Early Predictions for 2014 NFL Free-Agent Signings
NFL free agency is right around the corner. Three months is around the corner, right?
There is plenty to see between now and March 11, but it's never too early to peek ahead. The NFL world will be abuzz with Super Bowl postmortem and NFL draft prospects in February, so why not get a head start on free agency?
Here are 10 free agents and where they might sign in March.
Quarterback Jay Cutler
Current team: Chicago Bears
They say a bird in hand is worth two in the bush. But what if that bird has a broken wing and occasionally crashes into windows?
The Bears have a bit of a conundrum on their hands heading into the offseason. Do they stick with oft-injured, oft-maligned Jay Cutler despite his arm talent and moments of brilliance? Or do they let him go, roll with Josh McCown and perhaps draft a quarterback?
Given replacing a franchise quarterback is no exact science—just ask Washington and Miami fans, who have only recently been released from quarterback purgatory—it might be prudent to stick with what they know. At least for one more year.
New team: Chicago Bears
Contract: One year, $16.2 million (franchise tag)
Running Back Maurice Jones-Drew
Current team: Jacksonville Jaguars
The running back position isn't what it used to be. Unless your name is Adrian Peterson, it becomes tough sledding once you hit 28 or 29 years of age.
In reality, it's guys who have a lot of mileage on their legs that tend to get the early boot. Just ask Michael Turner.
Maurice Jones-Drew looks like he might go the way of the dinosaur sooner than later. But he isn't ready to ride into the sunset yet, and the Jaguars are reportedly willing to bring him back for one last contract.
Jones-Drew will likely have to split time in that backfield going forward, but he will have spent his entire career as a Jaguar if the mutual interest is real.
New team: Jacksonville Jaguars
Contract: Two years, $8 million
Tight End Fred Davis
Current team: Washington
It has been a dismal season in Washington, and Fred Davis has been but a minor casualty.
The talented tight end was coming back from an injury this season, but he was destined for head coach Mike Shanahan's doghouse from the outset. Davis was sparingly used for much of the season until rookie Jordan Reed was concussed.
Who knows whether Shanahan general manager Bruce Allen will be back this offseason, but it seems like a good bet Davis won't be.
There are several teams needy at the position, but none more so than the Buccaneers. Tim Wright has emerged as a solid contributor on that offense—he has 486 yards and four touchdowns receiving after taking over the starting job midseason—but Tampa Bay could use an improvement at the position.
Davis is quite talented, but off-field issues and injuries have knocked him off track. Perhaps a change of scenery will help him rebound.
New team: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Contract: Three years, $15 million
Offensive Tackle Branden Albert
Current team: Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs spent many days trying to court a suitor for Branden Albert last year. That's because they were dead set on drafting Eric Fisher.
Fisher has been a bit of a disappointment in his rookie year, but he is playing a bit out of position. Albert, meanwhile, has remained a steady pass-blocker.
Kansas City probably won't be slapping him with the franchise tag again, given he would garner 120 percent of his current salary in that event. Since Fisher is likely the left tackle of the future, Albert should land with a new team.
Enter general manager Jeff Ireland and the Dolphins, who have struggled to protect quarterback Ryan Tannehill this year. Miami did claim veteran tackle Bryant McKinnie, who has played well. But McKinnie is 34 and prone to extracurricular activities that slow him down during the offseason.
The Dolphins don't have nearly as much cash to spend this offseason, but a restructured deal here and a few free agents gone there and there should be plenty to finally nab Albert.
New team: Miami Dolphins
Contract: Five years, $30 million
Defensive End Michael Johnson
Current team: Cincinnati Bengals
Michael Johnson had a career year in 2012.
His 11.5 sacks were good enough to get him into the top 10, and the Bengals thanked him by gently laying the franchise tag at his feet.
If you look at his stats this season, you might think the Bengals were right to eschew a big contract to see if he could repeat his breakout. Johnson has just three sacks on the year.
He does have two forced fumbles and 50 total tackles, though, and he is the third-best 4-3 defensive end in the land per Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
Cincinnati did try to sign Johnson to a long-term deal, but he didn't bite. With Carlos Dunlap and Geno Atkins now locked into big contracts this year, there is a good chance Johnson will be taking his talents elsewhere.
