers, DE, Carolina Panthers: Peppers has 81 sacks in 122 games and fits in any defense. At 30, he's young enough to play for four years. Like him or not, he had 10.5 sacks last season.

2. Karlos Dansby, LB, Arizona Cardinals: If he hadn't been franchised twice, the Cardinals could figure a way to keep him. He's still close to a 100-tackle-a-season linebacker in any scheme.

3. Gary Brackett, LB, Indianapolis Colts: I have to think Indianapolis figures out how to keep the leader of the defense.

4. Thomas Jones, RB, New York Jets: The Jets opted to part with the veteran, but he has gained more than 1,100 yards on the ground in each of the last five seasons.

5. Chester Taylor, RB, Minnesota Vikings: He's been a situational player, but at 30, he has fresh legs from a limited workload. He can do more, and someone will see him as the answer to their running back woes.

6. Darren Sharper, S, New Orleans Saints: At 34, he may be old, but he tied for the league lead in 2009 with nine interceptions and took three back for touchdowns. He also averaged 41.8 yards a return per pick.

7. Dunta Robinson, CB, Houston Texans: Cover corners are just hard to find. He has been franchise tagged in the past, but is out of the team's price range and also has a medical history.

8. Ryan Clark, S, Pittsburgh Steelers: A heads-up free safety who could step in for a number of teams.

9. Darren Sproles, RB, San Diego Chargers: While he may not be an every-down back, he offers big-play capability.

10. Antrel Rolle, S, Arizona Cardinals: Rolle was due a $4 million roster bonus this month. He is a safety with corner skills. He can match up on wide receivers and hybrid tight ends that cause problems in the slot. He is excellent at baiting quarterbacks and playing the 'robber' role.

Tier 2

11. Derrick Mason, WR, Baltimore Ravens: Would be entering his 14th season and threatens to retire, but what he really wants is a multiple-year contract. He had 73 receptions for 1,028 yards and seven touchdowns last season.

12. LaDainian Tomlinson, RB, San Diego Chargers: He's not the same back he was a few years ago, which is why the Chargers opted to go in a different direction. With his work ethic, he can still be a 1,000-yard rusher in the right situation.

13. Kevin Mawae, C, Tennessee Titans: The veteran made the Pro Bowl on a team that's in a youth movement. A playoff-type club could get a year or two out of him.

14. Leigh Bodden, CB, New England Patriots: The organization tried to get a long-term deal done with him a year ago and it didn't work. He had five picks this season and could start for a number of teams.

15. Chad Pennington, QB, Miami Dolphins (M): There's no denying he's a medical risk, but his name came at the combine. He's still better than a few starters out there.

16. Kevin Faulk, RB, New England Patriots: It's hard to imagine Faulk in any other uniform. He's still a terrific third-down back, and tough to blitz or cover.

17. Brian Westbrook, RB, Philadelphia Eagles (M): The Eagles decided it was time to cut ties with the versatile threat. He may not clear a physical, but if he does, he will have choices. While he needs to be treated with a conservative practice regime, he's not a bad role player.

Position-by-position look

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18. Kyle Vanden Bosch, DE, Tennessee Titans: He went to the Pro Bowl last season and still plays with great intensity. His production dropped to just three sacks without Albert Haynesworth around, but a team like Detroit might love to have him line up next to possible draft choice Ndamukong Suh and teach the rookie pro football.

19. Ben Watson, TE, New England Patriots: Not many tight ends with upside in free agency. He can still flex his alignment and stretch the field.

20. Keith Bulluck, LB, Tennessee Titans (M): The veteran says he'll be ready for the season, or maybe closer to mid-September. However, if you are willing to wait, he can still play the run and attack an offense. It would be great to see him return to the Titans. Coach Jeff Fisher told me he would like to see Bulluck finish his career in Tennessee.

Tier 3

21. Scott Fujita, LB, New Orleans Saints: A starting linebacker for the champion Saints. He understands and executes Gregg Williams' complicated defense.

22. Tully Banta-Cain, LB, New England Patriots: He had 10 sacks to lead the Patriots last season, and should cost a lot less than Peppers.

23. Aaron Kampman, DE/LB, Green Bay Packers (M): Medical clearance is an issue. He may want to go to a 4-3 defense where he had most of his success.

24. Nate Burleson, WR, Seattle Seahawks: Although he never played up to the big contract he got, 63 receptions and three touchdowns could help a few teams looking for a No. 3 receiver. ... UPDATE: Burleson signs with Lions

25. Terrell Owens, WR, Buffalo Bills: We all know the risk, and as he gets older (36) the reward isn't the same. Still, he did average 15.1 yards per catch on a team with QB problems.

