2013 Free Agency Preview

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Originally Published, 3/1/13

Updated: 7/30/13


Note: We have a complete list of 2013 free agents here


The 2013 NFL off-season might not be the most exciting in NFL history, but nevertheless there are many high-end talents available on the market on both the offensive and defensive sides of the football. The market is especially deep at running back, wide receiver, and along the offensive line, so once the signings start, make sure to keep up with for instant analysis in our Free Agency Tracker. The new league year begins March 12 at 4 p.m. Eastern, giving the NFL a juicy primetime free agency special, and it’s possible many of the top names below are locked up in the days – or even hours – after the new league year starts.


Under the 2011 NFL CBA, players who have accrued four years of service time are designated as unrestricted free agents – you might remember that only players with six years of service time could be UFAs once the last CBA expired and the league played without a salary cap.


Below, we have an extensive list and analysis of skill-position players and top offensive linemen and IDPs who are still on the market in 2013. Some of these guys will make an impact next year, and many will not. We have you covered either way.


To start, a primer on the 2013 free agency process:


Free Agency Glossary


These are terms you’ll hear a lot in this article and over the next few weeks. These brief descriptions should have you adequately prepared for the whole process.


Unrestricted free agent: Any NFL player who has accrued four or more years of service time and has an expired contract. An unrestricted free agent is free to sign with any team in whatever situation for whatever contract he deems most beneficial, with no penalty to the acquiring team.


Restricted free agent: Any NFL player who has accrued three years of service time and has an expired contract. Restricted free agents are free to negotiate on the open market. Once a player is given an offer sheet, his previous team has a seven-day “right of first refusal” period to match the offer.


If the controlling team declines, the acquiring team could be forced to pay a draft-pick penalty for signing that player to a contract, the cost of which is depending on the RFA tender offered to the player by his previous club. On the flip side, if a player is not offered an RFA tender by his club, he becomes an unrestricted free agent.


Teams can also work out trades with interested parties, adjusting the terms any draft-pick compensation the player’s RFA tender would require (the Dolphins and Patriots did this in 2007 with Wes Welker).


Exclusive rights free agent: Any NFL player who has accrued two or fewer years of service time and has an expired contract. The term “free agent” is a misnomer, in that the player has no contract, but his rights are controlled by his team unless that team willingly decides to release him. If an exclusive rights free agent is tendered a contract (at the veteran minimum), he must sign it if he wishes to play because he has no negotiating power.


Franchise tag: Any player who will become an unrestricted or restricted free agent can be designated as his club’s franchise player. If a player is designated as a franchise player, he is tendered a one-year, guaranteed contract. To make a complicated scenario simple (and trust us, it’s complicated), the franchise tag under the new CBA signed in 2011 is calculated as a percentage of the salary cap using the salaries of highly paid players at the tagged player’s position, which reduces the overall value of the tag (this was a “win” for the owners in the CBA negotiations). Every dollar of the franchise tag is guaranteed.


If a player is designated a franchise player, he can sign the one-year deal immediately, and he can continue to negotiate a long-term deal with his club. However, once a deadline in mid-July passes, the franchise player is no longer free to negotiate a long-term deal and must either sign the franchise tag or hold out (teams can also work out trades). Moreover, if a franchise player holds out past a certain date late in the NFL season, he is no longer free to sign the tag and will go without pay for the entire 2013 season (Vincent Jackson came dangerously close to this date during the 2010 season).


A player can be either an “exclusive” or “non-exclusive” franchise player. A “non-exclusive” franchise player is free to negotiate with other teams, like a restricted free agent, and like in an RFA scenario, his previous club is given right of first refusal. If the club declines to match an offer sheet, the player’s previous club is awarded two 1st-round picks as compensation. Because of this, we won’t often see a “non-exclusive” franchise player sign with another club.


Transition tag: Like the franchise tag, the transition tag is a way for teams to retain their unrestricted or restricted free agents under a one-year guaranteed deal. However, there are some differences, explaining why it is not as prevalent as the franchise tag. First, and most notably, the transition tag is “cheaper” to the offering team, as it takes into account the salaries of 10 players instead of five, like in the franchise tag.


