NFL Free Agency 2013: Power Ranking the Top 25 Free-Agent Signings so Far
Wes Welker, Mike Wallace, Danny Amendola and Greg Jennings should all be big contributors with their new teams in 2013, so which free-agent signing will make the most impact?
This presentation will analyze the top 25 deals that were finalized once NFL free agency began on March 12, leading up to Friday evening, March 15 at midnight (ET).
This is focusing on free-agent deals only, so the impact of any trade made this week won't be part of the slideshow.
The players will be ranked according to the perceived impact they will make on their new team in 2013.
Factors that were analyzed ranged from how the team is improved overall, how a specific unit is improved or how the balance of power is altered within a conference. The financial terms, player value and his age were also considered in creating their final ranking.
The slideshow will begin with 10 notable omissions. These other deals were considered, but weren't able to crack our top 25 for a variety of reasons.
Please note that all player rankings from 2012 is courtesy of Pro Football Focus (PFF). A subscription fee is required. For more details on the salary cap hits with the free agents that are highlighted, refer to the team link pages at Spotrac.com.
Bonus Slide: Notable Free-Agent Omissions
Recognizing that the power ranking was cut off at the top 25, we wanted to acknowledge the next tier of free-agent deals that were considered, but didn't make the grade. They represent No. 26-35.
26. MIN QB Matt Cassel
If Christian Ponder gets hurt in 2013, the Vikings will feel better about bringing Cassel in off of the bench as opposed to Joe Webb. Ponder should still retain the starter's job in Minnesota.
27. KC TE Anthony Fasano
Fasano has been a steady producer for the Miami Dolphins. This signing gives the Chiefs a pair of productive tight ends, as pairing Fasano with Tony Moeaki will place further stress on defenses. By bringing in Fasano, the Chiefs now have adequate insurance if Moeaki gets hurt again.
28. SD RB Danny Woodhead
Woodhead isn't as dynamic as ex-Chargers change-of-pace back Darren Sproles, but he is still an effective running back that will help San Diego's offense in 2013. Woodhead had a productive 2012, as he graded out as PFF's No. 10 running back.
29. KC DE Mike DeVito
Like Woodhead, DeVito graded out as the No. 10 player at his position in 2012 by PFF (3-4 defensive end). Better at stopping the run than he is at rushing the passer, DeVito will help shore up the Chiefs run defense.
30. TEN TE Delanie Walker
On the surface it seems like the Titans have replaced one tight end with upside (Jared Cook) for another (Walker). But Walker is much more than just a tight end. He is a thumper on special teams and is looking to take on a bigger role in the offense, compared to his role in San Francisco.
31. DET CB Chris Houston
Houston wound up as the No. 23 corner in the NFL in 2012 as per PFF. The Lions re-signed Houston to stabilize the secondary. With all of the talented receivers in the NFC North in Green Bay and Chicago, the Lions needed to keep Houston in town.
32. IND CB Greg Toler
Toler was another corner that graded out well at PFF (No. 27 in 2012). The Colts had issues with their pass defense in 2012, so Toler will provide an upgrade due to his strong coverage skills.
33. DEN CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie
DRC is moving to a team with a better front seven. That is important, because he isn't great at providing run support. His coverage skills are still more than adequate, which is why Denver signed him.
34. STL DE William Hayes
The Rams addressed their pass rush by bringing back Hayes to the team. Hayes graded out as the No. 15 4-3 defensive end in 2012 by PFF. He recorded seven sacks on the year, so he should prove to be an asset again in 2013.
35. DET S Glover Quin
The Houston Texans made signing Quin a priority in the 2013 offseason, but the Lions proved to Quin that they wanted him more. Quin will help to solve some of the secondary issues that have plagued Detroit in the past few years.
25. Chicago Bears DT Henry Melton
Pro Bowl defensive tackle Henry Melton decided to accept his franchise tag offer this week when he put pen to paper. Melton will receive $8.5 million this year and still has until July 15 to work out a long-term deal with the Bears.
Melton graded out as the No. 7 defensive tackle at PFF in 2012. He excelled at generating a strong pass rush, which in turn helped out the Bears secondary. It was a priority for the Bears to make sure they didn't lose Melton, especially with the uncertainty about what the team's plans are for MLB Brian Urlacher.
