Grading the Strength of Every Position in 2013 NFL Free Agency
We don't yet have a clear picture of 2013's NFL free-agent class. Teams are still deciding which players they plan on making cap casualties. However, there's a nice list of players who we expect to see on the open market.
Teams looking to improve at wide receiver, offensive tackle and cornerback have a real chance to land an impact player. Other positions don't nearly have the depth or top-end talent as those positions.
Check out the rest of the slideshow to see how each position rates this offseason.
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Top Free Agents: Joe Flacco, Matt Moore, Tarvaris Jackson, Jason Campbell, David Garrard, Josh Johnson, Chase Daniel, Brian Hoyer
As it stands, the quarterback group lacks the type of talent to really impact the offseason. Joe Flacco is certain to be back with the Baltimore Ravens. This leaves only backups and journeymen as options.
The most intriguing quarterbacks on this list are Chase Daniel and Brian Hoyer. Both are younger quarterbacks who haven't been given a legitimate chance to fight for a starting job. But both have learned behind two great quarterbacks in Tom Brady and Drew Brees.
It's possible that a team like the Arizona Cardinals or Jacksonville Jaguars could bring one of these two in to compete for a starting job.
Teams looking for a veteran quarterback with starting experience can turn to Jason Campbell. His upside is limited, but he's more than a solid option. He would fit as a spot starter for one of the teams that select one of the raw quarterback prospects in the upcoming draft.
This free-agency class will also become a little more interesting if both Alex Smith and Michael Vick are released.
Running Back: C+
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Top Free Agents: Steven Jackson (player option), Reggie Bush, Rashard Mendenhall, Cedric Benson, Shonn Greene, Bernard Scott, Felix Jones, Peyton Hillis, Ahmad Bradshaw, Danny Woodhead, Rashad Jennings, La'Rod Stephens-Howling, Justin Forsett, Javon Ringer, Ronnie Brown, Tim Hightower, Kevin Smith, Brian Leonard, Mike Goodson, Darius Reynaud
This year's running back group features several intriguing players. However, most of the big names are players on the back end of their career. Steven Jackson, Reggie Bush and Cedric Benson will need to be part of a two-back system to be effective.
Of that group, Bush has the best opportunity to be a real difference-maker. He still has that excellent explosiveness and has improved his ability to run between the tackles. Maybe the Dallas Cowboys would take a flyer on Bush to play the role Felix Jones never filled.
It'll be interesting to see where the recently released Ahmad Bradshaw lands. There's no doubting his talent, but he comes with real red flags due to his injuries. The same can be said about Rashard Mendenhall.
This group gets a lower grade because there isn't that feature back available. However, several of these players will make an impact next season.
Wide Receiver: B+
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Top Free Agents: Dwayne Bowe, Mike Wallace, Greg Jennings, Wes Welker, Danny Amendola, Brian Hartline, Julian Edelman, Donnie Avery, Jerome Simpson, Kevin Ogletree, Austin Collie, Josh Cribbs, Domenik Hixon, Ramses Barden, Brandon Stokley, Brandon Gibson, Mohamed Massaquoi, Brandon Tate, Ted Ginn, Devery Henderson, Louis Murphy, Chaz Schilens, Steve Smith (STL), Kassim Osgood
The wide receiver group is the most talented position in this year's free-agent class. Players like Dwayne Bowe, Mike Wallace and Greg Jennings all have the ability to be the top receiver on their new team. There's even upside potential with guys like Ramses Barden, Mohamed Massaquoi and Louis Murphy.
However, it'll be important to keep an eye on the franchise-tag process. Several of the top free agents in this group could come off the market because of the tag. The most likely candidates include Bowe, Wes Welker and Danny Amendola.
Teams such as the Miami Dolphins, Buffalo Bills, Seattle Seahawks and Minnesota Vikings will be keeping a close eye on this position.
Tight End: B-
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Top Free Agents: Tony Gonzalez, Fred Davis, Dustin Keller, Jared Cook, Martellus Bennett, Brandon Myers, James Casey, Dallas Clark, Ben Watson, Anthony Fasano, Delanie Walker
The tight end free-agent group might not be deep, but it boasts a lot of talent. Teams looking to upgrade this position could chose between high-upside players or seasoned veterans. The biggest theme here surrounds a group of players who need a change of scenery.
Fred Davis, Dustin Keller, Jared Cook and Martellus Bennett could all benefit from changing teams.
Keller is the most intriguing name on this list. His numbers don't look overly impressive, but that's because he was forced to deal with inconsistent quarterback play. Getting away from Mark Sanchez will do wonders for his career. A team like the Chicago Bears could offer Keller the platform to make the most of his talents.
It'll be interesting to see where Brandon Myers lands. He's someone with an unproven track record, but this past season was a major highlight to his career.
Tony Gonzalez is still mulling retirement, but if he decides to return, it will be with the Atlanta Falcons. So this means he really isn't on the market.
