2014 NFL Free Agency: Which Players Will Prove Huge Bargains?
There are so many different ways, especially when it comes to the NFL.
We’ll do our best here. So we picked out eight potential free agents that could hit the market this offseason and why teams, including their own, would be wise to give them a serious look.
It’s important to point out that perhaps none of these players are headed elsewhere. Each club has until early March to secure the services of their own players. Given what these performers can offer, there are some interesting decisions to be made over the next few months.
It adds up to some serious window shopping.
By the way, there’s a ton of solid financial information enclosed here supplied by the good folks at Spotrac.com (subscription required).
CB Corey Graham, Baltimore Ravens
Known more for his special teams’ prowess early in his career, Baltimore Ravens cornerback Corey Graham has been a pivotal part of the team’s defense these past two seasons.
After five seasons with the Chicago Bears, Graham signed with the Ravens in 2012. Last season, he started eight games, totaled 60 tackles and a pair of interceptions. Then in the playoffs, he picked off Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning twice, returning one for a touchdown in Baltimore’s 38-35 double overtime win.
This season, he has come up big for the Ravens despite starting just four games. Graham ranks fourth on the team with 71 tackles. He’s also totaled three interceptions, knocked down 11 passes and even recorded a sack.
FS Jairus Byrd, Buffalo Bills
How can a team’s franchise player from a year ago be anyone’s bargain in 2014?
In five seasons with the Buffalo Bills, free safety Jairus Byrd has totaled 22 interceptions and recovered five fumbles. That’s 27 takeaways in 72 regular-season games for the two-time Pro Bowler.
This past offseason, Byrd was designated the team’s franchise player but the veteran defender didn’t sign his tender until late August. There was speculation that he was going to be dealt, per ESPN's Mike Rodak, so the team could get something for him, rather than watch him walk next offseason. He then missed the first five games of this season with a plantar fasciitis injury.
There’s no denying his impact and ball-hawking skills. And given the Bills’ history when it comes to anteing up for their own free agents, the chances that Byrd remains in Buffalo are 50-50 at best.
But whether he stays or leaves for pastures new, the feeling here is that he will prove to be an invaluable addition for any defense.
And that includes the Bills.
QB Jay Cutler, Chicago Bears
It will be fascinating to see how it all plays out.
In 2009, the Chicago Bears gave up plenty via the trade to acquire quarterback Jay Cutler from the Denver Broncos.
In five seasons in the Windy City, the strong-armed quarterback has set a new franchise record for career passing yards (14,687) and thrown 99 touchdown passes compared to 74 interceptions. He’s also been sacked 166 times in 66 starts, where he’s compiled a 39-27 record as a starter.
Of course, Cutler has also started all 16 games just once in five years and missed six games in 2013.
So where does the bargain aspect of this actually come into play? It comes in the form of the Bears, who have already invested so much into surrounding Cutler with all of the necessary pieces.
Does that mean the team breaks the bank to retain the veteran quarterback? Some feel that would be the wise move, including Brad Briggs of the Chicago Tribune. But it may be to the benefit of both parties to figure out a short-term solution...for now.
RB Donald Brown, Indianapolis Colts
Remember when the Indianapolis Colts gave up a 2014 first-round draft choice for running back Trent Richardson earlier this season?
You get the feeling that running back Donald Brown has not forgotten.
These days, Brown looks more like Richardson than does Richardson. The former first-round selection has rushed for a team-high 506 yards, caught a career-high 24 passes and leads the Colts with seven touchdowns this season. The one-time University of Connecticut standout, taken with the 27th overall pick in 2009, nearly has as many touchdowns this year (seven) than he had in his first four NFL seasons (11).
Brown has also run with a purpose in 2013, as evidenced by last Sunday’s performance at Arrowhead Stadium where he ran 51 yards for a score and caught a 33-yard touchdown pass, both season highs for the five-year veteran.
Now it will be interesting to see whether he stays or goes when it comes to the Colts, who have a decision to make that could affect them and some other interested suitors.
WR Dexter McCluster, Kansas City Chiefs
Call it a hunch.
When you can do all that Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Dexter McCluster can do, you have to figure he’ll be in demand.
However, this is as much about potential as it is cost. In four seasons with the Chiefs, he’s caught 166 passes for 1,438 yards but just four touchdowns. He’s rushed for 662 yards, 516 of those yards in 2011, but scored just one touchdown.
McCluster has been a demon on special teams this season, leading the league in punt returns (57), yards (654) and touchdowns (two).
With running back Jamaal Charles in town, McCluster won’t get many opportunities as a ball-carrier. And in a different system, he could be a full-time all-purpose threat on offense. And don’t be surprised if some team in need of a big-play boost gives him that chance in 2014.
CB Brent Grimes, Miami Dolphins
From former Pro Bowler to lost season to a possible return to the playoffs.
It’s been a rollercoaster ride as of late for cornerback Brent Grimes, who is in the process of wrapping up his first season with the Miami Dolphins.
It’s been quite a debut in South Florida. Grimes has started all 15 games this season, totaled 55 tackles and leads the team in both interceptions (four) and passes defensed (15).
Of course, Grimes began his career with the Atlanta Falcons and in his last four seasons with the team, totaled 13 interceptions and was named to the Pro Bowl in 2010. But in 2012, he was limited to one game due to a knee injury and not re-signed by the Falcons this offseason.
Grimes has rebounded in impressive fashion and is certainly in the mix for comeback player of the year honors.
Will the veteran defender come back to Miami in 2014? Only time will tell.
T Zach Strief, New Orleans Saints
Over the last few seasons, the New Orleans Saints have had their share of talented performers on the offensive line.
And opposing teams have taken notice, to say the least.
Free agency has claimed former Pro Bowlers such as guard Carl Nicks (Tampa Bay Buccaneers) and tackle Jermon Bushrod (Chicago Bears) in recent years.
So what team will make right tackle Zach Strief the right offer this offseason? The former seventh-round draft choice (2006) spent his first five seasons at guard and the last three years at right tackle keeping quarterback Drew Brees safe.
Will Strief command big money? It’s very possible. For that you get an eight-year veteran who can play several positions, an invaluable commodity in this or any other era.
TE Fred Davis, Washington Redskins
The future does not appear bright, with or without shades, for tight end Fred Davis in Washington.
It wasn’t long ago that he was a pivotal part of the Redskins offense. From 2009-11, the former second-round pick totaled 128 receptions for 1,621 yards and a dozen touchdowns.
Injuries and a few other issues have derailed what could have been a very promising career, as documented by Bleacher Report contributor Will Grooms this week.
Davis, who’s played in only 16 games and caught 31 passes over the last two seasons, could benefit from a big-time change in scenery. And if he and his new team (which appears inevitable) play their cards right, you could see a bounce back season in 2014 for the six-year pro.