24. Miami Dolphins LB Philip Wheeler
The Miami Dolphins have been as busy as any other NFL team since free agency began.
With the way that GM Jeff Ireland is structuring these new deals, it is up in the air as to how many of these new players will still be with the team when they enter the final year of their contract. They are going to be cap friendly for 2013, and then after that, who knows what will happen?
But for 2013, at least three of the deals will make a large enough impact that they warrant a place on this slideshow. Linebacker Philip Wheeler is the first of those three deals we cover.
Wheeler wasn't recognized around the country for his excellent play in 2012 because he was part of a Raiders team that wasn't very good. Wheeler stood out, as he ended up as the No. 6 linebacker at PFF, playing in the 4-3 scheme. That made him a coveted free-agent acquisition, and the Dolphins targeted Wheeler early.
Wheeler has demonstrated that he can be effective against the run and pass. He teams up with Dannell Ellerbe to give the Dolphins defense a shot in the arm.
23. Minnesota Vikings FB Jerome Felton
He normally doesn't get enough credit, but if you watch enough footage of the Minnesota Vikings, you will realize what kind of an impact fullback Jerome Felton makes on their offense.
Felton serves as the lead blocker for Adrian Peterson. With the astounding results that Peterson racked up in 2012, how much of that could be attributed to the lead blocks made by Felton is a reasonable question.
At PFF, they recognized the efforts of Felton by ranking him as the No. 5 fullback in the NFL in 2012. Minnesota signed him to a three-year deal, which will appease Peterson. One thing you want to make sure you do is keep Peterson happy.
22. Cleveland Browns DL Desmond Bryant
At 6'6" and 300 pounds, it is difficult to miss Desmond Bryant on the football fields. Cleveland fans in the Dawg Pound will be able to spot Bryant making a big impact on the Browns defense in 2013.
Bryant is adept at rushing the passer and stopping the run, as he was graded out by PFF as the No. 6 overall tackle in the NFL in 2012. Bryant didn't get much national attention due to playing for the Raiders.
Between the addition of Bryant and Paul Kruger, the Browns defense promises to be an exciting unit to watch in 2013.
21. Minnesota Vikings T Phil Loadholt
The 2013 free-agent class included a number of strong tackles. While players like Jake Long and Andre Smith are still looking for a new deal, one top tackle that knows where he will be playing in 2013 is Phil Loadholt.
The Vikings had to step up to sign Loadholt to a four-year deal, as the Chicago Bears were interested in acquiring him. By keeping him in-house, the Vikings continue to keep their running game in tact, as Loadholt was ranked as the fourth-best run-blocking tackle by PFF in 2012.
His overall grade at PFF was No. 22, but Loadholt was brought back primarily to keep opening up holes for Adrian Peterson. With the addition of Greg Jennings, the Vikings offense should continue to move the chains in 2013.
20. Indianapolis Colts T Gosder Cherilus
As much success as Indianapolis Colts rookie quarterback Andrew Luck experienced in 2012, he surely paid a price for it. Luck was sacked 41 times but took countless other hits after he delivered a pass.
Prior to the playoffs, Gregg Rosenthal of NFL Network wrote a story about all of the hits that Luck kept taking week after week. Rosenthal wondered if the pounding Luck absorbed was taking a toll on his throwing accuracy.
So the Colts did something to beef up his pass protection when they signed tackle Gosder Cherilus to a new five-year deal.
Cherilus was ranked as the No. 8 tackle in the NFL in 2012 by PFF. His scores on pass protection were among the highest in the league, which has to be music to Luck's ears.
The Colts had to take steps to invest in their franchise quarterback, and this was a very solid move.
19. Cincinnati Bengals DE Michael Johnson
The Cincinnati Bengals valued free-agent defensive end Michael Johnson enough to give him the franchise tag this year. Johnson honored that offer this week when he signed the one-year deal that will pay him $11.2 million in 2013.
Retaining the talented Johnson was a priority for Cincinnati. According to PFF, Johnson finished the 2012 season as the No. 13 overall defensive end that played in a 4-3 scheme.