26. Jarvis Green, DE, New England Patriots: Anyone who studies the Patriots knows Green is a key backup who can play multiple spots. Teams trying to build a 3-4 defense will be interested.

27. Bobbie Williams, G, Cincinnati Bengals: He has been a long-time starter for the organization and the Bengals seem to be getting younger on the offensive line. Williams could give a young group a solid veteran to help the learning curve.

28. Jason Taylor, LB/DE, Miami Dolphins: He's not going to leave Miami, but he did have seven sacks last season and deserves to be on this list.

29. Bryan Robinson, DT, Arizona Cardinals: A starting nose tackle is hard to find. In a rotation, he would be fine.

30. Chike Okeafor, LB, Arizona Cardinals: He had 4.5 sacks last season and understands scheme defense.

Tier 4

31. Antonio Pierce, LB, New York Giants (M): After missing time with a neck injury, he was released. Pierce says he's ready to play, but doctors will make the final call. He was a starting middle linebacker prior to his injury and really knows how to prepare. The veteran struggles in coverage, but could be a solid two-down player.

32. Joey Porter, LB, Miami Dolphins: With his release expected, the veteran can still supply a team looking for 3-4 help with a situational pass rusher.

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33. Jamal Williams, DT, San Diego Chargers: Williams was once the best 3-4 nose tackle in the business. He must pass a physical and if he does will be an interesting player for a team like Miami or Arizona.

34. Neil Rackers, K, Arizona Cardinals: Take your pick of the next two guys or work out both of them. Rackers scored 85 points last season and missed one field goal in the regular season.

35. Shayne Graham, K, Cincinnati Bengals: He missed five field goals but scored 97 points and had a long of 53.

36. Casey Rabach, C, Washington Redskins:- He's a starting center who is smart and can change protections.

37. Willie Parker, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers: The burst looks gone and the title "fast Willie Parker" may not hold up anymore. However, if he works out well, someone will give him some cash.

38. Lito Sheppard, CB, New York Jets: The veteran cornerback, released by the Jets Thursday, started nine games for the league's top-ranked pass defense.

39. Stephen Neal, G, New England Patriots: He's a starter with plenty of experience. A team looking for a veteran swing guard will study him on tape. A line coach at the combine noted backup linemen in today's game don't have enough experience.

40. Tyler Brayton, DE, Carolina Panthers: He started opposite Peppers and is more likely to be on the field in a running situation. He's steady, at best.

41. Dwan Edwards, DE, Baltimore Ravens: Any player who started for this unit will get consideration. Baltimore defenders play with intensity and he will get a few looks, especially from teams that play the Ravens.

42. Larry Johnson, RB, Cincinnati Bengals: Despite the baggage, he averaged 4.4 yards per carry in his seven games in Cincinnati.

43. Jeremi Johnson, FB, Cincinnati Bengals: A team in need of a fullback will study the short list of fullbacks available. He could get the nod, but there won't be a lot of money involved.

44. Antonio Bryant, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: The former franchise player would be a good fit for a team like Miami. However, it was a run-in with Bill Parcells in Dallas that started his long journey around the league. If healthy, he can grab over 50 balls in most systems.

Tier 5

45. Mike Gandy, T, Arizona Cardinals: Everyone wants better or younger, but he was a starting left tackle in Arizona the past few years, and you rarely see players at the position hit free agency.

46. Fred Robbins. DT, New York Giants (M): He must show the medical people he's 100 percent. If you look at how he played when Steve Spagnuolo was the defensive coordinator, and realize how many older defensive tackles are still in the NFL, he should get a contract somewhere.

47. Tank Johnson, DT, Cincinnati Bengals: It sounds like the Bengals want him back, and he may just wind up in Cincinnati with the strong draft class at his position.


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48. Muhsin Muhammad, WR, Carolina Panthers: It's tough to imagine him anywhere but Carolina, where he did catch 53 balls last season.

49. Marques Douglas, DE, New York Jets: This may be a bit too low when you consider he was a starter on the league's top-ranked defense. Five-technique defensive ends are hard to find.

50. Larry Foote , LB, Detroit Lions: He didn't have a very good year in Detroit after a fine career with the Pittsburgh Steelers. However, his work ethic and reputation should get him a contract.

» (M) denotes medical risk.

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