NFL free agency is one of my favorite times of the year. It's like Christmas, my birthday, Thanksgiving and graduation rolled up into one gigantic ball of happiness. Some may say I have a problem—I just say I'm a fan.
With a strong offseason, teams can turn their fortunes, become playoff contenders or lay the foundation for a run at the Super Bowl.
As with every offseason, some people get paid the big bucks, while others are left on the inside of the money train looking in.
Some very good players just miss scoring a payday. There is only so much money to go around, so this is inevitable every offseason. There are a variety of reasons people miss getting paid well, but there is a variety of reasons players get the big bucks and occasionally get overpaid.
In this article, I will look at the top five players I think will be overpaid and the top five players I think who will be underpaid.
I will also be using a contract received from another player at the individual's position last offseason to compare it to a contract I think he may receive.
In addition, I will list rumored locations for the individual I am discussing. As it is so early in the offseason process, take these locations as very speculative.
Jason Campbell had the Oakland Raiders sitting at 4-2 before his season ended due to injury.
Through six games he had 1,170 yards, six touchdowns and four interceptions. If my math is correct, through a 16-game season that'd be 3,120 yards, 16 touchdowns and 10.67 interceptions.
On a side note, I'd love to see a .67 interception.
Those are average numbers, but Campbell was winning and playing decent with the Raiders. Unfortunately for Campbell, people would rather go with unknown commodities, like a Kevin Kolb, than a quarterback who has been an average-to-good starter at times.
The 30-year-old will have to accept a backup job this offseason.
Campbell is good enough to start, but he won't make the $4.5 million he made last year. He will probably get a one-year deal to back up.
If I had to guess right now, I'd say he'll get a little bit more than Luke McCown's deal last offseason (one year, total value of $1.8 million)—maybe he gets near the $2.5 million range.
Nick Hardwick is one of the better centers in the league and excelled as a pass-blocker this season, allowing no sacks in 16 starts. He was also a Pro Bowl alternate this year.
Being only 30 years old, why is Hardwick going to be underpaid?
Well, the longtime San Diego Chargers center is actually contemplating retirement this offseason, according to U-T San Diego, and I just can't see him getting the contract he'd get under normal circumstances with one foot in and one foot out.
In the end, I don't think Hardwick will retire this offseason, but the talk is going to hurt the value of the contract he receives.
It's going to be hard for a team to justify committing three or four years to someone that is uncertain about his future.
If he contemplates retirement into the start of free agency, he could receive a little more Olin Kreutz-like deal (one year, $2 million, plus $2 million in incentives). Kreutz ended up retiring during the season after playing in four games with the Saints.
Rumored destination: Retirement
Mike Tolbert is the second San Diego Charger on my list of players likely to be underpaid.
Tolbert is quite the weapon. He can play fullback and is an underrated halfback, good in short yardage and a solid receiver out of the backfield.
In the past two seasons, Tolbert has 4.0 yards a carry, 19 rushing touchdowns, 1,225 rushing yards, 79 receptions and 649 receiving yards.
Fantasy football owners of Ryan Mathews might know him as the touchdown vulture that destroyed their fantasy team.
The 5'9", 243-pound bowling ball of a back is only 26 years old, but where exactly do you play him? Fullback? Halfback? Some view him as a good third-down back—is that his fit?
Le'Ron McClain was another fullback/halfback hybrid entering free agency at age 26 last season. McClain showed he had ability to carry the ball and ran the ball 232 times for 902 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2008 for the Ravens.
McClain wouldn't go over 50 carries in a season the rest of his Ravens career. He looked for a chance to be more involved in an offense, and found a one-year deal worth $1.5 million from Kansas City, where he would only receive 15 carries.
Tolbert won't suffer the same fate as McClain, but I worry that he will stuck between getting paid as a fullback and halfback. It's already rumored San Diego will let him hit the open market, according to U-T San Diego.
If my fears are realized, Tolbert could get a deal between what John Kuhn received (three years, $7.4 million) and what Willis McGahee received (four years, $9.5 million).