Johnson finished 2012 with 11.5 sacks, just one sack behind team leader Geno Atkins. With both of them back in 2013, the duo will create plenty of havoc for AFC North quarterbacks.
18. Chicago Bears T Jermon Bushrod
The deal that brings free-agent tackle Jermon Bushrod to Chicago was described on a Friday evening episode of NFL Network's Path to the Draft by analyst Brian Baldinger as a "three-for-one special".
The premise, according to Baldinger, is that by signing Bushrod to a new five-year deal, the Bears will be able to fix three problems with this one move. The assumption is that Bushrod will take over at left tackle, J'Marcus Webb will be bumped over to right tackle and Gabe Carimi can be kicked inside to guard.
By making the following adjustments, the Bears will have an improved offensive line across the board and Cutler will see a better level of pass protection than he has witnessed during his prior years with the team.
If Cutler has more time to throw and is taking less hits and fewer sacks, all of that translates into better offensive production for the Bears. In addition, it frees up the Bears' need to be able to take the best player available at the draft, as opposed to drafting out of necessity.
The Bushrod deal also hurts NFC conference foe New Orleans, which is another aspect of the deal that needs to be considered.
17. Tampa Bay Buccaneers S Dashon Goldson
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers struck gold in 2012 when they signed wide receiver Vincent Jackson in free agency. The Bucs were hoping for more of the same when Pro Bowl safety Dashon Goldson agreed to join the team this week.
Goldson has appeared in the past two Pro Bowl games and was named to the All-Pro team in 2012. Tampa Bay had to pay dearly to acquire him, as he will earn $41.25 million over the next five years.
In 2012, Tampa Bay was ranked dead last in passing defense, giving up a whopping 297 yards per game. Goldson is a hard-hitting safety that will force receivers to think twice when they go up to catch a pass against Tampa Bay.
Goldson came up with 11 pass deflections and three interceptions for the 49ers defense in 2012. He will be a key contributor in improving the Bucs secondary for 2013.
16. St. Louis Rams TE Jared Cook
The St. Louis Rams have been struggling to add enough weapons for Sam Bradford. Well, the Rams made a move to correct that this week when they signed tree-agent tight end Jared Cook to a five-year deal.
Cook will pair up with St. Louis tight end Lance Kendricks to give the Rams offense the ability to have two strong receivers at the position. That kind of an alignment will allow Bradford to see which tight end will have the greatest advantage in coverage. Exploiting holes in the defense is something the Rams can clearly be doing more of.
St. Louis figures to give Cook adequate touches and targets in their offense, something that the Titans struggled to do during his time with the team. The Rams are betting that Cook will become a better player in their offense.
15. Miami Dolphins LB Dannell Ellerbe
The Miami Dolphins made a number of moves already in the past week, but none of them will make more of an impact on their defense than the addition of linebacker Dannell Ellerbe.
Ellerbe, fresh off of helping the Baltimore Ravens win Super Bowl XLVII, will be bringing his playoff experience to see if he can vault Miami into becoming a contender again.
During the 2012 season, Ellerbe graded out as the No. 14 inside linebacker at PFF. Baltimore had hoped to retain him, but the Dolphins' offer was too rich for the Ravens to match or beat.
Between Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler, the Dolphins defense should be improved with the impact of their new additions.
14. Denver Broncos G Louis Vasquez
The Denver Broncos know full well that it is a priority to provide the best pass protection they can to Peyton Manning. The Broncos reinforced that this week with the signing of free-agent guard Louis Vasquez.
The Broncos score extra impact points with this deal, because not only does their offensive line improve, but they also weaken the AFC West division rival San Diego Chargers offensive line in the process. Double winner.
Vasquez was widely considered the second-best guard in the 2013 free agency class. He graded out as the No. 13 overall guard in 2012 by PFF. He will provide an upgrade in pass protection for Manning as Denver gears up for another playoff run. Simultaneously, go ahead and downgrade the Chargers offensive line another peg or two.
13. Tennessee Titans G Andy Levitre
Tennessee Titans quarterback Jake Locker must have been thrilled to learn that the Titans had just signed one of the premier pass-blocking guards in the NFL when they inked Andy Levitre to a new deal.
