Wes Welker dives for the end zone against Jacksonville.
Since the pro football is an offensively-driven league, those playmakers slated to hit 2013 NFL free agency have inflated marketability.
Just lining up as a receiver, running back or tight end these days earns any player a look, because a faster and more explosive pace has taken over the league.
That said, there are only a select number of athletes that truly standout among their playmaking peers. Take Wes Welker of the New England Patriots for example.
He's Tom Brady's favorite target, and the Patriots possess a competitive advantage because of Welker's quickness and instincts. Few players impact an offense like Welker, and even fewer may be available for long as free agents.
Note: Full unofficial list of 2013 free agents courtesy of NFL.com.
Prediction: Detroit Lions
The Lions' interest in Reggie Bush is real.
Who knows what happens with Bush at the end of the day, but plenty of NFL people at the combine believe the Lions will make Bush a primary target in free agency.
This is good for the Lions, because Bush has evolved into an every down running back. Over the past two seasons, he has accounted for 2,660 total yards with the Miami Dolphins, and Detroit needs a complete back.
Bush is also turning just 28 years old before the season and wasn't given the bulk of the carries until he joined Miami. So, the bodily wear is not nearly as extensive as most running backs. His ability to make plays out of the backfield would also be a competitive advantage in the NFC North.
The Lions' passing attack keeps opponents on their heels, so Bush won't get isolated by a front seven. Plus, Detroit has a dynamic ball-carrier when inside the red zone to open the playbook.
Prediction: New England Patriots
Wes Welker isn't going anywhere. And Patriots fans can thank Tom Brady.
Tom Brady took a huge step today to ensure he'll retire a Patriot, agreeing to a three-year contract extension that will keep him under center for New England through the 2017 season.
Amazingly, according to the source, the deal is for an eye-poppingly conservative $27 million, which is less than half his worth by any measure.
Courtesy of this restructuring, the Patriots clear up quite a bit of cap space, per Mike Dyce of SI.com.
Therefore, New England needs to strongly consider retaining Welker for the long-term. The guy is among the best receivers in the game and easily the most productive from the slot. His impact is virtually irreplaceable in an offense where Brady consistently spreads the field.
Prediction: Miami Dolphins
The Dolphins have to get Ryan Tannehill a deep threat receiver. Well, Mike Wallace is the perfect solution.
As a guy who caught 60-plus passes each of the previous three years, Wallace's acceleration and top speed are among the best pro football has to offer. Also, in article by Omar Kelly of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel:
"I think this is the year that you've got to do something," General Manager Jeff Ireland said. "We're looking for playmakers on offense."
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.
Given that Miami ranked No. 26 in passing offense and Tannehill tossed only 12 scores, a receiver in Wallace takes the Dolphins to another level. The AFC East isn't dominant defensively either, so lining up No. 17 on the outside will force a secondary back.
Include Davone Bess and tight end Anthony Fasano, and Tannehill has a sound receiving corps.
Prediction: Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs have made some bold moves this offseason. Getting Alex Smith was just the next step in quickening the rebuilding process. According to Jay Glazer of FOX Sports earlier this week:
49ers have completed a trade with the Chiefs for Alex Smith, tho can't be official til March 12. Chiefs really made a commitment to Smith— Jay Glazer (@JayGlazer) February 27, 2013
The Chiefs have no accomplished wide receiver other than Bowe, their top pass catcher in each of the past four seasons. That makes it likely the Chiefs would retain Bowe either with a long-term contract or by making him the franchise player for the second straight season.
K.C. is clearly back on the upswing this offseason, which makes the team much more appealing to Bowe's potential return. At the same time the Chiefs hold the No. 1 pick in the 2013 NFL draft. Therefore, the odds of selecting Luke Joeckel have definitely increased.
In short, don't be surprised when Kansas City makes some noise next fall.
Prediction: New York Giants
Victor Cruz enters this offseason as a restricted free agent, and the Giants must keep him to sustain an established passing attack.
He led Big Blue with 1,092 yards on 86 receptions, as well as 10 scores and 327 yards after the catch. His ability to slip between zone coverage and defeat man-to-man is simply a rarity in pro football. Eli Manning needs him to echo the numbers put up in 2011.
“Hopefully we can end that talk soon, man,” Cruz told MassLive.com on Saturday in Amherst, Mass., where he was watching his alma mater, UMass, play basketball. “Hopefully we can get a deal done, if not with the Giants then unfortunately somewhere else. But I want to be a Giant for a long time, so we’ll see how it goes.”
Although that doesn't sound too optimistic, New York is sitting better regarding the salary cap. So, don't expect Cruz to go anywhere. Manning and the Giants need his versatile receiving skill set quite a bit.
Prediction: Baltimore Ravens
For starters, Baltimore cannot field its efficient offense without Dennis Pitta. The tight end was impressively reliable last season in snagging 61 passes for 669 yards and scoring seven times. Pitta also hauled in 14 for 163 yards and three scores in the postseason.
As one of pro football's most complete tight ends, the Ravens must get something done here. However, nothing is expected to commence until Joe Flacco's situation is concluded, per Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun:
It's unlikely that any deals will be struck, if at all, until there's some kind of resolution with Flacco—either him becoming the Ravens' franchise player, exclusive ($19.6 million) or nonexclusive ($14.6 million), by a March 4 NFL deadline, or him being signed to a blockbuster long-term contract.
That said, Ravens fans just have to be patient regarding Pitta. He's a dependable run-blocker and is even better as a receiver, which makes him quite appealing to retain.
The quarterback position, though, is the more important to focus on as no tight end, receiver or running back will produce without a guy such as Flacco surveying defenses.
Prediction: Atlanta Falcons
It's reasonable to suspect that Tony Gonzalez will suit up one more season. Earlier in February ESPN.com's Ed Werder tweeted:
Source says Tony Gonzalez wavering on retirement. A player close to him: "I think if the circumstances are right, Tony will come back.''— Ed Werder (@Edwerderespn) February 19, 2013
Well, the circumstances are Matt Ryan at quarterback with two excellent receivers in Roddy White and Julio Jones on the outside. The NFC South remains a few steps behind the Falcons, so a postseason berth is to be expected.
Provided Atlanta improves defensively next season and an NFC title is quite realistic.
"Now we're staring down the barrel potentially of a fifth season (of Gonzalez in Atlanta), which I'm just taking a year at a time, and I'm happy he's even contemplating coming back to play,'' Dimitroff said of his still-vintage playmaker.
The veteran has only gotten better with age, as Gonzalez run blocks effectively and remains incredibly reliable as a receiver. If we learned anything from him in 2012, it's that he can still play at a consistently high level.