Soon to be free agent defensive end Dwight Freeney.
In the NFL, timing is everything. Whether it's a quarterback's chemistry with a wide receiver, a defensive lineman's attempt to jump the snap count or even an offensive coordinator's decision to throw the deep ball, the ability to time one's decision at the exact right moment can determine the victor of any given matchup.
The same goes for free agency, as the timing of a player's opportunities on the free-agent market can either result in a long-term mega-contract or become a frustrating endeavor ending in disappointment.
Every offseason, there are big-money contracts given out on the free-agent market to players who under-produce the next season. Buffalo Bills outside linebacker Mario Williams and Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha are just two recent examples. More often than not, teams that attempt to fill major voids on their roster with free-agent acquisitions end up with underperforming rosters and serious salary-cap issues.
Around the league, general managers are becoming more privy with their blueprints on how to build a Super Bowl-caliber roster. Find key pieces in the draft, fill minor holes with moderately priced free agents and don't overpay for big names. In the NFL, scheme is just as important as talent. It's hard to accurately evaluate how a player will perform after moving teams, which makes giving out big contracts incredibly risky.
Many NFL players are going to find this out the hard way during the 2013 offseason. Every one of the following players will find a team to play on next season. However, don't count on them receiving the gargantuan contracts they will undoubtedly be seeking.
New York Giants wideout Victor Cruz performing his signature salsa routine.
New York Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz is a restricted free agent this offseason, which means the Giants have the right to match any offer the star wideout receives on the open market.
Although Cruz has made his desire for a long-term contract public, ESPN recently reported that the Giants will prioritize re-signing fellow wide receiver Hakeem Nicks this offseason. By re-signing Nicks, Cruz's chances of getting the contract he desires in 2013 diminish exponentially.
Assuming the Giants place a first-round tender on Cruz, any team that signs him will have to give up a first-round draft pick to get him. Very few (if any) teams are going to give Cruz a No. 1 wide receiver contract and surrender their top draft pick at the same time. If a general manager is willing to give the Giants a first-round pick for Cruz, there's a strong likelihood that Big Blue will let their salsa-dancing sensation walk.
After cutting Michael Boley, the Giants are still a projected $1.4 million over the salary cap heading into 2013. It's unlikely the team will be willing to give Cruz the contract he wants. However, with the the immense price every other team must pay to acquire him, Cruz's options are extremely limited.
Cruz can't hold out for a prolonged period of time, because then he does not accrue a year toward free agency. He will not get offered a contract commiserate with his production level, so it's likely he will have to settle for a contract below his true market value.
Of course, Cruz could just sign his tender, play 2013 for $2.879 million and hit unrestricted free agency in 2014. However, he would risk injury to himself without any significant financial security.
Obviously, Victor Cruz will find a home this offseason. He's just going to go through a significant reality check before he does. The Giants hold all the cards right now. If he does not sign for the price the team says he is worth, there's a good chance he will have to wait another year to cash in.
Atlanta Falcons cornerback Brent Grimes.
After missing five games in 2011 due to a knee injury, Atlanta Falcons cornerback Brent Grimes played in just one game this season, as he tore his Achilles' in Week 1. Grimes will turn 30 before the start of the 2013 season, and it's unlikely the former All-Pro is going to find a way to return to the Falcons.
Without Grimes in the lineup, the Falcons allowed the fewest touchdown passes in the NFL (14). Furthermore, opposing quarterbacks posted a rating of just 77.1 against the Dirty Birds. The Falcons have enough talent in their defensive backfield to win football games. They don't need to pay an aging, injury-prone Grimes and hope he returns to form.
Grimes is going to have to accept a one-year "prove it" contract this offseason. He has the potential to come back and make the Pro Bowl in 2013, but no team is going to give him a multi-year offer of any significance. If Grimes is willing to put his pride aside and accept that notion, someone will take a flier on him. However, right now Grimes is damaged goods until he proves otherwise.
New York Giants defensive end Osi Umenyiora.
Indianapolis Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney and New York Giants defensive end Osi Umenyiora will hit free agency in this offseason. However, for similar reasons, both will have issues finding the contracts they desire.
First off, there are several younger, more athletic defensive ends on the free-agent market in 2013. Michael Johnson of the Cincinnati Bengals, Cliff Avril of the Detroit Lions and Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive end Michael Bennett will all be seeking significant contracts this offseason.
It's likely that by the time teams are done giving out significant contracts to defensive linemen, Umenyiora and Freeney will still be out in the cold.
Secondly, both players are on the wrong wide of 30 and under-produced in 2012. Freeney's sack numbers have declined every year since 2009, and he looked uncomfortable as a 3-4 linebacker this season. Umenyiora was unable to generate more than six sacks with Jason Pierre-Paul and Justin Tuck lining up on the other side of him.
Both players are aging and under-achieved in 2013. Both are entering a market filled with competition, and both will likely have to wait until several other players sign before they are even negotiated with. When that time comes, it's not likely either will receive the big-money contract they are expecting.
New England Patriots wideout Wes Welker.
New England Patriots wide receiver Wes Welker is a five-time Pro Bowler who has established himself as one of the premier slot receivers in the NFL. He's been a consistent force on a Patriots offense that has allowed the team to remain a perennial Super Bowl contender for the better part of the last decade.
If Welker had hit free agency two or three seasons ago, he would have been a prime candidate to cash in on a No. 1 wide receiver contract.
However, Welker has had little success in his attempts to receive a long-term contract in New England. He's going to be 32 next season, and any team that does sign him will be bringing in a guy on the down-slide of his career and who has never been productive without the likes of Tom Brady throwing him the ball.
Furthermore, Welker's value will be undercut but Danny Amendola's presence on the free-agent market as well. Any team in the market for Welker will surely look at Amendola as well. Both are quick, undersized slot receivers that have proven productive. The difference between them is that Amendola is younger and willing to play for less than Welker.
Welker has all the statistics and credentials to want to be paid like a top wide receiver this offseason. However, with Amendola undercutting the market for him, it's likely Welker has a hard time finding a deal that he's comfortable accepting.