With only the Super Bowl left in the 2012-13 season, it seems to be a fitting time to gaze at the 2013 free-agent landscape.
After an in-depth survey over the list of players with expiring contracts, three tiers of talent reveal themselves. The players inside each tier share similar characteristics based on their value as commodities.
The first tier features two players who are technically free agents, but based on their value to their team will likely never hit the market.
The second tier is a much larger group that features players whose market value will likely be too great for their current team to match and will probably be wearing different jerseys next season
The third tier consists of older veteran players. Free agents in this group have maintained illustrious careers but have diminished athletically.
Players: Joe Flacco and Victor Cruz
Before you join the clamoring chorus of Joe Flacco enthusiasts who vehemently believe that he is a elite quarterback, remember there is a reason for why he is a free agent this offseason.
Yes, Flacco has been spectacular this postseason but that does not erase his past struggles. Given that Flacco didn't receive a contract extension, one doesn't need to stretch too deeply into speculation to argue the Baltimore brass lacks complete confidence in him.
However, all of that will mean nothing come negotiation time. Joe Flacco and his representation hold all the chips after this Super Bowl run. They will likely push for an upper-echelon quarterback contract, which will put him in the $16-20 million range, and Baltimore can't say no. There is zero chance Flacco hits the free-agent market.
Similar to Flacco is Victor Cruz, whose value to his team is likewise strong. Cruz is a restricted free agent, but don't expect any teams to be allowed to pounce on the young star wide receiver.
The Giants are backed into a corner where they will need to lock up Cruz to keep their franchise quarterback happy. After letting Mario Manningham walk a season ago, and the questionable durability of Hakeem Nicks, Eli Manning—who will count for $20 million against the Giants' cap in 2013—will need to be assured his top target will be returning after a disappointing 2012 season.
Players: Henry Melton, Mike Wallace, Greg Jennings, Wes Welker, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Jake Long, Jairus Byrd, Ryan Clady and Dwayne Bowe.
The players in this group are preparing for major pay days with new teams. Each player on this list has substantial market value. Their teams would love to have them back but will likely not be able to afford them.
Prospective teams will need to be prepared to pay. The four wide receivers on this list will find new homes rather easily as so many teams have need at receiver. To quickly name a few: New England, Philadelphia, Carolina, Cleveland, New York Jets, Oakland and Minnesota.
Jake Long and Ryan Clady will capitalize on the annual need for offensive tackles throughout the NFL.
Henry Melton and Jairus Byrd are likely the two most desired defensive players of this free-agent class.
This group is interesting because each of the players could retire as easily as they could return for another season.
Lewis and Gonzalez of course have expressed their pending retirement, but after the wish-washy antics of Michael Jordan and Brett Favre, skepticism towards retirement claims is second nature.
Urlacher and Freeney will likely have to join new teams if they wish to continue their NFL careers. Both have diminished slightly, but their leadership and tenure in the 4-3 will garner the attraction of teams using that system.
Barber, Reed, and Moss will likely re-sign with their current teams if they choose to play another season.