The 2014 NFL free-agent class will offer a fair share of marquee players on the open market, but some of the big names are expected to be franchise tagged to stay with their current teams.
Several veterans aren't as likely to garner that designation, enhancing the chances that they will seek a fresh start with a new team. One quarterback stands out in particular, along with a hard-nosed running back and an aging, physical wide receiver who should also be hot commodities.
With a focus on the offensive side of the ball, let's take a look at a trio of free agents who have started in the league for years and deserve at least high-priced, short-term deals to prove they still have plenty to offer.
Michael Vick, QB
There aren't a lot of capable quarterbacks available who can help teams win in the immediate future as much as Vick could. It's even possible that Vick could fill in as a starter somewhere in 2014, given his past success, renowned athleticism and sensational arm talent.
Vick's problem in recent years has been his high volume of turnovers—this coming after he made significant strides as a pocket passer in 2010 when he led the Philadelphia Eagles to the postseason.
This past year saw Vick get outplayed by Nick Foles under center in head coach Chip Kelly's innovative offense, which should signal the 33-year-old's departure from Philadelphia now that he's been relegated to backup duties.
One personnel executive believes Vick has a good two or three seasons left in him to start, according to a report by NFL.com's Judy Battista.
"There are too many teams that are in need of an upgrade for him not to be looked at as a starter," said the personnel executive. "I could see a team signing him, and developing a young guy. Vick could be a very good bridge starter for two to three years."
NFL Network's Jamie Dukes expressed a similar take with regard to Vick, who is hitting free agency at a prime time with few viable competitors at his position and as many as eight teams in need:
Despite injury concerns, the aforementioned error-prone tendencies and Vick's physical faculties diminishing, he is the clear-cut best option out there.
From a talent standpoint alone, Vick should attract the attention of several teams. He could serve as a potential starter or as a competitor and mentor to a younger QB. But Vick probably isn't thinking the latter way as the end of his playing days approaches, and perhaps he has one more shot to redeem what has been an underwhelming overall career for someone so gifted.
Maurice Jones-Drew, RB
The Jacksonville Jaguars selected Jones-Drew in the second round out of UCLA in 2006 as many other teams passed over him.
Jones-Drew has been noble and rewarded Jacksonville's faith in him with his loyalty for eight seasons. Now he has the chance to break away from a franchise that has made just one playoff appearance and hasn't had much stability at quarterback since his arrival.
General manager David Caldwell has said that the Jags will allow Jones-Drew to test the market and then assess the situation from there as the bruising back mulls his options, per ESPN.com's Michael DiRocco:
...I'm not pessimistic at all about it. I think [Jones-Drew]'s earned the right to go to free agency. He's been a great player in this organization and he's had a great career and I think he's earned the right to go see what his value and his market is. It's our right to decide if we want to match it and bring him back.
At 28 years old, there isn't much time left for Jones-Drew to produce, going by the daunting benchmark of age 30 that has seemed to devastate even the league's premier ball-carriers in the modern era.
With a strong offensive line and a far superior passing game to complement him, though, there's no telling what Jones-Drew could do, since it's something he's rarely had the luxury of in his nevertheless impressive career.
That at least warrants money, which is what Jones-Drew's decision will ultimately come down to according to DiRocco's report. Caldwell "doesn't envision" re-signing the three-time All-Pro, so chances are Jones-Drew will be playing elsewhere in 2014.
Whichever teams are willing to fork out a decent amount of dough, have an honest shot at contending for the postseason and need a running back should be front-runners in the MJD sweepstakes.
Anquan Boldin, WR
The Baltimore Ravens regretted trading Boldin this past season to the San Francisco 49ers for the now-unfathomable cheap price of a seventh-round pick.
Now the Niners face a similar dilemma in deciding whether Boldin is good enough to keep. Letting him go and seeing him thrive elsewhere would be a minor calamity.
Beyond Michael Crabtree, San Francisco doesn't have much depth to speak of in the receiving corps and must strive to maintain excellence in a stacked NFC West division. With Colin Kaepernick entering a contract season, GM Trent Baalke should want to surround him with as much help as possible to determine if he is indeed a franchise QB.
NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reports that Boldin wants to return to San Francisco and that the team wants him back:
However, another contender or promising team could come top Niners and offer Boldin far more money, with the interest of both parties forcing other front offices' hands to write bigger checks. Boldin is coming off his first campaign of over 1,000 yards receiving since 2009 and is 33 years old, with a Super Bowl ring and plenty of productive playoff experience to boot.
With how physical he is at 6'1", 220 pounds and how friendly of a red-zone target he's proven to be, few teams should resist pursuing a weapon of Boldin's caliber on the outside.
So while it may not appear at the moment that Boldin will go anywhere, it should be a buyer's market for his distinguished services.
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