Joe Flacco is the top free agent QB in 2013
Are you aware of the top NFL free agents ready to hit the market in 2013? We have created the 2013 top-50 free agents "Big Board" to provide you with a better idea of who will be available next year to help out your team.
Everybody likes to play general manager to some degree. It is fun to speculate on just who exactly your team needs to add to the mix to get over the hump.
We will include both restricted (RFA) and unrestricted free agents (UFA) and will designate them appropriately. They are ranked in order of potential impact for the 2013 season and beyond from 1-50.
Of course, some of these names will disappear when teams decide to sign them to long-term deals during the 2012 season. But they were all pending free agents when this was submitted for publication, according to the contract information provided at Spotrac.com.
We will start out with some marquee names that are entering the final years of their career and then work our way towards No. 1 on the big board.
Randy Moss burned the Cardinals with this touchdown catch
Nobody knew for certain what kind of player the San Francisco 49ers were going to have on their hands when they signed WR Randy Moss to a one-year contract in 2012.
Moss has been a good teammate both on and off the field this season, so the issues that plagued him back in 2010 seem to now be a thing of the past. His good behavior in 2012 bodes well for his career to be extended for another year or two, provided that he wants to continue to go through the grind.
In 2012, Moss has made 13 receptions for 235 yards, which comes out to a very impressive average of 18.1 yards per catch. He also has two touchdowns on the year. Moss is trying to set a good example for Michael Crabtree and help him along in his development and growth as a NFL receiver.
Will Moss be back for a second year with the 49ers in 2013? It probably depends on how often they target him over the second half of the season.
Ronde Barber is still coming up with turnovers
Tampa Bay Buccaneers CB Ronde Barber is another example of a great NFL career that could very well be coming to an end soon. Barber will become a free agent in 2013, and out of respect for his game and accomplishments, we list him in our top-50 big board.
Barber has been named to five Pro Bowl teams and five All-Pro teams. He was a member of the NFL All-Decade team of the 2000s. He has the most consecutive starts of an NFL cornerback and is the all-time leader in interceptions in Tampa Bay Buccaneers history.
It is difficult to imagine Barber playing anywhere else. Who knows—with the way that Greg Schiano has been able to turn the Bucs around, maybe he can convince Barber to sign up for one more year.
Bears defense celebrates an Urlacher interception
The only reason that we have Chicago Bears LB Brian Urlacher ranked at No. 48 is that he has made it clear that he doesn't have many years left to play. Either 2012 or 2013 could be the final year in his great career, so his impact beyond 2013 is negligible.
With that said, there is mad respect for his game, his emotion and the toughness that he brings to any team. Since he has played his entire career in Chicago, it is difficult to envision him wearing any other uniform. He is, however, a pending free agent, so that is why he makes our list at No. 48.
Urlacher is now 34 years old and the injuries seem to last longer and be harder to heal. He sat out the 2012 preseason due to a knee injury, and it has limited his ability to play like his old self in 2012. He may opt to call it a career if he can't get any better physically after this season. If the Bears happen to win it all in 2012, that might be a good time for Urlacher to ride off into the sunset.
Will Tony Gonzalez return in 2013 ?
Atlanta Falcons TE Tony Gonzalez has been threatening that retirement could be right around the corner, but he continues to play year after year. Perhaps the hot start of 2012 for the Falcons will result in a playoff win or two, and that might be sufficient to convince Gonzalez that it is finally time to call it a career.
The only player in NFL history that has caught more passes than Gonzalez is Jerry Rice. Gonzalez climbed all the way up to No. 2 in NFL all-time history for receptions this year, which is a testament to his longevity, physical gifts and ability to take good care of his body.
There aren't many things left for Gonzalez to accomplish, so if the Falcons can somehow get to the Super Bowl in 2012, that might be the last time we see Gonzalez grace the field.
Will 2012 be the last year for Donald Driver in Green Bay?
Green Bay Packers WR Donald Driver wants to continue playing beyond 2012, but the Packers seem to be adamant that this will be the last year he plays for them. A parting seems inevitable.
Where would be a good landing spot for Driver in 2013? If you look at the positive impact that Randy Moss has made in San Francisco this year, that could be the pattern Driver follows in 2013. Join a team with some young wide receivers, teach them whatever you know and catch some passes here and there.
Whether or not that kind of role is acceptable to Driver remains to be seen. Clearly he isn't a No. 1 wide receiver any more, so he has to be realistic as to what kind of demands he can make of other teams.
Dallas Clark scores a touchdown vs New Orleans
Tampa Bay Buccaneers TE Dallas Clark didn't follow Peyton Manning to Denver, so he wound up in Tampa Bay instead. Clark has been able to fill the void left when the Bucs traded away Kellen Winslow Jr.
In 2012, Clark has made 17 receptions for 172 yards and one touchdown. By averaging 10 yards per catch, Clark is able to contribute to the Bucs offense and serve as another reliable target for Josh Freeman. He is also the tight end that Freeman looks to as compared to Luke Stocker.
Clark will turn 34 years old next summer, so you would believe that he might have another year or two left in him. Tony Gonzalez is still playing well at age 36 to give you a reasonable comparison.
