Top 25 'money' free agents

A look at potential free agents with a lot riding on the last few games

Updated: December 14, 2012, 2:28 PM ET
By Chris Sprow | ESPN Insider
Joe Flacco/Ryan Clady/Wes WelkerGetty ImagesJoe Flacco, Ryan Clady and Wes Welker have lots of money on the line heading into the final stretch.

NFL free agency has historically been a great example of lemon economics. Don't think citrus -- think used cars. The basic theory says that if the original owner would even allow the player (or car) to be purchased, it greatly diminishes the product. It's an information disconnect, and the original owner knows more. The eyes squint and the brow furrows after a look under the hood: "So -- why don't you want it?"

Same with the NFL, historically. Players have such a short shelf life because of injuries that to even get to free agency at all carries a stench. We know Mario Williams has had a great career, but surely Houston knew something the market didn't. In this league, it's always been that, if you like a player, you wrap him up. A change of system could be akin to dumping the new sports car for a minivan as the family changes, but everyone seems to agree: The original owner got the best years of the car, just as the Texans got the best years of Williams. Free agency is one part money, two parts hope.

At least, that used to be the case. Things might be shifting. The salary-cap reality after the last CBA should allow a few more players teams truly don't want to lose to hit free agency. And we're going to see dividends. You can knock Williams, but what about Vincent Jackson? What about Brandon Carr?

Below I've listed not a ranking of the top free agents but rather, a list of players who have perhaps the most on the line down the stretch in terms of their future market values; I've also added some possible fits for them. (So don't mistake this for a "top free agents" list. And the team fits for each player are possibilities, not predictions.)

1. Joe Flacco | QB | Current team: Baltimore Ravens

He has started 77 of 77 possible NFL games, carries a 53-24 record as a starter, has a 98-55 career TD-INT ratio and won't turn 28 until January. So how is Flacco going to become an unrestricted free agent at a position where even the Romo-coaster won't be subjected to such an indignity? How high his ceiling extends is clearly a question, and the rest of the regular season will dictate dollars. Baltimore dumped offensive coordinator Cam Cameron and has the worst defense of Flacco's tenure. It all points to: "It's on you, Joe."

Fit: Most would be shocked if he were anywhere but Baltimore next season.