NFL Free Agency 2013: Breaking Down the 10 Best Bargain Buys
The top free agents in the 2013 NFL class will demand premium contracts, but it is the players a tier below them that provide the most intrigue.
We all know that guys like Mike Wallace, Jake Long, Brent Grimes and Dwayne Bowe will get paid. Once the dust settles and the top names are off of every team's radar, what players will be left in the bargain bin?
Not every organization has an abundance of cap space to meet someone like Long's ridiculous demands. Most are strapped for cash and in need of a discounted deal. Where should they turn?
Let's breakdown 10 players that won't demand a huge contract, but could provide the most bang for an organization's buck once the season rolls around.
10. Fullback Mike Cox
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There is a clear pattern that follows fullback Mike Cox wherever he goes in the NFL: The rushing game dominates.
Cox is not one of the best-known commodities in the league, and the fullback position as a whole is often overlooked, but look at his track record.
Jamaal Charles' emergence with the Kansas City Chiefs in 2009 and 2010 was spurred on by Cox, who helped lead the running back to back-to-back seasons of over 1,000 yards.
The same thing happened when Cox moved on to Atlanta in 2011 as Michael Turner rushed for 1,340 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Jerome Felton made a name for himself blocking for Adrian Peterson in Minnesota this season and will likely get the most free-agent money of any fullback on the market, but Cox can have a similar impact for a smaller price.
9. Defensive End Kyle Vanden Bosch
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2012 saw a sharp decline in sacks for Detroit Lions defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch, the first of two aging NFC North stars on this list.
He went from eight sacks in 2011 to just 3.5 in 2012. However, if you look beyond that one (admittedly important) stat, you will see a player that is still capable of occupying offensive tackles on the edge and opening lanes for his fellow defensive linemen.
Vanden Bosch has had at least 35 tackles in each of the last four seasons and the reason Detroit cut him seems to be solely of the cost-cutting variety. Detroit is strapped against the salary cap and was desperate to clear space.
That desperation could prove to be another team's gain as the 34-year-old DE is a proven leader with a constant motor. Vanden Bosch has great power in his lower body that helps him gain leverage at the point of attack and he has a surprisingly agile swim move to complement his game.
Will KVB ever make another Pro Bowl? Probably not, but there is still a definite place in a defensive line rotation for him somewhere.
8. Cornerback/Safety Charles Woodson
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There is still football left in Charles Woodson's 36-year-old body.
Yes, he has been around since 1998 and his move from cornerback to safety clearly signals that the end is near, but it is not yet here.
All rhymes aside, Woodson still made an impact with 38 tackles, five pass deflections and an interception in just seven games of action. His broken collarbone should be of no concern heading into this season and the aging star should have something to prove after being released by the Green Bay Packers.
He is one of the smartest defensive backs in football, seemingly always in the proper position to make a play on the ball and he is a sure tackler.
In a league that is becoming pass-happier by the minute, quality defensive backs are at a premium and Woodson is just that. His age and recent injury may keep his price tag down, but the former Heisman Trophy winner will be a steal for whatever team picks him up.
7. Cornerback E.J. Biggers
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There is no such thing as a bargain player that can be a legitimate No. 1 cornerback on an NFL roster. The position is simply valued too highly for teams to save money when looking for stars at the position.
However, when digging a little deeper, there are cornerbacks that can fill into a No. 2, No. 3 and nickel-package role that can be bought at a bargain.
E.J. Biggers fits into this description nicely.
Biggers is a quick, shifty, 6'0" 185-pound player that still has a lot of improvement to make, but is already able to hang with some of the better receivers the NFL has to offer.
He is great in transition, quickly moving with route adjustments from opposing wideouts. He recorded 51 total tackles and added an interception to his resume in 2012.
Biggers is going to be a supplemental player that doesn't turn many heads, but will never be considered a liability either.
6. Running Back Reggie Bush
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A lack of interest from the Dolphins is somewhat surprising when you consider that Bush has had a career resurrection since moving to South Beach. 2011 and 2012 saw career highs in rushing yards, attempts per game, touchdowns and rushes of 20 yards or more.
He is still relatively young at 27 years old and does not have a lot of the mileage that other seven-year veterans might.
Some teams may be willing to splurge for Bush, but the reality is that most organizations will not shell out big bucks for a star with an injury history.
This is going to be a high-risk/high-reward scenario. We have seen how Bush can perform when put into the right system, but he has also missed 21 games in his career.