Phil Dawson still has a strong leg
Cleveland Browns kicker Phil Dawson is currently in the midst of a perfect season in 2012. To date he is 12-of-12 in field-goal attempts, nailing all four tries in the 40- to 49-yard range, in addition to making all four attempts from 50 yards and beyond.
Dawson is a free agent in 2013, and even though he will be 38 years old next January, coaches only care about performance, not how old you are.
Cleveland has used the franchise tag on Dawson for two straight years, and that strategy has resulted in Dawson's salary rising to $3.81 million in 2012. If they attempt to tender him again, it would jump up to $5.3 million in 2013. That seems unrealistic, so either the Browns offer him a longer-term deal or Dawson will be kicking for some other team next year.
Edelman tries to catch this pass versus Ed Reed
Julian Edelman is one of those interesting jack-of-all-trades players that can fill a number of roles. With the New England Patriots he has been used as a wide receiver, punt returner, kickoff returner, cornerback and downfield blocker. I believe that covers it, but that is the point. He is versatile and is the kind of player that Bill Belichick can move around according to team needs.
Will Edelman be equally valuable to other NFL teams, or is his value unique to the New England Patriots? Some may wonder aloud what he truly excels at, but he has demonstrated good hands as a receiver and is tough enough in the return game.
It will be interesting to see if any other teams make him an offer, but you can be assured that the Patriots will probably want him to stay in New England. He is too important to the flexibility of the team and their roster needs to let him go somewhere else.
Will Joshua Cribbs remain in Cleveland past 2012?
Cleveland Browns WR and return specialist Josh Cribbs has spent his entire career with the Cleveland Browns. That statement will be tested when he becomes a free agent in the 2013 offseason.
With the Browns under new ownership, it is hard to know what plans they have for veterans that are entering free agency like Cribbs. One way would be if the Browns entered into negotiations with Cribbs' agent during the season, but that seems unlikely.
They probably want to see what Cribbs does during the rest of the season before they tip their hand. As for now, Cribbs has only caught six passes during the 2012 season, so he isn't making much of an impact on offense.
He is averaging 30 yards per kick return and 13 yards per punt return, so the ability to give the Browns better field position is still an asset that he can deliver. Cribbs will turn 30 years old next June but shows no real signs of slowing down or being ineffective.
Larry Foote looks to sack Robert Griffin III
Pittsburgh Steelers LB Larry Foote will have completed his second tour of duty with the Steelers by the time the 2012 season ends. Scheduled to hit free agency in 2013, Foote offers plenty of starting experience to go along with appearing in a number of playoff games.
For a young defense that needs some veteran leadership, Foote could make tremendous sense in free agency in 2013. He will turn 33 years old next June but still wants to continue his career.
Could Hillis play for his third team in three years in 2013?
Kansas City Chiefs RB Peyton Hillis could be playing for his third different team in the span of three years in 2013. The Chiefs' 2012 season has been pathetic, so all bets are off for who is going to come back next year.
Hillis has only been given the ball 25 times this year, which isn't very many touches. He does sport a stellar average of 4.6 yards per rush, which is above league average.
An ankle injury has kept Hillis out of action, and Shaun Draughn has more carries than Hillis (47 to 25).
Now that Hillis appears healthy, let's see what he produces over the second half. He could very well be auditioning for his next team.
Nate Clements has moved from CB to safety in 2012
Cincinnati Bengals secondary member Nate Clements has been playing at a high level for years. He is going to turn 33 years old this December, so Clements has naturally lost a step or two since his prime years.
As such, the Bengals have moved him over to safety, where he is more effective. This year Clements has made 36 tackles, one tackle for loss, defended two passes and forced a fumble.
In his career, Clements has been elected to the Pro Bowl, made 35 interceptions and forced 23 fumbles. There will no doubt be a team that can use his experience and skills if the Bengals opt not to bring him back in 2013.
Levitre plays under the radar in Buffalo
You haven't seen Buffalo Bills guard Andy Levitre's name on any All-Pro teams or Pro Bowl rosters, but that doesn't mean he isn't deserving of the honor. Levitre is one of those unheralded players that doesn't get the national recognition that his play deserves.
His play hasn't been lost on the analysts at Pro Football Focus. In this article by Ben Stockwell, Levitre is referred to as the Bills' Secret Superstar. That seems like an adequate description for him. Here is an excerpt from the article:
Levitre’s ability in pass protection at both guard and tackle cannot be questioned. Over the last two seasons whether you look at our grades (+15.1) or the stats (35 total pressures allowed), he is amongst the elite pass protectors at guard. Combined with clear improvements in his in-line run blocking, and his consistent quality blocking in space, Levitre is ready to use the 2012 season to break into the NFL’s upper echelon of guards.
During his career in Buffalo, Levitre has been a stud at left guard. He was asked to fill in at left tackle when Demetress Bell went down with injury, and he never missed a beat, playing a more than adequate left tackle. He was pressed into emergency service at center when the Bills were short-handed after Eric Wood went down. It is safe to say that center is not the position where you want to use Levitre.