Offensive Tackle: B
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Top Free Agents: Ryan Clady, Andre Smith, Branden Albert, Jake Long, Sebastian Vollmer, Will Beatty, Gosder Cherilus, Phil Loadholt, Jermon Bushrod, Sam Baker, King Dunlap, Bryant McKinnie, Tyler Polumbus, Sean Locklear, Barry Richardson, Brandon Keith, D'Anthony Batiste, Demetress Bell
It's not often that capable left tackles see the open free-agent market. This position is way too important for a team risking the loss of a potential starter. However, teams with a need at the position will have a rare opportunity this offseason.
Even with the high likelihood of Ryan Clady staying with the Denver Broncos, there's as many as 11 players with extensive starting experience. The biggest name on the list is Jake Long, who's expected to be let go by the Miami Dolphins.
Long has had a very successful career, but age and injuries are starting to take their toll. He'll also be looking for a big-money contract based on his past success. This is an issue because those red flags will make teams hesitant to shell out that type of money.
While Long is the biggest name on the list, he isn't the only talented player. Andre Smith, Brandon Albert, Will Beatty and Phil Loadholt have all shown a lot of promise. There will be a strong market for each of these players.
Because of the importance of the position, look for a lot of money to be thrown at these guys.
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Top Free Agents: Andy Levitre, Donald Thomas, Brandon Moore, Louis Vasquez, Lance Louis, Eben Britton, Todd McClure, Dan Koppen, Brad Meester
The only really interesting player at the guard position is Andy Levitre. He's had a very strong career with the Buffalo Bills and would represent an upgrade for many teams. It'll be interesting to watch the negotiations, as it's hard to imagine the Bills letting Levitre walk.
A team that feels it's close to making a Super Bowl run could look at Brandon Moore. He possesses a ton of experience and is coming off a solid season. However, his age will limit his overall market.
Lance Louis' market will also be limited because he's coming off a late-season ACL injury.
4-3 Defensive End: C+
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Top Free Agents: Cliff Avril, Osi Umenyiora, Israel Idonije, Dwight Freeney, Michael Johnson, Michael Bennett, Matt Shaughnessy, Juqua Parker, Darryl Tapp, Kyle Vanden Bosch, Frostee Rucker
Teams looking to make an upgrade at the defensive end position will have to chose between aging veterans and unproven players.
Osi Umenyiora and Dwight Freeney have a proven track record, but they are dealing with age and injury issues. Adding either only makes sense on a short-term incentive-laden deal. The Atlanta Falcons could be an ideal landing spot for either player.
Cliff Avril, Michael Johnson and Michael Bennett have all flashed a ton of potential, but none of them have a proven track record. Giving one of these guys a big-money deal will be a risky decision. However, the importance of the position means we'll see someone take that risk.
3-4 Defensive End (5-Technique): D+
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Top Free Agents: Mike DeVito, Arthur Jones, Kenyon Coleman, Matt Shaughnessy, Jason Jones, Richard Seymour, Glenn Dorsey, Ricky Jean-Francois, Chris Canty
The one player in this group who might be set for a big payday is Arthur Jones. His strong performance in the Super Bowl will make him an intriguing option for several teams. The issue surrounding him, though, is his extensive injury history.
Outside of Jones, this position also boasts a few solid veteran options. Richard Seymour, Jason Jones and Mike DeVito have all produced over the course of their careers. Teams who feel they're close to a Super Bowl run should take a look at this threesome.
Glenn Dorsey will receive some attention, but he needs to look for an opportunity as a three-technique. He just never found his grove in the 3-4 system.
Defensive Tackle: C+
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Top Free Agents: Henry Melton, Randy Starks, Jason Jones, Richard Seymour, Desmond Bryant, Terrance Knighton, Glenn Dorsey, Corey Williams, Isaac Sopoaga, Spencer Johnson, Casey Hampton, Ricky Jean-Francois, Roy Miller, Alan Branch, Sedrick Ellis, Chris Canty
It's possible that Henry Melton is the most impactful free agent available this offseason. He's coming off back-to-back seasons in which he reached the six-sack mark. That's an impressive number from an interior defensive lineman.
His value only increases because he's 26 years old and in the prime of his career. The Chicago Bears understand his value to the team, and it's unlikely they'll let him see the open market. However, if they fail to strike a deal, a number of teams will make a push for Melton.
Teams looking for a space eater will turn their attention to Randy Starks. He had a very productive season with the Miami Dolphins and is looking to cash in on that success.
Glenn Dorsey is also a name to keep an eye on during the free-agency process. He has never lived up to his potential, but that might have to do with playing out of position as a five-technique. Look for a defense that runs a 4-3 system to give Dorsey a shot at the three-technique.
4-3 Outside Linebacker: D+
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Top Free Agents: Daryl Smith, Philip Wheeler, Erin Henderson, Thomas Howard, Manny Lawson, Justin Durant, DeAndre Levy, Nick Roach, Michael Boley
Philip Wheeler will be the most coveted traditional outside linebacker on the market. He's a quick and explosive player who led the Oakland Raiders in tackles this past season. Oakland surely wants to keep him, but the cap situation doesn't give the team much flexibility.
Teams like the Chicago Bears, New York Giants and Seattle Seahawks could be interested in bringing Wheeler on board.
The rest of this free-agency class features solid starters, but no real standouts. Players like Justin Durant and Nick Roach could start for a lot of teams and provide above-average production.
