Sept 23, 2012; Miami, FL, USA; Miami Dolphins tackle Jake Long (77) blocks New York Jets linebacker Aaron Maybin (51) during the second half at Sun Life Stadium. THe Jets won 23-20 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

2013 Free Agency Preview


As we close in on Super Bowl Sunday, we can all expect a barrage of news, insider reports, and feature stories about everything from the end of Ray Lewis’s illustrious career, Colin Kaepernick’s ascent to the top of his profession, and the first time two brothers have faced off as coaches in the super bowl. However, while most fans will be tuned into those storylines over the next week, I would like to take time to discuss the next NFL season and how teams plan to re-tool for 2013.

When you look towards this year’s crop of free agents, you have to sit in awe of some of the talent that will be available at certain positions for those looking to spend. This is probably the best crop of Free Agent Offensive Tackles in some time with players like Andre Smith (Cin), William Beatty (NYG), Ryan Clady (Den), Jake Long (MIA) and Phil Loadholt (Min) all pending free agents. With this being such a quarterback driven-league, you can be sure that teams with a lot invested in their quarterbacks, will be drooling at the sight of such a strong talent pool.

Before delving too deeply into position analysis, which I will do in later segments of my free agency preview, lets take a strategic look at free agency in general and try to get an understanding of the market for players looking to cash in. As it stands right now, in the aggregate, there is roughly $350 million in available cap space between all 32 teams, nearly 500 Unrestricted Free Agents (UFA), and a little less than 100 Restricted Free Agents (RFA). Now does that mean that teams will spend $583,000 on each free agent? (the quotient of $350 m/600 Free Agents) No, players have different values based on their contributions to their teams and will be paid accordingly, and league rules stipulate that in 2013 the minimum teams can pay for a 4th, 5th, or 6th year player is $715,000. The fact is many of these pending free agents will be priced out of the marketplace because of the collective bargaining agreement, and many players will be forced to accept salaries that are not commensurate with their contributions on the football field because a younger alternative can be found in the draft or on the team’s roster. It is for this reason that certain positions have so much greater value than others: because substitutes are much more readily available for a guard than say a quarterback or cornerback.

The real market, and where the big bucks will be spent are on starters. This is why if you’re not a starter after your 4th season, your time in this league will be very short lived. (pay attention future draftees) Based on some research I’ve done, and bear in mind this is not completely scientific as I don’t know every teams’ rosters that well, there are about 159 open starting spots in the NFL following the 2012 season, broken down as follows:

Position

Open Positions

QB

3

RB

3

FB

6

WR

9

TE

10

T

18

G

13

C

3

DT

18

DE

7

LB

25

S

17

CB

15

PK

6

P

6

Some of these positions are going to be in greater demand than others. For example, the Defensive Tackle market will be an interesting one to watch as there are 18 starting spots available, a weak free agent class, and an average draft class. This will probably increase the values of players such as Henry Melton (Chi) and Desmond Bryant (Oak), pass rushing interior lineman both coming off productive years in 2012, but who were relatively unknown before last season. Melton, who had a rating of 15.8 in 616 snaps 2012, 7th best in the NFL at his position, according to Pro Football Focus, in a normal year could reasonably expect a contract in the neighborhood of what Cullen Jenkins (graded 15.3 from PFF in 2010) received from the Eagles ($6 per year) but teams looking for pass rushers from the defensive tackle position in a 4-3 or end position in a 3-4, might be inclined to overpay for his services and as a result, his price may rise.

To give you a better perspective of where markets will develop, I’ve also broken down which positions there is an abundance of talent at. From the research I’ve done, there are 116 starting caliber players, broken down similarly to above.

 

Starting Spot Openings

Open Positions

Starting Caliber Free Agents

QB

3

1

RB

3

6

FB

6

0

WR

9

10

TE

10

9

T

18

15

G

13

8

C

3

2

DT

18

7

DE

7

5

LB

25

10

S

17

14

CB

15

14

PK

6

8

P

6

7

As you can see, the positions where teams will have the greatest market power are running back, wide receiver, tight end, offensive tackle, cornerback and safety. This is because there are a greater number of substitutes (starting caliber free agents) at those positions. Positions where players have greatest market power are  offensive guard, defensive tackle, and linebacker because there are shortages of starting caliber free agents. (relative to the number of openings)

The other factor that plays into the market dynamic is team’s maneuverability and this is especially interesting this year with a team like Cincinnati which has $55 million in cap space and without a significant amount of holes to fill. Remember, the new collective bargaining agreement requires a team to spend at least 89% of their cap space, meaning that the Bengals have to spend about 42 million dollars in free agency. You can be sure that they will be happy to extend their two premiere free agents OT Andre Smith and DE Michael Johnson to healthy raises and will likely sign a cornerback and linebacker as well.

The Giants will be an interesting team to watch this winter as well as they have significant amount of holes to fill along the offensive line, tight end position, and at linebacker, but they have a limited amount of cap space right now (they are currently $4.7 million over the cap). They do have some contracts that they can easily adjust (Eli manning, Corey Webster) and there are likely going to be a few cap casualties which could clear up some space (David Diehl). If the giants are able to clear the necessary space, they could get some bargains at positions in need as there will be an abundance of offensive tackles, tight ends, and safeties available for them to pick from, they may even be able to retain Kenny Phillips for a reasonable price.

Please tune in next week when I begin a position-by-position breakdown of the free agent market.

 

 

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  • http://www.facebook.com/duane.planten Duane Planten

    3 starting RB openings is low. Likely 8-10 teams (Colts, Bengals, Steelers, Jets, Packers, Rams, Cardinals, Lions, Dolphins, Falcons) will be looking for a starting RB in FA or the draft because they lack a player on the team already to be the new starter.

  • Jeremy Mand

    Openings are Pittsburgh, NY Jets, and Dolphins, the other teams have players in place – Colts – Donald Thomas and Vick Ballard, Falcons still have Michael Turner, Lions have Mikell Leshoure, Bengals have BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Cardinals have Beanie Wells, you could argue the Rams but they have Rams have Isiah Pead and Daryl Richardson…

    • http://www.facebook.com/duane.planten Duane Planten

      Bengal OC said recently they were looking for a game changer at RB, Atlanta beat writers are saying Turner won’t be back and Rodgers isn’t considered an every down, go-to RB. Possibly Ryan Williams will start for the Cards, not Wells, neither is a certainty. For the Lions, Leshoure isn’t a lock, Best’s career is likely over, Kevin Smith is a FA. Packer writers are saying Benson and Starks won’t be back and Harris is considered a change-of-pace RB.

      While some are arguable, the Bengals, Packers and Falcons RB situations are expected to be just as open as the Jets, Dolphins and Steelers.