2013 NFL Free Agents: Best Landing Spots for High-Priced Vets

Jesse Reed@@JesseReed78Correspondent IFebruary 21, 2013

DETROIT, MI - NOVEMBER 24:  Defensive lineman Cliff Avril #92 of the Detroit Lions reacts in the first half while taking on the Green Bay Packers during the Thanksgiving Day game at Ford Field on November 24, 2011 in Detroit, Michigan.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Free agent defensive end Cliff Avril wants a Mario Williams-type contract in 2013 (and he just might get it), but most teams won't be willing to shell out that kind of cash. 

Avril isn't the only high-priced veteran who is set to earn a pretty penny this year, either. 

Last season, we saw Williams sign a record-breaking deal with the Buffalo Bills—a team that needed his particular skills and had the cash to burn. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers spent heavily on wide receiver Vincent Jackson and offensive guard Carl Nicks. 

So which veterans are set for a huge contract, and where will they land?

Cliff Avril, Defensive End

People think it's funny that Avril is holding out hope of getting paid like Williams did last year, but when you take a look at his production compared to Williams', it's not crazy to think it could happen.

I compared Avril's last three seasons to the three seasons Williams put together (I didn't use his injury-shortened 2011 season) before signing his monster contract with the Buffalo Bills, and here's what I found:

  Solo Tackles Sacks FF
Mario Williams 104 29.5 7
Cliff Avril 80 29 9

Williams is a more complete player. Avril can be a liability against the run at times, but he's a devastating pass-rusher—the kind of player teams are desperate for in today's pass-happy NFL.

The Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns and Miami Dolphins are all loaded with extra cash to spend. I'm ruling out the Bengals, since they are going to attempt to re-sign Michael Johnson—a player with more upside than Avril—and I'm ruling out the Browns, since they're moving to a 3-4 scheme.

The Dolphins could sign Avril, but they have other, more pressing needs than signing another pass-rusher. 

Verdict: Avril will likely end up with the Buccaneers in 2013. Tampa Bay still has over $30 million to spend this season, despite the fact that it spent freely last year (h/t the Tampa Tribune's Roy Cummings). 

Furthermore, Tampa Bay needs pass-rushers. With just 27 sacks last year, the Bucs ranked No. 29 in the NFL. 

Mike Wallace, Wide Receiver

One of the hottest players in the upcoming free-agency frenzy, Mike Wallace is going to be courted by many teams this March.

Wallace possesses game-breaking speed, and he's been undeniably productive during his four years with the Pittsburgh Steelers. During this time, he's caught 235 passes for 4,042 yards and 32 touchdowns. 

That averages out to 59 receptions, 1,011 yards and eight touchdowns per season. 

As a comparison, let's take a look at last year's big free-agent wide receiver Vincent Jackson. Not counting his 2010 season (he only played in five games that year), he averaged 57 receptions for 999 yards and seven touchdowns per year in the four seasons leading up to his big deal with the Bucs.

Jackson's contract last year was a five-year deal worth $55.56 million.

Wallace is going to demand more, methinks, so which teams have the cash and the need?

The Bengals could obviously absorb a huge contract like that, and adding Wallace to play opposite A.J. Green would instantly make Cincy exponentially more dangerous on offense.

The Browns could also reel him in, and CBS Sports' Jason La Canfora recently reported, "Many in the Steelers organization believe Wallace will end up with their division rivals in Cleveland."

Verdict: Wallace will sign with the Dolphins. Not only do the Dolphins have the money, but perhaps no team with that kind of cash to spend has the need as much as Miami.

Furthermore, the Sun-Sentinel's Omar Kelly has reported, "Multiple sources tell the Sun-Sentinel Steelers receiver Mike Wallace, who won't be given the franchise tag by the Steelers this offseason, is the team's top target."

Dashon Goldson, Safety

Before the start of the 2012 season, the San Francisco 49ers were engaged in a game of chicken with Dashon Goldson about his salary. The team let Goldson hit the market to test his value and ultimately signed him to a $6.2 million franchise tender.

The two sides are right back where they started this winter, with Goldson desiring a lucrative long-term contract.

San Francisco could just slap the franchise tag on him again in the hopes of working out a long-term deal before the season, but CSN Bay Area's Matt Maiocco recently reported that the team isn't committed to using that designation on Goldson.

Goldson has been a big piece of San Francisco's defense the past few years. Since 2009, he's averaged 62 solo tackles and 3.5 interceptions per year.

Maiocco reported before the beginning of last year that Goldson will be looking for a contract that pays him around $8 million per year—a contract similar to the one San Diego signed with Eric Weddle.

It seems clear to me that the 49ers are prepared to let Goldson test the market again in 2013. If the team was completely sold on him, it could just slap the franchise tag on him again and work on a long-term deal in the meantime. 

So which teams might be willing to give Goldson the contract he desires?

Again, Cincinnati pops up as a team that could work. Not only does the team have the money to spend, but it also has the need. Reggie Nelson is terrific, but the team needs another safety to tie things up on the back end. 

The 49ers are still in this thing, but if Goldson does end up hitting the market, I suspect he won't be back.

Verdict: Goldson could land with the Indianapolis Colts. The Indianapolis Star's Mike Chappell reports that the Colts will be $45 million under the cap when the league year begins. Indianapolis ranked No. 21 against the pass last year, and adding an experienced vet like Goldson would be smart.

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReed78.


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