The regular season finale is the last chance for a lot of players to put some good tape up for their bids in 2014 NFL free agency. Whose stock is up and whose is down?
Greg Hardy – DE – Carolina Panthers – Stock: Up
Every sack he collects must give off that cha-ching noise because it’s a reality for Greg Hardy. The higher his total goes in 2013 add zeroes to his next contract number in 2014. The Carolina Panthers defensive end is 25-years old and posted back-to-back seasons with 11 sacks. He still has another game left to go this year, not to mention the playoffs. A few more quarterback drops could make him the most sought after defensive free agent on the market.
Jay Cutler – QB – Chicago Bears – Stock: Down
One must describe the stock of Jay Cutler as a rocket sitting on a pad, ready for takeoff. It can go two different ways, either streaking into space or crashing to the ground in a fiery explosion. His performance for the Chicago Bears against Green Bay in week 17 may decide which way that stock goes. A win and good showing gets him a huge payday, a loss and bad showing results in a possible outright release. The only thing that is certain is that the Cutler Question remains unanswered and his ongoing rollercoaster is in the middle of a dip.
T.J. Ward – SS – Cleveland Browns – Stock: Up
Reliable safeties are so hard to find in pro football, so getting one in 2014 NFL free agency would be an outright steal. T.J. Ward has put together not just a career year for the Cleveland Browns but a possible Pro Bowl season. He is second on the team with 104 tackles, has 1.5 sacks and two interceptions, returning one for a touchdown. His versatility and toughness are evident. Teams should come at him aggressively from the opening bell provided the Browns don’t scramble to re-sign him first.
Henry Melton – DT – Chicago Bears – Stock: Down
Crashing and burning is something a pending free agent dreads, but unfortunately some of them do. Defensive tackle Henry Melton has gone through the gauntlet. After signing his franchise tag to start the season, he endured a rough stretch of not sacking the quarterback or producing many tackles. Then he tore his ACL. The blow ended any real possibility of him collecting a lucrative long-term extension similar to Geno Atkins or Ndamukong Suh. If that weren’t bad enough, he took another hit when police arrested him in Texas for assault and drunken disorderly conduct. Now his status is in flux, and it’s not clear whether any team will be willing to touch him next year, even the Chicago Bears.
Brian Orakpo – OLB – Washington Redskins – Stock: Up
Players can only control what they control. Brian Orakpo doesn’t have answers as far as fixing what ails the Washington Redskins defense. He can only worry about his responsibilities on the field, and after a rough injury stretch he has regained his dominant form at outside linebacker. With a game left to go he has 10 sacks and 60 tackles on the season, not to mention an interception return for a touchdown. The 27-year old is in his prime and should expect plenty of interest in 2014 if the Redskins inexplicably let him hit the open market.
Hakeem Nicks – WR – New York Giants – Stock: Down
Eli Manning has not hand a good year, but it isn’t all his fault. The New York Giants offense seems affected by the funk as well, especially wide receiver Hakeem Nicks. Seemingly healthy following some injury problems, the 25-year old has made few impact plays all season. His yardage total could finish below 1,000 for the second-straight year and he has also not caught a single touchdown pass. Having posted a total of 18 yards in the past two games, his stock is bottoming out.
Captain Munnerlyn – CB – Carolina Panthers – Stock: Up
The Carolina Panthers secondary is on the low end of the totem pole in regards to who deserves the most respect on one of the best defenses in the league. They often reap the rewards of having an outstanding front seven that features Luke Kuechly, Thomas Davis, Greg Hardy and Charles Johnson. However, the secondary does have one player deserving of recognition. That is cornerback Captain Munnerlyn. He has quietly put together a very solid season including 66 tackles, three sacks, two interceptions and a forced fumble. He has also started every game without missing a snap. At age 25 that will guarantee him some attention next March.