As I mentioned in a post a few days ago, 2013 has one of the best-ever free agent crops in history. There are no HUGE names this year to compete with the likes of a Reggie White on defense or a Peyton Manning last year, but a number of players are out there that could be real difference-makers for a new team. Here are some ideas:
Jake Long, OT, Dolphins – possible destinations: St. Louis, Philadelphia, San Diego, Chicago. All three teams are at least average overall, so Jake won’t have to worry about going to a cellar-dweller. Unknowns in Philadelphia and Chicago (new head coaches) could push him in St. Louis’ direction. The Rams also probably have a bigger need than the other two – Philly is getting Jason Peters back from injury and Chicago has J’Marcus Webb and Gabe Carimi. However, Gabe went down his rookie season so his durability isn’t proven so the Bears are probably the least likely of the 3 to sign him. I think the Rams could use him most, desperately swapping embattled tackles in mid-season with the Jets in 2012. Wayne Hunter is definitely NOT the answer any more than former top-10 pick Jason Smith was. With Sam Bradford’s injury history, protecting the blind side should be Jeff Fisher’s top priority. While Long has a recent history of tearing his labrum (chest muscle), he played through part of it and still was an above-average tackle. What it boils down to is the Rams might get him for less money than if his medical history wasn’t so checkered. Kansas City has their own free agent LT in Brandon Albert, otherwise they’d be a contender for Long. If they feel the need for a LT, they’ll probably just re-sign Albert. St. Louis needs to do some magic with their salary cap, but for a Jake Long, they’ll do it out of need.
Destination: St. Louis Rams
The Arizona Cardinals could use any offensive linemen but they have the some of the worst salary cap woes in the NFL, being about a million over the cap as of a month ago. Philadelphia is also only about $5.3 million under the cap.
Branden Albert, OT, Chiefs – possible destinations: Kansas City, Miami, San Diego, Philadelphia, Chicago. The Chargers have needed a LT since Marcus McNeil retired with a narrowing of the spine orthopedic condition, but with less than $9 million in cap space, they’d have to make room for either tackle somehow. Miami could possibly take him and use him as either a tackle or his natural guard position, depending on price. Last year’s second-round pick, Jonathan Martin, has struggled but he’s in the mold that Joe Philbin likes as opposed to the more powerful but less mobile Jake Long. The Chiefs need a LT so they can draft West Virginia QB Geno Smith.
Destination: Kansas City Chiefs
Reggie Bush, RB, Dolphins – possible destinations: New York Jets, Seattle, Denver, Green Bay. The Broncos have Willis McGahee, a bruising but aging RB. Same with Seattle and Marshawn Lynch, the Beast. Reggie Bush would fit in very nicely with any of the teams he’s listed under. He’d instantly help embattled Mark Sanchez in NY, giving him a dynamic dump-off/hot receiver. He’d make the Seattle offense that much more difficult to defend with the mobile Russell Wilson taking the snaps and Manning would love to have him to use all over the field in that offense. It’s just scary to think about a guy like Reggie Bush in Green Bay’s offense and may be who they want to replace the explosiveness they lost with Greg Jennings. RB Cedric Benson has a lot of miles on him, is also a UFA, but never was known for explosiveness.
Destination: Green Bay Packers
Rashard Mendenhall, RB, Steelers – possible destinations: Cincinnati, San Diego, St. Louis. Mendenhall’s destinations are limited due to off-field issues and injuries, but the Chargers are about to give up on the underachieving Ryan Matthews and could use a punishing back. Cincy is a possibility and if the price is right, they could add him to their backfield with the Law Firm. The Bengals really need to improve their rushing attack, but part of the fault for that lies with their offensive line. St. Louis could sign him as a younger version of UFA Steven Jackson, whose best days are behind him but have cap issues. Mendenhall should come relatively cheap but has a high upside with the right team, and Cincy has a ton of cap room.
Destination: Cincinnati Bengals
Ahmad Bradshaw, RB, Giants – possible destinations: Cincinnati, San Diego, Denver, Seattle. Bradshaw’s talents are somewhere between those of the other two, but he’s a slasher who will play hurt. I bet he’ll wind up as a complementary back to one of these teams – again, with Cincy being the dark horse.
Destination: Seattle Seahawks
Greg Jennings, WR, Packers – possible destinations: Miami, San Francisco, Minnesota, Cleveland, Seattle. The smart money says he goes to the Dolphins because they are in dire need of a #1 receiver and Jennings is already quite familiar with their offensive system. Dolphins’ Head Coach Joe Philbin was Jennings’ Offensive Coordinator until 2012 when he took the head coaching duties in south Florida. Miami is $35 million under the cap, so they can (and probably will) pay the man and make getting rid of talented but distracting Brandon Marshall finally look like a great move. The Vikings need a receiver almost as badly, since Percy Harvin is making noise about his contract. San Francisco likely would have won the Super Bowl if they had a guy like Jennings opposite Michael Crabtree, but they’d have to make some other move to get more cap-friendly as they’re at a mere $4 million below it. Cleveland is one of the most cap-friendly teams, with nearly $50 million to spend and is the only team whose issues at WR rival that of the Dolphins. Look for a possible bidding war between Miami and Cleveland, but Jennings naturally will favor Miami because of his history with the coach there.
Destination: Miami Dolphins
Dwayne Bowe, WR, Chiefs – possible destinations: Cleveland, Miami, San Francisco, Seattle, Minnesota. Bowe will be coveted by the same teams wanting Jennings and for similar reasons. Bowe will be a consolation prize to whomever wants Jennings but misses out.
Destination: Cleveland Browns
That’s how things realistically look right now but can change at any moment. The situation can and will change as UFAs and RFAs are signed and the NFL Combine helps solidify teams’ draft boards.
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