The Top 25 NFL Free Agents Available This Offseason
For the NFL’s 20 teams that missed out on the 2012 playoffs, the offseason begins now.
All these teams are hoping to make big splashes, and one potential way to do that is through free agency.
The list of impending 2013 free agents is deep and talented, so much so that it was very difficult to come up with the top 25 players in the class.
These 25 guys will be hot commodities on the market.
25. Richard Seymour, DT, Raiders
Many NFL fans will probably laugh at the fact that Raiders veteran defensive lineman Richard Seymour made this list. But why?
The statistics don’t jump off the chart, but that’s not where Seymour’s value lies. From his time in New England and Oakland, Seymour has brought stability to the Patriots' and Raiders’ defensive lines through his versatility.
Seymour thrives against the run and can play outside and in the interior. He's also equally effective in both a 3-4 and 4-3 scheme. Even at age 33, Seymour still can help out an NFL defense in 2013.
24. Osi Umenyiora, DE, Giants
Osi Umenyiora’s Giants career has been filled with numerous peaks and valleys. Those peaks have been Mt. Everest-like, which explains why he finds his way onto this list.
The Giants defensive end has registered over 75 sacks during his nine seasons in New York.
Umenyiora has accumulated a double-digit sack total in three of those seasons.
As long as rushing the passer is a high priority in this pass-happy NFL, there will always be a place somewhere for a guy like Umenyiora.
23. Jason Babin, DE, Jaguars
Veteran defensive end Jason Babin could be a steal for one NFL team this offseason.
Babin’s time in Philadelphia ended badly, as he was cut by the Eagles late in the 2012 season.
But don’t forget that Babin registered 18 sacks for the Eagles back in 2011. For the right price, some team will get a smart veteran who is still capable of pressuring quarterbacks at a high level.
22. Joe Flacco, QB, Ravens
Few free agents on this list are more polarizing than Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco.
Some feel Flacco isn't worth the long-term wealthy contract the tall quarterback with the cannon arm out of Delaware is looking for. But with Flacco under center, the Ravens have made the playoffs every season.
That will work in Flacco’s favor during contract negotiations.
21. Brent Grimes, CB, Falcons
Falcons cornerback Brent Grimes played one whole game for Atlanta this season before tearing his Achilles tendon.
If he can successfully return from the injury, Grimes could be a steal for whichever team signs him. Although a bit undersized at 5’10”, Grimes excels at bump-and-run coverage and gets under the skin of many receivers with his tenacity.
He’ll never be confused with Deion Sanders. However, Grimes will be a welcomed addition to any secondary if he bolts Atlanta.
20. Jake Long, OT, Dolphins
A torn triceps injury abruptly ended Jake Long’s season not too long ago.
That injury may have ended tackle's time with the Dolphins, as well.
Long is expected to enter the offseason as a free agent. Long had a solid five-year run in Miami after being selected No. 1 overall back in 2008.
He’s made four Pro Bowl teams and started every game in his career before the triceps injury.
19. Danny Amendola, WR, Rams
For the past six years, Wes Welker has been regarded as the game’s best slot receiver.
Danny Amendola of the Rams may be ready to snag that title away from Welker.
Like Welker, Amendola played his college ball at Texas Tech and is quick, fluid and shifty in his mannerisms in the middle of the field.
And like Welker, Amendola is deceptive in his ability to break off a long pass play down the field occasionally.
The problem is that Amendola has been injury prone over the majority of his young career. That could leave teams a bit hesitant to give the impressive receiver big money.
18. Alan Branch, DT, Seahawks
The Seahawks have one of the league’s stoutest defenses.
Players like Bruce Irvin, Earl Thomas and Richard Sherman have received plenty of praise for their contributions on that side of the ball.
But where’s the love for impending free-agent defensive tackle Alan Branch? Since arriving from Arizona two years ago, Branch has brought stability to the interior of Seattle’s defense.
Branch has stayed healthy the past few seasons and is a big reason (literally and figuratively) for Seattle’s success on defense.
17. Jermon Bushrod, OT, Saints
Jermon Bushrod has quietly turned into a very solid left tackle in the NFL with New Orleans. He made the Pro Bowl in 2011 and has been very durable over the years.
Bushrod has started over 50 career games since taking over the starting left tackle job for the Saints back in 2009.
16. Michael Bennett, DE, Bucs
When looking for a complete defensive lineman on the market, look no further than Tampa’s emerging defensive end Michael Bennett.
Despite clocking in at just 275 pounds, Bennett can play inside and outside effectively. He’s sound against the run and can rush the passer, meaning he’s an every-down lineman.
That holds great value in the NFL.
15. Anthony Spencer, OLB, Cowboys
DeMarcus Ware gets the majority of the accolades and attention from his outside linebacker position in Dallas.
But don’t sleep on Ware’s counterpart on the other end in Cowboys outside linebacker Anthony Spencer. Despite battling injuries throughout the season, Spencer registered a career-best 11 sacks in 2012.
Teams that utilize a 3-4 scheme on defense should strongly consider adding Spencer this offseason.
14. Branden Albert, OT, Chiefs
One of the more versatile offensive linemen on this year’s free-agent market is Chiefs offensive tackle Branden Albert.
He has thrived at both the left tackle and guard positions. And Albert is as dependable as they come. He’s started 71 games in his five years with the Chiefs.
