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2014 NFL Free Agency: Top 5 at Each Position

Andrew GardaFeatured ColumnistJanuary 8, 2017

2014 NFL Free Agency: Top 5 at Each Position

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    Adam Bettcher/Getty Images

    As we head towards the end of the NFL season, it's time to begin looking ahead into the offseason.

    Free agency doesn't start until March 11, but you can be sure teams are already looking at players set to become free agents and deciding whether they are a fit.

    Some of the players on the following pages will be franchised by their current team and some will enter into extensions before they hit the market.

    For the purposes of this early look though, we will assume nobody is retained and it's a free-for-all.

    Furthermore, we've referenced Pro Football Focus' player rankings at times to give you some context for how valuable these players are in relation to others at the same position.

    So start dreaming about who might be the savior of your franchise and let's take a look at the top five potential free agents at each position.

Quarterbacks

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    Matt Sullivan/Getty Images

    It's an interesting quarterback free agency class this year with some potential starters and a few career backups. None of them should be on the market long.

     

    1. Jay Cutler

    We’re still not sure if Cutler’s future lies with the Chicago Bears or not. This weekend against Cleveland, we saw some evidence supporting the thought that it is time to move on (two interceptions, bringing the season total to 10 in nine games) and evidence that it’s worth hanging with him (three touchdowns and 265 yards).

    All told, Cutler has probably had as many bad moments as good with the Bears. Head coach Marc Trestman seems like a guy who might be able to take Cutler to the next level.

    But let’s assume for a moment that the Bears decide to move on and Trestman brings in his own guy.

    Cutler could be an interesting option to several teams in desperate need of a quarterback. Maybe Cutler isn’t ever going to reach the level of Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady, but he has made some very nice plays and is a solid quarterback.

    Sure, he'll cost a ton of money, but for a team with talent in place—perhaps Houston or Tennessee—that might be a worthwhile investment.

    Cutler is also one of only two true starting-caliber free agents and the one with more tread left on his tires.

    Maybe Cutler isn't the friendliest sort, and he may not care what you think, but he's a solid quarterback and the best pure starter in this class.

     

    2. Michael Vick

    We know Michael Vick is far closer to the end of his career than the beginning, but if a team is looking for a bridge or hoping to cash in on the “read-option” fad that’s no longer sweeping the nation, he's the guy in this free agency group.

    In the right offense, he should have a few more years of starting productivity left. He also shouldn’t command heaps of money as a free agent, in large part because of his injury issues.

    Given Nick Foles’ success, Vick will not be the starter in Philadelphia again. It’s hard to imagine he will stick around to be a backup.

     

    3. Josh McCown

    Someone, somewhere will give Josh McCown starting quarterback money.

    It’s probably a phenomenal mistake, but if it happened for Matt Flynn (twice!), there’s a good chance it will happen for McCown.

    McCown isn’t a bad quarterback—we saw him succeed under Bears coach Marc Trestmanso with the right guidance, he’s been effective.

    Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery and Martellus Bennett to throw to and Matt Forte to clear out the defense.

    He’s a good backup who can clearly step in for a length of time in the right situation. Even if someone overpays him a starter this offseason, he's best suited as a backup.

     

    4. Josh Freeman

    Who is Josh Freeman?

    The efficient 2010 player who threw for 3,451 yards and 25 touchdowns with just six interceptions?

    The wildly inconsistent 2011 version with more yards (3,592) and way more interceptions (22) but fewer touchdowns (16)?

    Or the dumpster fire from this year? The guy who was run out of one city and then only got a single start before his new coaching staff pulled the plug?

    Freeman has ability and could have some value in a new situation.

    Minnesota served him up in a position to do nothing but fail—starting shortly after his arrival, behind a struggling offensive line, with receivers who were either shaky (Jerome Simpson) or adjusting to the offense themselves (Greg Jennings).

    His one-and-done implosion may not be a real sign of how he could perform with more support or time.

    Freeman still has a chance to be a starting quarterback, but if he falls apart again, you get the feeling he may not even be a backup. Some guys just don’t ever make that transition.

