One 2013 Free Agent Each NFL Team Needs to Lock Up Right Away

Vincent Frank@VincentFrankNFLCorrespondent IMay 21, 2012

One 2013 Free Agent Each NFL Team Needs to Lock Up Right Away

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    The situation between Mike Wallace and the Pittsburgh Steelers is tenuous at best right now. With that being said, he is nearly guaranteed to be on the Opening Day roster due to myriad of different logistical issues.

    However, this is a short-term fix at best.

    The Steelers must sign their current No. 1 receiver to a long-term contract before the start of the 2013 offseason or will face the possibility of losing him.

    This is a team that isn't in a good salary cap situation and doesn't possess the ability to get into a bidding war for his services on the open market.

    Get Wallace locked up before that happens and everything will be golden.

Denver Broncos: Tracy Porter, Cornerback

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    Despite the fact that Tracy Porter has yet to play a game for the Denver Broncos, he is already a valuable player on that defense.

    The former Super Bowl hero is set to start at right corner opposite Champ Bailey. This is a position that has plagued the Broncos secondary over the course of the last few seasons.

    If Porter proves that he is capable of holding down the fort, of which I see no evidence to the contrary, they should look at locking him up long-term during the season.

San Diego Chargers: Malcom Floyd, Wide Receiver

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    Malcom Floyd is going to be a much bigger part of the San Diego Chargers offense in 2012 following the departure of Vincent Jackson.

    Floyd had his best season in 2011 in terms of yards and average per reception. He also made more of an impact as the season progressed, grabbing 95-plus yards in each of his last three games.

    These numbers are going to increase a great deal as Philip Rivers' No. 1 target on the outside.

    In short, you can expect Floyd to have his first 1,000-yard season. If this happens, Floyd will definitely be a prized free agent next spring. San Diego should attempt to lock him up before he hits the open market.

Oakland Raiders: Tyvon Branch, Safety

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    Tyvon Branch just recently signed his franchise tender, but this doesn't fix his long-term situation. In reality it is only a crutch for the talented safety and the Oakland Raiders.

    With the departures of solid players in the secondary, Oakland is extremely thin along this unit heading into the 2012 season.

    They cannot afford to lose another player to free agency next offseason. This means that Reggie McKenzie should be looking long and hard at re-signing Branch during or prior to the 2012 season.

Kansas City Chiefs: Branden Albert, Offensive Tackle

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    Now that the Kansas City Chiefs have apparently fortified what promises to be a strong offensive line with the additions of Eric Winston and Jeff Allen, it is time that they start focusing on keeping this unit together.

    Branden Albert, who has been the Chiefs' most consistent offensive lineman over the course of the last four seasons, is set to become a free agent next spring.

    The Chiefs would be well served to get the young tackle locked up on a long-term contract extension prior to the start of the 2012 season.

Baltimore Ravens: Joe Flacco, Quarterback

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    The NFL is now a quarterback-driven league. This is one of the primary reasons that Joe Flacco, not Ray Rice, should be the Baltimore Ravens' primary candidate for an extension.

    Despite a regression in terms of statistics last season, Flacco seems to be the Ravens' franchise guy behind center. He has all the talent to lead this team to the Super Bowl, nearly accomplishing that feat last season.

    Either way, The Ravens will be in a major bind heading into the 2013 offseason if both Rice and Flacco are unrestricted free agents. They will only be able to franchise one, leaving the other as an unrestricted free agent on the open market.

    Get one signed before or during the 2012 season and this situation will resolve itself.

    My money is on Flacco getting the extension.

Pittsburgh Steelers: Mike Wallace, Wide Receiver

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    The situation between Mike Wallace and the Pittsburgh Steelers is tenuous at best right now. With that being said, he is nearly guaranteed to be on the Opening Day roster due to myriad of different logistical issues.

    However, this is a short-term fix at best.

    The Steelers must sign their current No. 1 receiver to a long-term contract before the start of the 2013 offseason or will face the possibility to losing him.

    This is a team that isn't in a good salary cap situation and doesn't possess the ability to get into a bidding war for his services on the open market.

    Get Wallace locked up before that happens and everything will be golden.

Cincinnati Bengals: Robert Geathers, Defensive Line

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    The core players of the Cincinnati Bengals are pretty much under contract for the next few seasons. This is what happens when you build through the draft and have tremendous success early.

