2014 NFL Free Agents: Breaking Down the Top 10 at Every Positional Unit

Russell S. BaxterContributor IMarch 10, 2014

2014 NFL Free Agents: Breaking Down the Top 10 at Every Positional Unit

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    St. Louis Rams four-year pro Rodger Saffold could be part of a busy offensive tackle market this week.
    St. Louis Rams four-year pro Rodger Saffold could be part of a busy offensive tackle market this week.L.G. Patterson/Associated Press

    It’s almost the witching hour.

    On Tuesday, March 11, at 4 p.m. ET, the NFL’s free-agent sweepstakes begin.

    Here, we’ve taken the time to list 10 standout players at nine different positional units (in no particular order) who could become unrestricted free agents on March 11 or who are already available considering their teams released them.

    How did we come up with the players in each category? A combination of their 2013 performance and their career body of work were the major factors in terms of criteria.

    Remember, "could" is the operative word here. Teams will still have time to re-sign their own players.

    Given what we have seen the last few days, it is safe to say that “never” is not an option when it comes to any player returning to his current club.

    We have done our best to keep up with all of the news and speculations when it comes to these 90 performers. And now we are less than 48 hours away from the NFL’s version of The Price Is Right.

    As usual, free agency and financial information comes courtesy of Spotrac (subscription required) and statistical support from Pro Football Focus (subscription required).

Quarterbacks

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    Josh McCown, Chicago Bears

    In eight games with Marc Trestman’s team in 2013, the veteran signal-caller connected on 66.5 percent of his throws for 1,829 yards and 13 touchdowns, getting picked off just once. Obviously he could return to the Bears to once again back up Jay Cutler, but there could be better opportunities out there for McCown.

     

    Michael Vick, Philadelphia Eagles

    Over the past three seasons, the first overall pick in the 2001 draft has had trouble staying on the field and just as many issues hanging on to the football. Since 2011, Vick has thrown 35 touchdown passes but has been picked off 27 times and fumbled 25 times (losing 11) in 30 games. As Ryan Wilson of CBSSports.com documents, Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson thinks the veteran quarterback could be a big addition to his team.

     

    Matt Flynn, Green Bay Packers

    The good news for Flynn in 2013 was the fact that he threw more touchdown passes (eight) than interceptions (five). The bad news for the well-traveled veteran was that he lost six fumbles and was sacked 24 times. Flynn started for both the Oakland Raiders (0-1) and Packers (2-2) this past season, but it remains to be seen if he’s still a hot, or even warm, commodity.

     

    Kellen Clemens, St. Louis Rams

    Pressed into duty when starter Sam Bradford went down this past season, Clemens completed 58.7 percent of his passes for 1,673 yards, eight touchdown passes and seven interceptions in 10 games. Could he wind up back in the Gateway City after winning four of his nine starts in 2013?

     

    Josh Freeman, Minnesota Vikings

    From the 17th overall pick in the 2009 NFL draft to a total mystery. Following his fall from grace with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Freeman latched on with the Vikings last fall and fell on his face badly in his lone start with the Purple Gang. Could he be a major reclamation project for some team around the league?

     

    Colt McCoy, San Francisco 49ers

    After starting 21 games in his first two seasons with the Cleveland Browns from 2010, McCoy has completed 10 of 18 passes for 92 yards and one touchdown the last two years with the Browns and San Francisco 49ers. He could be an interesting option for a number of teams looking to groom a young quarterback while giving him a little competition.

     

    Tarvaris Jackson, Seattle Seahawks

    Yes, that was Jackson playing against the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII. Of course, that was in mop-up duty. Now let’s see if the eight-year veteran goes elsewhere. The one-time Vikings performer owns a 17-17 regular-season record as a starter but hasn’t opened for a team since 2011.

     

    Shaun Hill, Detroit Lions

    Although we have seen him in spot duty, Hill hasn’t started a game since going 3-7 for the Detroit Lions in 2010. Over the last seven seasons with the 49ers and Lions, he’s made 26 starts (13-13 record), and in a total of 34 games over that span, Hill has thrown 41 touchdown passes and 23 interceptions.

     

    Seneca Wallace, Green Bay Packers

    The 2003 fourth-round pick has made only 22 career regular-season starts (6-16 record) and returned this past season (after not playing in 2012) to start three games for the battered Packers. It will be interesting to see if there is a market at all for Wallace, originally drafted by the Seahawks and later also a member of the Cleveland Browns.

     

    Charlie Whitehurst, San Diego Chargers

    Say this for Whitehurst: He has fresh legs. Originally a third-round pick by the San Diego Chargers in 2006, the Clemson University product has played in a total of 13 games over his career and made just four starts with the Bolts and Seahawks. He hasn’t thrown a pass in the regular season since 2011.

