NFL

NFL Free Agency 2014: Bargain Solutions for Every Team

Russell S. BaxterContributor IFebruary 24, 2014

NFL Free Agency 2014: Bargain Solutions for Every Team

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    Could veteran quarterback Josh McCown prove to be a huge bargain for a team in 2014?
    Could veteran quarterback Josh McCown prove to be a huge bargain for a team in 2014?Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

    Here’s a tip of the cap to the…cap

    As first reported by Adam Schefter of ESPN, the NFL’s salary cap in 2014 is projected to be at $130 million, up approximately $7 million from a year ago. That means a lot of good things for a lot of players and especially for teams like the Dallas Cowboys and Pittsburgh Steelers. According to Spotrac (subscription required), those two teams still need to make some decisions to even get under the elevated cap.

    Back to the players, who hope to cash in this offseason being some clubs will have a little more moola at their disposal.  Still, teams will look to make the most of their money and hence, the idea here is to project a little bargain-hunting.

    What constitutes a bargain? A player that has not lived up to expectations who looks to start over elsewhere or perhaps a veteran who has made his money but can still help a team in his latter NFL years.

    For our purposes, we will assume that each of the 32 teams will sign at least one unrestricted free agent or one recent cap casualty (also known as a "street" free agent) from another team. In the case of the latter, the club could sign that player immediately since their contract has been terminated.

    So let’s take a look at some possible options for each club in their attempt to fill a hole, add some depth or provide a little insurance should one of their own standout performers opt for greener pastures.

    Pun intended.

    Finally, here’s another thank you to Spotrac for their free-agent lists. As for some of the other on-the-field statistics in this piece, we have once again enlisted the aid of Pro Football Focus (subscription required).

     

Arizona Cardinals: WR Robert Meachem (Saints)

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    Bill Haber/Associated Press

    Just so you know we are aware of what’s been written.

    According to NFL sources and courtesy of Ramon Antonio Vargas of The Advocate, the New Orleans Saints hope to bring wide receiver Robert Meachem back in 2014.

    Then again, nothing is a done deal as of yet, hence our own suggestion for Bruce Arians’ fascinating team.

    The Arizona Cardinals finished 10-6 and out of the playoffs this past season, with five of those losses to the playoff-bound Saints, San Francisco 49ers (twice), Seattle Seahawks and Philadelphia Eagles.

    Yes, Arians’ team still has wide receivers Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd, who combined for 147 receptions and 15 scores in 2013. However, wideout Andre Roberts can become an unrestricted free agent in March. The veteran totaled 43 catches for 471 yards and two touchdowns this past season.

    Giving quarterback Carson Palmer a stretch-the-field force in Meachem could give some of those other teams in the NFC West a lot more to think about.

Atlanta Falcons: DT Derek Landri (Released by Buccaneers)

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    It never hurts to have a few extra Bucs on you.

    Even if those Bucs happen to be two former Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

    Earlier this month, the Atlanta Falcons grabbed tackle Gabe Carimi off the street after he had been let go by their divisional rival.

    Also released by Tampa that day was veteran defensive tackle Derek Landri, who has made his share of stops on the field as well as his share of stops around the league. The former fifth-round draft choice of the Jacksonville Jaguars has played for four clubs in seven seasons.

    Can the 6’3”, 281-pound pro come in and help an Atlanta defense that was next-to-last in the NFL in rushing defense in 2013? Head coach Mike Smith and defensive coordinator Mike Nolan could take a flyer on the former Golden Domer.

Baltimore Ravens: TE Dustin Keller (Dolphins)

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    Eric Gay/Associated Press

    The Super Bowl XLVII champion Baltimore Ravens finished 8-8 in 2013 and out of the playoffs for the first time in six seasons under head coach John Harbaugh.

    One-time New York Jets/turned Miami Dolphins tight end Dustin Keller wound up playing 16 fewer games than the Ravens this past season.

    A knee injury suffered in the preseason versus the Houston Texans ended 2013 for Keller, who signed a one-year deal with the Dolphins last offseason.

