There is no real quiet period for the NFL. There may not be games being played right now, but in the wake of the NFL Scouting Combine and with free agency merely weeks away, news will be breaking nearly every single day.
Franchises must begin the process of setting up their draft boards for 2013, and that means making moves via free agency and the draft.
So what exactly is the loudest buzz surrounding each team?
Are the Detroit Lions really targeting Reggie Bush? Would the Atlanta Falcons consider swapping aging running backs? Do the Arizona Cardinals really want Matt Barkley?
Let's start with a potential answer to that question in the desert...
The lead-up to the NFL draft is a time for deception and misdirection. Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio thinks that the Arizona Cardinals could be utilizing those exact tactics in their alleged "love affair" with USC quarterback Matt Barkley.
Arizona clearly needs a franchise quarterback, but Florio believes that the Cardinals may be hiding their true interest in someone like Geno Smith of West Virginia.
Smith is a better fit for new head coach Bruce Arians. He can use his legs to make up for Arizona's weak offensive line and has a strong arm to complete downfield throws to big-play wideout Larry Fitzgerald.
As for free agency, the Cardinals have not been up to much, but they are reportedly in talks to bring back free-agent cornerback Greg Toler, per Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic (h/t wptz.com)
The Atlanta Falcons have method to their madness. At least they better, because the rumors are that the team is looking to swap aging running backs.
Atlanta is expected to cut Michael Turner and his $6.9 million salary, according to Adam Schefter of ESPN (via Pro Football Talk). In exchange, Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch is reporting that the Falcons are a "likely suitor" for St. Louis Rams running back Steven Jackson once he voids the final year of his contract.
Atlanta should have plenty of needs to address in April's draft, and ESPN's Mel Kiper's first mock draft had the team looking toward SMU defensive end Margus Hunt. Hunt had a stellar combine and should be an exciting player to watch on draft day.
Kiper and fellow draft guru Todd McShay have both also speculated that the Falcons could draft a tight end with their first selection, either Stanford's Zach Ertz or Notre Dame's Tyler Eifert.
With that critical piece of the puzzle locked up, the Ravens can turn their attention to other impending free agents.
Jason La Canfora of CBSSports.com reports that Baltimore will not lock up offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie before free agency starts, so he will hit the open market. The same report states that retaining Daniel Ellerbee is a top priority, but Baltimore has not had any talks with safety Ed Reed.
On the draft front, the Baltimore Sun has speculated that the Ravens could look at troubled prospects with checkered pasts and hope they fall to them at the bottom of each round of the draft. Guys like Georgia linebacker Alec Ogletree and former LSU defensive back Tyrann Mathieu have both been highlighted.
Buffalo Bills GM Buddy Nix has made the team's needs perfectly clear, per Chris Brown of BuffaloBills.com:
We’ve got seven guys and obviously we’d like to add two or three guys, but we also want to get, whether you’re talking 3-4 or 4-3, whatever it is we’re still down two or three in numbers and we’re going to try to remedy that.
Nick Barnett was released and Bryan Scott is set to hit free agency, so linebacker is a definite need area for Buffalo.
However, it is not the only one. The buzz is that the Bills will look to find a replacement for starting quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Back in November, Nix expressed a desire to draft a "young franchise quarterback," per Dan Hanzus of NFL.com. This draft obviously does not have the crop of QBs that 2012 provided, but a name like Mike Glennon has been tossed around.
Wide receiver is going to be a popular topic for most teams in free agency, mainly because of the depth of talent on the open market.
Carolina Panthers head coach Ron Rivera is one of the few coaches that has been willing to discuss his team's desires to land a top target. When asked if Mike Wallace is a target in free agency, he said the following, per NFL.com:
You're warm, but you know, what's going to be interesting is how things unfold once we get to March 12. There's a lot of things that are out there that we have to really take into consideration. You know, we'll see how things are going to affect us when we get to the 12th.
Like in many years past, Mel Kiper again sees the Panthers taking a defensive tackle, as he has the team drafting Missouri's Sheldon Richardson with the No. 14 pick.
