The 2013 NFL playoffs are under way, and in just about a month the world will turn its attention to New Orleans as two teams battle for the Lombardi trophy and the title of world champions in Super Bowl XLVII.
After that game the offseason begins, which means it will be decision-making time for a number of NFL teams. They need to decide whether to re-sign some veteran players, slap them with the franchise tag or allow them to walk in free agency.
However, when it comes to the following vets, the decision is an easy one.
Break out the checkbook and pay these men.
Before entering this year's contract campaign, Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco compared himself to Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers. After the Ravens destroyed the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 1, head coach John Harbaugh sang the praises of his "elite" quarterback, according to Colin Liotta of The Huffington Post.
Since then, however, Flacco has embarked on a roller-coaster ride of a season, looking very much like an elite passer one week and very much like a bum the next.
However, Flacco did top 3,800 passing yards in 2012 and throw over twice as many touchdown passes as interceptions while leading the Ravens to their fifth straight playoff appearance.
Franchise quarterbacks don't grow on trees, and Flacco, for all his faults, would command a great deal of interest on the open market. Therefore, the Ravens aren't expected to let him anywhere near it, whether that's by signing him to a long-term extension or slapping the franchise tag on him.
The Miami Dolphins were something of a pleasant surprise in 2012. While the team didn't make the playoffs, the Dolphins did manage to eke out seven wins with rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill.
At least part of the credit for the promising season belongs to running back Reggie Bush, who topped 1,200 total yards for the second straight year and scored eight touchdowns.
The 27-year-old Bush is the closest thing to a home-run threat on the Dolphins' roster. Given their dearth of talent at wide receiver, it would be foolish to allow Tannehill's best offensive weapon to walk out the door.
The Dolphins have plenty of cap space, so assuming that Bush doesn't price himself out of the market and the team is amenable to having him back, it appears that Bush will still be calling South Florida home in 2013.
Since he joined the New England Patriots in 2007, there's been no more dependable wide receiver in the NFL than Wes Welker. 2012 marked the fifth time in six seasons that Welker has topped 100 catches and 1,000 receiving yards.
Given that history of production, it would seem to be a no-brainer that the 31-year-old would be brought back in 2013, but unfortunately for the Patriots it isn't that simple.
The team franchised Welker in 2012, and as ESPN's Mike Reiss points out, should the team go that route again this year, Welker and quarterback Tom Brady would account for over 25 percent of New England's salary-cap space.
That sort of lopsided allocation of resources certainly wouldn't sit well with the Patriots front office. However, even with star tight ends Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski in the fold, New England needs to do whatever is necessary to keep Brady's favorite target over the past several seasons in Beantown.
The Denver Broncos won 13 games this year—the most since 2005—and while the majority of the accolades have been heaped on quarterback Peyton Manning, he's far from the only reason that the team had such a solid season.
In fact, it would have been a lot harder for Manning to throw for more than 4,600 yards on his back.
The Denver offensive line that allowed the second-fewest sacks in the NFL in 2012 was anchored by left tackle Ryan Clady, who allowed only one sack all season and was named to the Pro Bowl.
Clady's rookie contract expires after the season, and while re-signing the 26-year-old isn't going to come cheaply, young left tackles of Clady's caliber are worth their weight in gold in the NFL.
The Cincinnati Bengals advanced to the postseason in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1981-82 this year, due in no small part to a pass rush that led the NFL in sacks.
That pass rush was anchored in part by defensive end Michael Johnson, who racked up career highs in tackles and sacks, finishing second on the team with 11.5.
Granted, there's a bit of risk involved in locking up a player long term who just had a career season, but in Johnson, end Carlos Dunlap and defensive tackle Geno Atkins, the Bengals have a defensive front that could wreak havoc in the AFC North for years to come.
Lock him up.