Five starters are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents — CB Nate Clements, MLB London Fletcher, DE Chris Kelsay, LG Mike Gandy and FB Daimon Shelton. Clements played last season with the franchise tag and won't be tagged again. When he hits the market, he'll be the most sought after at his position and is likely to break Champ Bailey's $63 M deal he got from Denver a couple of seasons back.
The Bills will also allow Fletcher to hit the market. He's 32 and despite his consistent production the team desperately needs more size in the middle of one of the NFL's worst defenses against the run. Kelsay posted a career-best 5.5 sacks and is a player the Bills like — young and affordable.
Gandy is also likely to re-sign but nine-year veteran Shelton isn't.
The Dolphins have 15 players set to become unrestricted free agents and five potential RFAs.
Defensive tackle Vonnie Holliday and left tackle Damion McIntosh are considered the top UFAs. Holliday had one of his best seasons, finishing with seven sacks, and could be attractive to teams seeking a defensive lineman with the versatility to play at both end and tackle. McIntosh is a solid albeit unspectacular veteran who should draw much more interest in what is projected as a weak market for left tackles than in 2005.
Welker, strong safety Yeremiah Bell, quarterback Cleo Lemon and punter Donnie Jones are three RFAs who may draw interest from other teams if the Dolphins don't issue high tenders.
The Dolphins have no impending free agents that would be worthy of a franchise or transition tender.
NEW YORK JETS
The Jets already have signed their biggest potential in-house free agent, re-upping linebacker Bryan Thomas to a five-year extension in November. In fact, RT Anthony Clement and FB B.J. Askew are the only 2006 starters who will be unrestricted free agents. The Jets probably will look to re-sign Clement, but they did use other fullbacks such as James Hodgins and Stacy Tutt in 2006, so Askew likely won't be a priority.
No one will be franchised.
Unrestricted: Cornerback Rashad Bauman, cornerback Tory James, quarterback Doug Johnson, safety Kevin Kaesviharn, tight end Reggie Kelly, guard Scott Kooistra, safety Anthony Mitchell, defensive end Justin Smith, guard Eric Steinbach, tight end Tony Stewart, wide receiver Kelley Washington, running back Kenny Watson, linebacker Marcus Wilkins
Kaesviharn and Kelly are key players who unselfishly do whatever is asked. Watson is likely to return, especially after quarterback Carson Palmer lobbied for him and Kelly to be re-signed. Stewart and Wilkins are important special teams players. Steinbach is likely to leave and be replaced at left guard by Andrew Whitworth. Smith is a big question mark; he'll command a big salary but is the type of player Bengals president Mike Brown doesn't mind paying — he plays every down.
Restricted: Offensive tackle Stacy Andrews, cornerback Greg Brooks, linebacker Landon Johnson, punter Kyle Larson, linebacker Caleb Miller and defensive tackle Shaun Smith.
Andrews is a key backup and played well for injured Bobbie Williams at right guard. Johnson and Miller have roles in the defense. Larson is a consistent punter.
One thing is certain for the 4-12 Browns; no franchise player exists among the free agents to be.
The contracts for wide receiver/punt returner Dennis Northcutt, center Hank Fraley, defensive end Alvin McKinley, safety Brian Russell and offensive lineman Cosey Coleman expire this year.
Getting Fraley under contract is important because of the uncertainty of LeCharles Bentley, who is recovering from a torn patellar tendon. Bentley is vague about his chances of playing next season.
Coach Romeo Crennel wants Russell back. Russell is not as fast as the other three safeties, but he makes up with wisdom what he lacks in speed.
RT Max Starks is the only starter whose contract expires. He would become a RFA in March. More notable UFAs are S Mike Logan, S Tyrone Carter, DE Rodney Bailey, RB Najeh Davenport and special teams players Sean Morey and Chidi Iwuoma. The Steelers will make a pitch for all but Logan, and only Davenport and possibly Carter will get any kind of serious money offers.
TE Mark Bruener is a UFA. He is a veteran leader that proved to be a solid contributor as a blocking tight end this season. He also became a little involved in the passing game. The Texans would like to work out something to bring him back.
Safety Deon Grant and tight end Kyle Brady are the only starters who are becoming unrestricted free agents this year if they don't get new contracts. Grant has already rejected one offer and it's uncertain if they want to pay Brady the $2.1 million he got last year although he's a valuable blocker. Then there's the Fred Taylor problem. He's got a year left on his contract, but he wants a new deal at $5 million a year.
The Titans have six significant players heading toward unrestricted free agency, but none of them are players the team would die without.
Receiver Drew Bennett is a steady homegrown project who's a good guy in the locker room and odds are the team will want to keep him. Linebacker Peter Sirmon is getting older and doesn't have great speed. Defensive tackle Robaire Smith wasn't the difference maker some expected but is still desirable. They'd like to keep backup quarterback Kerry Collins.
It's harder to read their intentions with receiver Bobby Wade, special teamer and safety Donnie Nickey and defensive tackle Rien Long, who missed the season with an Achilles injury.
The Broncos only have a couple of key free agents. Starting guard Cooper Carlisle is one, but the Broncos have young guards Chris Myers and Chris Kuper behind him if he goes elsewhere. Starting defensive tackle Michael Myers, who has played well as a plugger the last two seasons, is also unrestricted. Backups like end Patrick Chukwurah and linebacker Keith Burns are also up for free agency.
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS
QB Damon Huard is a free agent this offseason and is a virtual lock to sign elsewhere, unless Trent Green retires (unlikely) or the Chiefs tell him he can be the starter (also unlikely). DE Jared Allen is set to become a restricted free agent as well. At 24 years old with 27.5 sacks in three seasons, Allen could receive a substantial offer.
Other than DT Terdell Sands, the Raiders have virtually no key players who are unrestricted free agents. They are expected to make every effort to sign Sands, a stout run defender, as that is an area where the Raiders had problems.
LB Robert Thomas, although he didn't start, was Oakland's third-best linebacker and could return, although he played well enough to possibly merit a starting opportunity elsewhere.
Oakland is expected to make no effort to sign No. 3 QB Marques Tuiasosopo, who started two games since being drafted in 2001 and finally earned his freedom. DE/DT Tommy Kelly is a restricted free agent Oakland is planning to retain.