Super Bowl XLVII is over, and the NFL offseason kicked off when the confetti fell. We are just a scant few weeks away from the official start of the league year on March 12, and with it comes free agency.
As usual, the free-agent pool is full, and there will be plenty of movement when the clock strikes 4 o'clock on the 12th of March. Teams are actually allowed to begin negotiating with unrestricted free agents on March 9.
Which players are the cream of the free-agent crop? The following is a list of the top 50 free agents set to hit the market, at least before we know about franchise tenders or re-signing.
These rankings are limited to unrestricted free agents because the vast majority of restricted free agents stay with their teams. Players who are probably going to be free agents, but have not been released—Alex Smith or Michael Vick, for example—are also not on this list.
Good kickers seem to be coming out of the college woodwork—just look at Blair Walsh, Greg Zuerlein and Justin Tucker—but there are some quality specialists scheduled for free agency.
He may not be lights-out, but Rob Bironas is the best of that bunch.
Bironas may not have a booming leg anymore—he made just 6-of-12 field goals beyond 40 yards last season—but he is a veteran with a cool head on his shoulders.
If you were taking tips on how to tank your career as quickly as possible, Titus Young might be a good mentor.
The mercurial receiver had a turbulent offseason last year, then got kicked off the team midseason for lining up in the wrong spot on purpose. He followed that up with some ill-advised tweets.
If he wanted out of Detroit, he got his wish.
The Lions plan to cut ties with tumultuous WR Titus Young today, according to a team source.— Tim Twentyman (@ttwentyman) February 4, 2013
Troublesome personality aside, Young is still a talented receiver. He would be a good gamble for a team with a need at the position, and he should come cheap, considering his ugly fallout with the Lions.
Update (2/5): Young was claimed off waivers by the St. Louis Rams before he could become a free agent. It's up to Jeff Fisher to get Young back on track.
Danny Woodhead has been productive for the Patriots when his number has been called. The diminutive back has caught 100 passes in limited duty throughout his four-year career, making him an ideal third-down back for a team looking for one.
New England may not let him escape, but it does have Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen in the fold. If Woodhead's price tag gets too high, it may not jump in on the bidding.
A good nose tackle is necessary for 3-4 defenses. Aubrayo Franklin may not be a beast, but he was pretty good in the middle for the Chargers.
The five-year veteran is better at nose tackle than at 2- or 3-technique throughout his career, so he should stick with a 3-4 defense to continue success.
In the words of the immortal Rich Eisen, punters are people too.
Pat McAfee was one of the best punters in the league last season, nearly earning himself a trip to Hawaii for the Pro Bowl as a result. (Some say he was a big Pro Bowl snub.)
McAfee was sixth th in the league last year with a 47.9-yard average. The Colts should retain his services, but every team could use a good punter. Just ask the Jaguars.
Jerome Felton had a decent stint with the Lions to start his career, but he really flourished when he landed with the Vikings last year.
The five-year veteran fullback was the lead blocker for 2,000-yard rusher Adrian Peterson. He may not be terribly versatile, but teams looking for a traditional fullback should give him plenty of flirtatious looks if Minnesota doesn't re-sign him.
Versatility is the name of the game in today's NFL, and James Casey can bring that to any offense.
Though listed as a fullback, Casey has been all over the field for the Texans. He has been particularly good as a pass-catcher. He may not be the best lead blocker, but teams could certainly use a Swiss army knife like Casey on offense.
Speaking of getting on in age, Sheldon Brown is turning 34 this coming March.
The veteran cornerback was surprisingly good for the Browns last season, however. That doesn't mean he was great. Brown had eight penalties called against him, among the most in the NFL at his position, and he allowed four touchdowns. Still, he had 12 passes defensed and three interceptions.
He will be serviceable for teams in desperate need of a cornerback, but his age might make some teams shy away from him.
There will be a market for Cliff Avril. After all, pass-rushers are at a premium, even if they aren't terribly good against the run.
Avril had 9.5 sacks last season, but just 28 total tackles. He was one of the worst-rated players at his position last season, according to Pro Football Focus (PFF), and that is largely because he was terrible against the run. He also benefited by playing on a strong defensive line to begin with.
It will be interesting to see what kind of money Avril will command as a one-dimensional player.
Ed Reed is the greatest free safety to play the game, but he might be on his last legs in the NFL.
The big-time ball hawk has threatened to retire before, but he is not quite ready to do so. Reed has been huge for the Ravens, and not just as an interception machine. He would be a great addition for his leadership.
