2014 NFL Free Agents: Players Who Should Take a Hometown Discount

Alessandro MiglioFeatured ColumnistFebruary 10, 2014

2014 NFL Free Agents: Players Who Should Take a Hometown Discount

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    Free agency can be a boon for NFL players and teams. But it can just as easily be a curse, especially to players who hit the market and find themselves in limbo.

    Sometimes, it seems, it would be better to stick with what's working, even if the player is giving the "hometown" team a discount. With the uncertainty of free agency and an increasing pool of younger, cheaper—thanks to the rookie wage scale—talent flooding the NFL, it might be smarter to take what you can get.

    And let's not forget that there reasons for teams to give a hometown discount, too.

    Here are eight players who should consider sticking around the house as we march toward March.

Michael Bennett, DE, Seattle Seahawks

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    Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

    It was a bit perplexing to see defensive end Michael Bennett garner so little interest on the open market last year. He was a good edge-rusher who had flown under the radar, but apparently he was nearly invisible.

    Luckily for him, the Seattle Seahawks noticed.

    Bennett took a one-year deal to join a stacked defensive line in Seattle, and he had some huge games to help the Seahawks to their first Super Bowl title. 

    He recently expressed his desire to stay in Seattle, though he backpedaled a bit a few days later, per Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk.

    In Bennett’s mind, he took the pay cut in 2013, signing a one-year, $5 million, bet-on-yourself contract in Seattle after the big money he wanted wasn’t available on the open market.

    So if the Seahawks simply offer to give Bennett the same $5 million salary for each of the next three years, Bennett wouldn’t be thrilled with that.

    “That would be taking a pay cut, to me,” Bennett told SiriusXM NFL Radio on Thursday.  “I had to prove myself as a player back-to-back years.  Basically, I took a one year deal the year before, did a first-round tender in Tampa [as a restricted free agent], so I definitely just want to be paid.  You know, I’m not trying to be the highest paid guy but I want to be compensated with the top guys.”

     

    Indeed, Bennett did bet on himself and win last season. Perhaps $5 million per year is too steep of a discount, but he doesn't want to go back to a Tampa Bay-like situation, does he?

Anquan Boldin, WR, San Francisco 49ers

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    For a man in the twilight of his NFL career, receiver Anquan Boldin looked rather spry at times for the San Francisco 49ers, as evidenced by his 208-yard debut for the team against the Green Bay Packers in the 2013 season opener.

    Unfortunately, those spry moments didn't come as often as before, as we saw when he had just seven yards receiving the following week.

    All in all, though, Boldin had a good season. He caught 85 passes for 1,179 yards and seven touchdowns. But the numbers might be a bit of a mirage.

    At 33 years old, Boldin doesn't exactly have the ability to create separation at will, and he has never been a burner. He does, however, have fantastic ball skills and a savvy, tough persona.

    The 49ers need some weapons at receiver, and Boldin's departure will make things worse. Given the depth of this year's wide receiver class, Boldin might not see much action on the open market. Perhaps a return to Baltimore or even Arizona is in the cards, but there are few landing spots better than San Francisco as the chase for a second ring goes.

     

Maurice Jones-Drew, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    Reports surfaced several months ago about running back Maurice Jones-Drew's likely return to the Jacksonville Jaguars. We have heard little else about the matter since then.

    Today's NFL is brutal for aging running backs. Just ask former Atlanta Falcon Michael Turner, whose career disappeared like Keyser Soze. One minute he was the starter, the next he was gone.

    Jones-Drew defied the odds and skeptics three seasons ago when he led the league in rushing despite suffering from a bone-on-bone condition in his knee. But Father Time is rather fond of running backs these days, and the 29-year-old running back is on the wrong side of 27.

    The veteran Jaguar could spend his entire career in Jacksonville and get one last contract, even if it's not a big one.

Michael Vick, QB, Philadelphia Eagles

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    Matt Rourke/Associated Press

    It's tough to lose your starting gig. Hence it makes sense why quarterback Michael Vick might want to sign elsewhere.

    Philadelphia has been great to the 33-year-old quarterback, throwing him a lifeline after his 22-month prison stint when it looked like few else would.

    Vick has had some huge moments since then, regaining the starting role after reacclimating himself to the NFL. But his inconsistency and injury woes got him replaced by Nick Foles, who seems to have wrested the starting job permanently.