    Given the fact that Baltimore could watch Dennis Pitta, Ed Dickson and Dallas Clark all opt for the open market in March it may be worth taking a low-risk flyer on Keller.

    Also worth noting is that the Dolphins may have found a gem in tight end Charles Clay, who caught 69 passes and led the club with six touchdown receptions in 2013.

Buffalo Bills: WR Nate Burleson (Released by Lions)

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    Jim Mone/Associated Press

    Given the fact that the Buffalo Bills went through three starting quarterbacks in 2013, the team did a decent job in averaging just over 21 points per game.

    However, there’s little doubt that Doug Marrone’s team could use a little help at wide receiver. This past season, EJ Manuel, Thaddeus Lewis and Jeff Tuel combined to throw only 16 touchdown passes and just 11 of those were pulled in by wideouts.

    Veteran Nate Burleson has caught 457 passes, 39 for touchdowns, in 11 seasons with the Minnesota Vikings, Seattle Seahawks, and Detroit Lions. A total of 194 of those grabs came the last four years in the Motor City under then-Lions head coach Jim Schwartz.

    That’s Schwartz, as in the Bills’ new defensive coordinator.

Carolina Panthers: WR Jacoby Ford (Raiders)

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    Tony Avelar/Associated Press

    The Carolina Panthers enjoyed a banner year in 2013. Unfortunately, the franchise has yet to hang up an NFL championship banner in their home stadium.

    This past season, the NFC South champions were spurred by a defensive unit that allowed the second-fewest yards and second-fewest points in the league. And 2013 NFL Coach of the Year Ron Rivera certainly hopes that standouts like defensive end Greg Hardy and cornerback Captain Munnerlyn will be back in 2014.

    Offensively, Carolina isn’t exactly on opponents’ minds. The team is making strides but only six teams in the league gained fewer total yards last season and the Panthers’ passing game was ranked 29th in the NFL in terms of yards gained.

    Giving Pro Bowl quarterback Cam Newton another wide receiver certainly wouldn’t hurt. Veteran Steve Smith is entering his 14th season and totaled only four touchdowns in 2013. Brandon LaFell and journeyman Ted Ginn each totaled five scores this past season but the former is a restricted free agent and the latter could hit the market in March.

    It has been a four-year rollercoaster ride for former Clemson wide receiver Jacoby Ford, who missed the entire 2012 campaign due to injury. As a rookie in 2010, the fourth-round pick of the Oakland Raiders scored a combined seven touchdowns as a kickoff returner, receiver and runner.

    Could a change of scenery as well as a return to the East Coast revitalize Ford’s career?

Chicago Bears: CB Dunta Robinson (Released by Chiefs)

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    Kyle Rivas/Getty Images

    It reads like a series of typos.

    Only two teams surrendered more total yards, only the Minnesota Vikings gave up more points and no club gave up more rushing yards than the Chicago Bears in 2013.

    Now general manager Phil Emery must make some decisions on a number of potential defensive free agents in the form of defensive tackle Henry Melton, safety Major Wright, linebackers D.J. Williams and James Anderson and, of course, cornerback Charles Tillman.

    Last month, via Fred Mitchell of the Chicago Tribune, it appears Tillman will test the open market. That means the Bears may have to replace those 47 takeaways (36 interceptions) and 40 forced fumbles over the course of 11 seasons.

    So why not grab Dunta Robinson while you can. The former first-round pick of the Houston Texans played in only nine games last season and was recently released by the Kansas City Chiefs. And while there’s a little tread off the tire, he may be worth a look-see for Emery and a team desperate to regain its defensive identity.

Cincinnati Bengals: DE Robert Ayers (Broncos)

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    Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

    Don’t believe everything you hear on television. Sometimes the numbers actually do lie.

    In all seriousness, the Cincinnati Bengals have a big decision to make when it comes to defensive end Michael Johnson. The team placed the franchise tag on him in 2013 but it would be a surprise if they did that once again in the next week or so.

    This past season, Johnson finished with only 3.5 sacks for the league’s third-ranked defensive unit. While he finished second on the team with 11.5 sacks the previous season, Pro Football Focus shows that he had a better overall year as a player in 2013 than he did in 2012.

