NFL's Best Available 2013 Free Agents at Every Position
With the conference championship games taking place this Sunday, NFL free agency seems so far away.
However, there are less than three months until the frenzy begins, and there are plenty of free agents to talk about. Some might get the franchise tag, while others will be re-signed before they hit the market.
Who are the best available players at each position at this point?
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Apologies to David Carr, Rex Grossman, Brady Quinn and the McCown brothers, but Joe Flacco is pretty much the only starting-quality free agent at the position. He may have added a digit to his salary with his playoff performance last week, making the AFC championship game for the third time in his career in the process.
Flacco might not really be on Tom Brady's level, but he is a good quarterback who the Ravens must keep if they are to continue contending in the next couple of years.
Since the rest of the crop of free agents is backup-caliber at best, Matt Moore is the next-best free agent on the market.
He has had a nice couple of seasons in Miami as the backup, stepping in and winning games when Chad Henne and Ryan Tannehill were injured. The Dolphins might try to keep him, but he might have made himself too rich for their blood.
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Though he has never lived up to his draft status, Reggie Bush had a productive couple of years with the Dolphins.
The former Heisman winner/loser has rushed for 2,072 yards over the past two seasons, and he had success as the team's lead back while he was healthy. Of course, that has always been the issue with Bush; missing time due to injury.
It is doubtful Miami will make a big push to keep him considering the money he could command in free agency and the fact Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas are in the fold. Bush can bring a lot to a new team. Perhaps the Jets will come calling.
As much as we have predicted Steven Jackson's demise in recent years, he has done a pretty good job in a mediocre offense.
When he will fall off the running back cliff is anybody's guess, but he still has gas left in that tank if last season was any indication.
He is a restricted free agent, but Chris Ivory could thrive if he just got the opportunity to contribute on a regular basis.
The Saints running back has had his moments in the spotlight—including a Marshawn Lynch-like touchdown rumble last season—but he is stuck behind three others at his position in New Orleans.
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Felton has long been a solid, if unspectacular, fullback.
The fullback position is still endangered, but it has found new life for those who can move around the field.
James Casey is one such versatile chess piece that the Texans have utilized well. He is not a traditional blocker, but he is a good pass-catcher.
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This free-agent class is loaded at wide receiver, and Dwayne Bowe might be the best of them.
He is not a downfield threat like Mike Wallace, nor is he a dink-and-dunk master like Wes Welker. Bowe is a big, athletic target, however, and his full potential has been masked by the quarterback play in Kansas City.
Whoever lands Bowe should be pleased, assuming he does not revert to his early-career ways.
Nailing down Welker's value is tricky. After all, he has been one of the league's most productive receivers over the past five years. But how much of that is his offense and the quarterback who throws him the ball?
Welker should be fine if he lands elsewhere, but the salary he commands might be a bit exorbitant for what any team will be getting. The Patriots are likely to retain his services, but the diminutive receiver will get some interest if he hits the open market.
What do we make of Mr. Wallace?
On the one hand, he represents a deep threat like no other in the free-agent class. On the other, he is an undersized receiver coming off a down year that included some abominable drops.
The Steelers are likely to let him walk, meaning teams like the Dolphins can go after him, but is he truly worth top dollar at his position?
Even if not, he will be a good receiver for whoever lands him—assuming Brady Quinn isn't throwing him the ball, that is.
One of the more perplexing free agents on the market hails from St. Louis.
The Rams stuck by Danny Amendola through all the injuries, and he showed promise when he was on the field. How big of an injury risk is he, though? Perhaps his physiology simply isn't cut out for the rigors of the NFL.
Still, he has talent, and teams will want to try to cash in on that. The Rams might beat everyone to the punch, however.
After years of injuries, Danario Alexander finally tasted success with the Chargers without blowing out a knee.
The big receiver oozes talent; he has simply never been able to take advantage of it because he keeps having major injuries. The restricted free agent will get a shot at some real money this offseason despite the risk thanks to his showing in 2012.
