Predicting Landing Spots for 2013's Prize NFL Free Agents
The NFL's 2012 season is nearing its end here in the middle of December, and it's time to start looking ahead to free agency in 2013.
As of this moment, guys like Joe Flacco, Reggie Bush, Greg Jennings, Jake Long, Henry Melton, Shaun Phillips and Dashon Goldson are set to become free agents after this year.
And though we know from experience that big-name free agents don't always bring fortune and fame to the teams they sign with, there's never any shortage of takers when it comes time to get the free-agency game going.
So where will the prized free agents of 2013 land?
Follow along as we predict the landing spots for these coveted stars.
Jake Long, Offensive Tackle
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Logical Fit: San Diego Chargers
Long suffered through his worst season as a pro in 2012, and he's currently on the IR with an injured triceps, but at one time he was among the truly elite left tackles in the NFL.
You know he'll get another shot to become a star, especially considering the many teams in need of help on their offensive lines.
It's tough to say what's going to happen with the Chargers next season, with rumors swirling that A.J. Smith and Norv Turner are both going to be gone, but there's no doubt Philip Rivers needs protection on his blind side.
Ryan Clady, Offensive Tackle
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Logical Fit: Denver Broncos
Ryan Clady turned down a five-year deal worth $50 million before the season began, and he's going to be one of the players garnering the most interest this upcoming offseason.
Clady has only allowed one sack all year long, and his stellar play is one of the biggest reasons for Peyton Manning's renaissance.
The Broncos must retain Clady. Losing him to free agency would be a monumental mistake, as he's turned into one of the best left tackles in all of football.
Andy Levitre, Offensive Guard
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Logical Fit: Dallas Cowboys
Andy Levitre isn't well-known outside of Buffalo, but this young offensive guard is on the radar of general managers around the league.
His prowess lies in his mobility and agility, and though he isn't necessarily a mauling guard like Mike Iupati, his style of play suits the Cowboys to perfection. Levitre excels in the screen game and as a pass-protecting guard, and Tony Romo could certainly use the help.
Brandon Moore, Offensive Guard
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Logical Fit: New York Giants
Brandon Moore has been one of the NFL's top offensive guards for a handful of years now, and the New York Jets are going to have a tough time keeping him on the roster in 2013. The team's salary cap situation is a total mess, and it's not getting any better any time soon.
Moore wouldn't have to travel far, though, to find a perfect home for his talents.
The Giants have had issues with their offensive line for a couple of years now, and adding a proven veteran like Moore to the mix would go a long ways toward solving their problems.
Cliff Avril, Defensive End
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Logical Fit: Detroit Lions
Cliff Avril and the Lions disagreed about his worth this past offseason, and he begrudgingly signed the team's franchise tender.
Given the way the season's gone, and given the fact that Avril's been the only consistent edge-rusher for the Lions, I don't see the franchise making the same mistake twice. Kyle Vanden Bosch has been in decline the past couple of seasons, and he's going to be a free agent after 2013, so the Lions would be foolish to let Avril go to another team.
Henry Melton, Defensive Tackle
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Logical Fit: Carolina Panthers
Henry Melton has asserted himself as one of the premier 4-3 defensive tackles in the NFL this season, and the Chicago Bears may not be able to retain his services, given the team's other needs.
The Panthers have built a good young corps of defenders, but they are missing a dominant defensive tackle. Adding Melton to their young defense would go a long way towards shoring up what's been a disappointing unit in 2012.
Michael Johnson, Defensive End
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Logical Fit: Cincinnati Bengals
The Bengals know what kind of player they have in Michael Johnson. He's been gradually improving every season since joining the team in 2009, and he's really come on strong in 2012 with 8.5 sacks.
At 25-years-old, Johnson is just now starting to play to his potential, and the Bengals' defense will only get better with him as a cornerstone player on the edge.
I'll be shocked if he ends up going elsewhere, because I expect the Bengals to sign him to a long-term deal before he can hit the open market.
Shaun Phillips, Outside Linebacker
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Logical Fit: Green Bay Packers
Shaun Phillips, at the age of 31, has already played his best football.