Levitre is 6'2" tall and weighs 305 pounds. He is just 26 years old and is entering his prime years.
Henderson attempts to deflect a pass from RG3
For the teams that seem to have problems stopping the run (the Buffalo Bills and New Orleans Saints come to mind), help could be on the way in the form of Minnesota Vikings LB Erin Henderson.
Henderson will be a free agent in 2013 and is only 26 years old. He is tied for the team lead in tackles for loss (at five with Antoine Winfield) despite missing time due to a concussion injury.
He doesn't excel in pass coverage, but that isn't the reason you would be adding him to your football team to begin with. Expect Henderson to have several teams courting him in 2013 if the Vikings don't retain his services.
Sam Shields enters free agency in 2013
Green Bay Packers CB Sam Shields could find himself being allowed to test the free-agent market in 2013, as the Packers have been pleased with the development of rookie corner Casey Hayward.
Due to the depth the Packers have in the secondary, the decision to bring back Shields or let him walk will come down to his salary demands and what cap room the Packers still have available.
Shields will be remembered for his strong play in the 2010 NFC Championship game, when he was named the defensive MVP of the game. Shields somehow managed to come up with two interceptions, a forced fumble and a sack in that contest. Rookies aren't supposed to be able to do that in a game that big.
According to ESPN Stats & Info, "Shields became the first rookie and fifth player overall to register a sack and two interceptions in a playoff game."
Shields' level of play has dropped off from that high mark, but there is still some valuable experience there to lend to another team that has holes in its secondary.
Will Andre Smith stay with Cincy after he becomes a free agent?
Cincinnati Bengals tackle Andre Smith needed some time to develop and prove that he was worthy of being a starting offensive tackle.
Part of the issue with Smith has to do with watching his weight. Smith stands 6'4" and weighs around 335 pounds (give or take). He doesn't always keep himself in shape, and that is something that would be troubling to any general manager that is thinking about making him an offer when free agency begins in 2013.
Smith has improved his blocking skills, so now he just needs to control himself better in the dining room.
Danny Amendola was off to a great start in 2012
The St. Louis Rams are faced with the prospect of losing two of their wide receivers to free agency in 2013: Steve Smith and Danny Amendola.
Smith gained notoriety when he finished the 2009 season second in the NFL with 107 catches. But 2009 was a lifetime ago in the NFL. In 2012, Smith has made 11 catches for 114 yards.
Amendola, on the other hand, is the leading receiver in St. Louis for Sam Bradford. Amendola has caught 32 passes for 395 yards and two touchdowns. Despite missing at least a month with a broken clavicle, Amendola is still the leading receiver in St. Louis, which tells you that he had a dynamic start to the year—and that the Rams don't have many other options to throw to.
The Rams are hoping to have Amendola back in the lineup by Week 10.
Stevie Brown leads the Giants in interceptions in 2012
Most NFL fans wouldn't have registered the name Stevie Brown prior to the 2012 season. He was bouncing around the league from team to team and wasn't lasting more than one year with anybody.
Then in 2012, due to injuries to the New York Giants secondary, the safety got an opportunity to play. Sometimes that is all that you need, just that one good opportunity. Brown has made the most of it and is currently ranked No. 2 in the NFL with five interceptions. He trails only Tim Jennings of the Chicago Bears.
In addition to the interceptions, Brown is fourth on the Giants in tackles with 34 and has five pass deflections, two tackles for a loss and two fumble recoveries. He's one of the best deals on the Giants roster (short of Victor Cruz), as he is only playing for $605,000 this year.
The Indianapolis Colts had Brown in 2011 but opted not to bring him back in 2012. The Giants were able to sign Brown for a one-year deal and will have control over him in 2013, as he is going to be a restricted free agent.
Henry Melton gets a QB hit on Tony Romo
Chicago Bears DT Henry Melton is having a solid season in 2012, which is the final year of his contract. Melton is tied for the Bears' team lead in sacks with Julius Peppers, as both players have recorded five sacks already.
The fact that Melton can create so many sacks from the defensive tackle position means he will be in demand in 2013 with teams that need pass-rush help up the middle. Melton also has made 24 tackles in 2012 to go along with two forced fumbles and one tackle for a loss.
Melton is 6'3" tall and weighs 295 pounds. He just turned 26 years old in October, so he has quite a number of years left in his career. Will the Bears retain him, or will he opt for free agency instead?
Jason Campbell hasn't seen many snaps in 2012
Chicago Bears QB Jason Campbell is one of the other quarterbacks that might draw some interest in 2013 free agency. He has starting experience, and that is something teams never can have enough of.
Jay Cutler has been able to play all year in 2012, so Campbell has been serving as an insurance policy on the sidelines. If Cutler goes down, Campbell will be ready to step in. But chances are that he will come out of 2013 feeling like his body took a major break from all the pounding he took in the prior seasons.
The Bears only signed Campbell to a one-year deal, so Campbell will be able to test the market again in 2013. Campbell has started in 70 games in the NFL and has a career record of 31-39. He has completed 60.8 percent of passes in his career and has a touchdown to interception ratio of 74-50.