The Vikings, meanwhile, will likely be parting ways with veteran Jared Allen after his massive contract expires this offseason. Minnesota will have a healthy amount of cap space with which to give Johnson a nice deal to replace Allen.
New team: Minnesota Vikings
Contract: Five years, $35 million
Defensive Tackle Henry Melton
Current team: Chicago Bears
Henry Melton has become one of the league's best defensive tackles. Perhaps no better evidence of this exists than the fact the Bears have allowed 1,868 yards and 16 touchdowns on the ground since he tore his ACL in Week 3.
Well, Chicago's defensive woes extend beyond Melton's absence, but he is still a vital cog in that unit.
Melton is better known for his pass-rushing prowess, having amassed 15.5 sacks in his first three seasons in the league, among the most at his position during that span.
Unfortunately for him, he suffered that aforementioned knee injury while playing under the franchise tag this year. That may have cost him a massive contract, but he still stands to cash in this offseason.
The Bears have some cheddar to spend this offseason, so it stands to reason Melton will be back.
New Team: Chicago Bears
Contract: Four years, $28 million
Wide Receiver Eric Decker
Current team: Denver Broncos
The market at wide receiver isn't loaded like it has been in recent years.
Hakeem Nicks is arguably the biggest name set to hit free agency, and he has made a name for himself with injuries and failing to live up to potential.
That makes Eric Decker arguably the most intriguing name at the position. Decker has quietly been a solid receiver for the Broncos, even before Peyton Manning came to town. He has scored 29 touchdowns over the past three seasons, after all.
The Jaguars will be looking to continue some positive momentum this offseason, and that could mean bringing in a quality receiver. Cecil Shorts III has had injury issues throughout his career, and Justin Blackmon is teetering on the brink of career suicide.
New Team: Jacksonville Jaguars
Contract: Three years, $20 million
Linebacker Karlos Dansby
Current team: Arizona Cardinals
What a season Karlos Dansby is having.
The veteran linebacker lingered on the market after the Dolphins dumped him for a younger model, ultimately signing a one-year deal with his former team in Arizona. It was a match made in desert heaven.
Dansby has played so well that he is garnering some Defensive Player of the Year attention. He is among the league leaders in defensive touchdowns, interceptions, tackles and sacks at his position. Dansby certainly seems to be a motivated man.
If he wins the award, he should mail it to Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland or at least email him a picture next to the hardware.
At any rate, what does this all mean for the 32-year-old?
Well, it probably means he will get one last, worthwhile contract in the NFL. Unfortunately, even a big year won't stop teams from looking twice at that birthdate.
New Team: Arizona Cardinals
Contract: Two years, $10 million
Cornerback Aqib Talib
Current team: New England Patriots
How the Patriots managed to convince Aqib Talib to sign a one-year deal is yet another dark-magic spell conjured by head coach and grand wizard Bill Belichick.
Talib has played well this season, blossoming into one of the league's best press cornerbacks. An injury has slowed him down, but he has slowed down the likes of Jimmy Graham, A.J. Green and Vincent Jackson this year.
The talented cornerback will rate a hefty payday come this spring. The Raiders will have the most money to spend, and their secondary could use a quality defensive back or five.
New Team: Oakland Raiders
Contract: Five years, $28 million
Safety Jairus Byrd
Current team: Buffalo Bills
Buffalo had a conundrum on its hands last offseason.
Two excellent players were set to hit free agency—Jairus Byrd and offensive guard Andy Levitre—and it was going to cost a pretty penny to keep both.
They decided on Byrd, who got the franchise tag for his trouble.
The 27-year-old suffered a foot injury in the offseason, keeping him out until October and sparking rumors the Bills might trade him.
He has played well since his return, however, ranking in the top 10 at safety over at Pro Football Focus. The Bills defense has improved as the season has progressed, and Byrd is a big reason why.
He is clearly one of the best safeties in the league, and one lucky team is going to shell out a big contract this offseason. Once again, the Raiders and the pile of cap space they are sitting on will swoop in to improve that woeful secondary.
New Team: Oakland Raiders
Contract: Five years, $42 million