In order to gauge how active 2014 NFL free agency will be, it starts with identifying where the talent is. Here is a brief look that the best player at every position next year, starting with offense.
Quarterback: Jay Cutler – Chicago Bears
Talent and age wise, there won’t be anybody better on the market next season than Jay Cutler. The Chicago Bears have reached a crossroads with the 30-year old. They want to keep him long-term but still aren’t sure he’s cut out to win a championship for them. Over the second half of the season his fate in free agency will come to light.
Running Back: Ben Tate – Houston Texans
Maurice Jones-Drew and Darren McFadden are the bigger names but their injury problems have robbed them of that game breaking potential they had. Ben Tate is young and relatively less worn down than most backs his age. That is due to his time backing up Arian Foster. He’s averaging 4.5 yards for the season and wants a starting job of his own.
Tight End: Jimmy Graham – New Orleans Saints
It would be stunning if he didn’t get a fat, new extension from the New Orleans Saints but then again Jimmy Graham has made it clear he wants a big pay day and feels he’s earned it. Considering he’s on pace for over 1,480 yards and 20 touchdowns receiving, that is not a big surprise.
Wide Receiver: Hakeem Nicks – New York Giants
This entire position group has talent on paper but is somewhat of a clustered mess due to bad circumstances. Eric Decker is having the best season of his young career. Golden Tate is an excellent dual threat as a receiver and returner. However, in terms of experience and talent, Hakeem Nicks from the New York Giants is still the best despite his struggles this season.
Offensive Tackle: Jared Veldheer – Oakland Raiders
Some would argue Branden Albert of the Chiefs deserves this spot because of how well Kansas City has done. Yet 2014 NFL free agency is about the players, not the teams. At age 26, Jared Veldheer is three years younger than Albert and though he suffered an unfortunate triceps tear that knocked him out for much of the season, has greater long-term upside.
Offensive Guard: Matt Slauson – Chicago Bears
Rookie Kyle Long gets all the love but there is no question the best offensive line signing of 2013 was when the Chicago Bears brought in Matt Slauson at left guard. His play has been a key to their offensive line ranking third in pass protection after being 25th last season. If he doesn’t get an extension from them, somebody will on the open market.
Center: Alex Mack – Cleveland Browns
He can’t account for the poor play around him but there is no question Pro Bowl center Alex Mack is having another standout season at age 27. If the Cleveland Browns don’t plan on keeping him, which would be shocking, a number of teams would love the chance to pay him the money to join their lines elsewhere.