Rotoworld Football will have you covered and then some during the forthcoming NFL free-agency period. After a buzz-filled negotiating weekend, more buzz and salary cap casualties will be the theme of Monday. On Tuesday at 4PM ET, signings will begin.
Nick Mensio will churn out daily free-agent recaps. Adam Levitan will expose winners and losers. Along with Mensio, Levitan, and Matt Stafford apologist Pat Daugherty, I'll be constantly updating our Player News Page every day for the next week.
We're not planning on getting much sleep.
This is my ranking of the NFL's Top 100 Free Agents with projected landing spots. I'm trying to read tea leaves and guessing. If I nail 30, I'll feel pretty good. The objective of this column is to give you a feel for the best players available, where they might fit, and how much money they might cost. You're getting familiar with names, potential price tags, and possibilities.
The rankings do not include restricted free agents like Victor Cruz because they almost never go anywhere and aren't worth discussion.
1. Defensive end Cliff Avril -- Avril may not be the best all-around football player in 2013 free agency, but he'll likely get paid the most. He's the premier pass rusher available in a league that covets quarterback harassment. Avril played linebacker at Purdue and left end in Detroit, so scheme versatility makes him even more attractive. The Browns, Colts, Dolphins, and Bucs are all flush with salary cap space and in need of outside-edge rush help. Avril turns 27 years old in April.
Free Agent Forecast: Colts on a five-year, $64 million contract.
2. Cornerback Aqib Talib -- One of the league's better bump-and-run corners, 27-year-old Talib has experience covering No. 1 receivers and more often than not shuts them down. He's good enough to be left on an island. A worrisome off-field history will affect Talib's value, however, and he seems unlikely to command as high-dollar a contract as Sean Smith. If interest in Talib is lukewarm on the open market, the Patriots would love to have him back at a reasonable price.
Free Agent Forecast: Patriots on a four-year, $27.5 million contract.
3. Outside linebacker Paul Kruger -- Kruger managed 1.5 sacks ahead of Terrell Suggs' 2012 return from Achilles' surgery, before closing out the season with 7.5 sacks across the final eight games with Suggs in the lineup. The statistics suggest Kruger is more complementary than franchise pass rusher. He's still an impact defender and sure to get overpaid. 27-year-old Kruger would give Cleveland credibility at rush linebacker opposite Jabaal Sheard in Ray Horton's 3-4.
Free Agent Forecast: Browns on a five-year, $60 million contract.
4. Wide receiver Mike Wallace -- Wallace is coming off his worst season after missing training camp due to a contract holdout. Fortunately for Wallace, the receiver market couldn't be playing out better. Dwayne Bowe's five-year, $56 million deal will be a baseline in negotiations, and leaves Wallace as easily the best wideout available. He'll get more than Bowe. The Dolphins covet Wallace's vertical speed to book end Brian Hartline, and have ample money to land him.
Free Agent Forecast: Dolphins on a five-year, $60 million contract.
5. Free safety Dashon Goldson -- Goldson wants Eric Weddle money -- $8 million per year -- and he's earned it while emerging as the league's premier cover safety. The 49ers never gave serious consideration to franchise tagging Goldson, and appear to have washed their hands. Philadelphia has cap space to pay Goldson, and new VP of Player Personnel Tom Gamble was in San Francisco's front office during Goldson's development. He'd fill a gaping need at free safety.
Free Agent Forecast: Eagles on a five-year, $40.5 million contract.
6. Tight end Tony Gonzalez -- If Gonzalez does play one more season -- and it seems likely he will -- it's going to be with the Falcons. Gonzalez, 37, played last season for $7 million. A similar payment and one last chance at a Super Bowl should lure Gonzalez away from retirement.
Free Agent Forecast: Falcons on a one-year, $7.25 million contract.
7. Offensive tackle Sebastian Vollmer -- 6-foot-8, 315-pound Vollmer is one of the NFL's leanest, most athletic offensive tackles and has developed into an elite pass blocker. He's also a critical piece in New England's power-zone running scheme. Durability is a concern, however, as Vollmer has a history of back woes and is currently recovering from arthroscopic knee surgery. If Vollmer's market underwhelms due to his medicals, the Patriots will be waiting with open arms.
