http://www.nfl.com/news/story/0ap100000 ... ree-agents
This year's free-agent crop is a lot like this year's draft class: It's not that exciting at the top, but there is better depth than usual.
Ranked below: My top 85 free agents set to hit the market. Why 85? I want to leave room to add players who will get cut before free agency starts on March 12. This will be an ever-changing list until then. The New York Giants, for instance, took potential top-20 free-agent tackle Will Beatty off the market with a long-term contract. Guys like Joe Flacco and Ryan Clady won't be available in the end, but we're listing all free agents until a player is re-signed or franchise tagged.
NFL salary cap situations
Take a look at how each team stands in regard to the expected $121 million salary cap in 2013.
This is not a list of the 85 players who will make the most money. It's the list of players I'd want, divided into five tiers.
Let me know where you disagree.
TIER 1: Never going to get them
1) Joe Flacco, QB, Baltimore Ravens: The Ravens are too smart not to put the exclusive-rights franchise tag on Flacco if they don't reach a deal by the franchise-tag deadline (March 4). An offseason holdout is possible, but Flacco isn't going anywhere.
2) Ryan Clady, OT, Denver Broncos: Broncos head honcho John Elway already confirmed Denver will tag its premier left tackle, barring a long-term deal.
3) Henry Melton, DT, Chicago Bears: Melton is a rare commodity: a disruptive 26-year-old interior rusher who is only getting better. The Bears know they can't let him leave, so he should be tagged.
4) Jairus Byrd, S, Buffalo Bills: Every team is looking for a ball hawk like Byrd. He's one of the very best at his position, so the Bills won't let him go.
TIER 2: Impact starters
5) Mike Wallace, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers: Speed kills. He might not be a complete receiver, but there's no reason Wallace can't get Vincent Jackson money.
6) Dwayne Bowe, WR, Kansas City Chiefs: Signs point to the Chiefs using the franchise tag on Bowe again to keep him off the market. He's produced in less-than-ideal circumstances, but how will he react to big money?
7) Sebastian Vollmer, OT, New England Patriots: Vollmer is a young, quality starter who is more important to the Patriots' future than Wes Welker. This is where some of Tom Brady's cap savings might go.
8) Andre Smith, OT, Cincinnati Bengals: No one is making fun of Smith's man boobs now. The Bengals will have to tag him or Michael Johnson.
9) Andy Levitre, OG, Buffalo Bills: It will be fascinating to see if Levitre gets the big-time money usually due to above-average starting guards.
10) Branden Albert, OT, Kansas City Chiefs: There are injury concerns, but Albert can instantly upgrade some team's blind-side pass protection. Chicago?
11) Michael Johnson, DE, Cincinnati Bengals: Johnson is an athletic freak who has improved every season. He's a boom-or-bust pickup.
12) Greg Jennings, WR, Green Bay Packers: Precise route running and yards after the catch are two skills that should work in any system.
13) Cliff Avril, DE, Detroit Lions: He's not great against the run and only played 66 percent of Detroit's defensive snaps in 2012, but Avril hustles and gets to the quarterback. He's a solid bookend starter who will be paid like a great one.
14) Wes Welker, WR, New England Patriots: He's still probably worth more to the Patriots than any other team. Don't be surprised if he stays put.
15) Dashon Goldson, S, San Francisco 49ers: Goldson is versatile and tough. It's a little worrisome the 49ers seem so willing to let him hit the market.
16) William Moore, S, Atlanta Falcons: He can do a little bit of everything. That's what teams want out of safeties in 2013.
17) Tony Gonzalez, TE, Atlanta Falcons: It's hard to imagine Gonzalez playing another season for anyone but the Falcons. He'd be ranked higher if he wasn't year-to-year at this stage of his career.
18) Randy Starks, DL, Miami Dolphins: Starks can play well in any system. My strong guess: He gets the franchise tag.
