2013 NFL Free Agency: Value Players Who Could Put Teams Over the Top
While only four teams remain playing football this season, 28 other teams have the priority of figuring out how to improve for next season. For a lot of teams, free agency plays a big part in that improvement.
While many teams would love to throw money at players like Ryan Clady and Greg Jennings, they won't all have the funds to sign the marquee free agents.
While the impact of big names are usually immediately noticeable, occasionally there are some good movies in the $5 bin at Wal-Mart.
This post will look at the deeper names in the free-agent class that could give a team a boost in a needed area without breaking the bank with a big contract. The on-field production of these players will outweigh their lack of a big name.
Of course, "over the top" is a somewhat objective term as the same player might not have as big of an impact on a team picking in the top five in the draft as one that got eliminated in the playoffs. All of these players could bring an improvement to whatever team brings them in next season.
All contract numbers from Spotrac.
Paul Kruger, LB
Paul Kruger has been the most productive linebacker for the Ravens this season. Although the total tackle numbers aren't high, his nine sacks this season—following his 5.5-sack season last year—show his value is in getting to the quarterback.
While the rest of the Ravens linebackers seemed to be getting old and injured, Kruger was a mainstay on the field, leading Baltimore linebackers in defensive snaps played—according to Football Outsiders.
Of course, Kruger could shoot right off this list as the Ravens are in the AFC Championship Game. A big performance in the playoffs could exponentially add money to a prospective free agent's worth. That sound you hear is Joe Flacco's head nodding excessively.
Kruger is still only 26 years old and has yet to have a cap hit over $900,000 in his four-year career.
Matt Moore, QB
Here's a secret: Matt Moore isn't as terrible as you think he is.
With a shallow incoming quarterback class through the draft this year, Moore could be an upgrade to any quarterback-needy team.
As a starter in 2011 with Miami, Moore played in 13 games. Moore went 0-4 in his first four starts with one touchdown and four interceptions. Obviously that doesn't scream NFL starter, well unless you play for the Jets.
After that 0-4 start, though, Moore went 6-3 in his next nine games with 15 touchdowns and only six interceptions. On a whole, Moore completed 60 percent of his passes that season.
Place him on a team like Arizona, competently throwing passes to Larry Fitzgerald and paired with the sixth-ranked defense, by DVOA standards, and the Cardinals look more like the team they did in the first four weeks of the season.
The free-agent pool of QBs is isn't very deep, but Moore shouldn't come at a high price.
Martellus Bennett, TE
Martellus Bennett is technically the best free-agent tight end, but his name still doesn't jump out like a Gronkowski or Graham.
Bennett took his first season out of the shadow of Jason Witten by playing on 91 percent of the Giants' offensive snaps and setting career highs in receptions, yards and touchdowns.
Bennett was signed this season for a one-year deal for $2.5 million—or to put it in prospective, about $2 million less than Mercedes Lewis.
In an era that has seen the pass-catching tight end become increasing more important in an offense, Bennett can be a great catch for a team looking for another receiving option. At 6'6" and 235 pounds, he could keep developing into an unstoppable red-zone target.
At only 26 years old, Bennett has plenty of time to break the career highs he set this season.
Sean Smith, CB
Sean Smith was one of the reasons the Miami Dolphins felt comfortable trading away Vontae Davis to the Indianapolis Colts in the preseason. So, if nothing else, we can at least, in part, thank Smith for one of the best scenes in this season's Hard Knocks.
Smith, though, might be following Davis' footsteps out of Miami to a new team this offseason. Whatever team that ends up being will get a pretty good cornerback.
In his four NFL seasons, Smith has played in 63 of 64 possible regular-season games. Smith was also on the field for 93 percent of Miami's defensive plays this season.
Smith is set to get a raise from his rookie scale contract, but he won't be making Cortland Finnegan money on the open market.
Smith is only 25, and if the three forced fumbles this season carry over as a sustainable skill, he could be a great value to a team looking for a solid player in the secondary.
Glover Quin, S
Glover Quin, like Smith, has played 63 of 64 games in his first four years in the NFL. Quin was also on the field for 97 percent of Houston's defensive snaps, along with 29 percent of snaps on special teams.
Quin matches his consistent playing time with consistent play. He'll be good for around 75 to 85 tackles a year if his play does not improve, but at only 26 years old, he should be entering his prime at the start of his next contract.
His move to safety—started in 2011—has been pretty smooth, but he could still occasionally play corner if needed.
Quin may not have the noticeable name like a Dashon Goldson or Kenny Phillips—other free-agent safeties—but the on-field production won't be too far off and at a much lower price.