The Best 2013 Free Agent Move Every NFL Team Can Make This Offseason
The list of free-agent priorities this offseason is headlined by one Super Bowl participant's need to secure the long-term future of its starting quarterback.
However, the Baltimore Ravens agreeing to fresh terms with Joe Flacco is just one of many high-profile moves that should dominate the 2013 free-agent market. Despite some questioning the quality of this year's free-agent class, that are still plenty of names to spark the familiar bidding wars.
These include players such as premier left tackles Jake Long and Ryan Clady. There is also bound to be more than healthy interest in star safeties Dashon Goldson and Jairus Byrd.
Here is a list of the best 2013 free-agent move every NFL team should make this offseason.
All salary cap data courtesy of ESPN.com.
1. Arizona Cardinals: Sign Guard Andy Levitre
There are few teams in football who are more in need of help along the offensive line than the Arizona Cardinals. Signing prized guard Andy Levitre from the Buffalo Bills would be an excellent first step toward solving this longstanding issue.
Levitre is considered the pick of the guard class and for good reason. Bringing him to the NFC West would help create the right kind of platform for new head coach Bruce Arian's offense.
The Cardinals already have a solid defense in place. Although quarterback is their greatest need, they are unlikely to find sufficient help at the position from this year's free-agent crop.
According to ESPN's John Clayton, the Cardinals are over the cap by $723,000. They should be able to trim that figure to make room for Levitre.
With an improved line in place, Arians will be free to work on reviving Kevin Kolb's disappointing career.
2. Atlanta Falcons: Re-Sign Safety William Moore
The Falcons need to re-sign dynamic safety William Moore. The 27-year-old free agent became a key performer on an opportunistic defense this season, intercepting four passes and forcing two fumbles.
Moore now has the chance to cash in on that production in this year's market.
He would be sure to garner heavy interest if the Falcons allow him to test that market. However, that's something the NFC South champions should move fast to prevent.
The NFC Championship loss to the San Francisco 49ers should have reminded the Falcons they need to improve defensively. That should begin with retaining a playmaker like Moore.
3. Baltimore Ravens: Re-Sign QB Joe Flacco
Joe Flacco finally proved himself capable of leading the Baltimore Ravens to a Super Bowl title. If that doesn't get him the money he wants this offseason, nothing will.
Flacco's playoff performances have put his name into conversations about the game's elite quarterbacks. While this author remains skeptical, there's no doubt Flacco raised his game during the Ravens' title-game run.
He made the plays when it counted on the road against AFC powerhouses Denver and New England. Despite all those still dubious about the MVP of Super Bowl XLVII, the Ravens certainly believe in him.
That belief is almost certain to lead to a lucrative new deal for Flacco during the first minutes of 2013 free agency.
4. Buffalo Bills: Re-Sign Safety Jairus Byrd
To ensure a better defense in 2013, the Buffalo Bills must re-sign ball-hawking safety Jairus Byrd. The shrewd 26-year-old is one of the league's most opportunistic defenders.
Byrd reinforced that point in 2012 on an otherwise porous defense, picking off five passes and forcing four fumbles. That knack for playmaking is priceless.
The Bills need Byrd if they hope to finally make some waves in the AFC East.
5. Carolina Panthers: Re-Sign Defensive Tackle Dwan Edwards
Despite a disappointing season, the Carolina Panthers did make significant improvement on defense. Tackle Dwan Edwards was a key reason why.
The eighth-year pro helped solidify the interior of Carolina's defensive line. He turned a major area of weakness in 2011 into a strength.
The Panther would be wise to retain the savvy veteran, who had 52 tackles, six sacks and one forced fumble. Head coach Ron Rivers seems primed to finally deliver a defense good enough to complement the play of Cam Newton. Edwards needs to be a part of that unit.
6. Chicago Bears: Sign Left Tackle Jake Long
The Chicago Bears simply can't pass up another chance to finally fix their woeful offensive line. Signing left tackle Jake Long is the best move they can make.
Jay Cutler has simply been savaged by defenses thanks to dreadful pass protection. Many of the problems have come at left tackle.
Long is the kind of high-caliber blindside protector Cutler needs. The Bears have $13.3 million in cap space. So they should be able to afford him.
The Bears have to get Long. If not, they will remain on the edge of playoff contention thanks to an offensive line that resembles a revolving door.
7. Cincinnati Bengals: Re-Sign Defensive End Michael Johnson
Finding the right wide receiver to pair with A.J. Green might seem to be the Cincinnati Bengals' top priority. However, retaining the core strength of their strong defense should come first.
That defense relies on a powerful front four. So retaining defensive end Michael Johnson should be the Bengals' first concern.