Levitre signed a six-year deal for $46.8 million, which was more than Buffalo was willing to spend on him. Even though he wasn't named to any All-Pro or Pro Bowl teams, Levitre has been a consistent top-10 guard over the past two years, according to the rankings at PFF.
He is considered to be one of the best pass-blockers at guard, but is only considered to be an average run blocker. Levitre is durable as well as versatile in that he can also play a more than adequate tackle.
It will be interesting to see how Levitre grows behind a head coach like Mike Munchak, who no doubt would like to teach him a thing or two about playing on the offensive line.
12. Seattle Seahawks DE Michael Bennett
The Seattle Seahawks added another weapon to their stable of pass-rushers this week when they signed defensive end free agent Michael Bennett to a one-year contract.
In 2012, PFF ranked Bennett as the No. 7 defensive end in the 4-3 scheme. Anytime you can add a player that is ranked in the top 10 at his position, that is just going to make the rest of the defense better as well.
Bennett graded out positively at PFF against both the run and the pass. Being adept at both will come in handy whenever the Seahawks face Colin Kaepernick. It wouldn't be a surprise if that was one of the main reasons that the Seattle targeted him in the first place.
With the development of rookie Bruce Irvin in 2012, the Seahawks have now added Bennett to go along with Cliff Avril. Just about one year ago, the Buffalo Bills thought they were on to something special when they signed Mario Williams and Mark Anderson early in free agency to boost their pass rush.
Time will tell if the Seahawks are able to put together an aggressive attack with the new talent that is actually better than it looks on paper.
11. Minnesota Vikings WR Greg Jennings
The Minnesota Vikings are doing their best to improve their own team while weakening their NFC North division rivals. The Vikings have been in touch with Chicago Bears MLB Brian Urlacher, but they took it up a big notch when they signed ex-Green Bay Packers WR Greg Jennings to a five-year deal on Friday night.
Adam Schefter of ESPN reported via Twitter that the deal was finished Friday evening. So with one stroke of the pen, the Vikings got better and the Packers wide receiving corps lost some valuable depth.
Jennings could have returned to Green Bay, but with the trio of Randall Cobb, James Jones and Jordy Nelson still intact, there was some doubt as to what exactly Jennings' role would be in Green Bay in 2013.
There is no doubt about his role in Minnesota. He becomes the Vikings No. 1 wide receiver. After the trade of Percy Harvin to Seattle, the Vikings have effectively replaced Harvin with Jennings. Now they can use the extra draft picks to address other team needs.
10. Dallas Cowboys DE/OLB Anthony Spencer
Dallas Cowboys DE/OLB Anthony Spencer comes in at No. 10 on our presentation. Spencer qualified for the slideshow when he signed his franchise tag offer this week.
Spencer will receive $10.627 million in 2013, so now two questions remain: Will the Cowboys be able to sign him to a long-term contract prior to the July 15 deadline? And how effective will Spencer be in Monte Kiffin's defensive scheme?
Dallas has been pondering moving Spencer to defensive end, which would require him to add some more bulk. Hopefully the additional weight wouldn't slow down his overall speed, quickness or reflexes. There had been some initial talk about the Cowboys being open to trading Spencer after he signed his franchise tag, but that has died down for now.
Spencer was ranked as the No. 1 outside linebacker in 3-4 schemes last year by PFF. The Cowboys have been dealing with a number of salary cap issues in the offseason, but retaining Spencer was always a priority for Dallas.
9. Atlanta Falcons RB Steven Jackson
For the 2013 season, the Atlanta Falcons have replaced Michael Turner with Steven Jackson. This move represents an upgrade for the Falcons offense. Combining the signing of Jackson with the announcement of Tony Gonzalez returning to the team, this has been a positive week for the Falcons offense.
On the surface, Jackson and Turner appear to be quite similar. Both backs have played in the league for nine years. Over their careers, each of them has been able to surpass the 4.0 yards per average rush benchmark eight different times.
The difference was that the 2012 season was the first time Turner's average dipped below 4.0 yards per carry (3.6), and it appears that he is starting to break down. Jackson continues to prove that he is a top-shelf power runner and will have the chance to perform in an offense that offers far greater weapons than what he was accustomed to with the Rams.
