NFL Free Agents 2013: Position-by-Position Rankings

Andy McNamara@@AndyMc81Correspondent IIDecember 31, 2012

NFL Free Agents 2013: Position-by-Position Rankings

0 of 11

    The playoffs are here, but it is never too early to look at the 2013 crop of NFL free agents.

    This article will dive into position-by-position rankings of the top free-agent options available in the offseason.

    For your reference, a restricted free agent shall be marked with (RFA) and an unrestricted free agent by (UFA).

    Which stars find new homes?

    Who will stay?

    Can any make an impact on your team?

    Let's find out.

Kicker and Punter

1 of 11

    Kicker - Phil Dawson (UFA)

    No doubt that Cleveland's Phil Dawson will be the most highly sought-after free-agent kicker.

    Playing all of his 14 NFL seasons with the Browns, Dawson is having a career year.

    Connecting on 29-of-31 field goals and being selected to his first Pro Bowl makes it seem that the 37-year-old is not ready to hang up the cleats anytime soon.

    No. 4 was franchised in 2011 and 2012. According to ESPN Cleveland, using the tag a third time would cost the Browns a ridiculous $15 million.

    If a long-term deal cannot be worked out, then Dawson will be testing the open market.

    Punter - Dustin Colquitt (UFA)

    Finishing up a five-year, $8.5 million contract with Kansas City, Dustin Colquitt is the most attractive punter available.

    At only 30, the 2005 third-round pick is averaging 46.8 yards per punt. This makes him only 0.7 yards shy of cracking the top 10 for distance in the NFL.

    More encouraging is that Colquitt's per-punt average has increased each of the last three seasons.


2 of 11

    1. Jairus Byrd (UFA)

    Being on one of the NFL's worst defenses in Buffalo should not skew the view on Jairus Byrd's talent.

    The free safety combines a physical, hard-hitting style with the ability to ball-hawk.

    As a rookie in 2009, he was tied for the league lead in interceptions with nine. In addition, Byrd has created at least three forced fumbles in every season since.

    A salary-plus-bonus of $1.07 million is a steal and the 5'10", 203-pound free safety will definitely be looking for a hefty raise.

    As of Nov. 30, preliminary contract negotiations had begun between Byrd and the Bills.

    2. Laron Landry (UFA)

    It has been a bittersweet year for Laron Landry.

    Bouncing back from two injury-plagued seasons, the safety was named to the Pro Bowl as a reserve. However, he and the New York Jets did miss the playoffs.

    Rotating with Eric Smith allowed for less wear and tear on his fragile Achilles tendon, but will it give other teams enough confidence that he can handle a full workload?

    Tying a career high in interceptions (two) and returning one for his first career touchdown will make franchises with secondary depth issues take a long look.

    3. Ronde Barber (UFA)

    The ageless Ronde Barber has the most interceptions in Tampa Bay Buccaneers history and also has the most consecutive starts for any NFL cornerback.

    Being a future Hall of Fame inductee doesn't mean a whole lot come 2013. Can the 16-year legend still play?

    Barber's numbers have been consistent the past three seasons and are actually better when it comes to interceptions (four), as well as passes defended (13), this year.

    The questions will be whether he wants to come back again and if the Bucs feel he is worth another $3 million commitment.

    4. Ed Reed (UFA)

    The 11-year pro has threatened retirement before in attempts to squeeze more cash out of Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome.

    Numbers-wise the safety continues to produce at a high level. Reed's overall tackles (58), fumble recoveries (three) and interceptions (four) are up from a season ago.

    Reed is at the end of a massive, yet well deserved, seven-year/$40.085 million contract.

    Will Baltimore offer him a single-season deal to see how motivated he is to continue playing? Would No. 20 accept?


3 of 11

    1. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (UFA)

    Young, fast and leading Philadelphia with interceptions (three), as well as passes defended (17), are all reasons why Rodgers-Cromartie will be one of the hottest cornerbacks on the free-agent market.