     

    5. Chad Henne

    Of the potential backups on the free agency list—a group including Seneca Wallace, Kellen Clemens and Jimmy Clausen—Henne has been the most successful one over the span of his career.

    While not likely a starter for any team, Henne has proven he can fill in capably if a team's starting quarterback goes down. At times, he's even done well.

    He won’t cost you much and he could give you peace of mind.

Running Backs

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    Phil Sears-USA TODAY Sports

    This is a really good group—so good we had to leave guys like Toby Gerhart, who would normally be pretty intriguing free agent, off of it. Teams will be taking a long look at these five players, as the NFL has decided that you can get a running back anywhere, anytime.

    Going to free agency may cost more than drafting a player, but you know what you'll get.

     

    1. Maurice Jones-Drew

    It will be interesting to see if the Jacksonville Jaguars keep Jones-Drew around. He’ll be 29 years old in 2014 and he's battled injuries during each of the past two seasons.

    He’ll want some significant money and the Jaguars are rebuilding, so Jones-Drew could very well be in a new uniform next season.

    While he might not have a ton of tread left on his tires, Jones-Drew has at least a few more years left.

    Behind a good offensive line, with a legitimate quarterback and weapons around him, Jones-Drew could provide some consistent production for a team having issues at running back.

     

    2. Ben Tate

    When Ben Tate burst onto the scene as a rookie, he joined a Houston Texans team hell-bent on running the ball on virtually every down.

    During the 2011 season, the Texans ran the ball 546 times, compared to 467 pass attempts.

    In that same season, the New England Patriots threw the ball 612 times and ran it 438 times and the Detroit Lions threw it 666 times and ran it 356 times.

    In 2012, the dynamic shifted in favor of the pass (554 pass attempts compared to 508 run plays) and nearly all the running plays were for fellow running back Arian Foster.

    The 2013 season has seen Foster’s year end early, so Tate has had the bulk of the carries.

    While he may fall short of 1,000 yards, that’s more about how bad the offense has been around him and how bad the defense has been as a whole.

    You can’t run the ball if you’re behind all the time, and you don’t get chances in the red zone if the offense can’t get you there.

    On top of that, Tate is dealing with injured ribs—yet he continues to be effective despite that.

    Tate may not get as much in the market as some of the other names on this list, but he could end up being one of the better values if Houston lets him go.

     

    3. Rashad Jennings

    The former seventh round draft pick arrived in Oakland this year after three years behind Maurice Jones-Drew in Jacksonville and might have made himself some money.

    After Darren McFadden went down, yet again, Jennings took over and had some exceptionally good games.

    This looks very much like a case of a guy who finally got out from under the shadow of a starter and making the most of it. Teams are always looking for running backs, and Jennings should get some offers in 2014.

     

    4. Knowshon Moreno

    It will be interesting to see if the Denver Broncos decide to keep Moreno around or not. It may depend solely on money—certainly this season he has taken his game to another level and has been a vital facet of the offense.

    But they drafted rookie Montee Ball in the second round of this past NFL draft and while he has struggled, his game has slowly improved. The Broncos also have Ronnie Hillman and C.J. Anderson to fill in.

    If he leaves, Moreno could find a good market for his services. As stated, he has proven himself more durable this year and able to play through pain. He runs with more determination and has showed improved vision and speed.

    He would be a solid addition to any number of teams.

     

    5. Darren McFadden

    Once again, we’ve seen the best and worst of Darren McFadden this season.

    The best?

    You can either take 129 yards on the ground in Week 2 against Jacksonville or the two rushing touchdowns in Week 6 against Pittsburgh.

    The worst?

    Multiple injuries and another mostly lost season.

    McFadden’s talent is undeniable and that will get him signed. Unfortunately, his injury woes are also undeniable and while we’ve seen frequently injured players turn it around (Steven Jackson and Frank Gore come to mind) it’s a risk.

    He’ll get paid and get his chance—don’t be shocked if he gets a short-term “prove yourself” contract. 

