The NFL's free-agency period is the most advantageous opportunity for teams to improve their rosters. It's also a time for players to shake off the cocoons that were their old contracts and earn some big dollars in the process.
This year's crop is pretty well-rounded overall, although the running back and defensive line positions are especially rich in talent.
Jason Hatcher is one of the most intriguing prospects of this year's group. He does a lot of things well and could make an immediate impact on almost any team
He's an athletic defender who held strong in the middle of a defensive line that was pretty void of talent this past season. He more than made up for the loss of DeMarcus Ware when he was out with an injury and has finally built a solid level of confidence that he will carry on to his next team.
Hatcher, along with many others, will benefit from their recent successes and parlay that into big contracts this free-agency period.
Once a journeyman, Josh McCown could’ve played his way into a starting role in 2013. McCown took over the Chicago Bears when Jay Cutler went down with injury and did rather well in his place.
In eight games, he threw 13 touchdowns with almost 2,000 yards to boot. McCown had just one interception and completed 67 percent of his passes. The Bears shifted their allegiance to Cutler when he was ready to return and sent McCown back to the bench.
Chicago re-signed Cutler to a long-term deal recently, meaning McCown isn’t in their plans for the future, so he will likely look to sign with another team, with a good chance at competing for a starting role.
He’s arguably the best quarterback available in free agency and, considering there’s a solid portion of the NFL still looking for a reliable starter, McCown’s agent could be fielding a lot of phone calls once free agency hits.
Although they should draft a quarterback anyways (and will likely do so on the first day), the Houston Texans are a team that could definitely benefit from having a guy like McCown around. He could start if their drafted player isn't ready to go, but he could also be a great mentor to whomever they draft, whether he's the starter or not.
Hatcher had a breakout year for the Dallas Cowboys in 2013, earning Pro Bowl honors along the way. He was one of the most effective 3-techniques in the NFL this past season and proved he can perform at a high level, even when he’s not surrounded with talent.
As much as Dallas would love to bring him back, they will be restricted due to cap restraints, meaning Hatcher will be getting his big payout elsewhere. Hatcher recorded 11 sacks in 2013, almost one-third of Dallas’ team total of 34.
Hatcher had a strong performance in the Pro Bowl, further proving himself as one of this year’s hottest free agents. Teams will be attracted to him for his size and movement skills, along with his effectiveness in the trenches.
One team that would benefit from signing Hatcher is the Washington Redskins. Washington was very mediocre against the run, and Hatcher would be a quality bandage for their defensive line.
After playing second fiddle to Arian Foster for the past few years, Ben Tate will finally seek a starting role elsewhere in the NFL. Coming out of Auburn, Tate was one of the most talented runners available.
He was pushed down the depth chart after Foster emerged during a time when Tate was injured, and he never regained control of the position. He’s been effective in a complementary role, but it’s clear he’s a starting-caliber runner.
Tate’s situation is similar to Michael Turner’s when he was still with the Chargers. He was a talented runner but stuck behind an All-Pro in LaDainian Tomlinson. Turner garnered a big contract when he decided to test free agency, and I imagine Tate’s story will unravel similarly.
Tate was the leading rusher for the Houston Texans in 2013 and tied a career-high in rushing touchdowns (four). The fact that Tate has been so effective without getting the lion's share of the team's carries only proves that he should be starting in the NFL.
What's ironic about the Tate-Turner parallels is that Tate would actually be a good fit for the Atlanta Falcons. He's still pretty young and has a powerful running style that would be complemented by Jacquizz Rodgers and Steven Jackson.
At the end of the day, no one knows what a player will do after they sign a big contract. They could flop, they could outplay it, who knows? But, at least for these three players, the money they get will be deserved.