However, transitioned players are always free to negotiate with other clubs, like restricted free agents, and their controlling clubs are given right of first refusal. But there is no draft-pick compensation for being unable to match an offer sheet, unlike the two 1st-round pick compensation on a franchised player.


This has led to very interesting scenarios in the past, in which teams included “poison pill” clauses in their offer sheets to transitioned players, making it essentially impossible for a player’s old club to match the offer (Steve Hutchinson and Nate Burleson were signed with “poison pill” deals). The risk was minimal for offering teams – they didn’t have to pay any compensation, like they would have to under an RFA tender or a franchise tender.


That’s why the tag is little-used. While there is less financial commitment, there is a greater risk to the club offering the tag.


In previous years, teams could use both the franchise tag and a transition tag. Under the new CBA signed in 2011, teams can choose only one of the two tags.


Note: Players are essentially listed in order of their projected fantasy relevanceWe have a complete list of 2013 free agents here




Unrestricted Free Agents 


Tyler Thigpen (Buf) – Thigpen once again served as a backup in Buffalo in 2012, but never threatened to take the starting job from a struggling Ryan Fitzpatrick. Despite the Bills giving up a draft pick for QB Tarvaris Jackson, it was Thigpen who held onto the primary backup job all season. Thigpen appeared in four games and threw just 5 passes all season. After starting 11 games for the Chiefs in 2008, Thigpen had just one start in 14 appearances in the last four seasons. What’s a little surprising is that he did very well back in ’08 running the type of offense (pistol, shotgun spread) that has become much more relevant in 2013. Granted, his mediocre passing skills have likely prevented anything close to an emergence the last 3-4 years, but this is a guy who did finish 12th in the league in fantasy PPG with the Chiefs in ’08, with 18.5. Despite seeing no or limited snaps in three games back in 2008, he also led all QBs that year with 386 rushing yards. He’ll be nothing more than a backup option when he hits the market and with Jackson signing a new deal to compete for the starting job with Fitzpatrick, Thigpen might not return to the Bills. With QB Alex Smith off to the Chiefs, it’s possible the 49ers may take a look at Thigpen as the new backup to Colin Kaepernick, or maybe in Carolina to be the new #2 there. It’s also possible the Vikings, who drafted Thigpen in 2007, could look to get “Thiggy wit it” and sign him.  


Matt Leinart (Oak) – Leinart couldn’t even keep his backup job over Terrelle Pryor late in the 2012 season, so it’s no surprise that the Contra Costa Times doesn’t expect the 2006 draft bust to be back with the Raiders in 2013. Leinart has earned respect in recent years for his ability to absorb an offense, but his performance on the field simply hasn’t matched that. With the Raiders, in two games, he posted only 16/33 for 115 yards and 1 INT, meaning he hasn’t thrown much more than a check-down pass since 2009 with the Cardinals. If he’s going to be as much as a #2 QB next season, he’s going to have to improve his play. His best shot might be to latch on as a #3 somewhere.

Charlie Batch (Pit) – Batch started the year as Pittsburgh’s #3 QB, but he was thrust into the lineup when Ben Roethlisberger and Byron Leftwich both went down with injuries. Batch, who turned 38 in December 2012, played horribly in a road loss to the Browns, and he followed that by handing the Ravens a loss in Baltimore. Batch has seen at least a little bit of action in his last four seasons with the Steelers, but he’s no longer a viable backup at this point in his career. Batch told a local Pittsburgh radio station 93.7 The Fan that he definitely wants to play another season, and he’d love to be back for 2013. He also acknowledged in the interview that the Steelers could see quite a bit of shakeup before next season, so his spot isn’t guaranteed. Steeler GM Kevin Colbert said the team will explore drafting a quarterback “above the late rounds” to serve as Roethlisberger’s backup in 2013. Batch very well could be back next season as the #3 QB once again, but he more than likely won’t be Big Ben’s primary backup, as the Steelers will likely want someone with more upside, given Roethlisberger’s recent injury history. Clearly, it’s time for the Steelers to try to develop a young player, as opposed to rolling with weak retreads like Batch and Byron Leftwich. Batch, who is originally from the Pittsburgh area, will more than likely retire before playing outside of the Steeler organization in 2013. But he’s said this year that he expects to be back. 

