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NFL Free-Agency Rumors: Buying or Selling the Latest Talk

Erik FrenzSenior Writer IOctober 20, 2016

NFL Free-Agency Rumors: Buying or Selling the Latest Talk

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    Bills safety Jairus Byrd could be the No. 1 safety on the open market in just a few days.
    Bills safety Jairus Byrd could be the No. 1 safety on the open market in just a few days.Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

    The free-agency buzz is already at a dull roar. The crescendo will raise the noise level somewhere close to a sonic boom by Tuesday, March 11, at 4 p.m. ET. Set your clocks and plan accordingly.

    Free agency is the stuff NFL dreams are made of. It's not every day your team has an opportunity to sign a player regarded as one of the best, if not the best, at his position. There's already enough news floating around to keep feeding those dreams for the next few days. That's when the excitement ramps up.

    Who's staying? Who's going? Which teams could add players to the free-agency pool by making cuts in the next few days? Who could be getting top dollar from a desperate team?

    Let's take a trip across the news wire and see what we're buying and selling headed into free agency.

Buy: Denver Broncos Want Eric Decker to Sign Elsewhere

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    Wideout Eric Decker doesn't look like he'll be back with Denver next season.
    Wideout Eric Decker doesn't look like he'll be back with Denver next season.Associated Press

    Questionable as it may be, the Denver Broncos seem to be comfortable in allowing wide receiver Eric Decker to hit the open market. In fact, according to Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio, they're banking on it: 

    Some in league circles believe the Broncos hope Decker gets that big offer and pounces on it, so that the Broncos aren’t faced with the dilemma of paying Decker something in the range of $5 million per year or politely telling him they’re not interested. 

    With receiver Wes Welker counting for $8 million against the cap this year and both receiver Demaryius Thomas and tight end Julius Thomas entering the final year of their rookie deals, the Broncos have only so much cap space for pass catchers.

    That lines up with what Broncos general manager John Elway said at the scouting combine.

    "I think they have to hit the market, the market sets those," Elway said of Decker and the top contract he desires, "especially where you look where we are and what we have coming up. Both (wide receiver Demaryius Thomas and tight end Julius Thomas) are up next year. And Wes (Welker) is too. So all that plays into it."

    Interesting he should bring up Welker, who is due to count for $8 million against the cap in 2014. The Broncos could free up $6 million of that by releasing Welker, but neither Elway nor head coach John Fox seem to be considering that option (note No. 8). 

    A 26-going-on-27-year-old Decker clearly has more left in the tank than a 32-going-on-33 Welker, who is coming off two concussions. The NFL is a business, though, and the Broncos are thinking long term when it comes to re-signing their wide receivers.

Sell: Jairus Byrd to Re-Sign with the Buffalo Bills

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    See you later, Byrd.
    See you later, Byrd.Associated Press

    The Buffalo Bills failed to place the franchise tag on safety Jairus Byrd by Monday's 4 p.m. deadline. Unless the two sides can strike a deal before March 11, Byrd will hit the open market for the first time in his career.

    Even with the end in sight, neither side is closing the door on the negotiations. Byrd says that "the lines of communication are open," according to Chris Brown of BuffaloBills.com. General manager Doug Whaley said"We still have some time to get it done."

    The two sides are acting cordial on Byrd's way out, but let's not mince words: Byrd's time in Buffalo is done. Whaley devalued the safety position just a few short days ago, via Brown

    It's important. I think depending on scheme, in this scheme talking to (defensive coordinator Jim) Schwartz, safety is going to be important a lot because of the communication and how he sets the back end of the defense and gets all the checks and balances from the sidelines. It's an important part, but would it be the top rated piece I would start the defense? No, but it's in the mix. I think you'd have to go defensive end and corner before you go safety.

    On Wednesday, the Bills signed safety Aaron Williams to a four-year, $26 million extension, according to Mike Garafolo of Fox Sports. If the Bills truly value the safety position below the other positions on defense, it's easy to believe that they won't invest big money in two safeties in one offseason.

    Simply put, there are too many teams with too much money and too desperate for a free safety with Byrd's skill set. He should command upward of $7.5 million per year to put him in the top five highest-paid safeties in the NFL.

