NFL Free Agency 2013: Clues to Where the Top 16 Players Will Land
Beginning tonight at midnight, NFL teams can initiate negotiations with player agents in advance of next Tuesday (March 12 at 4 p.m.) when players can officially sign contracts.
Thus far, organizations have prepared for this year's free agency period by pulling off expected trades (Alex Smith to the Kansas City Chiefs), making interesting roster cuts (Michael Turner, John Abraham and Dunta Robinson by the Atlanta Falcons) and restructuring key contracts (Tom Brady and the New England Patriots).
The bevy of movement to this point will make for an intriguing month or so leading up to the offseason's big event: the NFL draft.
Trying to figure out where certain players will end up can be tiresome, but there is information out there that can help mitigate that process.
Here are clues as to where some of the top free agents might land.
Mike Wallace, Wide Receiver
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The fast start to Mike Wallace's career—coupled with his big-play ability—has the wide receiver widely considered to be the top offensive target in this year's free-agent class.
While any team in the NFL would covet Wallace's presence on the field, the potential price tag whittles down the options.
The recent long-term deal (CBS Sports) agreed to by the Kansas City Chiefs and Dwayne Bowe could be an indicator of what Wallace could look for. According to Pro Football Talk, the Miami Dolphins and Minnesota are likely suitors.
Sebastian Vollmer, Offensive Tackle
Though not as glamorous as its partner in crime on the left side, the right tackle is still a very important position on the football field. Sebastian Vollmer is widely considered the best available player at the position this offseason.
Helping to keep Tom Brady upright—along with being a huge part in the New England Patriots finishing near the top of the league in rushing in 2012—Vollmer is set to cash in.
Mike Reiss of ESPN Boston says that negotiations between Vollmer and the Patriots will remain open this offseason.
Andre Smith, Offensive Tackle
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Over the last couple of seasons, Cincinnati Bengals right tackle Andre Smith has become one of the best in the game at what he does. His recent emergence leading up to his contract year has some worried, including offensive lineman Ross Tucker.
Though his services will be highly sought after this offseason, the $9 million per season price tag he is reported to be after (via NFL.com) could limit the market. As it stands, there does not seem to be a definitive favorite to land Smith.
Andy Levitre, Guard
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The Buffalo Bills chose to use their franchise tag on safety Jarius Bird, exposing guard Andy Levitre to other teams should the two sides not agree to a long-term deal prior to when free agency opens March 12.
With no news on that front just yet, it would appear that Levitre is set to test the market.
Though Levitre is still on the Bills' radar (via NFL.com), there will be plenty of teams around the league making the call on the four-year starter, including the Tennessee Titans, per Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean.
Greg Jennings, Wide Receiver
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If the Miami Dolphins covet Mike Wallace over Greg Jennings (via NFL.com), the former Green Bay Packers wide receiver might still be calling the NFC North his home in 2013.
Both the Dolphins and Minnesota Vikings are said to be after Wallace but, if Miami gets their top target, that would mean Jennings is the next best option on the market.
It is imperative that Minnesota surrounds quarterback Christian Ponder with more weapons to help alleviate the pressure put on Adrian Peterson to carry the offense. When healthy, Jennings is one the best in the business.
Cliff Avril and Paul Kruger, Defensive End/Outside Linebacker
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Cliff Avril's ability to rush the passer has him positioned as the best available defensive end on the free-agent market this offseason. Throw in Paul Kruger's emergence this postseason and there could be a competition brewing for their services.
However, the Cleveland Browns will pursue both players (via Mary Kay Cabot of The Plain Dealer) to bolster their pass rush that produced 38 sacks in 2012.
While the Browns sack total was good enough for 11th in the league, no player had more than seven on the team. Both Avril (9.5) and Kruger (nine, in addition to 4.5 in the postseason) exceeded that total.
Wes Welker, Wide Receiver
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This is important for Welker to help set the price for possibly his last real chance at a lucrative long-term contract.
Mike Reiss of ESPN Boston says not to read too much into Welker's wavering and that he and Patriots are closer to a deal than they were all of last season before the wide receiver was given the franchise tag.
Dashon Goldson, Safety
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The success of the San Francisco 49ers can largely be attributed to the play of Dashon Goldson over the last couple of seasons. The safety heads a very talented crop of free agents at the position.
