Got Free Agents? The 2013 Offseason Preview

The Sports Xchange

March 01, 2013 at 11:17 am.


Dwayne Bowe may have played his last game in Kansas City. (John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports)

The calendar has flipped to March, and several NFL teams are on a frantic pace to restructure contracts in order to become salary-cap compliant by 4 p.m. Eastern time on March 12.

The New England Patriots did a restructure with quarterback Tom Brady, while Pittsburgh did the same with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and a few other players in its seemingly annual scramble to reach cap compliance.

The New Orleans Saints and Dallas Cowboys are also in the midst of changing deals to lower cap numbers for the 2013 league year while adding cap dollars for future years. The cap is expected to be $123 million.

The deals for Brady and Roethlisberger also could affect what the Baltimore Ravens decide to do with quarterback Joe Flacco, with Monday (March 4) the deadline for teams to place franchise or transition tags on players. Currently, no teams have officially applied the franchise tag.

In addition, the Ravens might also be helped by a restructuring possible between the Detroit Lions and quarterback Matthew Stafford.

The non-exclusive franchise tag would result in a tender of about $14.6 million for Flacco, money that counts immediately against the cap. If the Ravens were able to negotiate a long-term deal with Flacco, it would likely mean a lower cap figure, and open the door for the Ravens to deal with other free agents like safety Ed Reed, linebacker Dannell Ellerbe and cornerback Cary Williams.

With a non-exclusive tag, the player can negotiate with other teams, but an offer sheet not matched would result in two first-round picks as compensation. The exclusive tag, based on the five highest cap numbers at the position for 2013, prohibits the player from talking to other teams.

Prior to the restructures that lowered the cap numbers for Brady and Roethlisberger, the exclusive tender cost about $20.46 million. With Brady and Roethlisberger dropping out of the top five, it is now $19.136 million.

Stafford currently has the highest cap figure of any quarterback at $20.82 million, so a restructuring would further lower the exclusive tag.

As for teams looking for a quarterback, the market doesn’t provide much in attractive talent. That resulted in Kansas City reaching a tentative agreement with San Francisco to acquire quarterback Alex Smith for a second-round pick this year (34th overall) plus a conditional third-round pick in 2014 that could become a second-round selection depending on Smith’s performance. There is also a possibility that Kansas City might receive a third-day pick from the 49ers in the fifth, sixth or seventh round. The trade can’t become official until after the league year begins.

It is believed Seattle plans to keep Matt Flynn as the backup to Russell Wilson.

Following is a look at the top five players at each position, with the estimated franchise tag in parentheses.

Quarterbacks ($14.6 million)
Joe Flacco, Baltimore (expected to be franchised)
Matt Moore, Miami
Jason Campbell, Chicago
Drew Stanton, Indianapolis
Brian Hoyer, Arizona

Running Backs ($8.1 million)
Steven Jackson, St. Louis (expected to void contract by March 12)
Reggie Bush, Miami
Shonn Greene, N.Y. Jets
Rashard Mendenhall, Pittsburgh
Cedric Benson, Green Bay
Ahmad Bradshaw (released by Giants)
Best of the rest: Michael Turner (released by Falcons), Felix Jones, Dallas; LaRod Stephens-Howling, Arizona

Wide Receivers ($10.4 million)
Dwayne Bowe, Kansas City
Mike Wallace, Pittsburgh
Greg Jennings, Green Bay
Wes Welker, New England
Devery Henderson, New Orleans
Best of the rest: Jerome Simpson, Minnesota; Danny Amendola, St. Louis; Steve Breaston (released by Chiefs); Ted Ginn, San Francisco; Joshua Cribbs, Cleveland

Tight Ends ($6.0 million)
Tony Gonzalez, Atlanta (expected to retire)
Dustin Keller, N.Y. Jets
Fred Davis, Washington
Delanie Walker, San Francisco
Martellus Bennett, N.Y. Giants
Best of the rest: Jared Cook, Tennessee; Anthony Fasano, Miami; James, Casey, Houston; David Thomas (released by Saints)

Tackles ($9.7 million)
Ryan Clady, Denver
Jake Long, Miami
Branden Albert, Kansas City
Andre Smith, Cincinnati
Sebastian Vollmer, New England
Best of the rest: Phil Loadholt, Minnesota; Gosder Cherilus, Detroit; Sam Baker, Atlanta; Jermon Bushrod, New Orleans; Bryant McKinnie, Baltimore; Winston Justice, Indianapolis

Guards ($9.7 million)
Andy Levitre, Buffalo
Brandon Moore, N.Y. Jets
Kory Lichtensteiger, Washington
Lance Louis, Chicago
Louis Vasquez, San Diego
Best of the rest: Stephen Peterman (released by Lions); Ramon Foster, Pittsburgh; Kevin Boothe, N.Y. Giants

Defensive Ends ($11.0 million)
Michael Bennett, Tampa Bay
Michael Johnson, Cincinnati
Cliff Avril, Detroit
Osi Umenyiora, N.Y. Giants
John Abraham (released by Falcons)
Best of the rest: Robert Geathers, Cincinnati, Kyle Vanden Bosch (released by Lions); Israel Idonije, Chicago

Defensive Tackles ($8.3 million)
Henry Melton, Chicago
Randy Starks, Miami
Chris Canty, (released by Giants)
Sammie Lee Hill, Detroit
Corey Williams, Detroit
Best of the rest: Cullen Jenkins (released by Eagles); Sedrick Ellis, New Orleans

Outside Linebackers ($9.4 million)
Anthony Spencer (DE), Dallas
Paul Kruger (DE), Baltimore
Dwight Freeney (DE), Indianapolis
Shaun Phillips, San Diego
Connor Barwin, Houston
Best of the rest: Calvin Pace (released by Jets); Michael Boley (released by Giants); Erik Walden, Green Bay

Inside Linebackers ($9.4 million)
Dannell Ellerbe, Baltimore
DeAndre Levy (OLB), Detroit
Scott Shanle, New Orleans
Rey Maualuga, Cincinnati
Brian Urlacher, Chicago
Best of the rest: Bart Scott (released by Jets)

Cornerbacks ($10.7 million)
Brent Grimes, Atlanta
Sean Smith, Miami
Mike Jenkins, Dallas
Derek Cox, Jacksonville
Cary Williams, Baltimore
Best of the rest: Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Philadelphia; Bradley Fletcher, St. Louis; Chris Houston, Detroit; Leodis McKelvin, Buffalo; Aqib Talib, New England; Nate Clements, Cincinnati; Dunta Robinson (released by Falcons)

Safeties ($6.8 million)
Dashon Goldson, San Francisco
Jairus Byrd, Buffalo
William Moore, Atlanta
Glover Quin, Houston
Ed Reed, Baltimore
Best of the rest: Louis Delmas, Detroit; Kenny Phillips, N.Y. Giants; Corey Lynch, San Diego; LaRon Landry, N.Y. Jets; Eric Smith (released by Jets)

Kickers ($2.9 million)
Phil Dawson, Cleveland
Josh Brown, Cincinnati
Lawrence Tynes, N.Y. Giants
Jason Hanson, Detroit
Nick Folk, N.Y. Jets

Punters ($2.9 million)
Shane Lechler, Oakland
Dustin Colquitt, Kansas City
Donnie Jones, Houston
Kevin Huber, Cincinnati
Pat McAfee, Indianapolis