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2023 Best Available Free Agents - Espn Insider Needed

Falcon Forever

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I can see it now... Will Matt Ryan return for one more season to try and win his 3rd ring.... Andrew Luck, at 33, is the top free agent available but will surely be looking for around $30M per season.... Jadeveon Clowney has been banned for life for tackling too hard.

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With the 2012 season officially in the books, attention now turns to team plans for 2013. For NFL front offices, however, that process started long ago.

As early as Thanksgiving, general managers begin evaluating their projected rosters for the following season, studying the draft and free-agent classes to see how they can best augment their talent. By the time the Super Bowl rolls around, they already have a list of key offseason targets, particularly for free agency, which opens March 12.

Although the draft provides the nucleus of your starters in today's NFL, the majority of your roster still comes from free agency and the pro-scouting process. That said, there is almost always a risk in signing a free agent. That a player even reaches free agency is a warning sign on some level. If his team thought he was a truly valuable commodity, how come it hasn't already locked him up? But that can't -- and won't -- deter teams as they round out their rosters.

I'm certain that between now and then you'll see multiple lists ranking this year's free-agent class from No. 1 right on down the line. While I understand why those lists exist, it is not how a real NFL GM approaches free agency. There are several elements that make a comprehensive ranking moot. For starters, players have different values in different systems. A team that plays a lot of Cover 2 might not emphasize a cornerback the same as a blitz-heavy team such as the New York Jets. Dwight Freeney might be a great pickup for a team utilizing a Wide-9 scheme, although he makes less sense as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 set. And while Andy Levitre is a great player, how much does a team want to pay a guard? With all these variables unique to each team, there's no universal value for a player.

As a GM, when I approached free agency, I utilized a tier system based on how I valued players. It involved three classes, which you'll see below:

Free-agency tiers

A Players: Worth paying big, starter-caliber money.

B Players: Guys I would sign but only if the value made sense.

C Players: Guys I'd sign for low-salary, short-term (one or two years) value, with low bonuses.

Within each of those groups, there are further considerations, particularly injuries, age and character. The concern with injury is obvious, as that player might never recapture his previous level of performance or even see the field. Age is a concern for anyone older than 26 because a five-year contract would take the player past age 30, a precipice after which players usually decline rapidly. This is a concern for some positions more than others, however, and must account for how much a player has been used to that point. An every-down running back at age 26 might have less tread on his tires than a 28-year-old who has seen limited carries to this point.

Based on the information we have as of Feb. 4 and using my tier system, what follows is a 35,000-foot view of the free-agent landscape based on player performance, positional scarcity and the overall market for certain players. In short, these names are my best available free agents for 2013.

As teams make additional cuts, there likely will be new names added to the mix before March 12. For now, we're working with the players normally scheduled to reach unrestricted free agency. Where applicable, I've indicated any concerns I have due to age, injury or character. They are grouped first by tier, then by position. Appearing higher within a certain tier does not mean a player is more valuable than those below him.




Statistics are inclusive of postseason where applicable.

Tier A

Joe Flacco, QB - I would assume he will be franchised or reach a long-term agreement with the Ravens. He definitely deserves top-tier money, however; he has proved that much. Flacco is streaky, but when he's on, he can win for you. This past postseason has shown exactly that.

Steven Jackson, RB – A - For running backs, seven seasons is about the time when tread runs out on their tires. Jackson has been in the league for nine, but I think he's the best back no one really celebrates. His age and service time are a concern but he's a warrior and a guy you want on your team. If the price is right, a contender could get him for two to three years and feel pretty good about it. I think he could be a Corey Dillon-like find but without the baggage. He's a true blue guy.

Wes Welker, WR - He will be 32 at the start of the 2013 season and is a big age concern. How much money do you want invested in a player who is small, is not very fast and excels in New England's offense but doesn't have a lot of years in front of him? That's the question teams face with Welker. The Patriots didn't sign him long term, which should be an indicator of his value. Will they franchise him at $12 million? I don't know. Will he command more on the open market? I don't know. You can't deny he's a good player. It's his value that remains a question.

