With the NFL increasing the salary cap by $10 million for the 2014 season, teams and players figure to be wheeling and dealing at a greater rate than they did last year when the cap stayed roughly flat compared to the previous two years.
Last year, a lot of top-tier players, like Michael Bennett, got squeezed out of long-term deals. But with more green to go around, we might see a lot more outrageous contracts for the best that this year's crop of free agents has to offer.
We are less than one week away from the start of free agency. Teams and players are already making the rounds so that when the clock strikes midnight on March 11, all that will be left is signing on the dotted line.
Here is the latest news and notes floating around about the top talents available on the market this year.
Jairus Byrd to the Browns?
The biggest prize in this year's free-agent class is safety Jairus Byrd. He's just 27 years old, a three-time Pro Bowler and All-Pro, a great tackler and ball hawk at the back end of a defense.
Although the Buffalo Bills want to re-sign Byrd, they opted not to put the franchise tag on him, according to Joe Buscaglia of WGR 550 Radio, making him available for the right price:
I'm hearing the #Bills explored all their options including a trade of Byrd and now they're unlikely to tag him.— Joe Buscaglia (@JoeBuscaglia) March 2, 2014
One team with some intriguing talent at glamour positions and nearly $57 million in cap space, according to Spotrac.com, that could entice Byrd is the Cleveland Browns:
More fallout from #Browns C Alex Mack getting the transition tag? TJ Ward hits the market, as expected. And Jairus Byrd enters CLE’s view— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) March 3, 2014
Everyone knows about Cleveland's quarterback woes, which may or may not be solved in the draft, but the Browns have pieces to build around. Joe Haden, Joe Thomas, Josh Gordon and the upside of Barkevious Mingo is the start of an impressive nucleus.
The Browns ranked eighth in pass defense last year but just 20th in interceptions. Byrd would add another dynamic element to what is already a solid unit in Cleveland.
Of course, having played six years in Buffalo without a playoff appearance, Byrd may not want to sign with a franchise that just fired a head coach after one season and dismissed the general manager in February.
Garrett Graham On the Move?
He may not be a household name, but tight end Garrett Graham could be one of the most attractive offensive playmakers available in this year's free-agent class. He's 27 years old and coming off a career year in Houston with 49 catches, 545 yards and five touchdowns in 13 games.
One team with an opening at tight end is the Green Bay Packers, who aren't prone to spending in free agency but are seeing their window close with each passing year.
#Packers have been fans of TE Garrett Graham since he came out of Wisconsin. Fits their scheme. But we’ll see if he makes it to the market— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) March 4, 2014
Jermichael Finley, 26, is a free agent, and no one knows exactly what is going to happen after he missed the last 10 games with a spine injury that required surgery.
Because of their conservative approach to spending, the Packers have plenty of money to offer anyone this offseason. They are $35 million under the cap.
Graham doesn't figure to cost as much as a premium tight end because of his limited starting experience, though, that could change if the Texans start to view him as a priority and drive his price up.
Considering how valuable Graham was to the team last season, as well as Green Bay's conservative approach, the Texans still seem like the best spot for the tight end to wind up.
Eugene Monroe, Ravens Not On Same Page
Despite some thought the franchise tag might be in his future, Eugene Monroe avoided getting the one-year tender from the Baltimore Ravens. A 26-year-old tackle who excels in run and pass protection warrants a lot more than just a one-year deal.
However, if Monroe does sign a long-term deal, it may not be with the Ravens, based on a report from NFL.com's Ian Rapoport:
Colts want to strike a deal with CB Vontae Davis, but won’t tag him. Meanwhile, Ravens not close with OT Eugene Monroe. Tag still an option— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) March 3, 2014
As Jamison Henley of ESPN.com pointed out, it was in the Ravens' best interest not to tag Monroe because it would have eaten up $11.6 million of the nearly $25 million the team has available.
But with the Ravens offensive line struggling to protect Joe Flacco last year—he was sacked 48 times, second-most in the NFL—Monroe's value to them might be greater than it is to anyone else.
Considering the value placed on offensive lineman, especially left tackles, Monroe has the talent to command a deal that would price him out of Baltimore. That would really hinder Flacco's development two years after signing that massive contract extension.
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