With so many mock drafts filling the internet of late, perhaps it’s an interesting change of pace to consider where some of the top names in 2014 NFL free agency might land next March.
Jay Cutler – QB – Possible New Home: Chicago Bears
There is just no way to predict how this will go, but the bulk of feelers towards the Chicago Bears camp hint they want Jay Cutler to stay with them beyond 2014 and he wants to stay there and learn under Marc Trestman. Having been through a ton of different offenses the past few years, Cutler is likely not keen to start over again at age 31. He will likely drop his price enough to reach a deal for an extension and stay in Chicago.
Hakeem Nicks – WR – Possible New Home: Carolina Panthers
His time with the New York Giants seems to be winding down. Hakeem Nicks has had a remarkably unusual season. All his numbers are down from what his team has become customary to expect from him, including zero touchdown catches. Either injuries or simple exhaustion from the frantic atmosphere of the Big Apple, Nicks seems destined for a new home. The Carolina Panthers make a ton of sense. Not only do they have a huge need at wide receiver, they also have the advantage of several connections to Nicks including former coaches and a home he has down in North Carolina.
Darren McFadden – RB – Possible New Home: Cleveland Browns
One of the bigger and most unfortunate busts of top NFL draft picks in the past half decade. Anyone with eyes can see Darren McFadden has talent, lots of it. Unfortunately he has no durability to stay on the field where he can showcase that talent. He has never played more than 13 games in a season as a pro. The Oakland Raiders seem fed up with waiting, ready to move on. McFadden will have to swallow a cheap contract in order to regain some of his value, and the Cleveland Browns are an option to make an offer because they can afford it and have an obvious need at the position.
Branden Albert – OT – Possible New Home: Miami Dolphins
The left tackle has endured a lot dating back to last season from quiet battles with the Kansas City Chiefs over his contract to injury problems during the 2013 season. Yet in spite of all of it he remains one of the more reliable left tackles in football, if not elite. With Eric Fisher earning experience on the right side, the Chiefs may choose to move him over to his natural position on the left and let Albert shop in 2014 NFL free agency. If so, the ever aggressive Miami Dolphins become an instant favorite to sign him. They have outrageous needs along the offensive line, especially the left side. Albert could ease some of their burden and make the position less of a need going into the draft.
Jason Hatcher – DT – Possible New Home: Denver Broncos
The veteran defensive tackle is having a Pro Bowl season for the Dallas Cowboys, collecting nine sacks on the season and bolstering an otherwise poor defensive line. He made it clear not too long ago about his intentions to test free agency, meaning he will not just seek a pay day but relief from the years of constant disappointment, not to mention the glitz and glamour surrounding the franchise. If so, the Denver Broncos are a prime destination. They covet defensive linemen and have a need for a pass rushing defensive tackle to help compliment Von Miller.
Michael Johnson – DE – Possible New Home: Seattle Seahawks
Somewhat underappreciated by some though he did receive the franchise tag from the Cincinnati Bengals, defensive end Michael Johnson nonetheless did not get the raise he was hoping for from the team. Instead they gave it to Carlos Dunlap, which may entice Johnson to hit the open market. Such a player is exactly the kind of understated pass rush the Seattle Seahawks love to scoop up. They did so this past March when they got Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril. Johnson is long and disruptive at the line of scrimmage, just the kind of player built to play in Seattle.
Brian Orakpo – OLB – Possible New Home: Indianapolis Colts
Chuck Pagano has done a marvelous job rebuilding the defense of the Indianapolis Colts in such a short period of time. That being said, they still need help with their pass rush, particularly at outside linebacker. With no first round pick, their best bet is to go hunting for an answer in free agency. Arguably the best outside pass rusher expected to be available is Brian Orakpo of the Washington Redskins. Still relatively young and finally healthy after an injury sidelined him last season, he has rounded back into his dominant form with 8.5 sacks despite playing on a bad defense. His compulsion to play for a contender might push him, ironically, to leave Robert Griffin III and play with Andrew Luck.
Aqib Talib – CB – Possible New Home: Philadelphia Eagles
There is no question the New England Patriots would love to keep Aqib Talib in their secondary considering what he’s done for them in 2013. What it comes down to is money. Talib is looking for long-term security, and the Patriots are notorious for not making such offers to veteran players not named Brady. That means he could shop the market with his much improved stock. Expect a team with a 3-4 defense to get the best cracks, and the Philadelphia Eagles are a front runner. They are typical free agent spenders and could really use a legitimate cover man in their secondary that has struggled most of the season.
Jairus Byrd – FS – Possible New Home: Cincinnati Bengals
There will be no more sought after safety in 2014 NFL free agency than Jairus Byrd. A two-time Pro Bowler entering his prime, he is looking to become the highest paid player at his position. A few more interception before the end of the season and there is a good chance he might get that wish from somebody other than the Buffalo Bills, who remain unwilling to fork over the money. Though not a big spender of late, the Cincinnati Bengals could do huge things for their already excellent defense by getting Byrd. The one thing they’ve lacked is a difference-maker at safety. Byrd is that, and could take big advantage of their dynamic pass rush and outstanding coordinator Mike Zimmer.