Turner has typically scored double-digit touchdowns due to the high-powered nature of the Atlanta offense. Jackson will personally realize a much higher number of touchdowns because of the efficiency and weapons of the Falcons offense.
8. New England Patriots WR Danny Amendola
Danny Amendola has some big shoes to fill. Not that Wes Welker had big feet, but his 100-plus receptions in five of the past six years was the best production over that time span in the NFL of any wide receiver.
As the facts started to emerge after the Welker and Amendola contracts hit the press, New England had already decided to sign Amendola to a deal first. That vote of confidence in Amendola's skills and what the Patriots think he can produce with Tom Brady should spur him on to have a big 2013 season.
It's not like Amendola is a total mystery. He did grade out as the No. 14 wide receiver in 2012 by PFF. Whenever he was healthy enough to play, he was productive.
When you add Amendola to the mix with Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley, the Patriots offense should still be an effective unit. What nobody knows yet is how Amendola will hold up over the course of the season.
If his track record of injuries continues to force him to sit out some games, then we can look back at this deal and move it down the list.
7. Detroit Lions RB Reggie Bush
Nobody knew for sure what kind of a role Reggie Bush would be able to carve out in 2013 when he entered free agency. But things worked out quite well, as Bush now finds himself employed as the No. 1 running back for the Detroit Lions offense.
During his two seasons in Miami, Bush averaged 1,036 rushing yards per year. He carried the ball more than 200 times both years, proving that he could carry the workload and still be reliable and durable enough to play in 31 of 32 possible games.
Not only was Bush durable, but he was also productive. His average yards per rush during those two years was 5.0 and 4.3 yards per attempt, respectively.
When you pair Bush up with Calvin Johnson, you are going to force defenses to choose what they want to do. Do they want to still double-team Johnson and give safety help to contain him, or do they want to move the safety into the box to stop Bush?
Either way, the Lions offense will be poised to take advantage of whatever the defense gives them. Look for Detroit to have a more balanced attack in 2013.
6. Chicago Bears TE Martellus Bennett
When free agency began, there was a clear raid on the top tier of tight ends, and the player that looks to make the most impact from that group is Martellus Bennett of the Chicago Bears.
The tight end position is taking on greater importance in NFL offenses. Look at the production of the New England Patriots, Atlanta Falcons, New Orleans Saints and Green Bay Packers. They all have an athletic tight end that presents major problems for the defense.
In Chicago, the offense should find more balance due to the addition of Bennett. Balance was not a word you would use when talking about the Bears offensive attack in 2012.
WR Brandon Marshall was targeted an unbelievable 194 times, while RB Matt Forte was next in line with only 60 targets. That represents one of the strangest target distribution totals in the entire league.
The addition of Bennett will allow the Bears to hit longer passes in the seam and will ultimately take some of the pressure off of receivers Marshall and Alshon Jeffery.
Bennett signed on the dotted line for the next four years. He graded out as PFF's No. 5 tight end in 2012, which demonstrates why he was in demand in free agency.
5. Atlanta Falcons TE Tony Gonzalez
Tony Gonzalez was finally swayed enough by the full-court press that the Falcons team and front office made to convince himself to come back for another run at the playoffs. Gonzalez didn't sign for just one more year, but for two more years. That had to be a major surprise to all concerned parties.
Gonzalez will receive $14 million in the new deal. His decision to play for at least one more year should serve as an adrenaline rush for the Atlanta Falcons organization.
The mere presence of Gonzalez in the Atlanta lineup takes pressure off of Roddy White and Julio Jones. When it is time to move the chains, Matt Ryan knows where Gonzalez will be on his patterns and looks for him often.
In 2012, Gonzalez came up with 93 receptions for 930 yards and eight touchdowns. He averaged 10 yards per reception and came up with a first-down catch 65 times. That production allowed him to be ranked as the No. 17 overall tight end by PFF for 2012.
We all saw how the Ravens rallied around Ray Lewis and his last ride in 2012. This is already setting up to be a similar deal with Gonzalez and the Falcons in 2013.
4. Cleveland Browns OLB Paul Kruger
The Cleveland Browns scored a double victory when they landed OLB Paul Kruger to a new deal. Not only did the Browns improve their overall defense and pass rush, but they also weakened their AFC North rival Baltimore Ravens in the process. That kind of a double whammy is big on the impact scale.