13. Aqib Talib, CB, Pats
There’s no doubt Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib has more baggage than an LAX terminal during Thanksgiving.
But there’s also no doubt Talib is the best free agent cornerback on the market.
For evidence of his ability, look no further than when he shut down star Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson during a Monday night game between New England and Houston a few weeks ago.
12. Mike Wallace, WR, Steelers
Speed kills in the NFL, and Steelers receiver Mike Wallace has tons of it.
As a result, he’ll make a killing in free agency. The Steelers aren’t likely to retain Wallace, as receiver is a position of strength for Pittsburgh—even without Wallace.
The young man out of Ole Miss needs to improve his hands and route-running abilities. However, Wallace’s blazing speed alone makes him one of this free-agent class’ most intriguing players.
11. Dwayne Bowe, WR, Chiefs
Hidden in Kansas City’s awful 2012 season is the fact that star receiver Dwayne Bowe is one of the game’s best at the position.
Now, he’s entering the prime of his career and could be a steal in free agency. Just three years ago, Bowe hauled in 15 touchdown catches.
10. Cliff Avril, DE, Lions
Lions defensive end Cliff Avril is looking for big money this coming offseason.
Avril turned down a $30 million contract extension from Detroit not too long ago. That might have been a mistake on his part.
Avril has put up 20.5 combined sacks for the Lions the past two seasons. But was that mostly Avril’s ability or because he plays on a defensive line with guys like Kyle Vanden Bosch, Nick Fairley and Ndamukong Suh?
That question will be answered if Avril leaves Detroit in free agency.
9. Dashon Goldson, S, 49ers
Dashon Goldson is about to make himself a lot of money.
The 49ers safety is one of the top players on the 2013 free-agent market. He’s one of the most complete safeties in the business.
Goldson supports the run well, is fluid in coverage and delivers punishing hits in the open field. And Goldson’s a ball-hawk, too. He’s accumulated nine interceptions the past two seasons combined.
8. Greg Jennings, WR, Packers
It’s been a tough year for Packers receiver Greg Jennings.
Thanks to injuries, he’s only played in roughly half of Green Bay’s games. When healthy, Jennings is one of the league’s more dynamic playmakers outside of the numbers.
He’s entering his prime in free agency at age 29. But is Jennings ready to become a No. 1 receiver? Or is he simply a product of Green Bay’s passing system?
These are questions NFL general managers will have to answer when pursuing Jennings.
7. Victor Cruz, WR, Giants (restricted)
Victor Cruz enters this offseason as a restricted free agent, meaning NFL teams would have to pony up more for his services.
Given what Cruz has done on the field the past two seasons, the increased price may be worth it.
Cruz has exploded onto the scene, catching at least 82 passes and nine touchdowns in each of the past two seasons for the Giants. Cruz has great breakaway speed, excels in his route running and rocks some great salsa dance moves.
To top it all off, he’s only 26. And he could be an awfully rich 26-year-old very soon.
6. Andre Smith, OT, Bengals
As it’s become more and more evident that Andy Dalton is the Bengals’ franchise quarterback, it’s become more and more evident that Cincinnati needs to keep the Red Rifle upright.
In this case, Bengals management needs to think long and hard about shelling out big bucks to keep solid offensive tackle Andre Smith from leaving as a free agent this offseason.
Smith has been everything the Bengals hoped he’d become when they made him a top-10 draft pick back in 2009.
Great offensive tackles don’t grow on trees, meaning Smith’s bank account will grow exponentially in 2013.
5. Henry Melton, DT, Bears
Bears defensive tackle Henry Melton has emerged as one of the league’s premier players at the position.
Melton’s bread and butter comes from his ability to collapse pockets up the middle. He’s a very disruptive force in the passing game.
Expect Melton to be rewarded for his pass-rushing prowess, via a new contract or the franchise tag from the Bears.
4. Jairus Byrd, FS, Bills
The Bills’ secondary struggled to stop opposing quarterbacks in the air many times this season.
However, it certainly wasn't because of safety Jairus Byrd’s efforts. Byrd has emerged as one of the NFL’s best young free safeties during his four-year career with the Bills.
He was an NFL All-Rookie, All-Pro and Pro Bowl selection back in 2009.
While he hasn’t quite duplicated the enormous success of his rookie season, Byrd has still been rock solid on the back end of Buffalo’s defense for many years.
3. Wes Welker, WR, Pats
From a pure pass-catching standpoint, Wes Welker has been the league’s most productive receiver over the past six seasons—by a mile.
Obviously, he’s not going to take the top off of any opposing defense. However, he’s still the best in the business at moving the chains through the air on third down.
That alone will get him a handsome payday somewhere.
2. Andy Levitre, G, Bills
It’s not too often guards get big fat paydays in free agency.
However, look for Bills stud guard Andy Levitre to net the biggest free-agent contract for a guard since Steve Hutchinson this offseason—be it with Buffalo or elsewhere.
Levitre made the league’s All-Rookie team back in 2009 and has started every game in his four years with the Bills.
1. Ryan Clady, OT, Broncos
The three most important positions in the NFL are quarterback, left tackle and cornerback, in that order.
Ryan Clady is considered the best left tackle on this year’s free-agent market. Naturally, it’s why he’s at the top of this prestigious list.
It’s going to pay off in a big way—literally—for Clady this offseason.