Free-agent bargain is an oxymoron. If a player makes it to the open market, at least nine times out of 10 it's because he's inherently flawed in one way or another.
Teams don't draft and develop players only to usher them into free agency, unless there is a hangup over price tag, position fit, injury history, consistency or character issues.
While fans and novice general managers overvalue the first few days of free agency, the following players might just outperform their next contracts while flying under the radar in the latter waves.
1. Golden Tate, WR, Seattle Seahawks: Instead of pointing out what Tate isn't (a No. 1 receiver), appreciate him for what he is. Although his counting stats have been artificially deflated in the league's run-heaviest offense, Tate led all NFL receivers in forced missed tackles and yards after catch per reception, while doubling as the most effective punt returner in the league. He's a willing blocker, excels on bubble screens and crossing routes, is able to beat cornerbacks deep and has improved every season.
2. Randy Starks, DT, Miami Dolphins: Starks' advanced age (30) will keep his price down, but it shouldn't. He's been one of the league's most complete defensive tackles for a half-decade now. Pay him, stick him at three-technique tackle and watch him disrupt the pocket. Might Falcons defensive coordinator Mike Nolan be interested in a reunion?
3. Walter Thurmond, CB, Seattle Seahawks: Thurmond isn't without risk. He served a four-game, substance-abuse suspension last season and missed 24 games from 2011 to 2012 with a severely broken leg. He also had a major knee injury in college. On the flip side, he was arguably the NFL's premier pure nickel back last season, allowing a minuscule 7.4 yards per reception and zero touchdowns. Will Gus Bradley steal him away from Seattle?
4. Pat Sims, DT, Oakland Raiders: Sims' game tape from Week 16 at San Diego resembles a J.J. Watt highlight reel, as he tosses offensive linemen aside and blows up plays in the backfield. If a coaching staff ever gets that motor running on a consistent basis, there will be multiple Pro Bowls in Sims' future.
5. Geoff Schwartz, OL, Kansas City Chiefs: Andy Reid's offense averaged 35 points over the final seven games, a stretch that coincided with Schwartz's elevation to the starting lineup at right guard. At 6-foot-6 and 330 pounds, Schwartz is a road-grader in the running game and stout in pass protection.
6. Maurice Jones-Drew, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars: Try to find a running back who was helped less by his surrounding talent last season. Jones-Drew is no longer a home-run hitter, but he ran with authority down the stretch, making defenders pay for tackling him. It's been just two years since Jones-Drew was viewed widely as one of the league's best backs. He would make for a nice "Mr. Inside" complement to Andre Ellington's "Mr. Outside" in Arizona.
7. Andre Roberts, WR, Arizona Cardinals: Why overpay for Julian Edelman's 1,056 receiving yards in 2013 when you can underpay for Roberts' 759 yards in 2012? Had the two receivers hit the market together last offseason, Roberts would have been the consensus view as the superior option. Like Tate, he can play outside or in the slot and is strong after the catch.
8. Garrett Graham, TE, Houston Texans: A fourth-round draft pick in 2010, Graham approximated Owen Daniels' production in the second half of last season, including one dominant performance with seven catches, 136 yards and one touchdown versus the Raiders. The former Wisconsin star would be a nice consolation prize if the Packers lose Jermichael Finley.
9. Wesley Woodyard, LB, Denver Broncos: After laying claim to the title of NFL's best coverage linebacker in 2012, Woodyard was out of place in the middle of the Broncos' defense last season. If another team with a 4-3 scheme moves him back to the weakside, he could be in for a bounceback year.
10. Toby Gerhart, RB, Minnesota Vikings: The No. 51 overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft lacks lateral agility, but has the size, straight-ahead speed and pass-catching skills to handle the larger portion of a tandem attack. In eight games relieving Adrian Peterson, Gerhart has averaged 19 touches and 99.4 yards from scrimmage. Turning 27 later this month, Gerhart should have fresh legs after being underutilized for four seasons.
*The latest "Around The League Podcast" talks the latest news, Jimmy Graham and the best fits in free agency. *