NFL Free Agents 2014: Re-Evaluating the Market After the Super Bowl

Chris TrapassoAnalyst IFebruary 5, 2014

NFL Free Agents 2014: Re-Evaluating the Market After the Super Bowl

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    Michael Perez/Associated Press

    While many have shifted their attention to NFL draft season after Super Bowl XLVIII, let's not forget that the frenetic free-agency period actually comes first. 

    While there likely won't be any Mario Williams or Peyton Manning deals this offseason, there are a number of high-quality players on both sides of the ball who will be free to sign with any team if they don't strike a deal with their respective teams soon. 

    Here's a position-by-position rundown of the 2014 free-agent market. 

    (*Players' ages are for 2014 season.)

Quarterback

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    Matt Rourke/Associated Press

    1. Josh McCown, Chicago Bears, 35

    2. Michael Vick, Philadelphia Eagles, 34

    3. Shaun Hill, Detroit Lions, 34

    4. Josh Freeman, Minnesota Vikings, 26

    5. Chad Henne, Jacksonville Jaguars, 29

     

    This year, the quarterback class is essentially barren, but after an out-of-nowhere resurgence in Marc Trestman's offense with the Chicago Bears, Josh McCown, the soon-to-be 35-year-old, could be viewed by many teams as an ideal stopgap option. 

    The same goes for Michael Vick, but his vast injury history is worrisome. 

    Who knows what to make of Josh Freeman at this point, as he played one game and then never saw the field again after being traded to the Minnesota Vikings this past season. But the size and natural abilities are undoubtedly there. 

    Other names to monitor are Tarvaris Jackson and Matt Flynn. Both appear to be decent backup quarterbacks and very well could re-sign with their 2013 teams. 

Running Back/Fullback

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    1. Ben Tate, Houston Texans, 26

    2. Knowshon Moreno, Denver Broncos, 27

    3. Toby Gerhart, Minnesota Vikings, 27

    4. Rashad Jennings, Oakland Raiders, 29

    5. Andre Brown, New York Giants, 28 in December

    6. Greg Jones, Houston Texans, 33

    7. LeGarrette Blount, New England Patriots, 28 in December

    8. John Kuhn, Green Bay Packers, 32

    9. James Starks, Green Bay Packers, 28 

    10. Erik Lorig, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 28 in November

     

    Ben Tate tops a decent running back class, but not one that will see many huge contracts. Then again, the running back position as a whole has been correctly devalued of late, and many of these players have an abundance of NFL carries on their resume. 

    Toby Gerhart is an interesting case—he'll only be 27 in March, and he has been given fewer than 400 career touches running behind Adrian Peterson with the Minnesota Vikings. 

    James Starks, LeGarrette Blount and even Andre Brown could ultimately become fine No. 2 running backs in 2014. Unsurprisingly, the fullback class isn't chock-full of household names, but Greg Jones could make good money in the free-agency market, as could John Kuhn. 

    Look out for Rashad Jennings, a soon-to-be 29-year-old who's received fewer than 400 carries in the NFL. He averaged 4.5 yards per carry and scored six rushing touchdowns on 163 attempts in 2013. 

Wide Receiver

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    Jack Dempsey/Associated Press

    1. Eric Decker, Denver Broncos, 27

    2. Jeremy Maclin, Philadelphia Eagles, 26

    3. Julian Edelman, New England Patriots, 28

    4. Hakeem Nicks, New York Giants, 26

    5. Anquan Boldin, San Francisco 49ers, 34 in October

     

    After his one-catch dud in the Super Bowl, some will be "down" on Eric Decker. While he's been labeled as a No. 2 and not a No. 1 that typically fetches large contracts on the open market, the former Minnesota Golden Gopher did make 87 catches for nearly 1,300 yards with 11 touchdowns during the regular season. 

    He'll get paid. 

    Jeremy Maclin is intriguing because he was one of the game's most electric downfield wideouts before he tore his ACL prior to the 2013 campaign. He'll likely get inked on a one-year "prove it" deal. Julian Edelman went from a guy in Wes Welker's shadow to a 105-catch stud. He may not be as lightning quick as Welker, but he proved he can thrive in that role this year. 

    It's hard to pinpoint how Hakeem Nicks and Anquan Boldin will be viewed this offseason. When healthy, Nicks has flashed borderline dominant play—it's just that he hasn't been that healthy of late. Boldin is considerably slower than he used to be, but his ability to make catches in traffic is invaluable. 

    Two other noteworthy names—James Jones and Golden Tate. Both are probably more "WR No. 3's" than anything else, but they've been productive in the past. 

