This year's NFL free-agent market features plenty of big names that fans have seen perform at a high level for a long time. The question concerns which team they will end up playing for during the 2014 season.
While the draft provides a chance for each team to select the best available player and develop him over a long period of time, free agency is best used as a way to fill holes. The top teams grab the best players at key positions because they feel it is the final step toward a run at the Super Bowl.
Of course, even non-contending teams look to free agency in order to fill short-term needs before the spot can be replaced by a younger player.
This creates a nice market for many of the big names, even those coming off of down years. These players are not necessarily the best available, but they will certainly create headlines when they sign a deal.
Here is a projected landing spot for each of the top free agents on the market this year.
Jairus Byrd, Safety
Prediction: Philadelphia Eagles
The Buffalo Bills know the kind of talent they have on their hands with Jairus Byrd, but it now seems like he will simply cost too much for the team to keep. The organization did not place a franchise tag on him, and he now seems likely to hit the open market.
Kevin Connors of ESPN argues that this is the best thing for both sides:
This is also a good thing for other teams in need of a safety, because Byrd is among the best there is at the position. Pete Damilatis of Pro Football Focus provided a look at the player's defensive numbers throughout his career:
Now, the question concerns which team will be lucky enough to sign him. One possible destination is the Philadelphia Eagles, who allowed the most passing yards in football last season.
Byrd also seemed intrigued with the possibility of playing for the Eagles, per Geoff Mosher of CSN Philly:
I’m familiar with Coach Kelly, and I know they’re headed in the right direction. They made the playoffs last year, so there’s a lot that has to go on. Obviously, they (Kelly and Pettine) are two great coaches and they look forward to doing big things this year.
Although Byrd might end up being the highest-paid free agent this offseason, it will be worth it for the Eagles to pony up the cash and sign a true difference-maker on defense.
Ben Tate, Running Back
Prediction: Cleveland Browns
Although Ben Tate has been a backup to Arian Foster throughout most of his career, fantasy football owners are aware of his ability after he took over the starting role midway through last season.
He finished the year with 771 rushing yards and four touchdowns despite playing much of the year with four broken ribs. While this could lead to questions about his durability, there is no doubting his toughness.
Overall, Tate has averaged an impressive 4.7 yards per carry in three seasons, and he has never carried the ball more than 200 times in a season. This means that he should be relatively fresh entering a new contract, unlike other running backs at 25 years old.
Last season, the Cleveland Browns used a committee approach after trading Trent Richardson, and they ended the year averaging 86.4 rushing yards per game. This was better than just four other teams in the NFL.
As a result, the squad has to improve in this area by bringing in a full-time running back that can handle the workload. Elliot Harrison of NFL.com argues that this pairing would be the perfect match:
Marc Sessler of NFL.com came to this realization in February, when Kyle Shanahan was hired as the Browns offensive coordinator:
Cleveland has the biggest need for a running back in the league, and this fit seems too good not to happen.
Hakeem Nicks, Wide Receiver
Prediction: Carolina Panthers
Despite not having a touchdown last season, Hakeem Nicks still has the talent to be among the best receivers in the league. He ended the year with 56 catches for 896 receiving yards and ranked 11th in the NFL with an average of 16 yards per reception.
Additionally, Nicks is only two years removed from consecutive 70-catch, 1,000-yard seasons with the New York Giants. Rich Cimini of ESPN New York discussed the New York Jets as a destination, but outlined why any team would be interested:
Some teams will look past his poor 2013 production and see the big picture: He's only 26 years old, already has two 1,000-yard seasons and still has the ability to be a legitimate No. 1 receiver when healthy and motivated. ...Nicks has a need, too -- the desire to show teams he's better than the receiver that was blamed for so many of the Giants' offensive problems last season.
The receiver has the strength and catching ability to be a threat all over the field. He would provide a big boost to the Carolina Panthers, as Cam Newton has had very few options to rely upon in the passing game over the past few years.
Carolina has nothing but question marks at receiver, with Steve Smith getting up there in age as well as the fact that Ted Ginn Jr. and Brandon LaFell are nothing more than average, at best. Newton put together his best all-around season in 2013, but he needs help to take the Panthers to the next level.
Nicks would provide that help and solidify the weakest position on the roster. The fact that the receiver was born in Charlotte and went to school at North Carolina will just be a bonus.
Michael Vick, Quarterback
Prediction: Minnesota Vikings
Michael Vick has had the definition of an up-and-down career in the NFL, but right now, it is certainly on the down side. After missing one game due to injury in 2013—a common theme throughout his 11-year career—Nick Foles took over the starting job and never gave it back.
While Vick is not the player he once was, he told Reuben Frank of CSN Philly that he still wants to find a place where he can fight for a starting role. However, despite the need for quarterbacks around the league, not many will want to spend their money on a 33-year-old passer with a history of injury issues and turnover problems.
One possible destination could be the Minnesota, though, as the Vikings are coming off of a dreadful 5-10-1 season. The good news is that the squad is only one year removed from a playoff berth, and the pieces are in place for another run if the quarterback situation gets settled.
Vick can step in immediately and make plays with his arms and legs to help an offense that was stagnant for most of last season.
He also has the endorsement of one important player in Minnesota:
Adrian Peterson has been virtually the entire offense for the Vikings over the past few seasons and needs some help. Vick's dynamic play will force opposing quarterbacks to pay attention to the quarterback and free up space for Peterson.
This move would also allow the Vikings to draft a quarterback for the future in May and not force him into action before he is ready.
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