NFL Free Agency Preview

Howard Balzer, The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange


Much can change between now and March 12 in the world of NFL free agency. On that day at 4 p.m. Eastern time, player contracts expire and trades can begin.
There is also a new three-day window from March 9-11 that allows teams to hold official contract negotiations with their own players that will become unrestricted free agents (UFAs).
While there are more than 450 players currently scheduled to be UFAs, many will re-sign in the next few weeks, and another smaller and more elite group will receive the franchise tag, effectively taking them off the market. Of course, players released by teams will add to the pool.
The compensation for the non-exclusive franchise tag is two first-round draft picks. The deadline for franchise tags to be extended is March 4.
One of the biggest decisions to be made is by the Baltimore Ravens if they haven't reached agreement on a long-term contract with quarterback Joe Flacco by the beginning of the new league year.
The Ravens have salary-cap issues, and a long-term deal would likely put Flacco's cap charge in 2013 at less than the $14.6 million estimated franchise tag for quarterbacks. However, the Ravens also know another team, including division rival Cleveland, could take a run at Flacco, crafting a front-loaded contract the Ravens couldn't match while being perfectly happy with surrendering those two No. 1 choices.
The exclusive franchise tag would prevent Flacco from negotiating with other teams, but the tender would likely increase to at least $20 million in April.
With Flacco not expected to be on the open market, the quarterback position doesn't provide much in attractive talent, although there is the possibility San Francisco's Alex Smith and Seattle's Matt Flynn, both under contract for 2013, could become available.
Aside from Flacco, the beginning of the league year is always fast moving, with some teams overpaying for prime talent while others wait things out for later bargains.
Following is a look at the top five players at each position, with the estimated franchise tag in parentheses.

Quarterbacks ($14.6 million)
Joe Flacco, Baltimore (expected to be franchised)
Matt Moore, Miami
Tarvaris Jackson, Buffalo
Jason Campbell, Chicago
Drew Stanton, Indianapolis

Running Backs ($8.1 million)
Reggie Bush, Miami
Shonn Greene, N.Y. Jets
Rashard Mendenhall, Pittsburgh
Cedric Benson, Green Bay
Ahmad Bradshaw (released by Giants)
Best of the rest: Felix Jones, Dallas; LaRod Stephens-Howling, Arizona

Wide Receivers ($10.4 million)
Dwayne Bowe, Kansas City
Mike Wallace, Pittsburgh
Greg Jennings, Green Bay
Wes Welker, New England
Devery Henderson, New Orleans
Best of the rest: Jerome Simpson, Minnesota; Danny Amendola, St. Louis; Ted Ginn, San Francisco; Joshua Cribbs, Cleveland

Tight Ends ($6.0 million)
Tony Gonzalez, Atlanta (expected to retire)
Dustin Keller, N.Y. Jets
Fred Davis, Washington
Delanie Walker, San Francisco
Martellus Bennett, N.Y. Giants
Best of the rest: Jared Cook, Tennessee; Anthony Fasano, Miami; James, Casey, Houston

Offensive tackles ($9.7 million)
Ryan Clady, Denver
Jake Long, Miami
Branden Albert, Kansas City
Andre Smith, Cincinnati
Sebastian Vollmer, New England
Best of the rest: Phil Loadholt, Minnesota; Gosder Cherilus, Detroit; Sam Baker, Atlanta; Jermon Bushrod, New Orleans; Bryant McKinnie, Baltimore; Winston Justice, Indianapolis; William Beatty, N.Y. Giants

Guards ($9.7 million)
Andy Levitre, Buffalo
Brandon Moore, N.Y. Jets
Kory Lichtensteiger, Washington
Lance Louis, Chicago
Louis Vasquez, San Diego
Best of the rest: Stephen Peterman (released by Lions); Ramon Foster, Pittsburgh; Kevin Boothe, N.Y. Giants

Defensive Ends ($11.0 million)
Michael Bennett, Tampa Bay
Michael Johnson, Cincinnati
Cliff Avril, Detroit
Osi Umenyiora, N.Y. Giants
Robert Geathers, Cincinnati
Best of the rest: Kyle Vanden Bosch (released by Lions); Israel Idonije, Chicago

Defensive Tackles ($8.3 million)
Henry Melton, Chicago
Randy Starks, Miami
Chris Canty, (released by Giants)
Sammie Lee Hill, Detroit
Corey Williams, Detroit
Best of the rest: Sedrick Ellis, New Orleans

Outside Linebackers ($9.4 million)
Anthony Spencer (DE), Dallas
Paul Kruger (DE), Baltimore
Dwight Freeney (DE), Indianapolis
Shaun Phillips, San Diego
Connor Barwin, Houston
Best of the rest: Michael Boley (released by Giants); Erik Walden, Green Bay

Inside Linebackers ($9.4 million)
Dannell Ellerbe, Baltimore
DeAndre Levy (OLB), Detroit
Scott Shanle, New Orleans
Rey Maualuga, Cincinnati
Brian Urlacher, Chicago

Cornerbacks ($10.7 million)
Brent Grimes, Atlanta
Sean Smith, Miami
Mike Jenkins, Dallas
Derek Cox, Jacksonville
Cary Williams, Baltimore
Best of the rest: Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Philadelphia; Bradley Fletcher, St. Louis; Chris Houston, Detroit; Leodis Mckelvin, Buffalo; Aqib Talib, New England; Nate Clements, Cincinnati

Safeties ($6.8 million)
Dashon Goldson, San Francisco
Jairus Byrd, Buffalo
William Moore, Atlanta
Glover Quin, Houston
Ed Reed, Baltimore
Best of the rest: Louis Delmas, Detroit; Kenny Phillips, N.Y. Giants; Corey Lynch, San Diego; LaRon Landry, N.Y. Jets; George Wilson (released by Bills)

Kickers ($2.9 million)
Phil Dawson, Cleveland
Josh Brown, Cincinnati
Lawrence Tynes, N.Y. Giants
Jason Hanson, Detroit
Nick Folk, N.Y. Jets

Punters ($2.9 million)
Shane Lechler, Oakland
Dustin Colquitt, Kansas City
Donnie Jones, Houston
Kevin Huber, Cincinnati
Pat McAfee, Indianapolis