Free Agency

NFL Free Agents 2014: Need-to-Know Information About This Year's Market

Eric MackFantasy Football Lead WriterMarch 2, 2014

NFL Free Agents 2014: Need-to-Know Information About This Year's Market

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    Gregory Bull/Associated Press

    The calendar has flipped to March 2014, but the NFL is still carrying on as if it is 2013. The new league year begins March 11 at 4 p.m. ET, and it marks the first time teams can begin to officially announce free-agent signings.

    Teams can begin negotiating with those player's agents March 8, so you should see the biggest names fly off the board quickly. We might even get some reported agreements in place by next week at this time.

    Guys like Eric Decker might also be affected by this Monday's 4 p.m. franchise tag deadline. We take a look at the things to know and important developments around the NFL this week, leading up to the official start of free agency and the new league year.

NFL Draft Doesn't Begin Until May 8 This Year

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    Craig Ruttle/Associated Press

    NFL commissioner Roger Goodell couldn't secure Radio City Music Hall as a draft site in late April because an Easter show was already booked, according to Joseph Person of the Charlotte Observer.

    As a result, the NFL is trying a one-year experiment of holding the draft from May 8-10. 

    Other than what this does for the rookies who are picked, it gives the free-market veterans a longer time to hawk their wares. This will generally apply to the leftover guys, the fringe players.

    Teams have to be under the salary cap before March 11 at 4 p.m., and their available room can get sucked up quickly on the big-ticket guys. The lesser free agents might have to wait longer, particularly because of the draft's later date. 

The Salary Cap Is Going to Be $133 Million, a $10 Million Increase

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    The 2014 NFL salary cap is going to be $133 million. That is the highest figure in league history, surpassing 2009's $127.997 million cap.

    That is a $10 million increase over the 2013 total of $123 million. The cap is calculated by taking a percentage of all projected NFL revenues, subtracting projected benefits for the upcoming season and dividing by 32 teams.

    According to USA Today's Tom Pelissero from Feb. 24, NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith thought the cap would be around $130 million.  

Jimmy Graham Will Get Franchise Tag from the New Orleans Saints

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    The New Orleans Saints will use their franchise tag on tight end Jimmy Graham before Monday's deadline, according to NFL insider Adam Schefter. ESPN's Chris Mortensen says that designation will be a non-exclusive tag.

    That second detail means the Saints are entitled to two first-round picks if they choose not to match another team's contract offer sheet.

    The battle now will be whether Graham is held to the standards of a tight end, as the Saints would like, or a wide receiver, as Graham would. The franchise-tag number for a tight end is $7.04 million for one year, while a wide receiver is going to be entitled to $12.3 million, according to ESPN.

    Saints general manager Mickey Loomis is adamant Graham should be held to the tight end figure, as the Shreveport Times' Bradley Handwerger Gannettt reported in January. 

    "Isn't that what we drafted him as? Isn't that what he made the Pro Bowl as? That's what we see him as, a tight end."

    Graham's agent would have to prove he played more at wide receiver than tight end last year. That is a tricky argument because who is to say where Graham lines up determines whether he is a tight end or a wide receiver? That's usually left up to the team.

    A third-party arbitrator might be need to settle this dispute, but do the Saints really want an unhappy Graham playing for less than he feels he is worth? Expect a long-term deal to be worked out.

Carolina Panthers Place Franchise Tag on Greg Hardy

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    Gerry Broome/Associated Press

    The Carolina Panthers officially placed the franchise-tag designation on defensive end Greg Hardy on Friday, according to Pro Football Talk (h/t NFL.com's Albert Breer).  

    Breer tweeted the figure for a defensive end will be $13,116,000. That is minimum amount Hardy is entitled to on a one-year tender.

    With that number assigned to Hardy for 2014, the Carolina Panthers have around $8.5 million of space remaining, according to OvertheCap.com.

    The two sides can still negotiate and agree upon a long-term deal.

Julian Edelman an Unlikely Candidate for Franchise Tag

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    Breer tweeted out all of the numbers by position Friday, as Boston.com's Zuri Berry outlined here.

    The New England Patriots would have to commit $12,312,000 to wide receiver Julian Edelman for a one-year deal if they hit him with the franchise tag and could not agree to a long-term deal. The Pats would have to give free-agent cornerback Aqib Talib at least $11,834,000.

