NFL free agency is in full swing.
Make no mistake, free agents are not technically allowed to sign with their new teams until Tuesday March 10, but the league has implemented a three-day “legal tampering period” that provides a window for players and teams to discuss certain parameters of a deal. As a result, several of the big-ticket commodities on the open market (i.e. Ndamukong Suh and Randall Cobb) are already off the board.
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Still, there is a great deal of intrigue for the rest of the market, as virtually every NFL team has money to spend, ranging from the ability to make a small splash to a handful of clubs who could basically remake their entire roster. Regardless of the level of flexibility, all eyes are on the free agency pool and how things will shake out over the coming days.
In this space, we will take a look at ten of the top remaining free agents and provide a reasonably educated guess as to their landing spots. Team needs and stated player desires will factor in to the proceedings above all else, but previous innuendo also cannot be ignored.
Let’s take a look at the list, formed in alphabetical order.
Next: Justin Forsett
Prediction: Washington Redskins
It is a shame that Forsett is already 29 years old. The former California Golden Bears running back exploded for easily his best season as a professional in 2014, rushing for 1,266 yards and 8 touchdowns as a member of the Baltimore Ravens.
Of course, Forsett was not supposed to be the starter in Baltimore, an honor that was reserved for Ray Rice pre-incident, but the eight-year veteran took full advantage. Now, the 5-foot-8 Forsett is looking to cash in, but he doesn’t have the long list of suitors that you may expect, given his age and relative lack of size.
Still, there could be a fit in Washington. Alfred Morris is already in place, but ideally, the two backs would serve as complements to each other and current third-down back Roy Helu is a free agent. Justin Forsett likely won’t get paid what a 1,200-yard back thinks he should, but it would be interesting to see him land in the nation’s capital.
Next: Brandon Graham
Prediction: New York Giants
Brandon Graham needs the right fit, and the Giants look to be just that. The Giants would be willing to deploy him as a 4-3 defensive end, something he is perfectly suited to do at 265 pounds, and Graham has been wildly effective as a pass-rusher despite a limited role with the Eagles.
In that vein, Graham has posted a pass rushing productivity rating (per Pro Football Focus) of 17.7, and that places him in an elite category off the edge. New York will be looking to replace Mathias Kiwanuka opposite Jason Pierre-Paul, and Graham would look to be a perfect fit.
Things haven’t quite gone according to plan for the former Michigan Wolverine since he was selected with the 13th pick in the 2010 NFL Draft, but a new home could change that in a hurry.
Next: Greg Hardy
Prediction: Indianapolis Colts
Hardy isn’t even eligible to play in the NFL right now, but he is free to sign with a team and expectations are that he’ll be ready to go at some point in 2015. With that, there is expected to be interest across the league for his services, and despite his enormous legal troubles, there is still appeal in a 26-year-old who posted 15 sacks during his last full season.
It is very difficult to peg a specific market for Hardy, however, and he lands with the Colts here based on need. Indianapolis was vocally in the running for Ndamukong Suh before he came off the board, and the Colts are in need of an impact pass-rusher, which is something that Hardy can definitely provide at a reduced rate given his legal woes.
Without the off-field trouble, Greg Hardy would be a no-doubt top-5 member of this free agent class, and while that affects his next employment opportunity, he will have a job in a few months.
Next: Mike Iupati
Prediction: Oakland Raiders
The Raiders possess more than $60 million in salary cap room. That makes Oakland a player on the free agent market in a hurry, and Mike Iupati is a player who could land in northern California.
The longtime 49ers guard is one of the best run-blockers in the NFL, as he uses his monstrous 6-foot-5, 330-pound frame to maul defenders into submission. However, San Francisco and Iupati have seemingly been heading in different directions for some time now, and it makes all the sense in the world for their crosstown rivals to throw a significant contract in his direction.
Make no mistake, this would be a financial decision for Iupati, who would obviously be taking a step back in terms of potential to win games, but if Oakland breaks the bank, it would be difficult to walk away from as a 27-year-old searching for one last major deal.
Next: Terrance Knighton
Prediction: Chicago Bears
There are few players who provide more entertainment to football diehards than Terrance Knighton. As a nose tackle, his “highlight” plays are far different than the flashier material provided by skill position players or sack artists, but Knighton uses his 335-pound frame to simply eat blocks on a play-by-play basis, and that is insanely valuable.
