Oct 6, 2013; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Giants wide receiver Hakeem Nicks (88) celebrates a pass reception during the first half against the Philadelphia Eagles at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jim O
All the talk about the 2014 NFL draft makes it easy to overlook an interesting free agency period that will come two months before it. Nothing decides how a team will invest their top draft choices than what they spend on the free agent market. With that in mind, which offensive names have a chance to really shake up draft weekend?
Jay Cutler – Chicago Bears
With Matt Ryan out of the picture and Josh Freeman having tanked his stock for the time being, Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler is by far the best set to become available at his position. He is playing better in 2013 than he has in years, on pace for over 4,300 passing yards and 32 touchdowns. If by some chance the Bears don’t re-sign or franchise him, it’s very likely several teams will try to sign him in hopes of avoiding having to start over with a rookie. Jeff Fisher in St. Louis was a big fan when Cutler came out of college. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers also have a terrific roster with a glaring hole at quarterback. Getting Cutler might turn them into instant contenders and also take them off the list of teams gunning for a first round quarterback.
Ben Tate – Houston Texans
More than ever running backs are viewed as second rate players in the draft. If anything teams prefer to find them cheap in the late rounds or even in free agency. Houston Texans backup Ben Tate is a classic example. Relatively unused playing behind Arian Foster, Tate is looking for a starting job of his own. And why not? He’s averaging 5.3 yards per carry this season. Teams in desperate need of help on the ground, like the Cleveland Browns or New York Giants for example, could sign him and scratch one need off their list of priorities. Doing so prevents taking one in the first or second rounds, opening those slots up for other offensive weapons or skill players on defense.
Hakeem Nicks – New York Giants
Looking ahead the wide receiver crop is not exactly loaded with star power. Of all the names hitting free agency, New York Giants starter Hakeem Nicks is the best name on the list. No other high profile player with a proven track record and no recent history of injuries or off-the-field problems is joining him. What makes his value that much more interesting is the 2014 NFL draft receiver group is largely an enigma. Outside of Clemson star Sammy Watkins there are names with asterisks. Marqise Lee suffered a knee injury midseason. Mike Evans is a big, physical player but lacking some athleticism. It’s really hard seeing more than three receivers go in the first round. That number might drop if Nicks goes to another team.
Branden Albert – Kansas City Chiefs
Perhaps the hardest thing to find during an off-season is a left tackle because they are so coveted. That is why Kansas City Chiefs veteran Branden Albert should attract lots of attention if his team can’t reach a long-term agreement before next May. That means teams hoping for offensive line help can spend some money on a serviceable veteran and focus their draft picks in area that might get them on the path to winning faster. Among the most probable landing spots including the Miami Dolphins and Oakland Raiders. Each have significant problems at left tackle and might benefit immensely from his signing.