What's the Hold-Up for Top Remaining NFL Free Agents?

Ty Schalter@tyschalterNFL National Lead WriterMay 9, 2013

What's the Hold-Up for Top Remaining NFL Free Agents?

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    Free agency can be a strange and mysterious time for teams and top NFL players. When players hit the open market, they subject themselves to market forces. A lot of times, that means players get big paydays, whether they deserve them or not.

    Sometimes, that means great players can't get a sniff.

    When an aging Dwight Freeney was one of the highest-paid players in the NFL, the Colts letting him walk and signing a younger veteran makes sense.

    That the Colts lavished a four-year, $16 million contract on Erik Walden when Freeney is, per The Denver Post's Jeff Legwold, rumored to be looking for a two-year, $8.5 million deal, makes no sense. Freeney is still a much better on-field option than Walden, even beyond this season.

    Such are the mysteries of NFL free agency.

    There are a lot of big names still on the open market—and they're not just "big names," either. A lot of veteran free agents who are still playing at a high level haven't signed anywhere yet. With most of the free-agent money spent and most roster needs addressed in the draft, these players may be running out of landing spots.

    What's going on with these great players? Why can't they drum up interest? Why are teams happily settling for lesser options?

Ahmad Bradshaw

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    Normally, a running back who rushed for over 1,000 yards and had six touchdowns with 4.6 yards per carry would be a hot commodity on the open market.

    Ahmad Bradshaw, however, had surgery to replace one screw in his foot with another one, after the original procedure didn't take. In with today's "running backs are replaceable" mindset, it's no wonder many of the teams needing backs drafted them instead of signing Bradshaw.

    Still, Pro Football Talk's Josh Alper reports Bradshaw has been medically cleared. With that assurance, if there's a team still looking for a running back to add to their committee, Bradshaw should be their first choice.

Karlos Dansby

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    Karlos Dansby has been one of the most dynamic, productive middle linebackers in football for years. The 6'4", 243-pound thumper was Pro Football Focus' 13th-ranked inside linebacker last season, earning a plus-6.0 overall rating for the Dolphins.

    Dansby had visited the Buffalo Bills, but per The Buffalo News, that fell apart when they drafted inside linebacker Kiko Alonso with the No. 46 overall pick. Per Kent Somers of AZcentral.com, Dansby met with the Arizona Cardinals—with whom he spent his first six years in the NFL—on May 8, after inside linebacker Daryl Washington was suspended for four games.

    If Dansby's asking price is right, his wait may finally be over.

Nick Barnett

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    Nick Barnett has been a quality linebacker for many seasons due to his great range and athleticism. Barnett was Pro Football Focus' sixth-ranked 4-3 outside linebacker in 2012.

    Despite being released by the Bills after a failed physical, Barnett should still have some gas left in the tank (turns 32 on May 27). But, in general, his age and the term "failed physical" aren't desirable qualities for teams seeking front-seven stability.

    Barnett was most recently linked with the Chicago Bears, but the Bears signed linebackers D.J. Williams and James Anderson and drafted Jon Bostic. As long as he proves physically fit, Barnett should be an effective addition for any team; it's just a matter of teams finding out what holes they still need filled.

Brandon Moore

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    Brandon Moore is not going to be a building block for a franchise putting together a young team, and he is not going to be productive on the back end of an extended contract. At age 32, however, the former Jets guard was Pro Football Focus' fourth-rated offensive guard in 2012, grading out positively across the board.

    According to the National Football Post's Dan Pompei, one NFL front office exec believes Moore is "overhyped." Given that, if Moore is willing to sign a reasonable one-year deal, he'll help a good, guard-needy team win more games in 2013.

Dwight Freeney

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    Dwight Freeney spent his first 10 seasons in the NFL as one of the league's most feared pass-rushers from the 4-3 defensive end spot. In his 11th season (2012), he was a middling 3-4 outside linebacker; his diminishing skills diminished further as he was a poor fit for the Colts' new scheme.

    Still, the veteran flashed some of the same old speed, and a 4-3 team with a need could certainly use him. Many teams have been linked to Freeney over the offseason, but there's a snag.

    According to The Denver Post's Jeff Legwold, Freeney wants too much money. He's dropped his initial sky-high asking price of $8 million per year to match Osi Umenyiora's two-year, $8.5 million deal with the Atlanta Falcons.

    At this stage of the offseason, that kind of money may not be out there for Freeney.

Daryl Smith

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    Stalwart Jacksonville Jaguars strong-side linebacker Daryl Smith wasn't as stalwart last season; he suffered a severe groin injury that kept him out of all but three games. Groin injuries are notoriously hard to shake, and that may be why Smith has had such a hard time generating interest.

    The 31-year-old, if healthy, should still be able to help a team. He's been linked with the St. Louis Rams, who on April 23 restructured the contract of defensive end Chris Long. According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch's Jim Thomas, that freed up cap room that could be used to sign Smith.

Brian Urlacher

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    Brian Urlacher is synonymous with the Chicago Bears, the 6'4", 258-pounder having been the heart of a perennially outstanding defense for most of his 13 NFL seasons.

    It's hard to say a bad word about an eight-time Pro Bowler and four-time first-team All-Pro, but Urlacher's at the end of a great career. If he could still help the Bears, he'd still be in Chicago. Nevertheless, the division-rival Minnesota Vikings have a gaping hole at middle linebacker and have been repeatedly linked to him.

    1500ESPN.com's Tom Pelissero reported that Vikings GM Rick Spielman hasn't ruled out Urlacher as an option. Via ESPN.com, former Denver Broncos GM Ted Sundquist told ESPN 1000's "Chicago Gamenight" show that Urlacher would be a solid option for teams after June 1 cuts open up salary cap room.

John Abraham

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    The Atlanta Falcons released their longtime defensive cornerstone, John Abraham, to get (slightly) younger and cheaper at the position with former New York Giants pass-rusher Osi Umenyiora.

    After Abraham couldn't find a suitable suitor on the open market, USA Today's Mike Garafolo reports the Falcons players pushed the front office to see about bringing him back. According to the source, Abraham was not receptive to the overtures, choosing instead to pursue employment elsewhere.

    The 35-year-old four-time Pro Bowler has visited with several NFL teams, but Adam Schefter reported on May 6 that the Tennessee Titans could lock him up this week.

Victor Cruz

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    Everyone knows what's going on with Victor Cruz's situation: The Giants own Cruz's restricted free-agent rights, but Cruz wants the kind of big-money deal you get on the open market.

    At some point, as logic suggests, the two must meet in the middle.

    Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio reported on May 7 that a source told him "the next 7-10 days" are important to getting a deal done. In Florio's words, "It’s unclear why the next week or so is regarded as important," since there are no deadlines or milestone dates that would affect either Cruz's demands or the Giants' monetary supply.

    Perhaps, as Florio speculates, they just really want Cruz in the fold for OTAs.