Mike Wallace, WR - Wallace is a good route runner, has good instincts and typically has good hands, but he's small and you worry about injury. Inconsistency in the past also is a concern. Pittsburgh didn't reach a deal with him, which will make some teams wary, but this league is always looking for WRs with speed who can take the top off a defense -- and he can do that.

Martellus Bennett, TE - Bennett is young, but to date he has never really lived up to his potential. He has great speed, above average hands and good size to be a good blocker, but he doesn't play consistently. He's one of those free-agent gambles who might or might not pay off.

Jared Cook, TE - I think there's a lot of upside for Cook, but he has not played to the level of an A player just yet. Still, I think he'll command some money based on his potential. He is more consistent than Bennett and had a better year in 2013, but I'm always a little skeptical of players who come on in a contract year. There's a chance he could be franchised.

Greg Jones –I, A, FB - Even at age 31, Jones is a good player and adds value because of his toughness and work ethic. If he's affordable, he's a guy I want on my football team. Of course the questions are: Can he pass a physical? And is he affordable? He is one of the few FBs who can carry the ball and do it well.

Andy Levitre, OG - Levitre is a very solid, professional, strong, offensive guard. While he has the talent, his position might limit the money he'll see.

Ryan Clady. OT –I - His shoulder injury might be a concern, but he has been solid for the Broncos since he was a rookie. Tackles such as Clady command big money, and he will, too … assuming his shoulder is OK.

Sebastian Vollmer, OT –I - Pass protection is his strong suit. He has pretty good feet and long arms, and moves well. He has had some injury concerns, but he came to football late in life (relatively speaking), so there might be some latent upside. It would be worth sinking some money into him, assuming he's got a clean bill of health.

Jermon Bushrod, OT- He's big and powerful, but Bushrod is not a great pass protector and his feet are a concern. His size and length help him some, though. As an all-around guy, he's a fit. A long-term deal should still provide decent value for a team.

Gosder Cherilus, OT - Solid, but nothing spectacular, Cherilus has no glaring deficiencies. Solid tackles are hard to come by, but with lots of linemen in the draft, it might drive down the money for linemen in this free-agent class. GMs know that, and it will be reflected in their offers. I put him with the A's because he's been a reasonably good starter for a time.

Jake Long, OT – A, I - His reputation will make him an A player, but he is an injury and age concern to me. He is turning only 28 to start next season, but he already has played 74 games, making a long-term deal a risk. He's missed time the past two seasons as well. Someone will pay him, though.

Brandon Albert, OT - He's a high draft choice who has disappointed at tackle for Kansas City. There has been some talk about him moving to guard, which is where I see him fitting best and which will affect the offers he receives. I tend to slot him more as a B player, but certain teams get enamored by size and he's certainly got that (6-foot-5, 316 pounds), so there probably will be a market for him.

Henry Melton, DT - Melton is a converted college FB who became a great 3-technique player in a Dungy Tampa 2 defense. The trouble is, he fits only that defense and that seriously limits his market. That said, if you're going to play that scheme, this position is of critical importance.

Randy Starks, DT - He's older, but he could be effective as an inside, space-eating 3-4 or power 4-3 kind of tackle. He had a very good year with Miami. This type of player is hard to find, so I imagine he'll have a market.

Anthony Spencer, DE- He played OLB in Dallas' 3-4 scheme, but I think he's more of a 4-3 end. He is an outstanding pass-rusher. As I mentioned earlier, I'm normally wary of players having good seasons in contract years, but putting him at OLB doesn't allow him to do what he does best, which is rush upfield. And I see upside for him in a 4-3 scheme.

Cliff Avril, DE- Avril is an outside rusher who is not particualrly stout against the run, but pass-rushers are always in demand. I see low-A money in his future, but not right on the mark. He's a talented player and young (27 in 2013 season).

Dwight Freeney, DE –A - As you'd imagine I'm rather familiar with him. I see Freeney as a fit in a Wide-9 scheme or as a 4-3 DE. I believe he still has a lot of talent, but age is definitely a concern.

Michael Johnson, DE- Great size and production (11.5 sacks) make him an ideal target for teams in the market for a pass-rusher.