Possible destinations: Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Chargers
Dan Connor started the majority of Panthers games this year due to an injury to middle linebacker Jon Beason. Connor started 11 games and appeared in 15. He finished third on the team with 54 tackles and added 21 assists on tackles.
Connor isn't as flashy as some of the other middle linebackers in the league, but he is a solid tackler and good against the run.
While the 26-year-old does struggle in pass coverage, he has held up well when forced in to a starter's role. He has been stuck behind Beason since being drafted, so the opportunity to start might end up being much more important to Connor than money this offseason.
At the end of the offseason, Connor will be manning the middle for some team as its starting MLB, but other free agents in the middle include Stephen Tulloch (Detroit Lions), Curtis Lofton (Atlanta Falcons), D'Qwell Jackson (Cleveland Browns) and David Hawthorne (Seattle Seahawks).
Connor is going to end up being a cheap option compared to the stars of free agency, and won't get a big contract—he will probably be paid as a low-end starter.
I could see him getting a bit less than the three-year, $9 million deal Takeo Spikes received last offseason.
Rumored destinations: a starting job (via Charlotte Observer), possibly with Tampa Bay Buccaneers
I'll admit when it comes to Steve Johnson, I'm a fan.
In 2010, when he dropped a game-winning touchdown in overtime against the Pittsburgh Steelers, he described himself as "devastated" and took to Twitter and questioned God about the drop.
While many were enraged by this display, it showed me that Johnson isn't just another me-receiver: The youngster for the Bills really does care.
In the last two years as a starting receiver for the Bills, Johnson has amassed 158 receptions, 2,077 yards and 17 touchdowns.
But Johnson has had mental lapses in the clutch, such as in the Steelers game and a game against the New York Jets this year in November, where he dropped a pass with a chance to score in the closing minutes.
Joe Buscaglia of WGR radio in Buffalo reported that Johnson, who will only be 26 at the start of next season, wants a contract around $7.5 million a year.
I don't think Johnson will get that, and I don't think Buffalo will franchise him. I think Stevie will watch a few WRs get paid—Marques Colston, Dwayne Bowe, DeSean Jackson—and he will become frustrated with the process.
It wouldn't surprise me if the Bills came through with a big deal, competing against themselves for Johnson's services. After all, he is most valuable to them. Right now, my gut tells me that won't happen.
I could see him taking a shorter deal of one to three years for an amount between the contracts of James Jones (three years, $9.4 million) and Santana Moss (three years, $15 million). Johnson will be underpaid in my eyes, but he could end up the steal of free agency.
Possible destinations: Bears, Bills
Demetrius Bell is a young player at the premier position on the offensive line, and he is preparing to hit the open market in a weak free-agent class for tackles.
The sound you just heard was cha-ching.
Bell will only be 28 at the start of next season. He started six games and played in seven total, and according to Pro Football Weekly, he surrendered a half of a sack and was flagged for no penalties this season.
However, Bell has battled knee injuries and shoulder injuries—important body parts for an offensive lineman. He started all 16 games in 2010, but the injuries are cause for concern.
The Buffalo Bills' quick-strike passing attack may have contributed to Bell's lack of sacks given up this season, another area of concern for suitors.
The consensus on Bell seems to be that he is a good pass-blocker, but even better when run-blocking.
Bell is a good athlete (perhaps it's something in his genes), and I think he will end up the highest- or second-highest-paid tackle out of the free-agent class.
I could see him receiving a contract near Marshal Yanda's (five years, $32.5 million) and Willie Colon's (five years, $29 million). I could also see him getting more than that; after all, it only takes one team.
In the end, I think the team that pays Bell is overpaying for an average to above-average starter.
Possible destinations: Bills
Side note: Bell is one of the players that it seems fans want for their team. I have seen Arizona Cardinals, New York Jets and St. Louis Rams forums, just to name a few, talking about signing Bell.
Carlos Rogers didn't break the bank last offseason after he struggled during the 2010 season. Some pointed to injuries during that season as reasons for his struggles.
Rogers ended up signing a one-year deal with San Francisco and had a career year.
