2014 NFL Free Agency: Early Rankings for Best Available at Each Position
Your team is all set for the 2013 NFL season, but it's never too early to start looking ahead to the 2014 NFL free agency rankings while daydreaming about your general manager securing that final piece.
You know, that one guy that puts your boys over the top.
Maybe it will, and maybe it won’t. But the whole point of this exercise is to have some fun wondering what could be.
Please understand that you can't just take the most impressive player from 2012 and project him as the best free agent at his position. You have to consider their ages and abilities to bounce back from a rough season.
So go ahead and click through to find the best pieces available at each position in 2014.
Much like last year, it's entirely possible that a pending free-agent quarterback could be named this year's Super Bowl MVP. As it stands today, only one has a real chance of changing teams after the 2013 season.
1. Matt Ryan: There's a good probability that Ryan never makes it to training camp without another long-term deal, but stranger things have happened. Regardless, there are few signal-callers who would rank above Ryan, and his 32 touchdowns to 14 interceptions in 2012 easily put him atop this list.
2. Jay Cutler: It's really not his fault. Cutler has all the tools to be a much better quarterback, but it's tough to produce when you're under pressure 37.7 percent of the time (subscription required). He'll still need to improve on that 81.3 quarterback rating if he plans on securing one more large contract.
3. Michael Vick: Vick is in a fight for his current job with Nick Foles. Perhaps now isn't the best time to worry about his next contract.
Other Notables: Josh Freeman finds himself in a precarious position. If he fails to perform, Freeman will end his career as a backup.
There is a big name ready to hit the market, but he's not the top guy.
1. Ben Tate: That's because that honor belongs to Tate. He'll finish next season at 25 years old, as opposed to 29 like MJD. Teams would rather take that risk on a kid who averaged 5.1 yards per carry without the wear-and-tear of a long-term feature back.
2. Maurice Jones-Drew: Don't feel too sorry for the once-and-present Jacksonville Jaguars bell cow. He'll still get a nice short-term deal with a contender. It just won't be the big-money contract he held out for last year.
3. Rashard Mendenhall: He's a legit No. 1 back with a chance to prove it to the league. Plus, he's younger than the only other proven commodity left.
Other Notables: Teammates Marcel Reece and Darren McFadden will be looking for work next season, and don't be surprised when Reece is the first one to find a new home.
If your team needs a reliable target, 2014 looks like a Black Friday sale.
1. Eric Decker: The Denver Broncos have done very well managing their salary cap, but Decker isn't going to come cheap. That's what happens when a guy goes off for 13 touchdowns, although teams should be wary of his 12 drops.
2. Kenny Britt: Think about it. Have you heard anything about Britt this offseason? Nope. And that's a good thing because he's setting himself up nicely for a payday.
3. James Jones: Nobody really gave Jones too much thought. They do now after his 14-touchdown performance in 2012.
Other Notables: Hakeem Nicks needs to stay on the field for an entire season before anyone will give him much money. Jeremy Maclin is another intriguing name ready to hit the market. This list assumes that the rumors regarding Victor Cruz's new deal are true, as reported by SI's Chris Burke.
Just like the wide receivers, there are plenty of talented tight ends available.
1. Jimmy Graham: In a "down" year, Graham hauled in nine touchdowns. Now that the band is back together (Sean Payton, Drew Brees and Graham), you can pencil him in for a huge deal.
2. Brandon Pettigrew: Everything points toward a bounce-back season for the Detroit Lions' mercurial tight end. He could very well end up with 1,000 yards and nine touchdowns.
3. Scott Chandler: It's difficult to determine what direction the Buffalo Bills are heading this year, but Chandler will keep trending upward. Whoever is the new quarterback in Buffalo will surely rely on the trustworthy tight end.
Other Notables: The Baltimore Ravens will face another tough decision between Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson next season. Especially because they should both see plenty of targets with Anquan Boldin out of town. Fred Davis could also be looking to cash in one more time.
If this list isn't altered due to the offensive tackles’ current teams opening their wallets, I'll be shocked. All of these guys are too good to be allowed to sign elsewhere for nothing.
1. Ryan Clady: Peyton Manning is not going to be happy if Clady isn't made happy. And soon.
2. Jared Veldheer: There are few things that are currently right with the Oakland Raiders. General manager Reggie McKenzie has to find a way to keep one of those rare things.
3. Eugene Monroe: Monroe and Veldheer could have been Nos. 2 and 2a. They're that close in talent. However, the Jacksonville Jaguars have Luke Joeckel on the cheap and could afford to let Monroe find work elsewhere.
Other Notables: The Kansas City Chiefs spent all offseason trying to unload Branden Albert because they didn't want to pay him. Here's betting they don't change their position.
