Predicting the Biggest Contract at Every Position in 2013 NFL Free Agency
Now that Joe Flacco and the Baltimore Ravens have reached an agreement on a long-term deal, the offseason's biggest splash has been made. With hundreds of players still left unsigned, however, the NFL looks to make plenty of headlines in the coming months.
Though no potential deal will be bigger news than Flacco's signing, the remaining free agents will look to cash in on their talents in a similar fashion.
Whether it's a role player looking to fill a roster spot, a young star ready to sign his first big contract or a veteran not quite ready to hang it up, the 2013 free-agent class is completely wide open. It will be interesting to see how everything unfolds once the new league year kicks off on March 12.
While some positions are more high profile than others, the highest-paid player at each holds significance as to how the remaining players are valued.
Here are predictions for the biggest contract at every position for the 2013 free-agency period.
Note: Free-agency info provided by WalterFootball.com.
Salary info provided by Spotrac.com.
Restricted free agents and players designated with the franchise tag are not included.
Quarterback: Matt Moore
Joe Flacco was able to capitalize on a perfect storm to become the highest-paid player in league history.
If having very little competition in the free-agent market—along with a weak crop of college quarterbacks—weren't enough, winning a Super Bowl and being named the game's MVP capped off what could be considered the best contract year ever for QBs.
While there are a handful of teams that will be in search of their next starting quarterback, there really is no buzz surrounding any signal-caller that remains on the market. By default, Matt Moore is the best option.
Moore has never played a full season, but he has been productive with his chances. In 2010, he started 12 games and completed over 60 percent of his passes for 2,497 yards and 16 touchdowns to only nine interceptions.
ESPN.com's James Walker believes the Browns, Cardinals and Jets could show interest in the 28-year-old Moore, while Ben Volin of The Palm Beach Post predicts a two- or three-year contract at a $5 million/year average.
Prediction: Three years, $12 million
Running Back: Reggie Bush
While there are several veteran running backs that will receive plenty of attention on the free-agent market, Reggie Bush might just be the most attractive out of the bunch.
Bush has been relatively healthy the last two years, ultimately leading to his most productive seasons as a runner since entering the league back in 2006. He combined for 443 carries, 2,072 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2011 and 2012 with the Miami Dolphins.
Not expected to return to Miami (via NFL.com), this offseason is Bush's final opportunity at a decent-sized contract in the NFL. At just 28 years old—with relatively little mileage for a seven-year veteran—Bush definitely has a few years left in the tank.
Prediction: Three years, $17 million
Fullback: Jerome Felton
Jerome Felton will rarely show up directly on the stat sheet, but his work in 2012 helped pave the way for Adrian Peterson to come just nine yards shy of breaking the single-season rushing record.
While the fullback position has lost much of its luster and utility over the years, there is obviously still a place in this league for the blue-collar position—with Felton possibly the best at what he does in the entire NFL.
Prediction: Two years, $4 million
Wide Receiver: Mike Wallace
This year's crop of free-agent wide receivers is very talented and will draw plenty of attention as the offseason progresses. Mike Wallace is arguably the top name on the list.
Wallace is a huge asset in a vertical passing game, having averaged 17.2 yards per catch in his first four seasons. The wideout has also scored 32 touchdowns in that span.
In a league that covets playmakers at the position, there may be no greater option on the market than Wallace right now. And as Omar Kelly of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel wrote recently, the Steelers free agent could very well be in line for a $60 million payday.
Prediction: Five years, $55 million
Tight End: Martellus Bennett
The Atlanta Falcons are still holding out hope that tight end Tony Gonzalez rebuffs his initial talks of retirement. If so, he will certainly be the biggest name at the position on the market—though he isn't expected to sign a multi-year deal.
That brings us to Martellus Bennett, who was stuck behind Jason Witten for the first four years of his career with the Dallas Cowboys. Finally breaking out of that shadow with the New York Giants last season, Bennett tallied 55 receptions for 626 yards and five touchdowns in a crowded group that included Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks.
The tight end is becoming increasingly important in this league. Having playmakers at the position is a must, making the soon-to-be 26-year-old Bennett a very attractive piece this offseason.
Prediction: Three years, $15 million
Offensive Tackle: Jake Long
The Miami Dolphins made Jake Long just the third offensive tackle drafted with the No. 1 overall pick in league history back in 2008 (Ron Yary in 1968, Orlando Pace in 1997). The five-year veteran has not disappointed, making four Pro Bowls in his young NFL career.