     

Wide Receivers

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    Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

    There are a ton of teams in need of some receiver help, and this is a good year to be one of them as the free-agency pool is deep. There are no real No. 1 receivers though, and if you try to force some of these players into that role, you'll be wasting your money.

     

    1. Eric Decker

    After back-to-back 1,000 yard seasons, it’s hard to imagine the Denver Broncos allowing Eric Decker to get away, but as of right now he’s set to be an unrestricted free agent.

    If that’s the case come March, he may see some tremendous cash on the open market.

    While part of his success is tied to having Peyton Manning throwing the ball, there are plenty of good quarterbacks in the league who could use an outstanding No. 2 receiver.

    He shouldn't be signed to be a No. 1—a trap which many teams have fallen into in the past with players of Decker's skill set.

    Decker is a fine complementary player and would be a great addition to a lot of offenses.

     

    2. Brandon LaFell

    LaFell has had a solid 2013, and while the Panthers might try to retain him, he should garner some other interest as well.

    A receiver with decent size and speed, what holds LaFell back is his inconsistency. He can produce a very good game and then disappear for the next.

    If he can iron that out, he could really be an outstanding No. 2 for a team with a strong No. 1 grabbing the attention of opposing defenses.

     

    3. James Jones

    The danger in signing Jones is that he may not be as good without Aaron Rodgers throwing to him.

    However, if you look at his games over the last few years, you’ll see a receiver who has grown quite a bit. Jones has made some impressive catches over that span and has shown the ability to go vertical as well as make a tough catch on a shorter route.

    After the emergence of Jarrett Boykin, the Packers might decide they can afford to let Jones go, so there’s a good chance he hits the market.

     

    4. Hakeem Nicks

    You have to assume that Nicks isn’t completely done, despite all evidence to the contrary this season.

    There is a lot wrong with the offense this year—yes, Nicks’ sometimes laissez faire attitude contributes to the awfulness of the offense, but so does Eli Manning’s erratic passing, the overall poor run game and the horrible offensive line play.

    Nicks has the speed and ability to quickly bounce back and possibly serve as a No. 1. The danger, of course, is Nicks’ injury history, which is substantial.

    Between the injury history and the questionable effort this season, Nicks is further down this list than he would be otherwise.

    It could come down to price, but someone, somewhere will take a chance on his upside.

     

    5. Andre Roberts

    The emergence of Michael Floyd put the kibosh on Andre Roberts’ production this year, but he should find some success elsewhere next season.

    His biggest strength is in the short and intermediate routes, where he can concentrate on helping move the chains.

    Roberts has struggled through some awful quarterback play in his four years with the Cardinals. A team with a solid quarterback looking for a good complementary wide receiver would get a player with tremendous upside with Roberts.

Tight End

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    Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

    The league has started to move towards formations which can feature dual tight ends, which means tight end talent is at a premium. There are some very good players who will be free agents in 2014 though, so the bidding may get a bit out of control.

     

    1. Jimmy Graham

    Seventy-six catches, 1,071 receiving yards, 14 touchdowns.

    No other tight endfree agent or otherwiseeven sniffs those numbers, so Graham is the easy No. 1 choice here.

     

    2. Jermichael Finley

    We’ll have to see if Finley comes back from his spinal injury, though NFL Network reporter Andrea Kremer has reported that he’s moving well and it seems as if he’s planning to return to the NFL.

    Finley has shown flashes of ridiculous ability, including early in this season. Sadly, he's also disappeared for long stretches during the few seasons he has been healthy for most of the games.

    While he may cost more than the Packers will pay, he should find a home where he can be utilized fully by the offense. Then he just needs to spend more time on the field than the trainer's table.

     

    3. Andrew Quarless

    It might seem a bit much to see the Packers lose both Jermicheal Finley and Quarless, but they never overpay for players. Finley will want too much money—will they even pay for Quarless?

    It could be that Quarless only has value in Green Bay, but over the last few weeks he has shown some skill—and that’s with Matt Flynn under center.

