2004 Top 5 NFL Free Agents

The Washington Redskins' Champ Bailey turned down a long-term deal early in the season and appears poised to test free agency this year.

Peyton Manning
Indianapolis Colts          

  • The odds on this dynamic quarterback leaving the Colts are remote. Team officials and representatives for Manning have conducted on and off again discussions about a new contract. Here's a look at the top 5 free agents in the National Football League this year. A minor stumbling point in getting Manning under an extended contract has been the team's salary cap status, which team sources lead us to believe will be worked early in the off-season to accommodate re-signing Manning and keeping the core of the Colts roster in tact.

  • Rumors persist that one team has begun breaking down their roster and salary-cap numbers to make a run at Manning. Numerous league sources, team General Managers and other team player personnel evaluators expect Manning to command a record-breaking contract, with the largest signing and workout bonus' in league history.

  • From one anonymous team player personnel director, "Signing a quarterback like Peyton Manning would be a major coup for any organization seeking a top-notch quarterback. The next issue will be installing an offense similar to what he worked with in Indianapolis, because if you don't, you will not see immediate returns. Let's remember, he has played in one system since he came into the league and he can't change colors overnight."

Orlando Pace
St. Louis Rams          

  • Orlando Pace has had to live with having the ‘franchise tag' applied to him. Again, if Pace does not come to terms of a long-term deal with the Rams, the team could again place the tag on him, making it difficult for this perennial All-Pro from having the true opportunity to taste the free agency waters. Numerous teams have expressed an interest in Pace over the past two years, but at the cost of two first-round draft picks as compensation for the team which signs him, has been a deterrent. As was the case following the 2002 season, representatives for Pace has requested the Rams front office not place the ‘franchise tag' on him.

  • League and team insiders believe Pace really enjoys playing in St. Louis for Mike Martz and is willing to remain in St. Louis if the Rams would place a record-setting contract in front of him. Talk of a 20-million signing bonus request coming from the Pace camp are exaggerated, but a five-year deal at eight-plus million dollars a season, with a 15-million dollar signing bonus is a contract base his representatives has not denied when speaking with The Insiders Network.

  • Rumors have surfaced that Pace has not fully recovered from a previous knee injury, which could slowdown this dominant offensive left tackle. Reviewing his play in the 2003 season and speaking to league player personnel evaluators place Pace in an elite category of offensive tackles, with Baltimore's Jonathan Ogden and Seattle's Walter Jones. Tremendous run-blocker, with very good strength and technique in the pass blocking facet of the game, Pace has been dominating at the point of attack and has proven his game has not slipped.

  • "Orlando Pace is as good as any left tackle in the game today. This is a player you plug into your lineup for the next five-to-seven years, just knowing the left side of the line is anchored and the quarterback will not have to worry about his backside," one player personnel director said.

Champ Bailey
Washington Redskins


  • Bailey turned down a long-term deal from the Redskins early in the season and appears poised to test free agency. Highly respected and commonly regarded as being the top shutdown cornerback in the league today, Bailey will be one player that will be in great demand, if he does not received the ‘franchise tag' from the Redskins.

  • The 2004 free agency signing period is expected to begin in late February / early March and the cornerback position may be the overall strength of the free agency signing period. Bailey is a good character ‘guy' that wants to win desperately. His competitive nature rubs off on others around him and has displays a good, coachable attitude. Bailey has tremendous speed and quickness, which helps he cheat in coverage and recover when beaten off the line. Closing speed ranks second to none in the game today and plays with the instincts of a wide receiver.

  • With the Redskins coaching issues settled, look for the organization to begin serious negotiations with representatives for Bailey. One issue according to team sources was Bailey was looking to exit Washington due to the direction of the team and/or former head coach Steve Spurrier. With stability returning to the organization with the return of highly respected Joe Gibbs on the sidelines, the Redskins may have the ability to get Bailey back in the fold.

Terrell Owens
San Francisco 49ers   
      

  • Say what you will, Terrell Owens can be a major distraction. He has shown the tendency to become the story, rather than the solution to a team's losing ways, but his desire to win and get the ball in his hands cannot be questioned. Owens wants to win, he wants the ball, and is outspoken. But, the bottom-line is, Owens is a player and one which will be a commodity on the open-market.

  • Owens is best suited to a West-Coast type system due to his physical strength and ability to gain critical yards after the catch. Prior to the 49ers sub-par 2003 season, Owens was one of the league's best in this type of offense. The 49ers of 2003 modified the offensive scheme and became more of a vertical oriented team and Owens' production dropped somewhat, some due to lack of overall game-breaking speed. At times Owens loses focus, especially when frustrated when he is not getting the ball.

  • "Put Terrell Owens in the West Coast offense or an offense that relies on the intermediate passing game, with slants, etc and he will excel and be exactly the player we seen in San Francisco," one league General Manager said. "One-hundred receptions, 1200-1300 yards, and 10-12 touchdowns will come, he is that good getting open, finding the seams, and breaking tackles."

Walter Jones
Seattle Seahawks


  • The story for Walter Jones compares to the situation described above about Orlando Pace. Like Pace, Walter Jones seeks a record breaking deal, as he is indeed one of the very best in the game at the offensive left tackle position. Solid run-blocker, solid pass-protector, Jones would easily leave Seattle, if the opportunity presented itself. Feeling like the team has prohibited his right to choice, Jones again seeks the ability to change teams this off-season. The ultimate question again this off-season will be, "Will the Seahawks again place the franchise tag on Jones?"


Free Agent Rankings: Offense | Defense
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