    Still, he could make for an expensive part of a puzzle that now falls upon the shoulders of new defensive coordinator Paul Guenther to assemble. Of course, that’s not to say that the Bengals won’t re-sign Johnson.

    Could Marvin Lewis and Co. secure a little insurance in the form of Robert Ayers, who was up-and-down in five seasons with the Denver Broncos? While the 2009 first-round pick totaled a career-high 5.5 sacks this past season, he totaled only a dozen sacks in five seasons at defensive end and outside linebacker in the Mile High City.

Cleveland Browns: RB Donald Brown (Colts)

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    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    Imagine the irony?

    Last September, the Indianapolis Colts gave up a 2014 first-round draft choice to obtain running back Trent Richardson from the Cleveland Browns. One reason for the move was the less-than-potent play of running back Donald Brown, the Colts’ first-round pick in 2009.

    While Richardson struggled in Indianapolis, the move seemed to jumpstart Brown. The former University of Connecticut product led the club with 537 yards rushing, caught 27 passes and led the Colts with eight total touchdowns.

    Now Brown can become an unrestricted free agent in March and the Browns are looking for a running back.

    Brown would be a nice fit for new head coach Mike Pettine as well as new offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, who hope to get the latest era of the Browns off to a good start in 2014.

Dallas Cowboys: DT Linval Joseph (Giants)

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    Al Bello/Getty Images

    If wins came in the form of defensive linemen used by a team, the Dallas Cowboys may have been in the Super Bowl last season.

    All kidding aside, Jason Garrett is still looking for his first playoff appearance as an NFL head coach. This past season, the Cowboys wrapped up their third straight 8-8 campaign.

    The team also ranked dead last in the league in total defense in 2013. Hence this offseason, Rod Marinelli became the club’s fourth defensive coordinator in five years.

    Jerry Jones does have some decisions to make regarding veteran defensive end DeMarcus Ware and potential unrestricted free agents Anthony Spencer and Jason Hatcher. And as noted in the introduction page of this piece, Dallas has some major salary cap issues to resolve.

    However, we’re going to go out on a little limb here. Linval Joseph has been a starter for the New York Giants for the past three seasons and has played in several spots up front. That versatility could make the four-year veteran a bargain for any club.

    Especially one that can bolster an area of concern while robbing a divisional rival of a key performer.

Denver Broncos: CB Rashean Mathis (Lions)

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    Jason Miller/Getty Images

    Most know that the Denver Broncos managed only eight points in their 35-point loss to the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII.

    Now the more pertinent number for the team is seven. No, we are not referring to Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway.

    That number reflects the starters from Super Bowl Sunday that could become unrestricted free agents in less than a month. On the list are wide receiver Eric Decker, running back Knowshon Moreno, left guard Zane Beadles, cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, defensive end Shaun Phillips, linebacker Paris Lenon, and safety Mike Adams.

    Back to Elway, who has now added general manager to his title and now must decide what to do with veteran cornerback Champ Bailey, according to Mike Klis of The Denver Post.

    With Bailey’s status up in the air and Rodgers-Cromartie’s possible departure, why not bring in someone defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio is familiar with?

    It’s worth noting that 11-year veteran Rashean Mathis, who played for Del Rio with the Jacksonville Jaguars, did not record an interception in 2013 with the Detroit Lions last season. But the one-time Pro Bowler led Detroit with 16 passes defensed.

Detroit Lions: S Kurt Coleman (Eagles)

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    Matt Rourke/Associated Press

    Notice anything interesting about the Detroit Lions’ current depth chart via the fine folks at Ourlads.com?

    There are no free safeties listed for Jim Caldwell’s newest team. That’s because the organization recently released veteran Louis Delmas.

    This past season, Detroit actually gave up the fewest points in the NFC North in 2013. But new defensive coordinator Teryl Austin also knows that the club surrendered 24 touchdown passes (compared to 15 interceptions) and a total of 34 offensive touchdowns.

    Four-year veteran Kurt Coleman started 27 games for the Philadelphia Eagles from 2011-12. However, he was limited to a reserve role this past season and is now slated to hit the free-agent market.