Running Backs

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    Knowshon Moreno, Denver Broncos

    In 2013, the AFC champion Broncos got a big year from one of their two first-round picks from 2009. Moreno totaled 1,586 yards from scrimmage and 13 touchdowns, one of five Broncos players to reach the end zone 10 or more times. With Montee Ball waiting in the wings, is there an urgency to bring back Moreno? The latter showed his mettle as a workhorse during the recent postseason.

     

    Ben Tate, Houston Texans

    After missing his entire rookie season in 2010, Tate has done his best to make up for it ever since. In two of his three seasons on the field, the talented back has rushed for 700-plus yards and this past season ran for a team-high 771 yards for the 2-14 Houston Texans.

    Is he one of the top backs about to hit the market? “I think I can bring you an elite running back," said Tate to Fox 26 Sports in Houston. "I've learned a lot being behind Arian (Foster). Definitely, when I'm healthy I think I'm an elite running back in this league, and I feel like I can show my abilities and my numbers and my play will speak for itself.”

     

    Darren McFadden, Oakland Raiders

    When available, the fourth overall pick in the 2008 draft has been something to watch. In 67 games, McFadden has rolled up 5,270 yards from scrimmage and scored 28 touchdowns. But the Raiders have played 96 games over the past six seasons, so you do the math.

     

    Donald Brown, Indianapolis Colts

    Just a theory, but it appears the best thing that ever happened to Brown was a former Brown. Last September, the Colts acquired running back Trent Richardson from Cleveland, but it was this Donald that came up big for Chuck Pagano’s club. Brown led Indianapolis in rushing yards (537) and total touchdowns (eight) in 2013.

     

    LeGarrette Blount, New England Patriots

    The former undrafted free agent was a big factor late in the year for Bill Belichick’s team. Versus the Buffalo Bills in Week 17 and two weeks later, against the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC Divisional Playoffs, Blount ran for a combined 355 yards and six touchdowns and averaged 45.5 yards per kickoff return on four tries. Will he remain a piece of the Patriots backfield or perhaps get a crack as a full-time starter elsewhere in 2014?

     

    Toby Gerhart, Minnesota Vikings

    Being running back Adrian Peterson’s top backup the last four seasons means you are not going to be putting up big numbers. Gerhart has played in 61 games for the Vikings and rushed for 1,305 yards and five scores. Worth noting is the fact that the former Stanford University product had a career year in 2011, when he rolled up 531 yards rushing and managed three touchdown receptions.

     

    Maurice Jones-Drew, Jacksonville Jaguars

    The Jaguars’ all-time leader in total touchdowns scored (81) did his best in rebounding from an injury-shortened 2012 campaign. Jones-Drew led Gus Bradley’s team with 803 yards on the ground, added 43 receptions and scored a team-high five touchdowns. Could the former UCLA product be destined for a return to the West Coast as he prepares for his ninth NFL season?

     

    James Starks, Green Bay Packers

    Running back Eddie Lacy was the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2013, but the Packers also managed to get 493 yards rushing and three touchdowns from Starks in 13 games. Staying healthy has been a big issue for the former sixth-round draft choice from the University at Buffalo, who has missed 16 regular-season games over the past three seasons.

     

    Rashad Jennings, Oakland Raiders

    We already spoke about Darren McFadden and his injury issues with the Silver and Black. Last season, it was Jennings who took up the slack in Oakland, leading the club with 733 yards on the ground and six touchdowns. Will general manager Reggie McKenzie watch both of his top running backs from a year ago hit the open market?

     

    Andre Brown, New York Giants

    It was supposed to be a transition year for Tom Coughlin’s team when it came to the ground game, but second-year running David Wilson struggled early and was later injured. But judging by this photo along with this piece by Ebenezer Samuel of the New York Daily News, we can assume all is going well for Wilson following neck surgery in January.

    Meanwhile, Brown appears ready to hit the free-agent market this Tuesday after leading the Giants with 492 yards rushing in 2013. That total came in eight games, all starts, and was a career high for the four-year pro.

Wide Receivers

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    Eric Decker, Denver Broncos

    Over the last two seasons, the four-year veteran has racked up 172 catches for 2,352 yards and 24 touchdowns. Decker suffered through a less-than-memorable Super Bowl XLVIII, totaling one reception for six yards, but one bad outing shouldn’t keep him from being a hot commodity on the market.

     

    James Jones, Green Bay Packers

    One season after totaling 64 catches and leading the league with 14 touchdown receptions, the Packers wide receiver caught only five fewer passes (59) but managed just three scores in 2013. Then again, Mike McCarthy’s team utilized four different quarterbacks this past season. Green Bay appears loaded at wideout with or without Jones, so it will be interesting to see how this plays out.