    The 26-year-old's consistency since his Pro Bowl season in Arizona remains an issue.

    Paul Domowitch of ESPN also said that he is considered a "flake" who is more interested in a pink wardrobe than focusing on football. 

    Quality starting corners are in high demand, which means that a club will surely put up with Rodgers-Cromartie's personality quirks if it means steady production.

    2. Brent Grimes (UFA)

    The six-year Atlanta Falcon may have hurt his chances for a large contract by tearing his Achilles tendon and appearing in only a single game this season.

    Brent Grimes was ranked as the top free-agent cornerback for 2012 by Pro Football Focus and ultimately signed a one-year extension.

    Assuming he is medically cleared, then the Philadelphia native would become quite attractive for teams with a depleted secondary.

    In 59 career games, Grimes defended 56 passes and snatched 13 balls for interceptions.

    3. Sam Shields (RFA)

    The Packers have been pleased with rookie Casey Hayward's performance and could feasibly let Sam Shields test the free-agent waters.

    Only dressing for 10 games in 2012 is disappointing for the Sarasota, Fla., native, as he was coming off of a career year.

    A combined 73 tackles and seven interceptions in his last pair of seasons are impressive statistics that would look good as an outside corner in several cities.

    Shields' expiring rookie contract was a bargain at three years and $1.2225 million. He would naturally be in line for a raise, as dependable corner help is at a premium.

    His youth, proven ability and being in a winning Green Bay environment all add up to a smart buy.


4 of 11

    1. Anthony Spencer (UFA)

    Spencer earned a tidy $8.856 million this season by accepting the franchise tag. Dallas will need to offer him a long-term extension or allow the linebacker to test the market. 

    The Purdue alum set personal bests of 11 sacks and 95 tackles in 2012. Amazingly, he did this while missing two games.

    At 28, Spencer is in his prime and would be a terrific pickup for anyone looking to improve their pass rush. 

    2. Erin Henderson (UFA)

    The 26-year-old from Maryland is a specialist at stopping the run.

    Coming off of back-to-back single-season extensions with Minnesota, Henderson achieved career highs in sacks (three) and total tackles (79).

    He utilizes physicality and quickness to take down whoever is holding the ball behind the line of scrimmage.

    Henderson's weakness lies in pass coverage, but that is not why you would bring him aboard.

    At 6'3" and 244 pounds, if the Vikings decide not to re-sign him, then someone else will gobble him up quickly.

    3. Manny Lawson (UFA)

    The current Cincinnati Bengal's one-year, $2.1 million contract is up, making him an unrestricted free agent.

    Turning 29 next July, Lawson is an important component of the successful Bengals defense.

    His pass-rushing ability and intimidating, 6'5" size help this outside linebacker appear all over the stat sheet.

    He recorded 39 tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble this season.

    At $42 million in estimated salary-cap room, a priority for the Bengals will be to keep their solid LB corps together. So don't take the tiger stripes off of Lawson quite yet.

    Honorable Mention - Brian Urlacher (UFA)

    A legend in the Windy City and one of the greatest linebackers in league history, it would be tough to see Brian Urlacher in any other uniform.

    Injuries keep mounting up.

    A knee ailment that kept him out of training camp and a pulled hamstring caused him to miss the final four games of the 2012 regular season.

    No. 54 has also mentioned on multiple occasions that it may be time to retire.

    At age 34, he is an unrestricted free agent. In all likelihood, Urlacher will finish his career as a Bear.

    However, if the 13-year pro feels that he still has some gas left in the tank and Chicago doesn't want to extend a contract offer, then who knows what may happen.

Defensive Line

5 of 11

    1. Dwight Freeney (UFA) - Defensive End

    Polishing off a six-year, $72 million contract, Dwight Freeney's $14.035 million earned in 2012 may not fit into the Indianapolis Colts' future salary-cap plans.