    Here are the franchise-tag numbers by position:

     

    Offense

    • Quarterback: $16.912 million
    • Running back: $9.54 million
    • Wide receiver: $12.312 million
    • Tight end: $7.035 million
    • Lineman: $11.654 million

     

    Defense/Special teams

    • End: $13.116 million
    • Tackle: $9.654 million
    • Linebacker: $11.455 million
    • Cornerback: $11.834 million
    • Safety: $8.433 million
    • Kicker/punter: $3.556 million

Brian Orakpo's Franchise-Tag Decision Reportedly a 'Close Call'

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    The Washington Redskins' Brian Orakpo is going to have a big next 24-plus hours. The deadline for franchise-tag designations is Monday, and the The Washington Post reports there are some in-house debates on his future there.

    "I think there's a lot of back and forth on it," a source told The Post's Mike Jones and Mark Maske. "I don’t think it's clear cut."

    Orakpo, like the New Orleans' Saints Jimmy Graham, is a tweener. He is a linebacker in the 3-4 defense, but he could make a case he deserves the higher franchise-tag number from that of a defensive end. The difference between Albert Breer's tweeted figures for those positions is $1.661 million.

    A source told Jones and Maske the franchise-tag decision before Monday is "a really close call."

    Exposing Orakpo to the free market without the compensation protection of the franchise (exclusive or non-exclusive) or transition tags would make it far more likely he has a new home in 2014.

Chris Johnson Might Be Joining the Free-Agent Pool

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    Chris Johnson has the fastest 40-yard dash time (4.24 seconds) in the history of the NFL Scouting Combine, but he might not remain a Tennessee Titan.

    The Titans figure to wait a long time on a decision of whether to cut Johnson as opposed to committing $8 million to him for 2014, according to The Tennessean's Jim Wyatt.

    Titans general manager Ruston Webster told the paper:

    We can be as patient as we want to be.

    You just work through the process and go through all the pieces of the puzzle...seeing what is out there at that position. (Head coach) Ken (Whisenhunt) has to take some time because he has never coached Chris Johnson, so he is going through the evaluation process himself. We are not going to push it. If we did make a decision, it would be whenever we felt comfortable.

    Whisenhunt added to Wyatt:

    I don't know where we are going to be 3-4 months from now at that position. Who is available in the draft? Who is available in free agency? How can we make our team better? Those are all questions we ask ourselves as far as putting this team together. And I feel like the more competition you have, the better chance you'll have of being a good football team.

    Am I optimistic that he'll remain on the team? Well, it's a process that you go through with everybody. ... We still have a lot of things that we have to evaluate.

    Johnson is a potential game-changer in a market that has seemingly already lost Jimmy Graham and Greg Hardy. Running backs are far more able to be found than premiere tight ends or pass-rushers, but Johnson still has game-altering speed, something every team can use more of.

Jeremy Maclin, Dennis Pitta Signings Leave Market a Bit Thinner

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    Mel Evans/Associated Press

    The Philadelphia Eagles took two wide receivers off the free-agent market this week, re-signing Riley Cooper and Jeremy Maclin, who is coming off a season-ending knee injury. The Baltimore Ravens also brought back tight end Dennis Pitta.

    So, after those signings and the franchise tags already announced, you want to know what's left.

    Pro Football Focus (subscription required) does a great job with its proprietary ratings system, and they ranked all of the free-agent options this winter. You can peruse their objective rankings.

    If you want one man's subjective top available free agents by position right now:

     

    Offense

    • QB: Michael Vick
    • RB: Knowshon Moreno
    • WR: Eric Decker
    • TE: Jermichael Finley, who CBS Sports' Jason La Canfora tweets has a "healthy" market
    • OT: Branden Albert
    • G: Jon Asamoah
    • C: Alex Mack

     

    Defense

    • DT: Henry Melton
    • DE: Brian Orakpo
    • LB: Brandon Spikes
    • CB: Brent Grimes
    • S: Jairus Byrd

     

     

    Eric Mack, one of the giants among fantasy writers, was the Fantasy Football Lead Writer for Bleacher Report this past season. He is now an NFL featured writer here. Follow him on Twitter, where you can ask him endless questions about your team, rip him for his content and even challenge him to a head-to-head fantasy game.

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