NFL Free Agency 2013: Start Date, Rumors and Early Predictions

Tim Daniels@TimDanielsBRFeatured ColumnistFebruary 4, 2013

NFL Free Agency 2013: Start Date, Rumors and Early Predictions

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    The 2013 NFL free agent frenzy will begin on March 12.

    It's a chance for franchises around the league to fill holes with accomplished players instead of relying solely on the draft, but teams better be ready to pay big money for the top names.

    It's important to remember that the market is still beginning to take shape. Players like this year's Super Bowl MVP-winning quarterback, Joe Flacco, who is currently scheduled to become a free agent, isn't likely to get away from the Baltimore Ravens after his impressive playoff performance.

    That said, this year's free agent class should still offer a pretty decent crop. As it stands now, teams searching for wide receivers and defensive linemen should be happy, and those looking for help in other areas will probably need to do some more digging.

    Let's examine some of the marquee players that could be available starting on March 12, along with the latest news and rumors for each of those stars as well as early predictions regarding where they may land.

1. Michael Vick

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    Background Info

    Michael Vick's situation with the Philadelphia Eagles remains up in the air after a second straight disappointing season. He played in just 10 games due to injury as well as the emergence of Nick Foles. Plus, even when he did play, he piled up more turnovers (15) than touchdowns (13).

    New head coach Chip Kelly must decide whether Vick is the right quarterback to lead the team's offensive attack or if it's time to move on.


    Latest News and Rumors

    Jeff McLane of the Philadelphia Inquirer reports that the Eagles won't have to make a decision on Vick by Feb. 6, as originally expected. A clause in his contract actually gives them until right before the market opens to keep him or cut him.

    The Eagles quarterback is due to receive that amount [$3 million] on Feb. 6, but the team is likely to buy time until the start of free agency on March 11 because of a provision in Vick's contract.

    The Eagles would owe him the money only if no one else picked him up or if someone signed him for less than $3 million, according to an NFL source.


    Early Prediction

    Vick will go to the Arizona Cardinals. Larry Fitzgerald needs a quarterback who can get him the ball, and Vick still has the arm to do it. Even though the formerly dynamic playmaker has his faults at this point in his career, he is still an upgrade over Kevin Kolb and company.

2. Reggie Bush

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    Background Info

    By this point in his career, Reggie Bush's role in an offense is clear: he's never going to be a player who carries the ball upwards of 20 times per game, like Arian Foster or Adrian Peterson, but he can still make an impact if utilized correctly.

    After all, he finished this season with nearly 1,300 total yards and eight touchdowns on 262 touches, and there are plenty of teams that could use that production if the Miami Dolphins let him walk.


    Latest News and Rumors

    Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports reports that, in all likelihood, Bush won't be a member of the Dolphins next season, but he does expect multiple teams to express interest.

    Reggie Bush's ability to make explosive plays and contribute on special teams will lead to a nice market forming for him, I'm sure, and it's highly unlikely he stays with Miami, sources said.


    Early Prediction

    Bush will land with the New York Jets. Shonn Greene isn't the answer in New York, and the Jets need somebody who can make more big plays out of the backfield to help boost an otherwise lackluster offense. Bush is capable of doing exactly that.

3. Mike Wallace

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    Background Info

    Mike Wallace has led the Pittsburgh Steelers in receiving for each of the past three seasons. But the 25-year-old wideout is coming off a down year, totaling just 836 yards after reaching the 1,000-yard plateau in each of the previous two campaigns.

    Pittsburgh has the option of using the franchise tag to ensure that Wallace remains with the team for at least one more season, but there has been no indication that the team wants to do that—at least not yet.


    Latest News and Rumors

    To further that point, CBS Sports' Jason La Canfora reports that the Steelers are not expected to franchise their leading receiver, who will command about $10 million or more on the open market.

    And according to sources, the Steelers do not plan to franchise Wallace, just coming off his rookie deal, and do not anticipate meeting his demands in the $10 million-$11 million yearly range, though they do expect other clubs to value him there.


