One of the most hectic times during the NFL season is the week of free agency. Days leading up to free agency and the day of free agency opening itself have so many different rumors swirling around the twitter world it’s almost too much to handle at times. Almost every media guy has inside information on what deal each team is offering to what player and how much money is on the table. Actually, hectic may be an understatement for free agency.
Nevertheless, this 2014 free agency period, which is only four weeks away, will bring the same excitement that every March does. Today, we will take a look at the top free agents on the market and their projected value and possible destinations for them. (note: my predictions are just my opinions. No inside info known, just making the best guess as I see it for destinations)
The biggest name available this year is the dynamic pass catching tight end Jimmy Graham. While the Saints have openly said they want to retain Graham’s services using the franchise tag, Graham and his agent are looking for a long term deal which the Saints aren’t willing to do. This situation down in New Orleans is starting to look a little nasty and gaining some bad blood. Graham and his agent may try and file Jimmy as a wide receiver, since he lines up wide a lot in the Saint offense. This may not seem like a big deal, but in reality it is. The franchise tag for a tight end is only 6 million dollars compared to the 10.5 million the wide receiver tag is. The Saints claim they will have to give up valuable resources to retain Graham for big money. This situation is looking rather bleak heading into the future beyond 2014. But, as for now, it looks like Jimmy Graham will be a Saint next year under either the wide receiver or tight end franchise tag. Predicted team: New Orleans.
Another big name hitting the market for his first time is wide out Eric Decker. Coming off a career season with the record setting Broncos offense, Decker will probably demand a good amount of money (an amount that Denver can’t afford). While Denver can explore the options off cutting Wes Welker and Champ Bailey to save money, right now it seems unlikely that Decker will be back in Denver. He reportedly is looking for an average annual salary of at least 9 million. There are many teams out there (Indianapolis, Miami, Washington, Cleveland, Philadelphia, Carolina and both New York’s) that have plenty of open cap space to offer a big deal at Decker. If a decent team gives Decker the 9 million he wants, expect him to be in a new uniform come 2014. Predicted team: Indianapolis.
There are two premier safeties hitting free agency in a month and they are both looking to cash in. T.J. Ward and Jarius Byrd are both hard hitting safeties who like to make the big play by taking a guy out or forcing a crucial turnover. Byrd is coming off an injury filled season where he was playing under the franchise tag after trying to hold out for a long term deal in Buffalo. The Bills didn’t want to fork over the big money and both sides were looking for a trade early in the season, but that didn’t happen so now Byrd is free to hit the market and cash in. Even though there is some harsh feeling between the two sides, the Bills do have a lot of cap space to ink Byrd to a long term deal but don’t expect it to happen. Washington, Green Bay, Philadelphia, Atlanta, and the N.Y. Jets are teams that have a lot of cap space and are in need of safety help. T.J Ward on the other hand is coming off of a career season with Cleveland and may be looking to cash in. Cleveland does have the 3rd most cap space in the NFL so they will be able to make a legitimate offer to Ward. There isn’t any known bad blood or reported issues between Ward and the Browns so he may end up back there. But, there are contending teams (Miami, Indy, Green Bay, Philly, and Atlanta) who he may view as an upgrade from Cleveland. The market for both of these players will probably end up being high, since there will be at least 5 teams going for each guy. I’d say each player could see anywhere from 6-8 million a year on their next deal. It certainly will be interesting to see where these two end up in March. Predicted team for Byrd: Washington. Ward: Philadelphia.
Another intriguing free agent is cornerback Aqib Talib. He is coming off a monster season where at times he looked among the elite corners in the league, and at other times he was looking slow and gimpy from his infamous hip problem. Talib has proven that he can line up one-on-one with the best in the game as over the last two seasons in New England. He has neutralized Andre Johnson, Julio Jones, A.J. Green, Vincent Jackson and Jimmy Graham over the last two seasons showing his elite ability. The biggest thing Talib still needs to prove to everyone is whether or not his hip can with stand a full NFL season. He has yet to play a full 16 games in his career. The market on Talib should be interesting because of this injury. He is definitely New England’s prime free agent target in March. I expect to see a lot of none-contending teams that have a ton of cap space (Jacksonville, Oakland, Washington, and Minnesota) to make a go at him. His market could be as high as 8-9 million a year with these teams, but Talib has really bought into the Belichick program and seems to love the winning. He may take a minor discount to stay with the Patriots or he may not. But, Belichick obviously loves him, and when that happens with a player you rarely see them leave New England. Predicted team: New England.