The 29-year-old is a great route-runner, but he is undersized and heading into uncharted territory if he signs on with most other teams. After all, how many quarterbacks are as good as Rodgers?
Jennings has also had some injury issues over the past couple of seasons that have dinged his free-agent value.
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Of course the best available tight end on the market is the greatest who ever played the game. Considering he is currently 97 percent sure he will retire, however, it doesn't seem likely that any team will sign him.
If he does decide to return, chances are he will stick in Atlanta.
The Black Unicorn will ride again, but will it be with the same team?
Martellus Bennett had a fine season with the Giants, catching 22 more passes than his previous career high this season and nicely filling the hole created by the absence of Jake Ballard and Travis Beckum. New York might want to keep him around considering its options.
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Without a doubt, the man at the top of the free-agent heap at offensive tackle is Ryan Clady.
The big lineman had a slow start to his career, but he has become one of the league's best, protecting Peyton Manning's blind side superbly this season.
Were it not for injuries that have led to a decline for the mammoth lineman, Jake Long would have been at the top of this list.
The truth is he has not been nearly as good in the past couple of seasons as he was during his first three.
Playing opposite Andrew Whitworth might seem like a tough assignment—opposing defenses will send their best pass-rushers after you more often—but Andre Smith was more than up to the task this season.
Cherilus was just a fantastic pass-blocker for Matthew Stafford and the Lions this year. The former first-round pick is living up to his status in a big way, and he will make a pretty penny this summer.
Perhaps the most well-rounded right tackle available, Sebastian Vollmer has been very good for the Patriots. The problem is that he has been injured often as well.
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The Bills were good on the interior of their offensive line, and Andy Levitre was the biggest reason why. He has been one of the best guards in the league this season.
Levitre has started every game of his career too.
For all the flak it got, the Jets offensive line wasn't bad this year. Brandon Moore was one of their best linemen.
Moore is solid all around, and he has been one of the more durable linemen over the past decade. He has talked about leaving the Jets, who would miss him in that interior if he bolted.
The Chargers have enjoyed some good offensive line play from the middle of the line, and a big reason for that has been Louis Vasquez.
The four-year veteran shakes loose from his rookie contract this March, and teams will come knocking if the Chargers don't re-sign him before he hits the market.
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Brian De La Puente
The man in front of Drew Brees has been one of the more underrated linemen in the league over the past few years.
Velasco has come a long way since entering the league as an undrafted free agent. He is versatile too, having played well at guard as well as center.
The tooth is getting long on Dan Koppen, who turns 34 this fall, but he can still play. How spoiled is he after having been under center for Tom Brady and now Peyton Manning?
If he doesn't retire, Koppen will have work in the NFL.
Defensive End/Outside Linebacker
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DeMarcus Ware gets all the publicity in Dallas, but Anthony Spencer was the better player this season.
He was the highest-rated 3-4 outside linebacker in the league this season according to Pro Football Focus, logging 11 sacks and 95 total tackles in the process.
Despite his productiveness, there may not be a place for Idonije on that Bears defensive line with Shea McClellin coming along at his position. If they choose to let him go, it will be another team's gain.
Idonije is no Julius Peppers, but he is a well-rounded defensive end that can play the run.
Johnson was a force on the edge for the Bengals this season. He might not be great against the run, but he proved he could rush the passer this season. He nabbed 11.5 sacks in his first full season as a starter, picking the perfect year to break out.
At this stage of the game, Dwight Freeney is more of a big name than a big-time player. Injuries seem to bother him often, and he is going on 32 years of age. He can still rush the passer, though.
The Giants pass rush disappeared this season for some reason, despite relative health and the presence of Osi Umenyiora. He was part of the problem—he had a down season, after all—and he might be on the decline at 31 years old.
He might be a bit on the overrated side, but Cliff Avril can still rush the passer. Whoever signs him should just try to avoid putting him in during rush situations.