Paul Kruger, LB - An outside pass-rusher, Kruger can play OLB or DE. He is coming off his rookie contract and really came into his own this season. He's become a very efficient pass-rusher, and there is a market for a player like that.

Rey Maualuga, LB - He's had off-field issues, although none recently. I think free agency will really benefit him because he's more of a B player, but he is a starter in Cincy and could be a solid starter elsewhere. There aren't a lot of interior LBs on the market, so I think he'll command A money.

Brent Grimes, CB –I - Solid young player, but injury concern (Achilles) might reduce his value. He's a starting-caliber corner if he answers his health question.

Cary Williams, CB - Williams is a very good man-to-man corner who stepped in for Lardarius Webb and outpaced expectations with the Ravens. He's probably low A, but because of his good year, I think he'll be able to cash in and get A-level money.

William Moore, S - Moore is not a spectacular player, but he could start for most teams in the league. He's a good all-around type, solid in all phases of the game.

Jairus Byrd, S- Timed speed is a question mark, but instincts, toughness and production are not.

Louis Delmas, S- Delmas has good range and good instincts, and is very tough. He battled a knee injury all season, but I see him as a very interesting safety. His position might not command a big-money deal, however.

Ed Reed, S –A - For years, Reed has been the best safety in the NFL, unconventional as he might be. His instincts are unparalleled, but age is a concern at this stage of the game, and I'm not sure whether there's a long-term deal out there for him. He probably will go back to Baltimore, but I've seen some rumors mention New England. That's a possibility. He is on the down side of his career but still is a great player and a Hall of Famer. Could he have value as a tutor for younger players? Sure, but no one plays the position like Reed does. He's one of the smartest and most unconventional safeties I've seen, and I don't think anyone could emulate him.

LaRon Landry, S - Landry had a good year for a bad team. He's a striker, a big hitter. While he is a little older, he's still a pretty serviceable player. We're closer to B territory now, but for a team looking for a safety, he could do a good job.

Glover Quin, S - Just an athletic, tough safety. If you want a safety to play man, cover ground, and go up and play in the nickel on the line of scrimmage, this is a guy who does all of that well. I think he has more value to Houston than to another team, so I think the Texans will do what they can to sign him. Within the role he plays, he's very good.

Dustin Colquitt, P - If you're in the market for a punter, there are good ones on the market. People don't really chase punters, but Colquitt is one who can flip the field, and that bears mentioning.

Shane Lechler, P - Lechler is an incredibly gifted punter. He can flip the field seemingly whenever he wants and manipulate the ball to his bidding. I'd rank him slightly ahead of Colquitt, but both are talented. How much do you want to pay for a punter? That will depend on the team. But he's a weapon.

Par McAfee, P - He is a B as a punter, but he also is a good kickoff guy and can be a kicker, so there's value in that versatility as you manage a limited roster. Indianapolis might pay him if the Colts believe he can replace Adam Vinatieri eventually. He's not the punter Lechler or Colquitt is, but just a notch below. He has become better directionally than in the past.

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Tier B

Derek Anderson, QB - Teams without a quarterback probably will consider him. He has proved to be relatively reliable over the course of his career. As a backup he's ideal, but if the price is right, you ought to think about him as a starter.

Drew Stanton, QB - Stanton certainly warrants consideration as a backup and might even have starting ability, but he does not have the body of work Anderson does. He's an interesting prospect.

Felix Jones, RB –I - You'll recognize the name, but 2012 was just the second time in his five-year career he's played 16 games.

Javon Ringer, RB –I - Ringer is a good short-yardage and goal-line runner. He's coming off a serious knee injury, which worries me, but he's a solid player. I see him as a No. 2 back in a San Francisco-style attack. In Indianapolis, we needed and wanted someone like him.

Reggie Bush, RB –I, A - He's a name, but at this stage in his career, he's a third-down guy.

Greg Jennings, WR –I, A - Jennings will be a big name, but this is the classic question mark: How much do you pay a guy who will turn 30 at the start of the 2013 season and is coming off of two injury-plagued seasons?