     

    Julian Edelman, New England Patriots

    It’s hard to see imagine the nifty wideout and punt returner will go elsewhere, but it’s also difficult to think he will break the bank with the Patriots. Then again, who says he has to? Edelman totaled 105 catches in 2013 but amassed only 1,056 yards (10.1 yards per reception) while scoring six touchdowns. In a season of ups and downs for the New England offense, Edelman was a steady performer.

     

    Emmanuel Sanders, Pittsburgh Steelers

    The Steelers have a Pro Bowl wide receiver in Antonio Brown, but Sanders had his moments in 2013, catching a career-high 67 passes for 740 yards and six touchdowns. Consider that in his first three NFL seasons, the former third-round pick totaled five scoring receptions. Seth Walder of the New York Daily News has Sanders on the New York Jets' short list of potential free-agent additions.

     

    Golden Tate, Seattle Seahawks

    Walder also mentions Tate and New York Giants Hakeem Nicks as possibilities for the Jets. First things first, and that’s Tate, who has spent four seasons in the Pacific Northwest. Tate led the eventual Super Bowl XLVIII champion Seahawks with 64 catches in 2013 and has totaled 15 touchdown receptions the last three seasons.

     

    Hakeem Nicks, New York Giants

    How is it that one of the more talented wide receivers in the league didn’t manage to score a touchdown in 2013? In his first three NFL seasons, Nicks totaled 202 receptions, 24 for scores. He’s been limited due to injuries as of late, making just 109 catches with three touchdowns the last two years.

     

    Jason Avant (Released by Philadelphia Eagles)

    With the Eagles’ recent re-signings of wide receivers Riley Cooper and Jeremy Maclin and with big-play performer DeSean Jackson on the roster, Avant was expendable and now immediately available. In 2013, he caught 38 passes for 447 yards and a pair of scores.

     

    Kenny Britt, Tennessee Titans

    The former first-round pick has had his issues, and perhaps a change of scenery would do him a lot of good. This past season, he totaled more games played (12) than receptions (11), starting only three games. After scoring 12 touchdowns his first two seasons in the league, Britt has reached the end zone just seven times the last three years.

     

    Ted Ginn, Carolina Panthers

    Those who questioned whether Ginn could be more than just a return artist should check out his 2013 season in Carolina. The speedster totaled 36 catches for 556 yards and five touchdowns with the Panthers, then added four receptions for 104 yards in the playoff loss to the San Francisco 49ers.

     

    Dexter McCluster, Kansas City Chiefs

    No Devin Hester on this list? The eight-year veteran is far better known for his prolific performances on special teams. Patrick Finley of the Chicago Sun-Times is one of many who feel Hester is headed to Tampa Bay for a reunion with Lovie Smith next week.

    Meanwhile, McCluster is a versatile threat that can provide a team with many more options than the prolific kick returner. In 2013, the four-year pro finished third on the Chiefs with 53 receptions and also led the NFL in punt returns (58) and punt-return yardage (686), taking two kicks back for scores.

Tight Ends

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    Brandon Pettigrew, Detroit Lions

    What’s in a number after all? In five NFL seasons, Pettigrew has totaled 284 receptions, with 16 of those going for scores. In 2013, New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham caught 16 touchdown passes. With Graham given the franchise tag by his team and Dennis Pitta apparently headed back to Baltimore, the 6’5”, 257-pound Pettigrew expects to be the top tight end on the free-agent market on Tuesday.

     

    Scott Chandler, Buffalo Bills

    After stints with the San Diego Chargers, Bills and Dallas Cowboys his first four years in the NFL, Chandler has found a home back in Buffalo the last three years. In 2013, he led Doug Marrone’s club with 53 receptions, and over the last three seasons he has hauled in 134 passes, 14 for scores. His return to Orchard Park would give young quarterback EJ Manuel an experienced security blanket.

     

    Ed Dickson, Baltimore Ravens

    As previously mentioned, tight end Dennis Pitta will be back in Baltimore in 2014. Will his fellow classmate from the 2010 NFL draft join him?

    One round before general manager Ozzie Newsome picked Pitta, the team opted for Ed Dickson from the University of Oregon. But the latter has seen his production diminish the last two seasons, totaling 46 catches for 498 yards and one touchdown. As a 16-game starter in 2011, Dickson made 54 receptions for 528 yards and five touchdowns.

     

    Jermichael Finley, Green Bay Packers

    Who will the talented tight end suit up for in 2014?

    Finley totaled 25 catches for 300 yards and three scores before an injury that would require spinal fusion surgery shelved him for the final 10 games of 2013. Per NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (via Dan Hanzus), we are now awaiting the results of an examination by Finley's neurosurgeon this weekend to see if the six-year veteran received full medical clearance for this upcoming season.