Tight End

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    John Bazemore/Associated Press

    1. Jimmy Graham, New Orleans Saints, 28 in November

    2. Dennis Pitta, Baltimore Ravens, 29

    3. Brandon Pettigrew, Detroit Lions, 29

    4. Scott Chandler, Buffalo Bills, 29

    5. Jermichael Finley, Green Bay Packers, 27

     

    Jimmy Graham is the undisputed headliner of this group, though he and his agent may fight for the New Orleans Saints' red-zone monster to be considered as a wide receiver for a chance to get a considerable hike in franchise tag money. 

    Dennis Pitta was dearly missed by the Baltimore Ravens for the majority of the 2013 season, and with new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak likely running his vintage attack that features plenty of tight end usage, the former BYU standout may very well be re-signed by Ozzie Newsome. 

    Brandon Pettigrew has the size to be a fine scoring specialist, but drops and lack of speed have made him a disappointment relative to his first-round draft status. 

    If healthy, Jermichael Finley could become the steal of the free-agent tight end class. However, the neck injury he suffered this year was career-threatening. 

    Garrett Graham and Jeff Cumberland have potential has valuable backups. 

Offensive Tackle

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    1. Eugene Monroe, Baltimore Ravens, 27

    2. Jared Veldheer, Oakland Raiders, 27

    3. Branden Albert, Kansas City Chiefs, 30 in November

    4. Anthony Collins, Cincinnati Bengals, 29 in November

    5. Jordan Gross, Carolina Panthers, 34

     

    With the Baltimore Ravens sending a bundle of late draft picks to the Jacksonville Jaguars for Eugene Monroe during the 2013 season, one has to expect that they'll re-sign him to be the team's long-term left tackle. 

    Jared Veldheer doesn't get a ton of publicity out in Oakland, but if fully healthy, he can be one of the game's top 20 tackles. 

    Anthony Collins was given a tremendous opportunity when Cincinnati Bengals left tackle Andrew Whitworth got hurt this season, and he made the most of it. The 2008 fourth-round pick is strong at the point of attack and exceptionally fleet of foot for a 6'5", 315-pound offensive lineman. He could see the largest contract of the group. 

Interior Offensive Line

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    David Richard/Associated Press

    1. Alex Mack, Cleveland Browns, 29 in November

    2. Travelle Wharton, Carolina Panthers, 33

    3. Evan Dietrich-Smith, Green Bay Packers, 28

    4. Brian de la Puente, New Orleans Saints, 29

    5. Geoff Schwartz, Kansas City Chiefs, 28

     

    Alex Mack has lived up to where he was selected—No. 21 overall—in the 2009 draft, as he's made two Pro Bowls and was an AP second-team All Pro this past season. 

    The center position is vital on any team, and with the Cleveland Browns likely looking for a franchise quarterback early in the draft, the organization would be wise to ink Mack to a long-term deal. 

    Travelle Wharton quietly had an incredible season at left guard for the Carolina Panthers, a team that has a concerning amount of free agents set to hit the market. 

    Brian de la Puente and Evan Dietrich-Smith are extremely sound on the interior for their respective teams, and Geoff Schwartz played both guard positions at a high level for the Kansas City Chiefs in 2013. 

    Don't be surprised if all are re-signed by their current teams. 

Defensive End

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    Bob Leverone/Associated Press

    1. Greg Hardy, Carolina Panthers, 26

    2. Michael Bennett, Seattle Seahawks, 29 in November

    3. Michael Johnson, Cincinnati Bengals, 27

    4. Lamarr Houston, Oakland Raiders, 27

    5. Everson Griffen, Minnesota Vikings, 27 in December

     

    Greg Hardy is a fine physical specimen at 6'4'' and 281 pounds, but his high-revving motor and violent hands make him one of the most ferocious yet underrated edge-rushers in football. If the Carolina Panthers aren't willing to sign him to a lucrative deal, he should see great money on the open market. He totaled 15 sacks and 44 quarterback pressures in 2013. 

    Michael Bennett was signed to a one-year deal with the Seattle Seahawks last March, and boy did it pay off. 

    In somewhat situational work in many defensive line positions, the former Tampa Bay Buccaneers star recorded nine sacks and 39 quarterback hurries for the Super Bowl champs during the regular season. At the ripe age of 28, they'll likely re-sign him. 

    Michael Johnson is the rangiest defensive end of this bunch at 6'7" and 270 pounds. Though he's not a premier pass-rusher, he's a stalwart against the run. 

Defensive Tackle

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    1. Jason Hatcher, Dallas Cowboys, 32

    2. Henry Melton, Chicago Bears, 28 in October

    3. B.J. Raji, Green Bay Packers, 28 

    4. Linval Joseph, New York Giants, 26 in October

    5. Randy Starks, Miami Dolphins, 31 in December

     

    Jason Hatcher exploded onto the scene in 2013 with the Dallas Cowboys as a legitimate line-of-scrimmage disruptor. He totaled 11 sacks and 33 quarterback pressures from his defensive tackle spot, and although he's 31, the veteran should be seen as a key piece to the Cowboys defense in the future. 