    Quarless has flashed good hands and an aggressive attitude when going after the ball. While he’s not a name anyone will know outside of Packers fans and media, NFL teams will take notice. He will get interest in part because he can play, but also because he will come cheaper than the “name” players.

     

    4. Dennis Pitta

    This season didn’t go quite to plan for Pitta, as he suffered an injury early. But as much as reports had him missing the entire season because of his injured hip, he came back in time to have an impact.

    After letting Anquan Boldin go in free agency and watching the offense struggle without him, the Ravens may try to keep Pitta around. However, he’s already 28 (he was a 25-year-old rookie), so they also may not want to invest heavily in him.

    This opens the door for any number of teams who need a complimentary tight end.

     

    5. Brandon Pettigrew

    Pettigrew has the size and athleticism but has struggled to put together a good season since 2011. In fact, the last two seasons have been pretty brutal.

    Part of it has been lack of opportunities (especially this year) as Matt Stafford only has eyes for Calvin Johnson, but another part of it has been his own struggles. 

    However, his untapped potential, athleticism and size will be attractive to teams looking to replicate some of the dual tight end sets we’ve seen over the last few years.

     

Offensive Line

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    Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

    You can never have too much talent on the offensive line.

    This year there is plenty of it in free agency across all three positions—tackle, guard and center.

    Here are the best of the best who will be free agents.

     

    1. Branden Albert (tackle)

    After an offseason where the Kansas City Chiefs did their best to ditch Albert, it’s hard to imagine him not hitting free agency.

    Even though he was only recently injured, Albert may return before the end of the regular season. While he struggled at times this year (Pro Football Focus has him as the No. 27 tackle in the NFL (subscriber link), most of his issues were run blocking—something many teams will overlook.

    There was no trade in part because Albert’s contract was ending. Now that he is about to become a free agent, the bidding will begin.

     

    2. Alex Mack (center)

    You have to assume the Cleveland Browns will do anything in their power to retain Mack, currently the No. 3 center according to Pro Football Focus (subscriber link), and one of the few bright spots in a poor season.

    However, that’s not to say he remains in Cleveland and you can expect multiple teams to send truckloads of money at him in the hopes he can steady their offensive line.

    He can run block, he can pass block—he’s the cornerstone of the offensive line.

     

    3. Brian De La Puente (center)

    While De La Puente isn’t nearly as good as Mack, he’s a very solid center. If he has a flaw, it’s in his run-blocking, which can be inconsistent.

    He’s been able to keep Drew Brees upright and successful though, and that's something teams will note.

    But while the New Orleans Saints will want to keep him from becoming the second key lineman to walk in two years (current Chicago left tackle Jermon Bushrod was the first), they may not want to invest more money when they have a ton in guards Jahri Evans and Ben Grubbs.

     

    4. Jon Asamoah (guard)

    While he hasn’t had a perfect season (Pro Football Focus ranks him as their No. 15 guard—subscriber link), Asamoah is a good pass-blocker and a solid run-blocker as well.

    He’s just 25, so a team will be willing to make a pretty long-term commitment to him and the question will become whether the Kansas City Chiefs will do the same and offer enough money.

     

    5. Jared Veldheer  (tackle)

    It’s been a rough season for the 26-year-old left tackle, who was hurt and placed on the short-term injured reserve by the Raiders (per ProFootballTalk.com).

    He’s been back for two games now and played well so his value should rise again.

    A smart team will look over all his tape from the last few years and not concentrate on the lack of it from this season. While he may fit some team’s schemes as a right tackle, he can hold his own against the best.

    If he has a solid game against the Chiefs and outside linebacker Tamba Hali, a lot of coaches in the NFL will start talking to their GMs about him.

Defensive Line

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    Grant Halverson/Getty Images

    Teams would do well to make sure they've got some of these guys wrapped up early because they won't be on the open market long before another team snatches them up.

    But it's going to cost them.

     

    1. Greg Hardy

    The Carolina Panthers have invested in their offense, but they need to do more on the defensive side of the ball. Furthermore, they can ill-afford to lose a player of Hardy’s quality.

