NFL free agency is less than a month away and we open the wallet of a hypothetical owner to build the best team money can buy.
The current blueprint for a successful NFL franchise appears to be fairly simple. Draft a franchise quarterback, then build depth around him through the draft with only selective free agent acquisitions. While this strategy may have worked for the Ravens, 49ers, Falcons, Patriots, Seahawks, Packers and other top teams, building through the draft isn't for everyone.
Building through the draft takes time and patience, and some owners have neither. Instead, they try to add big-name free agents only to be saddled with high-priced veterans on the decline a few seasons later. Maybe the issue isn't signing free agents, but not signing enough free agents.
Here is what it would look like if a team cleared its entire salary cap and built the best team money could buy while still staying under the projected $121.1 million salary cap.
QB - Joe Flacco, six years $108 million
Outside of Flacco, the 2013 crop of free agent quarterbacks is sparse, making signing Flacco priority No. 1. Flacco is reportedly looking for $20 million a season. The Ravens were said to be willing to go up to $17 million, so adding an extra million per season and on a six-year deal could be enough to pry Flacco away.
RB - Ahmad Bradshaw, one year $2 million
After being released by the Giants, Bradshaw is arguably the top free agent running back on the market. Some would argue Steven Jackson is the best available free agent, but Bradshaw tops Jackson in yards per attempt and is three years younger. Bradshaw was scheduled to make $3.75 million next season and with his injury issues should come at a discount on a one-year, prove-it deal.
FB - James Casey, three years $2.25 million
According to Sportrac, only four fullbacks made more than $1 million last season. Casey played well in his conversion from tight end and is one of the top fullbacks on the market. His versatility is a nice plus as depth on this team is a serious issue.
WR - Wes Welker, three years $26.1 million
At 31 years old, Welker isn't likely to get a deal longer than four years, but will still likely be paid among the top wide receivers in yearly average. A contract worth $8.7 million per season would put Welker just outside of the top five of the highest-paid wide receivers.
WR - Dwayne Bowe, five years $43 million
A contract worth $8.6 million per season may seem like a lot for the up-and-down Bowe, but Pierre Garcon received $8.5 million last offseason with a lesser track record. Mike Wallace could be another option here, but would likely cost similar money
TE - Martellus Bennett, four years $11 million
LT - Ryan Clady, seven years $61.25 million
The premier left tackle on the market and a three-time All-Pro selection, Clady is going to get paid among the elite left tackles. This deal would put him in the top five among left tackles and anchor the offensive line.
LG - Andy Levitre, five years $30.5 million
Levitre is widely considered to be the top guard available and at 26 years old should be able to cash in. This contract puts him in the top 10 for guards.
C - Dan Koppen, two years $2 million
Koppen is 33 years old but still stands out in a weak center market. He made $825,000 last season, but played well and earns a bump in salary although on a short-term deal.
RG - Louis Vasquez, five years $25 million
If Levitre is the top guard on the market, Vasquez is a close second. U-T San Diego projects he'll make $6 million per season and we give him just less than that at $5 million per season.
RT - Andre Smith, five years $25.5 million
Smith played like one of the top right tackles in the NFL last season and will likely get rewarded. Eric Winston was the prize left tackle last season and received a contract worth $5.5 million per season. Smith is younger, but has a lesser track record.
DE - Israel Idonije, two years $5.6 million
Idonije made $2.5 million last season, and after collecting 7.5 sacks during the season will likely get a slight raise. At 32 years old he isn't likely to find a long-term deal.
DT - Henry Melton, four years $18.8 million
Melton is one of the top pass-rushing defensive tackles in the NFL. He has 13.0 sacks over the last two seasons and now cashes in with a deal worth $4.7 million per season.
DT - Desmond Bryant, three years $7.2 million
Bryant may be lesser known than some free agents, but he is coming off an excellent season in Oakland. He finished the year with 3.0 sacks and a plus-16.5 rating according to Pro Football Focus.
DE - Michael Bennett, four years $14 million
Bennett is coming off a big season where he collected 9.0 sacks in his first season as a full-time starter. At 27 years old, he's likely to cash in on that season but hasn't done enough in his career to warrant a top-dollar contract.
LB - Philip Wheeler, three years $5.4 million
Another underrated player from the Raiders defense, Wheeler is the cream of the outside linebacker crop. He's coming off a one-year $700,000 deal and will likely make more than double that next season.
LB - Dannell Ellerbe, three years $6.4 million
Ellerbe filled a major void in the Ravens defense and played well enough to earn a nice contract this season. At $2.13 million per season, Ellerbe is the highest-paid linebacker on the team.
LB - Erin Henderson, three years $4.7 million
Henderson started 10 games last season and struggles in coverage, but is still one of the top outside linebackers available.
CB - Aqib Talib, four years $20 million
Talent has never been an issue with Talib, but with a lengthy history off the field, he may struggle to find a contract that will pay him among the top cornerbacks in the league. A deal worth $5 million per season still puts him among the better paid corners.
FS - Jairus Byrd, five years $35 million
Byrd is not only the top safety available, he may be the top safety in the NFL. A deal worth $7 million per season would put him just outside the top five of the highest-paid safeties.
SS- William Moore, four years $20 million
At 27 years old, Moore is entering his prime and coming off a terrific season with the Falcons. A number of the top free agent safeties are free safeties, but Moore fits in as the top strong safety on the market.
CB - Chris Houston three years $12 million
On talent alone, Houston ranks with some of the top corners in the league. He's had a history of injuries, however, which drives his price down into the $4 million per season range.
K - Steve Hauschka - three years $3.75 million
Hauschka made 24 of 27 field goal attempts last season and has made 82.3 percent in his career.
P - Shane Lechler - two years $2.8 million
Lechler is in the discussion for the greatest punter in NFL history but is 37 years old and coming off one of the worst seasons of his career in terms of net average.
This entire package would cost $109.3 million, or $11.8 million under the projected salary cap. Filling out the remaining 29 roster spots with rookies on minimum contracts, you add in another $11.745 million. That brings the total cap charge to 121.045 million or $55,000 under the salary cap.
Somewhere Jerry Jones just got excited.