Cedric Benson will return to free agency in 2013
Green Bay Packers RB Cedric Benson leads the Packers in rushing in 2012, but when you look at the actual numbers, that isn't saying much. Benson has rushed the ball 71 times for 248 yards, which amounts to an average of 3.5 yards per carry. That is the kind of average that gets coaches and coordinators fired.
This season really isn't that much different from what we observed in Cincinnati. The last two years with the Bengals, Benson averaged 3.9 and 3.5 yards per rush. His career average is 3.8.
The one surprise is that Benson has been causing no problems with the Packers on or off the field, so that is the good news. Will Benson be able to pick up his performance in the second half of the season? At least he has a good chance to return to the playoffs with Green Bay this year.
Yeremiah Bell is a hard-hitting safety who will be a free agent in 2013
New York Jets S Yeremiah Bell is one of the more physical safeties in the NFL. He looks to punish whoever has the ball every chance he gets. That style of play can be intimidating to some players. It would seem more fitting when the Jets were winning more games with their defense than they are doing now.
Bell loves contact, as witnessed by the fact that he led the Miami Dolphins in tackles for four straight years (2008-2011), which is rather unusual for a safety. Each of those four years Bell registered more than 100 tackles, which says that he is durable and he can definitely hit people.
With the Jets, Bell is in a rotation with two other safeties, LaRon Landry and Eric Smith. This year Bell is third in tackles with 52 and has recovered two fumbles. For any team that has weak tackling from the safety position, teams should be taking a long, hard look at signing Bell when he hits free agency in 2013.
Shonn Greene finds a running lane versus Miami
New York Jets RB Shonn Greene is on pace for a 1,000-plus-yard rushing season. Greene also gained over 1,000 rushing yards in 2011, so repeating that accomplishment will be something to be proud of. That is the good news.
The bad news is that Greene started a trend where his average has been tailing off from his rookie season, and this year is no exception. As a rookie, Greene ran for 5.0 yards per carry. Since then the average has dropped down to 4.1, 4.2 and now this year even worse to 3.7.
If Greene can't find a way to crank out more yards per carry, Mark Sanchez is going to face more 3rd-and-long scenarios, which means less time on the field and fewer carries. It's a vicious cycle.
Greene needs to demonstrate that he can consistently gain north of four yards per carry. Anything less than that and he will not be overwhelmed with the offers rolling in during 2013 free agency.
Jermaine Bushrod is a huge specimen for any offensive line
New Orleans Saints T Jermon Bushrod is fresh off a Pro Bowl appearance in 2011. Good thing he was able to play in the game before Roger Goodell makes the game extinct.
The Saints lost Carl Nicks to free agency last year, and it would be a tough blow if they were to lose Bushrod the following season. Bushrod has seemed receptive to staying in New Orleans after the 2012 season.
But that was before the Saints opened up with a 2-5 record, leaving them with long odds at reaching the postseason.
Bushrod is like a wall at left tackle, standing 6'5" and weighing 315 pounds. Drew Brees will probably lobby to keep Bushrod, but the Saints have to find enough cap space room to upgrade the worst defense in the NFL.
Dustin Keller's 2012 season hasn't been very productive
New York Jets TE Dustin Keller was probably envisioning a strong 2012 season leading up to attractive offers when he was set to become a free agent in 2013. Things haven't necessarily worked out very well this year.
Troubled by a floundering offense and hamstring injury, Keller's production this year has taken a sharp dive. In 2012, Keller has only made 16 receptions for 173 yards. That is far off the pace when he led the Jets in receptions and receiving yards in 2011 (65 receptions for 815 yards).
Keller still has half a season to try to pump up his numbers heading into 2013 free agency. If he can't step it up, he might find that he is being passed over in favor of teams showing interest in Fred Davis and Jared Cook instead.
LaRon Landry battles with Rob Gronkowski
The New York Jets were only willing to sign safety LaRon Landry to a one-year contract during the 2012 offseason because they wanted to be convinced that he could stay healthy.
To hedge their concerns over Landry's past Achilles' tendon surgery not acting up again, the Jets have opted for a rotation at safety with Eric Smith to give Landry some plays off every game.
Landry may indeed survive the 2012 season without any major injuries, but then he will be a free agent and able to go to the highest bidder. Landry is second on the Jets with 56 tackles, has returned an interception for a touchdown and has forced one fumble this year.
If he can prove to the league that he has recovered from the Achilles injury, he could receive multiple offers next year.
Tracy Porter's playoff experience makes him valuable
Denver Broncos CB Tracy Porter has experience playing in the AFC and NFC. He has played in the Super Bowl and has plenty of experience to lend to a new team. Porter will become a free agent in 2013 and is certain to draw some attention around the league.
Porter suffered a seizure in August and has been having episodes this season where his heart is racing and he gets light-headed. The Broncos only signed Porter to a one-year deal, so he will be a free agent in 2013.
If Porter continues to suffer from these health issues during the 2012 season, teams will have concerns about what kind of a health risk he poses. Assuming that he can go back and resume playing the rest of the season, then he can still look forward to decent offers in 2013 free agency.
