Expect free-agent frenzy when lockout ends
When NFL free agency finally arrives -- this week, next week, next month or next year -- expect teams to strike quickly and aggressively in pursuit of talent that can help transform losers into winners, and winners into big winners.
The current lockout has provided all 32 teams with extra time to evaluate the 2011 free-agent class and make more thorough decisions about which players to sign and which ones to avoid.
Instead of hosting a minicamp or voluntary workouts to acclimate their rookies following last month's draft, the Steelers can concentrate their efforts toward re-signing unrestricted free-agent cornerback Ike Taylor when the lockout is lifted. Or, in the event that Taylor signs with another team, finding Taylor's replacement.
"Because teams don't have to worry about working out players and putting practice plans together, their time will be spent evaluating free agents," said former Dallas Cowboys executive Gil Brandt, who works for NFL.com and Sirius radio. "The head coach will say, 'This is offensive line day; tomorrow is defensive line day.' Teams will do a great job of putting those guys in order for what they want for their team."
In addition to Taylor, notable unrestricted free agents who must possess at least six years of playing experience include quarterbacks Matt Hasselbeck and Marc Bulger, cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, guard Logan Mankins, tackle Matt Light, running backs Darren Sproles, Cedric Benson and Ricky Williams, wide receivers Vincent Jackson, Braylon Edwards and Terrell Owens, linebacker Barrett Ruud and safety Quintin Mikell.
Brandt predicts the courtship of free agents will be unprecedented this year, considering that teams won't have as much preparation time once the lockout ends.
"I would think there will be a feeding frenzy when free agency becomes available," Brandt said. "Teams will want to get those guys signed as quickly as possible so they can start working with them and teach them the 'Steeler Way' or the 'Cowboy Way.' "
"If teams put an offer on the table, you'd better take it real quick," said Dave-Te'Thomas of Scouting Services Inc., which produces the NFL Draft Report for 27 of the 32 teams. "There's going to be so many players that teams are going to go after to fill needs. Once those needs are filled, they're filled."
However, that doesn't mean the Steelers will break from their longstanding policy of addressing various needs through the draft rather than through free agency.
"I think the Steelers will be business as usual in free agency," Brandt said.
Most of the Steelers' seven draft picks -- including cornerbacks Curtis Brown and Cortez Allen, taken in the third and fourth rounds, respectively -- are expected to make the team. Allen was selected with the idea of becoming a potential replacement for Taylor.
"Teams drafted rookies basically for need -- they did not go for the best available athlete," Thomas said. "If you've got holes on your team, you don't know if you can sign your free agents because of the lockout. Every general manager had to assume their free agents aren't coming back. If the Steelers were confident they were getting Ike back, they wouldn't have drafted two cornerbacks in the first four rounds."
Re-signing Taylor is the Steelers' top priority; however, the Steelers are unlikely to bid on Asomugha, who has a large price tag, if they are unable to retain Taylor.
Other Steelers players who are unrestricted free agents include running back Mewelde Moore, guard Trai Essex, defensive end Nick Eason, nose tackle Chris Hoke and linebacker Keyaron Fox.
The Steelers need to sign a kicker, after not retaining Shaun Suisham. Potential replacements include unrestricted free agents David Akers, Adam Vinatieri and Ryan Longwell.
TOP UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (MINIMUM SIX YEARS EXPERIENCE)
Player -- Position
Nnamdi Asomugha -- CB
Cedric Benson -- RB
Braylon Edwards -- WR
Matt Hasselbeck -- QB
Vincent Jackson -- WR
Matt Light -- T
Logan Mankins -- G
Quintin Mikell -- S
Randy Moss -- WR
Terrell Owens -- WR
Barrett Ruud -- LB
Darren Sproles -- RB
Ike Taylor -- CB
Pat Williams -- DT
Ricky Williams -- RB
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