Reed isn't the player he was five or six years ago, but he is still pretty good. There are certainly teams that could use him.
The four-headed Hydra the Saints employ in their backfield has afforded Chris Ivory few opportunities throughout his NFL career, but he has certainly made the most of his playing time. Now is the time to cash in.
Ivory has averaged 5.1 yards per carry throughout his career. Not bad for an undrafted free agent.
He might benefit from the threat Drew Brees and the New Orleans offense pose, but he has the highest YPC among all the backs on his team over the past three years.
Whether it is physiology, misfortune or a nasty combination, Danny Amendola has been on the wrong side of the injury report far too often throughout his career.
When he has been healthy, however, Amendola has shown he can be a great wideout. The injury risk that comes along with signing him should be built into his contract, meaning he could be had for a relative bargain.
He may not make it to free agency if St. Louis has anything to say about it, but he would be an intriguing piece to add to any roster.
The Jets have a solid defensive line, and Mike DeVito has been a big reason for that.
They drafted Quinton Coples last year, however, and Muhammad Wilkerson has turned into a beast on the other side. DeVito is a solid rotational lineman, particularly against the run.
With New York in cap hell, DeVito is likely to find a new home on another 3-4 defense.
The Dolphins traded Vontae Davis just before last season began, leaving Sean Smith as their top cornerback. He rewarded their confidence with a lukewarm season.
Smith has not turned into a shutdown cornerback like Miami has envisioned. However, he is reportedly looking for a six-year, $43 million deal.
That is a lot of cheddar for an inconsistent cornerback, potential or not. Still, the position is valuable in today's NFL, so Smith will see plenty of action regardless of his contract demands. That is, if the Dolphins let him get to free agency.
Jared Cook has been a perennial tease for Titans fans and fantasy football owners alike. He has all the measurables you could want at the position, but he has never been able to cash in on his talent on a consistent basis.
He will try to hit a jackpot in free agency as teams might look to turn that talent into production.
The Bears drafted Shea McClellin to groom for Israel Idonije's position, but the latter had a pretty good 2012 campaign.
Idonije posted 7.5 sacks, and he did it in almost 300 fewer snaps than Julius Peppers. Corey Wootton, however, took over the starting gig late in the season.
The veteran will turn 33 next season, and he has never been a dominant player. Perhaps the Bears will bring him back, but their defensive line is starting to look a bit creaky. He should be serviceable in a rotational role wherever he lands.
The Ravens took a huge hit when Lardarius Webb went down, but Cary Williams did an admirable job filling in for the injured cornerback. Williams had four interceptions and 17 passes defensed while allowing six touchdowns.
Webb should be back, though, and the Ravens have Jimmy Smith on the rise. Baltimore probably would like to have Williams back, but it may be handcuffed by another big contract that looms.
Joe Flacco on Cary Williams: Let the man walk RT @akinkhabwala Cary Williams on Joe Flacco: Pay the man— Nick Mensio (@NickMensio) February 4, 2013
The Dolphins were a team devoid of real weapons on offense, yet Brian Hartline managed to eclipse 1,000 yards receiving.
The issue is his lack of production from a scoring standpoint. The fifth-year receiver scored just once in 2012 on an 80-yard touchdown pass because of broken coverage.
Despite being 6'2"—the same height as Dwayne Bowe, which might surprise you considering how much smaller Hartline seems—the former Buckeye has never been a big red-zone target. He is better-suited to be a No. 2 receiver, and he should expect to get that kind of contract.
Fred Davis has flashed some serious potential at his position. Unfortunately, injuries and suspensions have dogged him over the past couple of seasons.
He wasn't a big beneficiary of Robert Griffin III's arrival in Washington, D.C.—he only caught 24 passes for 325 yards before getting injured in Week 7—but there are plenty of teams who should be looking to upgrade their tight end position.
Coming off season-ending surgery won't help his stock in free agency, but he should return to being one of the league's more athletic tight ends if he comes back fully healthy.
Randy Starks has played inside in both 3-4 and 4-3 schemes, making him a versatile option in free agency. The switch to 3-technique last season suited him well.
The mammoth lineman was a stalwart in the middle of a tough Dolphins run defense, but his play declined a bit as the season wore on. Perhaps that has made his price tag a bit more palatable to the Miami regime, but he would make for a solid rotational player elsewhere.
