The 2014 NFL free-agency period doesn't begin until March 11, but rumors are circulating regarding some of the biggest names slated to hit the open market.
Some of the premier players who were scheduled to be free agents, such as New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham and Carolina Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy, have been slapped with the franchise tag designation. Although that puts a slight damper on this critical period of the offseason, plenty of stars should be available for the right price.
There is an element of unpredictability involving the following trio of impending free agents. How they choose should have a league-wide impact.
Dual-threat quarterback Michael Vick could be back with the Philadelphia Eagles, or he could be starting for another team in 2014. The New England Patriots would love to have lockdown corner Aqib Talib back, but at what cost? Finally, ex-Cleveland Browns linebacker D'Qwell Jackson is already making the rounds following his release, and his veteran presence could swing an entire defense's fortunes.
Latest on Michael Vick's Status with Philadelphia Eagles
CBSSports.com's Jason La Canfora reported on Wednesday that Vick will not return to Philadelphia in 2014—even as a backup:
The Philadelphia Eagles will not be bringing back Michael Vick, according to league and team sources. The Eagles are going in a different direction with the backup quarterback spot, and are not interested in retaining Vick, sources said. Nick Foles is their starter and they will explore other veterans to help man the position.
Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk responded to that report, indicating that the Eagles are indeed still considering bringing Vick back if he can't find a shot to start elsewhere:
At the Scouting Combine, Eagles G.M. Howie Roseman told Pro Football Talk on NBCSN that the team plans to follow the lead of quarterback Mike Vick. The free-agent-to-be wants to have a chance to start, and the Eagles will be ready to talk if/when he doesn’t find that opportunity....a source with knowledge of the situation tells PFT that, from the team’s perspective, nothing has changed in the 13 days since Roseman spoke on the matter.
With regard to the teams La Canfora mentioned, Newsday's Bob Glauber has suggested that Vick could go to the New York Jets in a reunion with former Eagles offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, who now calls the plays on coach Rex Ryan's staff:
The fit with the Jets seems logical in light of Geno Smith's struggles under center. Whether Vick would start would depend on how he'd compete with Smith, but his playmaking ability could help make up for a lackluster receiving corps.
That would also be the case if Vick were to go to Oakland. The Raiders are inexperienced at the skills positions but could benefit from a veteran QB as opposed to their two other options in Terrelle Pryor and Matt McGloin.
Given the current situations under center in New York and Oakland, it seems feasible that Vick could give the Jets or Raiders a good chance to win in 2014 if he ascends to the top of the depth chart.
Vick is as talented as quarterbacks come, but he's been prone to both turnovers and injuries throughout his career due to his style of play—not a good combination for teams seeking stability at the game's most important position. Nevertheless, his talents should entice the Jets, the Raiders and others to take a chance on him.
Aqib Talib Reportedly Wants "Top-Of-The-Market" Deal
The most recent Super Bowl proved how valuable a stout secondary is in the modern NFL, as Denver Broncos legend Peyton Manning was shut down by the Seattle Seahawks in a 43-8 loss.
Manning obliterated the New England Patriots in the AFC title game before that, which was largely the result of the Pats being depleted on defense.
For the second season in a row at that stage of the playoffs, Talib exited the field for good with an injury. Each time he left, New England fell apart, agonizingly close but short of pro football's biggest stage.
Therein lies the dilemma with Talib. When he's healthy, the physical 28-year-old is as good a cover corner as anyone—and he's not afraid to help support against the run.
According to Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald, Talib is demanding a massive contract: "Talib wants to be paid as a top-of-the-market corner in free agency, according to a source. Since the Dolphins signed Brent Grimes to a four-year, $32 million contract, including $16 million guaranteed, that baseline for this class of prized free agents has been established."
Howe was also told by a source that Talib didn't require offseason surgery for the hip injury that pulled him out of the AFC Championship Game and that Talib could take a hometown discount of sorts to stay in New England.
Pete Damilatis of Pro Football Focus provided some analysis of how Talib appeared to decline in the latter half of his 2013 Pro Bowl season:
But Talib's reputation as one of the best at his position may win out, especially with the premium value placed on No. 1 cornerbacks. His injuries can be cited to partially excuse his slip in play, though the same argument can be used against him, as he's never played a full 16-game season.
The bottom line is that money talks. Any team willing to fork over more cash than the traditionally stingy Patriots will have a decent chance of stealing Talib away and landing one of the best cornerbacks in the league—when he's healthy.
A Slew of Suitors in Pursuit of D'Qwell Jackson
New Browns general manager Ray Farmer didn't feel that keeping Jackson, the heart of Cleveland's defense and an emotional leader for years on end, was worth a $4.1 million roster bonus. Yes, even with a massive amount of cap room, the Browns didn't deem Jackson worthy of the modest investment.
That led to Jackson's release, and a multitude of teams are certainly glad for Farmer's first high-profile move.
According to NFL.com's Chris Wesseling, who cites NFL Network's Ian Rapoport as part of his report, Jackson met with the Miami Dolphins on Tuesday after having already met with the Denver Broncos and Tennessee Titans.
Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald confirmed D'Qwell Jackson's Tuesday encounter with Miami's brass and stated that Jackson would also talk to the Indianapolis Colts:
Rapoport suggests that the Arizona Cardinals might jump in if they can't re-sign Karlos Dansby, but it'll have to be soon, as Jackson will reportedly make his decision by the end of this week:
So, it seems that several organizations still believe in Jackson's abilities. The 30-year-old had 141 combined tackles, 1.5 sacks, a forced fumble and an interception in 2013.
One positive about the constant turmoil in Cleveland is the fact that Jackson had to play in both 4-3 and 3-4 alignments, making all the calls before the snap amid a revolving door of role players around him. No matter what the scheme was, Jackson found a way to make plays all the time.
Farmer accentuated the positives Jackson brings on and off the field in a statement following the star linebacker's release from the Browns, per ESPN.com's Pat McManamon: "D'Qwell is the epitome of class, leadership and professionalism. Every day of his NFL career, D'Qwell has been a solid representative of the Browns and the city of Cleveland, both between the lines on Sundays and off the field in our area community."
After paying his dues and rewarding the initial faith the Browns had in him by drafting him No. 34 overall in the 2006 draft, Jackson should now find a franchise that is a more consistent winner and has a stronger infrastructure.
The Broncos and Colts seem to be the best destinations for Jackson in that regard, but all the other interested teams seem to have a better outlook than whatever situation he would've encountered had he stayed in Cleveland.