The annual crop of NFL free agents is typically pretty strong, but this year’s group is one of the best available in recent years. With several big names set to hit the open market on March 12, the start of free agency should provide some fireworks.
With the likes of Mike Wallace, Charles Woodson and Cliff Avril (to name just a few) on the verge of finding a new home, it’s no surprise the rumors are swirling.
No team can build entirely through free agency, but only stocking up on talent via the NFL draft isn’t an option, either. Every team with the cap room to do so will be looking to improve in some way prior to April’s draft.
Let’s take a look at the latest rumors involving some of this year’s top free agents, and examine which teams may be interested in acquiring their services.
Woodson isn’t in the prime of his career anymore, and a transition to safety for the Green Bay Packers was the result of the seven-time All-Pro cornerback losing a step in coverage.
Whether he remains at safety or moves back to cornerback, there’s no doubt the 36-year-old can still play. Being effective in 2013 will come down to finding the right fit for his skills.
According to ESPN’s Josina Anderson, at least four teams have inquired about Woodson:
Woodson’s agent reportedly expressed his desire to play for a contender in 2013 (per Josh Alper of Pro Football Talk), and at least two of the teams reportedly interested in him can certainly offer a situation to his liking.
Inking Woodson to a contract could come down to how much money a team is willing to dole out. He still has some gas left in the tank, but as Albert Breer of the NFL Network indicates in this tweet from an unnamed personnel executive, he is on the downside of his career:
Woodson’s declining skills made him a grossly overpaid defender by the end of his time in Green Bay, but that doesn’t mean he can’t still be a productive player in several roles, as Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller points out in his response to Breer:
We’ll have a better idea of where the former NFL Defensive Player of the Year will land when he starts taking visits, but he’ll no doubt be diligent in his approach. If landing with a contender is his top priority, he likely won’t jump into anything without first considering all the options.
According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, the general belief around the league is that the Miami Dolphins will be pushing to sign Wallace this offseason (via ESPN, subscription required):
I think a lot of people around the league believe that the Miami Dolphins are poised to make a major run at the player that many regard as the No. 1 free agent available starting next week. Miami is desperate to pair a speedy wide receiver with their quarterback Ryan Tannehill. They want to surround him with more weapons. They're getting closer to a deal with free agent wide receiver Brian Hartline, and in a perfect world they bring back Hartline and they get a player like Mike Wallace to play opposite Hartline.
That the Dolphins need a true No. 1 receiver comes as no surprise. Brian Hartline compiled a quality season in 2012 (74 receptions, 1,083 yards) and Davone Bess is a solid slot receiver, but Miami is missing the explosive deep threat who can stretch the field and open up the underneath routes that have made them both effective options in the passing game.
As Alex Marvez of Fox Sports reported on March 5, the Dolphins and Hartline are closing in on a new multi-year deal with an average salary in the $6 million range, and as Tom Pelissero of 1500ESPN.com indicates with this tweet, Miami will still have plenty of cap room to add another offensive weapon:
Jake Long and Sean Smith are due to hit the free-agent market, and if neither returns to the team for the 2013 season, the Dolphins will be free to use the extra space under the salary cap to make some big improvements in other areas.
The line between Avril’s opinion of his value and that of the Detroit Lions never seemed to match up. The 26-year-old defensive end was reportedly offered a three-year, $30 million contract from the Lions last offseason, but Avril turned it down in pursuit of a bigger deal (h/t National Football Post).
Avril notched 9.5 sacks for the Lions last season, but according to Brad Biggs of National Football Post, the Lions are prepared to cut ties with him and let him test the free-agent market.
Despite several productive years in Detroit, Avril has never been considered an elite defensive end. He has the size and quickness to be a quality 4-3 bookend, but according to Mary Kay Cabot of the Plain Dealer, the Cleveland Browns will be pursuing Avril in free agency.
"The Browns will pursue two of the biggest-name pass-rushers in free agency in Baltimore’s Paul Kruger and Detroit’s Cliff Avril, league sources said."
If the Browns do manage to ink the Purdue product, he’ll likely play predominantly at outside linebacker in Cleveland’s 3-4 front. He has the size and quickness to excel in space, and the Browns will be in desperate need of some quality edge rushers at the position for the 2013 season.
Cleveland may be interested in Avril, but it remains to be seen how responsive he will be to a potential position change. If the prior reports are any indication, his final decision may ultimately come down to which team will pay up.