With NFL free agency starting on March 12, each team must decide how involved it wants to become in spending top dollars for the best available talents. Talks in secret corners of Indianapolis started at the NFL combine, as teams began to gauge the market for the players they covet.
With agents and teams allowed to negotiate on March 9 before free agency officially opens on March 12, the following players should all have brand-new deals no later than March 13.
There are certain players who could have been included in this article, like Broncos offensive tackle Ryan Clady or Bears defensive tackle Henry Melton. However, while certain players are rumored to receive the franchise tag, the players on this list will almost inevitably hit the open market.
Note: ProFootballFocus.com is a subscription site sourced throughout this article.
Mike Wallace is the hottest name in free agency this offseason.
Not bad for a player who only had 836 receiving yards in 2012, although he scored eight times and is one of the fastest players in the NFL.
Any team looking for a deep threat is chasing Wallace. The former Ole Miss Rebel has 33 career touchdowns and 4,042 receiving yards.
Both Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson and Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald sport contracts worth $16 million a year. While I do not think Wallace will top those contracts, I do believe he will command at least $15 million a year.
Look for the Miami Dolphins, Kansas City Chiefs, Minnesota Vikings and New England Patriots to be in play for Wallace.
Much has been made of Dwayne Bowe’s attitude and off-field demeanor. However, NFL teams have coaches and specialists in place to handle those types of issues, because when Bowe is on the field, he is one of the most talented players in the game.
On a bad football team in 2012, Bowe still put up solid numbers with 801 receiving yards and three touchdowns in 13 games. Bowe has 5,728 yards receiving and 39 touchdowns in his career.
Bowe will have tons of teams begging for his services. However, as a player who has never won a playoff game, expect Bowe to look at teams who have a chance to win and win now. The St. Louis Rams, New York Jets and all the teams that lose out on Mike Wallace are in play.
Reggie Bush has proven over the past two seasons he can be an every-down running back in the NFL. In 2011 and 2012 combined, Bush rushed for 2,072 yards and 12 touchdowns. While most running backs seem to lose steam as they get older, Bush is getting better.
Bush will only be 28 years old at the start of the 2013 season, so he has at least three to four good years of football in front of him. He is a viable receiving threat out of the backfield as well. For his career, Bush has 372 receptions.
Bush would be a solid fit for the Detroit Lions, Cincinnati Bengals and Denver Broncos. All make sense as suitors.
Sebastian Vollmer recently underwent arthroscopic knee surgery, but the procedure is not expected to keep him out of offseason activities. The nature of the surgery will not scare off NFL teams that view the right tackle as one of the best in the game.
Vollmer is a good enough athlete to play every position along the offensive line. ProFootballFocus.com ranks the former Houston Cougar as the fourth-best right tackle in the NFL and 13th overall. Vollmer has played on winning teams in New England, and that is a value every NFL team looks for in adding to its organization.
With the possibility of quite a bit of movement among offensive linemen in free agency, Vollmer will have his choice of teams. The Chicago Bears, Arizona Cardinals and Jacksonville Jaguars all make sense as new locations for Vollmer.
Andy Levitre is the best interior lineman available in free agency in 2013. He will challenge Tampa Bay’s Carl Nicks as the highest-paid offensive guard in the NFL.
What makes Levitre such a hot commodity is the fact he has not missed a game in four seasons. His durability and toughness are coveted by NFL squads.
Levitre has Pro Bowl talent. ProFootballFocus.com ranks him as the fourth-best left guard in the game and ninth overall. Levitre actually has the ability to play center if called upon.
Look for the Tennessee Titans, Carolina Panthers and Detroit Lions to all drive the market on Levitre. When the smoke clears after 2013 NFL free agency, Levitre may score the largest free-agent contract of all the offensive linemen available.
Not many fans outside the Raiders faithful know much about Desmond Bryant, but NFL front office personnel love his talent and will be willing to pay top dollar to have him on their squad, despite his recent arrest. Bryant is a stout run defender who has interior pass-rush moves.
While the Chicago Bears' Pro Bowl defensive tackle Henry Melton gets more publicity, Bryant actually was ranked higher according to ProFootballFocus.com, which ranks Bryant as the top free-agent defensive tackle and ranked him sixth overall in the NFL in 2012.
