NFL free agency has weeded out the cream of the crop from the players that are searching for new deals—even if the stats don't prove that the players that have been signed are more valuable than the ones still on the market.
Gregg Rosenthal of NFL.com released a list of 40 of the best free agents that are still available on Friday morning, and some of the names will surprise you. The players still available have a shot to be important additions to contending teams, especially once salary demands start to come down over the next few weeks.
If you want to know just what kind of defenders are still available, take a look at this tweet from ESPN's Stats and Information, which points to the fact that times are certainly changing in the NFL:
ESPN Stats & Info @ESPNStatsInfo
The 2004 (Ed Reed), 2005 (Brian Urlacher), 2008 (James Harrison), 2009 (Charles Woodson) Defensive POY are all available in free agency2013-3-12 19:40:45
That being said, let's take a look at four guys that are former stars with their old teams, but have now been relegated to waiting out the market. That might not be a bad thing, as the best landing spots for these guys point to a contender taking a stab on their services.
S Ed Reed—Houston Texans
Reed has drawn major interest since the Baltimore Ravens let him test the free-agent market, and it appears the Houston Texans are the front-runner to land the ball-hawking safety.
Looking at the pieces Houston already has in place, that's a great fit for both sides. Glover Quin is headed to Detroit after signing a free-agent deal with the Lions, and that's opened up a starting spot alongside Danieal Manning in the Houston secondary.
ESPN's Adam Schefter thinks Reed is as good as gone, claiming a deal could come as early as Friday:
Adam Schefter @AdamSchefter
Ravens S Ed Reed spoke today like a man saying goodbye to Baltimore. Every sign now points to him getting done a deal in Houston on Friday.2013-3-14 23:44:59
However, Albert Breer brings up a good point. When Ray Lewis had a chance to depart from Baltimore, he stuck around even though the Ravens were at a point where they were really rebuilding. It payed off for Lewis, and might be in the back of Reed's head:
Albert Breer @AlbertBreer
Said this earlier -- The Ed Reed situation is a lot like Ray Lewis' 4 years ago. Ray couldn't pull the trigger on Dallas. Can Ed on Houston?2013-3-15 14:53:46
Either way, Houston looks like the best spot for Reed, both because a spot has opened up and because he and Manning would form a deadly combination in the secondary for a team that watched Tom Brady throw for 344 yards in this year's playoff loss to the New England Patriots. Reed looks like a man headed to a new spot, and it should work out in his favor.
RB Ahmad Bradshaw—Green Bay Packers
There hasn't been a lot of chatter about one of the best RBs in the league over the past three seasons, but that can be expected after a knee injury knocked him out of the 2012 season and eventually contributed to his release in January.
When healthy, Bradshaw is the kind of back Green Bay should look long and hard at.
The Packers swung and miss on Steven Jackson (headed to Atlanta, via ESPN.com), and I can't see the Packers going after a guy like Michael Turner or any of the other free-agent running backs that headline this class.
Why not take a look at Bradshaw, a versatile runner that would fit multiple schemes in Green Bay's multiple offensive sets? He quietly rushed for 1,000 yards in 2012 even though he was dealing with injuries, and as a zone runner he's quite effective in the one-cut and go scheme the Packers would use out of the gun.
Green Bay might choose to wait for the draft or until Bradshaw is fully healthy, but if he's around and a solution at RB isn't met, why not add a guy with Super Bowl experience that is a proven ball-carrier in this league?
Your move, Pack.
S Charles Woodson—San Francisco 49ers
Leaving Green Bay is safety Charles Woodson, victim of his age and the Packers looking to go younger at the safety position.
That benefits the San Francisco 49ers greatly, and he is a prime candidate to fill the void left by Dashon Goldson heading to Tampa Bay on a five-year deal (via ESPN.com).
According to a report from NFL.com, the Niners are talking to both Woodson and Nnamdi Asomugha, two guys that would solve problems in the secondary after the Super Bowl exposed the San Francisco defense as brittle on the outside.
Like the tweet in the opening paragraph suggests, Woodson is still an All-NFL type of player. He creates chances for the offense because his versatility creates problems in the passing game, and that leads to turnovers—something the 49ers thrive off of during the Jim Harbaugh era.
From filling a need to bringing a veteran presence on a team already full of veteran leadership, Woodson would be a great guy to have around in San Fran. Is he a short-term option? Yes, but that short term could be the difference in sealing the deal on the Super Bowl next season.
DE Dwight Freeney—New England Patriots
Freeney is one of three big-name players (John Abraham and Adrian Wilson the others, courtesy of USA Today) headed to New England for a visit with the Patriots, and his place as a rusher on this team could be vital in 2013.
The Patriots struggled to get to the QB at times in 2012, making things extremely difficult on the secondary that was banged up enough as it was.
By adding a perennial All-Pro player in Freeney, the Patriots can address a glaring need along the defensive line and make things easy on a new group of secondary players that are sure to follow—whoever those secondary players might be.
Freeney had only five sacks in 2012, but a new location might make his situation more valuable with a team that has a system already in place and championship aspirations in tow. Joining Vince Wilfork would make for a nice tandem to the already solid front seven, but it appears he and Abraham are racing to the dotted line for New England—I doubt the Pats sign both.
In any event, Freeney is just one of many free agents that will likely be headed for a contender. These aging former stars have a chance to cash in one more time and go after a Super Bowl in the process—every NFL player's dream.