It may not hold all the promise of the draft but 2014 NFL free agency should offer plenty of intriguing options for teams to improve. Which ones are on the rise and which should be avoided?
Michael Vick – QB – Philadelphia Eagles – Stock: Down
While the quarterback class for the 2014 draft is becoming one of the deepest in recent memory, the same can’t be said for free agency. With Matt Ryan already locked up and Josh Freeman scrambling to recover his stock after leaving Tampa Bay, the list of big names has dwindled considerably. Michael Vick figured to become one of them with a good year for the Philadelphia Eagles under Chip Kelly. Initially it seemed promising but soon injuries caught up with him again. So when Nick Foles came in and played well as a replacement, it basically meant unless something bad happens Vick should remain on the bench. That and being 33-years old will not help him next March.
Jay Cutler – QB – Chicago Bears – Stock: Up
The Chicago Bears made it clear Jay Cutler had to play well in 2013 if he wanted to get the lucrative contract extension befitting a franchise quarterback. They hired Marc Trestman to help get him there and so far the results are promising. Cutler is on pace to throw for over 4,300 yards along with 32 touchdowns. He’s also cut his interception total down considerably. There is a lot of season left where things can happen but the 30-year old is on track to have a good year. If he can clinch the other part of the stipulation by making the playoffs, there is little chance he won’t get the money he’s looking for.
Ben Tate – RB – Houston Texans – Stock: Up
Running backs aren’t as high in demand as in years past but that doesn’t mean teams become better for not having a good one. Ben Tate is out to prove he’s worth the money to any team with interest. Thus far the Houston Texans have benefitted from that determination. Despite not scoring a touchdown yet, Tate has averaged a healthy 6.2 yards per carry. Though he is still stuck behind Arian Foster on the depth chart several teams have made clear their interest in him once his contract in Houston expires. The Cleveland Browns were only the first to say so.
Darren McFadden – RB – Oakland Raiders – Stock: Down
While a backup gets the notoriety, a former high first round pick in Darren McFadden has watched injuries chip away at his vast potential with the Oakland Raiders. A hamstring issue is only the latest in a long list of problems with his lower extremities. Oakland has soldiered on without him and seem ready to do so once the 2013 season end. Whether 2014 NFL free agency can offer him anything beyond a one-year contract from a team in need of a running back will depend on how quickly McFadden can recover and produce for the Raiders. Otherwise his future in the league will only grow dimmer.
Kenny Britt – WR – Tennessee Titans – Stock: Down
Speaking of wasted talent, Kenny Britt has finally found a way to make the Tennessee Titans lose faith in him. The 25-year old receiver can no longer lean on his ridiculous physical potential as an excuse to play. Injuries, off-the-field problems and now reports of lacking effort have forced the Titans’ hand. With a promising collection of receivers like Kendall Wright and Justin Hunter on board, they felt comfortable enough to put Britt in street clothes on the bench. Trade rumors are already flying, which means if he doesn’t leave via an exchange the likelihood of him returning is near zero. He may land with a modest deal somewhere else, but nothing like what he could be worth if he applied himself better.
Hakeem Nicks – WR – New York Giants – Stock: Up
This veteran receiver meanwhile has something to prove. The New York Giants lit a fire under him after choosing to hand Victor Cruz the big contract extension before the season started. Since then Hakeem Nicks has gradually begun to show them why he should’ve been first. Despite not making a catch in the ugly game against Carolina, Nicks is on pace for over 1,100 receiving yards, averaging 17.7 yards per reception. Given he doesn’t turn 26 until January the demand for his services only goes up, especially if he can start catching touchdowns.
Jermichael Finley – TE – Green Bay Packers – Stock: Down
Manufacturing offensive firepower is one of the trademarks of the Green Bay Packers. Tight end Jermichael Finley had hoped to become a key cog in that machine but for one reason or another has found himself on the outside looking in. After a spat with the team in 2012 over everything from leadership to playing time, he’d hoped to earn a long-term extension or some serious credibility heading into 2014 NFL free agency. Unfortunately a serious concussion suffered in week three against Cincinnati has set him back. In his absence other targets like Randall Cobb and James Jones draw the favor of Aaron Rodgers, not to mention the increased workload of running back Eddie Lacy. There are only so many touches to go around, which is why Finley needs to take advantage of the ones he gets.
Jimmy Graham – TE – New Orleans Saints – Stock: Up
There probably isn’t a free agent more sought after right now in the league than New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham. Not only does he lead all other tight ends in receiving, he leads every wide receiver as well. Through just five games he has 593 yards and six touchdowns. At age 26 he is in his prime and best of all the Saints aren’t necessarily in the perfect position to make sure he doesn’t leave. Based on the numbers alone he could force them to franchise tag him as a wide receiver, which would likely be more money than their limited salary cap can afford. If so, then the bidding war will come fast and furious.