Every fan in the National Football League are looking at the players slated to become free agents and dreaming of the cream of the crop. The names of Justin Houston, Ndamukong Suh, Dez Bryant and Demaryius Thomas will be on everyone’s wish list, although in reality most of those men will not be going anywhere.
The best place to look is at the second tier of free agents, where the value is terrific. The signing of Brandon LaFell by the New England Patriots is a good example, with the unsung receiver helping them to a Super Bowl win.
Here are five guys who could prove the best value signings of the offseason:
5. David Harris
Harris has been one of the most consistently productive inside linebackers over the past three years. Playing under Rex Ryan in the 3-4 for the New York Jets, the 31-year-old has racked up 123, 124 and 124 tackles respectively in that span. Harris has not missed a game since 2008 and has 30.5 sacks from the inside throughout his career. At 6’2 and 250 pounds, the Michigan native has perfect size and will draw a solid market. However, with teams valuing pass rush and corners more than ever, the middle linebacker position is drawing lesser contracts.
4. C.J. Spiller
Speaking of depressed contracts, Spiller plays at running back and will get a team-friendly deal. With DeMarco Murray headlining the position, Spiller will fly under the radar. The Buffalo Bills could choose to re-sign him or let the 2010 first-round pick from Clemson walk after an injury-plagued campaign. Spiller only has one 1,000-yard season (2012) but is also relatively fresh, never accruing more than 207 carries in a year. Spiller is also a nice receiver and returner, adding ample value.
3. Orlando Franklin
Franklin is a unique player because he can play both guard and tackle. The former University of Miami (FL) star is hitting free agency for the first time and might prove too expensive for the Denver Broncos to keep. At 6’7 and 320 pounds, Franklin is a mauler. This year, Franklin lined up at left guard after years at right tackle and played well, showcasing versatility. Franklin could very well stay in the AFC West, with the San Diego Chargers, Kansas City Chiefs and Oakland Raiders all needing help on the offensive line.
2. Charles Clay
Clay is one of the most underrated tight ends in the NFL. The Miami Dolphins have enjoyed terrific production from Clay, who caught 127 passes for 1,364 yards and nine touchdowns over the last two seasons. Clay will be 26 years old when training camp rolls around and should be entering his prime. The Dolphins would love to keep him but are up against the salary cap. If Miami can’t keep Clay, he will be a valuable asset elsewhere.
1. Jerry Hughes
Hughes is a fantastic 4-3 defensive end who provides a fierce pass-rush off the edge. After flaming out with the Indianapolis Colts, Hughes joined the Bills before the 2013 season and has amassed 19.5 sacks since. The only question with Hughes is whether he can perform as well without Marcell Dareus, Kyle Williams and Mario Williams on the line with him. Hughes will find a nice payday whether it is with Buffalo or elsewhere. Look for him to be a great pickup and a productive player going forward.