The 2014 NFL free-agency period doesn't kick off until March 11, but Monday marks the first day that players can be hit with the franchise tag. There will be plenty of rumors and buzz to watch for in the coming days as a result.
Some big names are likely to be tagged—headlined by New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham—but the draft process is going to complicate matters. With the Scouting Combine beginning on Wednesday, all 32 teams have plenty to focus on even though the playoffs just ended earlier this month.
Let's take a look at the latest chatter going on about the upcoming free-agent class, followed by predictions as to what will happen regarding the most recent developments.
|Top 25 NFL Free Agents - 2014|
|Rank||Player, Position, Current Team||Prediction|
|1||Jimmy Graham, TE, New Orleans Saints||Franchise tagged|
|2||Greg Hardy, DE, Carolina Panthers||Franchise tagged|
|3||Brian Orakpo, OLB, Washington Redskins||Franchise tagged|
|4||Jairus Byrd, FS, Buffalo Bills||New team|
|5||T.J. Ward, SS, Cleveland Browns||Franchise tagged|
|6||Alterraun Verner, CB, Tennessee Titans||New team|
|7||Branden Albert, OT, Kansas City Chiefs||Franchise tagged|
|8||Michael Johnson, DE, Cincinnati Bengals||New team|
|9||Lamarr Houston, DE, Oakland Raiders||Stays with new contract|
|10||Brent Grimes, CB, Miami Dolphins||Franchise tagged|
|11||Eugene Monroe, OT, Baltimore Ravens||New team|
|12||Vontae Davis, CB, Indianapolis Colts||Franchise tagged|
|13||Linval Joseph, DT, New York Giants||New team|
|14||Jason Hatcher, DT, Dallas Cowboys||Stays with new contract|
|15||Jared Veldheer, OT, Oakland Raiders||Stays with new contract|
|16||Aqib Talib, CB, New England Patriots||Stays with new contract|
|17||Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, CB, Denver Broncos||New team|
|18||Alex Mack, C, Cleveland Browns||Stays with new contract|
|19||Eric Decker, WR, Denver Broncos||New team|
|20||Michael Bennett, DE, Seattle Seahawks||Stays with new contract|
|21||B.J. Raji, DL, Green Bay Packers||New team|
|22||Sam Shields, CB, Green Bay Packers||Stays with new contract|
|23||Walter Thurmond, CB, Seattle Seahawks||New team|
|24||Donald Butler, ILB, San Diego Chargers||Stays with new contract|
|25||Randy Starks, DT, Miami Dolphins||New team|
|Source: NFL.com. Predictions are personal opinion.|
DeAngelo Hall, Washington Reportedly in Negotiations for New Contract
The Redskins had a horrific 3-13 campaign in 2013. Part of it was due to a hobbled Robert Griffin III under center, but a lot of the blame can be deflected to the defense. With Brian Orakpo likely to garner the franchise tag or ink a long-term contract, Hall is reportedly going to hang around, too.
According to a Sunday evening report from Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk, the organization and Hall have commenced negotiations to keep the talented corner in the nation's capital:
"Per a league source, talks are intensifying between the Redskins and Hall toward a new contract," said Florio. "While not close to an agreement, progress is being made."
Even though Hall isn't on the top 25 list of free agents, perhaps he should be in terms of his value in Washington. In a tweet from last weekend, Hall expressed hope that he'd be back:
What makes this situation such a dilemma is that Hall is 30 years old, is approaching the back end of his career and has not qualified for the Pro Bowl since 2010. On the other hand, he is a savvy veteran and one of the lone assets Washington has in its rather putrid defensive backfield.
That should cause some deliberation as to what Hall's value is. If the Redskins had a better secondary, they wouldn't feel compelled to pay Hall a hefty salary to keep him around. Such isn't the reality in D.C., though, and the new staff, led by head coach Jay Gruden, needs a quick turnaround.
Hall has been around amid the turmoil that has gone on with this franchise in recent seasons, but he's still played well most of the time and was one of the few bright spots on defense last year. Washington should reward him with a pricey short-term contract as the team looks to bounce back in 2014.
Prediction: Hall signs new, short-term deal with Washington.
How Much Will New Orleans Pay Jimmy Graham?
Since the Saints often line Graham up in the slot or split to the outside as a receiver, an argument can be made that he should be hit with a receiver franchise tag if general manager Mickey Loomis decides to go that route.
There is a massive difference between getting the franchise tag as a receiver (estimated $11.6 million) and tight end (estimated $6.8 million), per NFL Media's Albert Breer in a Monday report by NFL.com's Gregg Rosenthal.
Graham can file a grievance to get that overturned, but the hope is that he signs a long-term contract to put to rest any concerns about whether the team is interested in investing in him for the foreseeable future.
Katherine Terrell of NOLA.com documented what Loomis had to say about Graham's positional dilemma in a Monday report.
"That's where we drafted him, that's where we play him," said Loomis. "In our view he's a tight end. That's what makes him valuable."
Also included in Terrell's report is how New Orleans plans to break the record contract for a tight end that New England Patriots star Rob Gronkowski got, which is six years and worth $54 million.
Perhaps creating a snag in negotiations for that lucrative contract is the amount of money Graham is demanding. CBSSports.com's Joel Corry responded to Jeff Duncan of NOLA.com regarding some juicy rumors:
As prolific as the Saints' passing offense is with quarterback Drew Brees at the helm, it's difficult to pour so many resources into another marquee player with salary cap constrictions. As Duncan points out above, Loomis has cleared out a considerable amount of room to make way for Graham's eventual deal.
Negotiations probably won't budge much, barring a big compromise from the money Corry asserts he's asked for—or at least the cash two NFL teams think Graham has requested. The franchise tag seems like the best and only option at this point.
Prediction: Graham is franchise tagged as tight end and files grievance to be labeled a receiver.
Alterraun Verner Not to Be Franchise-Tagged by Tennessee?
The Titans are in one of the weakest divisions in the NFL in the AFC South and have an opportunity to take a great leap forward in 2014 if they can add a few assets and keep their nucleus intact. Unfortunately, they may not be willing to fork over a ton of money for Verner, one of the league's premier cornerbacks this past season.
According to Jim Wyatt of the Tennessean, the team won't slap Verner with the franchise tag, though the desire is to sign both Verner and veteran safety Bernard Pollard back:
The Titans would like to re-sign both players (Verner and Pollard), but such deals could be tricky to pull off. Verner, coming off a Pro Bowl season, is expected to command big money in the open market. The bet here is the Titans let hit test the market in free agency to gauge his real value. If he gets offered big money elsewhere, he’s likely gone.
That means either Verner will have to sign a long-term contract with the Titans or will test the open market and go elsewhere. The latter option seems more likely, because if Tennessee wanted him long term, it would have likely made more of an effort to secure him.
Bleacher Report's Aaron Nagler believes Verner will indeed find a lot of suitors seeking his services in free agency:
As Wyatt mentions, safety Jason McCourty is making a considerable amount of money—$8.3 million against the cap in 2014—so there's already a strong investment in the secondary. That could leave Verner as the odd man out, unless the team releases running back Chris Johnson.
Verner should be a hot commodity: He had five interceptions and 23 passes defensed in 2013 and also isn't shy of tackling, as he racked up 57 combined tackles. Cornerbacks of his caliber don't come along very often, so a new team could very well pursue Verner and pay him handsomely.
Prediction: Verner joins another team as a free agent.