Byron Leftwich (Pit) – Leftwich once again came back to the Steelers on a one-year deal in 2012 to serve as QB Ben Roethlisberger’s backup after breaking his arm in the preseason in 2011, when he was placed on injured reserve and missed the entire season. Leftwich, who turned 33 in January, came in for Big Ben in Week Ten against the Chiefs, and Leftwich got the start in Week Eleven against the Ravens. He broke his ribs during the Baltimore and played through pain, before Charlie Batch stepped in and took over at quarterback. Given Leftwich’s injury, Batch took over as the Roethlisberger’s backup, even when Leftwich was healthy enough to start practicing again late in the year. Steeler GM Kevin Colbert said the team will explore drafting a quarterback “above the late rounds” to serve as Roethlisberger’s backup in 2013. Leftwich’s time with the Steelers is likely through, because of his inability to stay healthy. The Steelers need more stability in the backup spot, especially with how often Roethlisberger suffers injuries of his own, so they’ll likely look to the draft or free agency to fill the spot. Leftwich will look to latch on somewhere this off-season, but his growing list of injuries will make it tough to win a backup spot. Quite frankly, we really wish he’d just hang it up.


Jordan Palmer (Jac) – Palmer was a street free agent until Blaine Gabbert landed on IR with a shoulder injury in November. He acted as a backup for Chad Henne for the rest of the season and didn’t appear in a game. Palmer hasn’t thrown a pass since 2010, and has thrown only 15 in his career, so if he’s signed anywhere this off-season, it’ll be as a #3 QB or camp body.


Note: We have a complete list of 2013 free agents here


Running Backs


Unrestricted Free Agents


Michael Turner (RB, Atl) – As expected, the Falcons cut Turner in early March to save $6.4 million. With HC Mike Smith saying at the combine that the team would be “recalibrating” the roster, it was hardly a surprise to see Turner on the chopping block after a disappointing 2012 season. He ran for just 803 yards on 223 carries (3.6 YPC) and caught 19/128 on 30 targets, but his fantasy value was somewhat salvaged by 11 TDs, which is why he was able to finish 26th among RBs, with 9.9 FPG, while playing in all 16 games for the third straight year. A closer look at his numbers revealed how much Turner’s value was predicated on his ability to find the endzone. In the final eight games of the season, Turner failed to eclipse 60 rushing yards in all but one game, but scored six times over that span. He ran for 100 yards just twice all season in what was easily his worst year with the Falcons in the five years he spent with the team. The nine-year veteran split time with RB Jacquizz Rodgers, despite Rogers going through his own struggles with trying to handle a heavier load in his second season. With the Falcons becoming more of a pass-first team, the writing was on the wall for Turner, but on top of that, he looked sluggish and unable to perform at the level of a main ball carrier. We’d expect Turner to have more than a few suitors looking for a rotational back who specializes in short-yardage and goal-line situations, as long as his price tag isn’t too high. Ironically, he would fit in pretty well in San Diego, where he started his career. The Chargers may be looking for a younger option behind/alongside Ryan Mathews, though.


Cedric Benson (GB) – In a bit of an unorthodox move for the Packers, they signed Benson to a one-year deal late in the 2012 off-season with a need at RB. With Alex Green still coming back from a knee injury and James Starks battling turf toe, Benson entered the season as the unquestioned starter and did a fine job before going down with a foot injury. Benson wasn’t outstanding, but he gave the team a back they could trust as a complement to the high-octane passing game, and they actually had a strong commitment to the run, due possibly (likely) to protection issues. In the first five games, he ran for 248 yards and a TD on 71 carries and had 14/97 in the passing game, which was good for a solid 8.1 FPG. Unfortunately, that would be all the Packers saw of Benson, as the injury turned out to be a Lisfranc sprain. Benson was put on the designated-to-return injured reserve with the hope he’d be able to come back in late November, but he ended up needing surgery and remained on IR for the rest of the season. He’s expressed an interest in returning to the Packers in 2013, but he’s aware that at 30 years old, it’ll be up to the team if they want to bring him back. Of course, the Packers aren’t exactly in great shape at the RB position with DuJuan Harris looking like their best option at the end of 2012, so there’s a chance Benson could return as a possible fallback option if necessary. That seems like a long-shot, though, and GM Ted Thompson at the combine expressed intrigue when asked about Harris. Of course, they also have Alex Green and could be looking at RB in the draft. If Benson isn’t back with the Packers, we wouldn’t be surprised to see him remain on the market for a while, just as he did last year, especially coming off an injury-shortened season at 30.