He is a prolific pass-rusher who had 11.5 sacks in 2012. He is also versatile enough to lend true flexibility to coordinator Mike Zimmer's schemes. The 25-year-old is a player on the rise. Head coach Marvin Lewis needs him to reach his peak in Cincinnati.
Linebackers Manny Lawson and Rey Maualuga are also on the market. However, the Bengals have $55.1 million in cap space, so they can afford to give Johnson the deal he merits.
8. Cleveland Browns: Sign a 3-4 Pass-Rusher Like Antwan Barnes
If they hope to make a quick transition to a 3-4 defense, the Cleveland Browns need outside pass-rushers. San Diego Chargers' rush end Antwan Barnes could be a perfect fit.
A pure pass-rusher, Barnes registered 11 sacks in 2011, but dipped to only three this season. However, the ex-Florida International star is still quick and rangy enough to consistently collapse the edge of the pocket.
New defensive coordinator Ray Horton needs that kind of regular rush threat to make his schemes work in Cleveland. The Browns have plenty of cap room and should be able to persuade this former Baltimore Raven to return to the AFC North.
9. Dallas Cowboys: Sign Defensive End Robert Geathers
To make Monte Kiffin's defense work, the Dallas Cowboys need a 4-3 pass-rusher to play opposite DeMarcus Ware. The problem is that they are $18.2 million over the cap, thanks to last year's league-imposed penalty.
Cincinnati Bengals veteran Robert Geathers could provide a nice solution to the problem. The 29-year-old is a solid 4-3 veteran, with good size for the position at 6'3", 280 pounds
Geathers could be deemed expendable if the Bengals use their resources to retain Michael Johnson, Manny Lawson and Rey Maualuga. He is an unheralded but capable player the Cowboys might land on the cheap.
10. Denver Broncos: Re-Sign Left Tackle Ryan Clady
Protecting Peyton Manning is the key for the Denver Broncos. That means keeping the services of accomplished left tackle Ryan Clady.
The smart and ultra-athletic blocker is arguably the best offensive lineman in this year's free-agent class. Clady is sure to have his pick of offers, but staying with the fully loaded AFC West champions could be his best bet.
The Broncos have decent cap space and should have the fiscal power to keep Clady in Denver.
11. Detroit Lions: Sign Safety Kenny Phillips
Is there ever a time when the Detroit Lions don't need to fix their secondary? Believe it or not, this actually might be the offseason when head coach Jim Schwartz can solve the problem.
It would require a move for safety Kenny Phillips. The New York Giants defensive back would provide a major boost for the safety-challenged Lions.
Detroit is $1.1 million over the cap. That's a figure that rules out a move for the likes of Dashon Goldson and Jairus Byrd. Phillips would be a great alternative.
12. Green Bay Packers: Sign Safety Dashon Goldson
The Green Bay Packers are another NFC North team in need of help at safety. Their best solution would be to boost the position by weakening a top conference rival at the same time.
With $7.1 million in cap space, the Packers should move for Dashon Goldson. The San Francisco 49ers ace will command major money on the market and for good reason.
He is certainly worth the investment by the Packers. They relied on the aging Charles Woodson to fill gaps at safety this season. An athletic playmaker like Goldson would be invaluable in Green Bay's zone-blitz defensive schemes.
13. Houston Texans: Re-Sign Safety Glover Quin
The Houston Texans are well-stocked on both sides of the ball. However, they must retain the services of versatile defensive back Glover Quin.
He became a vital member of the Houston defense in 2012, thanks to his scheme flexibility. Quin plays the hybrid linebacker role in coordinator Wade Phillips' dime fronts.
He's effective covering receivers in the slot and on underneath routes. He's consistent as well as versatile. He had 85 tackles, a sack, intercepted two passes and forced a pair of fumbles.
Phillips needs Quin.
14. Indianapolis Colts: Sign Nose Tackle Isaac Sopoaga
The Indianapolis Colts need to improve their defense. That means finding the right nose tackle for their 3-4 front. They won't do better than Isaac Sopoaga in this year's free-agent market.
The veteran man-mountain is the ideal linchpin for a three-man line. Sopoaga is unlikely to get one last lucrative deal from the San Francisco 49ers. However, he would find favorable terms with the Colts, who have $46 million in cap space.
The Niners spend a lot of time in nickel fronts and limit Sopoaga to goal-line situations or heavy-run opponents. Yet the 6'2", 330-pounder could instantly fix a Colts run defense that ranked 29th in 2012.
15. Jacksonville Jaguars: Re-Sign Cornerback Derek Cox
New Jacksonville Jaguars head coach Gus Bradley will be counted on to restore a tough defense. The key will be re-signing promising young cornerback Derek Cox.