    Robert Geathers has been a pretty strong performer for the Bengals over the course of his six seasons as their starting left defensive end. He also figures to be a solid rotational player with their new additions on the defensive line.

    However, there are going to be a ton of teams that run both the 3-4 and 4-3 defensive schemes that will be interested in Geathers if he does hit the open market next offseason.

Cleveland Browns: Ben Watson, Tight End

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    While the Cleveland Browns lack talent on the outside, Ben Watson has been a consistent pass-catching target between the hashes. 

    The veteran tight end has over 100 combined catches over the course of the last two seasons and is going to help Brandon Weeden a great deal as a safety valve in 2012.

    If Cleveland wants either of their young quarterbacks to succeed, they are going to have to retain Ben Watson beyond the 2012 season.

Houston Texans: Matt Schaub, Quarterback

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    Some may believe that T.J. Yates will be ready to take over the Houston Texans' starting quarterback job following the 2012 season.

    While that may be true, it is hard to imagine him matching the production that Matt Schaub has shown over the course of the last few seasons.

    The veteran quarterback threw for over 4,000 yards in both 2009 and 2010 before missing six games last year due to injury.

    You also have to keep in mind that Schaub is only 30, which indicates that he has at least five years of solid football ahead of him.

    Houston has a decision to make and it must be done prior to Schaub hitting the open market next year.

Tennessee Titans: Leroy Harris, Guard/Center

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    Leroy Harris can play both guard positions as well as center. He is the most versatile Tennessee Titans offensive players at this point. 

    While Harris is slotted in as the starter at right guard, he can fill in at other positions if an injury pops up. Every team needs this type of player.

    If Harris hits the market next season there will be a lot of teams interested in his services, which could lead to be bigger payday than what is deserved.

    The Titans would be well served to go out there and sign him to an extension prior to that happening.

Jacksonville Jaguars: Daryl Smith, Linebacker

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    Daryl Smith is one of the most underrated linebackers in the National Football League.

    He has recorded 100-plus tackles in each of his last three seasons with the Jacksonville Jaguars and continues to spearhead a defense that ranks among the best in the league.

    Now that Jacksonville is making an effort to build even more talent on that side of the ball, it makes sense for them to lock up Smith long-term to help the continued growth of the defense.

Indianapolis Colts: Dwight Freeney, Defensive End/Linebacker

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    The Indianapolis Colts don't have many big-name players. In fact, they are in complete rebuilding mode as evidenced by a disastrous 2011 season, release of their all-time great quarterback and then the No. 1 overall selection of Andrew Luck.

    There has also been speculation that Dwight Freeney is on the trade block.

    If the veteran pass-rusher sticks with the Colts and transitions to the 3-4 outside linebacker role, it will be necessary for the franchise to give him an extension at some point.

    The open market will not be kind to their ability to compete with free-spending franchises in need of a pass-rusher. This market will be dramatically increased if Freeney proves he can play in both major defensive schemes.

New England Patriots: Wes Welker, Wide Receiver

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    At the age of 31 Wes Welker probably only has a few really good seasons in front of him, especially with that small frame. 

    However, he has been the most productive receivers in the entire National Football League over the course of the last five seasons. In fact, he has been historically productive.

    Destined to play under a franchise contract in 2012, Welker is in need of an extension that jibes with this production.

    It might be pure conjecture, but I believe that the Patriots will be willing to give him that money when all is said and done.

New York Jets: LaRon Landry, Safety

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    While LaRon Landry has been injury-prone and hasn't even played a game with the New York Jets, he is already their most talented safety.

    Landry is a difference-maker in the secondary when he is actually on the football field. This is a player that lays the wood with the best of them and does a great job helping out against the run in the box.

    If Landry shows that he is able to stay healthy and make an impact, it makes sense for the Jets to re-sign him prior to the end of the 2012 season so he doesn't hit the open market.

Buffalo Bills: Jairus Byrd, Safety

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    Jairus Byrd was one of the few bright spots for a struggling Buffalo Bills defense last season. He recorded nearly 100 tackles and was a consistent force against both the run and the pass.

    Now that the Bills have added a couple nice pass-rushers in the form of Mark Anderson and Mario Williams, you can believe that their secondary will be much stronger.