The 49ers used the franchise tag on Goldson last season, but chose to pass on doing so for 2013.
Goldson said on Twitter that he was glad he didn't receiver the franchise again. When asked by SiriusXM NFL Radio about the possibility of playing for the Cincinnati Bengals, but the safety said that he would be interested (via Bleacher Report, per @SiriusXMNFL).
William Moore, Safety
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Though injuries have limited his ability to stay on the field (eight games missed the last two seasons) during his four years with the Atlanta Falcons, William Moore is considered one of the top safeties in the league. His impending contract should reflect his status as an elite defensive back.
Though he will certainly garner plenty of attention from other teams, Moore seems set on returning to the Falcons (via Pro Football Talk).
Jake Long, Offensive Tackle
Tyler Barrick/Getty Images
Jake Long became just the third offensive tackle selected with the top pick (Ron Yary in 1968 and Orlando Pace in 1997) when the Miami Dolphins took him No. 1 overall back in 2008.
Long did not disappoint early in his career, being regarded as one of the league's best left tackles and making four Pro Bowls in each of his first four seasons. Injuries and inconsistent play have forced some to back off those claims, however.
Heading into free agency this offseason, Long has been given a clean bill of health (via Pro Football Talk) and could be one of the top targets at his position.
Omar Kelly of the South Florida Sun Sentinel thinks the Arizona Cardinals are creating salary cap room for a possible run at Long.
Sean Smith, Cornerback
Marc Serota/Getty Images
The Miami Dolphins secondary could look radically different in 2013 with both Sean Smith and Chris Clemons unlikely to return to the team (via Omar Kelly of the Sun Sentinel).
With seemingly the entire league looking to upgrade at cornerback, Smith's name will be of hot topic over the next few days.
While no team seems to be the favorite just yet, being arguably the top cornerback on the market could limit potential suitors to those with plenty of salary cap space.
Aqib Talib, Cornerback
Jim Rogash/Getty Images
Aqib Talib's presence in the New England Patriots backfield in 2012 helped the team improve their pass defense over the back half of the season.
Though his reputation around the league does not reflect that of a high-character player, the Patriots know what to expect from the cornerback and have the leadership to handle a player of Talib's caliber.
Ian Rapoport of NFL.com says that the Patriots want Talib back, but nothing is set in stone yet.
Dannell Ellerbe, Inside Linebacker
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
Following their victory in Super Bowl XLVII over the San Francisco 49ers, the Baltimore Ravens will have a much different look on defense in 2013.
Future Hall of Famer Ray Lewis retired, up-and-coming pass-rusher Paul Kruger could be too pricey and safety Ed Reed's future with the team is also in limbo. Inside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe could be the best bet to be a Raven next season.
Baltimore is expected to make a significant offer to Ellerbe prior to the start of free agency (via The Baltimore Sun). With the inside linebacker stating the Ravens offer the perfect situation for him, it could only be a matter of time before a deal gets done.
Steven Jackson, Running Back
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A first-round pick for the Rams in 2004, Seeing Steven Jackson in a uniform other than that of the St. Louis would be rather strange. But, after voiding the final year of his contract because the team wanted him to take a lesser role (via Pro Football Talk), it could actually become reality as the running back winds down his career.
In hopes to still be a featured part of the offense, Jackson will find plenty of suitors as he seems to still have something left in the tank after rushing for at least 1,000 yards for the eighth-straight season in 2012.
While there are yet to be any favorites to emerge for his services, Jackson would be a good fit for the Green Bay Packers, Atlanta Falcons or the Denver Broncos.
Reggie Bush, Running Back
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Reggie Bush's last two seasons will go a long way toward proving that he is indeed a featured back in the NFL. With a versatile skill set—and very little mileage as a seven-year veteran—the running back could be the hottest name at his position on the free-agent market.
While many teams could use Bush in the backfield, the Detroit Lions have been linked to him for much of the offseason. ESPN's John Clayton says that the running back could indeed end up in Detroit, though not necessarily for big money.
Bush would add another dimension to the Lions' passing game, while providing them with a viable runner on early downs. Anything to make Detroit less one-dimensional on offense should be welcomed in the Motor City.
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