In its typically fast-paced way, the NFL doesn't embrace free agency the way other sports do. Players have to figure out where they are going to learn their new playbook, meaning everything happens so quickly that you don't have time to absorb everything coming at you.
This year, unlike most years, there are a lot of notable names searching for a new home. We are talking about true difference-makers who can take a fringe playoff team and turn them into a Super Bowl contender.
As the news and rumors come flying in, we will attempt to make heads or tails of what is being said and what the thinking could be for the player and/or team.
Aqib Talib, Cornerback
According to Mike Jones of the Washington Post, the Washington Redskins are taking a look at former New England cornerback Aqib Talib to plug the gaping holes in their secondary:
The Redskins have expressed interest in free agent defensive backs Aqib Talib and Mike Mitchell, according to two people with knowledge of the situation.
Talib, who spent the past two seasons with the Patriots, is regarded as one of top cornerbacks on the free agent market, which opens on Tuesday. He long had been regarded as one of Washington’s top free agent targets.
Based on need, this is an obvious fit. Washington ranked 20th in passing yards allowed, 27th in opponents completion percentage and 31st in yards allowed per completion. The Redskins have some flexibility, with more than $19 million in cap space, according to Spotrac.com.
However, there comes a point where need and price have to meet. Talib wants to be paid like one of the top cornerbacks in football, according to Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald.
Talib is 28 years old and regarded as one of the best cornerbacks in the league. Chris Wesseling of NFL.com included the six-year veteran in the "top shelf" of players at the position in December.
We know the Redskins love to spend money, even when they don't have it. Now that they have some wiggle room, would anyone expect him to get a better offer somewhere else?
Dan Snyder should listen to Chris Russell of ESPN 980 in Washington, who noted that this year's crop of free-agent cornerbacks could help the team get a better deal to avoid the pitfalls of past big-money contracts:
Plenty of CB's out on the market boy and girls. PLENTY. No reason to rush into a big money deal with Talib. Patience is a virtue.— Chris Russell (@Russellmania980) March 9, 2014
It also helps Washington's case that Raheem Morris, who coached Talib at Tampa Bay, is the defensive backs coach for the Redskins.
If the choice comes down to patience vs. headlines for Snyder and the Redskins, always bet on the latter.
Maurice Jones-Drew, Running Back
Poor Maurice Jones-Drew. He had to spend his prime years playing in the football abyss that is Jacksonville, only to hit free agency at the age of 29, when most players at the position tend to slow down because of all the hits they have taken. (He turns 29 on March 23.)
On the plus side, Jones-Drew will get one more chance to find a spot where he can play around actual talent. One team on the Jones-Drew hunt, according to Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News, is the New York Jets:
Two interesting & somewhat surprising names on Jets Persons of Interest list: 49ers S Donte Whitner & Jaguars RB Maurice Jones-Drew #nyj— Manish Mehta (@MMehtaNYDN) March 9, 2014
Mehta calls it a surprise because the Jets already have a nice stable of young running backs, including Chris Ivory, who averaged 4.6 yards on 182 carries last year, and Bilal Powell with nearly 700 yards.
Which rumored player-team connection is the best fit?
The Jets are planning to use a power running game that was so successful when the team made consecutive AFC Championship Games in 2009 and 2010. They want to keep Geno Smith under 20 passes per game, according to Tony Pauline of TFY Draft Insider (h/t TheRedZone.org).
That increases their need to have depth at running back, but does Jones-Drew want to take a role as one of many running backs?
It's difficult to be a running back near 30 in the NFL. Jones-Drew's numbers cratered last season with a career-low 3.4 yards per carry in 15 games. Some of that can be attributed to playing for a terrible team that couldn't throw the ball, but you can't put it all on the group around him.
Rex Ryan has a knack for maximizing the abilities of running backs, so a dynamic talent like Jones-Drew does make some sense for the team. But they have enough depth at the position already to wait for him to come to them.
Branden Albert, Offensive Tackle
One year after being stuck with the franchise tag from the Kansas City Chiefs, Branden Albert appears to have his choice of where to play in 2014. He escaped the tagging period unscathed and is hours away from the start of free agency.
It turns out that Albert may not take long to decide where he's playing next. According to Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk, the 29-year-old Pro Bowler is likely going to end up playing for the Miami Dolphins:
All signs point to LT Branden Albert signing with the Dolphins as early as Tuesday http://t.co/pmuqboWvlC— ProFootballTalk (@ProFootballTalk) March 9, 2014
The Dolphins are desperate for help on the offensive line. Forgetting the fact that quarterback Ryan Tannehill was sacked an NFL-high 58 times last season, they can't bring Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin back, can they?
Tannehill succeeded last year in spite of the offensive line. He threw for 3,913 yards, 24 touchdowns and completed 60.4 percent of his passes. Imagine how much better he can get with time to throw the ball.
Despite their spending spree last year, the Dolphins still have $39 million in cap space to play around with, according to Spotrac.com. Offensive line is a huge priority for the team. Albert is going to fall in their lap, even though he's not going to come cheaply.
Sometimes to get where you want to go, you have to spend money.
Stats courtesy of NFL.com unless otherwise noted.
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