Kevin Smith (Det) – Smith was solid for the Lions after being signed as a street free agent in the second half of the 2011 season, but after opening this past season as the starter, he found himself on the bench more often than not in the second half of 2012. Smith started the first two games, but gave way to RB Mikel Leshoure after he returned from his suspension in Week Three. Smith ended up being a healthy scratch for the next three games and was reportedly in danger of being cut, if not for Jahvid Best’s inability to return from concussion issues. Clearly, the team felt journeyman Joique Bell was a better option, and despite Smith’s impressive production in 2011, it’s hard to argue. Smith ended up with just 8 carries the rest of the season and ended up with 37 carries for 134 yards and a TD and 10/79/1 as a receiver in 12 games. Smith expressed disappointment with his role after the season and considering how little he was used, we wouldn’t expect him back in Detroit. He may get looks elsewhere, but it’s hard to imagine Smith playing anything more than a backup role, especially considering his lengthy injury history.




Mewelde Moore (Ind) – Given his age (31 heading into the 2013 season), Moore is already playing on borrowed time in comparison to many other NFL RBs. And given his performance in 2012, it’s hard to imagine him getting much more than a camp invite next season. Moore had 13/20 rushing and 6/77 receiving in nine games with the Colts, and he lost a key fumble on his final carry of the year. He can do things on third down that coaches love (blocking, catching the ball), but we can’t imagine he’ll land anywhere as more than a #4 RB, or a #3 at best.



Brandon Jacobs (SF) – It looks as if Jacobs is at, or at the very least close, to the end of his playing career. Jacobs was suspended the last three weeks of the regular season for conduct detrimental to the team. The 49ers then cut him just before the playoffs started, so no team could sign him for the postseason. We doubt there would’ve been any suitors for Jacobs, who played in just two games with 5 carries for 7 yards. The team brought in Jacobs to be the guy to spell RB Frank Gore in short-yardage and goal line situations, but it never worked out that way for Jacobs. The 30-year-old Jacobs won’t be back in San Francisco, and he likely won’t have many teams looking for his services this off-season.


Stefan Logan (Det) – Logan has been a return specialist for his four years in the league, but has seen his production drop off significantly in his last few years with the Lions, especially in 2012. Logan had career lows in KR yards (597) and just 300 yards on punts and ended up losing his job due to poor decision making and an issue with fumbles. Considering he has a total of 27 carries and just 8 catches in his four-year career, Logan doesn’t offer much if he’s not doing anything as a return man, which is why he’s probably not coming back to the Lions in 2013. He may get a shot to catch on elsewhere as a returner, but will need to show significant improvement after a terrible 2012 season.


Restricted Free Agents


Curtis Brinkley (SD) – Brinkley had a career-year in his third season out of Syracuse, but that’s not saying much for the little-used running back. Brinkley played a career-best 10 games this year, and he finished with career-highs of 39 carries for 115 yards and 12 catches for 77 yards. Brinkley got some chances to rise up the depth chart, but he was unable to and was stuck behind the oft-injured Ryan Mathews and unrestricted free agents Ronnie Brown and Jackie Battle, and he was cut during the middle of the season before eventually being re-signed in December. Brinkley will likely be back out on the street this off-season, looking for a new job. If Brinkley couldn’t see more time going against Battle and Brown, there’s no little hope that he’ll make much of an impact elsewhere.

Note: We have a complete list of 2013 free agents here


Wide Receivers


Unrestricted Free Agents


Brandon Lloyd (NE) - Lloyd was released by the Patriots on 3/16, so he is free to sign with another team at any time.


