Before the 2014 NFL draft shakes things up this May, the whirlwind free-agency period will offer all 32 teams a shot to improve immediately by adding proven NFL talent.
But while some franchises will win big this spring, others will fall flat.
With the free-agency period beginning on March 11, here, I'll discuss some of the top available playmakers and predict where they'll wind up in 2014.
Eric Decker, WR
Denver Broncos wide receiver Eric Decker is coming off a career year in which he caught 87 balls for 1,288 yards and 11 touchdowns from one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game in Peyton Manning. Still, money talks, and other teams will likely be lining up to overpay for Decker's services given his eye-popping production in 2013.
According to CBS Denver's Vic Lombardi, the Indianapolis Colts are one team believed to be interested in acquiring the 26-year-old wideout:
Although Decker will have second thoughts about walking out on Manning and the Broncos' prolific passing attack, the Colts could offer the former Minnesota star a chance to not only compete for a No. 1 spot, but also the opportunity to compete for a championship.
Indy has reached the playoffs in each of the past two seasons since drafting Andrew Luck and appears to be on the rise in the struggling AFC.
Prediction: Indianapolis Colts
Hakeem Nicks, WR
Veteran wide receiver Hakeem Nicks will become an unrestricted free agent this March, and given his lack of production with the New York Giants over the past two seasons since the team won Super Bowl XLVI, it appears his time in the Big Apple will be coming to an end this spring.
On Monday, Newsday's Tom Rock provided some additional insight:
Like Decker, Nicks is 26 years old. However, Nicks has struggled with injury throughout his five-year professional career. He's yet to appear in all 16 regular-season games since being drafted in 2009 and went all of 2013 without a single receiving touchdown.
As a result, The Record's Art Stapleton has a helpful suggestion for Nicks:
Although his disappointing 2013 season left a lot of general managers with a bad taste in their mouths, Riley Cooper's success earlier this offseason suggests that Nicks will find the right match eventually, per NJ.com's Jordan Raanan:
The New York Daily News' Ralph Vacchiano breaks down the significance:
It remains to be seen which teams would be willing to take a chance on Nicks in 2014, but it seems more than likely that the Giants won't be one of those teams. Look for Nicks to be wearing a different jersey in 2014 as he looks to surpass the 1,000-yard mark for the first time since 2011.
One potential landing spot could be New England, where the Patriots will be looking to add a proven weapon for quarterback Tom Brady. Although everything is speculation at this point, the Boston Herald's Jeff Howe highlights Nicks as a possible free-agent addition for the reigning AFC East champions (see above video).
Given the fact New England is in a position to compete for a title right away and considering Nicks is unlikely to find a good long-term deal following a down year, the Patriots would appear to be an excellent fit for the veteran.
Assuming New England is considering all options, there's no denying that Nicks would be an ideal short-term addition.
Prediction: New England Patriots
Jermichael Finley, TE
Green Bay Packers tight end Jermichael Finley has had his fair share of ups and downs since entering the league. Unfortunately, the talented pass-catcher is coming off of a devastating neck injury that required him to undergo spinal fusion surgery last November.
Prior to going down in October, Finley caught 25 passes for 300 yards and three touchdowns.
Although the 26-year-old is a matchup nightmare because of his size and he's caught 217 balls since the start of 2009, he's struggled with drops throughout his career.
Nonetheless, Finley is an immense talent who will have Packers general manager Ted Thompson thinking long and hard before he makes a final decision. It goes without saying that Finley's neck injury will likely be the deciding factor.
While the severity of the injury and surgery is disconcerting, Packers head coach Mike McCarthy recently expressed optimism that Finley could return, comparing his most recent injury to that of former Packers safety Nick Collins, who was forced to retire after the 2011 season because of a similar neck injury, per ESPN.com's Rob Demovsky:
"[Team physician] Pat [McKenzie] doesn't feel the same way about Jermichael as he felt about Nick. So I'm very open and optimistic about Jermichael coming back. I think the specifics of their injuries are different."
With McCarthy sending out positive vibes and Finley likely wanting to catch passes from Aaron Rodgers in 2014, it seems the best-case scenario for the tight end would be to return to Green Bay, where he has familiarity and could help a contending team.
Prediction: Green Bay Packers
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