Bryan Strickland of panthers.com has a few other intriguing options that are generating some buzz in Utah defensive tackle Star Lotulelei, Texas safety Kenny Vaccaro and Tennessee wide receiver Cordarelle Patterson.
Chicago Bears defensive tackle Henry Melton is set to get paid handsomely in free agency after posting 13 sacks over the last two seasons. Whether that money comes from a Bears team that has plenty of money tied up in its defense remains to be seen.
Still, this is not likely to be too active of a team in free agency, with little cap room to work with. Chicago is going to be building through the draft, and that likely means addressing issues along the offensive line.
The Bears have had notorious issues at keeping quarterback Jay Cutler upright over the past few seasons, which may be why Bob LeGere of the Daily Herald sees the team looking toward Oklahoma tackle Lane Johnson with the No. 20 overall pick.
Johnson is a strong 6'6", 302 pounds and would be a nice building block for a revamped Bears offensive front.
The Cincinnati Bengals have a tough offseason of decisions ahead of them. Will Andre Smith or Michael Johnson get the franchise tag? Will the team bring in a backup quarterback via the draft?
And will it be easy to retain Rey Maualuga as he prepares to hit free agency?
The last issue seems to be one that Cincinnati is fully prepared to handle, as NFL.com is reporting that head coach Marvin Lewis is eager to get him back into the fold for next season. After that, things get a bit murkier.
Cincinnati.com speculates that the team could be interested in bringing in a speedy back to complement the power running style of BenJarvus Green-Ellis. Alabama’s Eddie Lacy, North Carolina’s Giovani Bernard and UCLA’s Johnathan Franklin are three names that have been buzzed about.
The biggest name that the Cleveland Browns are set to lose to free agency is Josh Cribbs. The star kick returner is reportedly willing to give a (small) hometown discount to stay with the Browns, per SportsRadioInterviews.com:
It’s at a standstill right now. I’m hearing a lot of different meetings are being scheduled with different teams and everything. My plan is to stay with the team as much as possible, even to take a slight pay cut. But at the same time, not huge pay cuts. And I’m trying to work with the team. I want to be a Brown. I want to end my career here. We have the coaches to do it now, to take it to the next level, and I definitely want to be there.
The Browns also had a Wednesday meeting scheduled with free-agent wide receiver Steve Breaston, per Pro Football Talk.
What Cleveland plans to do with the No. 6 pick in the draft remains a mystery. Multiple mock drafts have the Browns looking at cornerback Dee Milliner from Alabama, while others like defensive end Ezekiel Ansah out of BYU.
Aside from Jerry Jones' constant pandering to the media, there is some actual free-agency news for the Dallas Cowboys.
Linebacker Anthony Spencer is set to become a sought-after free-agent prize, and Jones does not seem to be too worried about keeping him, per Rainer Sabin of the Dallas Morning News.
"With what he’s likely to make,” Jones said, “we’re going to be able to take that and really help our team either with him or maybe with a couple of other players.”
Still, whether or not Spencer is back in the fold, Dallas has plenty of need areas heading into free agency and the draft.
In a separate article, Sabin highlighted Chance Warmack of Alabama and Jonathan Cooper of UNC as potential selections with pick No. 18. Internet buzz seems to agree with his assessment that interior offensive line help is needed.
He sent me a text and he just said, ‘Hey man, don’t worry, come play with me in Denver,'" I don’t know how serious it was but, you know, it’s good to hear some of your former teammates still follow you, they care and they want to see you succeed.
Meanwhile, John Elway said that the team will put the franchise tag on offensive tackle Ryan Clady, per Mike Klis of the Denver Post:
We'd like to work something out, like we did last year. Things have changed a little bit because he's coming off a shoulder surgery. But we like Ryan. We like him a lot as a player and we'd like to get something done.
There is also some buzz about the Broncos addressing the opposite side of the ball in the draft, notably at defensive tackle. Guys like Johnathan Hankins of Ohio State, Sharrif Floyd of Florida, John Jenkins of Florida and Jesse Williams of Alabama are names being suggested by Yahoo Sports.
