The beginning of the league year begins on March 12, which also means the official start of free agency. This season, there’s a wealth of free agents on the market, including the Giants’ Victor Cruz, Martellus Bennett, Kenny Phillips, Stevie Brown and Osi Umenyiora. Between Rotoworld, ProFootballWeekly, ESPN Insider and the Sporting News, here’s a list of the top 50 free agents this off-season and any evidence signaling possible landing spots.
1. Joe Flacco, QB, Baltimore Ravens The top of the Ravens’ off-season priority list is finding a way to retain the Super Bowl MVP. Flacco’s agent, Joe Linta, says Tom Brady’s reduced deal will have no impact on his client’s contract. Expect Flacco to receive a deal in the $20M/year range or be slapped with the franchise tag.
2. Ryan Clady, OT, Denver Broncos Broncos VP of Football Ops John Elway made it clear Clady wasn’t going to have a chance to test the market. A prime candidate for the franchise tag, Clady will likely be protecting Peyton Manning’s blindside again in 2013.
3. Jake Long, OT, Miami Dolphins The former No. 1 overall pick had his worst season as a pro in 2012, allowing a career-worst seven sacks before being placed on the injured reserve. With injuries spoiling each of the last two seasons, Long may have lost some leverage.
4. Mike Wallace, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers Last year, the speedster held out during training camp in hopes of inking a new deal. Instead, Pittsburgh gave that deal to fellow wideout Antonio Brown. Wallace has been rumored to be coveted highly in Miami where he would immediately surface as the top target for sophomore quarterback Ryan Tannehill.
5. Victor Cruz, WR, New York Giants The salsa-dancing wide receiver should top the Giants’ off-season priority list, especially after securing a deal with left tackle Will Beatty. Cruz has been Eli Manning’s top target each of the past two seasons, and because he’s a RFA, he’s worth a first-round pick should he sign elsewhere.
6. Paul Kruger, LB, Baltimore Ravens With Ray Lewis riding into the sunset, it’s a must for the Ravens to revamp its linebacking corps, and that begins with re-signing Kruger. A pass-rush extraordinaire, Kruger will certainly be coveted around the league. But the linebacker has made it known he wants to stay in Baltimore.
7. Cliff Avril, DE, Detroit Lions Arguably the top pass-rusher in the free agent crop, Avril should be fancied by many 4-3 defensive teams. It’s unlikely he’ll remain in Detroit, unless they choose to franchise him and pay him $12.7M.
8. Aqib Talib, CB, New England Patriots Perhaps Tom Brady helped the Pats find cap room to bring back the team’s top defensive back from a year ago. After being cut by the Bucs, Talib impressed in New England, though questions remain about his off-the-field antics.
9. Dwayne Bowe, WR, Kansas City Chiefs With Alex Smith now a Kansas City Chief, the combination of a Smith-Bowe-Jamaal Charles trifecta has to intrigue new head coach Andy Reid. Bowe is a likely candidate for the franchise tag.
10. Jairus Byrd, S, Buffalo Bills
Bills fans can likely remain at ease, as reports have suggested Byrd and the team already talking about a long-term deal to keep him in update New York. Buffalo has until March 4 to use the one-year tag on the safety, which will cost between $5.89 and $6.79 million in 2013.
11. Henry Melton, DT, Chicago Bears
First-year coach Mark Trestman must fill a number of holes on his defense, including defensive tackle. Retaining Melton via the franchise tag would cost $8.3M, though the Bears appear invested in the tackle. Should the 26-year-old Pro Bowler hit the open market, he’ll have plenty of suitors.
12. Greg Jennings, WR, Green Bay Packers
Jennings has been rumored to become a Dolphin ever since he put his home in Green Bay up for sale at the end of the season, but there are reports his former offensive coordinator-now-Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin is interested in the wideout. The Pack could place the franchise tag on Jennings.
13. Wes Welker, WR, New England Patriots
In the aftermath of the Brady deal, it was reported Welker and the Patriots had began contract talks. Welker, 32, should be a Patriot next season, unless Bill Belichick is planning to take this offense in a new direction.
14. Anthony Spencer, LB, Dallas Cowboys
Already a recipient of the franchise tag a year ago, Spencer proved he’s worthy of a long-term deal after recording a career-best mark in tackles and sacks. The Cowboys are changing defenses, but Spencer’s agent has remained in contact with the club.
15. Dashon Goldson, S, San Francisco 49ers
It appeared as if Goldson was going to be slapped with the franchise tag, but that rumor was dispelled by The Sacramento Bee, which reported the Niners have no plans to use the tag. With cap space alleviated in the trade of Smith, perhaps signing the All-Pro safety to a long-term deal is within the realm of possibility.