The two other big name cornerbacks on the market are Alterruan Verner and Dominque Rodgers-Cromartie. Verner is only coming off of his rookie deal and will probably be the highest paid corner in this free agent class, since he has the most potential at only 25. Rodgers-Cromartie is coming off of a tough season on a Denver defense that struggled but improved throughout the year. Rodgers-Cromartie showed some real signs of his old shutdown self later in the season and could cash in on those few games. Expect Oakland, Jacksonville, Indianapolis, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Green Bay, Chicago, Tennessee and even Detroit to be among the teams that will be bidding high for one of these guys. Rodgers-Cromartie will definitely be the cheaper option and be less of an investment since he is already 29. I see DRC’s top market value to be at 5-6 million at 2-3 years, while Verner could be seeing as much as maybe 8-10 million at 4-5 years, since he is very young and has a ton of potential. It’s tough to make a prediction on these guys, because so many teams are in need of a good cornerback and have the money to get one. Well, here’s my best shot. Predicted teams: DRC: Atlanta. Verner: Indianapolis.
There is a set of three intriguing wide receivers ready to hit the market this year as well. Hakeem Nicks, Golden Tate and Julian Edelman. All unproven in some way or another, these three could be hot commodities for teams needing wide out help. Hakeem Nicks is one of those injury prone players and has only played one relatively full and healthy season. In that season though he put up very good numbers and has shown very good talent. Golden Tate is unproven because he has played under a run first offensive approach and hasn’t been asked to do too much as a wide out. He is small for an outside WR, but has the speed and has to be productive. Julian Edelman is a real intrigue because this was his first season in his four year career where he was healthy and saw playing time. Both of those translated into replacing the great Wes Welker. Edelman put up 100 catches and 1,000 yards this year, but one could say he was only a product of the Patriot system and Tom Brady who are notorious for making slot receivers. The market will be highest for Nicks, which may top out at most 7-8 million a year. Golden Tate is a good wide out but isn’t big; therefore his market will be smaller and at most probably 5-6 million. Edelman was reported to be offered up 7 million by some teams but I don’t believe it. He is too unproven and injury prone. At most, Edelman will see 4-5 million in my opinion. Teams that will be interested in these receivers include: Washington, Philly, N.Y. Jets, Oakland, Jacksonville, Indianapolis, Minnesota, Buffalo, Carolina, Denver, New England, and San Francisco. Predicted teams: Nicks: Buffalo. Tate: Carolina. Edelman: New England.
Lastly, we will cover four big name pass rushers who are set to hit the market in March. Greg Hardy, Brain Orakpo, Michael Johnson and Michael Bennett are all big name rushers who many teams will have an eye on. Greg Hardy is coming off of a career year in Carolina and the Panthers have a ton of cap space to burn, so they will probably use it on him. Michael Johnson played under the franchise tag for the Bengals this year, but they too have a lot of open room for Johnson so expect them to reach a deal as well. Michael Bennett has come out and stated that he wants to be a Seahawk next season but he wants to be paid fair as well. Luckily for him, many of Seattle’s big name players are still under rookie contracts. Or is that lucky? Maybe Seattle worries about extending Thomas, Sherman, Wilson and signing Thurmond, McDonald and Maxwell III before getting to Bennett. People have seemed to assume Bennett will be back with Seattle, but I don’t think it will be that cut and dry. He may get snubbed on a deal he wants there and could receive higher bids from Atlanta, Oakland, Cleveland, Washington, Philly, Minnesota, Miami or Indy and go elsewhere. As for Brain Orakpo, he seems to be done with Washington. There really isn’t bad blood there, but people are getting the sense that he wants to move on to a new franchise with a fresh start. Expect the same teams listed above to be in on Orakpo. He is only 28 and still looks young on the field. The market for defensive ends is always hard to predict. Some years there are the guys who get the huge 8-10 million for 4-5 year deals and others guys, like Bennett and Johnson this season, who take a pay cut to join a contender and prove their worth or get tagged. It will be very interesting to see how it shakes out for all four of these guys. They all could be in different uniforms come 2014 or all in the same unis. Predicted teams: Hardy: Carolina. Orakpo: Atlanta. Bennett: Seattle. Johnson: Cincinnati.