Unlike the perception surrounding the 2013 draft class, the impending crop of NFL free agents is stacked with game-changing offensive playmakers. But some are riskier investments than others, and it is worth distinguishing which skills players are worthiest of a lucrative, long-term contract.
Whether it be because of injury, older age or various other issues with their previous teams, certain free agents are better bets than the rest of the bunch to thrive in their new respective destinations.
With the action set to begin on March 9, here is a breakdown of those who should cash in the biggest this offseason.
Wes Welker, WR
The New England Patriots have continued to avoid committing to Welker for a multi-year deal, which is hard to believe considering his consistently outstanding play for the franchise.
ESPN's Trey Wingo highlighted just how brilliant Welker has been since arriving in Foxboro:
trey wingo @wingoz
say what you want about Wes Welker.. but since coming to the Patriots in 2007, has 672 receptions.. an average of 112 a season2/8/2013, 5:39:38 PM
The only year Welker didn't reach the 100-catch mark was in 2010, when he was coming off of a torn ACL that occurred late in the previous season.
Any concerns about that setback have to be water under the bridge at this point. As terrific as Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is, it's difficult to imagine how his career would have unfolded had he not had Welker at his disposal.
New England can still slap Welker with the franchise tag, but that seems unlikely to happen yet again. Any team in the market for a wide receiver would be crazy not to consider Welker, whose prowess in the slot is unmatched—and creates all sorts of opportunities for the players around him.
While the Patriots aren't likely to let him go, head coach Bill Belichick has been as open as anyone to letting go of big-name players in favor of building toward the future.
If Welker's time with the Pats is in fact over, look for another team with plenty of cap space to give him an offer he can't refuse.
Rashard Mendenhall, RB
Running backs are an increasingly dangerous proposition as far as long-term deals are concerned, but Mendenhall rises to the top in this year's pool.
Since the Pittsburgh Steelers are over the cap, it means Mendenhall's time is likely up with the team that drafted him No. 25 overall in 2008.
In light of his falling-out toward the end of the year, in which he didn't show up for a Week 14 game after being deactivated (h/t Steelers.com), the likelihood that he stays a Steeler has further diminished.
The upside to Mendenhall is that he will only be 26 years old by the time the 2013 season kicks off. Not only is he a punishing runner between the tackles, but he also has the speed to get to the edge. Furthermore, he has shown the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield—also a plus.
A frustrating 2012 campaign saw Mendenhall rehabbing from a torn ACL, which was further stymied by an Achilles injury. Mendenhall definitely has a history of struggling to stay on the field, which would hypothetically scare teams away.
The Steelers also had a very shaky offensive line, which didn't allow Mendenhall to showcase his talents adequately.
There is no doubt that Mendenhall is the most complete back available. Not many No. 1-caliber options are on the market, which should only help him gain leverage in negotiations.
Dwayne Bowe, WR
Other than the broken ribs that sidelined Bowe for the last three games of the season (h/t Pro Football Talk), there isn't much to be concerned about health-wise for the Kansas City Chiefs star.
A troubled start to Bowe's career has long since been redeemed, highlighted by his 15 touchdown catches in 2010. He has continually played at a high level, and his loyalty to a recently putrid Chiefs team should bode well for his contract prospects—whether it be in Kansas City or elsewhere.
Andy Reid and the new regime bring the organization instant credibility given Reid's prior success with the Philadelphia Eagles. However, KC's quarterback situation is somewhat of a nightmare, and that might be a deal-breaker for Bowe.
Bowe didn't create any drama, despite the Chiefs' 2-14 record, and still led the team with 59 catches for 801 yards and three touchdowns, even with the dire situation under center. That resulted in him putting on as impressive of an audition for a potential new suitor as any wideout available.
The Chiefs have only made the playoffs once in Bowe's six seasons, and he could very well flee to greener pastures if the price is right.
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