2013 NFL Free Agents: Predicting Landing Spots for NFL's Top 5 Free Agents

Nick DeWitt@@nickdewitt11Analyst IDecember 30, 2012

2013 NFL Free Agents: Predicting Landing Spots for NFL's Top 5 Free Agents

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    With all but 12 NFL franchises closing up shop for the season after today's games, more than half of the league will be starting the offseason before New Year's festivities commence on Monday night.

    The NFL will have a ton of players hitting free agency this offseason in one of the more interesting climates in recent years. A stagnant salary cap means that a lot of NFL teams will be without a ton of cash to spend on new players.

    In this new era of tight spending limits, here's a look at where the league's top five free agents might land when the chips fall.

5. Wes Welker, WR

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    Current Team: New England Patriots

    Status: Unrestricted Free Agent



    Welker, at 32 years old, just put together his second-consecutive (and fifth overall) season with over 100 catches and 1,000 receiving yards. He's a brilliant slot receiver that uses a shifty quickness and surprising speed to get past opponents.

    Welker's age would normally preclude a big contract in free agency, but he's going to be among the top players available and among the most-sought after. His style of play suggests he could be effective for a long time still.


    Potential Suitors

    Miami Dolphins, Cleveland Browns, New York Jets, Carolina Panthers


    Landing Spot

    The Patriots aren't likely to dole out a big contract to Welker despite his role in their success over the years. They're much more comfortable giving the money to a younger player like Julian Edelman with a similar skill set.

    The Dolphins had Welker before and could use a good possession receiver to pair with a potential draft target at the position. The Panthers could match up well too.

    Expect Welker to sign with the Dolphins on what will end up being a bargain contract in the three-year range.

4. Jairus Byrd, S

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    Current Team: Buffalo Bills

    Status: Unrestricted Free Agent



    Byrd is a disruptive free safety that can take the ball away, cover the elite tight ends and receivers of the NFL and even return punts when needed. That dual threat ability is going to be a big reason he gets a large contract in free agency.

    The best defensive player on the market, Byrd will draw interest from a ton of teams looking for a Pro Bowl-caliber player (he was snubbed this year) that creates turnovers.


    Potential Suitors

    Buffalo Bills, Pittsburgh Steelers, Indianapolis Colts, Oakland Raiders, Green Bay Packers, Philadelphia Eagles


    Landing Spot

    The Bills have spent heavily on the defensive side of the ball recently and will likely work to retain Byrd as they continue to overhaul the unit. If they can't do that, the bidding will get serious.

    Expect the Eagles and Packers to be involved, as both teams have been burned all year. In the end, he lands with the Eagles, who'll want to address their defensive woes before the draft where possible.

3. Joe Flacco, QB

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    Current Team: Baltimore Ravens

    Status: Unrestricted Free Agent



    Flacco has been struggling for years now to prove he's an elite passer, but he always seems to come up short in big games. He's led the Ravens to playoff appearances in all five seasons at the controls.

    In 2012, Flacco had his best yardage total and lowest interception percentage of his career. Once again, however, the Ravens weren't good offensively in a lot of big games.

    The playoffs will determine a lot about Flacco's value as a free agent, but he figures to be the best available in a very thin market.


    Potential Suitors

    Baltimore Ravens, Arizona Cardinals, Buffalo Bills, Kansas City Chiefs


    Landing Spot

    Baltimore can make quick work of this with a franchise tag, but if the Ravens have another big failure in the playoffs, they may elect to go in a different direction at the position.

    If they allow Flacco to hit the market, look for the Chiefs and Cardinals to show the most interest. Both teams are starved for a successful quarterback. Arizona will have Kevin Kolb coming off their books, as well.

    In the end, Flacco ends up back in Baltimore on the franchise tag playing for an extension in 2014.

2. Ryan Clady, OT

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    Current Team: Denver Broncos

    Status: Unrestricted Free Agent



    Clady has started every game at left tackle for the Broncos since being taken 12th overall in the 2008 NFL draft. He's been excellent during that time and has been selected to two Pro Bowls, including this year's contest.

    In a league where so many teams are seeking offensive line help, Clady is the best offensive lineman available and plays the most important position on the line (left tackle). He's in line for a big contract somewhere.


    Potential Suitors

    Denver Broncos, Arizona Cardinals, Philadelphia Eagles, Green Bay Packers


    Landing Spot

    Expect the Broncos to put forth every effort to retain Clady. They certainly do not want star quarterback Peyton Manning's blind side left unprotected.

    If he doesn't end up in Denver again, Arizona will be out there trying to shore up the worst offensive line in the NFL.

    In the end, he'll be back in Denver protecting Manning in 2013.

1. Victor Cruz, WR

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    Current Team: New York Giants

    Status: Restricted Free Agent



    Cruz came out of basically nowhere to become one of the NFL's best receiving threats. The restricted free agent had another big season in 2012 with over 80 receptions, almost 1,100 yards and 10 scores.

    That will line Cruz up for a big payday in 2013, whether it be in New York with the Giants or another franchise that seeks a top receiving threat.


    Potential Suitors

    Miami Dolphins, New York Giants, Cleveland Browns, New York Jets, Oakland Raiders, Carolina Panthers


    Landing Spot

    The Giants will certainly tender Cruz with the highest-possible tender, but he's the kind of talent a team might take a gamble on. If the Giants don't retain him, expect him to end up with the Dolphins or Panthers, who are the closest to contending with the biggest need at receiver.

    In the end, I'd actually expect the Dolphins to get him on a big contract extension.