Steve Breaston (KC) – Breaston was one of the 2012 season’s mysteries, landing in the doghouse on a 2-14 team that could have used all of the weapons it could get. A year after posting 61 catches and nearly 800 receiving yards, Breaston caught only 7 passes for 74 yards in 10 games, and was listed as a healthy scratch six times. He’s had knee problems in the past, but there’s no reason to believe the old injury crept up to slow him down this season, and it’s likely that he just clashed with former coach Romeo Crennel. Even though the new staff led by Andy Reid gives Breaston a chance at a fresh start, it was never likely that he would be given the chance to play out the remaining three years on his five-year, $23 million deal, so the Chiefs cut him in February. Breaston will be 30 in August, so we doubt he’ll draw much interest in the way of a multi-year deal, but he should be able to convince a team that he can help in the slot and on returns. As pointed out, the Chargers and new OC Ken Whisenhunt could be a fit, given Breaston’s experience under Whisenhunt in Arizona, or Breaston could return to his childhood home in Pittsburgh. He’s definitely going to get a chance to compete for snaps somewhere, since he’s a solid pro and has the versatility to play outside or in the slot.


Brandon Stokley (Den) – Stokley’s career was salvaged, thanks to his friendship with Peyton Manning. After working out with Manning during his recovery from multiple neck surgeries, the Broncos signed him to give their new QB a familiar face in the receiving corps. Acting primarily as the team’s slot receiver, he caught 45/544/5 on 57 targets, with nine starts in 15 games, putting him at 5.6 FPG. This comes a year after he had just a single catch in two games during a short stint with the Giants. In fact, it was his highest catch total since 2004, which not surprisingly, came as Manning’s teammate with the Colts. Stokley, who turns 37 in June, said he would like to keep playing for the Broncos but knows it’s up to the team. While Denver could look to add a better option through free agency or look to the draft, a relatively cheap one-year deal for Stokley would make sense, especially considering his relationship with Manning. He was very valuable to their passing game in 2012, no question.


Randy Moss (SF) – Moss came into 2012 with some modest expectations after sitting out the entire 2011 season. The 49ers used Moss as mostly a role player during the season, although he was elevated to the starting lineup when Mario Manningham went down. Moss still had some vertical speed left, but he had little else to bring to the table. He didn’t have much fantasy value, but did a fine job, catching 28/434/3 (15.5 YPC) on 49 targets (57.1% catch rate) for 3.8 FPG. Moss, who just turned 36, doesn’t have the same speed he once had, but he could still make plays downfield and was a nice, big target in the red zone. Moss, who proclaimed himself the greatest wide receiver of all time before the Super Bowl, wants to play in 2013, but he didn’t exactly like his reduced role with the 49ers in 2012. Moss obviously thinks of himself more highly than San Francisco did this season. Moss may want to be a featured wide receiver in the NFL once again, but it’s hard to think of any team that will give Moss a chance to be a top WR. Moss will likely have to take on another reduced role if he wants to play in the league next season at the age of 36. There’s no question the team would love for 2012 rookie A.J. Jenkins to emerge as a starter in 2013. As for Manningham, he could be released.



Austin Collie (Ind) – It’d be hard to find an NFL player more snake bitten than Collie, who has had serious concussion issues in his career (including one in the 2012 preseason), and then ruptured his patellar tendon after catching just one pass for 6 yards in the 2012 season. Collie has said that he anticipates being ready for training camp, but it appears that if he lands in a camp, it won’t be with the Colts, who announced they won’t re-sign him, according to the Indianapolis Star. If the sure-handed Collie does want to continue playing, a team will absolutely take a gamble on him if the deal is right, given his strong play from the slot and in the red zone, scoring 15 TDs in only 25 games in 2009 and 2010 with Peyton Manning at QB. But Collie also has to evaluate his quality of life and life after football, given his numerous issues. Still, if he wants a job, he’ll likely find one. Perhaps if the knee checks out the Broncos would be interested, since they are pretty thin at receiver after their top two studs.


Deion Branch (NE) – Branch was signed by the Patriots twice during the 2012 season for depth purposes, and between the regular season and playoffs, he caught only 18 passes in 12 games. He’s a guy the Patriots could always entertain retaining because he knows the verbiage of Tom Brady’s system and has some chemistry with the QB, but his days as a fantasy contributor seem to be long gone. He’ll be 34 in July, and if a team other than the Patriots shows any interest in him, we’d be stunned. He might be a guy whom the Patriots will entertain bringing back if they need depth, but he won’t be much more than that.