    That said, Hardy is coming off his super-cheap rookie deal and looking to make some cash. So any team with an open checkbook will get in on the bidding and it could get pricey.

    For Hardy, it will be worth it. By the end of the season, Hardy will have surpassed his tackle and assist totals and could meet his sack total from 2012 (12).

     

    2. Michael Johnson

    Last offseason the Cincinnati Bengals tagged Johnson, but they won’t repeat that.

    One way or the other, Johnson (the No. 2 defensive end according to Pro Football Focus, subscriber link) is going to get paid.

    His sack totals are down, but everything else will be up—and should be career highs—by the end of Week 17.

    Johnson will be a hot commodity on the free-agent market and the Bengals may have a ton of competition for his services if they don’t sign him the moment they can.

     

    3. Michael Bennett

    Even at $4.8 million dollars for one year, the Seattle Seahawks may have gotten Bennett on the cheap.

    That won’t happen again and it’s hard to imagine them retaining his services as he should be a hot name in free agency.

    If there is one flaw in his game it’s penalties, but overall Bennett has been a beast this season.

    You can never have too many defensive ends who can sack the quarterback—expect Bennett to be the center of a lot of attention this offseason.

     

    4. Willie Young

    The Detroit Lions kept Young around on a relatively cheap “show me” one-year contract—and he did indeed show them.

    With career highs already in the 2013 season for both tackles and assists and while tying his career mark for sacks, Young has proven he is a valuable commodity.

    Will the Lions pay to keep him?

    They have some sizable contracts with Ndamukong Suh, Stephen Tulloch, Chris Houston, Glover Quin and rookie Ziggy Ansah, so it may be too much to expect them to pony up for more defense.

    In which case there will be plenty of suitors for a 28-year-old defensive end who is just coming into his own.

     

    5. Jared Allen

    Yes, he’s old and he’s certainly not coming off his strongest year, but Allen is still a very good defensive end who can get penetration and clog up running lanes.

    The key here will be how much he wants to get paid.

    He is coming off a season where he has made just over $17 million dollars (per Spotrac.com).

    One assumes he knows he’s not making that again in his career. If he is willing to come into a defense for a lower price—perhaps for a shot at a Super Bowl and to mentor a young defense—he will find plenty of suitors.

    He still has a bit left in the tank.

     

Linebacker

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    Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

    Washington's Brian Orakpo heads a really outstanding class of linebackers who will be making some serious bank this offseason. You don't always see a ton of movement at the linebacker position, but some of these names are bound to get team's hearts racing and end up in new cities.

     

    1. Brian Orakpo

    In some ways it’s inconceivable that Washington wouldn’t move Heaven and Earth to keep one of their best defensive players, but they have a lot of money wrapped up in other players.

    Orakpo is tearing it up this year—leading the team in sacks and helping to bring pressure on opposing quarterbacks.

    He is the type of player who could fit in just about any defense. If Washington can’t pay him, someone else will.

     

    2. Brandon Spikes

    At the end of his rookie contract with the New England Patriots, Spikes is having a tremendous year and is listed as Pro Football Focus' No. 6 inside linebacker (subscriber link).

    He has been banged up and missed games a lot in his first few years, but has been relatively healthy this season and looks like he may top career totals in several categories.

    As young as he is, he should get a lot of interest from teams.

     

    3. Karlos Dansby

    After giving him a one-year contract, the Arizona Cardinals have had the benefit of a career year from Dansby. Everyone thought his 2012 numbers were a fluke, but he has had just as good a season in 2013 as he had in 2012.

    It’s hard to imagine the Cardinals giving the 10-year veteran a big contract, but it’s clear he can still play.

    Some team will need a veteran inside presence and Dansby will find a home—either back in Arizona or elsewhere.

     

    4. Wesley Woodyard

    Woodyard has had a down year for the Denver Broncos—partially because Von Miller was suspended for the beginning of the season and partially because he was hurt in Week 5 (stinger) and as the Denver Post observed, never really looked the same after.

    Still, he has ability and could just need an offseason to recover. He’s young and has flashed speed, strength and the ability to disrupt a play.