Brandon Moore was part of a quietly solid Jets offensive line last season, and he has been a great inside presence for New York throughout his career.
The big lineman turns 33 this summer, meaning this will likely be his last contract. Despite his age, he is still playing at a high level. He should see interest from teams looking to upgrade the interior of their offensive line.
When healthy, Richard Seymour is still a good player. The veteran logged three sacks from his defensive tackle position last season before getting knocked out for the year with a hamstring injury.
Can he hold up for a few more years in the NFL? Seymour turns 34 next fall, making him expendable on the Raiders roster—aside from cap issues, at any rate. He can make an impact for a 4-3 defense, but at what price tag?
If you had to guess which Cincinnati cornerback performed the best last season, would Adam Jones have crossed your mind?
Yes, the Artist Formerly Known as Pacman was the highest-rated cornerback on the Bengals roster, according to PFF, and he did it in 300-plus fewer snaps.
He may not have had an interception on the season, but nine passes defensed and an opposing passer rating of 81.9 on balls thrown his direction isn't bad.
It seems like he has been in the league forever, but Jones is still just 28. If he continues on the straight and narrow, he could be a big contributor for any team.
We keep expecting Steven Jackson to fall off the rails at 29 years of age—with plenty of mileage on those legs to boot—but he keeps chugging along with quality play.
The veteran running back topped 1,000 yards for the eighth straight season despite St. Louis' attempts to reduce his workload by drafting Isaiah Pead and Daryl Richardson. His 4.1 yards per carry was on par with his career average, though he only scored four touchdowns.
Jackson has a player option for next season, but may test the market to try to land on a contender.
It certainly looks like Jackson has something left in that tank. The question is whether other teams will agree.
Stevie Brown unexpectedly emerged in the Giants secondary as a ball-hawking safety, intercepting eight passes to rank second in the league. That makes Kenny Phillips a bit expendable.
Both are technically free agents, but Brown is of the restricted variety. It seems prudent for New York to save money where it can, and Brown might be the better value.
Phillips is underrated, and good safeties aren't a dime a dozen—just ask the 49ers and Broncos—so he should see plenty of action in free agency if the Giants choose to part ways with him.
When you think of the league's best offensive tackles, William Beatty might slip your mind. The four-year veteran has quietly been an important piece of Eli Manning's offensive line, his ability to play both sides crucial in times of need.
Last season was his first full and healthy one, and he allowed just three sacks while protecting Manning's blind side. The Giants have a lot of free agents to think about re-signing, but Beatty may be their biggest priority.
The middle of the Chargers offensive line has been solid thanks to the likes of Nick Hardwick and Louis Vasquez.
The big lineman has been good in pass protection and decent as a run-blocker, according to PFF. He may not be Andy Levitre (see: future slide), but Vasquez might be a cheaper, quality alternative.
The Giants were desperate at tight end after Jake Ballard and Travis Beckum both tore their ACLs in Super Bowl XLVI, so they signed Martellus Bennett away from the Cowboys. The Black Unicorn was stuck firmly behind Jason Witten on the depth chart, and he had a good season in his first chance to start.
He took full advantage, grabbing career highs with 55 catches for 626 yards and five touchdowns. He is also a mean run blocker, making him a well-rounded target for anyone in need of a good tight end.
Michael Johnson is a curious case in free-agent evaluation at pass-rusher.
He had 11.5 sacks last season, but his rating as a pass-rusher was curiously low on PFF. The fact that he doubled his career sack total in one season is also a bit of a red flag.
Johnson is good against the run, however, and last season was his first full one as a starter. It looks like the Bengals might use the franchise tag on him if they cannot strike a deal; however, they must know what kind of money he will command on the open market.
The 49ers left Dashon Goldson exposed in the free-agency pool two years ago, but the safety came back to San Francisco without a real bite from other teams. They came to their senses and slapped him with a franchise tender last year, much to the chagrin of the hard-hitting safety.
Goldson is actually pretty good in coverage, allowing just 54.3 percent of passes to be completed for a passer rating of 44.8 on balls thrown his direction last season.
He should get a real shot at free agency now, and teams will give him more than a cursory look this year.
Gosder Cherilus has had a solid career for the Lions, starting all but a handful of games at right tackle since he came into the league in 2008. Last year was his best one, allowing just four sacks and seven hits on quarterback Matthew Stafford.
Considering Detroit has last year's first-round pick, Riley Reiff, groomed and waiting, Cherilus is a good bet to hit the market. He will be a cost-effective addition to any team seeking to improve their right side.
