The 2014 NFL free agency period is set to begin shortly, but the rumor mill is already spinning at full speed.
The legal tampering period now allows teams to contact and negotiate with other teams' free agents, though they cannot officially strike a deal until Tuesday, March 11. That has facilitated plenty of action before the actual free agency period even commences.
For the latest on a trio of defensive stars, check out the latest rumors below.
Bennett to Bears?
Michael Bennett is arguably the top free agent available, and the Seahawks defensive end is receiving strong interest from the Chicago Bears, per Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune. In addition, Patrick Finley of the Chicago Sun-Times notes that having Michael's brother Martellus Bennett could aid the recruiting cause:
The on-field fit makes total sense. Chicago's previously vaunted defense took a huge step back amid injuries and underperformance in 2013. Per Football Outsiders' DVOA metric, the Bears ranked 25th in overall defense last season after finishing first in 2012.
Bennett finished as the third-best 4-3 defensive end in terms of pass-rushing productivity, compiling 65 total pressures on the season. The Bears sacked opponents on just 5.76 percent of dropbacks, per TeamRankings.com, the eighth-worst mark in the league.
Chicago is a bit cap-strapped, with just $8.6 million in cap room. Still, reconstructing the defense is the top priority in the Windy City this offseason, and signing Bennett would go a long ways toward rectifying one hole.
Talib to Washington?
Aqib Talib has re-established his value over the past season-and-a-half with the Patriots, displaying the man-to-man shutdown corner skills he only flashed at times in Tampa Bay. As such, he figures to cash in after signing a one-year "prove-it" type deal with the Pats.
Mike Jones of the Washington Post reports that Washington has expressed interest in Talib. Though Washington has already re-signed top cornerback DeAngelo Hall, no team allowed opponents a higher yards-per-attempt average. Even with Hall back in the fold, Washington needs upgrades in the secondary.
With $7.5 million of dead money from Aaron Hernandez's contract, the Patriots are in a tighter cap situation than usual. New England has just $12.7 million to work with, and given Talib's injury history, the amount of up-front guaranteed money could determine whether or not he returns to Foxborough:
There is no way the #Patriots are signing Talib to big money and not building in performance bonus based on games/snaps played.— Mike Loyko (@NEPD_Loyko) March 3, 2014
Dan Snyder has (infamously) never been afraid to spend, and with $20.4 million to play with, the Redskins can afford to go after some big defensive upgrades. Talib's off-field history and chronic hip woes make him a risky long-term investment, but that has not dissuaded Washington in the past.
Verner to Giants?
Alterraun Verner has received no shortage of interest, as the 25-year-old cornerback represents the rare prime free agent who has not yet even reached his prime. Consequently, the cap-strapped Titans look unlikely to retain his services, per Jim Wyatt of the Tennessean:
#Titans staying in conversation w CB Alterraun Verner, but with so many teams in mix, ? is whether they'll compete with $. I'm doubting it— Jim Wyatt (@jwyattsports) March 9, 2014
The New York Giants are one team that has emerged of late, according to Ralph Vacchiano of the New York Daily News. The Giants were actually a solid pass defense last season, conceding just 5.9 yards per attempt, seventh-best in the league.
With former first-rounder Prince Amukamara emerging and the trio of Terrell Thomas, Trumaine McBride and Corey Webster performing well in 2013, the need for Verner is a bit puzzling. McBride in particular was excellent, limiting opposing quarterbacks to a 57.4 quarterback rating, with just 32 completions on 73 targets.
Where the Giants defense failed was in the front seven. Per TeamRankings.com, New York sacked opponents on just 5.35 percent of dropbacks, the fourth-worst mark in the league. Justin Tuck and Linval Joseph are free agents as well, making the area a prime target for free agency and the draft.
Verner is an excellent player well worth a big contract in zone defenses, where he can take advantage of his excellent recovery speed and ball instincts. For the Giants, there are bigger needs to address, making Verner a bit of an unnecessary luxury.