    This means that Byrd promises to have an even better 2012 season. We haven't heard much extension talk between the talented safety and his current team, but something needs to be going on behind the scenes.

    They simply cannot afford to let Byrd hit the open market next March.

Miami Dolphins: Jake Long, Offensive Tackle

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    Jeff Ireland and Co. have completely shot down ridiculous claims that the Dolphins don't envision Jake Long as their franchise left tackle.

    As crazy as it might sound, Long might not be in South Beach past the 2012 season. He is set to be a free agent next offseason and will demand elite left tackle money.

    If the Dolphins are unwilling to pay it, which I doubt would happen, a myriad of other teams will line up to bring the former No. 1 overall pick in.

    It just makes sense for them to put any stop to this idea and lock him up right now. In fact, the future success of Ryan Tannehill might rely on it.

San Francisco 49ers: Andy Lee, Punter

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    A punter on this list?

    That just might be the most absurd thing about this article. However, you just have to look further at what Andy Lee brings to the San Francisco 49ers.

    He has an amazing ability to control a game with that foot. The 49ers clearly won field-position battles in nearly every game that they won last season.

    Lee was a primary reason for that.

    He forces offenses to go 80 and 90 yards against one of the elite defenses in the entire league, something that rarely happened.

    It is the idea that he can change the landscape of a game with just one punt. You just cannot say that about many players at this position in the history of the league.

    Lee's importance to the 49ers cannot be overstated and they must get him locked up.

Arizona Cardinals: A.J. Jefferson, Cornerback

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    Patrick Peterson and Jamell Fleming are going to be the Arizona Cardinals' starting cornerback tandem for a long time.

    However, this doesn't mean that they can afford to lose A.J. Jefferson, who is extremely talented. The raw young corner has the ability to be a damn good slot player for Arizona moving forward.

    I understand that he struggled to an extent last season, but once Jefferson hones that technique and gets more experience he is going to be a fine defensive back.

    That being said, this could be a troublesome issue for Arizona moving forward.

    Jefferson, if he improves in 2012, should get some play as a starter on the market next offseason. This means that he might want to test the open market prior to signing an extension.

Seattle Seahawks: Alan Branch, Defensive Line

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    Alan Branch really stepped up for the Seattle Seahawks last season. The former second-round pick of the Arizona Cardinals was solid in run support, consistently holding the line against interior blockers.

    Branch promises to be a really good rotational player for the Seahawks moving forward. However, they need to lock him up in order for that to be a reality past the 2012 season.

St. Louis Rams: Brandon Gibson, Wide Receiver

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    Sure, the St. Louis Rams drafted four wide receivers in the top four rounds of the last two NFL drafts. That really isn't the point here.

    Brandon Gibson has been one of their only reliable receiving threats over the course of the last two seasons and seems to have a nice relationship with Sam Bradford.

    Anything that the Rams can do to make their franchise quarterback more comfortable is a necessity at this point.

    Jeff Fisher and Co. fully understand this.

Green Bay Packers: Greg Jennings, Wide Receiver

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    The talented wide receiver is clearly Aaron Rodgers' favorite target in the passing game and must be re-signed in order for their success to continue past the 2012 season.

    Of course Green Bay can just slap the franchise tag on Greg Jennings next season, but that is nothing more than a band-aid.

    It is time they give Jennings the contract he deserves.

Detroit Lions: Cliff Avril, Defensive End

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    The Detroit Lions remain at an impasse on contact talks with Cliff Avril, who was tendered a franchise tag earlier in the offseason.

    It goes without saying that both sides are looking at getting a long-term contract extension ironed out. The Lions must keep Avril in to the fold if they want to continue to compete in the talented NFC North.

    It really is that simple.

Chicago Bears: Matt Forte, Running Back

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    The more I think about it the more it is a reasonable conclusion to draw that Matt Forte isn't going to finish his career in a Chicago Bears uniform.

    The situation between Forte and the team has been volatile over the course of the last couple seasons and it doesn't appear to be getting any better as of late.

    While players like Arian Foster and Adrian Peterson have received handsome extensions, there continues to be a rift between Forte and the Bears.

    They can do one thing to fix this: Show Forte the money.