    Vick has expressed his desire to be a starting quarterback, but that ship has sailed. There aren't many teams with an opening to begin with, and who is going to give him a starting job?

    That is not to mention the vitriol that still comes his way from animal rights groups after his involvement in a dog-fighting ring. His appearances are still being heavily protested.

    Vick is better served finishing out his career in Philadelphia, where much of that has blown over, and the Eagles could use a capable backup.

Jordan Gross, OT, Carolina Panthers

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    MIKE MCCARN/Associated Press

    Offensive tackle Jordan Gross has had a long career in Carolina. He isn't about to change teams.

    Gross has indicated several times that he is either going to retire or play one more season for the Panthers. The 34-year-old might be ready to call it a career, but being open to a return would probably be a relief for Carolina.

    Carolina doesn't exactly have his heir apparent ready to roll. If he retires, left tackle will become another position of need for the Panthers, though planning for the future wouldn't be a bad thing. 

    Of course, nothing can stop someone whose heart just isn't in the game anymore, but sticking around would be beneficial to the Panthers. Gross is more than serviceable at the position.

Golden Tate, WR, Seattle Seahawks

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    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    A slow start didn't submarine wide receiver Golden Tate's career.

    Tate had just 21 receptions for 227 yards and no touchdowns in his rookie season, but he has seen improvement each year since then. He helped the Seahawks get to the playoffs and that elusive title with a 64-catch, 898-yard campaign in 2013.

    The problem with those numbers is that he was the de facto No. 1 receiver in Seattle for the vast majority of the season. Injuries to Sidney Rice and newcomer Percy Harvin gave Tate the starting gig, and he wasn't lights out.

    With Harvin hopefully healthy next year, Tate could be a dangerous No. 2 option for the Seahawks. Their payroll is getting set to explode, though, with guys like cornerback Richard Sherman, safety Early Thomas and quarterback Russell Wilson aiming for big paydays in the coming years. Tate might have to stay on for relatively cheap salary in order for the Seahawks to afford him.

    Here is what Tate recently had to say about giving Seattle a hometown discount, per Josh Katzowitz of CBS Sports:

    I probably shouldn't even say this right now but I'm going to say it anyway just because I love Seattle. Honestly, I would rather take a little less to be happy and win ball games than to take way more and go to a crappy city where the fans don't give a crap about the team...You win a game once a month or something like that. I would much rather stay in the situation that I have now for a little less than to go and try to break the bank somewhere else.

     

    Tate's agent probably winced at those words, but it might not be a bad idea. Tate might have had a career year, but his numbers and tape don't scream "pay me!"

     

Eric Decker, WR, Denver Broncos

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    Evan Vucci/Associated Press

    Wide receiver Eric Decker may well be the best receiver available in free agency. So why take a hometown discount?

    For starters, Decker is arguably the best receiver available by virtue of health. Fellow receivers Hakeem Nicks and Jeremy Maclin, for example, would certainly be ahead of Decker if there weren't any injury concerns.

    More to the point, however, is the fact Decker might be best served sticking with the reigning MVP, quarterback Peyton Manning

    Assuming Manning's neck checks out this offseason, it's a good bet he will be around for at least another season or two. Decker has thrived in Denver, and Manning is a big reason why. 

Charles Tillman, CB, Chicago Bears

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    Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    Cornerback Charles Tillman has been a defensive stalwart for the Bears. He has even guaranteed he will retire a Chicago Bear, per Paul Jackiewicz of ProFootballZone.com:

    With free agency looming for Bears cornerback Charles Tillman,  he guaranteed that he’ll retire as a Bear.

    “There has been speculation that Tillman will want to leave the Bears to go play for Lovie Smith in Tampa Bay, but the cornerback insists he wants to end his playing career in Chicago. ”In a perfect world, I will finish as a Bear,” Tillman said via CBS Radio in Chicago. “I guarantee you I will retire as a Chicago Bear. I guarantee that.”

    Of course, guarantees ring hollow—Tillman could simply sign a one-day contract just before retiring with the Bears. 

    The 33-year-old cornerback coming off an injury-marred season might not have many suitors on the open market. Tampa Bay sounds like an intriguing and likely option, but  so his best option might be to give the Bears a hometown discount.