16. Steven Jackson, RB, St. Louis Rams
Jackson voided the $7M player option to remain in St. Louis in 2013, and recent rumors have connected the veteran to the Falcons. Atlanta recently released Michael Turner; perhaps S-Jax would serve in a backfield-by-committee with Jaquizz Rodgers and Jason Snelling.
17. Michael Johnson, DE, Cincinnati Bengals
In his contract season, Johnson recorded 11.5 sacks, equaling his production over the prior three years. The surprise production could mean using the franchise tag. If not, AFC North rival Cleveland has shown interest in the DE.
18. Brent Grimes, CB, Atlanta Falcons
The Falcons’ cornerback is an option for the Patriots, according to ESPN, as it’s likely he’ll only demand a one-year deal following a torn Achilles’.
19. Ed Reed, S, Baltimore Ravens
It’s no question Baltimore will attempt to bring back safety Ed Reed, who has flirted with retirement each of the last few off-seasons. If the parties are unable to compromise on a fair deal, it’s been suggested New England will attempt to add the veteran to sure up its defensive backfield.
20. Reggie Bush, RB, Miami Dolphins
Bush has proven he can handle the workload of an every-down back. He’s being pursued by the Lions, who could use a playmaker in the backfield to complement chain-mover Mikel Leshoure and third-down specialist Jocque Bell. The Miami-Herald suggests Bush would also consider New York or a contender.
21. Tony Gonzalez, TE, Atlanta Falcons
Apparently, the Falcons don’t want the future Hall of Fame-bound tight end to hang up his cleats just yet. The GM, coach Mike Smith and teammates convince Gonzo to give it one more go-round, otherwise it’s off to the sunset.
22. Sebastian Vollmer, OT, New England Patriots
Like Welker, Vollmer could be a beneficiary of Brady’s restructured deal. The offensive tackle is responsible for protecting Brady’s blindside, and as the team’s most important free agent it’s likely he’ll be rewarded this off-season.
23. Daryl Smith, LB, Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jags’ leading tackler this season, Smith — who Pro Football Focus ranks atop its list of linebackers — will likely remain in Jacksonville.
24. Martellus Bennett, TE, New York Giants
The former Cowboy impressed in his first season in The Big Apple, though his production did taper off down the stretch. Bennett has said he’d like to play alongside his brother, Michael Bennett, also a free agent. His talent is there, and the Giants would like to re-sign him, but the market might be small with a draft class in which tight end talent is abundant.
25. Andre Smith, OT, Cincinnati Bengals
The Bengals’ right-hand man has to defend some off-field issues centered around keeping his weight down, but his stellar on-field play should help him to get a lucrative deal. But with other free agents to tend to, the Cincinnati Enquirer expects the Bengals to let Smith hit the market.
26. Andy Levitre, OG, Buffalo Bills
The top offensive guard on the market, Levitre has spent time at both guard spots and center while in Buffalo. His former offensive coordinator, Curtis Modkins, is now in Detroit. He’ll demand a big payday.
27. Dannell Ellerbe, LB, Baltimore Ravens
Like Kruger, Ellerbe — a possible candidate to replace Ray Lewis in the heart of the Ravens’ D — stated he’d like to remain in Baltimore. Last year, he recorded a career-high 89 tackles and 4.5 sacks. His agent has already met with the team and it appears a deal is in the forecast.
28. Roy Miller, DT, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Tampa Bay Times reports contract talks between the Bucs and Miller have “broken off,” meaning he’ll likely be able to test the open market.
29. Branden Albert, OT, Kansas City Chiefs
Now that the team has solidified its quarterback position, it will likely use the first overall pick to pick up an offensive tackle. Texas A&M’s Luke Joeckel is the best in a deep class of linemen this draft, and grabbing the former Aggie should not preclude the Chiefs from retaining Albert.
30. Desmond Bryant, DT, Oakland Raiders
Recently making headlines for an arrest and God-awful mugshot, Bryant will have to prove his off-the-field issues don’t outweigh his talents. As of now, the charge is a misdemeanor.
31. Osi Umenyiora, DE, New York Giants
Umenyiora has played his final game in a Giants uniform. The DE has been seeking a new deal for the last few off-seasons, one the Giants have been unwilling to give him. Earlier this off-season, Umenyiora said he’d be willing to stay in New York — thought wearing a uniform — and recently he’s been named a target for the Falcons.
32. Randy Starks, DT, Miami Dolphins
All signs point to the veteran tackle remaining in Miami, as NFL.com’s Gregg Rosenthal is convinced Starks will be slapped with the franchise tag.
33. Cary Williams, CB, Baltimore Ravens
With the Ravens having to tend to so many free agents, it appears they’ll have to pick and choose. Apparently, Williams may be a casualty. The big, physical cornerback should have no trouble finding work elsewhere, as teams like the 49ers, Eagles, Bucs or Saints may have interest.