With the release of Kyle Vanden Bosch and Cliff Avril's pending free agency, defensive end has become a serious area of need for the Detroit Lions.
The problem is that the top of the draft is not stocked with defensive ends worthy of the No. 5 pick. Instead, Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press has highlighted that Central Michigan offensive tackle Eric Fisher could be a potential target.
While adding another tackle in the first round likely won't excite Lions fans, the prospect of landing Reggie Bush should. In the same article from Birkett, he says that "the Lions' interest in Bush is real."
Wide receiver Nate Burleson made his desire to have Bush come to the Motor City known just a few weeks ago, and now it looks like a legitimate possibility.
The current cloud hanging over the Green Bay Packers organization is the status of wide receiver Greg Jennings. He recently sold his Wisconsin house, but general manager Ted Thompson recently stated that he would like to keep Jennings on the Packers roster, per SI.com.
Green Bay looks to also be active on the defensive side of the ball, as the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel is reporting that the Packers have expressed interest in San Francisco 49ers defensive lineman Ricky Jean-Francois.
A lot of what the Packers do at the top of the draft may hinge on whether Jennings is retained, but as it stands, there is a large group of wide receivers that could fit in nicely at the No. 26 pick. Names like Tavon Austin of West Virginia, Justin Hunter of Tennessee and Keenan Allen of Cal are all receiving buzz.
The Houston Texans have been relatively quiet since the season wrapped, but one interesting quote has surfaced from head coach Gary Kubiak.
Per Nick Scurfield of houstontexans.com, Kubiak did not rule out the team drafting a QB while speaking at the NFL Scouting Combine last week:
"I think in this league, you’re always looking for that young quarterback that you think is going to be a 10-, 12-year player in this league and be very successful.”
These comments are made even more interesting when you consider that backup QB T.J. Yates impressed in relief of an injured Schaub in 2011.
Houston general manager Rick Smith has also made it clear that the team wants to re-sign linebacker Connor Barwin, per the Houston Chronicle:
We want Connor back. We tried to sign him last year, but it doesn’t mean he’s less important to us. You want a guy who can stay on the field. We put a high value on him, and we want to keep him.
There are rumors floating around that the Indianapolis Colts may use the franchise tag on punter Pat McAfee, who would welcome that, per Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk.
However, it is not franchise-tagging a punter that is likely going to draw the most interest from the Colts fanbase. That distinction goes to what Indianapolis will look to add in free agency and the draft.
GM Ryan Grigson has not given away much regarding the team's plans, but he has hinted that improvements could be made along the offensive line, per the Associated Press (h/t ESPN.com):
Andrew has to get hit less, we know that. Andrew took a lot of shots this year but also keep this in mind, and I say this with a lot of conviction, there was only I believe four games this year where our starting offensive line played together. How can you have a cohesive unit?
There are tons of offensive linemen set to hit the market, and the Colts have the money to target at least one of them.
The Jacksonville Jaguars have been busy recently, releasing offensive tackle Guy Whimper, quarterback John Parker Wilson and defensive back Brandon King.
These are not exactly big names, but the Jaguars also have defensive linemen Terrance Knighton and George Selvie set to hit free agency. This explains why the Jaguars have reportedly set up a visit with free-agent defensive tackle Chris Canty, per Mike Garafolo of USA Today.
Jacksonville also holds the No. 2 pick in the upcoming draft, and Mel Kiper has consistently projected defensive end Damontre Moore of Texas A&M to be the selection.
"He’s a good football player and he can help you as a pass rusher,” Kiper said, per Jaguars.com.
New GM Dave Caldwell also appears to be sticking with Blaine Gabbert and Chad Henne as the quarterbacks to battle for the starting spot in 2013, so QB will likely not be a top area of concern in the draft.
Fox Sports' Jay Glazer has reported that the Kansas City Chiefs have agreed to a trade for quarterback Alex Smith.
This move obviously will have huge implications on what the team will do in the NFL draft. The consensus belief seemed to be that the Chiefs would target a quarterback early, potentially even taking Geno Smith with the No. 1 overall pick.