    Early Prediction

    Wallace will go to the Cleveland Browns. The Steelers' division rival still needs another wide receiver, despite the improved play of Josh Gordon in the second half of the season. Wallace would finally allow the Browns to stretch the field on offense, which hasn't happened much in recent years.

4. Greg Jennings

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    Background Info

    A groin injury caused Greg Jennings to miss half the season, which could have an impact on his value. He did make 10 catches for 115 yards and a touchdown in two playoff games, though, and was very productive for the Green Bay Packers over the previous five seasons.

    The Packers already have plenty of other capable wide receivers, so bringing him back would an interesting decision when they have other needs to fill. He would be one of the stars in a deep wide-receiver market if he does leave Green Bay.


    Latest News and Rumors

    Ben Volin of the Palm Beach Post reports Jennings has a good relationship with Miami Dolphins coach Joe Philbin, which further links the wideout to one of his potential suitors. Of Philbin, Jennings said:

    He’s one of my favorite coaches. Obviously, he jokes a lot, little subtle things here and there, but he’s a great coach to have. He was a great coach to play for. He’s one of those guys that you can have a relationship outside of football. As a player you admire a coach when he actually opens himself up like that.


    Early Prediction

    Jennings should land in Miami. The team is in dire need of a No. 1 receiver who can support Ryan Tannehill, and giving him a reliable veteran like Jennings to work with would help open up the offense.

5. Dwayne Bowe

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    Background Info

    Dwayne Bowe had just 59 catches for 801 yards and three touchdowns this season. The biggest question teams have to answer, including the Kansas City Chiefs, is how much of that is on him and how much is due to poor quarterback play.

    Given the fact Bowe topped 1,100 yards in the previous two seasons, it's safe to give him the benefit of the doubt, and teams around the NFL probably would bite hard if he hit the open market. He's also only 28 years old, and should still have several good years ahead of him.


    Latest News and Rumors

    One team mentioned in connection with Bowe are the Chicago Bears, but Dan Pompei of the Chicago Tribune states that he's an unlikely target for Chicago.

    Bowe is an interesting name because Bears general manager Phil Emery was with him in Kansas City and knows him well. But I don't believe the Bears will be looking to acquire a high priced wide receiver. They already have one in Brandon Marshall, and there probably are not enough Jay Cutler passes or McCaskey dollars to satisfy both Marshall and Bowe.


    Early Prediction

    Bowe will re-sign with the Kansas City Chiefs. Ultimately, I think the Chiefs will figure out a way to bring Bowe back because he is the team's best receiver and it would be tough to replace him in the short term. Furthermore, an already poor passing game would get even worse without him.

6. Jake Long

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    Background Info

    The top overall pick in the 2008 NFL Draft, Jake Long has been an anchor on the Miami Dolphins offensive line over the past handful of seasons. Whether or not that will remain the case heading into next season remains to be seen.

    Left tackles are more important than ever in today's pass-happy NFL, which means players like Long can command top dollar on the open market. The Dolphins must decide whether it's worth opening up their checkbook for a lineman or if they should simply let him go.


    Latest News and Rumors

    Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald reports that sources close to the situation don't believe the Dolphins like their chances of keeping Long.

    People who spoke to the Dolphins’ front office say Miami is pessimistic about its chances of re-signing Jake Long but will keep working at it. Long, believed to be seeking at least $10 million a year, scoffed at Miami’s first offer during the season, according to a teammate.


    Early Prediction

    Long will sign with the San Diego Chargers. Philip Rivers took a lot of heat for his play this season, but it's hard to have any confidence in the pocket when you're getting sacked more than three times per game. Long would give him better blindside protection.

7. Dwight Freeney

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    Background Info

    Dwight Freeney has been a crucial part of the Indianapolis Colts defense for a decade. Over that span, the defensive end racked up 107.5 sacks and 307 tackles. At his peak, there were times when he was unstoppable off the edge.

    Freeney did show some signs of slowing down at age 32, however. He recorded just five sacks in 14 games, the second-lowest total of his career. The team's shift to a 3-4 scheme didn't help his cause, either. So perhaps a change of scenery will get him back on track.