Buy: Hakeem Nicks to the New York Jets

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    Giants quarterback Eli Manning (left) and wide receiver Hakeem Nicks did not connect on a single touchdown in 2013.
    Giants quarterback Eli Manning (left) and wide receiver Hakeem Nicks did not connect on a single touchdown in 2013.Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

    Some free agents move thousands of miles to switch teams. If New York Giants free-agent wide receiver Hakeem Nicks were to sign with the New York Jets, thing would be very easy on that front.  

    The Jets are in desperate need of wide receiver talent, and Seth Walder of the New York Daily News cites Nicks as one receiver who could provide that presence:

    Imagine what sort of deal Nicks would have gotten had he hit the market two years ago. Unfortunately for him, injuries have reduced his productivity and brought down his price tag. As a result, Idzik possibly smells a bargain in Nicks. Of course, it would be an easy move for Nicks, who would only have to move to an office about 30 minutes west of his old one.

    It's been two years since the Jets used a second-round pick on wide receiver Stephen Hill. There is still some hope that he could develop into a productive receiver, but he's running out of chances.

    Nicks is not a sure thing himself. His production has dipped over the years, and he's dealt with injuries as well as some questions about his effort. As a result, he will not command as high a price tag as other receivers. He will still have some value among the teams that go bargain-basement shopping in free agency.

    The Jets have roughly $23.3 million in cap space heading into the 2014 offseason. That should be more than enough money to lock up a receiver like Nicks and still make another impact signing.

Sell: Aqib Talib as a 'Top-of-the-Market' Cornerback

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    Cornerback Aqib Talib (left) needs only to turn on the tape of his performance against Browns wideout Josh Gordon for an example of why teams may not pay him top dollar.
    Cornerback Aqib Talib (left) needs only to turn on the tape of his performance against Browns wideout Josh Gordon for an example of why teams may not pay him top dollar.Associated Press

    The Miami Dolphins gave Brent Grimes a four-year, $32 million deal Monday, and Aqib Talib is starting to see dollar signs of his own. He wants to be paid like a "top-of-the-market corner," according to Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald

    Talib is one of this year's top free-agent cornerbacks. Others include the Tennessee Titans' Alterraun Verner, the Indianapolis Colts' Vontae Davis and the Denver Broncos' Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.

    On talent alone, Talib belongs in or near the top five average salaries for a cornerback. But given his history of injury problems and off-field issues before his arrival in New England, teams may be skeptical to hand him a top-dollar contract. 

    Talib was playing like one of the best cornerbacks in the game for the first six weeks of the 2013 season. In that time, he locked down several of the league's top receivers. He did well against Tampa Bay Buccaneers receiver Vincent Jackson, Cincinnati Bengals receiver A.J. Green, the Atlanta Falcons' Roddy White and Julio Jones and even New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham.

    Talib suffered a hip injury against the Saints that kept him out of the next three games, and he wasn't quite at the same level when he returned. It's possible he was still playing through that injury, to some extent, for the rest of the season. While that may serve as an excuse for his dip in performance, it also serves as a reminder of Talib's injury-prone nature.

Buy: Pittsburgh Steelers to Release LaMarr Woodley

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    The Steelers could be looking to release outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley to create some cap space.
    The Steelers could be looking to release outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley to create some cap space.Associated Press

    You've poured over the list of free agents time after time. You've scoured the names to find players you can dream about as a perfect fit for your team. Just when you think you have all of the answers, a team releases a big-name player, and your expectations get thrown through a loop.

    There's been speculation that the Pittsburgh Steelers could release outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley. The Steelers could use some cap space. They currently sit roughly $1 million over the cap, according to Spotrac. Woodley's cap hit in 2014 will be $13.59 million, but the Steelers would take an even bigger hit ($14.17 million) by cutting him.

    Would they be willing to pay him more to go away than to keep him around?

    As Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette points out, the Steelers may need to take the long view to avoid "salary-cap hell" for the foreseeable future:

    If they cut Woodley today, he would count $14.17 million on their salary cap this year, nearly a wash for what he will count—$13.59 million—if you keep him. But by cutting him now, he is wiped off their books for 2015 and 2016 and for a team that many say is in salary-cap hell, that's a significant cap savingsa total of $25.5 million (his salaries) in both real money and cap savings over three seasons with none of it counting after this one.