The Raiders may not have been very good last season, but they sported a pretty good defensive line. Desmond Bryant was a big reason why.
The big tackle wasn't a monster against the run, but he was quite good as a pass-rusher from the middle.
Oakland is going to have to make some cost-cutting decisions, meaning Richard Seymour is likely gone. It must find a way to keep Bryant, or the interior of that defensive line is going to suffer.
The sheen has worn off on Reggie Bush for each season he has put up mediocre numbers. The former No. 2 overall pick has simply never lived up to his hype or draft status despite being one of the NFL's more dynamic playmakers.
He did not produce in the high-octane New Orleans offense, and his stint with the Dolphins wasn't much better. But he showed flashes of what we all expected of him when he emerged from USC.
Despite finally cracking 1,000 yards rushing two years ago, Bush seems to have hit his ceiling. He could be a valuable addition to a team like the Packers or Lions, assuming he doesn't get hurt again, but he is the best running back by default in a relatively weak free-agent class.
Wes Welker's value as a free agent is murky.
On the one hand, he has been one of the most productive receivers in the NFL over the past five seasons, a vital cog in the Patriots' offensive machine. On the other, he is an aging, diminutive veteran that has thrived with Tom Brady in a high-powered offense.
Can he do it elsewhere?
His star was on the rise when the Dolphins felt compelled to trade him to a division rival for a second-round pick, so it stands to reason he can succeed on another team. The Patriots might not want to give in to his contract demands, so he might get to the open market in March.
What kind of contract do you give a 5'11", almost 30-year-old receiver with recent injury issues and who has had two elite quarterbacks throwing to him his entire career?
Greg Jennings has been great for the Packers, but his free-agent value is difficult to predict.
Jennings is a fantastic route-runner and he is good after the catch, but his lack of size or elite speed make him more of a great No. 2 receiver than a team's No. 1.
Philip Wheeler seems to have found his sweet spot in Oakland, thriving in that defensive system after a few lackluster years as an inside linebacker in Indianapolis.
The four-year veteran posted career highs with 109 total tackles—which led the team—three sacks and six passes defensed last year.
Now he gets to test free agency.
Chicago's defensive line was fearsome in 2012—certainly a big reason why the secondary was so successful—and Henry Melton may have been the best one of the bunch.
Melton had six sacks as a defensive tackle, pretty good by interior-line standards. He wasn't bad against the run, either.
The Bears have been in negotiations with Melton, meaning there's a good chance he won't be hitting the open market. He should be getting paid a pretty penny for his services, though, and Chicago has been known to play hardball with its free agents.
Things looked bleak for the Packers at inside linebacker when Desmond Bishop was lost for the season followed by his replacement, Daryl Smith, midseason. Then they moved Brad Jones in from the outside, and he was a revelation.
Jones didn't see any real playing time until he started Week 7, and he still managed 77 tackles and two sacks.
He got his shot at the perfect time; he should have his opportunity to cash in on his good season during free agency, considering the Packers have Bishop coming back from injury.
Andy Levitre was one of the best offensive guards in football last year. That should make him a valuable commodity on the open market. That is, if he makes it there.
The Bills should certainly try to keep the mammoth lineman, who particularly excels as a pass blocker. He would be a big upgrade at guard for many teams should he get away.
The Falcons had a great safety duo in Thomas DeCoud and William Moore, but they might be broken up in free agency.
Moore is a well-rounded strong safety. He can hit, but he's also pretty good in coverage. An injury bothered him late in the season—he missed Atlanta's final four regular season games, partially because they wanted to save him for the playoffs—but he still wound up with 76 tackles, four interceptions and a sack.
Atlanta might use its franchise tag on the talented safety, however, meaning teams will have to wait another year to get a crack at him unless he signs a long-term deal.
Forgetting that Andre Smith was arrested a few weeks ago, he is absolutely one of the best right tackles in the free-agency pool. That should make him an attractive target, assuming there are no serious consequences from his gun gaffe.
Smith may not be the best pass-protector—he allowed seven sacks—but he is a well-rounded lineman. The two-year starter rated well in both pass and run blocking at PFF, and he had the best rating among his peers at the position.
The one-time top overall pick has seen a decline in quality of play over the past couple of seasons after a quick ascent to the top of the left-tackle heap.
Injuries have been the major culprit. Long has suffered torn arm muscles and a knee injury over the past two years, which has put a bit of a damper on his free-agent value.