     

    Garrett Graham, Houston Texans

    Not known for his pass-blocking skills (see Pro Football Focus’ ratings), Graham is an intriguing prospect who comes off an iffy year playing for a team in a funk most of the season. Targeted 89 times in 2013, the former University of Wisconsin product finished third on the Texans with 49 catches and tied for the team lead with five touchdown receptions. Over the last two seasons, Graham has started 20 games, and eight of his 77 grabs have gone for scores.

     

    Brandon Myers, New York Giants

    The former sixth-round pick of the Oakland Raiders looked like he would be a big addition to Tom Coughlin’s club this past season. However, his 47 catches for 522 yards and four touchdowns paled in comparison to his final season with the Silver and Black, when he led that club in receptions (79). Will Myers be one-and-done when it comes to teaming with quarterback Eli Manning, who had his own issues this past season?

     

    Andrew Quarless, Green Bay Packers

    In 2013, Quarless played in all 16 games for the first time in his four-year career and racked up a career-high 32 catches for 312 yards and a pair of scores. That reception total makes up more than half of his career numbers (56). The former fifth-round pick missed all of 2012 with a knee injury but rebounded well this past season. It will be interesting to see if the Packers lose both Finley and Quarless in free agency.

     

    Dustin Keller, Miami Dolphins

    Prior to signing with the Dolphins last offseason, Keller had quite the resume. The former first-round pick of the New York Jets totaled 241 receptions for 2,876 yards and 17 touchdowns in five seasons with the club. Keller missed all of 2013 with a knee injury suffered in the preseason due to a hit by then-rookie safety D.J. Swearinger of the Houston Texans. If healthy, the former Purdue University product makes for a sure-handed addition.

     

    Dallas Clark, Baltimore Ravens

    The career numbers are impressive, to say the least. In 11 NFL seasons, Clark has totaled 505 catches for 5,665 yards and 53 touchdowns with the Indianapolis Colts, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Ravens. This past season, he did his best to help ease the absence of Dennis Pitta by making 31 receptions for 343 yards and three scores for John Harbaugh’s defending-Super Bowl champions.

     

    Ben Hartsock, Carolina Panthers

    A total of 31 receptions with five teams in 10 NFL seasons and you have your classic journeyman. Hartsock has also caught just one touchdown pass in his career. He’s spent the last three seasons with the Panthers and in 2013 did not catch a pass in 13 games. But he was Pro Football Focus’ No. 1-ranked tight end in terms of run-blocking this past season and fourth on the overall list.

Offensive Line

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    T Branden Albert, Kansas City Chiefs

    A year ago, the Chiefs gave Albert the franchise tag, but he and the organization couldn’t come to terms on a long-term deal. Now the Pro Bowl left tackle is about to hit the open market, at least for a day or maybe less. According to Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk, the former first-rounder will be a member of the Dolphins sooner than you can say incentive clauses.

    No doubt the loss of a Pro Bowl tackle will cause a little pain to Chiefs head coach Andy Reid, who will be so sorry to see Albert go away.

     

    T Eugene Monroe, Baltimore Ravens

    The Ravens have a pair of unrestricted free agents at the tackle spots in Monroe and right tackle Michael Oher, although by all indications John Harbaugh and company appear more concerned with keeping Monroe. Baltimore acquired the former first-round pick from the Jacksonville Jaguars last fall, and if general manager Ozzie Newsome doesn’t secure him soon, he doesn’t figure to be without a new team very long. However, according to Aaron Wilson of The Baltimore Sun, progress on Monroe returning to the Ravens is being made.

     

    T Rodger Saffold, St. Louis Rams

    While the Ravens appear to be closing in on bringing Monroe back to Baltimore, Aaron Wilson mentions a number of other prominent tackles that could be on the move. One is Saffold, who may be trading in his current duds in the Gateway City for the Silver and Black in Oakland this week. The former second-round pick played in 12 games this past season and started nine contests at three different positions for Jeff Fisher’s club.

     

    T Jared Veldheer, Oakland Raiders

    The former third-round draft choice was a starter for 43 of his first 48 games of his career dating back to 2010. But the Raiders’ sturdy left tackle missed the majority of 2013, returning for the final five games of the season. There figures to be a lot of interest by teams looking to fortify their offensive front, most notably the Arizona Cardinals. Once again, according to Aaron Wilson, Arizona could be close to a deal with the four-year pro.

     

    T Anthony Collins, Cincinnati Bengals

    An eight-game starter in 2013 (which includes the Bengals’ playoff loss to the San Diego Chargers), Collins appears primed to hit the free-agent market on Tuesday. But before you know it, he could be a member of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, according to Aaron Wilson.