He tripled his previous high in interceptions (two), ending the season with six picks, and made the first Pro Bowl of his career.
Rogers has said that he wants to stay in San Francisco, but he also wants to get paid like a top-end cornerback, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. Rogers is also seeking a four- or five-year deal.
In a passing league, solid cornerbacks are going to be hot commodities, and a player like Rogers is in much better position than he was last season.
No one can doubt that Rogers had a great season with the 49ers this year, but it's a little concerning to me that he had his best season when he failed to get the contract he thought he deserved last offseason.
That said, this offseason Rogers is going to get paid, and if he leaves San Francisco I'm not sure he will perform to expectations that a big contract will set.
I see him getting more than the four-year, $28 million deal signed by Ike Taylor, but less than the four-year, $43 million deal that Champ Bailey received.
Michael Bush was solid for the Raiders filling in for the injured Darren McFadden last season.
However, Bush seemed to slow down as the season wore on and finished with an average of 3.8 yards per carry this season after cracking 4.0 per attempt in each of his three previous seasons (via ESPN).
He did rush for 977 yards and seven touchdowns while starting nine games.
Rumors of Michael Bush receiving the franchise tag have been rampant—Steve Corkran of the Contra Costa Times said via Twitter that it's "better than even money."
The franchise tag for running backs is $7.7 million this year, according to NFL.com, while McFadden has a base salary of $5,650,000 next year and a total cap hit of $6,716,667.
With the tag, Bush would be making more from the Raiders than McFadden. Bush shouldn't make more than the man he is backing up.
Even if the Raiders don't overpay Bush with the franchise tag, I believe a team will come along and pay him solid starter money—probably a little more than the Giants' Ahmad Bradshaw received last year (four years, $18 million with $9 million guaranteed).
For a man without a 1,000-yard season and who slowed down when he got extensive work starting, he could be overpaid.
Possible destinations: Raiders
Jarret Johnson is a longtime Raven and has one recurring theme: He is the most underrated player on Baltimore's heralded defense.
Johnson will be 31 at the start of next season and has been an outside linebacker in the Ravens defense while being considered a jack of all trades.
When someone receives the moniker of "jack of all trades," often he is a master of none.
In addition, Johnson doesn't particularly rush the passer all that well. Johnson has 20 sacks in his career, but only four the past two seasons. Johnson was also spelled by Paul Kruger on passing downs a bit this season.
The Ravens have a few stars on defense like Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Terrell Suggs and Haloti Ngata, just to name a few. It makes me wonder if Johnson could excel away from the talented group.
Stats don't tell the whole story for Johnson. He is a great fit and does a tremendous job for the Ravens. I think his best fit is Baltimore and believe he will be overpaid if he leaves Baltimore.
The fan favorite in Baltimore has said he wants to return but understands this is a business (via Yardbarker). Kruger may be ready to take over for Johnson.
Also, I feel Johnson is going to be the best OLB with 3-4 experience in free agency, and right now the class isn't that strong in that aspect.
I could see him getting about the same average money of Quincy Black (five years, $29 million) or Ray Edwards (five years, $30 million), but I think he will get less time than Black and Edwards.
Rumored destinations: Ravens, Indianapolis Colts
Matt Flynn has been good while starting for the Packers. Unfortunately, he only has started two games in four years.
Flynn had a monster game in the Packers' last game of the season this year and set Packers single-game records in the process. Flynn completed over 70 percent of his passes, threw six touchdowns to only one interception and threw for 480 yards.
Flynn was 55-of-81, had nine passing touchdowns to two interceptions, threw for 731 yards and had a record of 1-1 in his two starts.
Add this up and you can bet it'll equal a Kevin Kolb-like deal or close to the six years, $65 million deal Kolb received from the Cardinals.
A solid contract for any quarterback, but I felt it was a bit much for Kolb, and he had seven career starts.
That's not saying Flynn will be a flop, but for what he has produced to this point, he would be overpaid.
Flynn will be sought after and might end up being the only quarterback on the market that can be viewed as a long-term option at QB.