Roscoe Parrish (TB) – Parrish was used almost exclusively in punt return situations this season with the Buccaneers. He led the team with 30 punt returns for 298 yards (9.93 yards per return), including a long 39 yards. He added 63 yards on kick returns. Parrish is simply a return specialist at this point in his career, as he’s caught just 1 pass the last two seasons between Buffalo and Tampa Bay. At least Parrish stayed healthy this season, as he’s dealt with injuries during his last two seasons with Bills, playing in just 10 of 32 games.


Sammie Stroughter (TB) – Stroughter showed some potential as a slot receiver during his first two seasons with the Buccaneers, with 55 catches in 2009-10. However, he has just 5 catches in his last two seasons, largely because of injury issues. He has played in just eight out of a possible 32 games the last two seasons, and he played in just two games in 2012 before a broken right foot landed him on the injured reserve. The Buccaneers used Tiquan Underwoodin the slot and he performed well, hauling in 28/425/2, so if Stroughter has a future in the league, it might be outside of the Buccaneer organization.

Restricted Free Agents


Brandon Banks (Was) – The diminutive Banks (5’7” and 155 pounds) is almost strictly a return specialist at this point. He will see the occasional snap on offense on a gimmick run play or on a screen pass. He finished with 8 catches for 15 yards and added 7 carries for 36 yards. Banks was active in 12 games this season, and he finished with 705 combined return yards, with 527 kickoff return yards and 178 punt return yards. He doesn’t bring any value to a team outside of his return-game abilities, so he will have a limited number of teams looking for his services.

Note: We have a complete list of 2013 free agents here


Tight Ends


Unrestricted Free Agents


Dallas Clark (TB) – Clark hasn’t been a special tight end for fantasy since his career year in 2009 with the Colts. Clark was decent in his first season with the Buccaneers in 2012, hauling in 47/435/4 on 74 targets (63.5%, 9.3 YPC), but he ranked only 26th among TEs, with 4.5 FPG and had five games with either 1 or no catches. Clark will turn 34 in June, so his best years clearly behind him, but the Buccaneers don’t have a lot of options at tight end, so they could look to lock in Clark with another one-year deal while also brining in a TE of the future this year. The Bucs should not go with young TE Luke Stocker (16/165/1 on 27 targets, 59.3%). Stocker is far from special, so the Buccaneers will likely either bring back Clark or look for another alternative. Clark dealt with injuries during his last two years in Indy, but he stayed healthy in 2012 and played all 16 games. Clark will likely try to play at least one more season after a healthy 2012, it’s just a matter of where he lands.


David Thomas (NO) – The Saints’ release of Thomas was a bit of a surprise, because he was a relatively cheap backup for TE Jimmy Graham, who had injury problems this year. But suffice it to say that fantasy players won’t miss him much. In 15 games this season, Thomas caught only 11 passes for 86 yards, but 4 of them went for TDs, meaning he was much more of an annoyance than an actual valuable fantasy handcuff when Graham was struggling. He is a rock-solid NFL TE, a decent enough blocker who can catch the ball and move the chains, but he isn’t going to be a guy with whom you’ll ever look to fill out your fantasy roster. His career-highs of 35 catches and 356 yards were three years ago, and it’s likely that the Saints want to get a little bit more dynamic behind Graham in the event he struggles with injuries again.


Kevin Boss (KC) – Like Austin Collie, Boss is a free agent who has to seriously take into account his potential quality of life after football before deciding to sign elsewhere. Just two games into his Chief career, Boss suffered a serious concussion in Week Two and was lost for the season. The Chiefs had no choice but to cut him loose after only one year of his three-year, $9 million deal, and now we just cross our fingers and hope Boss can stay healthy (he’s had at least three serious concussions in his career). At his best, he is an “old-school” TE, a guy who can catch the ball adequately but also provide strong support in the run game and pass pro. If he catches on somewhere, it’ll be as a #2 TE.


Chris Cooley (Was) – Cooley barely had anything left in the tank when he re-signed with the Redskins in Week Eight of the 2012 season. The Redskins needed depth at tight end after Fred Davis went down for the year with a torn Achilles’ tendon. Cooley caught just 1 pass for 8 yards, and he played on just 93 snaps in his eight games. He played in just five games in 2011, as he dealt with knee and finger injuries. Cooley, who will turn 31 in July, will likely opt to retire at this point in his career rather than playing somewhere other than Washington, which has been his only home in nine NFL seasons.



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