Jared Cook escaped the franchise tag in 2013 and will now be a free agent. If the Tennessee Titans don't secure him with a long-term contract before it's open season next week, he's likely to sign on with a contender.
Cook isn't the only player who evaded the dreaded franchise tag, either.
Wes Welker and Greg Jennings both made it through without getting tagged, and all three of these players will be hot items on the market when teams are allowed to negotiate potential deals starting on March 9.
Elite offensive weapons are prized commodities. Last year we saw Vincent Jackson score a big contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers—a five-year deal worth $55.6 million, per Spotrac.com.
Each of these men is hoping for that kind of payday in 2013. So where will these playmakers land when the dust settles?
Jared Cook, Tight End
If not for the fact that Tony Gonzalez is a free agent this spring, Cook would be the top player at his position.
The 25-year-old star in the making possesses prototypical size (6'5" and 248 pounds) and speed (4.50-second 40 at the 2009 NFL Scouting Combine).
His development has been stifled by subpar quarterback play since joining the Titans four seasons ago, and he's ready to explode in 2013 as one of the best young receiving tight ends in the NFL. As such, the Titans will surely attempt to lock him up with a long-term deal before he becomes a free agent.
That said, it will be a surprise to see such a deal come to fruition, given the contentious spat the two sides almost had over whether or not Cook should be considered a receiver or a tight end (h/t NFL Network's Ian Rapoport).
The Chicago Bears have a need for an athletic, receiving tight end, as do the Kansas City Chiefs and Philadelphia Eagles.
Ideal Landing Spot: Cook would thrive with Chip Kelly and the Eagles. His athleticism and speed would be a perfect match for Kelly's fast-tempo offense that strives for mismatches.
Wes Welker, Wide Receiver
Welker and the Patriots are still trying to get a deal hammered out, and according to CSN New England's Tom E. Curran, "progress has been made" toward that goal.
By no means does that guarantee a new deal, though.
Welker has been incredibly productive for the Patriots the past six years, catching at least 111 passes in all but one season for a total of 7,459 yards and 37 touchdowns during this time.
Some of his production can be directly contributed to the fact that Tom Brady has been his quarterback, but there's no doubt that Welker could be equally as productive for another team featuring a top quarterback.
His agent will certainly hammer that point home during negotiations with New England, and it shouldn't shock anyone if Welker ends up hitting the open market and begins negotiating with other teams on March 9.
The Cincinnati Bengals have a ton of money to spend and have a need for a player of Welker's caliber to take pressure off of A.J. Green. Equally needy but not as ripe with cash are the Houston Texans, while teams like the Miami Dolphins and Cleveland Browns will be potential suitors as well.
Ideal Landing Spot: Ideally, Welker would stay in New England. He wouldn't have to worry about learning another offense, and the chemistry between him and Brady can't be bought. That said, should talks fall through with the Patriots, Welker would look great wearing a Dolphins uniform next year.
Greg Jennings, Wide Receiver
Of all the receivers available in free agency, Jennings could be the most intriguing man to watch.
He reportedly will be looking for a contract that pays him upwards of $12 million per season (h/t Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio), but after his past two injury-ridden seasons, it will be a surprise if Jennings gets what he seeks.
When healthy, there's no doubt Jennings is one of the league's best receivers. Not counting 2012, he's averaged 73 catches for 1,155 yards and 8.5 touchdowns per season in the past four years.
Jennings had expressed interest in heading to Miami to reunite with his former coach Joe Philbin. He gave an interview with "NFL Total Access" on NFL Network, per the Green Bay Press Gazette's Mike Vandermause:
I wouldn’t mind that at all. The weather is definitely nice, they have an up-and-coming quarterback and they definitely have a defense that’s pretty solid, and some pieces on offense that are pretty solid as well.
Unfortunately for him, the Dolphins reportedly aren't interested (h/t the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Bob McGinn).
We shouldn't rule out a return to Green Bay, but given Jennings' $12 million demands, it's likely that he'll enter the free-agent market on March 9.
The Browns and Bengals are teams that could be interested in Jennings. Both teams feature young signal-callers and receivers and could use a veteran presence in the locker room.
Another consideration for Jennings might be the Jacksonville Jaguars, who have some money to spend and also need a veteran receiver.
Ideal Landing Spot: The Browns make sense for Jennings, unless, of course they end up with Mike Wallace. Norv Turner's West Coast offense is similar to the one Mike McCarthy runs in Green Bay, and Jennings would be an excellent player for Josh Gordon and Greg Little to learn from.
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