Thursday, February 13, 2014

NFL Off-Season: Free Agency (Offence)

It is that time of year again. The Super Bowl has just ended and now all 32 teams must turn their attention to winning the 2015 Super Bowl. First up in my off-season preview is free agency. With cellar teams like the Oakland Raiders, Jacksonville Jaguars and Cleveland Browns having upwards of $40 million to spend and more veteran teams like the Dallas Cowboys, New Orleans Saints and Pittsburgh Steelers over the cap, this off-season could be very interesting. I will be taking a look at the offence in this article, key free agents who can make a team better and the team I believe they will sign with.

This year's quarterback class is a stinker with Michael Vick and Josh McCown being the only semi-decent options out there. Even that is a stretch with both being backups at this point. Let's take a look at where I think some of the "key" quarterback free agents will end up.

Michael Vick: Vick is the best option available this year in a weak class of quarterbacks. If healthy, he could be a nice stop-gap option for a team who drafts a quarterback high in this year's draft class and wants the pick to develop. He could also be a fit for a team with a young quarterback who needs an established backup. Look for the Oakland Raiders, Buffalo Bills or Cleveland Browns to be his top suitors, with the Raiders giving him the best chance to be a starter again.

Josh McCown: If McCown turned the clock back a decade and gave his performance this year back when he was 25, he would be a hot commodity. But with him turning 35 this year, he is the best backup on the market. After putting the Chicago Bears on his back to keep team in playoff contention so late in the season after Jay Cutler went down, he earned himself a nice multi-year deal, which will probably lead to his last of his career. Look for him to head down to Tampa Bay to join and mentor Mike Glennon. If not, he can return to Chicago to continue to back up Jay Cutler.

Josh Freeman: This one hurts me personally being a Buccaneers fan, thinking how far Freeman has fallen and how fast it has taken. I even have a Freeman jersey myself. Beyond that, he is the only quarterback who, with his age and his potential, could be a good "buy low" option for a lot of teams with aging quarterbacks and no heir apparent. The Pittsburgh Steelers or the New York Giants would be a good landing spot for him to go and develop as a person and a player with already established winners at quarterback he can learn from.

Other key free agents include: Matt Cassel, Chad Henne, Matt Flynn and Shaun Hill.

Running Backs/ Fullbacks:
The class at running back this year is actually quite deep in talent, but with a lot of runners who have question marks about durability and if they can be the main guys for teams. At fullback, there is a small list of solid guys hitting free agency who could really help teams that implement a power running style.

Darren McFadden: The former first rounder has tons of talent, but is fragile. He has only broken the 1,000-yard mark once in his career (2010). Injuries have plagued his career. At this point he is not a number one option for a team, but he can be a great second back for a team. He has solid hands, is a hard runner and an okay blocker. A team like the Arizona Cardinals would be a great spot for him to land, teaming with Andre Ellington if Rashard Mendenhall doesn't resign.

Maurice Jones-Drew: It's sad to potentially see Jones-Drew leave Jacksonville as he has been their franchise player/entire offence since Fred Taylor left. This opportunity might be best for him though as he could move on to a contending team and give their ground game a real shot in the arm. MJD has had injury-plagued seasons the last couple years, but carrying the weight of an entire offence on your back will do that. Jones-Drew still has at least 3-4 years left in the tank and, on a solid team with playoff intentions, can be the lead runner. I think he would be a great option for a young team like the Browns, who are a few key players away from a playoff run, or the Titans if they cut Chris Johnson.

Knowshon Moreno: If I was Knowshon, I would hope to goodness that the Broncos would resign me. But with other in-house options to go with, that is very much unlikely. A good all-around back, he is a good change of pace runner who can punish the other teams defence. The New York Giants would be a good spot for Moreno to team with David Wilson to give Eli Manning a good 1-2 punch in the backfield.

John Kuhn: Kuhn is a solid all around full back. He is a punishing blocker, solid runner and has hands out of the back field. A lot of teams could use a solid veteran like Kuhn, but I don't believe he will move on from the Packers. Lead-blocking for offensive rookie of the year Eddie Lacy and blocking for All-World quarterback Aaron Rodgers is a sweet gig. Expect him back in the frozen tundra of Lambeau.

Other key free agents include: Ben Tate, Donald Brown, LaGarrette Blount, Rashad Jennings, Erik Lorig.

Wide Receiver:
A lot of depth in this years receiver class with no real number one guys but a tons of number 2 guys and slot receivers. With so many teams getting away from the run and becoming pass heavy teams these gentlemen will be in high demand.

