Tuesday was a busy one for the National Football League in terms of the free-agent landscape.
While the New Orleans Saints made headlines by slapping the franchise tag on Jimmy Graham, per Adam Schefter of ESPN, the league also announced that the 2014 salary cap has been set to $133 million, marking a $10 million increase from last season. Likewise the franchise and transition tag amounts have been set in stone, via NFL.com.
Salary Cap, recent history: 2011 – $120.375 million 2012 – $120.6 million 2013 – $123 million 2014 - $133 million— FOX Sports: NFL (@NFLonFOX) March 1, 2014
The news comes just before Monday's franchise tag deadline, meaning teams finally have a firm grasp of how much money they have to spend this offseason.
With that in mind, here's a look at three top free agents who are currently on the market.
*Salary cap info via Spotrac.com
LB Brian Orakpo
As of Friday, Mike Jones of the Washington Post reported that the Redskins were in ongoing discussions with Orakpo's camp but have yet to to make a formal offer, franchise tag or otherwise. Given his production the past few seasons in the nation's capital, it seems like Orakpo is a prime candidate to earn the franchise tag before he can reach free agency.
According to Spotrac, the club has about $30 million in 2014 cap space now that the figure has been set.
With Orakpo set to earn about $11.5 million via franchise tag and a hearty multi-year deal otherwise, Washington needs to take advantage of its inside track in these negotiations.
Even when the team was struggling late in the season last year, Orakpo told Mark Maske of the Washington Post his desire was to stay with the team that picked him in the first round of the 2009 NFL Draft.
Right now this is home. So I would love to continue to finish my career as a Redskin. Obviously we’re 3-9 so it’s a disappointing season. But that doesn’t take away from what I know we’re capable of. If we get our core guys back, add a few people here and there with all the money that we’re receiving back from all the salary-cap issues that we had, I think we’ll be up for running at another title shot again the following year.
Those are bold words from the respected veteran who had 10 sacks and 60 tackles last year, according to the team's official website. Aside from his 2012 season, which was cut short after two games due to a pectoral muscle injury, Orakpo has averaged more than 9.5 sacks per season.
He remains one of the lone bright spots on this team and defensive coordinator Jim Haslett has publicly voiced his support to bring back Orakpo and other free agents like Perry Riley. Given the mutual interest, Washington's cap room and Orakpo's talent, I think he sticks around with the Redskins one way or another.
Now the waiting game will be to see if the two parties can strike terms on a long-term deal before the Redskins use the franchise tag, which I think is inevitable if there is no multi-year extension in place by Monday's deadline.
Since Orakpo is the top pass-rusher available now that Greg Hardy has been franchised by the Carolina Panthers, via Schefter, Washington would be wise to stay away from a bidding war this offseason.
Prediction: Stays with Redskins
CB Alterraun Verner
This has already been a life-changing offseason for Alterraun Verner and the talented cornerback is in store for a lot more in the coming weeks.
Verner and his wife welcomed a baby boy into the world in late February and papa is set to enjoy a big payday after establishing himself as a shutdown-caliber player for the Tennessee Titans during his breakout 2013 campaign.
But according to a recent report from Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean, talks don't appear to be heating up between Verner and the team.
Still no real progress between #Titans and CB Alterraun Verner. Scheduled to hit FA on March 11— Jim Wyatt (@jwyattsports) February 27, 2014
If Verner does reach the open market as expected, he figures to have a host of suitors. Listed at 5'10" and 186 pounds, the 25-year-old made his first Pro Bowl after posting five interceptions and 22 pass breakups in 2013.
There are a host of teams with bad secondaries and a lot of money to spend, including the Oakland Raiders, Jacksonville Jaguars and Minnesota Vikings who could make serious runs at Verner.
Ben Goessling of ESPN.com gave his take on the possibility of Verner joining Minnesota.
It wouldn't be surprising to see the Vikings make a run at a free-agent cornerback like Tennessee's Alterraun Verner, whom new defensive backs coach Jerry Gray coached as the Titans' defensive coordinator. The Vikings need to add some quality corners to their roster, and just for the sake of opening up roster space, it might lead them to cut some of the low-priced corners at the bottom of their roster.
While the St. Louis Rams have also been linked to Verner, Jeff Fisher recently told NFL.com that he expects Cortland Finnegan to be with the team during the offseason program. The Rams also have a couple of young corners in Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson and have less than $8 million in cap room, so it's hard to see them cutting Finnegan to sign a more expensive player.
For now, it looks like the Vikings make the most sense as a potential destination, given his ties with Gray and the $35 million of cap room in Minnesota. The NFC North is littered with talented wideouts like Calvin Johnson, Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb. The Vikings could sure use a talent like Verner to try and keep the damage down.
Prediction: Signs with Vikings
WR Eric Decker
Vic Lombardi of CBS 4 in Denver recently reported that the Colts have expressed interest in the talented wideout, who likely priced himself out of the Broncos' range with his stellar 2013 campaign.
Among the teams that have interest in Eric Decker ... Indy. If he can't play with PFM, he'd love to roll with Andrew Luck.— Vic Lombardi (@VicLombardi) February 27, 2014
With receivers set to earn about $12.3 million via franchise tag and Decker's ability to command about $10 million annually for a multi-year deal, it doesn't make much sense for Denver to bring back Decker.
They already have a talented pass-catching nucleus with Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker and Julius Thomas, while Manning is capable of turning another relative unknown into a productive wideout. Not to mention signing Decker would eat up a majority of the team's roughly $18 million in cap space.
The Colts, meanwhile, are sitting pretty at about $41 million in cap space and could use more firepower at receiver. Reggie Wayne will be recovering from a knee injury while T.Y. Hilton would be better served as a No. 3 option for Luck.
Prediction: Signs with Colts