Predicting Where These 10 NFL Free Agents Will Sign
In exactly one month's time, on March 12 at 4 p.m. ET, the free-agent period of the NFL's business season will begin, verifying the adage that there is no offseason.
This year's free-agent class is highlighted by an elite quarterback and a trio of wide receivers, but there is quality to be found throughout, as teams will aggressively seek to upgrade their rosters.
Here, I make early predictions on the destinations for 10 of the most sought-after NFL free agents, starting with the No. 1 overall player on the market...
But let's not get it twisted: Flacco isn't going anywhere. The Ravens will do whatever is necessary to keep their franchise quarterback under contract, whether that means slapping him with the franchise tag or offering a long-term contract in excess of $20 million per year.
For those still skeptical: Do you really believe that the outstanding Ravens front office, arguably the best in football, would let go of an elite quarterback in his prime?
Flacco will certainly be a Raven in 2013 and beyond.
PREDICTION: RE-SIGNS WITH BALTIMORE
One team that should definitely look into signing Bush is the Cincinnati Bengals.
Last year, BenJarvus Green-Ellis was a workhorse for the Bengals, carrying the ball 278 times at under four yards a carry. No other Cincinnati running back had over 36 rushing attempts.
Bush would provide a different dynamic out of the Bengals backfield, allowing offensive coordinator Jay Gruden to open up the field more for playmakers A.J. Green and Jermaine Gresham.
Bush will command a modest free-agent deal, and with the Bengals flush with salary cap space, this makes all the sense in the world.
PREDICTION: SIGNS WITH CINCINNATI
While Welker played under the franchise tag in 2012, I don't expect that to happen again in 2013. But it is hard to imagine the Patriots shelling out over $11 million next season to Welker when they still employ Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez and even Julian Edelman.
However, I believe Welker will re-sign in New England, likely for less money than he'd command elsewhere. He is a favorite target of Tom Brady and is firmly entrenched in Josh McDaniels' offense, and he will contend for the Super Bowl each and every year in Foxborough.
It makes sense for Welker to return to the Patriots, even for less money.
PREDICTION: RE-SIGNS WITH NEW ENGLAND
Free-agent wide receiver Mike Wallace is young and lightning-fast, a combination that will usually make you a rich man in the NFL. Wallace will strike a big payday, but it won't be with the team that drafted him, the Pittsburgh Steelers. Pittsburgh essentially opted to keep Antonio Brown instead of Wallace when it couldn't work out a contract with Wallace prior to last season.
Minnesota has the cap space and the glaring need. Wallace will get his big-money contract and play on an offense with MVP Adrian Peterson.
PREDICTION: SIGNS WITH MINNESOTA
Sometimes, it's the obvious option that makes the most sense. That is exactly the case this offseason with free-agent wide receiver Greg Jennings and the Miami Dolphins.
Jennings is likely done in Green Bay since the team won't pay to keep him around. The Dolphins have salary cap space and a gaping hole on their roster at wide receiver. They are also coached by Joe Philbin, Jennings' former offensive coordinator with the Packers.
Jennings will instantly become a security blanket for quarterback Ryan Tannehill and improve the Dolphins' moribund passing attack.
PREDICTION: SIGNS WITH MIAMI
Baltimore Ravens free-agent pass-rusher Paul Kruger put a significant amount of money in his wallet with an outstanding run in the 2012 postseason, completing a meteoric rise for a player about to hit the market.
There's no question that the Ravens would like to retain Kruger, but more pressing needs (signing Flacco and others) will prevent that from happening.
One team to watch is the Indianapolis Colts. Kruger terrorized Andrew Luck in the Ravens' wild-card victory over the Colts and would be a perfect fit in Chuck Pagano's defense. With Dwight Freeney uncertain to return to Indianapolis, the Kruger signing would be a no-brainer. And Colts general manager Ryan Grigson has the cash to make it happen.
PREDICTION: SIGNS WITH INDIANAPOLIS
One of the two top left tackles on the market (more on Jake Long later), Ryan Clady will command a large payday, and I expect it to come from the Denver Broncos.
Peyton Manning is obviously the key to Denver's success, and the Broncos simply must keep him upright and healthy. Clady is a significant cog in that process and one that John Elway and Denver cannot afford to lose.
I wouldn't be surprised if the Broncos hit Clady with the franchise tag, ensuring both a top salary for him in 2013 and that Manning's blind side will be in good hands once again.
PREDICTION: FRANCHISE-TAGGED BY DENVER
Even though two injury-plagued campaigns have lessened Jake Long's value on the open market, there's no question that the former No. 1 overall pick will get paid by a team in need of a left tackle.
While the Dolphins can hardly afford to lose a player of Long's caliber, I don't know if they'll shell out the $10 million per year that he'll likely command. They have pressing needs elsewhere, as they look to extend cornerback Sean Smith and must add talent at wide receiver.
A team that I view as a dark horse for Long's services is the San Diego Chargers. Last year, San Diego couldn't protect quarterback Philip Rivers, and that significantly contributed to a sour season for the Bolts.
While new Chargers general manager Tom Telesco doesn't have a ton of cap room available, I believe they'll figure out a way to bring Long to San Diego. He'd be a stabilizing force on an offensive line that needs one, and he would go a long way in helping new coach Mike McCoy successfully install his offensive system.
PREDICTION: SIGNS WITH SAN DIEGO
With the Dallas Cowboys set to transition to a 4-3 defense under new coordinator Monte Kiffin, it's highly unlikely that the team will bring back linebacker Anthony Spencer, who played last season under the franchise tag. Spencer is a classic 3-4 pass-rusher.
The Cleveland Browns are moving to a 3-4 defense under new coordinator Ray Horton, and Spencer would be a perfect fit in the scheme. The Browns have the cap space to make it happen, and Spencer would complement Jabaal Sheard to form a fearsome pass rush for a Browns team that has lacked one since their return to the NFL in 1999.
PREDICTION: SIGNS WITH CLEVELAND
Considering the amount of baggage that Dwayne Bowe carries, he is the hardest player to forecast on this list. However, his talent means that he'll be landing somewhere and will receive a healthy payday in the process.
While I expect the Chiefs to be in play for his services, I don't expect Bowe to re-sign in Kansas City.
Even though you hear about Miami and Minnesota being two logical destinations for Bowe, I believe the Jacksonville Jaguars should make a run at him.
New general manager David Caldwell needs to fill holes all over the roster, and I expect him to go defense with the second overall pick in April's draft. With that said, Caldwell and new head coach Gus Bradley simply must improve the talent on offense to give quarterback Blaine Gabbert a prayer of success in 2013.
Adding Bowe to a wide receiving corps that already includes Justin Blackmon, Cecil Shorts and Laurent Robinson would be huge for their passing attack. With Maurice Jones-Drew returning from a lingering foot injury, the Jaguars offense could actually be explosive in 2013. The Jags have the cap space to make it happen.
PREDICTION: SIGNS WITH JACKSONVILLE
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