For 20 NFL teams and their fans, the focus is now the 2014 NFL draft and the 2014 edition of free agency.
Free agency is always a trying time for both groups. The fans want to see big names come to town in the hopes of a quick fix. But more often than not, the team that goes on a spending spree and usually pleases fans ends up missing the playoffs altogether (Cleveland and Miami in 2013).
This conundrum will once again present itself this offseason, as a variety of high-profile names are set to hit the market in search of a new home.
Several are guaranteed to land with new teams for various reasons.
Jay Cutler, QB
Jay Cutler is the only quarterback headed to free agency who is actually starter material.
Make no mistake, Cutler wants to be back in Chicago, as he told Larry Mayer of the team's official site:
I'm confident in our ability and Phil [Emery] and George [McCaskey] and everybody over there [that] we'll find equal ground and we'll get it worked out. I don't know when it's going to happen and eventually it might not happen. But we're going to take a crack at it I'm sure.
But see how that quote slowly transitions from confidence to uncertainty? Cutler can thank coach Marc Trestman for that.
For one reason or another, Trestman's offense squeezes the most out of quarterbacks. Cutler was out-played by backup Josh McCown all year. He appeared in 11 games and threw for 2,621 yards with 19 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.
McCown appeared in eight, had a higher completion percentage and average and threw for 1,829 yards and 13 touchdowns to one interception.
Now, which guy is going to cost more? Cutler, of course. The Bears have a wealth of issues on the defensive side of the ball that will require a nice chunk of change to fix. At the age of 30, Cutler may prove to be simply not worth the financial investment.
Maurice Jones-Drew, RB
Maurice Jones-Drew wants to get paid.
We know this much via a quote from the star running back himself, via ESPN's Michael DiRocco:
I would love to see it through here, but you said it exactly right—it's a monetary issue. That's where we are now. It's not about football anymore. That's part of the deal, part of the game.
WJXT sports anchor Michael Kelly later confirmed the Jacksonville Jaguars would let MJD chase the big one on the open market:
Caldwell says he does not envision Jaguars signing Maurice Jones-Drew before free agency. Will let him hit the market first. #Jaguars— Michael Kelly (@MichaelLKelly) December 31, 2013
Big name sure to land with new team?
MJD started slow and finished the year with 803 rushing yards and five touchdowns in 15 games. Now at the age of 28, the UCLA product is looking for that final big deal to finish off his career, as is the case for most running backs.
The most MJD can hope for at this point is something along the lines of what the Atlanta Falcons gave Steven Jackson last year in a three-year deal, which is likely above Jacksonville's price range given the number of issues on the roster.
Meanwhile, the Jaguars got sound production from Jordan Todman in 2013 and still have Denard Robinson waiting for his chance.
Brent Grimes, CB
Brent Grimes hit free agency last year and was abused by the market after an Achilles injury ruined his attractiveness to potential suitors.
After a "prove-it" deal with the Miami Dolphins, Grimes is about to cash in—big time. As Omar Kelly of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel illustrates, it was hard to find a corner better than Grimes in 2013:
Dolphins CB Brent Grimes finished 2013 rated by @PFF as the NFL's 2nd best CB, behind Darrelle Revis. One of 5 CBs to not allow a TD to a WR— Omar Kelly (@OmarKelly) December 30, 2013
Now remember that Miami was a major player in free agency last year, bringing in pricey names such as receiver Mike Wallace and linebackers Dannell Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler.
The Dolphins may not have a hard time digging into their pockets for another exorbitant purchase—but a bidding war on the market will quickly balloon the asking price to questionable levels. Expect to see Grimes in a different uniform in 2014.