There will be hundreds of NFL players that are playing out the final year of their contract in 2012 and preparing for free agency in 2013. With only four games left to make an impression on the rest of the NFL, every free agent should have plenty of motivation and incentive to finish out the season as strong as possible.
Because every play that a pending free agent takes off, the proof is there on tape. With that thought in mind, what kind of tape (positive or negative) are the pending free agents leaving behind in 2012? More specifically, will the 2013 free agents be making more money or losing compensation due to their current play this year?
We will review a number of free agents that fall on one side of the performance spectrum or the other. For those players that saw their season end prematurely with a trip to injured reserved, there isn't anything they can do now. But for everybody else they still have time to change some opinions.
Players That Are Going to Be Earning Less Money in 2013
San Francisco WR Randy Moss - ($ 2.5 million)
Moss has been great as a mentor to the young 49ers wide receivers this season. His role on the offense was limited to a few snaps. As a result, he only caught 19 passes for 296 yards and two touchdowns in the 2012 season. For those fans that were looking for him to come back and make a splash, they have to be disappointed.
Green Bay WR Donald Driver - ($ 2.3 million including bonuses)
We don't know exactly where Driver will be playing in 2013, or if he will be playing at all. Driver's role has been so reduced in Green Bay in 2012 that he only caught eight passes so far for the entire season. That is due to injury and being far down the pecking order. Driver is playing with a broken thumb and took a pay cut to remain with the team in 2012.
Miami T Jake Long - ($ 11.2 million)
When Long's contract expired Long and his agents were probably expecting a huge payday to be offered in 2013 free agency. Unfortunately, Long picked a bad time to have an off year. He struggled with the West Coast offense and wound up going on I.R. He will still get a fairly big pay check because there are a number of bad offensive lines, but it will be less than what was once envisioned.
Pittsburgh RB Rashard Mendenhall - ($975,000 total compensation)
In the big Week 13 showdown with the Baltimore Ravens, Mendenhall was a healthy scratch for the game. That tells you all you need to know about how his stock has plummeted in 2012.
Chicago QB Jason Campbell - ($3.5 million)
Campbell figured to see limited action in 2012 as Jay Cutler's backup in Chicago. But when Campbell got the opportunity to start against San Francisco when Cutler came down with a concussion, he played poorly. People have a tendency to remember what you did lately, so if that was Campbell's audition tape for 2013, you have to think his contract offers will reflect that performance.
New York Jets TE Dustin Keller - ($3.05 million)
Keller had been a very productive tight end for the New York Jets, right up until the year he was scheduled to be a free agent. In 2009, he caught 45 passes for 522 yards. In 2010, he raised his production to 55 catches for 687 yards. There was another jump in 2011, with 65 catches for 815 yards. In 2012, he came crashing back down with just 28 receptions for 317 yards. His timing couldn't have been any worse for a bad year.
Green Bay RB Cedric Benson - ($825,000)
Benson couldn't land a single deal when the 2012 season began due to his age, performance and off-field reputation. The Packers gave him a chance, but Benson got hurt and had to go on injured reserve due to surgery for a Lisfranc sprain. It also doesn't help that he averaged only 3.5 yards per rush attempt, gaining just 248 yards on the year.
Pittsburgh WR Mike Wallace - ($2.742 million)
When the Steelers saw Wallace end his holdout. they were probably thinking that he would have a huge year in his final contract year. Instead, they got the exact opposite. In 2010, Wallace generated 1,257 receiving yards, 10 touchdowns and averaged 21.0 yards per catch.
In 2012, he is producing about half those totals with only four games left: 616 yards in receptions, six touchdowns and his average is all the way down to 11.8 yards per catch. Wallace has fewer snaps this year, and with the drop in production, he won't get blown away with offers in 2013.
Detroit DE Cliff Avril - ($10.605 million that was fully guaranteed)
Avril leads the Lions in sacks with 8.5, which isn't that far off his career-best total of 11 sacks in 2011. What has been missing from his game in 2012 is the lack of turnovers. He was responsible for creating 10 turnovers in 2011. This year he has only come up with two. GMs will point to that stat when extending lower offers in free agency.
Kansas City WR Dwayne Bowe - ($9.515 million full guarantee contract)
Bowe was generating big plays in Kansas City in 2010 and 2011, as he came up with 19 catches of at least 20 yards or more in both seasons. He turned in 15 touchdowns in 2010. Thanks to the inferior quarterback play in KC this year (passing attack is ranked No. 29), Bowe has only three touchdowns and nine catches for 20-plus yards this season.