Defensive End/Defensive Tackle
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Miami switched to a 4-3 last season, and Randy Starks took to it like a dolphin to herring.
He is a big reason why Miami's run defense was good all season; the Dolphins need to find some room in their massive cap space to retain his services.
The Raiders have some choices to make along that defensive line with Richard Seymour in decline and Tommy Kelly taking up his weight in cap space. The choice is clear, though—they should keep Desmond Bryant over the other two.
He might not have been a starter, but Jason Jones was an important part of that Seattle rotation on the defensive line.
Need a nose tackle? Aubrayo Franklin might be your man.
Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley get all the publicity—good or bad—on that Lions defensive front, but Corey Williams has been a solid piece too. He helped make the Lions defensive line one of the deepest in the league.
The veteran wants to stay in Detroit, so he might not reach free agency.
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It seems the Packers can find value anywhere in the draft.
A former seventh-round pick at outside linebacker, Brad Jones had a huge season. After injuries to Desmond Bishop and D.J. Smith knocked them down for the count, the Packers moved Jones inside and reaped the unexpected benefits.
Fortune favors Jones, who hits free agency this summer. The Packers have Bishop coming back, so it looks like Jones will have his chance on the open market.
Getting out of Indianapolis allowed Philip Wheeler to blossom.
The five-year veteran cracked 100 tackles for the first time in his career and anchored that Raiders defense. He was good in that system, and the Raiders should look to keep him.
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The artist formerly known as Pacman has found new life in the NFL after trouble followed him through his first few years in the league.
Cleaning up his act has allowed him to step up his game, as he unexpectedly became Cincinnati's best cornerback.
The Browns defense was pretty good, particularly against the pass when everyone was healthy and not suspended.
Part of that good pass defense was Sheldon Brown, who did well opposite Joe Haden despite being in his 11th season.
He might not be a well-known defender, but Joselio Hanson is a quality slot defender.
Aside from owning one of the best names in the league, Captain Munnerlyn has some pretty good return skills to go with his coverage skills.
He is a nickel cornerback at best, but he did a pretty good job for a Panthers defense that was good against the pass. He can provide a special teams boost to boot.
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Another loaded position is headlined by Jairus Byrd out of Buffalo.
Buddy Nix had some high praise for him during the season, and it seems the Bills will do everything to try to keep him. How could he not?
Byrd was the second-highest rated safety at Pro Football Focus, not allowing a touchdown while intercepting five passes.
The Falcons have a fantastic duo at safety, and they will certainly try to find a way to keep it that way.
William Moore has been great in Atlanta alongside Thomas DeCoud. They are especially good with Mike Nolan, who is seemingly staying put through the coaching carousel. The defensive backfield will be strong in Atlanta for years if the Falcons can retain Moore.
There is a reason the 49ers slapped Dashon Goldson with the franchise tag last summer: He is good.
The big-hitting safety has played even better for the 49ers this season, which should earn him a nice contract come March.
One of the season's bigger surprises has come in the form of Stevie Brown, who spent plenty of time on the field for the Giants with injuries in the defensive backfield.
Brown showed a nose for the ball, intercepting eight passes on the season, second-best in the league.
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There aren't many kickers more reliable than Jason Hanson, despite being roughly Gandalf's age. He might finally retire, though, depriving the Lions of his services.
Bironas was automatic from short range but had some trouble from longer distances. His 80 percent conversion rate was in the bottom third of the league, but he hasn't reached Billy Cundiff territory yet.
A calf injury ended his season, but Hauschka is a fine kicker.
He might not have the biggest leg, but Tynes has great accuracy.
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The Pat McAfee Show took his game to a career-best level this season, meaning he will earn good punter money this summer.
Perhaps the best punter in NFL history still has plenty of leg in him, but he is in a bit of a decline at 36 years of age. Quality punters are not a dime a dozen, though; he will find work if the Raiders let him walk.