During his career, Porter has made 43 career starts to go with eight interceptions and 40 pass deflections.
Fred Davis dives for a reception
Between the 2011 suspension and the injury in 2012 that forced the Washington Redskins to place TE Fred Davis on injured reserve, it hasn't been the smoothest last two years for Davis.
Set to become a free agent in 2013, Davis is athletic and has potential to improve his game. He just needs to stay out of trouble and get healthy again.
Coming into Week 9 action, Davis leads the Redskins with 24 receptions and 325 receiving yards. He also leads the Redskins with 17 catches for a first down.
Davis was second on the Redskins in receiving in 2011, as he made 59 receptions for 796 yards and three touchdowns.
For teams seeking help at tight end, Davis will be just 27 years old as of next January. He has a number of years left in his career.
Ryan Clady will be in demand in 2013 free agency
Denver Broncos T Ryan Clady has put together a strong start to his NFL career by appearing on two Pro Bowl teams and two All-Pro teams already.
Clady will become a free agent in 2013, so there should be plenty of suitors lining up for his services. All-Pro tackles are hard to come by.
For what it is worth, Clady was named to Pro Football Focus' midseason All-Pro team as an honorable mention candidate for his play thus far in 2012. Another 2013 free-agent tackle, Sebastian Vollmer of the New England Patriots, beat him out for the first-team nod.
The Broncos did attempt to sign Clady to a long-term deal back in July, but the negotiations never finalized. Clady was offered $50 million for a five-year deal but turned the offer down.
With Peyton Manning on board, you can bet that Denver will do everything it can possibly do to protect Manning. One way to do that is to get Clady signed to a long-term deal.
Connor Barwin excels at rushing the passer
Teams that are in need of outside pass-rushing help will probably have an interest in Houston Texans LB Connor Barwin.
Barwin led the Texans with 11.5 sacks in 2011 to go along with seven pass deflections. That helped to erase the sting of going on I.R. after the first game of the 2010 season due to an ankle injury.
In 2012, Barwin has been overshadowed by J.J. Watt, who has taken over the team lead in sacks, tackles for loss and deflected passes. Watt is overshadowing the rest of the NFL too, as he appears to be the leading candidate for NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
As for Barwin, he needs to step up his production in the second half, as he will be eligible for free agency in 2013.
Manny Lawson has good starting experience to offer
Cincinnati Bengals LB Manny Lawson is one of the reasons the Bengals defense has been in the top 10 in recent years. Lawson will become a free agent in 2013.
Lawson has developed into a good pass-rushing linebacker. According to his profile page at Pro-Football-Reference.com, in 76 career starts, Lawson has accounted for 17 sacks, six forced fumbles, five fumble recoveries and 19 broken-up passes. That is how you turn yourself into a productive linebacker in the NFL—filling up the stat sheet.
Eligible for free agency in 2013, Lawson will be turning 29 next July, so he should still have some solid years of football left in him.
Anthony Spencer will become a free agent in 2013
Dallas Cowboys LB Anthony Spencer was the Cowboys' choice for the franchise tag in 2012. In 2013, Spencer is slated to become a free agent, so we will see if Dallas wants to offer him a long-term deal or will allow him to test the market.
The Dallas Cowboys defense is currently ranked fourth overall after eight weeks of play. Spencer has been playing a key role, as he's fourth in tackles on the team (32) and second on the team in sacks (3.0).
In his career, Spencer has started 58 NFL games, accumulated 24.5 sacks and forced 10 fumbles. For teams that are in need of generating pass rush from the linebacker position, Spencer will be in play in 2013.
Jared Cook wants to be more involved on offense
Tennessee Titans TE Jared Cook has expressed frustration at the lack of targets he is receiving in the Titans offense in 2012. That led to reports surfacing out of Tennessee that Cook (or his agent) was requesting a trade. A tweet from Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean contained the following information:
Indications are a trade has been requested for #Titans TE Jared Cook. The NFL trade deadline is tomorrow. Cook's in last year of deal— Jim Wyatt (@jwyattsports) October 29, 2012
Since then the Titans have tried to smother Cook with heaps of praise in an attempt to appease him. But the fact remains that they don't throw the ball to him very much, and he is eligible for free agency in 2013.
In 2012 Cook has caught 28 passes for 373 yards, good for 13.3 yards per catch, and two touchdowns. In 2011, Cook had 49 receptions for 759 yards, three touchdowns and an average of 15.5 yards per catch.
The good news is that Cook looks like he is ready to take the next step up in tight ends in 2013. The question that remains is will he playing for Tennessee or some other team?
Sebastian Vollmer will be a free agent in 2013
The New England Patriots had to do some rather serious offensive line shuffling in 2012, and they will have to figure out if they can afford to keep free-agent tackle Sebastian Vollmer. Vollmer becomes a UFA in 2013.
Out of all of our free agents on offense in this presentation, Vollmer was the only player named to the starting midseason All-Pro team in 2012 by Pro Football Focus. Here is what PFF said about Vollmer:
Vollmer (is) the designated right tackle. He hasn’t impressed like some left tackles, but he’s performed admirably for New England in giving up just one sack, one hit and 12 hurries in eight games.
