Mock drafts often hold center stage during an off-season in an attempt to pinpoint where players are going. So where might the biggest names end up in 2014 NFL free agency?
#1. Jimmy Graham – TE – Landing Spot: New Orleans Saints
It might seem a bit anti-climactic, but it’s very difficult to fathom Jimmy Graham playing with any other team besides the New Orleans Saints in 2014. He is one of the most devastating offensive weapons in the league today and a nightmare to cover due to his rare blend of size, speed and body control. The Saints offense would survive without him, but it would be dealt a crippling blow in terms of its explosiveness. Drew Brees isn’t getting any younger. His arsenal must be kept as strong as possible. Graham will cost oodles of cash, which means the Saints will have some salary dumping to do.
#2. Jairus Byrd – FS – Landing Spot: Oakland Raiders
The Buffalo Bills are holding out hope that they can get Jairus Byrd to stay with the team that drafted him but after a lengthy holdout and delays getting on the field, it seems the Pro Bowl safety has set his sights on a new home and a big payday. There is no question he is a gifted playmaker and can change games on a dime with his ability to force turnovers. Several teams will want that on their roster, so it may come down to which one has the most money. In that case the Oakland Raiders are an excellent bet. They will have more salary cap space than any team in 2014 NFL free agency and seem intent on building their defense through the secondary. That is based on when GM Reggie McKenzie selected cornerback D.J. Hayden in the draft. Putting Byrd on the back end could give the unit something to build on.
#3. Greg Hardy – DE – Landing Spot: Chicago Bears
The Chicago Bears are hurting a bunch on the defensive line. Three starting defensive tackles including both starters are out with injuries. On top of that long-time star Julius Peppers has shown his age at 33 with a bad tendency to have limited impacts on game. His contract will jump to $18 million against the salary cap next year, signaling the Bears might choose to part ways. That would leave a large series of holes up front Chicago will need to fill. Their defense is predicated on generating pressure from the defensive line, so having a bonafide pass rusher is a must. Greg Hardy will be the best one available. He had double digit sacks in 2012 and is on pace to do so again. At age 25 he is just entering his prime and the Bears defense would fit him like a glove.
#4. Alterraun Verner – CB – Landing Spot: Cleveland Browns
Bolstering the offense will be the full-time project in 2014 for the Cleveland Browns but there is no harm in using their generous amount of cap space to add another playmaker to an already good defense. One area they might want to boost is cornerback. They already have a star in Joe Haden. Giving him a wing man on the other side could elevate the unit from good to great. Alterraun Verner is the best cornerback in football that nobody is talking about. He has five interceptions on the season which leads the league, not to mention an astounding 16 pass deflections. The kid has a nose for the football and makes teams pay for throwing in his direction. Putting him across from Haden would border on being unfair.
#5. Eric Decker – WR – Landing Spot: San Francisco 49ers
He doesn’t get a lot of press even in his own city. That is how good the Denver Broncos passing offense has been but Eric Decker is no joke. He was making plays before Peyton Manning got there. A big receiver, he has a knack for finding open spaces in a defense or beating a corner deep. It’s hard to say whether the Broncos will be able to afford to keep him, which should make him fair game for other teams. The ever aggressive San Francisco 49ers should become favorites at that point. Wide receiver is a huge need for them and they are never shy about doing whatever it takes to fix a roster issue. The 2014 NFL free agency market will be their first crack.