Now that we are through the first flurry of free agency, it gets very interesting with regards to the value a team can pick up with the big-name players off the market. When you make a deal in the first week of the free-agency period, you are paying retail price plus a little more.
New Buffalo Bills linebacker Mario Williams is a perfect example, getting close to $100 million with half of it guaranteed. Williams is a tremendous player, but he has finished each of the past two seasons injured and is going to a team that has not been to the playoffs this century. Some may call that a publicity move to reinvigorate a fan base and prove they are serious about acquiring big name talent, but Williams' actual value to the team is yet to be determined.
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As we move into the second stage of the signing period, prices become much more reasonable. This is the time when teams can be much more prudent about the players they acquire and how they plan to build their roster moving forward. By filling in roster holes with second-tier free agents, teams are free to draft the best available football player rather than reaching based off need.
Traditionally, this period is when the consistently great teams do their shopping. Let's take a look at the best of the rest:
2. Stephen Tulloch, LB, Detroit: The market may heat up for Tulloch in the second week of free agency with the more "in demand" positions taking precedence this week. He was and still is the best available MLB in the free-agency market.
4. Curtis Lofton, LB, Atlanta: Having a visit scheduled with the Saints and a reported offer already in hand from the Buccaneers, it appears likely that Lofton will be wearing a new uniform next season. The Falcons may use the newly signed Lofa Tatupu in combination with Akeem Dent to replace Lofton in the middle.
6. David Hawthorne, LB, Seattle: Hawthorne is a run-thumping linebacker who is most comfortable in the middle, but has shown some versatility on the outside. He is coming off three consecutive seasons of 100-plus tackles and may price himself out of a return to Seattle.
7. Chris Myers, C, Houston: Myers was the centerpiece for a Texans offensive line that paved the way for 153 rushing yards per game last season, good for second best in the league. After releasing Eric Winston, the Texans, and specifically Arian Foster, should be anxious to get Myers back under contract.
8. Cedric Benson, RB, Cincinnati: To say the market for Benson has been slow would be an understatement. Even Jackie Battle has drawn more interest to this point. As the days drag on, the price tag on Benson falls, and therefore the value increases.
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9. Brandon Lloyd, WR, St. Louis: Lloyd has played for five different teams during his 10-year NFL career, but has still managed to average 31.1 receptions per season, including three seasons in which he only appeared in eight, two and four games each. He would immediately make San Francisco or New England a more balanced passing offense.
10. Evan Mathis, OG, Philadelphia: With the loss of Ben Grubbs, Baltimore is applying the full court press on Mathis. This will come down to money as both teams offer virtually the same opportunity for success.
12. Michael Bush, RB, Oakland: Bush approached his first 1,000-yard season in 2011 but fell 23 yards shy and averaged a very pedestrian 3.8 yards per carry. I like him to be a complement rather than a feature back in 2012 and that makes Chicago a very interesting option.
13. Scott Wells, C, Green Bay:Green Bay typically remains quiet during free agency, but it they lose Wells to the Rams, they will either need to find a replacement now or hope that Peter Konz falls to them at the 28th pick of the draft. Even still, they have needs on the defensive side of the ball they would prefer to address in the first round.
15. Visanthe Shiancoe, TE, Minnesota: In the right system, Shiancoe can be the red-zone threat he was in 2009 when paired with Brett Favre. He isn't mentioned among the league's elite, but he has the skill set to be very effective.
16. Demetrius Bell, OT, Buffalo: Bell has struggled to stay healthy, missing 17 games in the past three seasons, but he still remains a viable option for teams looking for a blind-side protector. The Bills apparently made him an offer prior to the free agency period, and he failed to counter, but don't rule out his eventual return.
17. Mike Tolbert, RB, San Diego: With the Chargers agreeing to terms with Le'Ron McClain, it almost certainly means that Tolbert's days in San Diego are over. Tolbert brings versatility to the fullback position and can fill in as a running back, but he just isn't explosive enough to be a full-time ball carrier.
18. Brandon Jacobs, RB, New York Giants: Running backs have been devalued in the NFL, and particularly the way Jacobs plays the position. While teams look to add dynamic playmakers and pass catchers to their backfield, Jacobs will be the odd man out. He won't draw the money he is looking for on the open market, and therefore, most likely return to the Giants at a reduced price.
19. BenJarvus Green-Ellis, RB, New England: Green-Ellis has 510 NFL carries on his résumé and has ZERO fumbles. That is the type of reliability he brings to the position, but I wouldn't break the bank to acquire him. He is the perfect example of the type of productivity you can find late in the draft, or in his case, from undrafted players.
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20. Ryan Grant, RB, Green Bay: Grant has somewhat disappeared since his breakout seasons of 2008 and 2009, and even then, you may attribute his success to the Green Bay offensive system. In an already soft running back market, I don't anticipate him getting a ton of attention.
21. Marcel Reece, FB, Oakland: In a league in which bruising running games are being replaced with quick passing schemes, Reece becomes a valuable asset at the fullback position. In just 12 games for the Raiders in 2011, he accounted for 27 receptions for 301 yards and two touchdowns -- very good production from a fullback.
22. Braylon Edwards, WR, San Francisco: Edwards was a failed experiment in San Francisco, but I still believe he has some productivity left in his tank. He may not be the deep threat he once was for Cleveland, but he can still be an asset in the red zone.
23. Jerome Simpson, WR, Cincinnati:Not the best timing for Simpson to plead guilty to felony drug charges as he was most likely headed for a significant pay day this offseason. With an almost certain suspension to be handed down from Roger Goodell, Simpson stands to lose a lot of money.
24. Dallas Clark, TE, Indianapolis: Clark isn't a traditional tight end as I'm unaware of any time he has actually lined up off the tackle on the line of scrimmage, but he is still a valuable asset in the passing offense. He was Peyton Manning's safety valve for the Colts, and I think he also will be Manning's safety valve for his next team.