The NFL Scouting Combine and the resulting onslaught of mock drafting has captured the nation’s football-crazed attention thus far, but we’ll finally get to see some real player movement come at the start of free agency on March 12.
Though the NFL's trade deadline period has often paled in comparison to other major sports leagues, NFL free agency is oftentimes the best. Littered with top tier names—former, current and future Pro Bowlers among them all—the shuffling in the NFL oftentimes has paradigm-shifting effects.
As most know, rumblings about who’s going where have already begun for the 2013 free-agent class. The combine is a yearly exercise in 40-yard dashes for offensive linemen in compression shorts, but it’s also a good opportunity for general managers to convene and see who’s out there. As such, it’s been said many times that free agency—not the NFL draft process—is what actually starts at the combine.
With so much buzz flying around the league, here is a complete breakdown of the latest things you need to know prior to free agency.
Atlanta a Possible Destination for Steven Jackson?
The running back position carries one of the highest turnover rates in the league, so free agency is usually filled with mid-tier guys shuffling teams as everyone shrugs their shoulders. Rare, however, is the occasion where two long-tenured, future Pro Bowlers hit the market.
However, recent happenings make that the case in both Atlanta and St. Louis. The Falcons released Michael Turner on Friday along with Dunta Robinson and John Abraham. Turner rushed for 800 yards and 10 touchdowns last season, his fifth in Atlanta.
Also ending is Steven Jackson’s time in St. Louis. The 29-year-old back will void the final year of his contract on March 12, making him a free agent after nearly a decade playing before the Gateway Arch.
With the Falcons needing a top running back and Jackson on the open market, it seems the two sides are a likely match, per the St. Louis Dispatch’s Jim Thomas: “One of the most likely suitors is Atlanta, which according to reports plans to release veteran back Michael Turner.”
While it’s possible that the Falcons could target a running back like Giovani Bernard or Eddie Lacy in the first round, signing a veteran on Jackson’s level is the more likely option. Atlanta likes the progress of Jacquizz Rodgers and the former Oregon State product should see a more integral role in 2013. But he’s far from an every-down back.
Jackson would represent a massive upgrade from Turner—going from 40th-best running back in the league to the 10th, per Football Outsiders’ DYAR metric—and the former Rams star wouldn’t need an every-down role. He and Rodgers could create a mighty interesting platoon, and free up Atlanta’s first-round pick for other team needs.
Patriots to Drop $5 Million on Ed Reed’s Lap?
The Baltimore Ravens may have just dumped Scrooge McDuck’s entire fortune on Joe Flacco’s lawn, but that doesn’t mean every franchise face is getting a huge new deal. Safety Ed Reed will hit the open market once free agency begins, and while it would seem Flacco’s new deal would make him a priority, that doesn’t seem to be the case.
NFL.com’s Kareem Copeland noted that the Ravens are expected to make Dannell Ellerbe, not Reed, their next priority. Though it was expected Reed would at least test the open market, this lack of urgency from Baltimore could spell the end for the legendary safety’s 11-year stay in the great state of Maryland.
If Reed isn’t finishing his career where it started, speculation has been boundless about where he will head. The New England Patriots have seemed like the most likely non-Baltimore landing spot for months. Bill Belichick’s adoration of Reed has been well-documented, as has the veteran’s willingness to play in New England.
An always frugal organization, it seems like the Patriots are ready to put their money where their desires are with Reed. According to Greg Bedard of the Boston Globe, New England could be willing to offer Reed as much as $5 million a season: “League sources believe the Patriots will try for Ed Reed of the Ravens at about $5 million per season.”
From just about every sense possible, this marriage seems perfect. New England desperately needs to replace Steve Gregory, and Reed fits the Belichick mold perfectly. He’s a veteran leader, a guy who doesn’t create waves and has been a leader in Baltimore for over a decade.
It’s still likely, much like Ray Lewis once did, that Reed will test the market and decide he wants to finish his career in Baltimore. If not, New England remains the most likely destination.
Reggie Bush Heading to Detroit?
With his tenure in Miami all but over, it seems Reggie Bush will be playing for his third team in four seasons come 2013. The 28-year-old back finished last season with 986 rushing yards, narrowly missing back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons, and had eight total touchdowns for the 7-9 Dolphins.
Though he’s not the purest of NFL running backs, Bush was consistently effective in Miami and should draw interest from a cabal of teams in free agency. One of those teams, if you believe a report from the Detroit Free Press’ Dave Birkett, is the Detroit Lions:
The Lions' interest in Reggie Bush is real. Who knows what happens with Bush at the end of the day, but plenty of NFL people at the combine believe the Lions will make Bush a primary target in free agency.
Already equipped with a bruising, inside-the-tackles running back in Mikel LeShoure, Detroit would probably want Bush to join a platoon. That isn’t attractive on paper. Bush played the good soldier in Miami when his playing time shifted toward the less-talented Daniel Thomas, but probably won’t do the same on the open market.
With plenty of teams looking for running back help, the Lions may have to promise a full-time gig and a healthy pay raise to spike Bush’s interest. If they do, Detroit may wind up with the NFL’s most complete offense come 2013.
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