    He should bounce back in 2014 and could be a cheap addition for some team if Denver decides to move in a different direction.

     

    5. Jon Beason

    After signing a five-year, multi-million dollar contract extension with the Carolina Panthers in 2011, Beason proceeded to get injured on a regular basis. The Panthers had had enough after Week 2 of 2013, and traded him to the New York Giants before Week 3.

    Since then, Beason is not only healthy but playing very good football.

    At just 28 years old, Beason still has some game left and if he can stay healthy, he has proven he can still have an impact.

    The key phrase is “stay healthy” but some team will take that chance as the upside is too good.

     

    *note - I originally had Sean Lee on the list as I didn't see the extension he signed on Spotrac's database. It's there, I just missed it as it was much lower on the page. So he has been removed.

Cornerback

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    Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

    This is a really exciting cornerback class, with several players coming off big seasons and single-year contracts.

    In a passing league, you need guys to defend the pass and so corners are vital to a defense's success.

    It was hard to pare this down to just five, and we are sure there are some you will feel were left off, so feel free to add them below.

     

    1. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie

    While his stats aren’t gaudy, Rodgers-Cromartie has been a very solid addition to the Denver Broncos and is currently Pro Football Focus’ No. 6 rated corner. He’s been thrown at 62 times, with only 28 receptions—just a 45.2 percent rate of completion (subscriber link).

    While he has been banged up, Rodgers-Cromartie has done an excellent job making the most of his chance with the Broncos on a one-year contract.

    Rodgers-Cromartie has the talent to be a No. 1 corner for a team and while he isn’t a shutdown corner, he can obviously play.

     

    2. Brent Grimes

    After five years with the Atlanta Falcons, Brent Grimes jumped ship for a one-year contract with the Miami Dolphins.

    He’s been outstanding for the team, and is currently rated by Pro Football Focus as their No. 4 cornerback (subscriber link).

    Normally he’d be a lock to return to the Dolphins, but they have a lot of money on the books in 2014 (via Spotrac.com), so he will be one of many hard choices the team will have to make.

    Expect other teams to make a run at Grimes, who bounced back from a bad Achilles tear in 2012, and to make himself some money.

     

    3. Chris Harris

    The Denver Broncos may try to lock him down long-term at season’s end but Harris has played well enough over the last three years to command some money.

    Currently, Pro Football Focus has Harris rated as their No. 19 cornerback out of 109 rated (subscriber link).

    With several players on the defense set to hit free agency, Denver won’t be able to keep them all. Harris will be attractive to multiple other teams and the Broncos should find themselves in a fight to keep him.

     

    4. Captain Munnerlyn

    A guy whose name sounds like he should be running around with The Avengers fighting super-villains, Captain Munnerlyn is a player who the average fan might overlook.

    However, teams will know who he is—he’s a guy having a very solid season and who is just 25 years old.

    While he won’t be on too many Sportscenter highlights (this week's pick-six against the New York Jets being the exception), Munnerlyn is very good in coverage, a willing defender against the run and an overall good player.

    While teams scrap over some of the bigger names, expect the Carolina Panthers to try and lock him down early because if they don’t, Munnerlyn will find himself with multiple suitors.

     

    5. Aqib Talib

    Here's the problem with New England Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib: Which one will a team get?

    Will it be the Talib with 16 tackles, eight passes defended, four interceptions and a forced fumble in just five games? Or will it be the Talib whose production has tailed off so much that his overall rating ranks a pedestrian 49th among all cornerbacks per Pro Football Focus?

    Who knows for sure, but Talib's play to end 2013 may define which fork in the road his free agency fate takes.

Safety

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    Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

    A lot of people overlook how vital that solid safety play can be to a defense.

    Safeties often need to be able to help corners lock down players like Calvin Johnson while also lending a hand to contain guys like Adrian Peterson.

    Their job is to leave an impression (sometimes an impression of a helmet) on the opposition, but if they mess up, they're often allowing an opposing player to go for a huge gain.

    There are some great safeties hitting free agency this year, so let's take a closer look at some players at an often underrated position.