The 26-year-old was a rare source of optimism for the 2-14 Jaguars in 2012. He had 60 tackles, one forced fumble and four interceptions.
Cox can be a vital member of the kind of aggressive, man-coverage schemes Bradley favored with the Seattle Seahawks.
16. Kansas City Chiefs: Re-Sign Offensive Tackle Branden Albert
Andy Reid faces a tough task rebuilding the slumping Kansas City Chiefs. That task can be made easier by re-signing Branden Albert.
The fifth-year pro has developed into a quality offensive tackle. He is an exceptional run-blocker and smart and athletic in pass protection.
No matter who is under center for Reid's Chiefs in 2013, a strong offensive line will be crucial, making it imperative that Reid keep Albert in Kansas City.
17. Miami Dolphins: Re-Sign Defensive Tackle Randy Starks
Re-signing underrated defensive tackle Randy Starks would be the best move the Miami Dolphins could make. He flourished thanks to Miami's switch to a 4-3 scheme.
He was a key figure along the interior of their new-look defensive line. His presence ensured the continued effectiveness of edge pass-rusher Cameron Wake.
The Dolphins have a strong foundation on defense. It starts on the inside of their front four with Starks.
18. Minnesota Vikings: Re-Sign Fullback Jerome Felton
Jerome Felton played a key role in helping Adrian Peterson eclipse 2,000 rushing yards and deserved his first Pro Bowl nod. The Minnesota Vikings would be smart to quickly re-sign the punishing lead blocker.
The combination of a powerful offensive line and Felton's bruising 248-pound frame created massive running lanes for the backs. The journeyman fullback appears to have found the right offense with the Vikings.
Felton's fourth pro team shouldn't make the mistake of overlooking his importance to its ground attack.
19. New England Patriots: Sign Defensive End Cliff Avril
The New England Patriots aren't known for making high-profile moves in free agency. However, Bill Belichick should revise that policy and add Detroit Lions pass-rusher Cliff Avril to his defense.
The Patriots need another pass-rusher to complement promising youngster Chandler Jones. Avril certainly fits the bill. He has 20.5 sacks in the last two seasons.
He is likely to hit the open market and the Patriots have the money to make a deal. Belichick has been stung in the past when he has invested big in the likes of Adalius Thomas.
However, as long as Belichick resists adding quality reinforcements to his defense, that fourth Super Bowl will continue to elude him.
20. New Orleans Saints: Re-Sign Center Brian De La Puente
The New Orleans Saints are over the cap and don't have many options in this year's market. Retaining center Brian De La Puente would be their best move. He is a capable young anchorman who started every game last season.
Drew Brees' offensive line relies on precision and continuity. Those attributes can only be helped by the continued presence of the player who called signals at the heart of the line in 2012.
21. New York Giants: Re-Sign Wide Receiver Victor Cruz
The New York Giants have a few pressing needs in free agency. However, re-signing wide receiver Victor Cruz is undoubtedly the greatest.
Cruz recorded his second straight 1,000-yard season in 2012. He is a vital source of big plays for Big Blue's offense and a key to their hopes of competing in the NFC East.
Agreeing a new deal with the G-Men won't be easy. NFL.com's Kareem Copeland recently reported that Giants owner John Mara is unimpressed by Cruz's lavish demands.
That was followed by a second report from Copeland, claiming the Giants see retaining Hakeem Nicks as the greater priority. A dangerous game of brinkmanship appears to be beginning, setting up an arduous and protracted negotiation.
22. New York Jets: Re-Sign Tight End Dustin Keller
If, and it may be a big if for some, Mark Sanchez remains the starting quarterback, the New York Jets must keep his favorite receiver. That means re-signing tight end Dustin Keller.
Limited by injuries, the reliable pass-catcher made only 28 receptions in 2012. However, Keller has been a consistent outlet during most of Sanchez's otherwise troubled career.
He is the kind of smart, underneath receiver who new offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg will need to make his West Coast-style offense work.
23. Oakland Raiders: Re-Sign Tight End Brandon Myers
The Oakland Raiders have many areas of need, but tight end isn't one of them. That is, if they can re-sign Brandon Myers. He enjoyed a productive season in 2012 and is a key weapon in the Raiders' passing game.
Myers hauled in 79 passes in 2012 for 806 yards and four scores. The 27-year-old is a classic in-line tight end, with the smarts to exploit zones underneath and the size to be an effective run-blocker. That kind of versatility is invaluable.
The Raiders need players like Myers if they are ever going to return to contention.
24. Philadelphia Eagles: Sign Linebacker Erin Henderson
Despite trading for DeMeco Ryans last offseason, the Philadelphia Eagles are still weak at linebacker. They can solve that problem with a move for Erin Henderson.
