NFL Free Agency 2014: Updated Predictions on Latest Rumors Surrounding Top Stars

Chris Roling@@Chris_RolingFeatured ColumnistFebruary 24, 2014

Buffalo Bills safety Jairus Byrd warms up before an NFL football game against the New England Patriots Sunday, Dec. 29, 2013, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)
Steven Senne/Associated Press

While the focus currently resides on the 2014 Scouting Combine and the winding journey to the draft, plenty of details about free agency are quietly going on behind the scenes.

Believe it or not, there are a few high-profile names set to hit the market. The buzz around them varies, but one thing is for sure—the draft process is helping to bury what would otherwise be headline-worthy news and rumors.

Predictions for free agency are as fun as those that deal with the draft, but oft-times are just as difficult to nail down. A variety of rumors about top players give fans an idea of how free agency may play out, so now is a great time to figure out how the market frenzy will go down.

Jairus Byrd Headed to Cleveland?

ORCHARD PARK, NY - NOVEMBER 17:  Jairus Byrd #31 of the Buffalo Bills reacts after making his first of two interceptions against the New York Jets at Ralph Wilson Stadium on November 17, 2013 in Orchard Park, New York.  (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images
Rick Stewart/Getty Images

The Buffalo Bills and Jairus Byrd have been mired in a contract dispute for quite some time after last offseason ending with Byrd being hit with the franchise tag.

With Mike Pettine on his way to the Cleveland Browns, Byrd may want to follow his former defensive coordinator, according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport:

The move makes too much sense. Cleveland may lose starting safety T.J. Ward on the open market, so by Byrd filling his spot, taking a leadership role on a strong defense and making the cash he desires, it seems like a happy ending for all.

Unless the Bills have something to say about it.

Buffalo could just as easily slap Byrd with the tag for a second straight year, which would cost them just north of $8 million, and then attempt to trade him in order to get value in return rather than just letting him walk. Rapoport has the scoop:

Tag and trade is the most likely scenario here. The Bills are not just going to let one of the NFL's best defensive backs walk away without compensation, even after an injury-riddled year that saw Byrd only participate in 11 games.

The Cleveland connection makes sense, but it is all too predictable to actually come to fruition. Bet on Buffalo to attempt to trade Byrd, but to somewhere unexpected, because the new regime in Cleveland is not going to want to surrender valuable draft picks to add an expensive new safety, especially when retaining Ward would be cheaper.

In the end, not many teams will want to give up valuable picks and inherit such a large contract.

Prediction: Byrd gets tagged and stays in Buffalo.

James Jones' Future

Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

Soon to be 30 years old, James Jones may have a hard time sticking with Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers.

Jones appeared in 14 games last year and caught 59 balls for 817 yards and three scores despite Rodgers missing significant time, but it appears youth is pushing him off the roster. 

Frank Bauer, Jones' agent, made it sound to reporters at the scouting combine that Jones' time in Green Bay is about up, via Bob McGinn of the Journal Sentinel:

"I don't think Ted Thompson wants him," Frank Bauer, Jones' only agent since being drafted by Green Bay in the third round in 2007, said at the NFL scouting combine.

Randall Cobb
Randall CobbJonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Jones is gone. As McGinn goes on to detail, Bauer has a tough job in front of him thanks to an extremely deep rookie wideout class and heavyweights such as Eric Decker hitting the market.

Even worse for Jones, the depth chart is already muddled thanks to the likes of Randall Cobb, Jordy Nelson and Jarrett Boykin. There is no need for Jones in Green Bay anymore, and the fact that extensions are needed soon for some of the younger wideouts means retaining Jones does not make sense financially, either.

That said, Jones is going to be one of the absolute best bargains on the open market. The depth of the draft and market will drive his price down while his production goes unchanged. Expect a contender to give him a call.

Prediction: Jones hits free agency and joins a contender such as Carolina.

New York Jets Want Ben Tate?

HOUSTON, TX - DECEMBER 01:  Ben Tate #44 of the Houston Texans celebrates afte scoring on a 7 yard run in the first quarter against the New England Patriots at Reliant Stadium on December 1, 2013 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
Bob Levey/Getty Images

Perhaps the biggest name at running back set to hit the open market is Ben Tate, the talented slasher who has played a complementary role to Arian Foster in Houston for quite some time.

In an unexpected turn of events, the New York Jets might be the team to give Tate a call when he hits the market. ESPN's Rich Cimini has the scoop:

This comes as a bit of a surprise, but I hear the New York Jets are exploring free-agent running backs -- namely Donald Brown (Indianapolis Colts) and Ben Tate (Houston Texans). Obviously, their greatest needs are wide receiver and tight end, with running back thought to be a secure position with Chris Ivory and Bilal Powell. But general manager John Idzik is a big believer in competition and depth. It also could mean that the troubled Mike Goodson is on thin ice.

Tate rushed for 771 yards and four scores last season in spot duty. Many have wondered how the Auburn product would hold up once out of Foster's shadow, and the Jets sound as if they want to find out.

The marriage makes sense. Tate will get to be complemented in a committee by a bruiser in Chris Ivory—who up until last season had never appeared in more than 12 games thanks to his violent running style that ravishes his body. The two seasons prior to 2013, Ivory had appeared in just 12 total games.

Tate represents insurance should Ivory's body fail him once more, and if he holds up, the Jets have a quality committee to help protect second-year quarterback Geno Smith.

Prediction: Tate signs with the Jets in free agency.

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