Sep 30, 2013; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham (80) fights off Miami Dolphins strong safety Chris Clemons (30) on his way to scoring a touchdown in the third quarter at Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Crystal LoGiudice-USA TODAY Sports
The draft may hold center stage in the off-season but the buzz can’t begin without the assistance of NFL free agency. The 2014 crop figures to be a good one with big names from several teams looking to cash in. Who looks good?
Josh Freeman – Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The roller coaster ride has hit a new level of ferocity between Josh Freeman and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. It’s unclear if one side or the other is at fault for recent drug allegations but it’s clear that Freeman is trying everything he can to get out of there and away from Greg Schiano. There is still a chance the Bucs could trade him but with his contract expiring that is unlikely. Freeman should become a free agent next March. His age and history of success should garner interest, but team may proceed with caution after what’s happened.
Jay Cutler – Chicago Bears
Letting one loss override three previous victories is not fair to Jay Cutler and it’s reasonable to assume the Chicago Bears won’t do that. He made mistakes in the loss to Detroit, some of them very ugly ones but that doesn’t negate his clutch play the few weeks prior. The team is 3-1 and headed into a home stand. There is a chance Cutler could have his team 6-1 or 5-2 by the bye week. If this happens, the likelihood for him getting re-signed to a long-term deal becomes probability rather than possibility. Still, wait-and-see mode will continue.
Ben Tate – Houston Texans
There is no mistaking it. Ben Tate is no longer just running to help the Houston Texans win. He has his eyes set on landing a starting job of his own, to get out from under the shadow of Arian Foster. He already has interest from the Cleveland Browns and with good reason. Through four games he has averaged 6.7 yards per carry. At that rate there is a very good chance he could rush for over 1,000 yards as a backup. Since he just turned 25, any team that gets him should get him with plenty of gas in the tank.
Darren McFadden – Oakland Raiders
Though the same age as Tate, things couldn’t be going more wrong for Darren McFadden. Try as he might the Oakland Raiders running back still can’t stay healthy. His latest injury came to the leg region yet again when he pulled his hamstring. Already living on the hot seat for his inability to put up a full season, this latest setback should tank any hopes of McFadden landing anything beyond a one-year deal when he hits the market next spring.
Eric Decker – Denver Broncos
On a team filled with weapons, Eric Decker has still managed to find ways to stand out. The Denver Broncos have watched him make some big catches opposite Demaryius Thomas. He’s on pace for over 1,000 yards. Whether that translates to a big pay is up for debate. Denver likely may not offer him premium money because they’ll want to keep their offensive arsenal intact. If Decker wants top cash, he may have to go somewhere else to get it. Other AFC West teams certainly hope he will.
Hakeem Nicks – New York Giants
It seems Victor Cruz was the right receiver to give the money first by the New York Giants. He has clearly been the best pass target for Eli Manning while Hakeem Nicks has withered into obscurity. After getting blanked against Carolina, the Kansas City Chiefs held him to 33 yards. Either the Giants offense is really that bad or Nicks isn’t playing like the receiver who helped lead the team to a championship in 2011. If that’s true, he will have to seek out his own payday someplace else.
Jermichael Finley – Green Bay Packers
Mike McCarthy said no player came to camp in better shape than Jermichael Finley. Through the first part of the season he was favorite target for Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Then things changed after a game in Cincinnati. Finley took an unfortunate shot to the head on a pass downfield, leaving him with a concussion and uncertain to play over the next few weeks. There is still time for him to rescue his cause, but concussions are tricky monsters, especially in NFL free agency.
Jimmy Graham – New Orleans Saints
No player has made a louder “show me the money” statement than Jimmy Graham of the New Orleans Saints. Through four games he already has tallied 458 receiving yards and six touchdowns. He has become the go-to target for Drew Brees as the Saints have closed out the first quarter with a 4-0 record. Graham is a key part of that success. New Orleans does have some salary cap issues and it will be interesting to see how the roster is juggled when the time comes to talk a new deal with the tight end. One thing is for sure. It won’t be cheap.