    Henry Melton had a disastrous year—after recording six sacks and two forced fumbles in 2012, he tore his ACL in September and was arrested after a bar fight in December, per ESPN

    B.J. Raji had a poor season in Green Bay, but he mainly played defensive end for the Packers. He can definitely be plugged in as a 3-4 team's nose tackle, something that's not easy to find. 

    Keep your eyes on Alex Carrington, a versatile defensive lineman, and Clinton McDonald, an unheralded member of the Seattle Seahawks front who's only 27. 

Linebacker

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    Bob Leverone/Associated Press

    1. Brian Orakpo, Washington Redskins, 28

    2. Mike Neal, Green Bay Packers, 27

    3. Brandon Spikes, New England Patriots, 27 in December

    4. Donald Butler, San Diego Chargers, 26 in October 

    5. Jason Worilds, Pittsburgh Steelers, 26

     

    Brian Orakpo has been one of the NFL's most effective edge-rushers for a while now, but Mike Neal is fresh off a breakout year for the Green Bay Packers. 

    Pass-rushers typically get paid good money on the open market; however, there's a decent chance both are re-signed by their current teams. 

    Brandon Spikes is, far and away, the best run-stopping linebacker who'll likely be available when the free-agent frenzy begins. Donald Butler is a three-down 'backer who isn't particularly amazing in one area of the game, but he isn't a huge liability in any facet either. 

    Following disappointment early in his Pittsburgh Steelers career, Jason Worilds came on strong in 2013. Clubs looking for a young 3-4 outside linebacker will likely target the 2010 second-round pick. 

Cornerback

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    Elaine Thompson/Associated Press

    1. Brent Grimes, Miami Dolphins, 31

    2. Alterraun Verner, Tennessee Titans, 26 in December

    3. Aqib Talib, New England Patriots, 28

    4. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Denver Broncos, 28

    5. Charles Tillman, Chicago Bears, 33

     

    The cornerback class is super deep this year, led by the pesky Brent Grimes, someone who certainly "proved it" on a one-year deal with the Miami Dolphins in 2013. Alterraun Verner snagged five interceptions for the Tennessee Titans and, when healthy, Aqib Talib showed he can be a one-on-one lockdown corner. 

    Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie made a significant stride with the Denver Broncos this year, and although he's almost 33, Charles Tillman is a true technician at corner and is a specialist at forcing fumbles. 

    Sam Shields doesn't receive the publicity he deserves, and Walter Thurmond III could emerge as a star after spending the past few seasons playing with Richard Sherman, Brandon Browner and Byron Maxwell with the Seattle Seahawks. 

Safety

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    Heather Ainsworth/Associated Press

    1. Jairus Byrd, Buffalo Bills, 28 in October

    2. T.J. Ward, Cleveland Browns, 28 in December

    3. Malcolm Jenkins, New Orleans Saints, 27 in December

    4. Stevie Brown, New York Giants, 27 

    5. Chris Clemons, Miami Dolphins, 29 in September

     

    Jairus Byrd has otherworldly range at safety, and though he's only 5'10" and 203 pounds, he's become a solid run defender as well. He's made 22 interceptions since entering the NFL in 2009. 

    T.J. Ward is a big hitter, and he improved his coverage in 2013 for the Cleveland Browns. He should see a sizable contract in free agency if the Browns don't re-sign him. 

    The rest of the safety class isn't particularly impressive. 

    Stevie Brown snagged eight picks in 2012, but he tore his ACL in a preseason game in 2013. 

    Malcolm Jenkins has drawn mixed reviews in New Orleans with the Saints; however, he's a springy athlete who might just need a change of scenery. 

Specialists

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    Reed Hoffmann/Associated Press

    1. Pat McAfee, Indianapolis Colts, 27

    2. Steven Hauschka, Seattle Seahawks, 29

    3. Phil Dawson, San Francisco 49ers, 39

    4. Adam Vinatieri, Indianapolis Colts, 42

    5. Dan Carpenter, Buffalo Bills, 29 in November

     

    Kickers and punters move around in free agency, but it's not necessarily the most intelligent practice for organizations to offer them lucrative long-term deals. 

    Pat McAfee has become one of the game's best punters, and Steven Hauschka missed only two field goals on 35 attempts during the regular season for the Seattle Seahawks. 

    Want a veteran? 

    Phil Dawson, Adam Vinatieri and Dan Carpenter could all be available. 

    On a combined 112 attempts during the 2013 campaign, those three missed only 12 times.