Eric Decker: Peyton Manning has made Eric Decker a soon-to-be rich man, probably a lot richer then what he should be. Decker is a solid number two receiver with good hands, ball skills and solid run blocking skills. Decker wants to be paid like a number one guy and will more then likely get that money. I am thinking Kansas City would be a good spot for him to land to help out Alex Smith make that offence more potent.

Jeremy Maclin: After suffering an ACL injury last year, Maclin will unlikely be back with the Eagles this year. A speedster and play maker with the ability to stretch the field, he will be highly sought after as long as he is fully recovered. Maclin will be well served in signing a short term one or two year, "prove it" contract so he can get back on the market for a longer term contract shortly. Look for the New York Jets to make a play for him to give Geno Smith some more weapons.

Julian Edelman: Like Eric Decker, becoming a legendary quarterback's new favourite target will make Edelman's bank account very happy. He caught a lot of passes from Tom Brady this season, becoming his number one target. He replaced Wes Welker, catching 105 passes. For a solid possession wide out who runs good routes, a role in the slot would be ideal. Look for a team like Houston or Tampa Bay, who desperately need a good slot receiver, to be good spots for Edelman to ply his trade.

Other key free agent wide outs include; Hakeem Nicks, Golden Tate, Anquan Boldin, James Jones, Jacoby Jones.

Tight End:
The biggest free agent this year is a tight end. New Orleans Saints superstar tight end Jimmy Graham is the stud of this year's crop. There is a lot of depth this year with many quality starters.

Jimmy Graham: The team that signs this game changer will thank their lucky stars that New Orleans is in a real big cap crunch right now or else this would not even be an issue. Not saying that it's not possible for Graham not to be back catching passes from Drew Brees, but there will have to be a bunch of cuts that happen before that's possible. Graham's ability to catch the ball and make plays is top four in the league. His blocking leaves a lot to be desired though. I do believe the Saints will do everything humanly possible to resign Graham, If they can't look, the Green Bay Packers, Buffalo Bills or New York Jets could step up and make a real push for him because of their big need for a game-changing tight end.

Dennis Pitta: I'll just start off by saying I believe that Pitta will be back in Baltimore. New offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak uses his tight end quite often. If you need to find an example of that, look at Owen Daniels in Houston. Pitta is a great pass catcher that hasn't had the chance to shine yet because of injury and the scheme Baltimore has used in the past couple years. If Pitta somehow does not resign with the Ravens, the Detroit Lions are a good suitor to pair him with new head coach Jim Caldwell. who use to be Baltimore's offensive coordinator.

Jermichael Finley: When healthy, Finley is a top five tight end with ball catching skills and big play capability. That is when is he's healthy. After going under the knife to have spinal fusion surgery, Finley will more than likely have to go the Jeremy Maclin way of things and sign a one year "prove it" kind of deal before heading back out to the market. Any of the New York state teams could use Finley at tight end, so look for Buffalo, the Jets and the Giants to make a play for him.

Other key free agents include; Brandon Pettigrew, Dustin Keller, Brandon Myers, Fred Davis

Offensive Line:
This year more than any there is plenty of young, high-end talent hitting the market. Alex Mack and Branden Albert highlight the list quality of players out there. Let's take a look at a couple of the big free agents on the offensive line and where I think they will end up.

Eugene Monroe: Traded to the Baltimore Ravens from Jacksonville, Monroe played very well after the trade. The Ravens' offence was just a mess in general last year, but the line was one of the better pieces. Look for Baltimore to resign Monroe and let Michael Oher hit free agency.

Alex Mack: The young centre from the Brown will get paid in free agency. A solid all-around centre, Mack is good in pass protection, run blocking and smart at calling line protections. He is probably the best centre in the game. I believe Cleveland will back up a Brinks truck to his door to try to keep him. If he does leave, look for Tampa Bay as a potential landing spot if Davin Joseph or Carl Nicks are cut.

Branden Albert: The writing was on the wall with Albert hitting free agency as soon as Eric Fisher was taken number one overall in last year's draft. One of the top five left tackles in the game, Albert will demand a lot of attention and dollars. Looks for Miami to go hard after him to replace Bryant McKinnie.

Other key free agents include; Jared Veldheer, Jordan Gross, Jon Asamoah, Geoff Schwartz, Michael Oher.

Well, that is my look at the offensive side of the football's upcoming free agency period. Stay tuned for my look at the defensive free agents including where key free agents like Jarius Byrd and Brian Orakpo end up.

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