TIER 3: Solid starters
19) Anthony Spencer, LB/DE, Dallas Cowboys: He's more of a run stopper than an edge rusher. But league-average starting ends get huge dollars.
20) Paul Kruger, OLB/DE, Baltimore Ravens: Be leery of paying a Dexter Jackson-like Super Bowl-run tax to Kruger. (Especially when he mostly sat in the Super Bowl in favor of Courtney Upshaw for run-defense reasons.)
21) Jake Long, OT, Miami Dolphins: Will a team get early-career Jake Long or late-career Tony Boselli? Long is a prime candidate to get overpaid.
22) Sean Smith, CB, Miami Dolphins: A physical player who occasionally looks like a true No. 1 cornerback. (At least for a few games at a time.)
23) Brent Grimes, CB, Atlanta Falcons: He'd be among the top 10 players if not for the torn Achilles' tendon suffered in Week 1 last year. That's a big "if," though. Grimes could sign a short-term deal, but his talent is worth the risk.
24) Aqib Talib, CB, New England Patriots: I'd take my chances with Grimes over Talib, whose on-field play can be as erratic as his off-field behavior.
25) Phil Loadholt, OG, Minnesota Vikings: Loadholt is a throwback to the days when right tackles were maulers in the run game and not great at protecting the quarterback. Hidden value: His name is Loadholt.
26) Dannell Ellerbe, LB, Baltimore Ravens: The Ray Lewis-sized hole at the core of Baltimore's defense makes the versatile Ellerbe a priority to re-sign. He can rush, cover and stop the run.
27) Chris Houston, CB, Detroit Lions: The cornerback market is deep this year, and there's not a huge gap within the top seven guys at the position.
28) Keenan Lewis, CB, Pittsburgh Steelers: Lewis quietly stepped up as Pittsburgh's best cover corner in 2012 at age 26.
29) Dustin Keller, TE, New York Jets: Yes, there's a chance he gets a whole lot better away from Mark Sanchez, Tony Sparano and the rest of the Jets' offensive morass.
30) Brian Hartline, WR, Miami Dolphins: No, every white receiver should not be compared to Wes Welker. Hartline is more of a physical downfield threat who fits as a solid No. 2 receiver.
31) Ed Reed, S, Baltimore Ravens: His post-Super Bowl/Oscars hangover could be mitigated if picked up by the Colts (Chuck Pagano) or the Patriots (Bill Belichick).
32) Danny Amendola, WR, St. Louis Rams: OK, here's a receiver who should be compared to Welker. This former Hard Knocks hero in Dallas is a great slot man who can't shake the injury bug.
33) Glover Quin, S, Houston Texans: Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips was smart to make Quin's cover skills at safety a huge part of his defense. Now the Texans will have to pay to keep him.
34) Fred Davis, TE, Washington Redskins: Davis was one of the league's most promising young tight ends before tearing his Achilles' tendon. He could be a great bargain.
35) Michael Bennett, DE, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Martellus' brother quietly emerged as a difference maker in Greg Schiano's defense.
36) Kenny Phillips, S, New York Giants: Injuries have sapped Phillips' reliability, but he's proven to be a plus starter when he's on the field.
37) Brandon Moore, OG, New York Jets: He's so much more than one-half of the "Butt Fumble." Moore can upgrade a lot of starting units.
TIER 4: Starters with questions
38) Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, CB, Philadelphia Eagles: It's not a great sign that two teams have seemingly given up on DRC in his young career. But how much cash would he have commanded if on the market after his second pro season?
39) Ahmad Bradshaw, RB, New York Giants: A 26-year-old who seems to have the body of a 30-year-old. But there is no better free-agent running back when healthy.
40) Dwight Freeney, DE, Indianapolis Colts: It wasn't just about the scheme change. Freeney hasn't been that explosive for the last two years.
41) Osi Umenyiora, DE, New York Giants: Like Freeney, Osi would best be deployed in smaller doses as a situational pass rusher.
