5 Free Agents Guaranteed to Alter the NFL Draft Landscape

Brandon HolsteinFeatured ColumnistMarch 5, 2013

5 Free Agents Guaranteed to Alter the NFL Draft Landscape

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    Ask anyone which free-agent signing will have the biggest impact on the NFL draft, and you're sure to get an assortment of opinions.

    Fact is, free agency is nearly just as, if not more unpredictable, than the NFL draft itself.

    With hundreds of players competing head-to-head for limited roster space, predicting how the draft will play out before free agency is as arduous as trying to write a conclusion before developing the narrative and characters of a story.

    Luckily, the NFL free-agency period will officially open a week from now, thus directly impacting the draft and changing perceived needs all around the league.

    Here, we take a closer look at which of these current NFL players will demand the most interest and create a potential bidding frenzy—giving us valuable intel as it relates to your team and the draft.

1. Cliff Avril, Defensive End, Detroit Lions

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    Every position in free agency has a tone-setter, and Cliff Avril appears to be that guy for the pass-rushers.

    Having accounted for 39.5 sacks and 16 forced fumbles since being drafted out of Purdue in 2008, Avril has established himself as one of the more consistent edge rushers in the game today.

    Recently, Avril stated he's unlikely to give the Lions' a hometown discount, making his departure from Detroit all the more likely—especially considering the team refrained from overpaying free-agent cornerback Eric Wright just last offseason.

    Due to this, and because of his versatility to play standing up or with his hand in the dirt, Avril is sure to attract a lot of attention on the open market.

    Not only is Avril about to set the market price at his position, but he's also very likely to alter the draft landscape all together while doing so.

    Five Potential Landing Spots: Browns, Colts, Dolphins, Jaguars, Saints

2. Reggie Bush, Running Back, Miami Dolphins

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    Whenever a former Heisman winner becomes available, NFL teams are sure to take notice.

    And while Reggie Bush may never have deserved the No. 2 overall pick, that hardly diminishes his worth in the minds of NFL teams.

    Coming off back-to-back impressive seasons with the Miami Dolphins, Bush has not only made good on his valuable pass-catching skills, but also displayed a much more well-rounded game overall.

    Bush will be 28 next season, however, his versatility has recently prompted peers such as Detroit Lions wide receiver Nate Burleson to pitch the idea of Bush in a Detroit Lions uniform next fall.

    So what should be the take-home message for NFL teams when it comes to acquiring the talents of one Reggie Bush?

    Pay the man, if you truly think he's your missing link.

    Few players in the NFL can impact the game and cause defensive coordinator's lost sleep like Bush every single Sunday. And that's nearly an immeasurable quality.

    Five Potential Landing Spots: Bengals, Broncos, Chargers, Lions, Packers

3. Mike Wallace, Wide Receiver, Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Not many NFL receivers boast the athletic ability to stretch a field like Mike Wallace.

    However embattled or disgruntled he may be, Wallace has undoubtedly been an integral part of the Steelers' passing game since being drafted back in 2009—averaging over 1,000 yards receiving and exactly eight touchdowns in his four-year career.

    Now with the Steelers on the verge of letting their once game-changing star walk, Wallace is likely to find many willing suitors eager to pay him by the truck load.

    As ESPN's Adam Shefter points out, a few of the Steelers' own division rivals could choose to make Wallace their next big catch.

    Surely a valuable prize for the highest bidder, Wallace is all but assured to receive some eye-popping offers come this time next week. Offers that will change bank accounts, and numbers that conversely change draft needs.

    Five Potential Landing Spots: Bengals, Browns, Chiefs, Dolphins, Panthers, 

4. Paul Kruger, Linebacker, Baltimore Ravens

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    There's nothing more rewarding than performing at your highest level at exactly the right time.

    Just ask Joe Flacco, who signed a record-breaking six-year $120.6 million deal just earlier today. 

    So who is next to benefit from this impeccable sense of timing?

    That would be none other than Flacco's teammate, Paul Kruger, who had a memorable playoff performance in his own right.

    By collecting 4.5 sacks en route to the Ravens' Super Bowl victory, Kruger epitomized what it meant to come through in the clutch—both for his team, and for himself. 

    Kruger is far more than just a household name, he's a priority free agent who's about to cash in big (via NFL.com). This effectively highlights what it means to play and produce in the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately-type league that is the NFL.

    Kruger shall be living large and loving life by this time next week; that is, if he hasn't already coming off a fresh Super Bowl high.

    Five Possible Landing Spots: Bills, Browns, Colts, Falcons, Seahawks

5. Jake Long, Offensive Tackle, Miami Dolphins

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    A spot that was reserved for Branden Albert (who was franchised today by the Chiefs, via USA Today), Jake Long now steps in as the free-agent tackle to watch.

    Although injuries have kept Long off the field the past two years, there are many teams who have the need and the means to add the former No. 1 overall pick.

    However, as NFL.com's Ian Rapoport reports, Long is looking to be paid upwards of $11 million per year, which is more than teams may be willing to spend on a player whose talent has declined as of late.

    Nonetheless, we are still talking about a player who has earned multiple Pro Bowl nods in his rather short, but highly successful career when healthy.

    Players like Long are exactly the type of talents teams historically are willing to make an exception for. Which is why lowering your expectations now and accepting the inevitable will likely save you the headache that's sure to ensue.

    Five Possible Landing Spots: Bears, Cardinals, Chargers, Giants, Rams,