3-4 Outside Linebacker: B-
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Top Free Agents: Paul Kruger, Anthony Spencer, Connor Barwin, Shaun Phillips, Victor Butler, Antwan Barnes
Each of the top four players at this position will have a difficult time actually hitting the open market. Paul Kruger might have the best chance, as the Baltimore Ravens find themselves in a tough cap situation. If he hits the market, a ton of teams will be interested in his services.
The same can be said for Anthony Spencer, Connor Barwin and Shaun Phillips. Their ability to generate pressure on the quarterback is a highly sought-after skill set.
The value of this position continues to grow because more and more teams are switching to a 3-4 alignment.
Spencer is in a terrific situation, as he recorded a career-high 11 sacks in a contract year. He's also a versatile player capable of playing in either a 3-4 or 4-3 system. Look for him to get one of the larger contracts this offseason.
Middle Linebacker: D+
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Top Free Agents: Rey Maualuga, Brian Urlacher, Brad Jones, Dannell Ellerbe, Jasper Brinkley
There's not much to get excited about with the middle linebacker free-agent class. This group includes Brian Urlacher, who has lost several steps, and Rey Maualuga, whose inconsistency significantly drops his value.
The one player who generates any type of excitement is Dannell Ellerbe. Ray Lewis got all the media attention this season, but it was Ellerbe who kept the linebacking corps playing well. His ability to step up when both Lewis and Jameel McClain went down with injuries played a key role in the Baltimore Ravens' Super Bowl run.
Baltimore is in a tough cap situation and will likely be unable to match a competitive offer for Ellerbe. It may actually come down to a decision on whether the Ravens want to keep either Ellerbe or Paul Kruger.
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Top Free Agents: Aqib Talib, Brent Grimes, Sean Smith, Cary Williams, Derek Cox, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Mike Jenkins, Keenan Lewis, Quentin Jammer, Leodis McKelvin, Kyle Arrington, Tracy Porter, Antoine Cason
With the NFL increasingly becoming a more pass-heavy league, the value of defensive backs also grows. Several guys on the above list are set to earn some major cash.
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie will be among those looking to receive the biggest contract. However, his struggles with the Philadelphia Eagles might make that a difficult task.
The main issue for Rodgers-Cromartie isn't a loss in talent, but problems fitting into the Eagles system. A change of scenery might be what he needs to get his career back on track.
The Atlanta Falcons have a tough decision to make regarding Brent Grimes. He's coming of a major injury in a year where he was slapped with the franchise tag. It's unlikely the Falcons will consider tagging him again. This means they'll need to work out a long-term extension.
Grimes might find it easier to land that long-term deal with a team in a better cap situation.
Aqib Talib and Sean Smith, meanwhile, are risky players looking for big-money contracts. Both have the talent to make a major impact, but they could also fail to live up to their contract.
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Top Free Agents: Jairus Byrd, Dashon Goldson, Ed Reed, William Moore, Louis Delmas, Glover Quin, Kenny Phillips, LaRon Landry, Pat Chung
Over the past three seasons, William Moore has generated a total of 16 turnovers for the Atlanta Falcons. He's one of the top free-agent safeties and is the most likely to hit the open market. Moore's ability to create turnovers is a skill set that teams value.
Even though the Baltimore Ravens are in a tough cap situation, it's hard to imagine them allowing Ed Reed to sign elsewhere. He's now the face of that defense with Ray Lewis making the decision to retire.
Keep an eye on Kenny Phillips; he's a highly talented player whose value is lowered by his injury history. He could sign an incentive-laden deal and make a major impact next season.
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Top Free Agents: Jason Hanson, Rob Bironas, Lawrence Tynes, Mike Nugent, Steven Hauschka, Phil Dawson, Billy Cundiff, Nick Folk, Nate Kaeding, Ryan Longwell, Neil Rackers, Josh Brown, Shane Lechler, Pat McAfee, Dustin Colquitt
The name of note in this group is perennial All-Pro Shane Lechler. His run with the Oakland Raiders is likely to end because of their cap situation. A contending team who likes to play the field-position game will appreciate the value in Lechler.
Rob Bironas, meanwhile, has been a very productive and accurate kicker with the Tennessee Titans. However, the kicker merry-go-round really limits the value of this position. There just isn't much stability available for a kicker looking for work.
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Top Free Agents: Jerome Felton, Greg Jones, Ovie Mughelli, Earnest Graham, Moran Norris, Lousaka Polite, Corey McIntyre, Quinn Johnson, Brit Miller, Owen Schmitt
Any time you're the lead blocker for a running back who topped the 2,000-yard mark, you'll get a lot of attention on the free-agent market. Jerome Felton is looking to sign a long-term deal despite the fact the fullback position is slowly being phased out of the game.
It's tough to see a situation where Felton doesn't land back with the Minnesota Vikings. They're one of the few teams who still have a need for a traditional lead blocker.
The growing popularity of the pistol offense could start a rise in the popularity of this position. Watch any Washington Redskins game, and you'll see Darrel Young making key blocks for both Alfred Morris and Robert Griffin III.