42) Richard Seymour, DL, Oakland Raiders: There are health and motivation concerns here with Seymour headed for a steep pay cut, but there have never been questions about his ability.
43) Sam Baker, OT, Atlanta Falcons: Baker will be the perfect test case for proving what an average starting tackle gets on the open market.
44) Jermon Bushrod, OT, New Orleans Saints: Bushrod will be the perfect test case for proving what an average starting tackle with a random Pro Bowl nod gets on the market.
45) Desmond Bryant, DT, Oakland Raiders: His recent arrest notwithstanding, Bryant is a massive man with a lot of unharnessed talent.
46) Connor Barwin, DE, Houston Texans: He should have taken Houston's long-term contract offer before 2012. Barwin suffered through a disastrous year, ranking among the worst starting defensive ends in the league by ProFootballFocus. (At least he's young with a history of production.)
47) Delanie Walker, TE, San Francisco 49ers: The proverbial "movable chess piece," to use a Greg Cosell-ism. He will block your face off even if his hands are suspect.
48) Jared Cook, TE, Tennessee Titans: It looks like the Titans will use the franchise tag on Cook, an enigmatic talent who has never quite lived up to his potential as a big-time playmaker.
49) Steven Jackson, RB, St. Louis Rams: The veteran back can handle goal-line carries and passing downs, but there is a big risk of paying for past production.
50) Rashard Mendenhall, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers: He's a talented young player with potential to be an above-average starter at a cheap price. On the downside: Even Mike Tomlin couldn't get through to him.
51) Martellus Bennett, TE, New York Giants: If you can overlook the flaky off-field persona, Bennett fits the mold as a complete tight end who can block and catch.
52) Gosder Cherilus, OT, Detroit Lions: The longtime punching bag proved last year he can survive just fine as a starter.
53) Derek Cox, CB, Jacksonville Jaguars: Cox struggles to stay healthy, but there's a lot of talent here. He makes a fine gamble.
54) Reggie Bush, RB, Miami Dolphins: Bush is a role player, but he's a very useful role player if deployed correctly.
55) Spin the wheel of starting kickers (Rob Bironas, Steven Hauschka, Phil Dawson, Mike Nugent, Jason Hanson): There are too many quality kickers available this offseason. It shouldn't be too hard to find one.
TIER 5: Effective in the right role
56) Adam Jones, CB, Cincinnati Bengals: I'm afraid of what would happen to the former Pacman away from Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer, but Jones was an excellent slot cornerback and return man last season.
57) Jason Jones, DL, Seattle Seahawks: Jones can be dominant for stretches. A nice rotational player.
58) Matt Moore, QB, Miami Dolphins: He's better than just about every backup in the league -- and a few starters.
59) Cary Williams, CB, Baltimore Ravens: It has to count for something that he was able to hold up as Baltimore's best starting cornerback by the end of the season.
60) Mike DeVito, DE, New York Jets: DeVito has been an unsung hero for the Jets for years. He could fit nicely into a lot of 3-4 defenses.
61) Bradley Fletcher, CB, St. Louis Rams: At times, Fletcher has looked like an above-average starting cornerback. At worst, he won't kill your team.
62) LaRon Landry, S, New York Jets: A Pro Bowl year with the Jets helped rehab Landry's value, but he's still a bigger name than impact player.
63) Louis Delmas, S, Detroit Lions: Injuries have sapped his explosiveness as a tackler and Delmas was never the most instinctive player in coverage.
64) Matt Shaughnessy, DE, Oakland Raiders: Once wildly underrated, Shaughnessy has lost two seasons to injury and ineffectiveness. He could prove to be a nice bargain.
65) Israel Idonije, DE, Chicago Bears: Idonije gives quality veteran snaps for a low price.
66) Rey Maualuga, ILB, Cincinnati Bengals: Coach Marvin Lewis told Around the League he wanted Maualuga back, but at what price? The USC product has never quite stepped up to leadership status.