Vollmer has stepped up his level of play in 2012, just in time to get a hefty raise in 2013, when he becomes an unrestricted free agent. That is great timing, much to the dismay of Bill Belichick.
Jairus Byrd is a solid tackle and keen eye for the ball
Buffalo Bills safety Jairus Byrd is the son of former NFL star Gill Byrd. Jairus made a strong impression as a rookie in 2009 when he tied for the NFL lead in interceptions with nine.
Byrd is more of a physical, hard-hitting safety in 2012, as he has been getting stronger every year. From 2010 to present, Byrd has forced at least three fumbles every year.
But people are paying attention to Byrd's overall level of play. Pro Football Focus just came out with its midseason All-Pro team, and it named Byrd one of the starters at safety, saying, "Byrd’s work in coverage is second-to-none and he oozes playmaking ability. A real game-changer at the safety position."
Byrd is the only defensive player on our top-50 free agents big board that was named to either the PFF first team or honorable mention midseason teams. Maybe Mario Williams will decide to restructure (give back) some of his money to keep Byrd in Buffalo.
Marcus Trufant is a quality CB that will be a 2013 free agent
Seattle Seahawks CB Marcus Trufant will become a free agent in 2013. For teams in need of help at corner, Trufant will be a high priority, provided that he reaches free agency.
Trufant has been named to both the Pro Bowl and All-Pro teams in his career. He has started 125 games in the NFL and amassed 21 interceptions and 110 passes defended.
This is Trufant's 10th year in the NFL, and he will be turning 32 years old on Christmas this year. Trufant has been hampered by issues with his back, and that will probably determine how much longer he can continue to play. The Seahawks have him focusing on being a slot corner this year.
Jennings will have to prove he is healthy in 2013
Green Bay Packers WR Greg Jennings has been dealing with a tear in his abdominal wall that required surgery this week. Needless to say, the injury has put a huge damper on his 2012 production.
Jennings has historically been one of the top receivers in the Packers offense. Jennings registered consecutive 1,000-plus-yard seasons in 2009 and 2010, followed by 949 yards in 2011. It is possible that Jennings won't be ready until Week 15 this year after he rehabs from surgery. His production so far is just 12 receptions for 78 yards.
With the emergence of other young wide receivers in Green Bay, it will be interesting to see what the Packers decide to do with Jennings, who will become a free agent in 2013. Clearly the Packers offense has demonstrated this season that it can function very well without him. If the Packers decide to let him leave in free agency, it is because they know they can continue without skipping a beat.
There are a number of other teams that would view Jennings as a serious upgrade for their offense, so he would be heavily pursued in free agency, if he ever gets that far.
Rashard Mendenhall has been battling knee problems in 2012
Pittsburgh Steelers RB Rashard Mendenhall has been facing an uphill battle in 2012 as he attempts to return from a serious knee injury suffered late in the 2011 season. His timing couldn't have been much worse for trying to put up a strong campaign prior to becoming a free agent.
With the emergence of Jonathan Dwyer (the mini version of Jerome Bettis), Pittsburgh is able to let Mendenhall get over his injuries and come back closer to 100 percent. Between Dwyer, Mendenhall, Isaac Redman and Chris Rainey, the Steelers have an interesting dynamic with their running back committee.
Due to the depth at running back and the health of Mendenhall, it wouldn't be a total surprise if Pittsburgh opted to let Mendenhall leave in free agency. The Steelers are going to be throwing the ball more than running it anyway. Another factor will be what Mendenhall's financial demands are.
As for his 2012 production, he has been limited to 19 rushes for 74 yards, no touchdowns and an average gain of 3.9 yards per rush.
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie intercepts a pass vs. Giants
Philadelphia Eagles CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie will be one of the most sought-after corners in the 2013 free-agency market, along with Brent Grimes.
In 2012, Rodgers-Cromartie leads the Eagles defense in interceptions and pass deflections. With Asante Samuel traded to Atlanta, Rodgers-Cromartie is back to his preferred role of starting corner. That has been reflected by him returning to form this year.
Rodgers-Cromartie will turn 27 years old next April, so there are still plenty of years left ahead of him. He has 16 interceptions and 76 defended passes so far in his career.
Reggie Bush finds a big hole against the Jets
Reggie Bush's career has seemingly turned for the better ever since he arrived in Miami. With free agency looming in 2013, will Bush's value be rewarded with a big day from teams around the league that have a weak running game, or will he remain in Miami?
During his time in Miami, Bush has demonstrated that he can run the ball between the tackles, which had previously been one of the knocks against him. Another knock was his durability, and that will probably always be an issue because of his size (6'0" tall and weighs 203 pounds).
In 2012, Bush has dealt with injuries to his knee and hip that have limited his production to a degree.
Bush recovered from a disastrous 2010 campaign, where he rushed for a career-low 150 yards for the entire season, with his first 1,000-plus-yard season in 2011. That year he ran for 1,086 yards, and he is on pace to repeat with another 1,000-plus yard season in 2012.