    The Steelers haven't been getting their money's worth on Woodley's contract. Mark Kaboly of TribLive.com points out that Woodley "has missed 14 games and parts of six others since signing a $61.5 million deal in 2011." 

    As a result of the time missed, he has not had 10 sacks or more in a season since 2010. Woodley has been productive in his career, though, and with the number of teams in need of a pass-rusher, someone will be looking to squeeze a few last drops out of him. He won't be out of work for long.

Sell: D'Qwell Jackson to the Miami Dolphins

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    Philip Wheeler (pictured) and Dannell Ellerbe were two big signings last year, but neither panned out like Miami hoped.
    Philip Wheeler (pictured) and Dannell Ellerbe were two big signings last year, but neither panned out like Miami hoped.Gary Wiepert/Associated Press

    Update: D'Qwell Jackson signed with the Colts. According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, Jackson received a four-year deal worth $22 million with $11 million guaranteed.

     

    You might think that the Miami Dolphins are poised to be one of the less active teams in free agency this year. They spent big dollars last year on guys like Dannell Ellerbe, Phillip Wheeler and others. They still have plenty of dough to go around, with roughly $35 million in cap space. As it turns out, they could be looking to replace at least one of their signings from last year.

    Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald reports the Dolphins brought in free-agent linebacker D'Qwell Jackson for a visit Tuesday. He adds that Jackson is choosing between the Dolphins and three other teams he visited: the Colts, Titans and Broncos. 

    Jackson has been part of a 3-4 and 4-3 defense in his eight years with the Cleveland Browns, and he could fit in any scheme as a result. He played on the inside in both schemes and would likely be a middle linebacker in the Dolphins' 4-3 defense.

    Barry Jackson also reports the Dolphins would move Ellerbe to the weak side if they sign D'Qwell Jackson. That would pit Wheeler in a roster battle with Koa Misi on the strong side.

    None of it matters, though, because Jackson wants to go somewhere with stability, according to Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com. The Dolphins are headed in the right direction after re-signing cornerback Brent Grimes Monday, but they have been under constant change lately. Jackson may be looking for a more stable situation.

Buy: Eugene Monroe to the Miami Dolphins

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    Eugene Monroe makes sense for the Miami Dolphins at offensive tackle.
    Eugene Monroe makes sense for the Miami Dolphins at offensive tackle.Associated Press

    The Baltimore Ravens gave up a fourth- and fifth-round pick for Eugene Monroe in October, but he could end up being nothing more than a rental. Aaron Wilson of The Baltimore Sun reports the Ravens and Monroe are "far apart" in their contract negotiations.

    With just over five days remaining in free agency, there's no reason Monroe should feel forced to sign a contract. He is widely regarded as one of the top offensive tackles available.

    The Ravens are currently projected by Spotrac to have nearly $25 million in cap space, but they can't pay everyone. They have a laundry list of free agents, including cornerback Corey Graham, defensive lineman Arthur Jones, wide receiver Jacoby Jones and offensive tackle Michael Oher. That's also not accounting for their other needs, including wide receiver and—if they fail to re-sign Monroe—tackle.

    Thus, he could be available for the Dolphins to sign. Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald says that "it's clear Monroe is Miami's first choice" among the free-agent offensive linemen. 

    The Dolphins were among the league's worst pass-blocking offensive lines last year. Defenses sacked quarterback Ryan Tannehill 58 times, the most allowed in Dolphins history and the most in the league in 2013. They are looking for a complete revamp of the offensive line, with free agents at four of the five positions. It's entirely possible that center Mike Pouncey could be the only holdover. 

    With the aforementioned $34 million in cap space, the Dolphins can spend big on an offensive tackle if they identify it as one of their biggest needs.

Sell: Lofa Tatupu Making a Return to the NFL

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    Linebacker Lofa Tatupu is attempting a comeback after injuries set his career off-course for three years.
    Linebacker Lofa Tatupu is attempting a comeback after injuries set his career off-course for three years.Associated Press

    On July 25, 2012, the Atlanta Falcons released linebacker Lofa Tatupu after he suffered a torn pectoral during training camp. Until Tuesday, March 4, that was the last update on Tatupu's profile on Rotoworld, which tracks all reported free-agent activity for every player.