34. Jerome Felton, FB, Minnesota Vikings
This season Felton drew a lot of praise for helping pave holes for Adrian Peterson as nearly surpassed the 2,000-yard mark plateau. The fullback is rarely used in today’s style of offenses. Teams that utilize the position — the Vikings, 49ers, Steelers and Jets come to mind — but it appears as if Felton will remain in Minnesota.
35. Phil Loadholt, OT, Minnesota Vikings
Aside from Peterson, Loadholt was the Vikings’ best player in 2012. The right tackle started all 16 games last season and has become a stalwort at the position over the last four years. Contract talks between both sides began during the season.
36. Danny Amendola, WR, St. Louis Rams
NFL.com lists the 49ers and Patriots as possible suitors for the oft-injured wide receiver. Despite missing 20 games in the last two seasons, he’s still been the Rams’ best receiving option. If he commands too much money on the open market, however, he’ll find a new home elsewhere
37. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, CB, Philadelphia Eagles
Run DRC never lived up to expectations in Philly, but at 27 it’s hard to give up on a player who just a few years ago was regarded as one of the premier young corners in the game. He won’t be an Eagle for sure.
38. William Moore, S, Atlanta Falcons
Moore emerged as one of the top safeties this season, suring up what used to be a suspect Atlanta secondary. Despite some injury concerns, he’ll likely generate a lot of interest, though Moore seems likely to remain a Falcon.
39. Richard Seymour, DT, Oakland Raiders
The ole, wily vet has played his last game in an Oakland jersey. The 33-year-old Seymour has the ability to play in both 3-4 and 4-3 schemes, so his skills and experience should intrigue a lot of contenders willing to ink him to a short-term deal.
40. Dennis Pitta, TE, Baltimore Ravens
Pitts emerged as a signature option for Flacco this season, as we saw in the post-season. The Ravens have a lot of free agents this off-season, but they have to find a way to keep their weapons in Baltimore.
41. Sam Baker, OT, Atlanta Falcons
Baker is a premier left tackle in this league, and it doesn’t hurt he’s coming off of his best season to date. He has a history of back issues and this year’s NFL Draft is chock full of offensive line depth. Early signs indicate he won’t break the bank and could wind up back in Atlanta.
42. Sean Smith, CB, Miami Dolphins
The Miami Herald is convinced Smith won’t be tagged, but Smith insists he hasn’t spoken with any club other than the Dolphins. Aside from the convoluted reports surrounding Darrelle Revis, Smith is arguably the top CB on the mark, meaning teams needing secondary help should open their wallets.
43. Jared Cook, TE, Tennessee Titans
Maybe not the tight end with all of the stats to back his case, but Cook has displayed glimpses of potential as a stalwart at tight end in Tennessee. The Titans are enamored with this kid and view him as part of the team’s future with Jake Locker.
44. Louis Vasquez, OG, San Diego Chargers
The second-best offensive guard on the market, Vasquez is and should be atop the Chargers’ off-season priority list.
45. Brian Hartline, WR, Miami Dolphins
The Dolphins receiver enjoyed a breakout season with the rookie Tannehill under center. Should Miami elect to go after a big-time receiver — a Mike Wallace or a Greg Jennings — it may not be able to retain Hartline as well.
46. Dustin Keller, TE, New York Jets
Arguably the Jets’ best receiving option during the Mark Sanchez era, Keller may not have an opportunity to be a part of the next QB’s development. First-year GM John Idzik was noncommital about using the franchise tag and has yet to speak to the tight end’s agent. Again, in a draft loaded with tight end prospects, the Jets may let Keller walk.
47. Israel Idonije, DE, Chicago Bears
The 32-year-old Idonije likely won’t demand too much money, and Bears GM Phil Emery expressed interest in retaining the veteran lineman.
48. Jermon Bushrod, OT, New Orleans Saints
The Saints would love to re-sign the 28-year-old to protect Drew Brees’ blindside, but a lot of teams need a solid left tackle and desire Bushrod’s services. He won’t be tagged and has been connected to the Bears.
49. Kenny Phillips, S, New York Giants
New York will be forced to make a decision between Phillips and Stevie Brown, both of whom have shown they can be the team’s starting strong safety. The Panthers have expressed some interest in signing Phillips early on.
50. Shaun Phillips, LB, San Diego Chargers
Phillips is almost sure to not be a Charger in 2013, according to the Union-Tribune. The 32-year-old outside LB is one of eight free agents the team’s new front office has to consider, but with former first-rounder Melvin Ingram hovering in the background, it opens the door for Phillips to take his talents elsewhere.
Follow Sam on Twitter @SamSpiegs