Free Agent Forecast: Patriots on a five-year, $30 million contract.
8. Cornerback Sean Smith -- At 6-foot-3 and 214 pounds, Smith is one of the NFL's biggest cornerbacks and plays like it, struggling to cover smaller, shiftier wideouts but giving bigger ones like Larry Fitzgerald and A.J. Green fits. Going on age 26, Smith's arrow is still pointing up. The corner-needy Buccaneers value Smith's physical style of press-man play.
Free Agency Forecast Buccaneers on a four-year, $30 million contract.
9. Wide receiver Wes Welker -- Welker will test the open market on Tuesday, but the most likely outcome is re-signing with New England at a team-friendly rate. Though video-game productive, Welker is a scheme-specific slot receiver and extension of the run game, as opposed to a flier who rips the top off of defenses. He's more valuable to the Patriots than anyone else.
Free Agent Forecast: Patriots on a three-year, $22 million contract.
10. Right tackle Andre Smith -- A long-armed mauler, Smith's game has quietly reached elite heights the past two years, particularly in pass protection. He was arguably the NFL's premier right tackle in 2012. Having just turned 26, Smith hasn't reached his prime and seems to have put college and early-career weight fluctuations behind him. Cincinnati is brimming with salary cap space. It'd be a disservice to the fanbase if Bengals owner Mike Brown didn't pony up for Smith.
Free Agency Forecast: Bengals on a four-year, $31 million contract.
11. Running back Steven Jackson -- The Rams are searching for more big-play ability in their backfield and are unlikely to re-sign Jackson. The Falcons, Packers, and Broncos are all sensible suitors for a running back going on 30 who intends to finish his career on a contender. Jackson is the league's active leader in rushing attempts, but remains a chain-moving runner with burst and is terrific in the passing game. Atlanta has been his most heavily rumored landing spot.
Free Agent Forecast: Falcons on a three-year, $12 million contract.
12. Offensive tackle Jake Long -- If Long hits free agency seeking Joe Thomas money as has been rumored, he's going to be sorely disappointed. NFL teams are wary of Long's checkered injury history, two-year performance decline, and diminishing athleticism going on age 28. Some even believe he's no longer a capable left tackle and needs to move to the right side. The Fins are willing to pay Long like a top-12 left tackle and remain his likeliest suitor. Look for Long to sit on the market for about two days before realizing staying in Miami is in his best interest.
Free Agent Forecast: Dolphins on a five-year, $38 million contract.
13. Cornerback Brent Grimes -- Grimes would rank much higher if not for last year's Achilles' tear. In the two seasons prior, he had emerged as a borderline shutdown corner. While reports on Grimes' recovery have been positive, teams will be very leery of making a high-dollar commitment to a cornerback coming off a major injury and going on 30. The Falcons still have the best information on Grimes, and Dunta Robinson's release hints at confidence he'll be re-signed.
Free Agent Forecast: Falcons on a one-year, $5 million contract.
14. Defensive end Michael Bennett -- Justin Tuckian with versatility to defeat blocking schemes from both defensive tackle and left end, Bennett's market value got a boost when the Bengals franchise tagged Michael Johnson. Bennett, 27, is the No. 2 defensive end available behind Cliff Avril. Coming off career highs in tackles (41), sacks (9), and forced fumbles (3), Bennett was also an integral piece of Tampa's No. 1-ranked run defense. The Bucs surprisingly don't value Bennett highly, but the cross-state Jaguars would love to add him to their line.
Free Agent Forecast: Jaguars on a five-year, $27.5 million contract.
15. Defensive tackle Desmond Bryant -- Bryant is long and athletic at 6-foot-6, 300 with a relentless motor and versatile tools. He's been an effective starter both at three-technique tackle and right end. Pass rusher and run stuffer alike, Bryant might be this year's most underrated free agent. He's the defender the Seahawks wanted when they signed Jason Jones last March.
Free Agent Forecast: Seahawks on a five-year, $20 million contract.