    On Tuesday, ESPN's Adam Schefter reported that Tatupu worked out for the Broncos. 

    It looked like Tatupu's career was over long ago. He dealt with some nagging injuries in his final three seasons, and he drew no interest after being a training camp cut by the Falcons.

    "It wasn't my choice," Tatupu said in 2012, via Greg A. Bedard of The Boston Globe, of his absence from football in 2011. "It wasn't anything to do with concussions or lingering injuries. I was ready to play last season. I got released, like a lot of people did, and I just didn't catch on with anybody."

    If teams were already skeptical of how much Tatupu had left in the tank after the 2010 season, they probably haven't changed their minds after three years off from football. Tatupu was a top-notch middle linebacker during his six years in Seattle, and it's admirable that he would make the comeback attempt. The Broncos might just be desperate enough to pull it off, but it may be time for Tatupu to call it a career.

Buy: Tennessee Titans to Release Chris Johnson

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    Titans running back Chris Johnson is a long way removed from his days as a 2,000-yard back in 2009.
    Titans running back Chris Johnson is a long way removed from his days as a 2,000-yard back in 2009.Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

    Theories have circled for months that the running back formerly known as CJ2K could be on his way to a new team in 2014. Chris Johnson even admitted he may have played his last game with the Titans following the 2013 season finale, via The Tennessean (h/t Josh Sanchez of Fansided.com). 

    There are still three years left on the four-year, $53.975 million contract extension he signed back in 2011. The new years on the extension didn't kick in until 2013.

    Johnson is currently the second-highest paid running back in the league, behind only Adrian Peterson of the Minnesota Vikings. This year, he is set to count for $10 million against the cap, but the Titans could recoup $6 million of that if they cut him.

    There is a possibility the Titans could try to restructure his contract to keep him around, but that doesn't seem to be a plan they are considering.

    "My agent and titans front office had a talk yesterday and everything is still at a stand still so it's a waiting game while I continue to grind," Johnson tweeted Wednesday morning.

    If he stays with the Titans, Johnson will be under his third different coaching staff since entering the NFL. It's possible that new head coach Ken Whisenhunt doesn't view him as a fit for his system. He was neither the one who drafted Johnson nor the one who signed him to that monster contract.

    By cutting him this year, the Titans would save all $10 million of his money in 2015 and all $9 million of it in 2016. That money could go a long way toward helping the franchise rebuild.

    It's unlikely that Johnson would get anything close to his current contract if he hits the open market. He will be 29 on Sept. 23, and his skills have been diminishing for some time. He has rushed for over 100 yards in just 11 games over the past three years, after doing so in 12 straight regular-season games from 2009-10.

Sell: T.J. Ward to Re-Sign with the Cleveland Browns Before Free Agency

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    Safety T.J. Ward could be testing the waters of free agency soon.
    Safety T.J. Ward could be testing the waters of free agency soon.Matt Sullivan/Getty Images

    With just a few days left until the start of free agency, Browns safety T.J. Ward is so close to the open market that he can taste it. Contract negotiations between him and the Browns are ongoing, according to his agent, via Nate Ulrich of the Akron Beacon Journal, but why rush to a deal now? 

    There's a chance that both Ward and Byrd could be among the five highest-paid safeties in the NFL when the free-agency dust has settled.

    Cleveland elected not to use its franchise tag on Ward, so he is not obligated to negotiate only with the Browns. He can see what other teams are willing to offer him in a few days, and if he likes the Browns' offer better—and still wants to remain in Clevelandthen he can stay.

    Ward should have no problem commanding a big contract on the open market. It's a two-horse race between Byrd and Ward as the top free-agent safeties, so the supply is much lower than the demand. 

    The Browns currently have around $46 million in cap space and a lot of needs they could fill with that money: quarterback, running back, cornerback and linebacker. If Ward leaves the fold, they'll be looking for a safety as well.  

    There's still a chance that Ward returns to the Browns. With free agency just a few days away, though, he should be in no rush to sign the first offer thrown at him.

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