What Might the Future Hold for Top Unsigned NFL Free Agents?
With the 2014 NFL free-agency period nearly three weeks old, most analysts and fans have decided to turn their attention completely to the upcoming draft.
There are still quality players available on the market, however, even if the early flurry of free-agent signings has dwindled down to a crawl. May's draft is certainly worth getting excited about, especially with the crop of incoming talent, but teams still have an opportunity to improve their rosters before then.
On the next few slides, we will examine some the top remaining free agents and their recent activity and try to determine where free agency might take them as the offseason continues to unwind.
*All statistics via NFL.com.
In the world of free agency, chasing after a center doesn't exactly spring to mind as a bold, game-changing move.
Acquiring Cleveland Browns center Alex Mack, however, would be exactly that. The mammoth 6'4", 311-pound blocker has never missed a start in his five-year career, and Pro Football Focus (subscription required) ranked him as the league's fourth-best center last season.
The problem for teams looking for center help is that that Browns slapped Mack with the transition tag, meaning the team will have the option of matching any competing offer coming from another team.
Since Cleveland used the transition tag instead of the franchise tag, the Browns would receive no draft-pick compensation should another team find a way to sign Mack away. However, since the Browns are in line to pay Mack approximately $10 million this coming season under the tag, any competing offer would likely have to be a massive one.
Mack's agent, Marvin Demoff, told TheMMQB.com's Peter King that he doesn't believe the tag will ensure Mack remains a Brown and that he believes he can create a contract that the team won't offer.
So far, though, there have been no takers, and Mack's situation has pretty much been a non-story throughout the free-agency period.
There were early reports that the Indianapolis Colts and Baltimore Ravens had interest in trying to acquire Mack, per NFL.com's Ian Rapoport, but both teams are likely now out of the mix.
As things currently stand, Mack appears likely to remain a Cleveland Brown for at least one more season.
A three-time Pro Bowler, Jackson easily becomes the hottest name on the market, even if some teams have concerns about his off-field behavior.
According to a recent report by Eliot Shorr-Parks and A.J. Perez of NJ.com, possible gang connections and other behavioral concerns had a hand in Philadelphia's decision to release Jackson. However, it may difficult for teams to pass on a 27-year-old receiver who has averaged more than 1,000 yards per season and 17.2 yards per catch during his young career.
Ian Rapoport of NFL.com reports the Washington Redskins will have the first opportunity to land Jackson, with a visit scheduled for Monday.
The Oakland Raiders are another legitimate possibility, especially considering the receiver expressed interest in playing for his home-state team even before his release from the Eagles, according to Rapoport.
Both of these teams make sense. The Redskins have plenty of knowledge of what their former division rival can accomplish on the field, while the Raiders have the need and the cap space (nearly $14.7 million, according to Spotrac.com) to make a deal happen.
Defensive tackle Kevin Williams has been a mainstay on the Minnesota Vikings defensive line for 11 seasons, but it appears his time there is over.
The Vikings added defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd in the first round of last year's draft and have yet to make a move to bring Williams back into the fold.
Chris Tomasson of the Pioneer Press reported before free agency that Williams wouldn't rule out a return to Minnesota and that there could be mutual interest in a reunion.
However, the Vikings have already re-signed defensive tackle Fred Evans and brought in former New Orleans Saints tackle Tom Johnson, which may mean they're gearing up for a move in a different direction.
Williams will now likely have to decide if he wants to continue his playing career in a different city or weigh the idea of ending his lengthy career and retiring after playing for a single franchise.
Should he choose the former option, he may draw interest from teams looking to upgrade their run defense, like the Dallas Cowboys, Washington Redskins or Chicago Bears (the three worst run-stopping teams last season, according to Pro Football Focus).
The New England Patriots might have been another possibility before Vince Wilfork signed his new three-year deal with the team.
Former Green Bay Packers tight end Jermichael Finley is a dynamic receiving weapon and likely would have been one of the first free-agent targets off the board this offseason barring medical concerns.
Unfortunately, Finley does carry significant medical concerns after being hospitalized and sidelined for the year with a neck injury this past season.
