NFL free agency kicks off on March 12, and there are plenty of major names in play, including Victor Cruz, Dwight Freeney, Joe Flacco, Jake Long and Mike Wallace. Of course not all will hit the open market - teams have the three days before free agency to negotiate with free agents-to-be - but those who do will command major contracts. Long, for example, is reportedly looking for $10 million annually, while Flacco is said to be asking for a contract that will rival Drew Brees' $20 million-per-year deal. [gallery2012]
Of course the problem with such massive contracts is their propensity for backfiring. Just in the last few years we've seen Kevin Kolb, Michael Vick, Mark Sanchez and Matt Cassel sign major deals that most would now agree were total mistakes - and those are just the quarterbacks. With that risk in mind, we decided to find the free agents who offer teams the most potential bang for their buck.
These are the low-investment, high-upside players who have shown an ability to compete at an elite level. In a worst-case scenario they take up a roster spot and a miniscule piece of cap space, and at best they emerge as top playmakers at a bargain price. We leaned toward guys coming off injuries or poor seasons, and also included names that might be lost in a sea of talented, available players at their positions.
Leading the list is quarterback Matt Moore, who really doesn't receive the credit he deserves. Sure, he's played pitifully at times, but in his one extended stint as a starter he threw for 2,330 yards and 16 touchdowns to eight interceptions over 12 starts. Moore was once again relegated to backup status last year and could likely be signed for backup pay this offseason, which makes him a relatively safe and low-cost alternative to risking a high draft pick this April.
Running back Peyton Hillis is another player who has shown flashes of brilliance but was pushed into a backup role last season. He's coming off a one-year, $3 million deal but a general lack of production in 2012 means he should be available for even less this offseason. Hillis is a big-bodied back who, at the very least, is a more-than-capable goalline option and at best is a punishing, every-down threat as both runner and receiver.
The offensive skill players are rounded out by St. Louis' Steve Smith, who was among the league's top receivers prior to a 2010 injury and should be available for around the league minimum, and tight end Visanthe Shiancoe, who may be far from an elite talent but represents a reliable pass-catcher who could be signed for about $1 million per year.
Be sure to check out the slideshow above for the rest of our selections of the NFL's best bargains in 2013 free agency.