As the 2013 NFL playoffs approach, the 2014 free-agency picture begins to become more clear. There are a fair amount of big-name players who are set to hit the open market once the season ends. Many of them will be grossly overpaid.
Once free agency begins each year, there are always a handful of teams that are willing to spend big money to get a player who could become a catalyst for success for the franchise.
Some of these gambles have worked out, and others have been nothing more than salary-cap detriments.
2014 will be no different.
Let's run down the list of players who could possibly enter the free-agent market in 2014 and come away with some lucrative contracts.
Jay Cutler has had his ups and downs since joining the Chicago Bears in 2009. He hasn't always been efficient, as he is no stranger to interceptions. After all, in 10 games played in 2013, Cutler has already thrown 11 picks.
However, with the bad comes the good. Cutler has a rocket arm and is the type of gunslinger teams look for in a starting quarterback.
There are a few teams that have a strong nucleus of players and need a solid signal-caller to get over the hump—see: Houston Texans and Tennessee Titans.
These teams could potentially overpay for Cutler in the early stages of free agency. He is the best quarterback who could hit the market in 2014, and franchises will offer him lucrative contracts in an effort to thwart a bidding war.
It is still uncertain if Cutler will depart from Chicago after the season ends, but if he does, he will earn big money from a club that is willing to take him in.
Maurice Jones-Drew has been stellar since entering the NFL in 2006. He has played all eight seasons with the Jacksonville Jaguars and accumulated three 1,000-plus yard seasons in 2009, 2010 and 2011.
Lately, Jones-Drew has not been able to regain his past form, as the Jaguars offense has been completely stagnant. Without a viable aerial attack, defenses have begun to put more players in the box to defend against this shifty runner.
The 2013 season is the only time in Jones-Drew's career in which he did not average at least 4.2 yards per carry for the year. This is partly due to injury and partly due to the lackluster Jaguars offense.
Jones-Drew still has some tread left on his tires, and if the Jaguars do decide to depart with their longtime running back, plenty of NFL teams will be lining up to acquire his services.
Expect an early bidding war for Jones-Drew over the 2014 offseason. He may not get a long-term contract, but he will certainly earn a top-tier running back salary.
It may be a little far-fetched to assume the Denver Broncos would allow Eric Decker to walk after a tremendous 2013 season and a strong rapport with quarterback Peyton Manning. After all, through 16 weeks, Decker has accumulated 1,261 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Decker has all of the makings of an elite NFL wide receiver. He has reliable hands, good speed and a big 6'3", 214-pound frame. Simply put, Decker would be a welcome sight for any NFL quarterback.
If he does hit the open market, plenty of teams will jump at the chance to bring him in as their top receiver. He has played a complementary role to Demaryius Thomas in Denver, and it would certainly be interesting to see him as a No. 1 option.
Decker may not get Mike Wallace money, but he will be heavily paid from a team looking to bring life to its offense.
Jimmy Graham. What more needs to be said? He is simply the best tight end and one of the biggest offensive weapons in the entire NFL.
And, yes, he is set to be an unrestricted free agent in 2014.
It is practically insane to think that the New Orleans Saints won't retain Graham's services with a very big contract. However, stranger things have happened.
Graham is having yet another fantastic season in 2013. Through 16 weeks, he has gained 1,144 yards and 15 touchdowns. Just crazy numbers for a tight end.
If he were to enter the market in 2014, he would almost assuredly set a new record for a tight end's contract. If any team wants to acquire Graham, he will need top wide receiver-type money.
Cleveland Browns center Alex Mack could be the most sought-after offensive lineman if he does hit the free-agent market in 2014. Mack has been a bright spot on an otherwise bad Browns team over his five NFL seasons.
Mack has never missed a start due to injury during his NFL career—a huge plus considering the importance of the center position.
According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Mack is the NFL's top-ranked center through 16 weeks of the 2013 season.
The opportunity to acquire the league's best center does not come around often, and it could be conceived that many teams will be willing to throw a boatload of cash in Mack's direction.
A team like the Cincinnati Bengals would make complete sense. They are a contender and have plenty of cap space, and their one weakness on the offensive line is the center position.
A big payday lies ahead for Mack.
Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Michael Johnson has been playing under the team's franchise tag throughout the 2013 season. Johnson is coming off of a monster performance in 2012 in which he recorded 11.5 sacks.
Although Johnson has just three sacks through 16 games in 2013, he is still one of the league's most efficient defensive linemen.
Pro Football Focus (subscription required) ranks Johnson as the second-best defensive lineman who plays in a 4-3 scheme in 2013. Johnson is a complete defender, as he is very capable against the run and pass.
The Bengals have big money already tied up in defensive linemen Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap. They also need to sign wide receiver A.J. Green to a big deal in the near future. This makes Johnson the odd man out in Cincinnati.
There will be many teams lining up to grab Johnson and bolster their defensive fronts in 2014. Big money will be required to do so.
Washington Redskins outside linebacker Brian Orakpo is absolutely tearing it up in 2013. After missing most of the 2012 season due to injury, he has come back in a big way.
Currently, Orakpo has tallied 43 tackles, 10 sacks and one interception through 16 weeks this season. That kind of production is hard to find on the free-agent market. There's a reason for that.
It is very rare that a team allows a player with Orakpo's skill set to head to free agency. However, Washington may not have a choice.
With very little cap space to work with, the Redskins may not be able to afford to keep Orakpo around after this season.
He will have plenty of suitors, as his versatility could keep him as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme or move him to a defensive end in a 4-3 scheme.
Either way, he will demand plenty of money as a free agent.
Brent Grimes is currently locked into a one-year contract with the Miami Dolphins. He has done very well for himself during his short time in Miami. Grimes has tallied 47 total tackles, four interceptions and 15 passes defensed this season.
His production has him ranked as the league's fourth-best cornerback, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
Miami would generally look to keep Grimes around with a longer deal; however, they have a lot of tough decisions to make regarding their cap space next year. Grimes could become a numbers casualty.
Grimes is most certainly capable of becoming a team's top cornerback. There are plenty of clubs out there right now looking for such a player.
What does that mean? Bidding war.
Grimes' one-year stint in Miami might be the best move he could have made. He showcased his talent and will get a lucrative contract as a result.
Jairus Byrd is the definition of a do-it-all safety. Byrd excels in coverage, against the run and rushing the passer. Despite only playing in 10 games in 2013, he has already accumulated 35 tackles, one sack, four interceptions and six passes defensed.
His ability to take on many different roles in a defense reflects on his efficiency rating from Pro Football Focus (subscription required). Byrd was given a plus-8.7 grade, which ranks him as the NFL's ninth-best safety.
Byrd is still only 27 years old and has a bright future ahead of him. There is a fair chance the Bills will not retain his services due to the contact dispute between the team and Byrd earlier this season that led to trade rumors.
After another solid year in the books for Byrd, it looks as though he will finally get the money he desires.
James Jones has proven himself to be a reliable receiver over his seven years with the Green Bay Packers. Just one year ago, Jones broke out in the Packers offense and caught 14 touchdowns on the season.
His play has tapered off a bit in 2013; however, one big reason for his drop-off in production is the absence of quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the emergence of wide receiver Jarrett Boykin.
Still, Jones is the epitome of a reliable receiver. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Jones has only been responsible for one dropped pass this season.
His reliability, toughness and nose for the end zone will draw interest from plenty of teams looking to stabilize their wide receiver corps.
When it's all said and done, Jones won't be one of the league's highest paid receivers, but he will receive a huge boost in pay when he lands with another team.