    In six seasons in Cincinnati, Collins never played in all 16 games in any one year. But he rated very well in Pro Football Focus’ ranking of the tackle play in the NFL this past season.

     

    T Zach Strief, New Orleans Saints

    While the Saints were lauded back in 2006 for their seventh-round selection of wide receiver Marques Colston, they also picked up the versatile Strief the same year in the same round. He’s been the team’s main starter at right tackle each of the last three seasons after seeing action at guard the majority of his first five years in the league. Will Strief take the free-agency route out of town like recent departures such as guard Carl Nicks and tackle Jermon Bushrod?

     

    G Jon Asamoah, Kansas City Chiefs

    With Pro Bowl left tackle Branden Albert getting plenty of attention, Asamoah has flown under the radar a bit. This past season, the underrated right guard made 12 starts, and Pro Football Focus gave him solid marks. You can bet Pro Bowl running back Jamaal Charles, who finished second in the NFL in total yards from scrimmage (1,980) and first in the league with 19 touchdowns, would miss the four-year blocker.

     

    G Zane Beadles, Denver Broncos

    Statistically, it was an up-and-down year for the 2012 Pro Bowler, who didn’t have star left tackle Ryan Clady next to him for the vast majority of this past season. Still, the Broncos gave up a league-low 20 sacks during the regular season in 2013, with veteran quarterback Peyton Manning sacked only once during the team’s three-game playoff run. Beadles has started 62 out of 64 regular-season games in four seasons.

     

    C Jonathan Goodwin, San Francisco 49ers

    With Cleveland Browns two-time Pro Bowl center Alex Mack somewhat off the market after the team gave him the transition tag (although he can be signed to an offer sheet), Goodwin moves to the head of the class when it comes to centers available via the free-agent market. The one-time New York Jets and New Orleans Saints pivot has started every game since joining San Francisco in 2011.

     

    C Evan Dietrich-Smith, Green Bay Packers

    The Packers have their share of potential free agents, and Dietrich-Smith is high on the list. He started all 17 games for the team this season, including the playoff loss to the San Francisco 49ers. Despite four different starting quarterbacks in 2013, only two teams in the NFL gained more total yards. Led by NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year and running back Eddie Lacy, Green Bay finished seventh in the NFL in rushing offense. Tom Silverstein of the Journal Sentinel reports that re-signing Dietrich-Smith is high on the Packers’ priority list.

Defensive Line

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    DE Michael Johnson, Cincinnati Bengals

    This past season, Johnson (designated the team’s franchise player in 2013) totaled 56 tackles and 3.5 sacks, forced two fumbles and knocked down nine passes. The five-year pro racked up 11.5 sacks in 2012 but arguably had a more complete campaign for the AFC North champions this past season. It is easy to connect the dots when it comes to Johnson and a possible reunion with Mike Zimmer, now the head coach of the Minnesota Vikings.

     

    DE Jared Allen, Minnesota Vikings

    The numbers are pretty impressive. Allen is a five-time Pro Bowler who racked up 11.5 sacks in 2013, the seventh straight season he’s reached at least 11 sacks. In 10 NFL campaigns, he’s dumped opposing quarterbacks 128.5 times, 85.5 of those sacks coming the last six years with the Vikings.

    The relentless defender will be a big plus to whichever team he lands with this upcoming season. According to CBS Sports NFL Insider Jason La Canfora, Allen is definitely headed elsewhere, and La Canfora reports that defensive end Everson Griffen’s new deal played a role in the team’s decision.

     

    DE Justin Tuck, New York Giants

    There goes the notion of just in time? According to Jordan Raanan of NJ.com, the Giants jumped the gun a few days ago when it came to retaining Tuck, who led the team with 11 sacks in 2013 and has totaled 60.5 sacks in nine seasons. The former Golden Domer was also a pivotal part of New York’s wins in Super Bowls XLII and XLVI, sacking New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady twice in each contest.

     

    DE B.J. Raji, Green Bay Packers

    The five-year veteran was a key part of a Super Bowl championship team in 2010 (remember his interception return for a touchdown in the NFC Championship Game at Chicago). Raji was also named to the Pro Bowl in 2011. Now it appears that the massive pro could be back in “Titletown” with a one-year contract offer from the team, according to NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (via Kevin Patra). Stay tuned.

     

    DT Henry Melton, Chicago Bears

    From Pro Bowler in 2012 to getting the team’s franchise tag in 2013, this past season turned out to be a disappointing one for Melton on the field. The defensive tackle was injured in Week 3 at Pittsburgh and lost for the remainder of the season. He appears ready to hit the open market, and it will be interesting to see the amount of interest considering he’s coming off a shortened season.