    The former seventh-round pick could be a nice insurance policy for the Lions as they perhaps prepare to address the free safety position in the draft.

Green Bay Packers: WR Damian Williams (Titans)

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    Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

    There’s wishful thinking and there’s reality, NFL style.

    Wide receiver James Jones has enjoyed a solid career with the Green Bay Packers. But the veteran performer, with 310 career receptions, may have suited up for the last time with the franchise.

    “I spent seven years here (and) would love to finish here,” said Jones to Bob McGinn of the Journal Sentinel in January. “But we all know the business side of it.”

    Despite a third straight NFC North title, the Green Bay offense was in disarray most of the season due to injuries. Mike McCarthy’s club used four different starting quarterbacks and seven players caught 25 or more passes in 2013.

    Jones finished second on the club with 59 receptions but just three scores. That was quite a drop-off for a player that tied for the league lead with 14 touchdown catches in 2012.

    Despite the presence of veterans such as Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb, the Packers could opt for a wideout like Damian Williams to add some experience should Jones head elsewhere. The four-year pro has totaled just five touchdown receptions in his career and all came in 2011.

    This past season, the former third-round pick played in just 10 games and caught just 15 passes for 178 yards.

     

Houston Texans: QB Matt Cassel (Vikings)

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    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    With the first pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, the Houston Texans select?

    Everyone (maybe?) is still waiting for new Houston Texans head coach Bill O’Brien to decide on the team’s future at quarterback. And according to NFL.com via Around the League writer Marc Sesslar, the Matt Schaub era hasn’t quite ended in Houston…yet.

    In the instance that the Texans opt to go in a different direction behind center and draft a quarterback high in the draft, perhaps O’Brien could bring a familiar face to town in the form of veteran signal-caller Matt Cassel. The pair worked together in New England for several seasons before Cassel was dealt to the Kansas City Chiefs in 2009.

    It also helps that the journeyman quarterback comes off a season in which he threw 11 touchdown passes compared to only nine interceptions. It was a nice bounce-back season for Cassel, who committed 19 turnovers in nine games with the Chiefs in 2012.

Indianapolis Colts: ILB D.J. Williams (Bears)

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Quarterback Andrew Luck has helped lead the Indianapolis Colts to back-to-back 11-5 seasons during his first two seasons in the NFL.

    But the former number-one overall pick doesn’t play defense. For the most part, neither does a lot of the rest of the team.

    Yes, Pro Bowl outside linebacker Robert Mathis led the NFL with 19.5 sacks and the Colts went from forcing 15 turnovers in 2012 to totaling 27 takeaways this past season.

    However, Chuck Pagano’s team went from 29th in the league in rushing defense to 26th versus the run in 2013. The team then proceeded to allow 150 and 234 yards on the ground, respectively, in the playoff split with the Kansas City Chiefs and New England Patriots.

    With veterans such as strong safety Antoine Bethea and inside linebacker Pat Angerer possibly getting set to hit the free-agent market, former first-round defender D.J. Williams could be a good fit for a club still searching for answers on the defensive side of the football.

Jacksonville Jaguars: WR Dexter McCluster (Chiefs)

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    Rob Carr/Getty Images

    For those believing that the Jacksonville Jaguars will dig deep into their free-agent pockets for a quarterback, you may want to rethink that notion.

    According to Ryan O’Halloran of The Florida Times-Union, Jaguars general manager Dave Caldwell said that he and members of the coaching staff and front office, including head coach Gus Bradley, offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch and owner Shad Khan, met with 10 quarterbacks at the NFL Scouting Combine this past Friday night.

    Bradley’s team was 4-4 following a 0-8 start last season but still brings a three-game losing streak into 2014. The Jaguars also scored a league-low 247 points and their offensive unit managed only 23 touchdowns this past season.

    With veteran running back Maurice Jones-Drew’s future with the team up in the air, and talented but troubled wide receiver Justin Blackmon still in the midst of an indefinite suspension by the league, the Jaguars could use all the versatility they can get.

