Potential 2013 FAs: Helping Their Value
It is never too early to take a glance into the NFL offseason. Most teams are either at the halfway point of their season or will be after this weekend’s games and the positions in need of an upgrade for each team are starting to become obvious. The question is where will those upgrades come from? Keeping in mind that teams will do everything in their power to re-sign their star players or use the franchise tag to retain them, this list may be drastically reduced before the offseason. We start with the players who have a reasonable chance of hitting free agency who have helped themselves so far in 2012.
Sebastian Vollmer, OT, New England Patriots
The Patriots will have to make a decision on whether to tag Vollmer or Wes Welker, and with both of them having good years it will come down to negotiations. Vollmer has been battling minor injuries all season and has still been a more-than-reliable player, with a +15.8 overall grade. He is the second most efficient pass blocking right tackle after allowing 14 total pressures in 313 snaps. An added dimension to Vollmer’s game is that he is also excelling in the run game, where he has a +4.9 grade. Protecting an aging Tom Brady, Vollmer has positioned himself as a player the Patriots might not be able to lose.
Andy Levitre, OG, Buffalo Bills
Offensive guard is far from the sexiest position in the game, but after the mega-deal that Carl Nicks received last year it is becoming a position that teams spend money on. Levitre is the best guard available and has proven once again in 2012 that his dependability is his biggest asset. He has started every game of his career and has played every snap again this season. Currently Levitre is the sixth most efficient pass blocking guard in the league, allowing two sacks and six total pressures on 239 snaps. A team looking for a stable and emerging guard could make Levitre a wealthy man.
Michael Bennett, DE, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Playing with a one-year contract, Michael Bennett has emerged as a very good player for the Buccaneers this season and is poised for a big payday. Bennett has an overall grade of +11.1 and is currently the ninth-most productive pass rushing defensive end in football. Bennett has six sacks and 40 total pressures in 297 pass rushing opportunities. In a league desperate for pass rushers, Bennett may be playing himself into a big contract as an up and coming young pass rusher.
Michael Johnson, DE, Cincinnati Bengals
In the offseason there was talk that the Bengals would reduce Michael Johnson’s snaps to keep him fresh all season, well that plan may have changed with Johnson’s strong start. He is only 22nd in our Pass Rushing Productivity among defensive ends with seven sacks and 25 total pressures in 249 pass rush snaps. A reason for his large snap count total could be associated with his dependability in the run game also, where he has a +5.9 grade and has become an every-down player. At just 25 years old Johnson has picked a great time to blossom.
Dashon Goldson, S, San Francisco 49ers
Goldson emerged last season as a playmaker on one of the best defenses in the NFL and has continued his strong play in 2012. Goldson has an overall grade of +7.9 and is a pivotal piece to what the Niners do on defense. In coverage this season, Goldson has allowed just nine receptions for 72 yards on 287 snaps. He also has two interceptions while allowing only one touchdown. An asset in run defense as well, Goldson has missed only two tackles through eight games. At a position of need in the NFL, Goldson is poised for a large deal.
Anthony Spencer, OLB, Dallas Cowboys
Spencer has had trouble living up to his first round draft selection, but he has still been a very good player for Dallas. He has played on more than 80% of the defensive snaps in every game that he has played thus far this season and has a +9.0 overall grade. He is second in Pass Rushing Productivity among 3-4 outside linebackers, with 14 pressures (including three sacks) in 83 opportunities. Holding back those numbers slightly is that he has been used in coverage on 79 passing snaps, but he’s been good in coverage too. In those 79 snaps he has allowed just four receptions and 38 yards. Spencer is still young and could be a developing star.
William Moore, S, Atlanta Falcons
William Moore isn’t a household name, but he is a key piece on the defense of the undefeated Falcons. Moore has played every snap thus far this season and has an overall grade of +4.9. While he isn’t flashy, he is a very dependable player. The Falcons have expanded his role this year and utilized him as a blitzer 23 times. He has responded with six total pressures with one of those a sack, making him the second most productive blitzing defensive back in the NFL. Moore is just now coming into his own and his best days are ahead of him. He is offering a potential new team a dynamic, playmaking safety.
Turn the page to look at some of the pricier guys who may be franchise tag candidates…
The next batch of players will most likely not make it to the free agent market, but it can be fun to imagine. If for some reason negotiations go south and these potential free agents hit the market, here is what they can offer a team.
Joe Flacco, QB, Baltimore Ravens
Despite an up-and-down season, Flacco is by far the best available free agent quarterback and is in line for a large payday. Flacco is PFF’s 22nd-ranked quarterback, reflecting performance that won’t help his contract demands — he’s set about disproving his offseason claims off being an elite quarterback. Still you need only see how he has played at times (most notably in the postseason last year) and how hard it is to find serviceable quarterbacks with upside to know how in demand he will be.
Victor Cruz, WR, New York Giants
Cruz is slated to be a restricted free agent and has already announced that he has begun talks on an extension with the Giants. However, if Cruz wants to test the market there will be plenty of teams eager to make an offer. Cruz has proven that last year was no fluke and that he is an elite receiver. He has emerged as one of the premier slot threats in the league. In nine games he has 40 receptions for 575 yards and five touchdowns from the slot. Cruz has proven that he is a true No. 1 receiver, showing no signs of a drop-off even with an injured Hakeem Nicks, and he is clearly Eli Manning’s favorite target. Whether it is now or later, Cruz has positioned himself to be one of the highest-paid receivers in the league.
Branden Albert, OT, Kansas City Chiefs
Not commonly mentioned as one of the best offensive tackles in the game, Branden Albert has emerged in his contract year as a dominant player. Albert has a total grade of +17.6 (with a pass block grade of +17.0) on the year and has been a bright spot for the struggling Chiefs. He is second in the entire league among offensive tackles in Pass Blocking Efficiency, allowing only eight total pressures in 279 pass block snaps. Included in those eight pressures is just one sack and that came on opening day, which is even more impressive considering the state of flux that is the Chiefs’ offense.
Ryan Clady, OT, Denver Broncos
There might not be potential free agent that has helped himself more in 2012 than Ryan Clady. Clady has emerged as one of, if not the best offensive tackle in the game with a +16.9 overall grade, including a pass block grade of +16.8. Clady has been the most efficient pass-blocking tackle in the NFL, allowing only five total pressures in 271 pass block snaps and is yet to allow a sack. He has played all but one snap this season and has been the rock on Peyton Manning’s blind side that the Broncos desperately needed. Can they retain him now that he will get paid as an elite player?
Reggie Bush, Wes Welker, Andre Smith, Sean Smith
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