With Alex Smith now in the fold, that is no longer a need area and other issues come to the forefront. A guy like Texas A&M offensive tackle Luke Joeckel is receiving buzz, as is the potential for unloading the top pick.
There is no clear-cut No.1 selection, so trading that pick will not prove an easy task, but finding a franchise QB was Kansas City's top offseason priority, and it has been addressed in a big way.
The Miami Dolphins have not exactly had a shortage of offseason storylines.
Still, Hartline is not a top-flight pass catcher and there are a plethora of them on the open market. Ben Volin of the Palm Beach Post has reported that the Dolphins were “active in meetings” with free-agent wide receivers at the NFL Scouting Combine.
Which wideouts the team talked to is unknown, but big names like Mike Wallace, Wes Welker, Greg Jennings and Dwayne Bowe seem like likely choices.
Where the Dolphins will go in the first round of the draft is less obvious, but GM Jeff Ireland has made it clear that he wants difference makers, per SunSentinel.com:
I think there are some difference makers. In difference makers, I'm sure you're referring to some of the skill position players. I look at it a little bit differently.
I look at difference makers in the offensive line, defensive line, maybe there's a safety in there. Maybe your vision of a difference maker is not the same vision that I have.
While there is no news on the Percy Harvin front, logic dictates that the Minnesota Vikings will be looking for wide receivers in the draft regardless of his fate.
Minnesota has a lack of depth behind Harvin, and that only becomes more glaring should he part ways with the Vikings. General manager Rick Spielman voiced his feelings on the draft's depth at the position, per twincities.com:
There's a lot of athletic guys that can stretch the field. There's some guys that are smaller but very unique. There's some guys that are maybe not as fast but have some unique catching skills that make them good players. So there's a wide variety of guys in this draft.
The report goes on to say that some of those potential receiver targets could be Tennessee's Cordarelle Patterson, California's Keenan Allen, Louisiana Tech's Quinton Patton, Baylor's Terrance Williams and Clemson's DeAndre Hopkins.
The biggest waves that the New England Patriots make in free agency could come from the current roster.
Ian Rapoport of NFL.com has reported that New England won't place the franchise tag on Welker, but could still potentially work out a long-term deal before free agency opens.
Outside of the active roster, there have been rumors that the Patriots may look to sign an aging defensive back in Ed Reed or Charles Woodson, or even both.
It also looks like the position could be on the Patriots' minds once the draft rolls around, and that should be no surprise considering the team ranked 29th in the NFL in pass defense last season.
There is some buzz surrounding New England targeting guys like Xavier Rhodes, Johnthan Banks and Matt Elam, per WEEI.com.
The New Orleans Saints are low on cap space, and the market is going to be full of free-agent offensive tackles. That makes the prospect of Jermon Bushrod staying on Bourbon Street less likely by the second.
ESPN's Adam Schefter has reported that the team will not use its franchise tag to retain Bushrod, which means there is less than two weeks to put a deal in place before he becomes a free agent.
The Saints have been able to find cap space by recently restructuring wide receiver Marques Colston's contract, and Schefter says that the Saints want both Jonathan Vilma and Will Smith to restructure their contracts as well.
The New York Giants have seen a bit of roster upheaval in recent weeks, and that trend does not look to be slowing down.
After recently giving walking papers to Michael Boley, Ahmad Bradshaw and Chris Canty, the Giants still have more guys set to be on the move.
Emerging offensive tackle Will Beatty and Kevin Boothe are both going to be unrestricted free agents, and guard David Diehl recently told Newsday the following:
Nothing has been said to me yet, but that's all things you can't control. The only things you can control are the way you prepare each and every day, getting myself healthy, and whenever that comes about we'll deal with it. But as of now, nothing has been said.
When looking towards the draft, ESPN's Todd McShay said that Georgia's Alec Ogletree could be an option:
The Giants could also address needs at offensive tackle, cornerback, tight end or defensive end here, but if Ogletree's character checks out, he is a steal this late in the first round. He is one of the best pound-for-pound athletes in the class and has the range to chase plays from sideline to sideline.