    Speedy Dexter McCluster may or may not be back with the Kansas City Chiefs. Considering what he could do for Jacksonville on both offense and special teams, he could be an invaluable commodity for Bradley’s club.

Kansas City Chiefs: ILB Joe Mays (Texans)

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    Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

    There were plenty of positives when it came to the Kansas City Chiefs in 2013.

    However, once upon a time didn’t prove to have a storybook ending after all.

    After opening 9-0 this past season, Andy Reid’s club dropped six of its last eight outings, including a devastating 45-44 playoff loss to the Indianapolis Colts in which the Chiefs blew a 28-point third-quarter lead.

    All told, Reid’s team allowed 239 points in those last eight games, this after giving up 111 points during their 9-0 start.

    The Kansas City defense is loaded with Pro Bowlers such as linebackers Justin Houston, Tamba Hali and Derrick Johnson and nose tackle Dontari Poe. Last season, Akeem Jordan manned the inside linebacker spot opposite Johnson but he is slated for free agency.

    Could Reid and the front office take a look at productive linebacker Joe Mays? The one-time Denver Broncos performer totaled 67 tackles with the Houston Texans this past season.

    It’s worth noting that the Chiefs’ defense finished 24th in the NFL this past season in total yards allowed.

     

Miami Dolphins: T Zach Strief (Saints)

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    Al Bello/Getty Images

    There is really no need to relive the recent news surrounding the Miami Dolphins and their various issues regarding the locker room and beyond.

    Let’s get right to the field, where quarterback Ryan Tannehill spent a lot of time getting to know up close and personal. This past season, the Dolphins allowed a league-high 58 sacks.

    Over the last two seasons, New Orleans Saints right tackle Zach Strief has been part of an offensive unit that has allowed only 53 sacks in 32 contests.

    Strief, a former seventh-round draft choice who has been a starter at both guard and tackle in eight seasons in New Orleans, could fit the bill perfectly for a club that could have a slew of new starters in front of Tannehill.

     

Minnesota Vikings: RB Rashad Jennings (Raiders)

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    Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

    In his fifth NFL season, running back Rashad Jennings enjoyed a career year.

    The one-time backup with the Jacksonville Jaguars led the Oakland Raiders with 733 yards on the ground in 2013. Jennings’ six touchdowns also led the Silver and Black and the former seventh-round draft choice also totaled a career-high 36 receptions for 292 yards.

    Will general manager Reggie McKenzie bring the five-year veteran back to Oakland? The Raiders could also opt to address the running game in the upcoming draft.

    With backup Toby Gerhart slated for free agency in March, Jennings could be a welcome backup to veteran runner Adrian Peterson, who suddenly has seven seasons and 10,000-plus yards on his impressive resume.

New England Patriots: TE Kellen Davis (Seahawks)

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    Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    If it is the New England Patriots, there has to be some sort of tight end discussion.

    We all know that Bill Belichick’s club had a different look on offense last season. Gone were wide receiver Wes Welker, running back Danny Woodhead and tight end Aaron Hernandez, all for various and in the case of the latter, tragic reasons.

    The Pats also played the majority of the year without Rob Gronkowski, who seemingly had more injuries than touchdown receptions (four) in 2013. The former Pro Bowler is also currently recovering from a knee injury suffered this past season in Week 14 versus the Cleveland Browns.

    Currently, the Patriots only have two tight ends on the roster: Gronkowski and D.J. Williams. Veterans Matthew Mulligan and Michael Hoomanawanui are slated to hit the open market in March.

    So how about Kellen Davis, who earned a Super Bowl ring with the Seattle Seahawks in February. The one-time Chicago Bears target played in 15 games this past season and caught only three passes. In five seasons in the Windy City, Davis totaled only 47 catches but 11 went for scores.

New Orleans Saints: S Yeremiah Bell (Cardinals)

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    Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

    There was a remarkable turnaround made by the New Orleans Saints in 2013.

    One year after allowing the most yards by a team in one season in league history, only three clubs allowed fewer total yards than Rob Ryan’s unit this past season.