The top talent of the last few slides isn't going to translate to the offensive guards. Not that anyone was paying attention anyways.
1. Jon Asamoah: When you look at all the talent on the Kansas City Chiefs offensive line, this team should give quarterback Alex Smith plenty of time.
2. Kevin Boothe: One of the key cogs in the New York Giants line is just young enough to get one more decent deal.
3. Evan Dietrich-Smith: The talent level drops off considerably after the first two guys. Dietrich-Smith is best known for getting stomped on by Ndamukong Suh, as opposed to his play.
Interestingly enough, every soon-to-be available center was born in 1985. Oh, and two of them went to Cal.
1. Alex Mack: The Cleveland Browns are like the Chiefs: both teams have solid offensive lines. They just need the rest of the rosters to catch up.
2. Brian De La Puente: The New Orleans Saints can ill-afford to lose another talented offensive lineman. Especially as Drew Brees’ age starts to limit his mobility and durability.
3. Fernando Velasco: Out of all the players listed, Velasco is the only one likely to move to another team since the Tennessee Titans drafted Brian Schwenke.
Defensive ends have fought their way to at least third in line when it comes to the "money positions," and they have their eyes set on the offensive tackles. These guys will be coming at them all season and gunning for their paychecks afterwards.
1. Greg Hardy: Everybody knows that the Carolina Panthers have plenty of cash invested in their backfields. Now, they must match that effort if they want to keep this young, mean menace.
2. Michael Johnson: The Cincinnati Bengals franchised Johnson. It was a smart move. He's entering his prime after a 13-sack campaign last year.
3. Michael Bennett: I'll never understand how the Seattle Seahawks scooped up Bennett. They won't be able to afford him next year.
Other Notables: Lamarr Houston and B.J. Raji just barely missed inclusion on this list. Jared Allen is old, but still important. Also, Rob Ninkovich could spark some interest if he puts it all together.
Defensive tackles lack the glamour of defensive ends, but they're getting the same amount of cash.
1. Geno Atkins: If it wasn't for J.J. Watt, we'd all hear a lot more about Atkins. Or maybe not since people are overlooking the Bengals and their dominant defensive line.
2. Henry Melton: The Chicago Bears love their defenders. They had better pay this young cornerstone before anyone else is given the chance to romance him.
3. Fred Evans: He isn't nearly as young as the others, but he's still worth keeping around so he can wreak havoc with Sharrif Floyd.
Other Notables: The Miami Dolphins will have to figure out what to do with their aging interior, as Randy Starks and Paul Soliai will be free agents that are used to getting paid.
Perhaps the most forgotten position is now the linebacker. But everyone that is concerned about what is going on up front or in the secondary would be smart not to overlook these difference-makers.
1. Brian Orakpo: If Orakpo hadn't gone down early last year, the Washington Redskins defense would have been better equipped to hold up its end of the deal. He's ready to storm back and his presence will be felt.
2. Sean Lee: The Dallas Cowboys defense has plenty of playmakers, so maybe that's why people don’t talk about Lee. That will change soon.
3. Brian Cushing: Youth is still served on this list, and Cushing will continue to prove worthy of being J.J. Watt's running mate.
Other Notables: Anthony Spencer would get more love if he were a bit younger. Brandon Spikes is right there, but just a step behind.
While there are plenty of good cornerbacks set to hit the market next year, none of them are above reproach. Still, you wouldn't mind one or two in your defensive backfield.
1. Sam Shields: He's quietly been better than you think for a defense that continuously lets its fans down. Letting Shields leave town would be the ultimate heartbreaker.
2. Brandon Browner: The talk about Richard Sherman is warranted, but don't sleep on Browner. He's a big corner who is better than his appreciated worth.
3. Brent Grimes: If it wasn't for the Achilles tear from last season, this would be an easy sell. The pressure is on Grimes to earn his next check.
Other Notables: Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Nnamdi Asomugha are attempting to resurrect their respective reputations. Aqib Talib and Vontae Davis are still young enough to rewrite the stories of their careers. Lastly, if Charles Tillman wasn't entering the twilight of his career, he'd be all over this list.
At the back of the defense, but not the back of the bread line, are the safeties. For wiping away the defense's mistakes while forcing an opponent's, these guys will be handsomely paid.
1. Jairus Byrd: Byrd battled Eric Weddle last year for the best safety belt and came up just short. In a contract year, don't be surprised if he steals the mantle.
2. T.J. Ward: I keep telling people that the Cleveland Browns have a ton of talent, they just need a quarterback. Ward is another great example of that well-built roster.
3. Chris Clemons: The Dolphins have a pretty talented safety duo between Clemons and Reshad Jones. It'd be a shame to break them up.
Other Notables: Donte Whitner is only a year older than any of these guys but had a bit of a down year. We'll see if he can regain his elite status.