If your team is looking for a wide receiver, this could be a fun March. There are always caveats in free agency, and NFL rosters are littered with many a big-money bust, but this is one position where there should be an abundance of options.
Keep in mind that in general many of the names you see in these lists will not actually hit the market. Some will be franchised. Others will be re-signed by their current clubs before the league year begins March 13. So these names will be in flux, particularly some of the more attractive options. But this is as good of a guide to impending free agency as there is for now, and, on the offensive side of the ball, wide receiver will be particularly intriguing.
A year ago the Buccaneers ended up with one of the best signings of the offseason, landing stud Vincent Jackson from the Chargers. This year, teams will be clamoring for the likes of Mike Wallace, Greg Jennings, Dwayne Bowe, Wes Welker and Danny Amendola, to name a few. At this point it would be surprising if any of these guys got franchised (Bowe and Welker already were a year ago), though it would be anything but surprising if guys like Amendola and Welker were retained by their current clubs.
With the Chiefs making a coaching and GM change, the possibility of the team retaining Bowe certainly increases. He may be more amenable to sticking around with Andy Reid now running the show (and calling plays on offense). Jennings looks like his price will exceed what the receiver-heavy Packers would likely pay. And according to sources, the Steelers do not plan to franchise Wallace, just coming off his rookie deal, and do not anticipate meeting his demands in the $10 million-$11 million yearly range, though they do expect other clubs to value him there.
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Of the quarterbacks, many teams view Brian Hoyer as an intriguing prospect -- he finished the year with the Cardinals -- but the real meat at this position has yet to hit the market. The Eagles will make a call on releasing Michael Vick shortly after the Super Bowl; it's expected they won't bring him back at a $16.5 million tag. But until he is cut, he won't show up on a free-agent list. Similarly, the Cardinals (Kevin Kolb) and 49ers (Alex Smith) have to decide whether or not to pick up roster bonuses on their quarterbacks within days of the opening of the league year (Smith is certainly going to depart), and the Chiefs (Matt Cassel) and Raiders (Carson Palmer) could part with those quarterbacks as well, should they not be able to agree to lowered contracts.
And, obviously, there is no chance whatsoever Joe Flacco hits the market -- he will be franchised as the Ravens attempt to get him signed to a long-term deal.
Two elite left tackles stand out from the list of offensive linemen -- Ryan Clady (Broncos) and Branden Albert (Chiefs) -- but execs I talk to can't imagine their teams don't at least franchise them. The most interesting decision will be in Miami, where they might need to decide between franchising enigmatic left tackle Jake Long or emerging corner Sean Smith.
Teams don't want to spend much for running backs these days, and Rashard Mendenhall's lost season could lead to him re-signing with the Steelers on a discount. Reggie Bush's ability to make explosive plays and contribute on special teams will lead to a nice market forming for him, I'm sure, and it's highly unlikely he stays with Miami, sources said. Some of the best options at this position come with restricted free agents like Chris Ivory and LeGarrette Blount, but as we know they rarely change teams.
Future Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez highlights the list of tight ends, but as we all know he will either stay with the Falcons or, most likely, retire. The Jets don't believe they will have the budget to keep Dustin Keller at this point, according to sources, and Fred Davis, franchised by the Redskins in 2012 but missed virtually the entire season, will have difficulty getting value considering his off-field issues and the fact he is coming off a season-ending injury. Jared Cook (Titans) is still just 25 and appears to have no future in Tennessee, though I would expect his former coach Jeff Fisher, now in St. Louis, could target him as a new weapon for young quarterback Sam Bradford.
1. Joe Flacco: No way he gets out of Baltimore.
2. Michael Vick: Hasn't been cut yet, but once he is, Arizona, Cleveland and others could explore.
3. Alex Smith: Also hasn't been cut yet, but could make sense in KC, Jacksonville and several other spots.
4. Brian Hoyer: Plenty of teams see him a strong No. 2 who could thrive as a spot starter.
5. Kevin Kolb: Arizona was piling up wins before he got hurt; might not hit the market.
1. Greg Jennings: The injuries are something of a concern, but he has been a game-changer.
2. Dwayne Bowe: Good size and strong production despite not having good QB play. Miami makes sense.
3. Mike Wallace: Did not produce under pressure in 2012, but still so fast and so young -- he will get paid
4. Wes Welker: Have a hard time seeing him leave New England.
5. Danny Amendola: Rams badly want to keep him, as he's Sam Bradford's favorite target.
1. Rashard Mendenhall: Injuries robbed him of much of 2012, but still the most productive of this bunch.
2. Reggie Bush: Could see him signing a short-term deal with a contender. His versatility will serve him well on open market.
3. Cedric Benson: Age and injury catching up to him, but had some nice moments for the Packers. Likely another one-year deal ahead for him.
4. Danny Woodhead: Much like Wes Welker, anyone see this multifaceted weapon actually leaving Bill Belichick?
5. Jerome Felton: Fullback was a key cog in Adrian Peterson's near-record season, and guys like Vonta Leach have gotten solid money in free agency recently.
1. Tony Gonzalez: The best to ever play the position, and still at a top level, but retirement seems to beckon.
2. Jared Cook: Wasn't always a fit in Titans offense, but young and talented and will have suitors.
3. Martellus Bennett: Had flashes of greatness with the Giants -- though still inconsistent -- and they are short on TEs.
4. Fred Davis: Incredibly talented, but troubled. Staying with the Skins and RG3 on a short-term deal might make most sense.
5. Dustin Keller: Very limited in his blocking skills, scouts say, but can catch the football.
1. Ryan Clady: One of the best left tackles in the game, but no way he won't be franchised to protect Peyton Manning's blindside.
2. Branden Albert: Andy Reid went through enough OL shuffling in Philly; can't imagine he lets Albert out of KC now.
3. Jake Long: Production has waned past two years and injuries have become a real issue -- but would Dolphins really let this former No. 1 overall pick walk in his mid-20s?
4. Jermon Bushrod: Key cog for the Saints, but their cap crunch could lead to big money for him on the open market.
5. Max Starks: Steelers line gets maligned at times, but at age 30 expect Starks to get action on the open market.
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