    Turning 33 in February could also clash with the Colts' youth movement.

    107.5 sacks and 298 tackles over an 11-season span, all with Indy, are remarkable statistics.

    Unfortunately for Freeney, his production has steadily dropped since 2010. No. 93 should expect a significant pay cut whether he stays put or decides to move on.

    2. Henry Melton (UFA) - Defensive Tackle

    Participating in one fewer game than a season ago, Henry Melton crushed a previous best in tackles (43) and fell one short of tying his 2011 sack total of seven.

    Creating so many sacks from the tackle position makes him a prime target for clubs that require pass-rush improvement up the middle.

    At 26 years old and earning under $700,000, Melton is in line for a hefty pay increase. Whether that comes from his current team in Chicago or somewhere else remains to be seen.

    3. Cliff Avril (UFA) - Defensive End

    Unable to hammer out a long-term solution with the Detroit Lions, Avril is wrapping up a huge one-year, $10.605 million deal.

    The 260-pound Jacksonville, Fla., native finishes 2012 with 9.5 sacks. However, he did not record a quarterback takedown the last three weeks and seems to have stalled overall.

    When going full speed, the five-year pro out of Purdue can be a game-changer by creating turnovers.

    Eight forced fumbles, three of which he recovered, over the last two seasons would look pretty good as a bookend to many defensive lines.

    Being that he is only 26, Avril should have plenty of fight left in him, although his chances at another big contract have probably been reduced because of his lackluster December.

Offensive Line

6 of 11

    1. Andy Levitre (UFA) - Offensive Guard

    Referred to as Buffalo's secret weapon by Pro Football Focus, Andy Levitre is an important part of the Bills' running-game success.

    He demonstrated steady improvement in creating lanes throughout 2012.

    The former Oregon State Beaver is well-known for his pass-protection skills, but adding solid in-line run-blocking should really pique team interest from around the NFL.

    At 26, Levitre's most productive years are still ahead of him.

    His four-year, $3.56 million contract expires at season's end, and he would certainly be a welcome addition to anyone looking for a proven lineman.

    2. Jake Long (UFA) - Left Tackle

    A triceps injury most likely marks the end of Jake Long's career with the Miami Dolphins.

    The 6'7" Michigan native's performance has dipped over the last two seasons because of injuries, but he remains an upper-tier left tackle.

    A franchise tag seems out of the question, as the estimated amount for a tackle in 2013 is $15.36 million.

    Dolphins GM Jeff Ireland was quoted as saying that they would have Long back if "he accepted something like half of the $11.2 million" that he was paid this year.

    If Long can get his health sorted out, then he could undoubtedly solidify an O-line someplace else.

    3. Jermon Bushrod (UFA) - Tackle

    A mighty force at 6'5" and 315 pounds, Jermon Bushrod is a blanket of security for New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees.

    Selected to the Pro Bowl in 2011, Bushrod's two-year, $9.8 million contract is officially over.

    The Saints lost Carl Nicks a season ago and would be wise not to let another star offensive lineman slip away.

Tight End

7 of 11

    1. Dallas Clark (UFA)

    After spending the first nine seasons of his career in Indianapolis, Dallas Clark could be on the move to his third NFL team in 2013.

    The veteran tight end just wrapped up his most successful year since 2009 in Tampa Bay, which paid out $2.7 million.

    In 2012, Clark averaged nearly 10 yards per catch while hauling in 47 receptions for four touchdowns.

    At 6'3", he was a favorite target for Buccaneers QB Josh Freeman. No. 44 does not eat up much salary-cap space and remains a consistent contributor even at his advancing age.

    2. Dustin Keller (UFA)

    Only appearing in eight games this season due to hamstring and ankle ailments is not the way Dustin Keller wanted to head into a potentially lucrative contract year.

    However, he did lead the Jets in both receiving yards (815) and receptions (65) in 2011.

