Available Free Agents Who Will Impact NFL Draft Most
At this point in the NFL offseason, most valuable free agents have signed. Teams will now look to fill certain holes with decent veteran acquisitions. Most of these teams will wait until after the draft has concluded to fill whatever roster spots they have remaining.
However, certain organizations may still pick up a veteran in the next few weeks in order to create a lower number of draft needs.
We saw this the past week with the myriad of quarterbacks that switched destinations. The Oakland Raiders and Arizona Cardinals found veteran starters and, in the process, essentially told the football world they won't draft a quarterback in the initial round.
We promise to see similar stories in different positions as the draft approaches.
Today's article focuses on available free agents who could impact the draft the most.
All contract information provided by Spotrac.
Ahmad Bradshaw, Running Back
Jeff Legwold of The Denver Post reported last week that the Broncos had shown some interest in Ahmad Bradshaw as a possible short-term fix. This comes on the heels of the Pittsburgh Steelers kicking the tires on the veteran running back (per Aditi Kinkhabwala of NFL.com).
Both teams seem to be gun-shy considering Bradshaw's recent foot injury and the fact that he has had these types of injuries in the past.
Pittsburgh, which lost Rashard Mendenhall to the Arizona Cardinals last month, will definitely be in the market for a running back. It simply cannot feel comfortable with the idea of going into the 2013 season with Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman as its two primary running backs.
On that note, draft experts like Mike Mayock have linked Eddie Lacy, the consensus No. 1 running back in the draft, to the Steelers as high as the first round (h/t Pittsburgh Tribune-Review). If they go out there and sign a veteran like Bradshaw, that thought is likely thrown out the window.
In my humble opinion, Pittsburgh would be better off waiting until the middle rounds to select a running back. The 2013 NFL draft isn't top-heavy at this position but is about as deep as any in recent history. The likes of Johnathan Franklin, Stepfan Taylor and Giovani Bernard would represent better value later on.
Signing Bradshaw would indicate that general manager Kevin Colbert practices the same theory.
As for the Broncos, they selected Ronnie Hillman in the 2012 NFL draft and have veterans Willis McGahee and Knowshon Moreno on the roster. I highly doubt they would spend a high pick on a running back in the first place. This implies that John Elway will look the veteran route at running back and may end up cutting ties with McGahee.
Andre Smith, Offensive Tackle
It has been a foregone conclusion that the Cincinnati Bengals would retain Andre Smith on a long-term contract. In fact, if you hadn't paid attention, it would be easy to assume he received the franchise tag, not Michael Johnson.
This isn't the case.
Smith is available on the open market but hasn't drawn much interest.
If recent reports suggesting that the split between Smith and Cincinnati are real, there remains a chance that he decides to bolt in free agency.
Teams like the Arizona Cardinals, Miami Dolphins, San Diego Chargers and Detroit Lions could all be in the market for a blindside protector.
This would most definitely alter the landscape early in the 2013 draft.
For argument's sake, let's say the Lions need to find a veteran upgrade to replace both of their starting offensive tackles. Since Jeff Backus announced his retirement, Detroit has been linked to Lane Johnson a great deal. While selecting the Oklahoma product No. 5 overall might be a reach, it's something the Lions might have to do unless they find a franchise guy on the market.
At this point, Smith sits solo in that category. If Detroit does make a play for him prior to the draft, Arizona would be in decent position to nab Johnson in the first round. Meanwhile, San Diego and Miami could find a trade partner in the Cleveland Browns to ensure that Arizona doesn't get him.
A Smith signing could open up a whirlwind of confusion heading into the draft.
As someone who loves the pure entertainment value of the annual event as well as the nuanced aspect of it, I couldn't be more excited if this happened.
Eric Winston, Offensive Tackle
Eric Winston has been one of the best zone-blocking offensive tackles in the National Football League over the past few years. In a surprising move, the Kansas City Chiefs released him last month after just one season with the team.
Even more surprisingly, Winston hasn't drawn a ton of interest on the free-agent market. While he seems like a zone-blocking scheme fit only, Winston should at least draw interest from the San Diego Chargers, Oakland Raiders and Jacksonville Jaguars.
The interesting thing here is that only the Chargers have been mentioned as going offensive tackle early in the draft. If they bring Winston in, that changes the dynamics of their needs. In essence, it enables a team like the Miami Dolphins to trade up for Lane Johnson without bidding against another team. On that note, the free-spending Dolphins could also make a play for Winston.
As it is, if he is signed prior to the draft, the board switches up a bit.
Tyson Clabo, Offensive Tackle
I cannot understand for the life of me why the Atlanta Falcons signed Sam Baker to a six-year, $40.85 million contract only to release Tyson Clabo a few short weeks later.
According to Pro Football Focus, Clabo ranked five spots higher than Baker in pass protection this past season (subscription required). Why dole out guaranteed money for someone who had a career year, rather than retain someone who has been extremely productive for each of the last five campaigns?
Clabo is now on the open market and shouldn't find himself short of suitors. He would easily be an upgrade at tackle for about 75 percent of the teams around the National Football League.
The obvious suitors here would be the Miami Dolphins, San Diego Chargers and Arizona Cardinals.