    The defensive improvement was a big reason and Sean Payton and Co. returned to the playoffs. However, there have already been some changes on this side of the ball. The Saints announced on Feb. 12 that a number of key performers from recent years, including strong safety Roman Harper, were released by the team. The franchise will also not re-sign veteran linebacker Jonathan Vilma, who finished 2013 on injured reserve.

    With former first-round pick Malcolm Jenkins slated to become an unrestricted free agent in March, the team appears a little thin at safety. Reliable tackler Yeremiah Bell, a former Pro Bowler with the Miami Dolphins and late of the Arizona Cardinals, could be a solid addition.

New York Giants: RB Jackie Battle (Titans)

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    Don McPeak-USA TODAY Sports

    The leading rushers for the New York Giants in 2013 were Andre Brown (492), Peyton Hillis (247) and Brandon Jacobs (238). The trio combined for 977 yards as well as nine touchdowns on the ground.

    All three are slated to become unrestricted free agents on March 11.

    Of course, the cupboard isn’t totally bare for Tom Coughlin’s team but it comes with a huge maybe. Former first-round pick David Wilson was limited to only five games last season before suffering a season-ending neck injury. He’s currently recovering from surgery in January and his 2014 status is q question mark, as documented by Jordan Raanan of NJ.com.

    Will the Giants bring back Brown, Hillis or Jacobs? Could Coughlin and Co. opt for another solution in the form of free-agent running back Jackie Battle? The seven-year pro has rushed for a combined 1,050 yards and six scores with the Kansas City Chiefs (2011), San Diego Chargers (2012) and Tennessee Titans (2013) the past three seasons.

New York Jets: QB Josh McCown (Bears)

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    For the fourth time in five seasons under head coach Rex Ryan, the New York Jets’ primary starting quarterback committed at least 23 turnovers.

    This past season, rookie quarterback Geno Smith started all 16 games and was guilty of 25 of the team’s 29 turnovers. That includes 21 interceptions compared to just 12 touchdown passes by the team’s second-round pick in 2013.

    On the other hand, well-traveled quarterback Josh McCown enjoyed a solid season in place of injured Chicago Bears’ signal-caller Jay Cutler. In eight games in 2013, he threw one more touchdown pass (12) than Smith and 20 fewer interceptions.

    While Rich Cimini of ESPN.com tells us that the Jets’ hierarchy met with quarterback Mark Sanchez’s representatives in Indianapolis on Friday, Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News reports that the Jets have some interest in bringing in McCown.

    Sounds pretty simple, huh?

Oakland Raiders: RB LeGarrette Blount (Patriots)

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    It will be interesting to see if the Oakland Raiders decide that yet another high first-round draft choice isn’t in their plans for the immediate future.

    Last offseason, the team released former Top 10 selections in wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey, linebacker Rolando McClain and safety Michael Huff.

    So now what to do about six-year veteran running back Darren McFadden? As has been well-documented, the former fourth overall pick in the 2008 draft failed to play in 16 games in any of his six seasons and has missed a total of 29 contests in his career.

    Why opt for veteran running back LeGarrette Blount? The powerful performer had quite the two-game run for the New England Patriots late in 2013, rushing for a combined 355 yards and six touchdowns in wins over the Buffalo Bills (Week 17) and Indianapolis Colts (AFC Divisional Playoffs).

    Consider that in 10 games in 2013, McFadden ran for 379 yards and five touchdowns.

    How is that for being blunt?

Philadelphia Eagles: NT Aubrayo Franklin (Colts)

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    Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

    So how does one justify that the Philadelphia Eagles need more help on run defense than in the secondary?

    This past season, only nine teams in the NFL gave up more rushing yards per game than Chip Kelly’s club. Meanwhile, no club in the league allowed more yards through the air.

    Still, while these Birds improved on defense as the season wore on, that rushing defense rank is a bit deceptive considering the team’s inconsistency in that department.

    Last season, rookie Bennie Logan took over as the starting nose tackle in early November and fared well. However, it’s worth noting that in their final nine outings of the season, including the playoff loss to the New Orleans Saints, the Birds limited six opponents to fewer than 100 yards on the ground while in their other three contests they gave up 185-plus yards rushing.

