The heart of NFL teams may be in the trenches, but games are ultimately won or lost on the outside. Having a deep bench at the skill positions makes it difficult for opposing teams to plan.
Examining this year's crop of skill-position free agents, there is impact to be found. A lot of it is volatile, possessing some similar boom-or-bust qualities you will see in a draft prospect, but if they hit, the results could be outstanding for a signing team.
With free agency getting set to start Tuesday, here are the key players at skill positions we love and where they are going to end up.
Michael Vick, Quarterback
Potential suitors: Jaguars, Jets, Raiders, Vikings
Not that it's a surprise, but Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports reported Friday the Philadelphia Eagles would not bring back Michael Vick to back up Nick Foles. Vick never seemed likely to return to Philadelphia because of the assumption on his part he can still start.
In addition to the Eagles, Phil Sheridan of ESPN.com reported that Chad Henne's new deal with the Jacksonville Jaguars takes Vick out of the running to play in Jacksonville. With a weak roster combined with Vick's age (33), a deal wouldn't make sense for either party.
Elliot Harrison of NFL.com listed the New York Jets' biggest need as a quarterback, though with Geno Smith entering his second year, Vick would likely start the year as a backup and be asked to start if/when Smith gets hurt or struggles like he did at the end of 2013.
That leaves the Raiders as Vick's best spot to start, even though Adrian Peterson loves what he would add to the Vikings. Minnesota just re-signed Matt Cassel to a two-year deal, and he was effective for the Vikings with a 60.2 completion percentage and 11-9 touchdown-interception ratio in nine games.
@MikeVick would intently make the vikings a playoff team!— Adrian Peterson (@AdrianPeterson) March 6, 2014
The Raiders don't have a serious candidate to start at quarterback in 2014. Terrelle Pryor showed nothing in 11 games, not that he had a lot to work with, and with more money to spend in free agency than anyone, the silver and black can make significant upgrades across the roster to try and be competitive.
But the first piece of the equation is a quarterback. Vick may not be the dynamic force he once was, but he averaged 8.6 yards per attempt in seven games with the Eagles last year. That's at least a good starting point for Oakland to work with.
Hakeem Nicks, Wide Receiver
Potential suitors: Giants, Ravens, Patriots
Despite having good rapport with Eli Manning, at least in previous years before 2013, Hakeem Nicks doesn't seem to be on good terms with the New York Giants.
Tom Coughlin didn't exactly sound worried about Nicks' impending free agency when speaking to Jordan Raanan of NJ.com at the scouting combine.
You’d basically like to have all of your free agents back. That doesn’t happen. You have guys that are injured, you have limitations on salary. I’m sure that the [free-agent] market will be where Hakeem will go and we’ll see what happens.
Which free agent prediction is the best fit?
Coughlin isn't exactly Mr. Cuddly, so his comments aren't a surprise, but the Giants had ample opportunity to try and get something done with Nicks before free agency. It didn't happen, his production has dropped the last two years, and here we are.
Speaking of Nicks' production, his market is also going to be hurt by the fact he's only caught 109 passes for 1,588 yards and three touchdowns the last two years after catching 155 passes for 2,244 yards and 18 touchdowns in 2010-11.
He's just 26 years old, but this is a time when his numbers should be going up, not cratering.
Chris Mortensen of ESPN.com reported that Nicks sent letters to all 32 teams from his doctors indicating that "past foot and knee injuries" are not going to be a problem moving forward, and that he would be willing to accept a one-year contract.
It's no secret the Patriots need a wide receiver who can stretch the field. They already have to contend with Julian Edelman's free agency, but if Bill Belichick can convince Nicks to take a one-year deal to rebuild his value and add a threat on the outside, how does Nicks turn that down?
The Ravens also need another weapon on the outside after seeing how much Joe Flacco suffered without Anquan Boldin last year. But if they were willing to give Boldin away for nothing when he played such a vital role in the Super Bowl run two years ago, signing an "outsider" doesn't seem like Ozzie Newsome's style.
Aqib Talib, Cornerback
Potential suitors: Redskins, Broncos, Patriots
In a league where cornerbacks are more valuable than ever, especially a big, physical one who can play one-on-one, Aqib Talib would seem to be in line for a nice payday this offseason.
According to Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald, Talib expects to walk away from free agency as one of the highest-paid cornerbacks in the league.
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.
The Patriots remain on the list of potential suitors more out of courtesy than any thought they might re-sign him. They have never spent big money on cornerbacks, even releasing past stalwarts like Lawyer Milloy and Ty Law when they were no longer part of Belichick's plan.
Talib is a little different than those two, as he is just 28 years old and was a second-team All-Pro in 2013. But Belichick would much rather cut bait with a player one year too early than risk a huge investment.
That leaves the Redskins and Broncos as logical landing spots for Talib. The Broncos saved $10 million in cap space when they released Champ Bailey, giving them some wiggle room in free agency.
Denver also has to contend with Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie being a free agent. The Broncos have to find help in the secondary after giving up 4,070 passing yards last season. They have the means and need to sign Talib, but his price tag isn't likely to fit their plans.
The Redskins, on the other hand, have never had a problem handing out massive contracts to free agents and are in desperate need for help on defense after ranking in the bottom half of the league in pass defense, run defense, yards allowed per attempt, touchdown passes allowed and opponent completion percentage.
ESPN.com's John Keim wrote that Talib has remained close with former Tampa Bay head coach Raheem Morris, who now coaches Washington's secondary, and the Redskins have almost $21 million in cap space that is surely burning a hole in Dan Snyder's pocket.
Bleacher Report NFL Analyst Chris Simms said the Redskins are making a "major player" for Talib.
It makes too much sense not to happen, so the only thing that the Redskins are waiting for is the window to open to get Talib's signature on the dotted line.
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