     

    DT Kevin Williams, Minnesota Vikings

    The six-time Pro Bowler has missed only five games in 11 seasons. But with new head coach Mike Zimmer and new defensive coordinator George Edwards in Minnesota, what does the future hold for Williams and a front line that has its share of potential unrestricted free agents?  This past season, the sturdy defender totaled 29 tackles and 3.5 sacks, knocked down five passes and managed an interception.

     

    DT Jason Hatcher, Dallas Cowboys

    The Cowboys totaled 34 sacks and finished 32nd in total yards allowed in 2013, making for another troubling and disappointing season for Jerry Jones’ much-discussed franchise. Hatcher notched 11 of those 34 sacks and would wind up earning a trip to Honolulu. There will be another new defensive coordinator in Dallas this fall as Rod Marinelli takes over for Monte Kiffin. But will Hatcher be back with the franchise in 2014?

     

    DT Randy Starks, Miami Dolphins

    In six seasons with the Dolphins, the two-time Pro Bowl defender has totaled 26 sacks. Starks was the team’s designated franchise player a year ago at this time, and now he could be getting ready to hit the free-agent market with teammate and defensive tackle Paul Soliai. In 10 NFL seasons, the first four with the Tennessee Titans, Starks has played in 156 of a possible 160 contests.

     

    DT Jonathan Babineaux, Atlanta Falcons

    Last week, Jay Adams of AtlantaFalcons.com announced that the team had re-signed potential free agent Corey Peters to a one-year contract. Now let’s see if the franchise does the same with the versatile Babineaux, who has started up and down the team’s front and totaled 23.5 sacks in nine seasons with Atlanta.

     

    DT Arthur Jones, Baltimore Ravens

    The four-year pro could be a hot name on the free-agent market when Tuesday afternoon rolls around. After playing in just two games in his rookie campaign in 2010, Jones has seen increased action over the past three years. This past season, the former fifth-round draft choice started a career-high 13 games, totaling 53 tackles and four sacks for the defending-Super Bowl champions.

Linebackers

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    ILB Karlos Dansby, Arizona Cardinals

    According to Ken Somers of the Arizona Republic, the Cardinals recently made Dansby an offer that they hope he doesn’t refuse. It’s safe to say the veteran defender has plenty of bargaining power considering he led the team with 122 tackles and totaled four interceptions, 6.5 sacks and 19 passes defensed in 2013.

     

    MLB Jon Beason, New York Giants  

    The Giants obtained the former Carolina Panthers Pro Bowler in the fall, and he finished second on the club with 93 tackles despite playing in only 12 games with Tom Coughlin’s team in 2013. Not bad for a former first-round pick who had missed 27 contests the previous two seasons combined. Exactly where the seven-year NFL veteran winds up is anyone’s guess.

     

    ILB Daryl Smith, Baltimore Ravens  

    What a season for the 10-year pro, who spent his first nine NFL campaigns with the Jacksonville Jaguars. In 2013, Smith led Baltimore with 123 stops and added five sacks, three interceptions, two forced fumbles and 19 passes defensed. There appears to be plenty of life left in the veteran defender, but will his stay with the Ravens wind up being a very short one?

     

    OLB Shaun Phillips, Denver Broncos

    Yes, Phillips played defensive end for the Broncos this past season and would lead the club with 10 sacks. But the former Pro Bowler and longtime San Diego Chargers defender spent the majority of his 10 NFL seasons at outside linebacker. In nine seasons with the Bolts, Phillips racked up 69.5 sacks and six interceptions.

     

    ILB Pat Angerer, Indianapolis Colts

    With the recent signing of former Cleveland Browns inside linebacker D’Qwell Jackson, Angerer doesn’t appear to be in the Colts’ plans in 2014. The former second-round pick finished fourth on the team with 63 tackles this past season despite playing in only 11 games for Chuck Pagano’s club.

     

    ILB Brandon Spikes, New England Patriots

    Spikes concluded his fourth season in the NFL and with the Patriots on injured reserve. Will it be his last in Foxborough? “I would never say never," said Spikes on a recent edition of NFL AM on NFL Network, via Karen Guregian of the Boston Herald. “You know, everybody (says) you never want to burn a bridge, but I just feel like both sides could benefit from a fresh start.” Spikes finished third on the team with 86 tackles in 2013.

     

    OLB James Anderson, Chicago Bears

    Last offseason, the productive defender was a surprise salary-cap casualty of the Carolina Panthers. Anderson would sign on with the Bears and have another solid campaign for, unfortunately, one of the league’s worst defensive units. The eight-year veteran totaled a team-high 102 tackles and added four sacks for Marc Trestman’s team.

     

    OLB Parys Haralson, New Orleans Saints

    In his first stint with the Saints this past season, the former San Francisco 49ers defender totaled 30 tackles and 3.5 sacks. Always known for his pass-rushing prowess, Haralson could be a nice pickup for a team grooming a young outside linebacker. The former fifth-round pick by the Niners in 2006 from the University of Tennessee missed all of 2012 with an arm injury.

