Even though the top-tier free agents are, for the most part, off the board, there are bargains for NFL teams to find on the secondary market.
In fact, given the direction we have seen this offseason take, a lot of offensive skill players figure to come off the board very soon. Running backs are a dying breed in free agency, but there are a wealth of wide receivers and plenty of teams in need of help on the outside.
Deals come together quickly, so a lot of rumors floating around are going to change a hundred times until contracts are signed. Instead of getting bogged down entirely in the rumor mill, these are the best fits for the best players still on the market.
Hakeem Nicks, WR
No player is generating more interest right now than Hakeem Nicks, for good reason. The former New York Giants receiver is just 26 years old and has the clout of being a first-round draft pick.
Nicks' overall numbers haven't been impressive the last two years (109 catches, 1,588 yards, three touchdowns), but he finished tied for 10th in the NFL with average of 16.0 yards per reception in 2013.
That's why it's no surprise Nicks is reportedly getting interest from Indianapolis, Carolina and San Diego:
WR Hakeem Nicks just told me, "I'm flying to Indy tonight. The plan is to meet with the Colts tomorrow."— Josina Anderson (@JosinaAnderson) March 13, 2014
ESPN's Adam Schefter also reported that the 49ers were interested in Nicks, though they are visiting with another free agent in the meantime:
Patriots free-agent WR Julian Edelman is scheduled to visit the 49ers on Friday, per source. SF also interested in Giants WR Hakeem Nicks.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) March 14, 2014
The 49ers are a nice fit because they need someone to stretch the field, since Anquan Boldin and Michael Crabtree are more physical and play better underneath in space. But they have less than $5 million in cap space, according to Spotrac.com.
The Colts have a ton of cap space and saw how much their offense changed when Reggie Wayne, who is 35 years old, tore his ACL. Playing with a young, star quarterback like Andrew Luck certainly has its appeal, so they are a real threat.
However, when you look at the list of suitors and who needs help on the outside, Carolina makes too much sense.
The Panthers are desperate for an established NFL wide receiver because they don't have anyone on the roster who has caught a pass after releasing Steve Smith and letting Ted Ginn leave via free agency:
The #Panthers have released WR Steve Smith.— Carolina Panthers (@Panthers) March 13, 2014
Nicks is also a local product who can serve a bigger marketing purpose for the Panthers. He played college football at the University of North Carolina and is from Charlotte. It's hard to see them letting him get away.
Best fit: Panthers
Jared Allen, DE
It's amazing how little talk there has been surrounding Jared Allen considering how productive he has been throughout his career. He has had at least 11 sacks every year since 2007 and has started every game since 2008.
Allen's biggest obstacle is convincing teams that his age, 32 on April 3, won't lead to a steep decline in production sooner than later. He still has value, though perhaps has an overinflated sense of it.
NFL.com's Ian Rapoport reported that Allen will seriously consider retirement if he doesn't get the kind of deal he wants:
Jared Allen wants his fair value after averaging 13 sacks. I’m told he’d be at peace living his life without football if he doesn’t get it.— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) March 12, 2014
That severely limits Allen's market, which to this point only seems to include the defending Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks and Chicago Bears, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter:
While Denver focuses on DeMarcus Ware…Vikings free-agent DE Jared Allen is talking with the Bears and Seattle Seahawks, per league source.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) March 12, 2014
Which player-team fit has the most potential?
The Seahawks have $14.7 million left in cap space, according to Spotrac.com, but are also stacked with pass-rushers off the edge like Bruce Irvin, Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril.
The Bears released Julius Peppers and tied for last in the NFL with 31 sacks. Even with the addition of Lamarr Houston, they need more talent on the defensive line, especially in a division with Aaron Rodgers and Matthew Stafford.
Money could be a problem, as the Bears have just under $9 million in cap space, but given the need and Allen's familiarity with the NFC North, they need to find a way to make it happen.
Best fits: Bears
Tarell Brown, CB
It appears that Tarell Brown is the odd-man out in a loaded cornerback market. He's generated no substantial traffic at all, with the most notable blurb from Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald stating that the Dolphins have "expressed interest."
Even Brown's former team, the San Francisco 49ers, don't appear to be in a hurry to re-sign him. Matt Maiocco of Comcast SportsNet Bay Area reported that they like their current cornerback situation and will only go so high to retain Brown's services:
49ers are comfortable with Chris Culliver and Tramaine Brock as the starters, and they're willing to pay Tarell Brown 3 yrs/$10M per source.— Matt Maiocco (@MaioccoCSN) March 14, 2014
Brown isn't a shutdown cornerback, but is able to do a little bit of everything. He played well in zone and one-on-one situations with the 49ers. His instincts are very good and he has ideal size for a cornerback (5'11", 190 pounds).
Unless the market explodes soon, the 49ers figure to get a good bargain with Brown on a cheap three-year deal. Both sides appear to need each other at this stage. Brown needs leverage to negotiate a better deal, while the 49ers have already let Carlos Rogers go and need depth in the secondary.
Best fit: 49ers
Note: Stats courtesy of NFL.com unless otherwise noted.
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