2013 NFL Free Agency: Position Primer
More than 500 players will hit the open market starting Tuesday
By: Mark Ross | 3/11/13, 9:55 AM EDT
The Baltimore Ravens and their fans are more than likely still basking in the glow of their Super Bowl XLVII win, but as far as the NFL goes, it’s pretty much ancient history.
The new NFL league year officially begins at 4 p.m. ET on Tuesday, which also marks the opening of free agency. About 550 players have been designated as either restricted or unrestricted free agents, so it goes without saying that all 32 teams, including the reigning champs, have plenty of work to do.
Similar to last year, this season’s class of free agents is heavy on the defensive side, especially in the secondary. Unlike last year, there is no marquee quarterback on the market, but the same can’t be said for wide receiver. While it may not be the biggest group of offensive free agents (that distinction belongs to the offensive line), it will more than likely be the one that garners the most attention.
Depending on available cap space, some teams figure to be more active in free agency than others, and there also are certain marquee names that bear watching. Whether or not your favorite team makes a big splash in free agency remains to be seen, but every team in the league has free agents, meaning there are holes to fill on rosters.
Related: 2013 NFL Free Agency: Teams to Watch
Here is a closer look at this year’s class of free agents, broken down by position.
Quarterback may be the marquee position in the NFL, but this year’s free agency class doesn’t serve as a good representation of this. Not only is there no Peyton Manning on the market, but the only other superstar signal caller that was eligible to be a free agent, Joe Flacco, never got to that point, as the Ravens locked up the Super Bowl XLVII MVP with the biggest contract (six-years, $120.6 million, $52 million guaranteed) in NFL history.
With Flacco off of the table, all that’s left is a host of backups, ranging from former Pro Bowler Derek Anderson to the likes of Jason Campbell and Brady Quinn, both of whom started games for their respective teams last season, but were anything but effective when they were on the field. There are a total of about 20 quarterbacks who are free agents, and while many of these will probably go unsigned, several veterans will either re-sign with their most recent team or go to a new club, if for any reason because this year’s quarterback draft class isn’t projected to be on the same level as last year’s.
Other notable free agent quarterbacks: Charlie Batch, David Carr, Kellen Clemens, Bruce Gradkowski, Rex Grossman, Caleb Hanie, Brian Hoyer (RFA)*, Josh Johnson, Byron Leftwich, Matt Leinart, Drew Stanton
This year’s running back free agency class, which includes fullbacks, numbers around 50 and offers a whole range of options. Steven Jackson has produced eight straight 1,000-yard seasons and has yet to turn 30. The veteran’s days as a workhorse are probably behind him, but he's still looking for a opportunity that will give him a fair share of carries as well as a chance to win.
Reggie Bush put two productive seasons together in Miami and figures to have no lack of potential suitors, provided he’s willing to serve as a complement and not the centerpiece of a team’s backfield. Shonn Greene is another intriguing option as he’s rushed for more than 1,000 yards in each of the past two seasons. With just four seasons total under his belt, he probably has more tread left on his tires than some others in this group.
Michael Turner was cut by the Falcons earlier this month despite rushing for 800 yards and 10 touchdowns last season, while the Giants released Ahmad Bradshaw even though he rushed for more than 1,000 yards in 2012 in just 14 games. Cedric Benson, Ryan Grant, Rashard Mendenhall and Beanie Wells are all similar to Bradshaw in that they each have at least one 1,000-yard season to their credit, but likewise dealt with injuries that severely limited their production last season too. There also are multi-dimensional options like Felix Jones and Danny Woodhead, who have shown they can contribute to an offense when put in the right role.
Other notable free agent running backs: Jackie Battle, Andre Brown (RFA), Ronnie Brown, James Casey, Jerome Felton (fullback), Justin Forsett, Peyton Hillis, Chris Ivory (RFA), Rashad Jennings, Isaac Redman (RFA), Kevin Smith, LaRod Stephens-Howling
Without question this is the “it” position in free agency this season. The class as a whole numbers less than 50, but it features three of the most sought-after names on the market — Wes Welker, Mike Wallace and Greg Jennings. And they are not the only appealing options out there.
