What's the purpose of free agency?
For different teams, it can certainly vary, but overall, the biggest purpose of free agency is to restock a team before the draft. We talk draft needs all the time, right? Well, why go into the draft with multiple urgent needs if it's going to force your hand in taking a player you need over a better player you might want?
It's like a crafty better in Vegas hedging their bets.
For teams with new coaches or personnel guys, free agency can also be a chance to bring in some of "your" guys—players who know the system and the terminology and can not only play a role, but also pitch in by teaching the rest of the team. Rest assured that any time a new coach takes over, he's looking down the available free-agent list, connecting the dot to anyone who's been connected to the same coaching tree.
Free agency also gives teams a shot at positions they might believe they can't get at a premium in the draft. Targeting a quarterback in the first round? He'll need receivers, but the receivers at the top of Round 2 might not be quite as enticing as free agents. Plus, when May rolls around, it's always possible to grab a receiver there anyway if one falls.
Free agency is an exciting time of the offseason, and the teams that manage it well year in and year out set themselves up well not only for the draft, but for seasons after. Make a mistake—especially a big-money one—and it could end up costing numerous people their jobs.
For my Top 100, I didn't just rank the "best" players. Instead, I considered long-term impact on potential new teams. For some, that means that age was a deciding factor. For others, versatility gave them a boost.
Players were also downgraded for various "red flags," like injury history (especially recent injury history), character issues, suspensions and inconsistency.
Every player acquisition in the NFL comes down to a risk/reward scenario. What I've done here is ranked players by their reward (i.e. their ability to help a team win football games), hedged against any risk they might bring to the table for a number of real or perceived reasons.
Don't like where one of your favorite players is ranked? Hash it out in the comments below or hit me up on Twitter.