67) Pat McAfee, P, Indianapolis Colts: The Colts may keep their valuable punter off the market with the franchise tag.
68) Daryl Smith, LB, Jacksonville Jaguars: One of the most underrated linebackers of his era, Smith is coming off major injury.
69) Louis Vasquez, OG, San Diego Chargers: You could do a lot worse if your team is desperate for a starting guard.
70) Antoine Cason, CB, San Diego Chargers: A.J. Smith's former first round pick never lived up to his draft slot, but he's not a bad starter.
71) Shane Lechler, P, Oakland Raiders: The best punter of his era picked a bad time to have a down season. Lechler, 37, should remain the league.
72) Erin Henderson, LB, Minnesota Vikings: Two-down linebackers don't get paid much, but Henderson should be able to help a team stop the run.
73) Bryant McKinnie, OT, Baltimore Ravens: It sounds like he won't be back in Baltimore. McKinnie's playoff run was rather epic, but teams don't trust it will happen again.
74) Mike Jenkins, CB, Dallas Cowboys: I stubbornly remember the moments that Jenkins looked like a pretty solid pro.
75) Sedrick Ellis, DT, New Orleans Saints: The former No. 7 overall pick has shown flashes, but has quietly been one of the bigger busts of the last five years.
76) Cullen Jenkins, DT, Philadelphia Eagles: He can still help teams in a rotation. A return to Green Bay makes some sense.
77) Philip Wheeler, LB, Oakland Raiders: He proved last year he can fit into a variety of systems.
78) Charles Woodson, S, Green Bay Packers: The potential Hall of Famer needs a coach that can play to his strengths and hide his lack of speed.
79) Felix Jones, RB, Dallas Cowboys: Jones is like a less reliable Reggie Bush, which doesn't sound like a compliment. (It isn't.)
80) Glenn Dorsey, DE, Kansas City Chiefs: Drafted No. 5 overall in 2008, Dorsey had stretches where he stopped the run well enough.
81) Brad Jones, LB, Green Bay Packers: He proved last year he can play inside. He makes a perfect reserve linebacker that can start at multiple positions when necessary.
82) Brian Urlacher, LB, Chicago Bears: It's more than a little sad to rank him behind Brad Jones.
83) Danny Woodhead, RB, New England Patriots: He probably wouldn't make sense away from the Patriots as a reliable third down back.
84) Chris Clemons, S, Miami Dolphins: He's coming off his best season and should get a job.
85) Julian Edelman, WR, New England Patriots: See Danny Woodhead.
Just missed the cut: Victor Butler, LB, Dallas Cowboys; Michael Boley, LB, New York Giants; Shonn Greene, RB, New York Jets; Isaac Sopoaga, NT, San Francisco 49ers, Donald Thomas, OG, New England Patriots; Shaun Phillips, OLB, San Diego Chargers; LaRod Stephens-Howling, RB, Arizona Cardinals; Ronde Barber, CB/S, Tampa Bay Buccaneers; Antwan Barnes, LB, San Diego Chargers; Nick Barnett, LB, Buffalo Bills; Chris Canty, DL, New York Giants; Terrance Knighton, DT, Jacksonville Jaguars; Jason Campbell, QB, Chicago Bears; Peyton Hillis, RB, Kansas City Chiefs; Jerraud Powers, CB, Indianapolis Colts; Greg Jones, FB, Jacksonville Jaguars; Patrick Chung, S, New England Patriots; Ryan Harris, OT, Houston Texans; Bernard Scott, RB, Cincinnati Bengals; Tracy Porter, CB, Denver Broncos; Anthony Fasano, TE, Miami Dolphins; Cedric Benson, RB, Green Bay Packers; Stanford Routt, CB, Houston Texans; Brandon Myers, TE, Oakland Raiders; Jerome Felton, FB, Minnesota Vikings; Brady Quinn, QB, Kansas City Chiefs; David Garrard, QB.
Follow Gregg Rosenthal on Twitter @GreggRosenthal.