There's no question that some of the biggest names on the offensive side of the ball—Mike Wallace, Wes Welker, Greg Jennings and Reggie Bush, to name a few—will generate the biggest headlines once NFL free agency begins on Tuesday.
But don't be fooled.
The real depth in free agency this year is on the defensive side of the ball, and a lot of teams will be able to improve defensively if they play their cards correctly.
Where should the top defensive free agents end up? Which teams should be in hot pursuit? Who has the cap space to make a major move come Tuesday?
Let's find out.
Dashon Goldson, S, San Francisco 49ers
Ask anyone in Philadelphia what the team's biggest issue has consistently been over the past several years, and they'll cite the safety position. Since Brian Dawkins departed the team via free agency in 2009, the team simply hasn't been able to address the position through the draft.
However, with a strong class of safeties in free agency this year—the Eagles could also target the Houston Texans' Glover Quin or the New York Giants' Kenny Phillips—the team should be able to address the position. Goldson would make a lot of sense for the Birds.
It seems unlikely he'll re-sign with the San Francisco 49ers, and the Eagles new vice president of player personnel Tom Gamble came over from the Niners, so he knows what Goldson is capable of doing on a weekly basis. This seems like a natural fit.
Best Fit: Philadelphia Eagles
Paul Kruger, OLB, Baltimore Ravens
It seems unlikely the Ravens are going to be able to keep Paul Kruger. The team's priority in free agency should be linebacker Dannell Ellerbe, and you have to think keeping future Hall of Famer Ed Reed around for the rest of his career is something the team should be focused on as well.
That likely leaves Kruger as the odd man out.
One team that promises to make a serious push for Kruger is the Cleveland Browns, a team with a ton of cap space and one that would likely enjoy nothing more than snatching a key free agent from a division rival.
It remains to be seen if Kruger's 2012 season, in which he finished with 42 tackles, nine sacks and a forced fumble, is the start of an upward trend in his career or an aberration. Either way, the Browns need players to fit into a 3-4 scheme, and Kruger would be a nice place to start.
Best Fit: Cleveland Browns
Cliff Avril, DE, Detroit Lions
Cliff Avril is likely the best pure pass-rusher available in free agency, with 39.5 sacks over the first five years of his career. He'll likely earn the big paycheck the Detroit Lions aren't willing to give him.
But which team will break the bank for Avril?
Look no further than the Indianapolis Colts, who have a ton of cap space and need to replace Dwight Freeney at the outside linebacker position. While Avril has traditionally been a 4-3 defensive end, the Colts are used to adjusting defensive ends to the outside linebacker position, having done so with Freeney this past season.
The Colts have just four picks in this year's draft, so they'll need to be players in free agency to improve heading into 2013. Avril would be a smart place for the team to start.
Best Fit: Indianpolis Colts
Aqib Talib, CB, New England Patriots
Outside of perhaps only Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Aqib Talib is the most physically gifted corner on the market. His problem, of course, is that potential free-agent suitors will have some questions about his character.
But he did thrive in New England and was the one bright spot in an otherwise shoddy secondary this past season. I've always believed that a player should stay in a system that fits him and an environment that brings out the best in his character, and that would appear to be in New England.
Talib may be offered slightly more money elsewhere, but remaining in New England would be the smart career move, and I'm sure the Patriots would love to keep him around. This is a union that should remain intact once free agency officially begins.
Best Fit: New England Patriots
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