    Veteran nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin, late of the Indianapolis Colts, could school the younger Logan on a few things when it comes to the trenches. And if the Eagles can be a Top 5 run defense in 2014, watch out.

Pittsburgh Steelers: DE/OLB Shaun Phillips (Broncos)

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    Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

    The Pittsburgh Steelers diving into free agency?

    After all, we are talking about a franchise that once called Three Rivers Stadium their home.

    All puns aside, the Steelers are a team that usually doesn’t delve deep into the free agency pool. But according to Scott Brown of ESPN.com, things could be about to change in 2014.

    In any case, Mike Tomlin’s team would love to build on last season’s 6-2 finish. At the same time, let’s not forget that the Black and Gold are coming off consecutive 8-8 campaigns.

    One of the looming questions is the status of outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley, who has had problems staying healthy in recent seasons. The one-time Pro Bowler has missed 14 games while totaling a combined just 18 sacks since 2011.

    With Woodley’s future a question mark and outside linebacker Jason Worilds a possible free agent, the Steelers could be in some need of help when it comes to the pass rush. Pittsburgh totaled just 34 sacks in 2013 and 13 of them came from this duo.

    In his first season with the Denver Broncos, veteran Shaun Phillips came up with a team-high 10 sacks. However, he’s one of numerous free agents general manager John Elway may try to re-sign. Is it possible the 10-year veteran finishes his career in the Steel City?

St. Louis Rams: T Khalif Barnes (Raiders)

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    Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

    Three years ago, the St. Louis Rams finished 7-9, the same record as the NFC West champion Seattle Seahawks.

    However, seven wins doesn’t buy what it used to. Jeff Fisher’s team finished a distant fourth in the division in 2013 as the Super Bowl champion Seahawks (13-3), San Francisco 49ers (12-4) and Arizona Cardinals (10-6) all finished with double-digit wins.

    What can St. Louis do to get better? The question here is what can the team do to make things better.

    In Week 16 of 2013, left tackle Jake Long suffered a severe knee injury that could jeopardize the start of the 2014 season for the former Pro Bowler.

    Meanwhile, four-year veteran Rodger Saffold is slated to become an unrestricted free agent on March 11. The former second-round draft choice played all over the offensive line for Jeff Fisher’s team this past season.

    Speaking of former second-round selections (2005), could the Rams opt for a little veteran insurance in tackle Khalif Barnes? The nine-year pro has spent nine seasons with the Jacksonville Jaguars and more recently, the Oakland Raiders.

    Meanwhile, the team has a pair of first-round selections in May’s draft, including the second overall selection. Could some offensive line help be on the list?

San Diego Chargers: CB Jabari Greer (Released by Saints)

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    Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

    In 2013, the San Diego Chargers were a playoff team for the first time since 2009 and won a postseason game for the first time since 2008.

    Still, Mike McCoy’s 9-7 club finished in third place in the much-improved AFC West behind the Super Bowl-bound Denver Broncos (13-3) and the wild card Kansas City Chiefs (11-5).

    What’s the next step? Improve a defensive unit that finished 23rd overall in total yards allowed and 29th in pass defense in the NFL.

    Ten-year veteran cornerback Jabari Greer was limited to just 10 games in 2013 and was recently released by the New Orleans Saints. He could be an upgrade for the Bolts at the position, as the numbers at the bottom of Pro Football Focus’ cornerback chart from this past season would surely indicate.

    It is worth noting that Greer is also recovering from a torn ACL suffered in mid-November. It will be interesting to see how healthy the veteran defender is these days. But we are in an era of never-say-never when it comes to bouncing back from injury.

     

San Francisco 49ers: ILB Stevenson Sylvester (Steelers)

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    Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

    Those speculating that the San Francisco 49ers may go after some veteran wide receiver help this offseason should know that the team is closing in on bringing back veteran Anquan Boldin back. ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter stated that the Niners are closing to re-signing their top pass-catcher from 2013.

    What about the league’s fifth-ranked defense in 2014? The big news surrounds Pro Bowl inside linebacker NaVorro Bowman, who suffered a severe knee injury in last year’s NFC title game. The team’s top tackler each of the last three seasons figures to be out of action until the 2014 midseason, as recently reported by Jarrett Bell of USA Today.

