NFL Free Agents Actually Worth the Huge Contracts They Will Demand
Though the title of this piece suggests a level of frivolousness in regard to free agency, I still hold firm to the belief that you need to build through the draft. Free-agent spending can be risky and must be done with a cautious and calculating mind.
If you strike out on a high-priced free agent, you are hit with years of dead money that prevents your organization from holding on to talent. (Not to mention the dead weight of underperforming athletes who have long lost their incentive to be great.)
The key in free agency is to be smart about whom you choose and how much you're willing to pay. Even a talented player like Darrelle Revis can become unjustifiably expensive if the cost of retention is too high.
So in this slideshow, I will attempt to rank the top 10 free agents who are worth the big bucks. However, if their demands are too outrageous, then you can't hold the entire team hostage to satisfy one player.
10. DL Desmond Bryant
Desmond Bryant, an undrafted rookie in 2009, has come on strong the last two seasons in Oakland. He's put up 10 sacks, mostly from an interior line position.
Bryant was one of the few bright spots on the Raiders last year, and it appears that they might not have the cap room to pay this 27-year-old rising star from Harvard.
His best attribute is his ability to control blockers with brute strength and long arms. This frees up the linebackers. Moreover, Bryant is effective in the run game and as a pass-rusher.
Though he played mostly at DT, he does have the versatility to fit any defensive scheme. This should help to maximize his market value. His untapped potential, still waiting to be mined by the right support system, is one of his most enticing attributes.
9. WR Wes Welker
At age 31, Wes Welker is proving year after year he can still be incredibly productive.
The only question is whether he has merely been the product of an elaborate system. Whichever the case may be, Welker has found a way to thrive like no other receiver in history. Since 2008, he is the only receiver to have more than 100 catches in a season at least four times.
In New England, he became the go-to guy for intermediate routes for several years and even helped compensate for a questionable running game.
Welker has always been great at maximizing those extra yards before being taken down by a defender. He fights hard on every play and has unparalleled awareness for finding the holes in zone coverage.
All interested buyers should expect some decline in his production given his age and not having Tom Brady as his quarterback. But he still should have a ton of value for the next couple of years and should receive generous offers from teams in the market for a savvy slot receiver.
8. CB Brent Grimes
Brent Grimes missed basically all of the 2012 season after tearing his Achilles.
This naturally adds risk to paying top dollar for a guy coming off a significant injury. But if everything checks out medically for Grimes, he should be one of the more sought-after defensive backs.
Grimes established himself in 2011 by allowing only two touchdown passes all season. He also held opposing quarterbacks to a completion percentage of 44 percent when throwing in his direction.
But Grimes will need to figure out how to stay healthy if he hopes to justify his next contract.
7. OLB/DE Paul Kruger
There's a little hesitation in making the claim that Paul Kruger will be fully deserving of a big contract. He hasn't been consistent and has only recently shown much of anything as a pass-rusher.
But the NFL places a high value value on guys who can rush the quarterback, especially when those guys are just 27 years old and coming off a Super Bowl run in which they were key contributors.
Kruger finished the season with a career-high 10 sacks, making him the youngest available player on the free-agent market with such an achievement. This should warrant a ton of interest among teams.
And when there's a lot of interest, there is also big money.
6. WR Greg Jennings
Back from an injury-riddled season, Greg Jennings should be set to re-establish himself as one of the premier pass-catchers in the NFL.
One element that makes Jennings so special is his superb body control. Throughout the years, he has made several memorable sideline grabs, all while contorting his body in the most awkward positions.
This former Packer also possesses rare quickness, allowing him to generate consistent separation when paired with his crisp route-running.
Jennings can be a true No. 1 receiver and has proven this over the years with consistent play and professionalism. He's done it in a crowded receiving unit in Green Bay, where there have been only so many balls to go around.
5. S Dashon Goldson
Any team looking to add a tone-setting safety who is underrated in pass coverage and will take a ball-carrier's head off should look no further than Dashon Goldson.
Goldson is 28 years old and seeking much more than the 49ers are willing to pay at the moment. Over the last few years, he has turned into one of the league's best safeties in coverage and against the run.
With 10 interceptions over the last two seasons, he has proven he can do much more than just run into people, Goldson has come a long way since entering the league and has evolved into a complete player and a leader on the field.
His presence will be thoroughly missed in San Francisco should the 49ers fail to retain him.
4. WR Mike Wallace
As we all know by now, Mike Wallace does not come without his issues. But in the NFL, elite speed can blur many things.
Wallace had a semi-down year in 2012 after electing to hold out in a contract dispute with the Steelers. This now seems to be a situation in which Pittsburgh has no interest in dealing with yet another prolonged contract dispute and will likely let this burner walk.
Whoever opens up the checkbook for Wallace will be paying a premium price to take the top off a defense. His value lays primarily in the ability to stretch defenses like few players can, providing an instant home run threat.
Any quarterback would be lucky to have a guy who makes it nearly impossible to overthrow him.
3. RT Sebastian Vollmer
At 28 years old, Sebastian Vollmer has been one of the more reliable offensive tackles in the game. It should be interesting to see if Tom Brady allows both his favorite target and the man who protects his right side to leave in free agency. He may need to pay the salary of one of these teammates from his Uggs endorsement money.
Vollmer was drafted by the Patriots in the second round in 2009. Since that time, he has come on strong and should have several years of excellent football ahead of him.
One of the key elements to landing that big free-agent contract is being a player who has youth on his side. This clearly applies to Vollmer and only adds to why he's so deserving of a big payday.
2. WR Victor Cruz
Sure, Victor Cruz is a restricted free agent, which usually means he won't be going anywhere. But, according to nfl.com, the word on the street is there are several teams who could make a bid for Cruz.
Simply put, Cruz is an electrifying talent who can turn a five-yard quick slant into a Sportscenter highlight. He's one of the most elusive players in the NFL and has surprising straight-line speed.
Rarely do you see anyone catching Cruz once he gets going. His big issue in the 2012 season was with dropped passes. This shouldn't be a lingering concern. He generally has dependable hands, along with a proven ability to make those circus-like catches.
If this salsa-dancing fan favorite does end up playing elsewhere, it will certainly take nothing less than a mega- contract offer, one that New York simply can't match.
1. LT Jake Long
The justification for Jake Long at the No.1 spot among all the free agents requires its own article. Well, it just so happens I dedicated an entire piece to exactly that topic.
Long may have slipped a bit over the last couple of seasons, but does that mean his best days are behind him? Absolutely not. Most of his slippage can be attributed to several nagging injuries.
Considering he's not even 28 years old and an offensive lineman’s skills rarely erode this early in a career, it's safe to put your money on the belief that Long is still very much in his prime.
In an excerpt from my article I shared this statistic:
According to a three-year breakdown of pass-blocking efficiency prior to the 2012 season, Jake Long finished second behind only Joe Thomas of Cleveland, which included all offensive tackles in the NFL. This measure came from looking at pass protections and the total number of pressures (sacks, hits and hurries) given up by a player relative to their opportunity on the field.
In 2009, he was named second-team All-Pro, and in 2010, he was upgraded to the first team. Long has made the Pro Bowl four out of his five seasons in the NFL.
Looking beyond the numbers, Long has been a great presence in the locker room and has demonstrated quality character and valuable leadership. He is a talented athlete with a big frame and long arms (6’7”, 319 pounds).
Long is one of the best offensive tackles in the NFL when healthy. He tops this list because few free agents, if any, are one of the best at their respective positions beyond this former No. 1 overall pick out of Michigan.