Green Bay WR Greg Jennings - ($3.885 million)
Jennings has signed a four-year deal back in 2009, so he will be a free agent in 2013. Due to injuries and the emergence of Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson, Jennings has only gained 124 yards on 16 catches in the 2012 season. A big offer in free agency in 2013 right now looks doubtful.
Players That Are Going to Be Making More Money in 2013
St. Louis WR Danny Amendola - ($1.972 million)
Amendola has battled through his share of injuries in 2012, but when he was on the field, he was highly productive this year. After appearing in only one game in 2011, Amendola is averaging double digits (11.3 yards per catch) for the first time in his career.
Buffalo S Jairus Byrd - ($615,000)
James Walker of ESPN, wrote that Byrd and Ed Reed will be considered the top safeties available in free agency in 2013. Dashon Goldson might have something to say about that. Byrd was tied for the NFL lead in interceptions as a rookie in 2009, and has steadily improved his overall game in every year since. In 2012, Byrd is tied for No. 2 in the NFL with five picks.
New England WR Julian Edelman - ($615,000)
Edelman got some starts over Wes Welker in the New England offense that allowed him to show off his receiving skills. He further improved his stock by making big plays on special teams. His broken foot resulted in a stint on injured reserve, but he helped his bottom line by being versatile over the years and coming up with big plays.
San Francisco S Dashon Goldson - ($6.212 million that was fully guaranteed)
Goldson raised his value with another solid year in the 49ers secondary. Goldson leads the 49ers in interceptions, is fifth in tackles on the team and with 10 pass deflections is just one behind team leader Tarell Brown. The hard-hitting safety will be in demand for any team looking to upgrade their secondary.
The Sacramento Bee wrote that 49ers DC Vic Fangio, who also used to work for the Baltimore Ravens, says that Goldson is playing at Ed Reed's level. Goldson's agent probably read that and said "Cha Ching"—$$$.
Buffalo G Andy Levitre - ($615,000)
Levitre is a bargain at the current rate, so the Bills will have to pay through the nose if they want to retain him. The Bills have already lost Erik Pears and Chris Hairston to I.R., and Eric Wood has a torn MCL. Yet Levitre has never missed a start since he joined the team. He is versatile, talented and will be in demand in 2013.
New York Jets RB Shonn Greene - ($615,000)
Greene cracked the 1,000-yard barrier in 2011 and is on pace in 2012 to set career highs in rushing attempts, rushing yards, first downs and touchdowns. His average yards per rush is only 3.8, which is a drop from his 5.0 average as a rookie. Greene has been a bargain for the Jets and with a number of teams hurting for a lead running back, he will be in demand in 2013 free agency.
Miami WR Brian Hartline - ($1.308 million)
Entering free agency in 2013, Hartline picked a great year to establish career-highs in pass receptions, receiving yards and first downs. He looks like he will easily break the 1,000-yard barrier in 2012, as he has picked up 891 yards with four games to go.
Cleveland K Phil Dawson - ($3.81 million full guarantee contract)
Dawson continues to be as reliable a kicker as you could hope to have on your team. Dawson is about as close as you can get to perfection. In 2012, Dawson has made 23 of 24 field goals. From 50-plus yards out, he is five for five. In fact from 30-plus yards out, he is a perfect 18 for 18 this year. That kind of accuracy will win you many games in the NFL. For a better team that employs an average kicker, Dawson should be a priority target.
Dallas LB Anthony Spencer - ($8.8 million)
Spencer received the Dallas franchise tag in 2012. While some of the other franchise tag designations didn't fare too well this season, Spencer did just fine. He has already set a career high for sacks with 6.5. He has five tackles for loss and is now calling the plays in the huddle for the Dallas defense.
New England WR Wes Welker - ($9.515 million full guaranteed deal)
Welker leads the NFL in receptions and is in the top 10 in receiving yards despite Bill Belichick playing head games with Welker earlier in the season. With the number of spread offenses that operate in the NFL, Welker's ability to gain separation will be invaluable to a new team that is willing to pay him what he is worth.
Chicago DT Henry Melton - ($565,000)
Henry Melton is a bargain for the Bears. He has earned a big raise in free agency by leading the Bears in sacks. Melton supplies strong pressure on the quarterback up the middle, and will be a high priority in free agency for any team looking to upgrade their pass rush.
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