Despite a thin roster of free agents, last year's open market produced the NFL's first $10 million-a-year cornerback (Nate Clements, 49ers) and three $7 million-a-year guards (Leonard Davis, Derrick Dockery, Eric Steinbach). With teams having more money available and better players to spend it on, wait till you see what happens this winter. The 32 clubs entered last year's signing period averaging $14.95 million under the salary cap. According to league financial documents obtained by SI last Saturday, they figure to have an average of about $20 million when the market opens on Feb. 29.
As usual some of the best free agents—guys like Tennessee DT Albert Haynesworth, Kansas City DE Jared Allen, Baltimore LB Terrell Suggs and Oakland CB Nnamdi Asomugha—will likely get the franchise tag and almost certainly won't change teams. Still, one AFC pro personnel director says there are "30 to 35 solid starters" available, more than usual. Why? The huge contracts awarded middle-of-the-pack players such as Davis and Dockery gave agents reason to not pursue new deals for their clients who would be free agents in early 2008; those players likely would fare better on the open market. Here are five players who fit the bill.
Travelle Wharton, T, Panthers
Not many 26-year-old left tackles with more than 40 starts come available. Wharton's an average player, but his quick feet should bring him $7 million a year.
Rex Hadnot, G, Dolphins
At 25 this strong drive blocker is a three-year starter. With $25 million to spend, Miami would be foolish to let him go.
December 17, 2007
Clark Haggans, LB, Steelers
He's getting a little old, at 30, but with 32 1/2 sacks in 58 starts, Haggans (above) will be attractive to any team looking for a versatile pass rusher.
Michael Turner, RB, Chargers
No one knows if he can be an every-down back, but someone will overpay for him because he has averaged 5.7 yards per carry in four seasons as LaDainian Tomlinson's backup.
Antwan Odom, DE, Titans
A scarcity of fast, young, productive pass rushers for 4--3 teams—Odom, 26, has five sacks this year—means this still-developing player will find a $6 million-a-year contract somewhere.