     

    1. T.J. Ward

    Don’t sleep on Cleveland Browns safety T.J. Ward because NFL teams won’t.

    Ward is having a pretty ridiculous season, leading the Browns in tackles with 71 and generally being a nuisance to opposing offenses.

    Currently ranked as Pro Football Focus’ No. 2 ranked safety (subscriber link), Ward will be in high demand and Cleveland will have a lot of people coming after their player this offseason.

     

    2. Jarius Byrd

    Coming off of an outstanding 2012, Jarius Byrd has continued his excellent play for the Buffalo Bills in 2013 and will look to get paid.

    Byrd is currently rated as the No. 6 safety according to Pro Football Focus (subscriber link) and will finish the year with a strong argument that he’s one of the best young safeties in the NFL.

    The Bills will probably try to lock him down in the offseason, but expect Byrd to look at all offers.

     

    3. James Ihedigbo

    The No. 8 ranked safety according to Pro Football Focus (subscriber link), Ihedigbo can be a bit of a liability in coverage, but what you’ll be paying him for are his hard-hitting tackles.

    Coming off a dirt cheap $780,000, one-year contract, Ihedigbo has made enough of a name for himself that safety depleted teams will be take a close look at his film this year.

     

    4. Chris Clemons

    As we’ve mentioned on other slides, the Miami Dolphins have a lot of cash tied up in other players and it could be very difficult to hang onto some of their talent.

    Add Clemons to the list. He and Reshad Jones have been devastating at times in the secondary and after coming back on a one-year “prove it” contract, Clemons could be a hot commodity.

    Clemons’ rating against the run dropped a bit this year (via Pro Football Focus subscriber link) but he’s still managed to end up as a top ten rated safety by Pro Football Focus.

     

    5. Bernard Pollard

    Tennessee Titans strong safety Bernard Pollard is a physical player who leads his team in tackles with 71 total and has been a menace for both opposing receivers and running backs.

    Pollard isn’t a well-rounded safety—he’s not a tremendous coverage guy—but what he does, he does exceedingly well.

    Teams looking to increase their physicality in the secondary will give Pollard’s agent a call as soon as free agency opens.

Kickers/Punters

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    Crystal LoGiudice-USA TODAY Spor

    Both kickers and punters have a very short shelf life and can move around from team to team quite frequently. So they need to cash in on free agency when they can, because you never know when the end is nigh.

    That said, teams without a good kicker or punter are going to have trouble winning games as they lose the field position battle and miss key field goals that can cost them a victory.

     

    1. Graham Gano

    Carolina’s kicker has been outstanding this year, hitting 23 of 26 field goal attempts and averaging 71.9 yards from kickoffs (via Pro Football Focus, subscribers link). He’s young and has a lot of years to go so a long term contract will happen for him this offseason.

     

    2. Robbie Gould

    The Chicago Bears kicker has had some struggles during kickoffs, but has hit 89.3 percent of his field goals including 8-of-10 from over 40 yards.

     

    3. Steven Hauschka

    The Seattle Seahawk kicker has yet to miss under 40 yards, and is 3-of-3 on kicks over 50 yards. In fact, he’s missed just one field goal this season. He will see a lot of interest this offseason if the Seahawks let him hit the market.

     

    4. Nick Folk

    Not much has gone right for the New York Jets this year and Nick Folk is one of the few things they can hang their hat on as having worked out. Folk has been money all season, hitting 30-of-31 including 3-of-3 from over 50 yards. At just 29 years old, he’s got a lot of years ahead of him.

     

    5. Pat McAfee

    Yes, there’s a punter on this list. McAfee isn’t cheap (he made $2.97 million this year), but may be worth it as he has had a great season and is Pro Football Focus’ No. 3 punter this year (subscribers link). He’s the only punter on this list because he’s head and shoulders above anyone else at the position.

     

    Andrew Garda is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association. He is also a member of the fantasy football staff at FootballGuys.com and the NFL writer at CheeseheadTV.com. You can follow him at @andrew_garda on Twitter.

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