Never content to be quiet, the New York Jets are set to be extremely active once free agency opens.
ESPN's Adam Schefter is reporting that the team will look to restructure Santonio Holmes' contract, while CBSSports.com reported that New York "actively shopped" star cornerback Darrelle Revis at the NFL Scouting Combine.
The Jets are clearly a team in transition, and the draft will be New York's chance to take steps toward the future. Where it goes at the top of the draft, however, remains a giant question mark.
There is no obvious selection, although LSU DE/OLB Barkevious Mingo is getting some buzz for the No. 9 overall pick, per NJ.com. Other names floating around include: Georgia outside linebacker Jarvis Jones, Texas safety Kenny Vaccaro and Alabama guard Chance Warmack.
Oakland Raiders starting quarterback Carson Palmer is set to make $13 million this season. Needless to say, that is a huge hit against the cap. Therefore, it is no surprise that Oakland wants to restructure his deal, per Adam Schefter of ESPN.
However, the real intrigue in Oakland comes from what the franchise is going to do in the draft. The Raiders own the No. 3 pick and have a myriad of ways they could go with the selection. Players like Luke Joeckel, Jarvis Jones, Bjoern Weaver, Eric Fisher and Chance Warmack have all been speculated for the Black and Silver, according to the Contra Costa Times.
Oakland has reached for players before, but taking Te'o would certainly be the biggest head-turner on draft day.
There is a ton of turnover underway on the Philadelphia Eagles roster, and it is happening at a frenzied pace.
Gone are Cullen Jenkins and Mike Patterson, as both have been released from the team, per Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk.
Now, attention turns to the Nnamdi Asomugha saga. Whether he ends up being released remains up in the air.
Based on the current path of the new Chip Kelly regime, it would not come as much of a surprise should it happen.
Speaking of that regime, there is speculation that Kelly is looking toward dual-threat quarterback Geno Smith in the first round of the draft. The quarterback class is not impressive, but Smith is considered the best of the bunch and clearly fits into what Kelly's plan for the Eagles' high-octane offense.
The Pittsburgh Steelers have been hard at work trying to get under the salary cap heading into the 2013 season, and superstar players on the roster are coming to the rescue.
With all the work needed to get under the salary cap, the Steelers likely won't have much, if any, money to spend on potential free agents. The only potential in that arena comes from wide receiver Steve Breaston, who visited with the team on Thursday.
This means that the bulk of Pittsburgh's offseason additions will come via the draft. ESPN.com's Jamison Hensley has speculated that the Steelers will look toward a feature back in the first couple rounds, potentially targeting players like Eddie Lacy from Alabama, Montee Ball from Wisconsin, Le'veon Bell from Michigan State and Marcus Lattimore from South Carolina.
The San Diego Chargers need as many receiving weapons as possible, and that explains why the team plans to hang on to Robert Meachem, per UTSanDiego.com.
While pass catchers have been a problem in San Diego, so has protecting the quarterback and finding a consistent presence in the backfield. Ryan Mathews has battled injuries his entire career, and that leaves the door open for the Chargers to again look towards the draft for answers.
Mike Mayock of the NFL Network believes the Chargers could address one of these issues with the No. 11 pick in April's draft. He said both Alabama’s Chance Warmack and North Carolina’s Jonathan Cooper could be targets, per UTSanDiego.com. "If either of those guards is there, which one of them should be, I think it's a home run."
Running backs Christine Michael of Texas A&M, Le'veon Bell of Michigan State and Jawan Jamison of Rutgers are some of the guys getting second-round buzz for the Chargers.
What exactly could the San Francisco 49ers possibly need after making such an impressive run toward the Super Bowl?
Well it turns out the NFC Champions do have holes, and the biggest one is along the defensive line. Nose guards Isaac Sopoaga and Ricky Jean-Francois are both set to become free agents. Justin Smith is 33 years old and coming off injury and the team has a lack of experienced depth on the roster.