He isn't the dynamic returner he used to be at USC, but Bush still will be sought after if the Dolphins let him test free agency. He will be 28 years old next March, so there should still be years left in his body to take the wear and tear of life as an NFL running back.
Will Dwight Freeney remain in Indianapolis in 2013?
The 2012 season is the final year that the Indianapolis Colts still have DE Dwight Freeney under contract. The star DE will be turning 33 years old next February, so teams will be watching him over the second half of 2012 to see how much Freeney has left in the tank.
Freeney has come up with 103.5 sacks over the span of his 11-year NFL career. He is an accomplished defensive end, and for a good team that needs a little help rushing the quarterback, he might be a great fit.
With the Colts going towards a youth movement, it will be interesting to see if they come back to Freeney with a strong offer in 2013. In 2012, Freeney is earning over $14 million, so he might not fit into the Colts' plans or salary-cap structure.
Dwayne Bowe will likely be playing elsewhere in 2013
Contract negotiations between the Kansas City Chiefs and free agent Dwayne Bowe didn't go very well in the 2012 offseason, and Bowe reluctantly signed his tender offer. But 2013 will be a new year, and Bowe intends to test the free-agency market to see what other teams think he is worth.
Bowe's pending market value depends on the ability of the current crop of Chiefs quarterbacks to get him the football. Bowe has been targeted 72 times this year but has only been able to catch 37 of those passes. He is on pace to gain over 1,000 yards for the third straight year, but his average per catch has declined for the third year in a row.
There are only so many consecutive 1,000-plus-yard receivers that will be on the free-agent market in any given year, so given the current NFL game of pass-happy teams, there will be some strong bids coming Bowe's way in 2013.
Brent Grimes will be a UFA in 2013
Another player sure to be receiving attention in the 2013 free-agency market is Atlanta Falcons CB Brent Grimes. Grimes unfortunately might have hurt his chances at a bigger payday due to tearing his Achilles tendon early in the 2012 season. The Falcons had no choice but to place him on I.R.
Teams will have to consult with their team doctors to determine how much of a health risk Grimes will be going forward when trying to determine how much money they are willing to offer him.
Grimes was one of the top corners in 2012 free agency, and since he signed only a one-year deal, there will no doubt be serious interest in him in 2013. With the ability of teams to throw the ball all over the field, there will continually be the need for teams to upgrade their secondary whenever possible. Grimes fits that bill, assuming that he will be successful in his rehab work.
Pro Football Focus ranked Grimes as the No. 1 free-agent CB in 2012, so no doubt he will be highly ranked again in 2013.
Cliff Avril should be getting interesting offers in free agency
The Detroit Lions and star DE Cliff Avril weren't able to come to terms on a long-term deal in the 2012 offseason, so Avril will likely be testing the free-agency market in 2013.
Avril finished just outside of qualifying in the top 10 in sacks in the NFL in 2011, as he wound up with 11 sacks on the year; 11.5 would have been good enough to tie for No. 10 in the league. This year, he is ranked No. 25 with 4.5 sacks on the season.
Due to his ability to apply pressure on the quarterback (34.5 career sacks) and ability to create turnovers (14 forced fumbles and five fumble recoveries), Avril will be in demand when he hits free agency in 2013.
At 6'3" tall and weighing 260 pounds, Avril is athletic and mobile enough to maneuver past tackles and get to the quarterback. He is only 26 years old, so he still has a number of prime years left to look forward to.
Jake Long deprives Aaron Maybin of a sack
Miami Dolphins left tackle Jake Long has been considered one of the best left tackles in the NFL. Long is in his fifth year in the NFL, and at 6'7" tall and weighing 319 pounds, he has the type of body that is ideal to play at the key position for many years to come.
With the coaching changes that have materialized in Miami, there is some speculation that Long may not be an ideal fit going forward with the West Coast offense run by Joe Philbin. As noted in a story by Adam H. Beasley of the Miami Herald, the change in philosophy on blocking style and technique has caused Long's game to take a step backwards:
Jake Long also had a game that wasn’t up to his Pro Bowl standards, struggling with run blocking for the second consecutive week, according to Pro Football Focus, which grades every play.
Long, who is the league’s 43rd-ranked tackle entering Week 5, also allowed a sack for the second time in three games after surrendering just five all last season.
It will be interesting to see how the Dolphins treat Long's free-agent status. Will they blow him away with an offer fitting for one of the best left tackles in the game, or will they offer him what they think he is worth in the West Coast offense? Will other teams be willing to pay top dollar to have Long man the left tackle spot?
The answer to that last question is a resounding yes.
Ed Reed makes a tackle versus Cowboys
While Ed Reed deserves to be ranked in the top five slots on the big board due to the quality of his play, the reality is that he offers the least upside from a longevity standpoint. It is debatable how many years Reed has left in the tank to play at the current high level.
Reed has used the threat of retirement to try to coerce more money out of the Ravens, but Ozzie Newsome is on to Reed's tactics. Reed is entering the final year of his contract, so it will be interesting to see what approach the Ravens take.