Cleveland hasn't been afraid to spend some of their surplus of salary cap space to go after talented players that are still in their prime. At just 27 years old, Kruger will be earning $41 million over the length of his five-year deal.
The Browns will probably be looking to play a defense similar to what Ray Horton ran in Arizona. That means that Kruger will be asked to rush the passer often. As he demonstrated in 2012 by leading Baltimore with nine sacks, rushing the quarterback is something Kruger excels at.
In the 3-4 defensive scheme, Kruger was ranked No. 6 out of all outside linebackers in 2012 by PFF. He is well positioned to make an impact in 2013.
3. Seattle Seahawks DE Cliff Avril
Cliff Avril was considered to be the best pass-rusher in the 2013 NFL free agency class. So when you take a talent like Avril and add it to the mix of talent already on board in Seattle, you expect big things.
Avril is just 26, but will be turning 27 years old next month. The deal was short and sweet, two years for $15 million. Avril is in his prime career years, so he should be more than capable of putting up some big numbers with the Seahawks.
The pass rush that Seattle can generate in 2013 with Avril, Michael Bennett and Bruce Irvin should allow defensive coordinator Dan Quinn to come up with some interesting looks and schemes for attacking opposing quarterbacks.
With his speed and ability to turn the corner, Avril will be a handful for the talented San Francisco 49ers offensive line. Their matchups in 2013 will be quite the spectacle, as each team will be fighting for supremacy in the NFC West.
2. Miami Dolphins WR Mike Wallace
The Miami Dolphins offense took a step back in 2012 when they decided to trade Brandon Marshall to the Chicago Bears. The Dolphins rectified that issue when they inked ex-Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Mike Wallace to a five-year contract this week.
While Wallace didn't have a banner 2012 season, there is no doubt that he will make a huge impact on the Miami offense. After all, since free agency officially began, nobody has been able to top the $60 million that Wallace signed for.
Wallace's mere presence on the field forces defenses to change what they do. Wallace's speed has the ability to take the top level off of the defense. That stretches the field and in turn opens things up for the remaining offensive weapons surrounding Ryan Tannehill.
Another reason that the Wallace deal is ranked so high is because of the way it was constructed. We are analyzing how these free agents will impact their new team in 2013. According to this article from The Daily Dolphin, Wallace's deal includes a 2013 base salary of just $1 million.
That low salary cap figure allowed the Dolphins enough financial flexibility to add other key players like WR Brandon Gibson and TE Dustin Keller. There still might even be enough cap space left to re-sign tackle Jake Long.
With Wallace, the bottom line isn't going to be how much he produces personally as much as it is how much better the Dolphins offense becomes because he is a part of it.
1. Denver Broncos WR Wes Welker
The top billing is awarded to the Denver Broncos for landing wide receiver Wes Welker. Following last year's deal with Peyton Manning, the Broncos have now landed the best available player in each of the past two years.
This ranking is as much about what Welker does to improve the Denver offense as it is about subtracting from the overall production of the New England Patriots offense. This article from ESPN Stats & Info blog addresses how Welker adds another dimension to the Broncos offense.
When you combine Welker with Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker, the Broncos now have arguably the top set of wide receivers in the NFL. While head coach John Fox likes to run the ball, Manning will no doubt be able to convince him of the wisdom of airing it out 40 times per game, or more.
Welker's addition will place enough stress on the opposing secondary that they will have to alter the personnel they employ. Defenses will have to place a heavier emphasis on pass coverage, which in turns opens things up for the running game.
With defensive backs focusing on shutting down Welker on third downs (when he is usually most effective), that should continually open things up for both Decker and Thomas. When defenses see that, they make the adjustment and Manning then goes back to Welker to keep the sticks moving.
And so it goes.
Welker will prove that he didn't have to be a member of the Patriots offense to be successful. No matter which way you analyze this deal, Denver is clearly much better as a result of signing Welker and takes a leg up on the rest of the AFC.
When the Broncos signed Manning last year, they knew that they only had a relatively small window with their new quarterback to try to capture another Super Bowl championship. This deal places the Broncos one step closer to realizing that goal.
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