As one NFL season comes to a close, the focus on the next one begins to intensify. Teams around the league will begin searching for ways to plug holes so they can end up in the same place the Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos did this season.
While the Super Bowl might not be a realistic goal from every team next season, improving the roster to take steps in that direction is always key. Of course, free agency is an important part of that process and will soon take center stage along with the draft.
With that in mind, let's check out all of the important information with just over a month until the free-agent period gets underway. The details are followed by a look at some early rumors and predictions as teams begin to plot their strategies.
Start Date: Tuesday, March 11
Start Time: 4 p.m. ET
Free Agents: Positional List (via NFL.com)
Sanchez missed the entire 2013 season after suffering a shoulder injury in the team's third exhibition game. It forced the New York Jets to go with rookie Geno Smith, who predictably struggled but showed signs of progress during the final month of the season.
Even though Sanchez posted a lackluster quarterback rating only a shade above 70 during four seasons with the Jets, he could still generate interest if he hits the market. Brian Costello of the New York Post reports sources around the league believe he will be released, and teams are ready to pounce:
One coach of a quarterback-needy team said his team already has discussed Sanchez internally as an option to be its starting quarterback in 2014.
"We'd take Sanchez. He'd be the starter as soon as he walked in the door for us."
Rich Cimini of ESPN passed along comments former quarterback Mark Brunell made on NFL Live, in which he says the USC product just needs a change of scenery:
There are several teams looking for quarterback help heading into the offseason, so perhaps the reported interest shouldn't come as a major surprise. That said, Sanchez has never shown he has what it takes to become a franchise signal-caller either.
Prediction: Oakland Raiders
Which player would provide the most FA value?
Most of Jones' numbers remained pretty constant over the past two seasons, but there was a major drop-off in touchdowns. He caught 14 during the 2012 season. He was only able to follow it up with three, however, as the added defensive attention made it tougher for him to get open in the red zone.
Jones probably wishes those seasons were reversed as he gets ready to potentially become a free agent. Tyler Dunne of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that there's a lot of uncertainty around the Green Bay Packers' free-agent situation and that the wideout is likely to test the market:
Back from #Packers locker room. A lot of uncertainty. FA's to-be James Jones and Evan Dietrich-Smith both unsure. Will test the market.— Tyler Dunne (@TyDunne) January 6, 2014
The longtime Packers receiver shouldn't be viewed as a true No. 1 option if he does become a free agent. Rather, he's a solid No. 2 or 3 target who can help round out a passing game. There will be multiple teams in search of that type of player.
Prediction: Miami Dolphins
Austin is coming off the worst season of his career. He appeared in just 11 games, racking up 24 catches for 244 yards and no touchdowns. The emergence of Terrance Williams behind Dez Bryant and Jason Witten led to a lesser role in the Dallas Cowboys offense for the veteran.
Knowing that, it doesn't come as a major surprise that Todd Archer of ESPN Dallas reports the wide receiver is on the chopping block. Dallas would free up a lot of money it would then be able to use to lock up other assets:
Wide receiver Miles Austin figures to be a June 1 casualty, which will open up $5.5 million in space, but would carry more than $5 million in dead money in 2015. Most of that money will be used to sign the draft picks.
For what it's worth, ESPN Dallas' Calvin Watkins noted that Jerry Jones wasn't ready to talk about contract decisions quite yet:
Jerry Jones said it's too early to discuss the contract status if Miles Austin and DeMarcus Ware.— Calvin Watkins (@calvinwatkins) January 20, 2014
It wouldn't make much sense for him to return to the Cowboys at this point. Assuming he does get let go, he should eventually land with a team that features far less receiving depth, thus giving him a chance to become an impact player again.
Prediction: Buffalo Bills