The realities of a hard salary cap in the NFL are all too apparent during free agency, and this year will be no different.
While top-tier players like Ryan Clady and Wes Welker are likely to receive a franchise tag this offseason, others will be left to walk in free agency in hopes of finding a team willing to pay big money for their services.
With a deep class of players due to be free agents this offseason, we take a look at the players most likely to be left to find a new home when free agency begins in March.
Mendenhall’s struggles in Pittsburgh began with a torn ACL last season and ended with an acrimonious benching and suspension at the end of the 2012 season. He still has the talent, but the Steelers may be ready to move on.
Pittsburgh used several running backs this season, including Mendenhall and recently-released Chris Rainey—another victim of Pittsburgh’s no-tolerance policy for disciplinary issues. Chris Redman and Jonathan Dwyer both showed flashes of excellent running ability, and the Steelers could take a chance on one of them as a starter next season.
The market will be kind to Mendenhall, who was a quality back for the Steelers in his first couple years with the team. He probably won’t be back in Pittsburgh, but he will get a nice contract in free agency.
Umenyiora finished out his seven-year contract with the Giants this season, and he doesn’t seem pleased with the idea of returning to New York.
Umenyiora wants a chance to start, and he’ll get that chance with a new team in free agency. The 31-year-old defensive end still has some gas left in the tank, and he can be a valuable asset for a team that employs a 4-3 front in need of a disruptive bookend.
Several teams will be in the market for Umenyiora this offseason, but the price will have to be right. Not every team has the cap space to sign a 31-year-old end searching for a big contract.
The Pittsburgh Steelers are rarely in the business of overpaying, and Wallace could be a victim of that approach this offseason.
The Steelers awarded fellow receiver Antonio Brown a new contract before the 2012 season while Wallace was holding out for a new contract. It may have been a sign to Wallace that his time was nearing an end in Pittsburgh.
James Harrison and Troy Polamalu are closing in on the need for a new contract, and with the Steelers hugging the salary cap so closely, there may not be money enough to keep Wallace on the roster. If Wallace can get a better deal elsewhere, he’ll walk this offseason.
The Raiders paid heavily for Seymour when they acquired him from New England in 2009, and the price will be even steeper if he decides to stay in Oakland.
As quoted by Darin Gantt of NBCSports.com (via Vic Tafur of the San Francisco Chronicle), Seymour may not have made up his mind yet:
I would love to retire a Raider but I have earned the right to be a free agent. I really love wearing this uniform. We’ll see what happens.
Seymour sounds like he wants to stay with the Raiders right now, but he’s 33 years old, and he’s likely looking at one final contract. If the price is right, Seymour may walk for a better deal.
With Randall Cobb’s emergence in Green Bay, it looks like Greg Jennings’ days are over wearing green and yellow.
Jennings is prepared to leave in free agency if he can’t get a deal done with Packers brass (via SI.com), and that deal is unlikely due to the depth Green Bay has at the wide receiver position.
Jennings will be paid well if he departs the city in which he has played all seven years of his professional career. Several teams will be in the market for a No. 1 receiver, and each may be more prepared to pay him than the Packers will be.