Minnesota Vikings: Jerome Simpson, Wide Receiver

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    If it wasn't for the drug arrest Jerome Simpson would have been one of the most sought-after free agent wide receivers this season.

    He has the potential to be a true No. 1 receiver in the National Football League. This is a dynamic downfield threat that consistently showed he has the necessary talent to be a go-to guy.

    Christian Ponder and the Minnesota Vikings have been searching for this type of player since Sidney Rice bolted to the Seattle Seahawks prior to the 2011 season.

    If Simpson comes up big early on in the 2012 season, I fully expect the Vikings to kick the tires on an extension before he hits the market next March.

New Orleans Sants: Drew Brees, Quarterback

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    I do not understand what the issue is in regards to extension talks between Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints.

    He is the Super Bowl-winning face of this franchise and deserves to be paid that way. The Saints continue to kick themselves in the back end by holding out on a better deal for the franchise. Meanwhile, Brees has refused to sign his franchise tender.

    If you think the situation is volatile right now just wait until it extends into the 2013 offseason. No one wants to see that.

    Give the guy his money already!

Atlanta Falcons: Brent Grimes, Cornerback

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    While the Atlanta Falcons did acquire Asante Samuel via a trade with the Philadelphia Eagles, Brent Grimes still remains their best cover guy in the secondary.

    The young cornerback has No. 1 talent written all over him and has performed up to that level on a consistent basis over the course of the last couple seasons.

    Atlanta cannot afford to continually slap Grimes with the franchise tag. Instead, they must get a long-term contract hashed out.

Carolina Panthers: Jeff Otah, Tackle

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    Jeff Otah needs to prove he can stay healthy, but that might be an issue considering a chronic knee injury that he has had to deal with over the course of the last few seasons.

    When on the football field Otah is among the better run-blocking offensive tackles in the National Football League.

    The 2012 season will be telling as to whether or not the former first-round pick can actually stay on the field for an extended time.

    If so, the Panthers are going to want to think about locking him up.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: LeGarrette Blount, Running Back

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    Just because the Tampa Bay Buccaneers went out and drafted Doug Martin in the first round of April's draft it doesn't mean that they are not sold on LeGarrette Blount.

    The tandem of Martin and Blount promises to by dynamic in 2012. One brings pure strength, while the other can hit the hole and take it to the outside in a heartbeat.

    This is the type of running-back rotation that is needed in the NFL today. If the Buccaneers plan on having more than one season of this they should look long and hard at signing Blount to an extension prior to him hitting the open market as a restricted free agent next March.

New York Giants: Victor Cruz, Wide Receiver

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    This might not be the first thing to do on the New York Giants "to-do list." In reality, they can let the Victor Cruz contract situation play out past the 2012 season and not be in any jeopardy of losing him.

    It still makes sense for them to kick the tires on an extension for the surprise standout of the 2012 Super Bowl team. Cruz is the Giants' No. 1 receiver and will want money that reflects that.

    Why not do it sooner rather than later?

Philadelphia Eagles: Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Cornerback

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    There is little doubt in my mind that Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie has the tools to be a No. 1 corner in the National Football League.

    While he did struggle initially with the Philadelphia Eagles last season, Rodgers-Cromartie stepped up a great deal after getting accustomed to the system.

    You can expect a breakout season from him in 2012.

    If that happens the Eagles have to think long and hard about signing the talented safety to an extension prior to him hitting the open market next March.

Dallas Cowboys: Anthony Spencer, Linebacker

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    Anthony Spencer hasn't been the consistent pass-rush threat that the Dallas Cowboys had hoped he would be following what appeared to be a breakout 2009 campaign.

    He is still a pretty solid player opposite DeMarcus Ware. At least the Cowboys thought this when they gave Spencer the franchise tag earlier this offseason.

    If Jerry Jones and Co. believe that he is a long-term solution at outside linebacker they should take a look at signing him to an extension.

Washington Redskins: Tanard Jackson, Safety

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    This may seem a little premature considering that Tanard Jackson has yet to play a game for the Washington Redskins. That is just on the surface.

    Their safety position was gutted in the offseason with the free-agent loss of LaRon Landry and release of O.J. Atogwe.

    As it stands right now, Jackson is their only capable safety with starting experience. Washington cannot afford to be in a worse situation come next offseason.