While the NFL playoffs are currently in full swing, fans of most teams across the league have nothing to look forward to but the upcoming offseason.
There are a number of superstar players set to become free agents, and many GMs have plenty of holes to fill and money to burn when the bidding opens in March.
Let’s take a look at three of the hottest names on the unrestricted free agency list, as these players will have plenty of suitors and the potential to alter the direction of a franchise.
Ryan Clady, Left Tackle, Denver Broncos
Back in late November, this superstar tackle reportedly rejected a five-year, $50 million contract extension to remain with the Broncos. While he’s maintained that he’d like to stay in the Mile High City, Clady will become an unrestricted free agent unless he’s hit with a franchise tag.
It would be downright foolish for the Broncos not to give Clady a massive extension, as they just invested so much into QB Peyton Manning in the summer of 2012. Considering protecting Manning’s injury-prone neck is a top priority for Denver, having a top tackle for his blind side is pertinent.
There will not be a better player available at the Broncos' draft slot or in free agency, so expect the team brass to either franchise Clady or throw a “Godfather” offer his way.
Wes Welker, Wide Receiver, New England Patriots
With the Pats in the midst of a playoff run, coupled with their notorious secrecy, there just hasn’t been all that much news out there concerning Welker’s free agency plans.
What will the Pats do with Welker?
The star wideout is currently playing out the remainder of his one-year, $9.4 million franchise tag deal that he was given this past offseason.
ESPN Boston’s Mike Reiss noted that it would cost the organization $11.4 million if they want to slap him with that tag again, and it would be more ideal financially to give a long-term deal or cut ties with the elite possession receiver.
If Bill Belichick and the New England brass decide to go in the latter direction, there will be no shortage of interested parties. At age 31, Welker shows no sign of slowing down.
He put together a solid 2012 campaign, catching 118 passes for 1,354 yards and six touchdowns. He tied for second in the league in receptions and finished eighth in yardage.
Those are impressive figures, and many teams will covet his ability to find holes in the defense, convert first downs and act as a security blanket for a signal-caller.
Joe Flacco, Quarterback, Baltimore Ravens
It’s hard to believe, but Flacco could be done with the Ravens this spring.
Albert Breer of NFL.com noted that the team will likely slap its QB with a franchise tag, but anything could happen in free agency.
There is a huge dearth of quality starting quarterbacks right now, and a number of squads will be looking for new blood at the position.
Black Monday added an interesting wrinkle, as new coaches and GMs take over across the NFL. These retooled front offices will be looking to make a splash, and adding a franchise QB like Flacco would be an ideal way to do this.
Expect a number of teams around the league to express interest in Flacco if the Ravens elect to let him walk away.