The deadline for NFL teams to use their franchise tag came and went on Monday. With those declarations officially made it, allows front offices around the league to get a clearer picture of how the market is shaping up with a week until the signing period opens.
All told, the free-agent class as a whole is pretty average with more depth than star power. That's good news for the big names because it should mean they can command a lot of interest, and therefore a big deal, from teams seeking a high-impact player.
Knowing that, let's check out some of the top players still available following deadline day for the franchise tag and some of the latest talk surrounding them.
The Buffalo Bills allowing Byrd to hit the market is an extremely questionable decision. A franchise that hasn't made the playoffs in 14 years and also lacks star power should do everything in its power to keep a game-changing player like the safety out of Oregon.
Even though the Bills used the tag on him last season, it was on the table again. Working out a long-term contract was obviously the preferred scenario. Since that didn't work, however, the team should have used the tag and continued to work toward a deal before next offseason.
Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network reports a return to Buffalo isn't off the table, but the market will decide at what price that would come:
What does Jairus Byrd want? What he feels is fair market value. Hitting the open market doesn’t rule out returning to Buffalo. All in play— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) March 2, 2014
Given the fact Byrd is one top players in the class and should have no shortage of suitors, a reunion doesn't seem like a realistic outcome. The Bills had their chance through an extension or tag to keep him and neither occurred.
The ball hawk, who intercepted 22 passes in five seasons with the Bills, should attract interest from all over the league. One team that stands out from the pack is the Atlanta Falcons, which will be looking to rebound from a disappointing campaign.
Thomas DeCoud's struggles at free safety played a role in the defense's struggles. Byrd would be a massive upgrade and eliminate a key need as the team starts looking toward the draft. The Falcons would have to spend a high pick to fill the void otherwise.
Prediction: Atlanta Falcons
No situation will probably generate more headlines this offseason than Graham and the New Orleans Saints. The team used the franchise tag, but since it was the non-exclusive variety other teams can still get involved, and the matter of whether he should be viewed as a tight end or wide receiver remains.
Larry Holder of The Times-Picayune reports the difference between the two tags is more than $5 million ($7.053 million to $12.132 million) and Graham is looking for an amount closer to the wide receiver number in any long-term extension:
The Saints have offered Graham more than one long-term contract before reaching the franchise tag deadline, according to a league source, and the team is willing to make Graham the highest-paid tight end in the NFL. Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski currently holds the distinction after receiving a six-year dealing maxing out at $54 million two years ago.
Graham is reportedly looking for an average or $12 million per season, which falls in line with the wide receiver franchise tag mark.
The cost to another team in order to pry Graham away from the Saints would be two first-round selections. New Orleans would have the option to match the offer or take the picks. The decision would likely hinge on how much another team is willing to pay.
Adam Schefter of ESPN noted two teams he believes would be wise to consider an offer sheet:
If I'm the Seattle Seahawks or Green Bay Packers, I'm willing to sign TE Jimmy Graham to an offer sheet and to give up two 1's to get him.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) March 3, 2014
The Seahawks and Packers are two of the league's top franchises. Since they regularly contend for the playoffs, their first-round picks tend to come near the end of the round, which makes them a far more likely option to pursue Graham than a team possibly picking in the top five in the coming years.
All told, the only way the Saints likely let Graham get away is if the debate over which position Graham should be paid like gets ugly and a team with potentially high picks makes a major offer. His value to the offense is extraordinarily high, so it needs to outweigh that.
Prediction: New Orleans Saints
Bennett has racked up 17.5 sacks over the past two seasons split between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Seattle Seahawks. He played a key role in the Seahawks' run to a championship, establishing himself as a force off the edge.
Now he wants to get paid as such. Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times passed along comments the defensive end made last month on NFL Network's NFL Total Access about the idea of taking a discount to remain with the Seahawks:
There is no such thing as discount. This is not Costco, this is not Walmart – this is real life…There is no discount really because you go out there and you don’t give a discount on effort; you go out there and you give the best effort every day and you fight for your teammates, and you want to be compensated for the way that you perform and the kind of teammate you are.
If Seattle isn't about to convince Bennett to stay with a long-term deal before free agency opens, he should become a hot commodity. There's a high level of need throughout the league when it comes to pass-rushers and he's one of the best available.
Which player is most likely to have a new home next season?
One team with both cap room and a void to fill is the Jacksonville Jaguars. They tied for last with just 31 sacks during the regular season. It's one of the several areas the team must address before it starts to make serious progress.
Signing Bennett would then allow the team to focus solely on grabbing a quarterback in the first round of the draft. Whether he would be interested in going from the reigning Super Bowl champions to a team near the bottom of the pack is unknown.
If the Seahawks make an offer near fair market value, that's the best spot for Bennett. Otherwise, joining a team like Jacksonville is the most likely outcome.
Prediction: Seattle Seahawks