This NFL offseason, big-name players like Greg Jennings and Wes Welker will try to get big paydays through free agency. However, there are plenty of non-stars that could make even bigger impacts on a new team.
With 22 players on the field at a time, it is easy to blend in. There are plenty of guys who have not been noticed as much as their play deserves, but that should change as they enter free agency.
Even if these talented players end up returning to their old team next season, they deserve to get paid for their great contributions.
Paul Kruger, LB, Baltimore Ravens
When the Baltimore Ravens needed a pass-rush this season, Terrell Suggs was unable to help out like usual. Fortunately, Paul Kruger picked up the slack.
The linebacker finished with a team-high nine sacks this season, 7.5 of which came in the second half of the year. He has also added 2.5 sacks in the playoffs so far.
It took a few years for Kruger to reach his potential, but he has now shown how important he is to the Ravens' defense. With Ray Lewis retiring and the future of Ed Reed being uncertain, Baltimore cannot afford to let a known commodity get away.
However, other teams would be perfectly content if they are able to sign the talented pass-rusher.
Aqib Talib, CB, New England Patriots
It is always difficult to judge cornerbacks in the NFL. Big stats usually only imply that teams are willing to look in a player's direction and that he often leaves receivers open.
However, Aqib Talib showed his value more in his absence than he ever could have while being on the field.
The former Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback helped solidify the Patriots' defense when he came over in a trade. Unfortunately, a hamstring injury forced him out of the AFC Championship Game against the Ravens.
As a result, Baltimore was able to throw the ball successfully in the second half after being shut down early on.
Talib is one of the better cover cornerbacks in the NFL. Although he has caused problems—including a suspension for using illegal substances this season—he is worth the cost.
Michael Johnson, DE, Cincinnati Bengals
As teams continue to move toward 3-4 defenses with blitzing linebackers, there are fewer ends that can get to the quarterback from the defensive line.
The good news for the Bengals is that Michael Johnson is one of those rare players.
Only eight players in the NFL had more than Johnson's 11.5 sacks this season, and only three of those were defensive ends. He has continued to get better throughout the year and is now one of the best in the league at his position.
Cincinnati will want to keep the talented player where he is on a great defensive line next to Geno Atkins. Then again, this will not come cheaply, as Johnson could easily make a major impact on a number of teams looking to add pass-rushers this offseason.
Jared Cook, TE, Tennessee Titans
Although Jared Cook still has more potential than production, he would certainly be worth a big contract for next season.
The tight end has great size and elite athleticism that could help turn him into one of the best players in the league at his position.
Over the past couple of seasons, players like Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham have proven how valuable it is to have a player that can create mismatches at tight end. Tennessee wants to make sure it does not lose a player that can reach this level.
Last year, Cook was second among qualified tight ends in yards per catch. His big-play ability is there, he just needs to be able to put it all together with more consistency.
If he is able to do that, any reasonable salary from this offseason will end up being a bargain.
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