2013 NFL Free Agency: Which Big-Name Players Will Sign First?
Paul Kruger, Jared Cook and Victor Cruz are just three of the biggest names that are expected to sign right after the free-agent period starts on Tuesday.
There are free agents all around the NFL that should also have the chance to do this due to the legal tampering period that has gone on from Friday evening and will end Tuesday. As it is in every year's free-agency period, the initial signings will directly affect the signings after them.
There will be market-setting deals and middle-of-the-market deals. There will be guys who sign "prove-it" contracts and guys who need to accept their restricted free agent tenders. Most of all, every deal that is signed is much like a domino effect.
Once the first guy signs, every guy around him should know exactly what to expect and where their market value truly is. Let's explore who the market-setters and first people to sign will be.
Steven Jackson, 30 years old
Steven Jackson has quite a few teams looking for his services as he's a talented back who still has two or three seasons left. According to NFL.com, top teams that are in the running for him would be the Falcons, Packers and Broncos as he could help any of the three teams.
Reggie Bush, 28 years old
Reggie Bush is a great all-around back who has really come into his own with the Dolphins. They should want to keep him and have the money to do so. However, don't be shocked if he ends up in Detroit with the Lions as they look for their Jahvid Best replacement.
Shonn Green, 28 years old
Shonn Green is the best power back on the market this year and should be able to sign a contract early in the offseason. He won't get a ton of money and would be more of a mid-market setter for a team who needs a power complement to their primary speed back.
Why Steven Jackson signs first
Steven Jackson has been receiving a ton of interest from some playoff teams. But the main target for him is likely the Atlanta Falcons. They are only a running back away from the Super Bowl, and they have enough cap space to offer him a deal that would be mutually beneficial.
Mike Wallace, 27 years old
The best receiver on the market is Mike Wallace from the Steelers. Pittsburgh should attempt to try and keep him, but he will likely price himself out of their range. The Dolphins and Patriots look to be the best options after Pittsburgh for Wallace to head to.
Wes Welker, 32 years old
Wes Welker had his career established by free agency and will finally have a shot to test it for a second time. Unfortunately, this time he's 32 years old. He won't draw the salary he is expecting, but he should still be a good signing for a team with a ton of cap room looking for a veteran No. 1.
Victor Cruz, 26 years old
Known for his salsa dancing after scoring big-time touchdowns, Victor Cruz is a restricted free agent who has been given the highest-level tender. The Giants want to keep him, but it wouldn't be shocking for a team to try to "poison pill" them into giving up Cruz.
Why Victor Cruz signs first
Victor Cruz is the best option for a team in free agency with his ability to do it all, but he won't come cheap. Even then, the Giants should match whatever offer is made to the talented receiver and make his first experience with free agency a quick one.
Tony Gonzalez, 37 years old
Tony Gonzalez is the best tight end on the market, but he's 37 years old and has at most one year left before he will hang his cleats up. If he's coming back, expect the Falcons to be the only team he'd look to sign with.
Martellus Bennett, 26 years old
The self proclaimed "Black Unicorn," Martellus Bennett is the best long-term all-around tight end on the market. He's worth a multi-year deal around what the franchise value would be each year. Bennett should draw interest from multiple teams, but he does want to play on the same team as his brother.
Jared Cook, 26 years old
While he's more of a wide receiver/tight end hybrid, Jared Cook should have a solid market out there for his services. Teams want a good receiving option to attack the seams over the middle and confuse defenses.
Why Tony Gonzalez signs first
This may seem counterintuitive to what the pulse of free agency is saying. However, a report showed what Tony Gonzalez's demands would be and the Falcons look like they are more than willing to cave. It would not shock me to see an announcement tomorrow.
Jake Long, 28 years old
Jake Long is the best offensive tackle to hit the market in years. He's a true franchise left tackle and could completely change the game for whoever signs him. His value will be right at the top of the market as he is arguably the second-best left tackle in the NFL behind Joe Thomas.
Sam Baker, 28 years old
Sam Baker was mediocre his first four years of his career while he battled back injuries that left him at a fireable level. Then Pat Hill came into the Falcons as an offensive line coach and made him a serviceable left tackle. He won't command huge dollars on the open market.
