The draft usually holds center stage every off-season but it is nothing without the momentum provided by NFL free agency. With 2014 involving big names like Jay Cutler and Michael Vick, how is the outlook so far?
Josh Freeman – QB – Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Stock: Fading
Few quarterbacks have fallen out of favor faster than Josh Freeman. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, specifically head coach Greg Schiano, was not happen about how his 2012 seasons and warned if he didn’t pick up his game his job status was in doubt. The Bucs are now 0-2 and Freeman has looked nothing like the player that threw for over 4,000 yards last season. While he may still draw interest on the open market, his chances of landing a big contract are disappearing fast.
Ben Tate – RB – Houston Texans – Stock: Rising
Arian Foster doesn’t like to share carries. That’s too bad because he doesn’t run the Houston Texans offense. Gary Kubiak felt there was a need to keep the bodies fresh in the backfield and has decided to involve backup Ben Tate more often. The results have been very exciting. Tate has 148 yards on 18 carries through two games, good for 8.2 yards per carry. That kind of production isn’t just helpful to Houston, but it will only increase his chances of achieving his dream, which is to become a starter. NFL free agency offers him the best chance to do that and the more he helps the Texans win, the more likely it happens.
Jay Cutler – QB – Chicago Bears – Stock: Rising
Clutch quarterbacks are perhaps the most in demand than any other trait. The Chicago Bears always felt they had one in Jay Cutler but due to the spotty talent of their offense he never got a fair shot at proving it. After an off-season overhauling the coaching staff, offensive line and receiving corps the 30-year old quarterback has already proven it twice. He erased an 11-point Cincinnati lead in week one to win 24-21 and then threw a touchdown pass with just ten seconds left in the game to beat Minnesota in week two. If this keeps up his hopes for a new contract and continuing his mission to win Chicago a championship will be fulfilled.
Michael Vick – QB – Philadelphia Eagles – Stock: Fading
Chip Kelly had Michael Vick playing really good football through the first two weeks for the Philadelphia Eagles. While his long-term impact on the franchise is up in the air he still has enough years left in his body for one more multi-year contract if he plays well enough. Unfortunately his stock took a significant hit after the loss to Kansas City. He has fumbled once in every game this season and threw two costly interceptions against the Chiefs. The saving grace for him at present is the six touchdowns he has passed or run for. That must continue but unless he can cut down the turnovers his hopes for staying a starter are growing bleak beyond 2013.
Maurice Jones-Drew – RB – Jacksonville Jaguars – Stock: Fading
NFL free agency and the draft have become rather unkind to running backs as the league pushes more towards a pass-oriented style built around quarterbacks. So not even a three-time Pro Bowler like Maurice Jones-Drew is immune to the sting. His problem though isn’t the new era but simple injuries. After tearing his Lisfranc to end his 2012 season, Jones-Drew tweaked his ankle against Oakland. These ailments combined with his advancing age make his hopes for landing any sort of big contract he was hoping for remote.
Kenny Britt – WR – Tennessee Titans – Stock: Fading
It seems like Kenny Britt has entered that category of another uber-talented body stuck with a ten-cent brain. The Tennessee Titans wide receiver has painted the rainbow of problems over his time in the league from injuries, to arrests to getting benched for not working hard enough to improve his game. That is a bad combination for a guy who becomes a free agent for the first time. Britt has virtually no chance of re-signing with the Titans, and his red flags on and off the field limit the possibilities anywhere else too.
Darren McFadden – RB – Oakland Raiders – Stock: Rising
He’s still one hit away from going back on injured reserve but for the time being Darren McFadden is playing and contributing to the Oakland Raiders offense. He is averaging 4.9 yards per carry and has joined Terrelle Pryor in forming a very respectable read-option offense for the Silver and Black. McFadden, at age 26 won’t ever have a better chance to collect a big contract. He needs a big year, but more importantly he needs to stay healthy. That might be asking too much.
Hakeem Nicks – WR – New York Giants – Stock: Rising
Victor Cruz got the big contract first from the New York Giants but there is no question Eli Manning has voiced the desire for the team to scrape up every penny they can find to keep other pending free agent Hakeem Nicks in house as well. Despite lingering concerns about his health there is no question the Giants offense is much more explosive with him in the lineup. He has averaged 21.9 yards per catch in his first two games of 2013. That kind of explosiveness is highly coveted in NFL free agency. Ask Mike Wallace. Nicks will get a new contract if that continues, whether it’s from the Giants or somebody else.
Greg Hardy – DE – Carolina Panthers – Stock: Fading
Arguably the most intriguing defensive prospect heading into 2014 was Greg Hardy. The 24-year old defensive end was a blossoming pass rusher entering his prime who posted a career best 11 sacks last season. Repeating that production would guarantee him a new deal worth big bucks. The Carolina Panthers knew that which was why they’ve already started early talks for an extension. The problem is they may have cause to hold off. Hardy has yet to post a sack through two games against two susceptible quarterbacks. Unless he picks it up soon people will start to think last season was a fluke, that he merely took advantage of some easy matchups. There are 14 games left to prove otherwise.
Henry Melton – DT – Chicago Bears – Stock: Fading
The same problem has arisen for Henry Melton. The Chicago Bears made him their franchise player when they used the tag on him earlier in the year. However, their unwillingness to sign him long-term was interesting. Now it seems their caution was warranted. The Pro Bowl defensive tackle suffered a concussion in the preseason and has not looked like the same player since he returned. He has no sacks and only three tackles through two games. That is not the kind of production franchise players get paid lots of money for. His bargaining power is slipping with every game he goes without hitting quarterbacks. Chicago wants him to succeed, but their willingness to show restraint has turned out well on the business end so far.
Randy Starks – DT – Miami Dolphins – Stock: Rising
On the other hand, the total opposite has happened for Randy Starks. The defensive tackle was also franchise tagged by his team, the Miami Dolphins. Forced to prove himself again, he already has two sacks on the season while the team has started 2-0. Starks had just 4.5 sacks last season. He is currently on pace for 16. While that number is unlikely, the production proves Starks can play when challenged. If Miami doesn’t sign him, somebody else will.
Jairus Byrd – S – Buffalo Bills – Stock: Fading
First it was a holdout and then a trade request. After two Pro Bowl season in four years it seemed free safety Jairus Byrd felt he was worth more money than the Buffalo Bills are willing to pay. He would’ve had bargaining power too if some things hadn’t gone against him. The first was the revelation he is dealing with plantar fasciitis, a condition that has kept him out for two games. The other was how well the Bills defense has played without him. The unit currently ranks third overall against the run and have forced three turnovers, returning one for a touchdown. They might get even better if he returns, but there is no question they’ve made due without him. He needs to get back on the field in a hurry.