Free Agency begins March 11, and like always, not long after that – players will be signing contracts and holding jerseys while smiling for the cameras. As of right now we still have not had one player franchised tagged and only a few have resigned or been released, so things haven’t quite developed yet. Still going by all the rumors there are some players that seem destined to play elsewhere, so let’s examine ten players that have kept the rumor mill going.
1) Greg Hardy , DE, Panthers
Greg Hardy has racked up 26 sacks in the last two seasons and had a monster year plowing down quarterbacks in 2013 with a career high of 15 sacks. Being 25 years old with stats like Hardy’s means a big time payday in the off-season, which leaves the Panthers in quite a predicament, as they already have defensive end Charles Johnson locked into a huge contract.
If Carolina were to sign Hardy, they would put almost $150 million dollars into one position, which would be hard for general manager Dave Gettleman, who just fixed a horrible cap situation while still having 25 players he must evaluate and decide to resign or let go. Carolina can franchise tag Hardy, although being over $11 million for defensive ends is a steep price. The chances of the “The Kraken” being released to free agency are see sawing up and down with each rumor, if he does get let loose he will be the most sought after defensive end, especially with teams using a 4-3 scheme.
- Chances of Leaving – 55%
- Potential Fits - Buccaneers, Raiders, Jaguars, Vikings, Redskins
2) Alterraun Verner , CB, Titans
With last season being his contract year, Alterraun Verner shined at the perfect time, as he totaled five interceptions and finished the season ranked 12th by Pro Football Focus. Now the problem is Tennessee has already paid cornerback Jason McCourty a lot of money to go along with the Titans not seeming interested in taking on another big contract at this position, which is what they will have to do to keep Verner on the roster.
There are many teams with cap space that are in high demand for a cornerback of Verner’s caliber and with him being only 25 years old, he could be just tapping into his potential.
- Chances of Leaving - 85%
- Potential Fits – Jets, Redskins, Colts, Rams, Eagles
3) Lamarr Houston , DE, Raiders
LaMarr Houston only had six sacks this past season; however, he brought consistent pressure to the quarterback, even when he didn’t bring him down. Also with Houston only being 26, he could just be reaching his peak.
Oakland head coach Dennis Allen has stated that he would like Houston back in Oakland next season, but it is still a mystery on how much their willing to offer him. If Oakland low balls Houston and passes on franchise tagging him, he will surely be playing for a team that will give him a nice sum of money.
- Chances of Leaving – 50%
- Potential Fits – Bears, Jaguars, Vikings, Buccaneers, Falcons
4) Eric Decker , WR, Broncos
Eric Decker has stated himself that he has to do what is best for his family, so if a team offers him a bigger contract than Denver, expect him to sign the dotted line. Now Denver has the cap space to offer him a nice contract, but they also have other players like Knowshon Moreno and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, that are up for free agency and will not come cheap, so it will be difficult to keep them all. Thus, until we know how Denver goes about keeping their free agents, Decker’s future in the Mile High city is a little cloudy.
If Denver lets Decker walk, he would fit nicely with any team that has a high-caliber quarterback or another talented receiver on their roster, however, he would be wise to steer clear from teams that want to make him the main receiver or have questions at quarterback as his stats would probably drop immensely.
- Chances of Leaving – 60%
- Potential Fits - Redskins, Colts, Browns, Patriots, Eagles
5) Branden Albert , LT, Chiefs
Last year it seemed like Branden Albert was on his was out of Kansas City after the Chiefs franchised tag him and then drafted left tackle Eric Fisher, but after all the hoopla and rumors he eventually stayed. This year the chances of him moving on are even higher as Eric Fisher has a year under his belt and right tackle Donald Stephenson started to hold his own at the end of season, which makes Albert even more expendable.
Last off-season there were rumors that many teams where interested in Albert, so if he does become available expect him to have many suitors as he plays the blindside at a Pro Bowl level with his pass protection standing out as his biggest trait.
- Chances of Leaving - 80%
- Potential Fits - Dolphins, Buccaneers, Raiders, Cardinals, Giants
6) Michael Bennett , DE, Seahawks
Last season Michael Bennett decided to take a one-year deal with the Seahawks instead of a long-term deal and it paid off with a Super Bowl ring. This off-season Bennett is looking to cash in on his play during Seattle’s Super Bowl run where he had 1.5 sacks, two forced fumbles, and relentlessly brought pressure to opposing quarterbacks.
Bennett has already stated he will not accept a hometown discount to stay in Seattle and with them low on cap room, he could be on to greener pastures somewhere else. The only problem with Bennett is that he has never totaled at least 10 sacks in season. Still we all know there will be a team out there willing to pay him extra because of his success in the playoffs.
- Chances of Leaving – 85%
- Potential Fits -Falcons, Jaguars, Vikings, Bears, Titans
7) Jason Hatcher , DT, Cowboys
Jason Hatcher had a monster season for the Cowboys with 41 tackles and 11 sacks and was their only reliable inside linemen in 2013. With Hatcher putting up such great numbers, his asking price has gone up, which is a problem for Dallas as they have the worst cap situation in the league, so the chances of him playing for the Cowboys next season are very slim.
Now Hatcher is 31 years old and never had a season like last year, therefore, he’s not getting a deal like Greg Hardy, but still will have suitors ready to give him a hefty sum of money.
- Chances of Leaving – 90%
- Potential Fits - Bears, Patriots, Giants, Raiders, Dolphins
8) Dennis Pitta , TE, Ravens
Reports are stating that the Dennis Pitta and Baltimore are far apart in their negations on a new deal, which makes Pitta’s future with the Ravens very hazy. While everybody is talking about Jimmy Graham becoming a free agent, we all know the chances of him going anywhere are slim.
After Graham, Pitta is undoubtedly the next best available tight end with his 61 receptions and seven touchdowns during the Ravens 2012 Super Bowl season doing all the talking. Coming back from injury will keep Pitta’s price tag down, but on the other hand he has proved himself after returning and totaling 20 receptions in four games last season. Plain and simple, teams that are looking for a great check down pass-catcher will fork over the money to sign him.
- Chances of Leaving – 55%
- Potential Fits – Redskins, Buccaneers, Bills, Packers, Patriots
9) Jared Allen , DE, Vikings
In Jared Allen’s six seasons with the Vikings, he has averaged 14.5 sacks a season and ranked 12th for all-time sacks with 128.5. The problem is Minnesota seems ready to get younger, which means that with Allen being 32 years old next season, the interest on bringing him back might be low .
If Allen is on his way out of Minnesota, that brings up the question of what peaks his interest. Does Allen long for a Super Bowl ring, or does “Rodeo” want that last big pay check? No matter happens, Allen will have teams coveting him, as he is one of the best passer rushers of his era.
- Chances of Leaving – 75%
- Potential Fits – Broncos, Patriots, 49ers, Jaguars, Seahawks
10) Brandon Spikes , ILB, Patriots
Brandon Spikes has done well for himself as the inside linebacker for Patriots totaling 178 tackles the last two seasons. The problems is he finished this past season in Bill Belichick’s doghouse, after being late for practice and will have an asking price that will be probably be out of New England’s price range.
As we all know, unless your name is Tom Brady, you are not going to make the big bucks playing for the Patriots. Even so, Spikes will do just fine as he’s the top free agent at his position and will have plenty of suitors ready to give him a nice sum of money.
- Chances of Leaving – 95%
- Potential Fits – Browns, Chiefs, Titans, Colts, Titans
About the Author: John Yeomans
Aspiring sports writer that is letting the world know my thoughts and predictions on the NFL.