    Keller brings solid blocking to the table as well. 

    Will that, combined with youth, be enough for teams to choose him over similar tight-end free agents like Jared Cook and Fred Davis?

    3. Tony Gonzalez (UFA)

    A 13th Pro Bowl selection in his 16th NFL season is one of the many reasons why Tony Gonzalez is still relevant.

    Incredibly, he performed better in 2012 than in his previous three years with Atlanta. Age is only a number to this tight end.

    Nine hundred thirty yards, eight touchdowns and a 10-yard-per-reception average are not signs of a man slowing down.

    The only player to have caught more passes in NFL history is Jerry Rice, as Gonzalez sits second all-time.

    He hinted at retirement on more than one occasion last offseason, and the decision to keep playing may depend on how far the Falcons get in the playoffs.

Wide Receiver

8 of 11

    1. Mike Wallace (UFA)

    Recording under 1,000 receiving yards for the first time in two seasons isn't the way Mike Wallace was planning to prove that he is ready for the big money.

    Heading into 2012, he was humbled into accepting a one-year, $2.7 million restricted-free-agent tender offered by his current team, the Pittsburgh Steelers, after a lengthy holdout.

    Wallace borders on having too much attitude to be worthwhile, but his abilities are undeniable. Twenty-six touchdowns since 2009 is an impressive number.

    Hopefully, the fact that no other NFL squad entertained his expensive contract requests brings him back to reality come 2013.

    Add on that he is second fiddle to Antonio Brown, and the four-year veteran could be looking to leave Steeltown.

    Through his first three campaigns, No. 17 only dropped 2.9 percent of targeted passes and never more than four passes in a single season. That type of reliability is exactly what many teams will be looking for...provided the price is right.

    2. Dwayne Bowe (UFA)

    Unable to agree on a multi-year deal with the Kansas City Chiefs, Dwayne Bowe is currently on a franchise tender worth $9.4 million.

    With the Chiefs performing terribly once again and being uncertain about the future at quarterback, this would be an ideal opportunity for a team in need of a playmaker to scoop Bowe up.

    The former Pro Bowl receiver has not been able to recapture the magic of his 2010 campaign when he recorded 15 scores.
    The LSU alum missed the last three games of a season where he failed to reach the 1,000-yard mark and only recorded a trio of touchdowns.
    Bowe won't come cheap, but at age 28, he still has plenty of time left to be a playmaker with a new club.

    3. Greg Jennings (UFA)

    Missing half the season with a groin injury left question marks in regard to whether Greg Jennings could return to his former dominant self.

    Scoring twice in the regular-season finale at least momentarily proves that the seven-year Green Bay Packer can still be an impact player.

    The 29-year-old's career average of over 15 yards per catch is impressive, and the man is a first-down machine.

    However, Green Bay's offense did not miss a step without Jennings and the emergence of young receivers may mean that the team views him as expendable.

    The Kalamazoo, Mich., native would be a significant upgrade for many clubs and he would have no trouble finding a new home.

    4. Wes Welker (UFA)

    He isn't the tallest, fastest or most athletically gifted wide receiver. Yet the 5'9" Wes Welker has put together a tremendous career.

    However, how much of that is a direct result of the relatively unique offense run by Patriots quarterback Tom Brady?

    His receiving yards and touchdowns dropped slightly from 2011 due in part because New England head coach Bill Belichick started Julian Edelman over him early in the season.

    However, the Texas Tech product bounced back and resumed his role as one of Brady's favorite targets (118 receptions).

    Welker was given the franchise tag at a price of $9.515 million as negotiations went south on a longer-term solution.

    If the two sides cannot figure out a deal, then we could see No. 83 in a different jersey next year.

Running Back

9 of 11

    1. Shonn Greene (UFA)

    Greene was one of the few bright spots in a circus atmosphere that was the 2012 New York Jets.