According to ESPN's Rob Demovsky, Packers head coach Mike McCarthy stated this past week that Finley has not been medically cleared to resume playing. This isn't particularly surprising news considering less than five months ago, Finley was forced to undergo single fusion spinal surgery to repair neck damage.
While Finley's physical status is concerning, some team is likely to take a chance on him if it appears at all possible that he will be able to return to the field at some point this coming season. The 6'5", 247-pound pass-catcher can be a game-changer when at his best, as evidenced by his 12.5 yards-per-catch career average.
Finley's best chance to make a comeback may come with the Seattle Seahawks, even though he failed a team physical during a recent free-agent visit. General manager John Schneider is still open to signing the "uniquely talented" Finley, per NFL.com's Marc Sessler.
The Seahawks have shown they are willing to take a chance on players with medical risk (think Percy Harvin), though an immediate gamble on Finley may not be in the cards.
According to Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, sources have indicated that Finley is at least two months away from returning to the field, and presumably that long away from signing with a new team.
With few high-quality defensive backs remaining on the open market, former San Francisco 49ers cornerback Carlos Rogers finds himself near the top of the list of remaining options.
The release of the nine-year veteran of the 49ers and Washington Redskins was likely a salary-saving move, though his play did appear to decline this past season. Rogers ranked just 71st overall among cornerbacks, according to Pro Football Focus.
Rogers should still hold some value as a rotational or slot corner, with some potential to serve as a full-time starter in the right system. Yet his name hasn't been mentioned much in free agency, and teams may be waiting to see how their rosters look after May's draft before legitimately considering the 32-year-old veteran.
Prior to free agency, a report by Chris Lingebach of CBS DC hinted that the Redskins might be willing to bring back Rogers as a free-agent addition. However, the re-signing of DeAngelo Hall and the addition of Tracy Porter may have decreased the likelihood of a reunion.
While the Redskins might now be out of the mix, Rogers may get a call from a team like the New York Jets, San Diego Chargers, Minnesota Vikings or Oakland Raiders (the league's four worst teams in pass coverage last season, according to Pro Football Focus).
Rogers will most likely play somewhere in 2014, but he may well have to wait until after the draft to figure out exactly where.
While many NFL teams have moved away from carrying a traditional fullback on their roster, those that do may take a long look at free-agent fullback Greg Jones.
After eight seasons with the Jacksonville Jaguars, Jones signed a one-year deal with the Houston Texans early last offseason. He performed relatively well in his role with the team and rated ninth overall at his position with Pro Football Focus and eighth in blocking.
While Jones is not much of a threat as a runner (3.4 yards-per-carry career average) or a receiver (just 73 career receptions), he could still make an impact paving the way for runners in 2014 should a team come calling.
However, because of his age (Jones will turn 33 on the weekend of the NFL draft), he may have to wait for calls to come as team weigh younger free-agent options and consider rookie prospects.
Because of his familiarity with the team, the Texans may want to consider bringing Jones back for another season. It is also worth keeping an eye on a possible reunion with former backfield mate Ben Tate, who recently signed with the Cleveland Browns.
New Browns offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan does use a fullback in his offense (Darrel Young filled that role with the Washington Redskins last season), so there could be a job opening up north.
Expect Jones to garner more interest as the calendar moves closer to training camp season.
Longtime Houston Texans tight end Owen Daniels is still a free agent, even though several teams should be interested in his potential to improve an offense.
The eight-year veteran has racked up more than 4,600 yards in his career with a yards-per-reception average of 12.0 and 29 touchdowns. However, there may be some lingering health concerns, as Daniels missed 11 games last season and has missed 26 in the past five years due to injury.
When healthy though, Daniels can produce on the field, and he is sure to find a new home, probably sooner rather than later.
Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh says the team has interest in the 31-year-old pass-catcher, which makes sense considering they have yet to re-sign Ed Dickson.
Other teams that make a lot of sense include the Green Bay Packers, who don't appear likely to bring back Jermichael Finley, and the Oakland Raiders.
The Raiders traded for Texans quarterback Matt Schaub to be the team's new starter, and bringing in a familiar target would certainly help his chances of succeeding.
Though he only appeared in five games this past season, Daniels managed to produce 252 yards and three touchdowns on 24 receptions. He ranked 26th overall among tight ends according to Pro Football Focus in his limited time.