    Latest News and Rumors

    The big-name pass-rusher isn't expected to remain with the Colts next season, according to Paul Kuharsky of

    The secondary needs options for nickel and dime packages and needs to be able to survive some injuries. Outside linebacker—minus Freeney, who's not expected back—needs to be restocked, even if Jerry Hughes is deemed worthy of Freeney's starting spot.


    Early Prediction

    Oakland Raiders: The Raiders ranked 31st in sacks during the regular season. No player had more than five. Addressing that situation should be one of their top offseason priorities. Signing Freeney would also give them more flexibility in the draft, especially with their first pick.

8. Osi Umenyiora

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    Background Info

    The New York Giants have a logjam at defensive end. Three players—Justin Tuck, Jason Pierre-Paul and Osi Umenyiora—are battling for playing time at two spots. It doesn't make sense to pay them all when the Giants need to fill other needs.

    Since Umenyiora is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent and racked up just six sacks this season, it's easy to see the Giants letting him hit the open market. Teams that need help rushing the passer (and there are several) would certainly be interested.


    Latest News and Rumors's Dan Graziano doesn't think that Umenyiora will be back with the Giants, who have other concerns along the defensive line, as well.

    But especially with Osi Umenyiora almost certain to be gone, I think the Giants have too much in the bank with Tuck to cut him loose and rebuild their entire pass rush around Jason Pierre-Paul. It is my belief that Tuck will be a Giant in 2013.


    Early Prediction

    Umenyiora will head south to the Atlanta Falcons. John Abraham led the Falcons with 10 sacks this year, but no other player had more than four, as the rest of the front seven created virtually no pressure. Umenyiora would give Atlanta a solid one-two punch and would better prepare the defense for the playoffs.

Anthony Spencer

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    Background Info

    Anthony Spencer is coming off his best season as a pro with 95 tackles and 11 sacks in 14 games. He certainly made the Dallas Cowboys look smart for using the franchise tag on him last offseason, but now, they have another dilemma on their hands.

    Do they attempt to reach a long-term agreement with him, franchise him again or let him walk? It might sound like an easy choice on paper, but Dallas' salary cap issues will force the team to make some difficult decisions.


    Latest News and Rumors

    The sides have started discussing the situation, according to Todd Archer of ESPN Dallas, and are hopeful that a new deal can be reached. It doesn't sound like anything is imminent, however.

    Spencer is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent in March. However, the Cowboys and his agent, Jordan Woy, have had preliminary talks in recent weeks and both sides are hopeful a deal can be worked out. The Cowboys could place the franchise tag on Spencer for a second straight season, which would cost $10.6 million.

    Reaching an accord on a long-term contract will be difficult because of the team's somewhat tight salary-cap situation and just how well Spencer played in 2012.


    Early Prediction

    Spencer will re-sign with Dallas. At the very least, I would expect the Cowboys to franchise Spencer again and keep him for another season. He took another step forward in 2012 and letting him get away is a decision that the team would likely regret.

10. Cary Williams

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    Background Info

    Cary Williams played a key role in helping the Baltimore Ravens win the Super Bowl. The cornerback finished the postseason with 27 tackles, six passes defended and two interceptions. He also made a few key plays in the title game.

    The Ravens are now set for a busy offseason. Making sure Joe Flacco is signed will be the top priority, so  where that leaves Williams in the pecking order is unclear. He had 75 tackles and four interceptions during the regular season.


    Latest News and Rumors

    Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports cites sources who told him that Williams turned down a contract extension from Baltimore and is seeking at least $8 million per season.

    Similarly, starting cornerback Cary Williams, who the team also has worries about off the field, turned down a three-year, $15-million offer from the Ravens this season, sources said, and Baltimore might not go much higher than that to retain him. Williams has told teammates that he thinks he might be worth $8 million-$10 million a year, sources said.


    Early Prediction

    Williams will sign with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Owners of the league's worst pass defense, the Bucs are in desperate need of secondary help. They might be one of the few teams willing to meet Williams' rumored contract demands.