Injuries have been an issue over the last couple seasons for the tackle, helping to create the perception that he has already peaked. Turning just 28 in May, however, Long will command plenty of interest in free agency.
Will Beatty's recent deal with the Giants (five years for $38.75 million) could help set the standard for the market for left tackles. Long, however, is seeking $11 million annually (according to NFL.com's Ian Rapoport, h/t Dan Hanzus), and should exceed the $7.75 million average of Beatty's.
Prediction: Five years, $47.5 million
Offensive Guard: Andy Levitre
Andy Levitre has yet to miss a start after four years in the NFL and is about as consistent as it gets on the interior of the offensive line. In this league, that combination is highly coveted.
Levitre and Louis Vasquez represent the biggest names at guard this offseason. After these two, the quality of options takes a dip, which should be beneficial for the potential size of their contracts.
Prediction: Five years, $37.5 million
Center: Fernando Velasco
Fernando Velasco played well filling in at center for the Tennessee Titans in 2012. His ability to play along the interior of the line bodes well for his future prospects.
It appears Velasco will indeed re-sign with the Titans (via CBS Sports), though his strong play will certainly earn him a raise from his previous $615,000 salary.
Prediction: Four years, $17 million
Defensive End: Michael Bennett
Coming off his best year as a professional, defensive end Michael Bennett is a prime example of a player on the upswing of his career, tallying nine sacks after starting all 16 games in 2012.
Bennett plays both the pass and the run equally well. While sacks might be what drives up the price for DEs, versatility also plays a part and could be what allows Bennett to cash in this offseason.
The position is definitely not short of names on the free-agent market, but Bennett's age, upside and ability to play all three downs are a plus here.
Prediction: Five years, $50 million
Defensive Tackle: Randy Starks
Randy Starks is a talented pass-rusher from the interior of the defensive line, tallying 32.5 sacks during his nine-year career.
At 29 years old, the defensive tackle is staring at possibly his last chance at a sizable contract. Pro Bowl appearances in 2010 and 2012 highlight the fact that Starks is still very much a force in this league. Both sides have made it abundantly clear they would like to prolong their relationship, but as usual, at what price is the sticking point.
Starks hasn't missed a game since joining the Miami Dolphins in 2008.
Prediction: Three years, $15 million
Outside Linebacker: Paul Kruger
Playing on a defense with names like Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs, Ed Reed and Haloti Ngata will certainly keep the spotlight off someone. But after nine sacks in 2012, outside linebacker Paul Kruger is indeed stepping out of the shadow.
Alongside the Super Bowl victory, Kruger's career is on the uptick, and that couldn't have come at a better time. The fact that Baltimore will most likely not be able to afford an extension hurts Kruger's prospects a bit, but his 4.5 sacks in this year's playoffs will undoubtedly leave a lasting impression on potential suitors as well.
Prediction: Four years, $34 million
Inside Linebacker: Dannell Ellerbe
Similar to Paul Kruger, inside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe has also played in the shadow of the stars along the Baltimore Ravens defense throughout his entire career—particularly playing well in the absence of Ray Lewis this past season.
It will be interesting to see the attention that Ellerbe receives with Lewis retiring and the Ravens needing to fill the obvious void. In any event, he is definitely the favorite over Kruger to return to Baltimore.
Prediction: Four years, $25 million
Cornerback: Keenan Lewis
This past season gave Keenan Lewis the opportunity to be a full-time starter for the first time in his career. His 23 passes defended and 69 total tackles showed his versatility in pass coverage as well as defending the run.
Cornerback is one of the league's premier positions, so Lewis' short track record could play a part on both length and value of his potential deal. His upside and reliability will help him cash in this offseason, however.
Another player to watch out for is Aqib Talib, though his non-football troubles could deflect some attention back toward Lewis. Via Lewis' Facebook (h/t Behind The Steel Curtain), Lewis said he was about to "turn up."
Prediction: Four years, $32 million
Safety: Dashon Goldson
Dashon Goldson played an integral part on a defense that largely carried the San Francisco 49ers to the Super Bowl in 2012. The safety has started in 62 games over the past four seasons and plays both the pass and run well.
Goldson was given the franchise tag last year, and the 49ers reportedly won't do the same this time around (via NFL.com).
The safety's versatility and experience playing with such a strong group could be coveted this offseason.
Prediction: Four years, $27 million
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