Will they approach him with a one-year deal and prove that he still wants to play? Will they attempt to land him with a multiple-year deal to give him greater financial security? Or will the Ravens be willing to let him test the market and match the best offer he can get out there? The Ravens could always give him a qualifying offer and then receive draft pick compensation if he signs with another team.
With 59 career interceptions, seven touchdown returns, 11 forced fumbles and 578 career tackles, Reed has demonstrated that he is one of the best safeties in the league for years. Will he retire as a Ravens player or wear a different uniform before he calls it a career?
Wes Welker continues to be a leading receiver in the NFL
Despite the early-season mind games that New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick was employing by starting Julian Edelman over Wes Welker, it shouldn't come as a major surprise that Welker is back up among the NFL leading receivers again.
Through Week 8 action, Welker is now ranked as the No. 2 receiver in the league, trailing only Reggie Wayne by 21 yards (757 to 736).
Welker's free agency is interesting because a certain percentage of his value is due to playing in the unique Patriots offense run by Tom Brady. How valuable would Welker be to other teams around the NFL? Due to the number of other teams that run out of spread offenses with four-receiver sets, Welker could see some interesting offers in the 2013 offseason.
Clearly the negotiations between Welker and the Patriots had some rough patches when they attempted to iron a long-term deal, so it is quite possible that Welker will be wearing a different uniform in 2013. He doesn't have a problem getting open, but he likely won't have a quarterback like Tom Brady either.
Mike Wallace's production continues to fall
Pittsburgh Steelers WR Mike Wallace will be a free agent again in 2013 because the Steelers and Wallace weren't able to reach a multi-year contract in the offseason. It is up in the air right now if the Steelers will attempt to offer Wallace a big contract, as his play has declined in 2012.
His average gain per catch was 21.0 yards in 2010. It dropped down to 16.6 in 2011 and this year has fallen ever further to 12.8 yards per catch. His overall yardage is dropping as well. In 2010, he gained 1,257 receiving yards, followed by 1,193 last year. This year, he is on pace to gain 1,050 yards.
The above trends would make sense if Pittsburgh was throwing the ball to him less, but actually the opposite is true. Even though his overall production is trending down, the odd thing is that his targets have been steadily rising. In 2010, Pittsburgh threw him the ball 100 times. In 2011, the number increased to 113. This year, he is on pace for 133 targets.
The way things stand now in Pittsburgh, Antonio Brown seems to have elevated his stock on the team. That impacts how Wallace can negotiate for a No. 1 wide receiver contract. Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports reported that talks between Wallace and the Steelers won't materialize until after the 2012 season has concluded.
Perhaps Wallace could benefit by going to a team where he would truly be the undisputed No. 1 receiver. His situation will bear watching throughout the 2013 offseason.
Victor Cruz is off to the races against the Redskins
New York Giants WR Victor Cruz is going to be a restricted free agent in the 2013 offseason. but the way things are starting to shape up, he might have to be removed from this free-agent list in the near future.
According to this report from CBS New York, Cruz's agent and the Giants have been in negotiations about working out a contract extension. The reality of the situation is that Cruz could be inked to a new deal shortly after this presentation is published. However, until the ink is laid to paper, he is a free agent, and that is why he is here on the list.
Cruz has demonstrated that he is a prolific and dynamic receiver that is capable of breaking open close games. He has shown to have great breakaway speed and strong hands and can take the punishment at wide receiver. The extra benefit of being an entertainer with the salsa-dancing touchdown celebrations is just extra gravy.
In his brief career, Cruz has started only 15 NFL games, but he has come up with 134 receptions for 2,186 yards, 16 touchdowns and an average gain of 16.3 yards per catch. Those are the stats of a prolific receiver.
Cruz has been one of the best bargains in the NFL, as the Giants are only paying him $540,000 this season. As Cruz was an undrafted rookie free agent, the Giants were able to capitalize on their fortune of finding him when nobody else wanted him.
Joe Flacco avoids the sack by J.J. Watt
We are selecting Baltimore Ravens QB Joe Flacco for the No. 1 slot on our big board of 2013 free agents. Let's face it—the NFL is a quarterback-driven league, and Flacco is the best available QB on the free-agent market, so that is why he gets top billing.
From his player page stats at Pro-Football-Reference.com, in 71 career regular-season starts, Flacco sports a record of 49-22. In the postseason, the record is 5-4 in nine career starts. There are quite a few teams that would love to have a starting quarterback with nine playoff games' worth of experience under his belt.
Another feather in Flacco's cap is that he has guided his team to at least one playoff win every year that he has been a starting QB. That is something veterans like Michael Vick, Carson Palmer and Tony Romo can only dream about.
Flacco has a career TD-INT ratio of 89-52. In his career, Flacco has completed 60.6 percent of his passes and has thrown for over 15,000 yards in just four-and-a-half years.
It is highly unlikely that Baltimore will ever let Flacco test the open market. It would be surprising if the Ravens didn't sign him to a long-term deal either during the season or immediately after it ended. But for now, he is still due to be an unrestricted free agent, and that is why he is in the No. 1 slot on our big board.
Thanks for checking out the presentation.