There's different kinds of free agents every year in the NFL. Most players can be placed into specific categories to really define what might happen to them or what kind of market is around them. There's your great players who shouldn't actually hit the open market, then there's the players who have had great seasons but maybe a down contract year.
Then there's the veterans with questionable tread left on the tires, and you have your underachievers who might benefit from a change of scenery. Those are probably the four primary labels you can group players together in each and every offseason.
With the NFL Scouting Combine wrapped up, free agency is just around the corner on March 12. At 4 p.m. ET on that day, the new league year begins and some of the big name guys will be immediately flown off on private jets to be courted by whichever team is interested.
We're going to break down some of the pending free agents and place them in the groups that we've defined above. Not every player listed is even likely to go to another team, but the market has shown some very unpredictable tendencies in the past, so it's always worth a look. Let's jump into it with some players below.
Connor Barwin, DE/OLB, Houston Texans
Barwin is in a thoroughly interesting situation due to his fluctuating stats and his position change. He made the switch from 4-3 defensive end to 3-4 outside linebacker in 2011 and the change was overwhelmingly positive for him. He went from 3.5 sacks in 2009 to 11.5 sacks in 2011.
While he wasn't the star of Houston's vastly-improved defense in 2011, he was certainly a bright spot. But 2012, his contract year, was a down year in every way. He had 44 tackles and only three sacks, the lowest total of his career.
As SB Nation's Battle Red Blog asks: which year was the fluke year?
It's going to be interesting to see what happens with Barwin. He's only been in the league four years and was out for the majority of one season, and his stats has fluctuated from season to season. The Texans can't afford to use the franchise tag on him, which, as an outside linebacker would pay him north of $9 million in 2013.
Regardless, Barwin is an athletic player with a high motor and may just have been eclipsed by J.J. Watt last season. He was still getting pressure, and it's clear the Texans want him to be a part of the team going forward. But his market value is all over the place and another team might be able to snatch him up and put him to good use if the Texans let him hit the open market.
Delmas was drafted by the Lions with the No. 1 pick in the second round of the 2009 NFL Draft. Since then, he's missed 15 out of a possible 64 games with injury, and that's why he's not signed to a long term deal just yet.
He's a hard-hitting safety who hasn't shown a deficiency in coverage at all. On top of that, he's been a leader on the field for the Lions ... when he actually plays.
While he doesn't have high interception numbers, he's a great tackler and should be regarded as one of the top safeties to hit free agency in recent years, but his value is totally skewed by his injury history. Is he just another Bob Sanders? That's a legitimate concern for some teams.
Detroit will certainly look to retain Delmas, but they won't use the franchise tag on him as a one-year, $6.8 million contract for Delmas seems too high right now. He could hit the open market and if he's able to stay healthy, he might be able to add serious talent to the secondary of a team that needs it.
It would be shocking if Goldson actually hit the open market given that he's made the Pro Bowl in his last two seasons, but the guy has been searching for his first long-term contract since his rookie deal for the past few years now.
Goldson originally declined a five-year contract from the 49ers prior to the 2011 season. He decided to test himself on the open market, but found very limited interest. Eventually, after declining something around $5 million per year, he announced to teams around the league that he was interested in a one-year deal for "approximately $3 million."
He ended up returning to the 49ers on a one-year deal that only paid him $2 million. After making the Pro Bowl, the two sides were unable to come to terms on a long-term contract and Goldson was given the franchise tag for the 2012 season.
Now, after having made the Pro Bowl again, he could be tagged again, or he could hit the open market if a long term deal isn't done. Goldson isn't unhappy in San Francisco, but he could go and instantly be a leader on another team and that might appeal to him. A change of scenery for Goldson, who has spent his entire career with the 49ers, would be interesting indeed.
Derek Cox, CB, Jacksonville Jaguars
Add Cox to the list of players who have looked great when actually playing, but have been injured significantly. Like Delmas, Cox has been in the league for four years and is a starter. But the Jaguars have seen Cox miss 17 games over his four years, including 14 of them in the past two seasons.
When he saw the field in 2012, he actually played below expectations as well, which has to hurt his stock. He's considered one of the top up-and-coming cornerbacks in the NFL, but there's so little tape on him at this point.
The Jaguars don't have a big group of talented corners to fall back on. Cox is their best one and he might just be the future at the position for years to come if he can remain healthy, but committing the kind of money a cornerback would require on a franchise tag is just too much for Jacksonville.
They'll likely do what they can to get Cox extended to a longer deal, but maybe one team gets lucky and lands him if he hits the open market. He might just be able to benefit from a change of scenery.