Long has still been good despite those injuries, and he can certainly return to those elite levels. His $10 million per season asking price might be too rich for Miami's blood, but there are teams with porous offensive lines that might be willing to shell out that kind of money.
The league's best cover safety last season played for the Bills.
Jairus Byrd had five interceptions while allowing opposing quarterbacks a paltry 56.9 passer rating on balls thrown his direction. He only had 21 passes thrown his way to begin with.
Both Byrd and the Bills want the talented safety to stay in Buffalo, but anything can happen. He is certain to command a nice salary wherever he nests.
If teams are looking for a good all-around defensive end, they need not look further than Michael Bennett.
The former undrafted free agent has quietly become one of the league's best players at the position. He may not have high sack totals—he has just 15 in his career, though he got to the quarterback nine times last season—but sacks aren't everything.
Bennett was near the top of the league with 72 total quarterback pressures—sacks, quarterback hits and hurries combined—last season, according to PFF. He was also great against the run.
The well-rounded defensive end will be an excellent addition to any 4-3 defense if the Bucs let him get away.
It wasn't the best year for Mike Wallace after a protracted contract dispute with the Steelers last offseason. He begrudgingly came back to the team and had a relatively down season.
He still managed eight touchdowns—good for 12th in the league—and he represents a deep threat that few other receivers can match. He only caught 55.2 percent of his targets, though—including six drops—and he was one of the worst-rated receivers in the league, according to PFF.
Wallace will get a big contract; the question is from which team. There are certainly some receiver-needy teams that might be willing to pony up for the speedster.
Joe Flacco's future contract—and perhaps his ego—swelled exponentially as the postseason wore on. The Super Bowl MVP had a playoff run for the ages, throwing 11 touchdowns without an interception while leading the Ravens to the promised land.
History will judge whether it will be wise to hand him a massive contract, but the Ravens would be crazy to let Flacco walk. Even if the negotiations stall, the franchise tag looms.
If for some reason Flacco shakes free, his services will be highly sought after. As limited as he has been throughout his career—his Super Bowl run aside—franchise quarterbacks don't grow on trees.
The greatest tight end to play the game was still playing at a high level at 36 years of age, so it's little wonder that the Falcons would like to see him back.
Tony Gonzalez has stayed true to his commitment to retire after last season, but he sure looked like he had plenty left in his tank. Perhaps he wants to mitigate the long-term wear and tear from which his body will suffer down the road, but he would be a valuable addition to any team.
He would likely stay in Atlanta if he stays in the game, but the Falcons will surely miss Gonzalez if he stays retired.
The best receiver in the free-agent class hails from Kansas City, where he has languished in quarterback purgatory throughout his career.
Dwayne Bowe got off to a rocky start in his NFL career, but he has turned into a reliable receiver. He is just a couple of seasons removed from a 15-touchdown campaign while having to deal with the likes of Matt Cassel, Tyler Palko and Brady Quinn.
The Chiefs might somehow retain him—either by tagging him or getting him to re-sign—but Bowe should see plenty of action on the open market. The 6'2", 221-pound receiver would make a great No. 1 receiver anywhere.
Few, if any, offensive linemen were better in 2012 than Ryan Clady.
The former first-round pick has flourished in Denver, brilliantly protecting Peyton Manning's blind side last season. Clady allowed just one sack and seven hits on Manning and his surgically repaired neck last season.
The three-time Pro Bowler has been quite durable, starting all 60 games throughout his career. His durability might have taken a hit with a recent shoulder injury, though.
Clady is scheduled for shoulder surgery that will keep him out of most of the preseason. He should be ready for the regular season, though.
Injury or not, the Broncos would be foolish not to try to re-sign him, and they could slap him with the franchise tag after all. He should get a big payday regardless.
If you think of the pass rush in Dallas, DeMarcus Ware should immediately come to mind. But his partner in crime had a far better 2012.
Sure, Ware tallied one half-sack more than his counterpart, but Spencer was an all-around terror coming off the edge. Spencer tallied 95 total tackles—leading the team in that department, no small feat for an 3-4 outside linebacker—to Ware's 56, forcing two fumbles in the process.
The Cowboys are switching to a 4-3, which might suit Spencer even better. The question is whether they will be able to keep him before he hits the market. Dallas does not have a lot of wiggle room in terms of cap space, so it may be forced to tag him or let him hit free agency without a deal.