Two veteran Pro Bowlers are on the NFL free-agent market at the moment, and another star is on the way out with his current team and should be a hot commodity upon his likely release.
Former Philadelphia Eagles dynamic receiver DeSean Jackson is searching for a new destination for the first time in his career after the decision was made to cut him Friday. Ryan Clark starred for the Pittsburgh Steelers, forming a great safety tandem with Troy Polamalu, but at age 34, he has yet to find a fresh start.
Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson is soon to circumvent his current circumstances is, and he should have plenty of interested parties once he's available.
Below is a closer look at the latest buzz and rumors surrounding this standout trio, along with analysis regarding their potential next steps.
The question posed above is a legitimate, fascinating one, but in the case of a reported nine front offices, the answer is, "yes."
This information comes from ESPN insider Adam Schefter, who indicated the New York Jets aren't among the myriad of suitors in pursuit of Jackson:
Jets are NOT one of the nine teams that now have inquired on free-agent WR DeSean Jackson.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) March 29, 2014
Coming off a season in which he had 82 receptions for 1,322 yards and nine touchdowns—all career-best totals—Jackson has plenty of leverage despite his discouraging release. Teams desperate for a playmaker like Jackson should be aggressive going after him. Chances are, Jackson will make some significant money.
An organization that hasn't been shy about free-agent spending in the past is the Washington Redskins, whom Jackson will reportedly visit first on Monday, per NFL Network's Ian Rapoport:
#Chiefs were among those who did research on DeSean Jackson, as did plenty of others. Source says they are now OUT. He’ll visit Skins Monday— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) March 30, 2014
The above news also reveals that the Kansas City Chiefs, featuring Jackson's former Philadelphia coach in Andy Reid, are out of the running. That was viewed as a strong fit, but a Jackson-Reid reunion won't come to fruition now after the Chiefs did their homework.
One potential red flag beyond Jackson's reputed inconsistent work ethic and disruptive personality is his reported association with gangs, which he addressed with conviction upon his release, per ESPN.com news services:
...I would like to address the misleading and unfounded reports that my release has anything to do with any affiliation that has been speculated surrounding the company I keep off of the field. I would like to make it very clear that I am not and never have been part of any gang. I am not a gang member, and to speculate and assume that I am involved in such activity off the field is reckless and irresponsible.
Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News felt the Chiefs may have pulled out because of cap space:
At age 27, general managers with more cap room will be inclined to go after Jackson, but it will be interesting to see how Kansas City's move to pull out impacts the young star's market value. If Reid wasn't able to give enough of a ringing endorsement to bring Jackson in, others around the league may have an even harder time taking the plunge.
On the other hand, deep threats and explosive players like Jackson don't grow on trees. Even with a deep 2014 draft class at the receiver position, it won't stop Jackson from landing a strong, starting role somewhere, sometime soon.
In such a pass-crazed league, it's a bit surprising that Clark hasn't found a landing spot just yet. That could be changing soon, however, since he's reportedly due to visit the Seattle Seahawks on Friday, as reported by Aaron Wilson of the National Football Post.
The Seahawks are the reigning Super Bowl champions, which would allow Clark to remain in a winning culture. A potential issue with Seattle is that Clark would not start, since Seattle has two elite safeties in Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor in its "Legion of Boom" secondary.
Clark hinted through his official Twitter on Saturday that he had already visited the Seahawks and left, evidently without a contract:
Whether or not a follow-up meeting happens remains to be seen, the fit doesn't seem right for Clark, whose price tag was reportedly out of Washington's range earlier this offseason, per the Washington Post's Mike Jones.
If Clark is seeking an opportunity for significant playing time, he should look beyond Seattle. Given his lack of off-field problems in the past and his consistency, a needy team should come calling for Clark soon.
Just last season, Clark racked up 104 combined tackles and two interceptions—but perhaps more important, kept the Steelers upbeat in the midst of 0-4 start, as they just missed the playoffs.
Even a lucrative short-term deal would be worth exploring for some team to add Clark as a stopgap starter for a couple of years, given his high football IQ and the veteran experience he provides. It would help along younger defensive backs in addition to enhancing overall leadership.
A big cap figure and an inability to find a trade partner will see Johnson hit the open market, where teams can sign him at a reduced value.
CBSSports.com's Jason La Canfora reports that it will very likely happen this coming week:
Titans very likely to release RB Chris Johnson next week after failed trade attempts. Would draw strong interest as FA as DeSean Jackson did— Jason La Canfora (@JasonLaCanfora) March 28, 2014
Although it seems he's acted like a malcontent in Tennessee and hasn't played as well as he did in his first two, breathtaking seasons as a pro, the perception about Johnson should have changed somewhat.
Following the 2013 season, it was revealed he played much of the year with a torn meniscus. Despite a QB situation that was turbulent yet again, Johnson still managed 1,077 yards rushing, albeit on a career-low 3.9 yards per carry.
That hasn't stopped teams from being interested in Johnson, though. This from ESPNNewYork.com's Rich Cimini:
The Jets are interested in acquiring a veteran, and the name to watch is Chris Johnson. Yeah, that Chris Johnson, who likely will be released by the Tennessee Titans. The Jets need speed, and Johnson has speed. I'm not sure he'd want to play for the Jets and be part of a committee, but I could see the Jets showing interest, depending on his price. He'd be a nice complement to Ivory, a thunder-and-lightning tandem.
Meanwhile, Titans beat writer Jim Wyatt of the Tennessean feels the Atlanta Falcons are the front-runners to land Johnson this offseason:
Who will have the best overall season in 2014?
Jets coach Rex Ryan typically prefers a more physical back for his ground-and-pound style, but Johnson is underrated in his power between the tackles to complement his elite speed. The Falcons have an excellent quarterback in Matt Ryan, who would help open up running lanes and aid Johnson's effort to get back on track.
The most promising long-term option under center during Johnson's career in Tennessee has been Jake Locker–which isn't saying much. A fresh start is necessary for Johnson and the Titans, and it appears to be coming soon.
Teams are taking their time evaluating each of these veterans who have multiple years of greatness on their respective NFL resumes. Jackson has the most upside as the youngest of this trio, but Clark is a great all-around player to have on the back end of a defense in his own right. The biggest wild card in terms of recent play is Johnson, yet he is also so tantalizing given his previous prowess.
Keep an eye on these big names in the coming days. Sooner or later, a team is going to strike a deal with all three of them and immediately improved their rosters ahead of the 2014 season.