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2016 NFL Free Agency: Rumors and Predictions for Top Players Set to Hit Market

Chris Roling@@Chris_RolingFeatured ColumnistMarch 6, 2016

Doug Martin continues to headline free agency as the market opening nears.
Doug Martin continues to headline free agency as the market opening nears.Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

A different kind of March Madness descends on the sporting world in the coming weeks, when the gates of NFL free agency open, and major names trade old jerseys for new.

With guys such as Mario Williams, Eric Weddle and James Laurinaitis on the market, to name a few, things are already quite interesting. But heavy hitters such as Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Doug Martin are set to join the fray, too.

The so-called "legal tampering" period is on the way, so now would be one of the worst possible times for fans to turn away from the NFL. Franchises are already hard at work figuring out how to upgrade rosters, with free agency first on the docket.

Here's a look at the latest rumblings around guys who might hit the market—and projections as to what will happen if they do.

The Martin-Tampa Bay Split

Martin is on the way to free agency, as most should have guessed going into the offseason.

Running backs don't often get paid much anymore, not with the way teams can simply churn through them coming out of the draft. DeMarco Murray landing a big contract last year and falling on his face didn't help.

So it shouldn't come as a surprise, then, that the Buccaneers and Martin haven't made much in the way of headway in contract talks, according to Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times:

Rick Stroud @NFLSTROUD

Talks between Martin’s agent, Brian Murphy and Bucs GM Jason Licht Saturday failed to close the gap to prevent Martin from being a FA.

Tampa Bay doesn't have much of a reason to pay Martin top dollar. The Boise State product finished with 1,402 yards and six scores this past season while helping rookie quarterback Jameis Winston. But a contract-year explosion from a guy who played in just 17 games over the past two years isn't something Tampa Bay wants to gamble on.

Martin, on the other hand, wants to gamble on the market giving him the cash he desires.

The problem with this approach is simple—Martin is far from alone on the market, thanks to the presence of Lamar Miller, Matt Forte, Arian Foster and many more. Don't forget a draft class boasting Ezekiel Elliott and Derrick Henry.

Strong numbers last year or not, this situation is a tough one for Martin. He's not going to get top dollar, so in the end, a return to Tampa Bay at a price both sides can agree on seems plausible.

Were this a different year, Martin might go somewhere else and get the cash he wants. But there are simply too many alternatives on the market for teams to fork over valuable cash. So Martin will settle back with the Buccaneers at a more team-friendly cost.

Prediction: Martin re-signs with the Buccaneers.

The Adam Jones Sweepstakes

Adam Jones gives a team a solid veteran presence at corner.
Adam Jones gives a team a solid veteran presence at corner.Michael Conroy/Associated Press

Cornerback Adam Jones certainly deserves to host his own sweepstakes this year.

Jones is rather embattled in the minds of most, thanks to a chaotic career trajectory. On the field, though, he's one of the best the NFL has to offer whether most realize it or not, finishing last season as the No. 13 corner in the league in Pro Football Focus' grades.

Given the numbers and his production, Jones has the attention of more than a few teams on the market, according to Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk: "Per a source with knowledge of the situation, the Cowboys, Raiders, Dolphins, Vikings and Browns also are in the mix for Jones. The Bengals likewise hope to retain him."

Jones might be 32 years old, but he's a proven, affordable veteran. Every team mentioned makes sense, too. Cleveland needs all the help it can get. Oakland lost Charles Woodson. Jones has suited up for Dallas in the past. New Miami defensive coordinator Vance Joseph was Jones' positional coach in Cincinnati. Minnesota head coach Mike Zimmer was his defensive coordinator.

At this point in his career, Jones will want to go somewhere he can compete and find comfort. Following Joseph to Miami makes the most sense, especially because he won't have a problem being the top corner on a depth chart featuring Brent Grimes and Bobby McCain.

While perhaps one of the more unexpected bidding wars this year, Jones will get the cash he desires from it and go to a location he's happy with.

Prediction: Jones signs with the Dolphins.

Olivier Vernon's Tricky Situation

Make no mistake—the Miami Dolphins want to keep defensive end Olivier Vernon.

But it has to be at the right price.

The Dolphins slapped the 25-year-old end with the transition tag, but it's not a tag that prevents him from going anywhere. Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald seemed to confirm what most figured, too, in that another team could rather easily steal the talented end from Miami.

"If Vernon gets an offer above the $12.7 million transition tag, which wouldn't be surprising, don't be surprised if the Dolphins move on and try to sign two defensive ends for the price (or barely above) what Vernon alone would cost."

He's the No. 1-rated 4-3 end at PFF with 10 sacks, 30 quarterback hits and 41 hurries, so a team hitting above the $12.7 million to pry Vernon away seems likely.

For Miami, this wouldn't be a world-ending development, not with guys like the aforementioned Williams already on the market. With big cap hits such as Ndamukong Suh and Cam Wake already on the line, anything more than the $12.7 million for a single player doesn't make sense.

It's impossible to know if Vernon wants to leave Miami, but teams such as Oakland, Jacksonville and the New York Giants figure to have interest.

Of the teams with cap space to toy with, the Jacksonville Jaguars figure to reign supreme. According to Spotrac, Jacksonville figures to have about $80 million to toss around, so paying up for Vernon in an effort to combat a division featuring Andrew Luck and Marcus Mariota makes sense.

Vernon would join a budding line featuring Roy Miller and Dante Fowler Jr., so it's a win for all involved. Look for the Jaguars to pay the price to secure a young, proven star defensive end.

Prediction: Vernon signs with the Jaguars.

Stats courtesy of NFL.com and are accurate as of Sunday. All advanced metrics courtesy of Pro Football Focus.

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