Andre Smith, 26 years old
Arguably the best power scheme right guard, Andre Smith is wanting insane money of $9 million per season. He is worthy of being the highest paid right tackle of all time, but the money he is looking for is left tackle money. He struggled early in his career and keeping him motivated is a challenge.
Why Sam Baker signs first
Atlanta has been ramping up their offer for the long-time Falcon. He had a breakout year and they want to keep the continuity on the offensive line. The only way he doesn't re-sign with Atlanta is if he decides to go home to San Diego.
Offensive Guards and Centers
Andy Levitre, 27 years old
Andy Levitre is a relatively young, extremely talented guard and should be able to play in either a power or zone scheme equally well. He's been in Buffalo his whole career, but he could easily want to play in a place with better weather and a better shot at a Super Bowl.
Louis Vasquez, 26 years old
Louis Vasquez is the best power scheme guard out there right now. San Diego should have the money to keep him, but if he wants to go to an actual contender, he would be wise to open his ears to the right offer from teams closer to his hometown in Texas.
Kevin Boothe, 30 years old
Someone who can play both guard and center is extremely valuable in today's NFL. Kevin Boothe can definitely do both, and the Giants would be wise to try and bring him back. However, he could go to their rival Cowboys and be an excellent upgrade over Phil Costa.
Why Andy Levitre signs first
The Bills should be paying Andy Levitre anything he wants to stay. He's such a crucial cog in their offense and is more than worth the money due to his ability to anchor in both the pass- and run-blocking. His value is at its highest and someone else might be able to outbid the Bills.
Richard Seymour, 33 years old
Richard Seymour is a long-term veteran that toiled away in Oakland like most players that go to Oakland tend to do. He would be best served to take a one-year "prove-it" deal with a team that is in contention for the Super Bowl. It would be a good way to end his career if he doesn't have it anymore.
Alan Branch, 28 years old
Alan Branch is a very specialized player, but he's arguably the best in the league at the 1-technique nose tackle role. Branch could very easily leave the Seahawks for a team that would pay him quite a bit more than they could afford as an anchor to either a 4-3 or a 3-4.
Dwan Edwards, 32 years old
Dwan Edwards had arguably the best year of his career playing the 3-technique for Ron Rivera in Carolina. He provided an interior pass rush that the Panthers haven't had since Kris Jenkins. Carolina needs him to stay, but he could see a solid contract from a team that needs a 3-tech.
Why Alan Branch signs first
Alan Branch shouldn't be super expensive as he only fits a few schemes and is a very specialized spot as a 1-gap nose tackle. He would be an excellent upgrade in quite a few defenses, and Houston would be wise to try to bring him in as the anchor over Shaun Cody.
Michael Bennett, 27 years old
Michael Bennett is the best edge rusher on the market right now because he isn't just a pass-rusher. He's also a great run defender. While Bennett isn't a 10-sack guy year in and year out, he's someone who will get to the quarterback eight or nine times and set the edge in the run game—exactly what some playoff teams are missing.
Paul Kruger, 27 years old
Paul Kruger is an edge-setting strong side outside linebacker in the 3-4. His best fit is in the Pittsburgh- or Baltimore-style 1-gap 3-4's that have a ton of blitzing from the strong side and allow him to minimize his drop backs into coverage.
Cliff Avril, 27 years old
Cliff Avril's best fit might be in a 3-4 where he can drop into coverage, rush the passer and set the edge with the benefit of a 5-technique defensive end. However, his ability to rush the passer in the 4-3 is more than excellent, and he could start for almost any team in the league.
Why Paul Kruger signs first
If Paul Kruger starts a bidding war like NFL.com thinks he will, he will easily be the first to sign. Right now, teams are able to get his agent the highest offer. He should know on Tuesday who has the most money and on Wednesday who will have the best situation so that he can go ahead and sign.
Brian Urlacher, 35 years old
The long time Bear should be looking for a one- or two-year deal to finish his career out. It looks like he should go back to the Bears to be one of the rare players who starts and ends his 10-plus-year career with the same team.