The Bears are in need of a 3-4 nose tackle under their new regime, and with former Denver head coach John Fox on board in Chicago, this appears to be an ideal fit. Knighton ranked as a top-10 player in the league against the run a year ago, and the team from the Windy City can use all the help it can get in slowing down the opposition on the ground.
Knighton has a line of suitors that reportedly includes the Colts and Raiders, but his former head coach looks to be the front-runner to continue as his head coach.
Next: Pernell McPhee
Prediction: Oakland Raiders
In this scenario, McPhee would also grab the cash to go alongside former 49ers guard Mike Iupati.
More importantly, McPhee would be paired with budding star Khalil Mack to form a dynamic pass-rushing duo in Oakland, and he would be allowed to build on a 7.5-sack campaign that came as a part-time contributor in 2014. He has shown high-end ability as a power rusher both on the inside and outside, and again, the Raiders will be looking to pay anyone and everyone that will come there.
There are real doubts about Pernell McPhee’s ability to play at an optimal level on a per-play basis if he is made into a full-time starter. However, it is now or never for McPhee to make that jump as a 26-year-old, and the Raiders would be more than accommodating.
Next: DeMarco Murray
Prediction: Dallas Cowboys
This isn’t exciting as the “hot rumor”, but DeMarco Murray just might land in Dallas for another run.
Murray’s market has not been as robust as some imagined, and given his massive workload in 2014, that shouldn’t be a surprise. However, the bigger problem for Murray could be that teams simply see his breakout as a product of the best offensive line in the NFL, and the devaluation of the running back position comes at an inopportune time for the 27-year-old.
If the Cowboys can get him at a slightly reduced rate (and it appears that may happen), it would be a no-brainer. Murray fits their scheme perfectly, and he was arguably the best pure runner in the NFL in 2014 with 1,845 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns. Staying healthy has always been the key for the former Oklahoma standout, but his brittle days could be behind him and playing behind that particular offensive line can only help his longevity.
Dez Bryant received the franchise tag, but the Cowboys could make their dream of retaining both players come true.
Next: Darrelle Revis
Prediction: New England Patriots
Much like Murray, this is the non-sexy scenario for Revis. However, things are different for the All-Pro cornerback, simply because it won’t be a lack of market that keeps him in New England.
A former employer of Revis, the New York Jets, have reportedly jumped into the mix, but with Rex Ryan no longer involved and the Patriots coming off a Super Bowl win, the monetary difference would have to be jarring. The 29-year-old has already made gobs of money in the NFL, and with no signs of slowing down, he could leverage a short-term deal with the Patriots into “one last payday” after this contract concludes.
In the end, Revis and the Patriots are a perfect match, and when Bill Belichick wants something, he usually gets it.
Next: Torrey Smith
Prediction: San Francisco 49ers
This one isn’t exactly a secret. The 49ers have been in vocal pursuit of Smith since free agency “began”, and the now former Baltimore Ravens wideout issued a public send-off thanking his long-time fans for their support in Baltimore.
In terms of fit, this makes sense. Colin Kaepernick is in need of a downfield threat and Smith is the epitome of that. The 26-year-old has averaged 16.9 yards per catch in his five-year career, and while there are some drawbacks to his game, there are few players better at tracking the ball and making plays over the top.
At the very least, Torrey Smith would be a valuable piece in stretching opposing defenses, even if San Francisco’s immediate offensive plans are unclear in the aftermath of jettisoning Jim Harbaugh to Michigan. Smith on a different team could be interesting in its own right, but San Francisco makes sense.
Next: Julius Thomas
Prediction: Jacksonville Jaguars
While we have discussed the seemingly endless cap space for the Oakland Raiders, the Jacksonville Jaguars actually have more in the way of room. Jacksonville could be considered an even less attractive landing spot than Oakland (if that is possible), but early indications are that former Broncos tight end Julius Thomas could be taking the money and running to Florida.
The Broncos appear committed to Demaryius Thomas above all else, leaving Julius Thomas twisting in the wind, and this could be the only big-time payday of his career. The former fourth-round pick has made peanuts by NFL standards to this point, and after an injury-plagued start to his career, there is a feeling that Thomas would be wise to simply take the most money available.
On the field, young quarterback Blake Bortles could certainly use a new toy as a possession receiver, and Thomas fits the bill. Obviously, this isn’t the place that a player signs to compete for a title, but there’s nothing wrong with taking the contract from the highest bidder, and Jacksonville needs to spend their cap space, too.
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