    What are the Niners to do? How about taking a chance on Pittsburgh Steelers inside linebacker Stevenson Sylvester, who could add a little insurance on defense while also bolstering San Francisco’s special teams? The former University of Utah product has started just two games in four seasons but could add some youth and depth to Vic Fangio’s unit.

Seattle Seahawks: DT Peria Jerry (Falcons)

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    Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

    Hail to the champions!

    Now what’s next for the Seattle Seahawks, a young team with very few needs?

    Winners of Super Bowl XLVIII, Pete Carroll’s club boasts an effective offense and the league’s best defense in terms of fewest yards allowed, fewest points allowed and takeaways.

    But could one of the team’s best defenders be getting ready to hit the street? According to NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport, the Seahawks may be on the verge of releasing defensive end Red Bryant. The six-year veteran totaled only 1.5 sacks last season but via Pro Football Focus, he’s one of the top run-stopping defensive ends in the NFL.

    If you are looking for defensive tackle Peria Jerry near the top of those run-defense rankings for defensive tackles, think again. The former first-round pick of the Atlanta Falcons had a career-high 3.5 sacks in 2013 but has been a big disappointment.

    And that’s exactly why Jerry could prove to be a bargain for the defending Super Bowl champions this upcoming season.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: DT Fred Evans (Vikings)

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    Trevor Ruszkowksi-USA TODAY Spor

    After finishing first in the NFL in rushing defense in 2012, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers fell to 15th in the league in the same department this past season.

    Of course, the Bucs’ fall wasn’t limited to just defense. The team finished 4-12 for the second time in three years and could be found in the NFC South basement for the third straight season.

    Now it is former Chicago Bears’ head coach Lovie Smith and new defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier, late of the Minnesota Vikings, to the rescue.

    Defensive tackle Fred Evans has spent the last seven years of his career with the Purple Gang. With new head coach Mike Zimmer in town and a slew of possible free agents on the defensive front, there could be a bit of a shakeup in the Twin Cities.

    While not known as a pass-rushing force, Evans has held his own when it comes to the ground game according to Pro Football Focus. Teaming him inside with Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy could be a major plus. And it’s safe to say that Smith and Frazier are familiar with Evans’ talents.

    https://www.profootballfocus.com/data/by_position.php?tab=by_position&season=2013&pos=DE3&stype=r&runpass=&teamid=-1&numsnaps=0&numgames=1

Tennessee Titans: CB Antoine Cason (Cardinals)

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    Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

    New Tennessee Titans head coach Ken Whisenhunt and veteran cornerback Antoine Cason just keep missing each other.

    While the former was busy leading the Arizona Cardinals for six seasons (2007-12), Cason was with the San Diego Chargers during most of that time. This past season, Whisenhunt was the Bolts’ offensive coordinator while the veteran cornerback was with the Cardinals, totaling just 14 tackles but four takeaways for Bruce Arians’ surprising 10-6 squad.

    Now the Titans, who haven’t been to the playoffs since 2008, could be looking for a little insurance should the team be unable to re-sign Pro Bowl cornerback Alterraun Verner, who is slated to become an unrestricted free agent on March 11.

Washington Redskins: OLB Parys Haralson (Saints)

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    Stacy Revere/Getty Images

    Off a 3-13 campaign, a season-ending eight-game losing streak and zero selections in the first round of the 2014 NFL draft, there is not a lot for new Washington Redskins head coach Jay Gruden to build on.

    Surrounding that NFC East title in 2012 are five last-place finishes in six seasons dating back to 2008.

    Including former Pro Bowler Brian Orakpo, as well as 2013 team tackle leader Perry Riley, the Redskins have seven linebackers slated to become unrestricted free agents in March. That group does not include London Fletcher, who stated that he was likely headed for retirement.

    In any case, whether Orakpo remains or not (he could be given the franchise tag), bringing in a veteran such as outside linebacker Parys Haralson could be a wise move for a club looking for a little more pass rush. Washington totaled 36 sacks this past season but also gave up 29 touchdown passes.

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