The 2014 NFL free-agent class is one of the deepest in a long time, and the potential for blockbuster moves on Tuesday (the first day teams are allowed to officially sign players) has fans across the league excited.
With safety Jairus Byrd, offensive tackle Branden Albert and wide receiver Eric Decker all on the open market this offseason, the franchises that sign them will receive major boosts.
The following players are great when given the right opportunities, and the teams that sign them during the free-agency period will expect them to live up to their potential as difference-makers.
Jairus Byrd, Safety
There is no denying the ability of former Buffalo Bills safety Jairus Byrd, but it is telling that the organization did not use the franchise tag on the player and looks to be letting him walk via free agency.
The price tag for Byrd will be high, and as ESPN’s Kevin Connors stated, Buffalo shouldn’t spend big money on a player unless it believes he is a franchise cornerstone:
While the Bills may not feel Byrd is worth top dollar, several teams with major weaknesses in the defensive secondary will give the talented free agent his asking price in order to secure his ability.
How dominant has Byrd been at safety? Just ask Pro Football Focus’ Pete Damilatis:
In 5 seasons, Jairus Byrd has allowed 7 TD and a 53.0 QB rating in coverage. Ridiculous.— Pete Damilatis (@PFF_Pete) March 3, 2014
Teams from all across the league will kick the tires on a player with Byrd’s ability, but one club with the right mixture of salary-cap space, need for a safety and willingness to sign big-name free agents is the Philadelphia Eagles.
According to Geoff Mosher of CSNPhilly.com, Byrd has acknowledged the possibility: "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."
That comment indicates Byrd is at least open to the possibility of signing with Philadelphia this offseason, and few teams could benefit from his playmaking ability in the secondary as much as the Eagles.
Predicted Landing Spot: Philadelphia Eagles
Branden Albert, Offensive Tackle
The issues on the Miami Dolphins offensive line have been well-publicized over the last year, and the franchise is heading toward a complete rebuild in the trenches. According to Chris Simms of Bleacher Report, the Miami Dolphins are interested in free-agent left tackle Branden Albert.
Albert has spent his entire career with Kansas City, but he was reportedly close to being traded to Miami last season. The two teams were unable to get a deal done then, and now Albert will be able to join the Dolphins if he chooses.
$10M avg for Jason Peters is good news for Branden Albert, who should be in the ballpark. Maybe more guaranteed, lower avg on 5 year deal— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) February 26, 2014
In a report from Adam H. Beasley of the Miami Herald, the franchise has made Albert its top offseason priority and will likely sign him as soon as teams are legally allowed to do so on Tuesday.
Not only does Albert offer a stabilizing force on the offensive line that can protect Ryan Tannehill and give him a chance to succeed, but he is also a veteran of the league who can be a leader on and off the field, which is something the organization desperately needs.
If Miami signs Albert, he will be a difference-maker for the team on several levels.
Predicted Landing Spot: Miami Dolphins
Eric Decker, Wide Receiver
Last season, wide receiver Eric Decker found success with Peyton Manning under center for the Denver Broncos, but the impending free agent will now take his elite statistics to the open market and cash them in for a monster payday.
Now, Decker must find a team willing to overpay for his production.
Is Eric Decker worth the risk for the Indianapolis Colts?
When top wideout Reggie Wayne went down with an injury last year, the Colts proved that the franchise lacks the elite talent and depth at the position to make a deep postseason run. While Decker would be an expensive addition, quarterback Andrew Luck would have another legitimate weapon to utilize.
Indianapolis has a strong core of young players who provide the team with the salary-cap room to make this deal if Decker is interested. With the receiver offering elite ability on the edge and across the middle, this would be the kind of investment that leads to Luck becoming a better player as well.
Indianapolis must take the educated risk.
Predicted Landing Spot: Indianapolis Colts