Besides this distinguished trio, other free agent wideouts include Danny Amendola, Donnie Avery and Brandon Gibson. Randy Moss, one of the greatest wide receivers to ever play the game, is looking for a job, as is reliable veteran Brandon Stokley. There also are players like Josh Cribbs, Brandon Tate, Julian Edelman and Ted Ginn, who also can help a team on special teams.
This class also features several key restricted free agents* that bear watching, most notably Victor Cruz, but also Danario Alexander and Emmanuel Sanders. In the pass-happy offenses of today’s NFL, it seems that a team can’t have enough wide receivers and there are certainly no lack of options in free agency.
Other notable free agent wide receivers: Ramses Barden, Deion Branch, Plaxico Burress, Austin Collie, Early Doucet, Braylon Edwards, Devery Henderson, Domenik Hixon, Donald Jones (RFA), Louis Murphy, David Nelson (RFA), Kevin Ogletree, Jordan Shipley (RFA), Jerome Simpson
The biggest free agent tight end out there is Tony Gonzalez, but his outlook is pretty straightforward. The future Hall of Famer will either retire or go back to the Falcons. While there may not another tight end on the level of Gonzalez available, teams do have other options if they are looking to upgrade what is quickly becoming a key position as it relates to an offense’s success.
The Titans chose not to apply the franchise tag to Jared Cook, so the 25-year-old that appears to have a world of potential may be headed to a new team. Martellus Bennett had a breakthrough season of sorts with the Giants, and he is looking to cash in on that production. The same holds true for Brandon Myers, who exploded for 79 receptions for 806 yards and four touchdowns with the Raiders last season.
The Ravens have some work to do in this area as both Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson are restricted free agents. Because of the team’s cap situation and the number of free agents on their roster, the world champions may not be able to keep both and could conceivably lose both to other teams.
There also are plenty of veteran tight ends in this year’s group, including Kevin Boss, Dallas Clark, Chris Cooley and Fred Davis.
Other notable free agent tight ends: Tom Crabtree, Jeff Cumberland (RFA), Anthony Fasano, Michael Hoomanawanui (RFA), Dustin Keller, David Thomas, Delanie Walker, Benjamin Watson
Two of the most appealing potential free agent options along the offensive line never got close to the open market as Denver and Kansas City applied the franchise tags to their respective left tackles, Ryan Clady and Branden Albert.
While those two bookends aren’t going anywhere, a former No. 1 overall pick could be. Miami did not tag Jake Long, who was severely hindered by a triceps injury last season. Long isn’t the only tackle out there either with Phil Loadholt, Sebastian Vollmer, Jermon Bushrod and Andre Smith some of the other names.
Guards and centers are well represented in this class as well, with Andy Levitre, Todd McClure, Brad Meester, Brandon Moore and Chris Spencer figuring to be among some of the most sought-after targets at these two positions.
Other notable free agent offensive linemen: Sam Baker, Jammal Brown, Gosder Cherilus, Phil Costa (RFA), Evan Dietrich-Smith (RFA), King Dunlap, Leroy Harris, Winston Justice, Dan Koppen, Ryan Lilja, Sean Locklear, Bryant McKinnie, Jake Scott, Matt Slauson, Jason Smith, Max Starks, Eric Winston
Three players — Michael Johnson (Cincinnati), Henry Melton (Chicago) and Randy Starks (Miami) — were tagged from this group, which numbers close to 80 total. While Johnson and Starks may be off the market, there are other defensive ends available including sack specialists like John Abraham and Osi Umenyiora, along with Cliff Avril, Michael Bennett and Glenn Dorsey.
The available tackles include nose tackle options Casey Hampton and Ma’ake Kemoeatu, and fellow interior space-eaters such as Sedrick Ellis, Richard Seymour and Isaac Sopoaga.
