Free-agent shopping lists are like any other shopping lists -- they come with their own set of busts and bargains. Beyond the lists of obvious high-paid names, there are always those players who -- for whatever reasons -- languish under the radar. Smarter front offices will have beads on these guys, and will have considered scheme fits, off-field track records, and overall salary requests as they look to fill their rosters with depth and breadth at multiple positions. Though a fan might not be terribly excited when his or her team bypasses the big-name guy for a lesser light ... well, sometimes, there is a method to the madness.
With the 2013 free agency period just around the corner, here are a few players we think could be real bargains in the right situation.
Ahmad Bradshaw, RB, (former) New York Giants: Coming off a foot injury, but has been cleared to begin visiting teams. Released by the Giants in early February, but if he comes back healthy, he could be a major bargain and a key cog in somebody's offense. Finished sixth in Football Outsiders' cumulative efficiency metrics in 2012, and fifth in per-play. A complete back who can run, catch, and block. Probably a rotational guy as opposed to an every-down bell cow due to injury history, but he'll be paid like a rotational player and could easily exceed expectations in the right system.
Martellus Bennett, TE, New York Giants: Bennett bulked up from his Cowboys days and has become a great run-blocker, but he's also effective as a pass-catcher. Put up career highs in catches (55), targets (90), yards (626), and touchdowns (five) in 2012. If you're looking for a do-it-all tight end in the Zach Miller mold without the high price tag, Bennett might be your man. Allowed two hurries and no sacks in 97 pass-blocking snaps per Pro Football Focus.
Delanie Walker, TE, San Francisco 49ers: Interesting situational player who didn't make a host of plays, but made some big ones at the right times. Could be a major part of a power offense in which two-tight end sets play a major role. Per PFF, he ranked first in deep passing efficiency among all qualifying tight ends, with eight catches, 220 yards, and two touchdowns on 11 targets of 20 yards or more. Drops (nine overall in 37 targets) don't help his case as a starter, but he had just one drop on those deep targets.
Sebastian Vollmer, OT, New England Patriots: May get paid in the $7-8 million per year area, but if he's healthy (potential back and knee issues), Vollmer is a relative bargain at that price. He's played left and right tackle at an outstanding level, has tremendous athleticism, and given his limited football experience, the best may be yet to come from Vollmer as a pure technician. Gave up six sacks in 2012 per PFF, but that was in 1,111 total snaps at right tackle.
Brandon Moore, OG, New York Jets: Grades well as a pass-blocker and road-grader. Age (32) is a concern, but in the right system, could be a real force. Known primarily as the possessor of the rear end that Mark Sanchez ran into for the infamous "Buttfumble" play, but should be known better as the right guard who allowed just two sacks and four quarterback hits in an offense that could be charitably described as a disaster.
Israel Idonije, DL, Chicago Bears: Idonije could be highly coveted among teams running multiple fronts, because he can rush effectively at end or tackle, and plays the run well. Amassed 7.0 sacks and 41 total pressures, per PFF, on 280 pass-rush snaps. Has become highly effective as the Bears did more down-based movement with their fronts; can switch from big end to pass-rushing tackle with ease.
Desmond Bryant, DT, Oakland Raiders: Another potential game-changer as an interior pass-rusher, and he's on the radar of a lot of different teams. Put up four sacks in 2012, but 11 quarterback hits and 20 hurries -- per PFF, his 35 total pressures ranked him fourth among all qualifying defensive tackles. Did not help himself with a recent arrest and criminal mischief charge, but you know how it goes -- guys standing 6-foot-6 who weigh 300 pounds and can harass a quarterback will have suitors. Bryant's price could ramp right up as the free agency process rolls along.
Adam (formerly "Pacman") Jones, CB, Cincinnati Bengals: Yes, believe it or not. The Bengals don't always come up trumps when they gamble on players with character issues, but they did in this case. In 2012, Jones allowed 36 catches and two touchdowns on 414 pass snaps and 66 targets. With slot corners becoming more and more important in the NFL, don't be surprised if the interest is high to take Jones from the RCB role he primarily played last season, and turn him into a potentially dominant inside pass defender.
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