Seemingly few big-name free agents truly pan out. Mario Williams signed a deal with the most guaranteed money for a defensive player in NFL history last season, and the Buffalo Bills still went 6-10. The Seattle Seahawks broke the bank for Matt Flynn last year, only to see Russell Wilson grab hold of their quarterback position.
Some free agents, though, are signed for peanuts but they deliver golden performances. Jacoby Jones signed with the Baltimore Ravens on a relatively inexpensive two-year deal, and his contributions were key in a championship season. Brandon Lloyd, meanwhile, was signed to a second-tier deal, but he produced like a No. 1 receiver.
Free agency is always a gamble, but a few players stand out as good bargains while others look likely to break the bank for little production. Let's take a look at who will end up the biggest bargains and busts on this year's market.
George Wilson, S
The Bills recently released their steady safety, putting a solid and affordable player on the market. The safety gave up just 190 yards last year on 478 snaps in coverage according to ProFootballFocus, including just one touchdown.
Wilson also has racked up over 100 tackles in three out of the past four seasons. While part of that is because of the Bills' deficiencies at other positions, it also shows that Wilson has a nose for the ball and the mechanics to finish his tackles.
With a big name like Ed Reed potentially hitting the open market, Wilson will probably not be a hot commodity right away. Whatever team signs him, though, will be getting a steady contributor who can boost nearly any secondary in the NFL, and at a bargain price to boot.
Danario Alexander (RFA), WR
If I'm a GM looking at receivers in free agency, I would pass on the name guys and take a long hard look at Danario Alexander, the breakout receiver from the San Diego Chargers.
In a stagnant offense with a struggling quarterback, Alexander managed 658 yards and seven touchdowns in just 10 games. During one particular hot streak, Alexander managed 555 yards and five touchdowns in just six games, showing what he is capable of when he gets in a groove.
Alexander is a huge target at 6'5", with excellent ball skills and an excellent ability to run routes and get separation.
His limited production and experience should keep Alexander affordable, but if he reaches his talent, Alexander could become a real steal.
Of course, all of this relies on what tender the Chargers put on the receiver. He is in no way worthy of a first or second-round pick, but Alexander is certainly worthy of giving up a late draft pick for should the Chargers put the lowest tender on him. This is a situation to monitor.
Will Beatty, OT
This year has produced a bumper crop of free-agent tackles, including Ryan Clady, Jake Long and Sebastian Vollmer, among others. Just as talented but lost in the mix is the New York Giants' Will Beatty, who should be a nice pickup for a team.
Beatty only gave up 25 pressures last season, including just three sacks, which ranks him in the top-10 in both statistics according to ProFootballFocus.The only on-field concern is Beatty's propensity to be heavily penalized, as his 14 penalties last season were fourth-most among tackles.
The only other concern is the possibility that Beatty will be franchised by the Giants. Should he make it to the open market, Beatty is a real prize who should come at a lower cost than Clady or Long.
Cary Williams, CB
Last offseason saw Cary Williams turn down a three-year, $15 million deal. Now, equipped with a ring and a season that saw him become the Ravens' de facto No. 1 cornerback, Williams will be sure to look for massive money on the open market.
The important thing to note about Williams, though, is that he's not very good. The raw cornerback gave up the fourth-most yards in the NFL, surrendering 938 yards last season according to ProFootballFocus. While part of that comes from the fact that opposing passers targeted Williams early and often last season, they still completed 65.6 percent of passes into his coverage.
Williams is an impressive straight-line athlete, but he struggles changing direction. That was apparent when DeSean Jackson ran come-back route after come-back route to rack up 114 yards on Williams. Any receiver with quickness will give Williams fits.
Though Williams will be paid like a No. 1 cornerback, he is hardly a quality NFL starter. Expect Williams to disappoint his new team in 2013.
Cliff Avril, DE
Dan Hanzus of NFL.com reports that Cliff Avril is seeking a contract similar to Mario Williams' mega-deal from a season ago. Williams wasn't worth that deal then, and he is twice the player Avril is. If any team is stupid enough to sign Avril to that kind of deal, it will see him disappoint badly.
That's not to say Avril is a bad player. He's a good situational pass-rusher, with 29 sacks over the past three seasons. He's not great, though, as Avril ranked 33rd among 4-3 defensive ends with just 35 total pressures this season, according to ProFootbalFocus.
And he is certainly not an every-down player, as Avril is pushed around with ease in run defense. He lacks the strength and the discipline to consistently play the run, as he'd much rather run by a blocker than engage with him to close gaps.
Avril deserves a contract that reflects his role as a situational player. He will end up with a multimillion dollar mega-deal, and he will end up busting badly.