The 2014 NFL playoffs are in full swing, but many football fans whose teams were eliminated from contention already have shifted their focus to the next free-agent class.
With key stars like Maurice Jones-Drew, Eric Decker and Michael Vick all possibly hitting the open market, this year’s crop of free agents could shift the landscape of the league moving forward.
Here are the biggest names on the market who would benefit from a change of scenery.
Maurice Jones-Drew, RB
Maurice Jones-Drew has been an absolute workhorse for the putrid Jacksonville Jaguars over the years, and there is a chance that the 28-year-old running back hits the open market this offseason, despite a mutual interest from the team and the player.
While many of the struggles the franchise has faced over the last year were due to the lack of talent around Jones-Drew, his drop in production despite staying relatively healthy is one of the reasons the team may be willing to let him walk.
Just over 1,100 all-purpose yards and five touchdowns may be a solid output for most running backs, but MJD is widely regarded as one of the best in the league, and those numbers are disappointing.
There is no doubt that Jones-Drew would be a great addition to any team looking for a power back, but with his age and history with injuries, the veteran would be smart to sign on with a team that has a reliable backup who can ease the pressure.
Eric Decker, WR
There will be many experts who argue the addition of Peyton Manning at quarterback and the talent surrounding him at wide receiver helped Eric Decker achieve a great statistical year with the Denver Broncos, but his talent is unquestionable.
The abundance of skilled players on the league’s most dominant pass attack undoubtedly opened up opportunities for Decker, but his 1,288 yards and 11 touchdowns were no fluke. With elite size and speed, Decker has become a viable No. 1 target on almost any team in the NFL.
If the right franchise has the need at wide receiver and the weapons to surround Decker—it would likely have to be an organization on the cusp of being a serious contender for a Super Bowl—expect Decker to get a big-money contract this offseason.
Michael Vick, QB
Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick lost his starting job to Nick Foles and spent most of the season sitting on the bench as a backup. While Vick could have taken the chance to become a distraction, the mature veteran assumed his role with pride and dignity.
Teams will look at that when possibly signing Vick this offseason.
There is no question that Vick’s size and injury history will be alarming to teams looking for a QB, but the possibility of bringing in a player who has the maturity needed to be a leader in the locker room is the smart plan for a franchise with a young quarterback.
Vick may not get an offer to become a starter in 2014, but there will be plenty of high-profile backup jobs he could audition for across the NFL. There is always a need for a veteran presence on any roster, and Vick’s attitude in Philadelphia has been ideal.
*All stats via NFL.com.