Couple this with the now-glaring need for a backup quarterback in the wake of the reported Alex Smith trade and you have two priorities in the draft.
Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle is speculating that Georgia's John Jenkins and Alabama's Jesse Williams could be potential targets. Both make sense and would shore up the defensive line deficiency nicely.
Seattle is in a relatively nice position as free agency approaches, with only two starters set to hit the open market in defensive tackle Alan Branch and linebacker LeRoy Hill.
In reference to the franchise tag being used, GM John Schneider said, "I don’t necessarily see us using it," per Eric Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune.
That leaves just one glaring order of business to deal with: Matt Flynn.
Flynn sat on the bench this past season after signing a three-year, $19.5 million deal, and Schneider has admitted that the team is willing to listen to offers for the quarterback, per Pro Football Talk.
With the No. 25 pick in the draft, the Seahawks have a multitude of directions they could take, but buzz has them looking at another pass-rusher, much like when they took Bruce Irvin a season ago.
Texas defensive end Alex Okafor and LSU defensive end Sam Montgomery are both guys that are being talked about, per Bill Swartz of 1090 The Fan in Seattle.
As mentioned in the Falcons slide, St. Louis Rams running back Steven Jackson plans to void the final year of his contract and test out free-agent waters, according to the St. Louis Dispatch (via NBCSports.com).
Jackson has spent his entire career with the Rams, but this is a franchise looking to go in a new direction, with running back Daryl Richardson likely leading the charge out of the backfield.
St. Louis is severely lacking in depth at the position, and that is why Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch has speculated that the team could look at the position early in the draft.
West Virginia's Tavon Austin has been garnering attention since his impressive showing at the combine, and Tennessee's Cordarrelle Patterson remains the top receiving prospect in the draft.
St. Louis ranked just 18th in the league in passing offense last season, and an influx of talented pass catchers would undoubtedly benefit the growth of quarterback Sam Bradford.
Mike Williams is an important offensive weapon for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The organization clearly realizes that, but it isn't ready to issue him a contract extension just yet.
Stephen Holder of the Tampa Bay Times is reporting (h/t Pro Football Talk) that talks have been tabled until later in the spring.
More interesting are Tampa Bay's plans for the draft. The Buccaneers possessed one of the worst secondaries in the league a season ago, and with E.J. Biggers set to become a free agent and Ronde Barber only getting older, its an area that must be addressed at some point.
There seems to be some speculation that Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner could fall to the Buccaneers with pick No. 13. It would be a smart selection, and Tampa Bay would be fortunate if Milliner slips that far.
All signs point to the Tennessee Titans franchise-tagging tight end Jared Cook if a long-term deal cannot be reached, per Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean.
He is still a tight end, right?
In a separate article, Wyatt points out that Cook lined up in the slot for 56 percent of his plays and could make a strong case to be labeled as a wide receiver if that franchise tag comes his way.
Outside of Cook, the Titans have not been making much noise on the free-agency front, but should do some interesting things on draft day.
Like many other teams, interior offensive line help is needed, and Greg Pogue has speculated on FoxSportsTennessee.com that the Titans may be in the hunt for Chance Warmack or Johnathan Cooper in the first round.
The Washington Redskins were dealt a tough blow when the NFL hit them with an $18 million cap penalty a few months back.
That cap hit will obviously affect how the team attacks free agency, and the first proof of that looks to come from negotiations with Pro Bowl special teams player Lorenzo Alexander.
Alexander has talked about contract negotiations with the team, saying "I’m willing to take less for the Redskins, but they have to be close. They can’t be way off,” per John Keim of The Washington Examiner.
Washington also does not have a first-round pick in the 2013 draft, so this may go down as one of the quieter offseasons in the team's history. ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper has speculated that Fresno State's Phillip Thomas could be the target with the 22nd pick of the second round.
Kiper said the following (h/t Washington Post):
When you think about that position at that point in the draft, I think Phillip Thomas of Fresno State is a very underrated player. Had a lot of productivity this year, was around the ball a lot, had a lot of tackles, a lot of impact hits, good in coverage as well.