NFL teams hoping to make a major splash in the free-agent market are going to end up disappointed. Outside of wide receiver, which is by far the deepest position available, there aren't a lot of game-changing players that are potential free agents.
That means the most coveted players on the market are going to get rewarded with huge contracts as desperate teams will be forced into a bidding war. It's not an ideal situation for front offices around the league, but that's the price some will pay for the missing piece.
Franchise tags will also come into play. Teams get time following the Super Bowl to declare their franchise player for 2013, which is going to deplete the market even more. That said, let's take a look at some of the top defenders who could be available during the offseason.
1. Jairus Byrd
If Byrd played for a winning franchise, he would be considered one of the best safeties in the league. Since he plays for the Buffalo Bills, however, the spotlight is rarely on him long enough to become established as an elite defensive back.
That's exactly what he is. The 26-year-old Oregon product finished the season with 76 tackles, five interceptions and four forced fumbles. He's always been a ball hawk in the secondary, but has really improved in run defense over the past few years.
The Bills should do whatever it takes to make sure Byrd doesn't get away. There's a reason the franchise hasn't made the playoffs in more than a decade, though. Consistently poor personnel decisions. If Byrd walks, he will shine with another team.
2. Cliff Avril
Reliable edge rushers are more important than ever in the NFL. A defense is in serious trouble if it's not able to contain and attack opposing quarterbacks, which means defensive ends like Avril are going to attract plenty of attention on the open market.
Avril has recorded at least nine sacks in each of the past three seasons while playing for the Detroit Lions. Even in what was considered a down year for the 2008 third-round pick he was able able to post 9.5 sacks.
That type of consistency is crucial. It's a lot easier for teams to put their faith in a player who's proved they can produce every year as opposed to a player who had one monster season. Avril has done that, and should get rewarded for it.
3. Henry Melton
Melton is an intriguing player. The defensive tackle starred for the Chicago Bears defense over the past few seasons, but not in the usual way interior lineman do. Instead of excelling as a run stopper, he's thrived as an inside rusher.
As mentioned above, getting to the quarterback is paramount. Regardless of where the pressure comes from, teams need players who can make life difficult on opposing QBs. Since teams have to respect Melton's ability in the middle, it opens lanes for outsider rushers to do their job.
The only reason he isn't No. 1 on the list is because he still needs to improve in run defense. At 26, he still has plenty of time to do that. If the franchise tag doesn't come into play, teams will be lining up to compete for his signature.
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