If the price is right, this risk may be too good to pass up for a team that needs a multi-faceted weapon that can spread the field laterally and potentially play a factor in the return game.
5. Tight End Fred Davis
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When healthy and on the active roster, Fred Davis is among the most physically gifted tight ends in football. He just needs to find ways to avoid injury and suspension.
Davis has battled both of those issues in recent times and his torn Achilles and positive drug test may be enough caution for teams to avoid him. But there are always teams willing to take a waiver on a player with talent, and Davis has plenty of it.
The 6'4" 247-pound Toledo product has averaged 12.7 yards per reception during his career and has developed into a multidimensional weapon. As his receiving skills have blossomed, he has also become a better blocker.
Davis is an every-down player that can be a critical piece of the puzzle for any team, especially when utilizing his size and ball skills near the goal line.
The Washington Redskins are battling an $18 million cap sanction and likely can't afford to bring Davis back into the fold, even at a discounted price. There is definite risk for other teams interested in Davis, but a ton of potential reward.
4. Wide Receiver Brian Hartline
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Teams are going to clamor for Mike Wallace, Greg Jennings and Dwayne Bowe. Rightfully so, because they are three supremely talented wide receivers that are going to send free agency into a frenzy.
Still, a guy like Brian Hartline will fly nicely under the radar and be a solid addition for a team not willing to dole out the big bucks.
He is not a physically imposing weapon at 6'2", 199 pounds, but Hartline is a smart player that knows how to find the seams in coverage and get open. He rarely drops passes and is unafraid to make plays across the middle of the field.
The problem is that Hartline has a problem finding the end zone. He has just six touchdowns in his four-year career, juxtaposed with an impressive 15 yards per receptions average.
Hartline has been somewhat hamstrung by playing in Miami, catching passes from less-than-elite QBs such as Chad Henne and Ryan Tannehill.
Touchdown chances have not always been plentiful for Hartline, but he will almost certainly be given a chance to prove himself when he hits free agency.
3. Defensive Tackle Desmond Bryant
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Desmond Bryant may soon become the next Harvard smarty to make a name for himself in the NFL (and no, I am not talking about his recent mugshot fiasco).
He has already developed a reputation among those that closely follow the game, but the Oakland Raiders' struggles in recent years have kept his name out of the spotlight.
The 6'6" 311-pound defensive tackle is a beast along the defensive line, creating pressure up the middle and constantly forcing opposing offenses to move the pocket to avoid his presence.
Bryant is not going to get the contract that a guy like Henry Melton of the Chicago Bears is going to demand, but it could be argued that he will be every bit as valuable to his new team.
Bryant has missed just one game in his four-year career and while his stats are less-than-stellar, his play is just the opposite.
The Raiders have other defensive linemen up for free agency in Richard Seymour, Matt Shaughnessy and Andre Carter, but it's No. 90 that has the brightest future.
2. Running Back Chris Ivory
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At some point, Chris Ivory is going to get a chance to prove himself at the NFL level.
The fact of the matter is that he has been buried on the New Orleans Saints depth chart and not been given much of a chance to this point. When he did see some significant playing time as a rookie in 2010, Ivory impressed to the tune of 716 yards rushing and five touchdowns.
New Orleans still felt the need to draft Mark Ingram after that showing and the roster currently features Ingram, Darren Sproles and Pierre Thomas alongside Ivory.
Ivory has a strong 6'0", 222-pound frame and is adept at both running between the tackles and around them. He is deceptively fast and runs with a low center of gravity.
Ivory is a cut-and-go type runner, always looking to get upfield in a hurry and never shying away from defenders. New Orleans has clearly not realized the potential buried on its depth chart, but another team is going to get a serious value purchase in free agency.
The Tiffin University product has not had a chance yet to earn a big payday, but will undoubtedly earn one the next time around.
1. Offensive Tackle Will Beatty
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It is often hard for a fanbase to get excited about signing an offensive lineman. That should not be the case for whatever franchise lands Will Beatty.
Beatty is a 6'6" 319-pound beast of man that can bulldoze defenders off the ball and provides a consistent presence at both left and right tackle. He played both positions for the New York Giants while starting 25 games over the past two seasons.
The 2013 free-agent class is littered with big name offensive tackles like Jake Long, Ryan Clady, Jermon Bushrod and Branden Albert. This overabundance of talent means that Beatty could easily be overlooked and get lost in the shuffle.
Beatty has quick feet and a strong, balanced approach to his game. His versatility could make him the steal of this free-agent class.