     

    OLB Calvin Pace, New York Jets

    The 11-year pro who has spent the last six seasons with the Jets comes off a solid year in which he totaled 55 tackles and a career-high 10 sacks (second on the team behind defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson’s 10.5 sacks). He’s been a great fit in Rex Ryan’s defensive unit, with 31 of his 52 career sacks coming in the last five seasons under the always interesting head coach.

     

    OLB Wesley Woodyard, Denver Broncos

    The defending AFC champions didn’t wow you with their defensive presence last season, especially when it came to the pass. Woodyard finished second on the team with 84 tackles in 2013, forcing two fumbles, knocking down four passes and totaling 1.5 sacks. If he remains with the Broncos, the entire linebacking corps should be better with two-time Pro Bowler Von Miller on the field more often.

Cornerbacks

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    Alterraun Verner, Tennessee Titans

    The four-year veteran appears to be the hot name on the cornerback ticket these days and with good reason. Verner made his first Pro Bowl this past season after totaling 57 tackles, five interceptions and 23 passes defensed. Marc Sessler of NFL.com wraps up a busy weekend of speculation when it comes to the immediate future of the former fourth-round pick from UCLA.

     

    Aqib Talib, New England Patriots

    Last week, Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald suggested that it would take a king’s ransom to keep the Pro Bowl cornerback in New England this season. The talented defender earned his first Pro Bowl nod in 2013 following a season in which he totaled 41 tackles, four interceptions and 13 passes defensed. While injuries suffered in the last two AFC title games loom large, it would be a setback to Bill Belichick’s defense if Talib got away.

     

    Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Denver Broncos

    Could the former first-round pick of the Arizona Cardinals be headed for a fourth different team in seven years? There’s still time for the Broncos to get a deal done with Rodgers-Cromartie, who totaled 31 tackles and three interceptions while knocking down 15 passes this past season. Of course, Denver has plenty of standout talent that could hit the open market on Tuesday (running back Knowshon Moreno wide receiver Eric Decker, etc.), so general manager John Elway has some tough decisions to make.

     

    Charles Tillman, Chicago Bears

    No matter how you break it down, the Bears’ once-heralded defensive unit looked broken down this past season. Now it could be getting ready to lose one of its most familiar faces of the last decade or so. In 11 seasons with Chicago, Charles Tillman has totaled 47 takeaways (36 interceptions), forced 40 fumbles and been named to a pair of Pro Bowls. He missed eight games this past season and now prepares to hit the open market.

     

    Champ Bailey (Released by Denver Broncos)

    Last Thursday, the Broncos released Bailey, who had spent the last 10 seasons in the Mile High City. In 2013, he played in a career-low five regular-season games, and for the first time in 15 NFL campaigns he did not total an interception. Still, being a 12-time Pro Bowler with 52 career interceptions buys you a lot of benefit of the doubt in this league. Could a move to safety, hardly uncommon for veteran cornerbacks, be in the cards for this former Georgia Bulldog?

     

    Captain Munnerlyn, Carolina Panthers

    Will the Panthers be saying “Captain, My Captain” anytime soon? The five-year veteran comes off a solid campaign for the NFL’s second-ranked defensive unit in 2013. Munnerlyn totaled a pair of interceptions and a dozen passes defensed while racking up 73 tackles. And you have to love the fact that each of the last four interceptions by the heady defender have been returned for scores.

     

    Corey Graham, Baltimore Ravens

    Very quietly, the veteran cornerback has had a terrific run with the Ravens and was a big part of their 2012 NFL championship season. In 2013, the one-time Chicago Bears defender amassed 74 tackles, knocked down a dozen passes and totaled four interceptions.

    The former fifth-round draft choice by the Bears in 2007 from the University of New Hampshire has totaled nine interceptions the last three seasons with Chicago (three) and Baltimore (six).

     

    Vontae Davis, Indianapolis Colts

    This past season, the one-time Miami Dolphins first-rounder totaled 46 tackles and knocked down 12 passes while totaling one interception. The Colts ranked 20th in the league in total yards allowed but gave up just 21 touchdown passes. Indianapolis’ general manager Ryan Grigson still has his share of work to do when it comes to fixing the team’s defensive unit, but retaining Davis would be a step in the right direction.

     

    Antonio Cromartie (Released by New York Jets)

    Despite three interceptions, nine passes defensed and 38 tackles this past season, Cromartie’s days with the Green and White are done with the Jets…at least for now.

    Per NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (via Kevin Patra), New York released the veteran defender Sunday, and it will be interesting to see if he fits elsewhere. The eight-year veteran has totaled 28 career interceptions and has been named to three Pro Bowls with the San Diego Chargers and Jets.

