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Teams have decisions to make with restricted free agents

Restricted free agency is about to start in a few days and even though it usually doesn't get much play among the clubs you always have to be prepared for an opportunity.

Restricted free agents are players with three years of service and are out of a contract. Clubs have a decision to make on all the restricted free agents in regards to protecting themselves against teams acquiring their young talent.

The five decisions under consideration are:

1. Don't tag the player at all and set him free to the market.

2. Put a low tender ($1.323 million) and in return get a right of first refusal to match a deal the player may get from another club or pass and get a draft pick as compensation from the round the player was drafted in. If a restricted free agent was originally an undrafted player then there is no compensation.

3. Put a middle tender on the player ($2.023 million) and get the same right of first refusal or a second-round draft pick.

4. Put a high tender on the player ($2.879 million) and get a right of first refusal or a first-round draft pick. Keep in mind a club wanting to make an offer on another team's restricted free agent must have a draft pick in the round designated by the restricted tag.

5. Sign the player to a contract before restricted free agency gets under way or any time during the process.

Here is a look at my top 23 restricted free agents. By the time we get to March 12 I'm sure a few of these restricted free agents will be off the list as teams strike deals with their own players. Nonetheless, pro personnel offices are prepared to react to the tender tags put on these players and assess if there are reasons to go after any of these players.

For example, the Giants will put a high tender on receiver Victor Cruz, but his 168 receptions and 19 touchdowns over the past two seasons are awesome for a 26-year-old. A team at the bottom of the first round may find him a better value than any of the receivers in the draft.

Any of the top 10 on my list that don't get a high tender should be considered good value. Any of the players 11-24 that get a low tender -- or even better, not tendered -- are also solid value. Most of these layers range from age 25-27 and will play the life of their contract barring injury.

1. WR Victor Cruz, New York Giants. Undrafted. Two years 168 receptions 19 touchdowns.

2. DE Arthur Jones, Baltimore. Fifth-round pick. Last season had 47 tackles, 4½ sacks.

3. S Stevie Brown, New York Giants. Seventh round. Seven tackles, 8 interceptions, 11 passes defended last year.

4. RB Chris Ivory, New Orleans. Undrafted. For career has 256 carries, 1,307 yards, 5.1 yards per carry and 8 TDs.

5. C Brian DeLaPuente, New Orleans. Undrafted. Made 16 starts in 2012 and gave up only one sack.

6. CB Sam Shields, Green Bay. Undrafted. Started 10 games last year, with 3 interceptions, 10 passes defended.

7. TE Dennis Pitta, Baltimore. Fourth round. Last two years had 101 receptions, 10 touchdowns.

8. C Fernando Velasco, Tennessee. Undrafted. Started every game in 2012 and gave up one sack.

9. WR Emmanuel Sanders, Pittsburgh. Third round. Had 44 receptions last year and 626 yards.

10. WR Danario Alexander, San Diego. Undrafted. Made 37 catches last season, 17.8 yards per catch and 7 touchdowns.

11. RB Jonathan Dwyer, Pittsburgh. Sixth round. Carried 156 times for 623 yards and 2 touchdowns in 2012.

12. RB Joique Bell, Detroit. Undrafted. Had 82 carries last year for 414 yards, 3 touchdowns, 52 receptions.

13. C Evan Dietrich-Smith, Green Bay. Undrafted. Started 6 games in 2012 and gave up 2 sacks.

14. NT Steve McLendon, Pittsburgh. Undrafted. Had 7 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 forced fumble in 2012.

15. TE Ed Dickson, Baltimore. Third round. In the past 3 years had 86 receptions, 905 yards, 6 touchdowns.

16. DT Kevin Vickerson, Denver. Seventh round. Started 14 games in 2012, with 40 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 forced fumble.

17. RB LeGarrette Blount, Tampa Bay. Undrafted. For career has 426 carries, 1,936 yards and 13 TDs.

18. DE Willie Young, Detroit, Seventh round. Had 11 tackles last year and is penciled in to start in 2013.

19. TE Bear Pascoe, New York Giants. Sixth round. He's a utility player -- comfortable at H-back, tight end and fullback.

20. RB Isaac Redman, Pittsburgh. Undrafted. Has career 272 carries, 1,136 yards, 46 receptions.

21. LB Stevenson Sylvester, Pittsburgh. Fifth round. Solid special-teamer.

22. WR David Nelson, Buffalo. Undrafted. Had 61 receptions in 2011.

23. QB Brian Hoyer, Arizona. Undrafted.

Finally, 13 of the players on my list were not drafted and a low tender means no compensation. Some of these guys have some medical issues, but most if not all will pass a physical.

 
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