Philip Wheeler, 28 years old
One of the top-five coverage 4-3 outside linebackers in the NFL, according to ProFootballFocus, Philip Wheeler should be able to command a solid starting salary for a team that needs a three-down linebacker. He can blitz as well and his well-rounded game could bring as much as $5 million per year.
Daryl Smith, 31 years old
Daryl Smith is an excellent all-around talent at linebacker, but the philosophy in Jacksonville is changing. He was a great fit for the old Cover 2 style defense, but with the new unbalanced 4-3 scheme, he would be better off leaving and moving to a team that is transitioning to the Tampa 2.
Why Brian Urlacher signs first
He's already in negotiations with the Bears for a return and wants to retire in Chicago. If he was looking for one more large payday, he would have already stopped talking to the Bears and started looking at teams that need a true middle linebacker for one final season.
Aqib Talib, 27 years old
Aqib Talib is easily the most naturally talented cornerback on the market. However, he has one of the worst off-field track records out there. If a team feels comfortable in him getting his act together, they should be willing to offer him more than a simple "prove-it" deal.
Chris Gamble, 30 years old
While he was an excellent corner during his time with the Panthers, Chris Gamble was never going to see the end of his contract. Gamble's deal saved too much money for him not to be cut at this point, and the corner should find a market for his services as his game never relied on speed.
Derek Cox, 26 years old
Derek Cox is a solid corner who has spent four years in Jacksonville. He's started almost every game he was able to. Unfortunately, the William and Mary Graduate has had trouble staying healthy during his time in the NFL and that is affecting his value.
Why Derek Cox signs first
After proving his mettle with the Jaguars, Derek Cox is a franchise tag-worthy player. He wasn't tagged though and will be able to test his value on the market. Jacksonville should let him figure out what he is worth, offer him a little bit more money and the ability to not have to move.
Dashon Goldson, 28 years old
The only Pro-Bowl player out of the safety group, Dashon Goldson should misguidedly be given a huge deal. He's best when he's playing a deep cover role that allows him to make plays on the ball. However, he's going to wait for the biggest offer and it should take him a while to sign.
Louis Delmas, 26 years old
One of the better coverage safeties in the league, Louis Delmas has been on the fringe of the Pro Bowl every year. He's an excellent wrap-up tackler as well. But the biggest thing for Delmas is to stay healthy as he's missed 13 of the last 32 games that the Lions have played.
Kenny Phillips, 26 years old
Despite being a playmaker, Kenny Phillips has had multiple injuries that will hurt his value. His options may also be limited in New York with Stevie Brown and Antrel Rolle looking like the starters. So if he wants to have a shot to start again, he would have to leave for a team that has an opening, like Philly.
Why Louis Delmas signs first
Louis Delmas is drawing a ton of interest despite not being the Pro-Bowl player on this list. Even if he doesn't re-sign in Detroit, they will give him an offer to try and have him stay. According to mlive.com's Anwar Richardson, he has interest from "several NFL teams."
Josh Cribbs, 30 years old
Josh Cribbs is an excellent return man. It's time for him to finally leave the Browns organization, though. While he isn't the returner he once was, he would still be a great option for a contender to bring in for a Super Bowl run.
La'Rod Stephens-Howling, 26 years old
The Cardinals running back and return specialist has proven his worth over the past four years. He's able to take one back to the end zone at any time with his vision and could contribute on the field, with the offense making himself more valuable.
Phil Dawson, 38 years old
The ancient kicker is one of the most reliable out there. After a pair of franchise tags, it's time for him to finally get a shot at the open market. However, at 38 years old, he should just re-sign with the Browns.
Why La'Rod Stephens-Howling signs first
The Cardinals would be stupid to let the dynamic return man walk. Nonetheless, Stephens-Howling is the young gun on the market and would be a great fit for a team that wants a true specialist. He shouldn't break the bank and would be a great fit for a contender.
All stats used are either from Pro Football Focus's Premium Stats, ESPN, CFBStats or the NFL. All contract information is courtesy Spotrac and Rotoworld. All recruiting rankings come from 247Sports.com.
Scott Carasik is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. He covers the Atlanta Falcons, NFL and NFL Draft. He also runs the NFL Draft Website ScarDraft.com and hosts Kvetching Draftniks Radio.