     

    Rashean Mathis, Detroit Lions

    How hard is it to lead your team in passes defensed while not recording an interception in the process? Ask Mathis, who turned that trick in his first season with Detroit in 2013. With new head coach Jim Caldwell and new defensive coordinator Teryl Austin, will there be a second season in the Motor City for Mathis, who has 30 career interceptions in 11 NFL seasons but none since 2011 while he was still with the Jacksonville Jaguars?

Safeties

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    Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

    FS Jairus Byrd, Buffalo Bills

    With New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham and Carolina Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy getting the franchise tag, Byrd would be arguably the top unrestricted free agent on the market come Tuesday. Buffalo’s designated franchise player a year ago, the three-time Pro Bowler has totaled 22 interceptions and forced 11 fumbles in five NFL campaigns.

    This past season, he tied for the Bills’ lead with four interceptions despite missing the first five games of 2013. NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (via Chris Wesseling) reported Saturday that the St. Louis Rams are the latest team to throw their horns in the ring for Byrd.

     

    SS T.J. Ward, Cleveland Browns

    The four-year veteran ranked second on the his team with 112 tackles, plus added 1.5 sacks and a pair of defensive returns for touchdowns in 2013 and made his first Pro Bowl. The Browns made defensive-minded Mike Pettine their eighth head coach since 1999 this offseason, but the playmaking safety figures to be a hot commodity if he indeed reaches the open market on March 11.

    Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com reports that the suitors for Ward’s services this season have reached double digits.

     

    SS Donte Whitner, San Francisco 49ers

    The former first-round pick of the Buffalo Bills joined the 49ers in 2011, and he and his team have reached the NFC title game each year, including an appearance in Super Bowl XLVII. Not bad coming from a team that hasn’t reached the playoffs since 1999. Whitner has totaled just 10 career interceptions in eight seasons but has made consecutive Pro Bowls the last two years.

     

    SS Antoine Bethea, Indianapolis Colts

    As previously started, the Indianapolis defense remains an area of concern despite the efforts of Bethea (110 tackles in 2013) and NFL sack leader Robert Mathis. The team recently added linebacker D’Qwell Jackson (Cleveland Browns) to aid the league’s 26th-ranked run defense. The eight-year veteran and two-time Pro Bowler Bethea has 14 career interceptions on his career resume.

     

    FS Malcolm Jenkins, New Orleans Saints

    A primary starter for each of the last four seasons in the Crescent City, could the former first-round selection’s days with the Saints be numbered? Speaking of numbers, Jenkins totaled 68 tackles and two interceptions, forced a pair of fumbles and nabbed 2.5 sacks this past season for defensive coordinator Rob Ryan.

     

    FS Louis Delmas (Released by Detroit Lions)

    Injuries have been a factor when it comes to the career of Delmas. But when the former second-round pick is on the field, he’s certainly made a difference. Still, he became expendable in the Motor City and has been making the rounds in terms of finding a new home. Last season, he started all 16 games and finished third on the team with 64 tackles, to go along with two sacks and three interceptions.

     

    FS Stevie Brown, New York Giants

    The one-time Oakland Raiders seventh-round draft choice and former Indianapolis Colts defender missed all of 2013 with a knee injury. The previous season, the former Michigan Wolverine enjoyed an amazing year, totaling eight interceptions and returning those thefts an incredible 307 yards for Tom Coughlin’s club. That season, Brown totaled 76 tackles, knocked down 11 passes and recovered a pair of fumbles.

     

    SS Major Wright, Chicago Bears

    The former third-round pick from the University of Florida has started 42 games over the last three seasons and has certainly made his presence felt. Over that span, he’s totaled nine interceptions and returned three of those thefts for scores. In 2013, Wright finished second on the Bears with 100 tackles, totaled a pair of picks and forced two fumbles.

     

    FS Chris Clemons, Miami Dolphins

    Miami’s fifth-round pick from 2009 has really come into his own the last two seasons. In 2012, he totaled a pair of interceptions and finished third on the team with 98 tackles. This past season, the one-time Clemson Tiger standout amassed 92 stops and one interception and knocked down eight passes. The Dolphins re-signed Pro Bowl cornerback Brent Grimes last week and likely want to keep their secondary intact.

     

    SS Yeremiah Bell, Arizona Cardinals

    While inside linebacker Karlos Dansby led the Cards in stops last season, Bell was second on the club with 76 stops. Throw in a pair of interceptions and 10 passes defensed, and it was a solid year for the former sixth-round pick of the Miami Dolphins, who has now played for three different teams (Dolphins, New York Jets and Cardinals) in as many seasons. Can Arizona really afford to lose its top two tacklers from 2013?