That being said, I wouldn't be surprised to see a team like the Philadelphia Eagles make a play for him. This would enable them to look at Dion Jordan as a great fit in their 3-4 scheme and insert Clabo as a starter from day one.
Brandon Moore, Guard
Brandon Moore has been one of the better guards in the National Football League over the course of the last few seasons. He earned a trip to the Pro Bowl in 2011 and has remained consistent since becoming a regular starter at right guard for the New York Jets in 2004.
In reality, Moore would be a major upgrade for at least a dozen teams around the league.
There is, however, a sense that guards are not too much of a priority when it comes to teams addressing perceived needs in both the draft and free agency.
According to Pro Football Focus, Moore ranked fifth among all guards in run-blocking and was right in the top quarter at that position in pass protection (subscription required). This is an indication that he can be a great all-around force for a team in need of help along the interior of its offensive line.
The Dallas Cowboys have been rumored to be interested in Moore. If they end up signing the veteran, I can easily envision a scenario where Chance Warmack and Jonathan Cooper fall to the late teens or early 20s, setting into motion another dramatic drop down the boards for high-quality prospects who play positions of "lesser need."
In that case, teams like the Chicago Bears, St. Louis Rams and Indianapolis Colts could come calling. It is definitely an interesting dynamic to look at.
John Abraham, Defensive End
Will John Abraham bolt from the Atlanta Falcons and attempt to get a decent payday from another contender? Is there a serious market for his services? Will the Falcons consider bringing him back on the cheap?
These three questions could determine what direction certain teams take late in the first round.
The San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks, New England Patriots and Denver Broncos, all of whom have visited with Abraham, may go defensive line in the first round. If one acquires him prior to the draft, another decent first-round talent could fall to a team like the Jacksonville Jaguars at the beginning of the second round.
The trickle-down effect here is undeniable.
James Harrison, Linebacker
Is James Harrison anywhere near the player we saw the past few seasons prior to 2012? Of course not. Can he provide a decent pass rush for a contending team that runs a 3-4 scheme? Yes.
Again, questions arise as they relate to some of the best veteran free agents remaining on the market.
I highly doubt that a team would look at signing Harrison prior to the draft. With the vast options at their disposal as it relates to rushing linebackers, why not take a chance that someone falls in the draft?
If a team does decide to go after Harrison, who recorded six sacks last season, it may make the decision to bypass an outside linebacker early in the draft. Even at 34 years old, Harrison could act as a stopgap measure for a few 3-4 defenses who need pass-rush help.
The Indianapolis Colts and Philadelphia Eagles come to mind first.
Would Philadelphia's new head coach Chip Kelly pass on Dion Jordan to sign the veteran? If so, that could impact the very earliest stages of the draft.
Karlos Dansby, Linebacker
I am still not 100 percent sold on the Miami Dolphins' free-agent moves. Dannell Ellerbe isn't a major upgrade over Karlos Dansby.
While the Dolphins did get younger here, they didn't improve dramatically over the short term.
According to Pro Football Focus, Dansby ranked ninth among inside linebackers against the pass and 11th against the run (subscription required).
Even at 31 years old, the free agent can be a solid inside linebacker for a contending team.
Again, the Indianapolis Colts could make sense here. They cannot possibly be sold on an inside linebacker tandem that consists of Kavell Conner and Jerrell Freeman. That being said, I don't envision Indianapolis going in that direction in the draft.
The Chicago Bears and New York Giants will both look inside linebacker early in the draft. Each selects in the latter half of the first round, and each could use a veteran addition.
If one of these teams were to sign Dansby prior to late-April, it could mean that the likes of Kevin Minter, Arthur Brown and Manti Te'o drop into the second round.
Charles Woodson, Safety
Charles Woodson is just one season removed from an All-Pro performance and made a seamless transition from cornerback to safety late in his career.
Due to salary-cap restraints, the Green Bay Packers set him free prior to the start of the new league year last month.
Despite Woodson missing nine games due to injury this past season, I expected him to get some decent play on the free-agent market. After all, he is still one of the better cover safeties in the NFL.
The future Hall of Famer met with San Francisco early in the process and expected a deal to get hashed out. Much to the surprise of many around the world of football, the 49ers signed former St. Louis Rams safety Craig Dahl to a three-year, $5.2 million contract shortly after visiting with Woodson.
Ian Rapoport over at NFL.com indicated that Woodson hasn't drawn any interest outside of San Francisco; Woodson himself said teams consider him "ancient." While this couldn't be further from the truth, it shows that the market isn't there for him.
In the end, I expect Woodson to either retire or end up with the 49ers.
If San Francisco did offer a deal to Woodson prior to the draft, it wouldn't need to trade up for Kenny Vaccaro or reach for someone like Eric Reid. The safety class as a whole is deep, but free safety is where it is at.
San Francisco taking itself out of the market for a free safety in the initial round could help some other teams like the Dallas Cowboys, Cincinnati Bengals and St. Louis Rams find value in the second round.
Vincent Frank is an NFL featured columnist here at Bleacher Report. He was hired prior to the 2011 season and couldn't be happier working with a great group of individuals here. In addition, Vincent is the head sports editor over at eDraft, co-host of Draft Sports Radio, which airs every Monday and Wednesday from 3 to 6 p.m. ET, and a fantasy writer for Pro Football Focus.
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