Priced to move


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Jan 22, 2006
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Priced to move
Don Banks,

Whenever free agency really gets started in this most unusual of NFL offseasons -- and at this point, everything's written in pencil -- there will be players snapped up quickly, just as there are every year once the league's annual personnel shopping spree commences.

Here are our nominations for the market's 10 best free-agent buys, or at least the players we think will be most popular come Monday morning:

1. Drew Brees, San Diego, QB

Nobody but Chargers general manager A.J. Smith (and maybe Philip Rivers) seems to know why Brees is even available after posting the two finest seasons of his five-year career, but then again, the Chargers have stumped us on the quarterback front before. Brees, of course, faces a continued rehabilitation from surgery to his throwing shoulder, but he has been cleared to start working out at minicamp in May, and his injury isn't career threatening in any way. Brees' decision-making has been superb the past two years, and while he doesn't have the biggest of arms, his mental game has never been sharper and he throws a very catchable ball. If the Chargers do lose him, somebody will be getting a very polished player in the prime of his career.

2. Antwaan Randle El, Pittsburgh, WR

Unless you want to go shopping down the Terrell Owens aisle -- with all its inherent risks -- Randle El is the marquee name among free-agent receivers now that Reggie Wayne has re-signed with the Colts. Randle El is more than a young and improving No. 2 pass-catcher. He's a threat in the punt return game, and as versatile a talent as there is in the NFL. He went 4-of-5 as a passer last season, throwing for two touchdowns, including one pretty-as-a-picture scoring spiral in the Steelers' Super Bowl win. Randle El should be very busy this weekend, when teams such as Chicago, Arizona, Washington, Philadelphia, Denver, or even New England are expected to show interest.

3. Adam Vinatieri, New England, K

For the past 10 seasons, Vinatieri has been money in the bank for the Patriots. But they don't appear to be willing to put enough cash into his account this offseason, and so this idyllic marriage may be over. If so, there are teams out there ready and waiting with checkbook in hand. Green Bay would love to relocate Vinatieri from frosty Gillette Stadium to the frozen tundra of Lambeau. And don't discount kicking-needy Dallas, which is coached by the man who signed Vinatieri in 1996.

4. Josh McCown, Arizona, QB

I'm still not sure why Cardinals head coach Dennis Green was so hell-bent on giving up on the 26-year-old McCown in favor of the aging and immobile Kurt Warner, but I do know this: The 2002 third-round pick was 10-12 in the games he started in Arizona, and the Cardinals went 2-11 in the games in which he didn't appear the past two seasons. For not a ton of money, McCown could be had as a quality, young but still experienced second starting option. Are you listening Detroit, Miami, Dallas, Philadelphia, Giants?

5. Julian Peterson, San Francisco, LB

It has been a couple years since we've seen Peterson at his play-making best, but he's only 27, and was the 49ers designated franchise player in '04 and '05. Peterson tore his Achilles tendon in '04, and followed that with had a sub-par '05. But he's probably healthy enough to play some good football again, and he's one of the league's more athletic and versatile linebackers, capable of disrupting an offense any number of ways.

6. Jon Kitna, Cincinnati, QB

I swear I could almost see Kitna's free-agent stock dropping a little more with every quarter he played in Cincinnati's home playoff loss to Pittsburgh. But having two quality quarterbacks is still the smart play in the NFL. Last offseason, Minnesota signed Brad Johnson to replace backup Gus Frerotte, and the Vikings sure looked shrewd for it by November. Kitna isn't a guy you want to start for 16 games, but he can get it done for four to six weeks at a time. Baltimore is one of his more obvious suitors.

7. Mike Vanderjagt, Indianapolis, K

No, I can't explain his mother of all misses from 46 yards out late in the playoff loss to the Steelers. But it was one kick, people. Vanderjagt may be a bit flaky, but he has a cannon for a leg and he's a scoring machine. He has tallied at least 119 points in six of his eight seasons in Indianapolis, and if I'm some dome team with a lot of cap room lying around -- Minnesota, we're looking in your direction -- I'm at least giving him a phone call in the next few days.

8. Rocky Bernard, Seattle, DT

The defending NFC champions are bound to lose a key player or two, and Bernard seems to be on the most likely list. This is the kind of player teams want to go after in free agency: young and still on the way up, but developed enough that he can give you immediate return on your investment. Bernard, a fourth-year veteran who will be 27 in April, had 8? sacks for the Seahawks in the regular season and two more in the NFC title game against Carolina. He's athletic for a big man and can be disruptive in the backfield, with a quick first step. His run defense isn't exceptional, but defensive tackles who can get to the quarterback don't grow on trees in this league. Somebody like Philadelphia, with money to burn, could make him an offer he can't refuse and Seattle can't compete with.

9. LeCharles Bentley, New Orleans, C

Thought of something as an emerging star heading into last season, it's a bit surprising the Saints are apparently going to let their Pro Bowl center get to free agency. Don't be surprised if the Vikings make an early bid for the former Ohio State standout, who also has experience at the guard position. At 6-2, 313, Bentley has ideal size for an NFL center today, and he plays with aggression. Signing a quality center in free agency isn't going to whip up the fans' fervor and sell many season tickets, but when you don't have somebody solid in the middle, you notice it.

10. Aaron Kampman, Green Bay, DE

Kampman isn't a star in the making, but he does a lot of things just well enough to get him noticed by personnel men around the league. He can play both left end and shift inside to tackle on occasion, and he holds up fairly well against both the run and in the pass rush. Just 26, he's got some upside to him. For a team that needs a solid steady presence on the defensive line, and somebody who gives maximum effort on nearly every snap, Kampman should be a fairly affordable option. He's not a natural play-maker, but he did have 6? sacks and three forced fumbles in '05, so he's got a decent nose for the football.;_y...?slug=cnnsi-pricedtomove&prov=cnnsi&type=lgns
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