The San Diego Chargers have a youth movement emerging at the linebacker position, and I'll be surprised if Phillips is part of the team's future plans.
The Packers need depth at the outside linebacker position, and signing Phillips would be a win-win for both parties. Phillips surely wants to play for a contender, and they need a savvy veteran to spell Clay Matthews and possibly compete with their younger players for the starting spot on the other side.
William Moore, Safety
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Logical Fit: Atlanta Falcons
William Moore and Thomas DeCoud combine to form one of the top safety combinations in the NFL, and the Falcons would be foolish to break them up.
Moore is one of the few strong safeties in the NFL who is also an adept cover man in space. With four interceptions this season, he's turned himself into one of the best strong safeties in the league.
I don't see Arthur Blank allowing a key player like Moore to go anywhere, and I fully expect we'll see him in Atlanta for a long time coming.
Dashon Goldson, Safety
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Logical Fit: San Francisco 49ers
It's finally time for Trent Baalke to pony up and pay Goldson.
He's one of the most dynamic free safeties in the NFL, and his style of play fits in perfectly with what Vic Fangio loves to do.
It would be folly for the 49ers to let him test the free market again in 2013 like they did last year.
Greg Jennings, Wide Receiver
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Logical Fit: Miami Dolphins
The Dolphins are going to need to bring in multiple wide receivers via free agency and the NFL Draft, and signing Greg Jennings would be a perfect way to get things started.
Ryan Tannehill hasn't had the luxury of having a proven veteran receiver in his offense, and adding Jennings to Miami's roster would give him what Andrew Luck has had with Reggie Wayne this season.
Mike Wallace, Wide Receiver
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Logical Fit: Pittsburgh Steelers
I have to believe the Steelers will figure out a way to sign Mike Wallace to the long-term deal both parties want before he hits the open market.
If he won't cooperate, though, don't rule out the Seattle Seahawks, Miami Dolphins or Minnesota Vikings from making a play.
Dwayne Bowe, Wide Receiver
Jason Miller/Getty Images
Logical Fit: Minnesota Vikings
The Vikings already have most of the pieces in place for a dominant offense.
The only thing this team is missing is a possession wide receiver with size who can pull coverage away from Percy Harvin on the other side of the field.
Adding Dwayne Bowe to the mix in Minnesota would give Christian Ponder the balance he needs to succeed as a quarterback in a run-first offense.
Wes Welker, Wide Receiver
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Logical Fit: Houston Texans
Nobody will be shocked if the New England Patriots decide to let Wes Welker leave via free agency.
Bill Belichick is notorious for letting veterans leave before they're finished. He'd rather keep reloading his roster with youth.
Imagine how explosive the Texans offense would be if Wes Welker were added to the mix. Matt Schaub would be nearly unstoppable with Welker running underneath coverage, and Andre Johnson would finally have the help he needed to get more one-on-one opportunities.
Reggie Bush, Running Back
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Logical Fit: New York Jets
The Miami Dolphins haven't been interested in engaging Reggie Bush's agent for a contract extension, and he's preparing for another move, according to the Miami Herald's Adam Beasley.
Bush would be a perfect fit for the Jets.
He plays with a huge chip on his shoulder, and the Jets haven't had a solid running back since LaDainian Tomlinson left town.
Joe Flacco, Quarterback
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Logical Fit: Baltimore Ravens
As much as I'm sure some of you Ravens fans out there wish Flacco would just go, I don't see it happening.
Flacco is in the last year of his rookie contract, and the team has yet to offer him an extension. He's played poorly at times this season, and I'm betting that's going to impact how much the Ravens will offer him when it comes time for the two sides to hammer out a deal.
There aren't any legitimate starters coming available in free agency this season besides Flacco, and the influx of new talent from the collegiate level this next year is underwhelming.
Flacco will stay with the team that drafted him, for better or worse. Perhaps the Ravens will finally bring in an offensive coordinator worthy of the roster they've assembled.
Paging Norv Turner...