The legal tampering continues in the NFL as the league heads toward free agency on March 11, and this three-day window of smoke screens and swerves has made it difficult to determine where some of the biggest names on the market will end up.
While no contracts can be signed until the market officially opens, some of the NFL's biggest names are playing the field at the moment in an effort to find success on an individual level, whether that means a big contract, a place to win games or some combination of the two.
Thanks to a wealth of information about each player and the teams involved, fans can guess the destination of each player.
Safety is arguably the worst position in the league at the moment, so a commodity such as former Buffalo Bills starter Jairus Byrd is going to command a hefty fee.
As one personnel director told Bleacher Report's Dan Pompei, teams that are serious about an upgrade better be willing to pay Byrd.
"Interceptions change games, and that's what he does," said a pro personnel director. "When you have an elite talent like that, you better pay him. The fall off after the elite guys is pretty drastic. Most of the league is playing with safeties they just hope get lined up right."
The market understands this, and one underrated team that may end up forking over the necessary cash is the St. Louis Rams. Coach Jeff Fisher and the front office have shown an interest, according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport:
It is an interesting development, especially when one considers that Byrd himself said on ESPN that a return to Buffalo is a possibility, via Chris Brown of the Bills' official website: “At this point I’m definitely keeping all my options open. See whatever happens in free agency. The lines of communication are open with them as well. So no door is shut.”
A return to Buffalo seems out of the question, and Byrd's comments about it smell like a ploy to play the market. St. Louis is just as good as Buffalo, if not better, and Fisher and the staff seem willing to spend large amounts of cash this offseason in order to salvage jobs.
Bank on Byrd ending up in St. Louis.
Verdict: Byrd signs with the Rams.
Despite arguably being the top overall player available on the market, cornerback Alterraun Verner will not make any visits and has a team to sign with once the market opens, according to Ralph Vacchiano of the New York Daily News:
For those who have missed out on the apparently wild bidding frenzy, a wealth of teams are in the mix for his services, as detailed by Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean:
This is the beauty of the tampering period and smoke screens. Verner could very well already have a deal in place. Or his representatives are making it seem like he does in order to get teams to jump back into the fray and offer more cash.
While a reunion in St. Louis with former coach Fisher, who drafted Verner into the league, makes sense—perhaps too much, in fact—the Rams do not have that much free cap.
Instead, take the New York Giants as serious contenders for Verner. There is cap aplenty in New York, and Trumaine McBride, Terrell Thomas, Corey Webster and Aaron Ross are all headed to free agency.
New York clearly wants a top-flight corner to pair with other free agents and rookies to rebuild a woeful unit, and the Giants will surely not be shy about whipping out the checkbook for Verner.
Verdict: Verner signs with the Giants.
As arguably the best defensive end available, Michael Johnson has plenty of suitors, chief among them the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, according to Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune:
Johnson would surely wreak havoc on the same line as Gerald McCoy, much as he did in Cincinnati with Geno Atkins. It makes sense that defensive extraordinaire Lovie Smith would have an interest in Johnson, who excels at pressuring the quarterback and is one of the best 4-3 ends in the league against the run.
Of course, the Buccaneers are not alone in the pursuit of Johnson. Chicago has expressed interest, according to Jeff Dickerson of ESPNChicago.com, but a more realistic fit for the Bears seems to be Michael Bennett, whose brother plays tight end for the team.
Minnesota was another favorite, as Johnson's former defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer is now head coach of the Vikings, but they have assuredly dropped out of the running after re-signing Everson Griffen.
With Cincinnati likely out of the running thanks to a limited amount of cap space with future extensions in mind, the safe bet is on Johnson heading to Tampa Bay, where he will still play for a defensive guru alongside talented linemen and potentially compete for a postseason berth.
Verdict: Johnson signs with the Buccaneers
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