The youthful outside linebacker has become a budding star during the last two seasons with the Minnesota Vikings. In 2012, Henderson had 80 tackles and three sacks.
He is the kind of capable, athletic, all-around linebacker the Eagles need to help their defense return to past glories.
25. Pittsburgh Steelers: Re-Sign Running Back Jonathan Dwyer
The Pittsburgh Steelers have three running backs set to hit free agency. If they choose to prioritize re-signing one, it should be young bruiser Jonathan Dwyer.
The 23-year-old pounded his way to 623 rushing yards this season. He averaged four yards a carry and gave the Steelers' offense the power dimension it needed.
Rashard Mendenhall has become too unreliable. And while Isaac Redman offers useful versatility, it is Dwyer who can act as the fulcrum of Pittsburgh's ground game for years to come.
26. San Diego Chargers: Re-Sign Cornerback Antoine Cason
Keeping an improving defense together should be the priority for the San Diego Chargers. Re-signing aggressive cornerback Antoine Cason would be an excellent first step.
He has become a useful press corner in recent seasons. Since 2010, he has defensed 45 passes and intercepted eight passes.
The Chargers need Cason to keep an underrated secondary intact.
27. San Francisco 49ers: Re-Sign Tight End Delanie Walker
Like many teams on this list, retention is the best policy for the San Francisco 49ers. Keeping tight end Delanie Walker could be a key offseason move.
Walker is a vital component of San Francisco's offense. He is an athletic and punishing blocker, just ask Ed Reed. Walker is also an underrated and productive receiver.
Walker versatility is useful, but his knowledge of Greg Roman's offense is invaluable. That makes keeping the seven-year jack-of-all-trades the best move the 49ers can make in 2013 free agency.
28. Seattle Seahawks: Sign Wide Receiver Dwayne Bowe
Russell Wilson deserves better wide receivers. That's why the Seattle Seahawks should make the move to sign Dwayne Bowe once free agency begins.
Bowe has wanted a move away from the Kansas City Chiefs for some time. The Seattle Seahawks represent the perfect destination.
Bowe would be joining a playoff contender on the rise, but one in need of a go-to wide receiver. Bowe fits the bill with the size, speed and excellent hands to quickly become Wilson's premier target.
The Seahawks are $18.6 million under the cap and can give Bowe the kind of contract he wants.
29. St. Louis Rams: Sign Wide Receiver Greg Jennings
Signing Greg Jennings would be the perfect move for the St. Louis Rams. Jennings is exactly the kind of experienced and dependable go-to receiver quarterback Sam Bradford needs.
The 29-year-old is still capable of exposing a defense in a variety of ways. He is a brilliant route runner and retains the speed and instincts to work deep.
The Rams have been without a legitimate stretch-the-field wideout for far too long. They have a young, improving defense and need greater scoring potential for Year 2 of Jeff Fisher's rebuild.
30. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Re-Sign Defensive End Michael Bennett
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers should do all they can to keep stout and versatile defensive end Michael Bennett. He is a key member of their tough front four and will certainly be coveted if he hits the open market.
Bennett notched nine sacks last season, a career high. He is also exceptional against the run. He was in on 41 tackles for the NFL's top-ranked run defense in 2012.
The 6'4", 274-pound rising star is a complete 4-3 defensive end. Keeping him will allow the Bucs' defense to continue the improvement it made this season.
31. Tennessee Titans: Sign Defensive Tackle Alan Branch
The Tennessee Titans have been trying to add size to the interior of their defensive line for the last two years. That makes Alan Branch an excellent free agent for the Titans to target this offseason.
The hulking defensive tackle is the mammoth linchpin in the middle that coordinator Jerry Gray has been seeking. At 6'6" and 325 pounds, Branch would help solidify Tennessee's 24th-ranked run defense.
The Seahawks have a deep line rotation that might make Branch expendable. If they do that, the Titans must pounce.
32. Washington Redskins: Re-Sign Guard Kory Lichtensteiger
Thanks to last year's NFL mandated salary cap penalty, the Washington Redskins have few options in free agency. Therefore, retention could be the best policy for 2012's NFC East champions.
Left guard Kory Lichtensteiger should be first in line to be offered new terms. He is a vital part of the Redskins' zone-blocking schemes.
Lichtensteiger is particularly valuable in the running game. The Redskins direct a lot of their runs to the left side behind Lichtensteiger and tackle Trent Williams.
Washington's dominant ground game suffers when Lichtensteiger's zone-blocking expertise is missing. Keeping the nimble-footed interior lineman is the Redskins' best move in free agency.