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Free-agent bargains: Which players offer most value?

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  • By Around The NFL staff NFL.com
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Free agency is just around the corner. We've already broken down our top 99 free agents, now it's time to start predicting the madness. On Tuesday, we examined the players who are bound to get paid too much in free agency. We now take a look at the players who offer the most bang for the buck.

Chris Ivory, Lamar Miller, running backs


Nobody wants to pay running backs anymore, so why not take advantage of this and import some high-end talent in a depressed market? Enter Chris Ivory and Lamar Miller, two very different backs who had stretches last season where they looked like the best player on the field. When Ivory is right, he evokes legit Beast Mode comparisons. Miller is an ascendant dual threat who was never quite appreciated in Miami. Tip to a cap-rich team looking for total backfield reboot: Sign both these guys and light a cigar. -- Dan Hanzus

Walter Thurmond, safety


Last year was really the first healthy season we've seen from Walter Thurmond, who teamed with Malcolm Jenkins to form one of the NFC's top safety duos in Philly. Unlikely to break the bank, Thurmond is a candidate to outplay his next contract if a suitor plays its cards right. After years of playing second fiddle in Seattle, Thurmond has yet to break out on his own over the past two seasons, but he's an interesting target to take a chance on for the right team. -- Marc Sessler

Kelvin Beachum, offensive tackle


It's not often a legitimate starting left tackle hits the open market at 26 years old. If it weren't for his ACL tear six games into the 2015 season, he'd be much higher on the offseason radar and might not even be hitting free agency. When he started all 16 games in 2014, Beachum was a top-10 left tackle in the NFL. Injury and the lack of consistency prior to 2014 could keep Beachum's price tag down. With so many teams in desperate need of offensive line help, Beachum should prove to be a steal at the right price. --Kevin Patra

Dwayne Allen, tight end


Why is Dwayne Allen so intriguing after the Colts underutilized him in their offense last season? As Cardinals general manager Steve Keim explained at the NFL Scouting Combine last week, teams have accepted that blocking tight ends aren't skilled enough to be pass catchers and receiving tight ends can't block well enough to help in the run game. When healthy, Allen is one of the handful of tight ends with the talent, body type and willingness to do both. -- Chris Wesseling

Update: Allen signed a four-year deal to stay with the Colts.

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Vernon Davis, tight end


The tight end will probably come at the veteran's minimum or something close to it after a disappearing act in 2015. This was not all Vernon Davis' doing, however. In-season trades, especially to teams running three different offenses that are, at times, quarterbacked by Peyton Manning, are extremely difficult to navigate. Davis was simply lost in the shuffle, and it happens to the best of them. While his production has been on the decline for two years now, he's not that far removed from a 13-touchdown season. In the right offense, he might be able to have a James Jones-type career resurgence. If nothing else, he will be a fine hybrid/slot tight end option still quick enough to cause mismatches against linebackers in coverage. -- Conor Orr

Jaye Howard, defensive lineman


Howard flew under the radar as a disruptive penetrator for the Kansas City Chiefs last season. The 27-year-old lineman owns the versatility to play nose tackle or defensive end in a 3-4 defense or tackle in a 4-3 D. His ability to get up field and blow up running plays pops on film. The 301-pound lineman pushes the pocket against the pass, allowing edge rushers -- Justin Houston, Tamba Hali in K.C. -- to make plays. Last season, Howard wrecked havoc all along the line, gobbling up 5.5 sacks and 31 quarterback hits in 13 starts. With a draft stocked with defensive lineman and several big names ahead of him in free agency, Howard is ripe to get a contract that could be viewed as a steal in a year or two. -- Kevin Patra

Ladarius Green, tight end


Ladarius Green never really lived up to the hype in San Diego, but this former Making The Leap candidate will be 26 on opening day, and can block and beat linebackers down the seam. He also lacks typical wear and tear after playing in the considerable shadow of Antonio Gates for years. The fit is important here: If Green ends up in a good offense with a prolific passer, he has serious breakout potential. What if the Saints got Green on the cheap? -- Dan Hanzus

Tyvon Branch, safety


Pro Football Focus rated Tyvon Branch ahead of Cincinnati's George Iloka this season despite playing just 435 snaps. The Chiefs' backfield might just be too crowded for a player that should have a market when free agency opens in March. Branch is 29, but bounced back after two injury-plagued seasons in Oakland. He appeared in 16 games for the Chiefs and allowed just 56 percent of the passes thrown his way to be caught. This list is not necessarily the sexiest bunch of names, but teams who are able to find a solid contributor or a starter this way often find themselves in a better position to sign their own stars or swing for the fences at other spots in free agency. -- Conor Orr

2016 NFL DRAFT

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Derrick Shelby, defensive end


Derrick Shelby might not be a household name, but he had one of the NFL's most overlooked contract-year pushes as Cameron Wake's replacement down the stretch last season. A stout run defender with exceptionally strong hands, Shelby also made a habit of bulldozing linemen into the quarterback's lap as a disruptive interior force on third downs. Although he lacks the speed to emerge as a premier edge rusher, Shelby is a versatile defensive lineman just entering the prime of his career. -- Chris Wesseling

Jahri Evans, guard


Jahri Evans was a salary-cap casualty for a reason -- he makes a lot of money because he's good at what he does. A six-time Pro Bowler, Evans will be 33 and healthy on opening day, and might not come for more than the price of an Evan Mathis deal in the neighborhood of one year for $4 million-$5.5 million. Evans is known for having an excellent locker room presence and has been the foundation of New Orleans' offensive line for nearly a decade. These situations are often mutually beneficial for the player and team. Evans can come into camp late while a team gives a younger, developing player reps in the interim. Evans is good enough to plug and play. -- Conor Orr

Mitchell Schwartz, offensive tackle


Mitchell Schwartz flew under the radar last season on a bad Browns team, but he's the same right tackle who held Denver's Von Miller to just one assist over 66 snaps during a regular-season tilt. A cerebral and emerging player, Schwartz has the talent to help anchor an NFL line for years to come. -- Marc Sessler

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