    Hammering out back-to-back 1,000 yard seasons sets this four-year player up for a big payday.

    Having a nose for the end zone and a career-high eight touchdowns doesn't hurt, either.

    Greene's average gain per carry dipped below four this season, but that can at least partially be blamed on the opposition's lack of respect for New York's joke of a passing game.

    The 5'11", 226-pound back may be thrilled at the chance to try the open market and escape the Big Apple. 

    2. Reggie Bush (UFA)

    Coming just shy of consecutive 1,000-yard-rushing seasons, Reggie Bush has been rejuvenated since arriving in Miami in 2011.

    Durability is an ongoing concern, but he fought through knee trouble to score six touchdowns this year.

    While not the same dynamic runner he was in college, Bush can pound out significant gains on the ground.

    However, he is turning 28 next March, which could affect any multi-year deals being offered via the Dolphins or elsewhere.

    3. Rashard Mendenhall (UFA)

    Coming off of a serious knee injury at the end of last season, it was a disappointing campaign for Rashard Mendenhall and his Pittsburgh Steelers.

    The 25-year-old never got going, appearing in only six games and failing to score a touchdown.

    Not a good way to enter free agency, especially when the Steelers have depth at running back in Jonathan Dwyer and company.

    If Mendenhall is allowed to walk, he could be a relatively cheap addition for another squad. A pair of 1,000-yard-rushing seasons and 29 career touchdowns will be worth a shot to somebody.


10 of 11

    1. Joe Flacco (UFA)

    Classifying himself as an "elite" quarterback earlier in the season, Joe Flacco did improve in nearly every statistical category from a season ago.

    Being relied on more as the Ravens' typically dominant defense suffered injuries, Flacco stepped up.

    Delivering 22 touchdowns compared to 10 interceptions, a QB rating of 87.7 and an average of over seven yards per completion all point to a legitimate franchise signal-caller.

    However, the 6'6" quarterback and Baltimore have been struggling on a long-term agreement.

    Prime-time numbers should equal an upper-tier contract, and Flacco demands a significant raise over his expiring five-year, $29.75 million deal.

    It is very doubtful that the Ravens will let the Voorhees, N.J. native walk away. Worst-case scenario is that the team slaps a franchise tag on him and they try again in 2013.

    2. Matt Moore (UFA) 

    The 28-year-old quarterback appeared in two games this season for Miami, which were in relief of rookie Ryan Tannehill.

    Matt Moore is the most enticing free-agent signal-caller if Joe Flacco stays put.

    In 2011, he started 12 times after Chad Henne went down.

    The former Oregon State alum put in some above-average work, as he completed 210-of-347 passes for 2,497 yards, producing 16 touchdowns and 9 interceptions.

    Moore's arm led the Dolphins to a 6-3 record down the stretch. He was even named team MVP.

    With first-round-pick Tannehill's strong overall performance, Moore is now expendable.

    Standing 6'3", he provides the sought-after height and clubs will shell out top dollar for a potential upgrade at the position. Arizona, Buffalo and a few others should be calling very soon.

    3. Jason Campbell (UFA)

    After Flacco and Moore, the free-agent-quarterback options get pretty slim.

    Chicago's journeyman backup, Jason Campbell, could be one of the few to garner some interest in 2013.

    He signed a one-year deal with the Bears and will be able to see if there is a higher bidder for his services this offseason.

    Starting 71 games is valuable experience that a QB-starved league covets. Campbell's 76-52 touchdown-to-interception ratio is nothing to sneeze at, either.

The Wrap-Up

11 of 11

    Plenty of football and, of course, the Super Bowl remain before the free-agency frenzy begins.

    The postseason is always a time when players can display big-game performance and prove that they deserve those coveted large paychecks.

    It all begins again this weekend.

    Enjoy the playoffs and Happy New Year to all the Bleacher Report readers.

    Follow Andy McNamara on Twitter @AndyMc81