Other notable free agent defensive linemen: Chris Baker (RFA), Alan Branch, Shaun Cody, Mike DeVito, Dwan Edwards, Aubrayo Franklin, Robert Geathers, Israel Idonije, Arthur Jones, Terrance Knighton, Sen’Derrick Marks, Amobi Okoye, Mike Patterson, Matt Shaughnessy, Kevin Vickerson, Ty Warren
Dallas tagged Anthony Spencer for the second straight year, and he was the only linebacker who received the designation. James Harrison, the 2008 Defensive Player of the Year and Dwight Freeney, who has 107.5 career sacks, headline the group of available linebackers. There already have been rumblings of a potential reunion for Freeney with former Indianapolis teammate Peyton Manning in Denver.
Brian Urlacher’s best days are behind him it appears, but it still seems unthinkable that the long-time Bear may play in another uniform. The Ravens already know that Ray Lewis won’t be coming back and have two other linebackers — Dannell Ellerbe and Paul Kruger — who are free agents, while Cincinnati's Rey Maualuga, another linebacker who played in the AFC North last season, could end up in a new division as well.
There is no lack of veteran options in this year’s linebacker free agent class with Nick Barnett, Larry Foote, Daryl Smith, Bart Scott and Takeo Spikes just some of the names on the market.
Other notable free agent linebackers: Chase Blackburn, Jasper Brinkley, Dan Connor, Justin Durant, Scott Fujita, Geno Hayes, Erin Henderson, Leroy Hill, Bradie James, Manny Lawson, Paris Lenon, Rocky McIntosh, Calvin Pace, Shaun Phillips, Keith Rivers, Nick Roach, Demorrio Williams, Will Witherspoon
Jairus Byrd (Buffalo) was the only defensive back that received the franchise tag this season. Considering this group has more than 110 free agents in it, there figures to be a lot of movement in defensive backfields across the NFL.
Cornerbacks make up the majority of this season’s defensive back crop with Antione Cason, Chris Gamble, Brent Grimes, Quentin Jammer and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie believed to be among the top targets. Even though it’s smaller, the safety group probably has more name recognition associated with it as future Hall of Famer Ed Reed, former Defensive Player of the Year Charles Woodson, 2012 All-Pro Dashon Goldson and 12-year veteran Adrian Wilson lead the way.
Other notable free agent defensive backs: Kyle Arrington, Ronde Barber, Yeremiah Bell, Sheldon Brown, Chris Carr, Louis Delmas, Drayton Florence, DeAngelo Hall, Chris Houston, Adam Jones, LaRon Landry, Keenan Lewis, Rashean Mathis, Quintin Mikell, Captain Munnerlyn, Terence Newman, Kenny Phillips, Tracy Porter, Glover Quin, Aaron Ross, Sam Shields (RFA), Sean Smith, Aqib Talib, Cary Williams, Madieu Williams
Who says punters aren’t important? Indianapolis used its franchise tag on punter Pat McAfee. There still are about 10 other punters, including All-Pro Shane Lechler, on the market for teams looking for one. There also are about a dozen kickers, including David Akers, Phil Dawson, Nick Folk, Shayne Graham, Jason Hanson, Steven Hauschka and Lawrence Tynes.
And not be left out, there are about a dozen long snappers who are free agents, although half of them are of the restricted variety. If anyone can recite the qualifying offer for a long snapper, you are a bigger football fan than me.
*RFA strands for restricted free agent. A restricted free agent is a player that received a qualifying offer (predetermined by the current Collective Bargaining Agreement between the NFL and the players association) from his current club. The player can negotiate with any team and sign an offer sheet. However, his old team has “right of first refusal,” which gives them a seven-day window in which it can match the offer sheet and retain that player or choose not to match it, in which case the team may receive some form of draft compensation from the player’s new team. If the player does not receive an offer sheet from another team, his rights revert back to his old club, per the terms of the qualifying offer, at the end of free agency.
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