There are only three defensive tackles (Detroit's Ndamukong Suh, Baltimore's Haloti Ngata and Tampa Bay's Gerald McCoy) that average over $9 million a year in salary. Bryant should easily be in that category. Look for the Denver Broncos, Philadelphia Eagles and New Orleans Saints to be in play for Bryant’s services.
While his defensive line mate, Gerald McCoy, went to the Pro Bowl, Bennett prepared his bank accounts for an excess of dollars. According to ProFootballFocus.com, Bennett was the seventh-best 4-3 defensive end in the NFL in 2012. He had nine sacks, 14 quarterback hits and 48 quarterback hurries.
Bennett is a solid run defender as well and really improved that area of his game in 2012. Other NFL teams have noticed. Bennett may not challenge the highest-paid defensive end, the Bills' Mario Williams, at $16 million a year, but he will score a major payday.
Teams like the Detroit Lions, Cincinnati Bengals and Philadelphia Eagles will make a run at Bennett.
Paul Kruger had his greatest season as a professional at the perfect time. Not only did Kruger win a Super Bowl with the Baltimore Ravens, but he recorded two sacks in the game as well. Kruger finished the regular season and postseason with 13.5 total sacks.
Edge rushers are coveted in the NFL, and Kruger will challenge Dallas Cowboys outside linebacker Anthony Spencer as the highest-paid defensive player in 2013 free agency.
The highest-paid outside linebacker is the Cowboys' DeMarcus Ware, who averages $13 million a year. The Kansas City Chiefs pay Tamba Hali an average of $11.5 million a season, and Terrell Suggs of the Ravens is third at $10.4 million a year.
Look for Kruger to challenge the dollar amount of Suggs in total compensation. The Buffalo Bills, Indianapolis Colts and Cleveland Browns are all in the hunt for the former Utah Ute.
Anthony Spencer, like Kruger, could not have planned his free-agency season any better. Spencer finished the 2012 season as a Pro Bowl player. What makes Spencer such a find in free agency is his ability to not only rush the passer, but stuff the run.
DeMarcus Ware is the go-to pass-rusher for the Cowboys, and Spencer was asked to handle coverage and stop the run. He performed well in all facets in 2012. Spencer finished with 11 sacks and 95 total tackles. ProFootballFocus.com ranked Spencer as the best outside linebacker in the NFL.
Spencer and Kruger will play off each other in free agency, but both will score huge deals. A sleeper team for Spencer’s services is the Seattle Seahawks. Look for New Orleans Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan to lobby for Spencer in the Big Easy as well.
Dannell Ellerbe will pull a Bart Scott in 2013 free agency. Scott became the target of Rex Ryan when he took over as the head coach of the New York Jets. Ryan signed Scott to a massive contract a minute into free agency.
Ellerbe took the same route as Scott in the NFL. Both started their careers as undrafted free agents for the Baltimore Ravens. Both proved they could handle playing in the spotlight of Ray Lewis and held their own. Both used the success of the Ravens and the play of the entire defensive squad to get paid.
Scott already got his money, but Ellerbe will get more. Ellerbe is the target of at least four teams in free agency.
Miami Dolphins linebacker Karlos Dansby makes $8.5 million a year. St. Louis Rams middle linebacker James Laurinaitis makes an average of $8.3 million per season. Ellerbe will be in that ballpark for teams like the Chicago Bears, Indianapolis Colts, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Cleveland Browns.
Brent Grimes played 52 snaps in the season opener of the 2012 season for the Falcons before injuring his ACL and missing the rest of the year. However, he will still be a major player in free agency in 2013. The Falcons believed in Grimes so much after the 2011 season that they placed the franchise tag on him.
The Falcons are not the only team that views Grimes as a franchise-type player. In 2011, Grimes was ranked as the third-best cornerback in the NFL by ProFootballFocus.com. Atlanta head coach Mike Smith said on February 22 that Grimes' rehabilitation was on track.
In a passing league, every NFL team needs at least three starter-level cornerbacks. Grimes is a legitimate No. 1 and will have his pick of suitors. Look for the Detroit Lions, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Minnesota Vikings to be in the mix for Grimes’ services.