NFL's Top Free Agents: Where Will They End Up?
The NFL offseason is in full swing and we are beginning to get a picture of which top players will be available in free agency.
While some teams have plenty of cap room to shop for players, others have been forced to part ways with their top players, either cutting them from the roster or declining to re-sign them.
Here are five of the top available free agents that are likely to hit the open market. While players such as Joe Flacco and Ryan Clady would be top targets if they made it to the open market, they are excluded because their respective teams have sworn to keep them with an extension or the franchise tag.
Jake Long is the best offensive lineman available this offseason, having made four Pro Bowls with the Dolphins.
Despite his success, he may hit the free agent market if Miami chooses not to make him one of the highest-paid linemen in the entire league.
If Long hits free agency, the Cardinals and Chargers are two teams in need of line help.
The Cardinals gave up a league-high 58 sacks last season, although they weren't helped by their inconsistency at the quarterback position.
The Chargers were just as bad, giving up 49 sacks in 2012. If new head coach Mike McCoy believes the Chargers can be a playoff team with Phillip Rivers at quarterback, Long would offer immediate help through protection.
The Patriots and Wes Welker failed to reach a long-term agreement before the 2012 season, and the Patriots were forced to use their franchise tag to keep him.
The Patriots have not ruled signing him this offseason or using their franchise tag on him again, but Welker may be looking elsewhere for long-term financial security.
If he and the Patriots part ways, he should have no shortage of suitors. He was eighth in the NFL in receiving yards in 2012, and he has averaged 112 receptions over the last six seasons.
Welker could be an excellent fit in Cincinnati, adding another dimension to an offense that already has Andy Dalton and A.J. Green. His ability to operate from the slot and make plays in the middle of the field would be an excellent complement to Green's downfield ability.
The Bengals are also a logical fit because of their cap room. ESPN reported in January that they would have a league-high $55.1 million in cap space.
After seven seasons with the Packers, wide receiver Greg Jennings is poised to hit free agency. Although he missed eight games due to an injury last season, Jennings should still be regarded as one of the top wdeouts available.
Look for the Miami Dolphins to be a definite suitor.
Their top receiver, Brian Hartline, is a free agent and there aren't any other deep threats on their roster for quarterback Ryan Tannehil. Jennings has had more than 900 yards receiving five times in his career, and has averaged over 16 yards per reception four times.
On top of Miami's need at the position, their new head coach has ties to Jennings; Joe Philbin was the Packers' offensive coordinator from 2007-12. If Philbin believes that Jennings can stay healthy, they could be reunited in Miami.
After totaling just 21.5 sacks in his first five seasons, Anthony Spencer had 11 sacks last season in a contract year.
While the Cowboys would love to keep him, they are currently over the salary cap and would need to make other moves before they even have the option to sign Spencer.
If Spencer becomes a free agent, ESPN's Todd Archer believes New Orleans would be the front-runner for Spencer's services, following defensive coordinator Rob Ryan.
Ryan will be implementing a 3-4 scheme in New Orleans, the same system where Spencer thrived in Dallas. His experience with a 3-4 defense would also help the Saints during their transition.
Instead of bringing back Charles Woodson for his eighth season with the Packers, the team has released him, saving roughly $10 million in cap space.
Woodson is 36 years old and is recovering from a broken collarbone, but he is still an excellent safety and a very versatile defensive player, capable of big plays in coverage and rushing the passer.
The Patriots are one team that could use a quality defensive back and would take advantage of Woodson's ability to play all over the field.
A weak pass defense prompted the Patriots to trade for troubled veteran Aqib Talib last season, but he, too, is a free agent. They would be a great fit, they just need to be willing to pay Woodson's asking price.
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