Dwayne Bowe, WR – Bowe is certain to be one of the names all the gurus will be talking about, but he has inconsistent hands. The QB situation in Kansas City doesn't affect him that much; you have to catch the ball when it's thrown to you. Bowe will intrigue some people, and others will shy away.

Danny Amendola, WR – He's coming off injury, but I see him as a younger Wes Welker. He's a good possession receiver.

Austin Collie, WR –I – Injuries are the concern, particularly the concussions. That will be reflected in the amount of money he gets. If you're willing to gamble a little on the health questions and he can put it behind him, Collie is a very solid slot receiver -- smart, tough and resourceful.

Josh Cribbs, WR –I, A – At this stage, Cribbs is a return man only, and his age will drive the price and longevity of term down.

Anthony Fasano, TE – Receiving and speed aren't his strong suits, but he can block. As a solid, all-around guy, he'll get the job done.

Delanie Walker, TE –A – He's a valuable role player. He can catch the ball, block, even play a little fullback. At the right price, he's a good addition to a contending team. He's reliable.

Gary Barnidge, TE- Built with a long body, he catches pretty well and has been pretty reliable. He won't be a big-money guy, but he'll probably be a pretty good addition to a team.

Kevin Vickerson, DT –A – Age is a concern, but he plays awfully well. Defensive tackles tend to play a little longer than most positions, though, so the risk isn't as big as with other positions.

Terrance Knighton, DT – His lack of consistent effort and conditioning is a concern.

Sen’Derrick Marks, DT – An interior pass-rusher and pretty good at it, Marks will be sought after. He has gotten better against the run over the years as well. For teams with a need at defensive tackle, he fits the bill.

Ricky Jean Francois, DT – Another player I've seen improve year over year, he can play all three 3-4 defensive line positions, although he probably is better suited to play a 3-4 end. A solid player, he is young and has shown he can develop.

Glenn Dorsey, DE – Dorsey has never played to the level of his draft position, but his big name will command attention.

Mike DeVito, DE – He's a hard-playing run-defender, and teams that play the 3-4 will take a look at him as a valuable role player.

Justin Durant, LB – Durant is still young, with upside. Depending on the value of the deal, he could make for a good pickup. Some might see him as an A.

Philip Wheeler, LB – Wheeler had a good year in Oakland in 2012. His best position is SAM LB, which is not a big-demand position. But he can run, hit and blitz. He's gotten better every year.

Erik Walden, LB – He's an up-and-coming guy. He flies around the field and is tough. He's well suited to the 3-4, young and with upside. I don't see a big market, but nonetheless he's an asset.

Captain Munnerlyn, CB – He's a fit as a nickel CB who has good skills and insticnts. He can also contribute in the return game.

Patrick Chung, S –I – He has a big name and talent, but he's an injury concern.

Rob Bironas, K –A – Bironas is old but still a good kicker.

Lawrence Tynes, K - He gets points for handling the winds of the Meadowlands and for his experience in clutch situations.

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Remaining B's

Matt Moore, QB

Danny Woodhead, RB

Shonn Greene, RB

Brandon Tate, WR

Donnie Avery, WR

Devery Henderson, WR

Darius Reynaud, WR

Brandon Gibson, WR

Dustin Keller, TE

Cameron Morrah, TE

Keving Boothe, OG

Brandon Moore, OG

Sam Baker, OT

Andre Smith, OT

Will Beatty, OT

Isaac Sopoaga, NT

Jason Jones, DT

Dwan Edwards, DT

Lawrence Sidbury, DE

Israel Idonije, DE

Robert Geathers, DE

Manny Lawson, LB

Shaun Phillips, LB

Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, CB

Leodis McKelvin, DB

Tracy Porter, CB

Kenny Phillips, S

Edited by jfalconsp
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Thanks for posting the article.

I could definitely see the Falcons making a play for one of those big, space-eating DT's on the market. I could also see them making a play for Wheeler. He's a former GT guy, athletic, good speed. I think he'd pair well with Weatherspoon. I would also love to see them get Amendola. They could use him in 4 WR sets. Of course, that will probably hinge on whether or not Tony G comes back.

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