Khalil Mack could rise even further up draft boards after a flurry of free agent movement. (Steve Conner/Icon SMI)
NFL free agency hit with a vengeance this week, ushered in by a flurry of activity on March 11 followed by several high-profile moves in the hours after.
How much of what has happened so far will directly impact the draft two months from now?
Oakland Raiders (No. 5 overall)
The moves: Signed RT Austin Howard; signed, then lost G/T Rodger Saffold
What it means: That the Raiders can't get out of their own way. But more to the point in terms of the draft, that Oakland might have turned itself into a prime candidate for one of the top offensive tackles in Round 1.
Saffold has positional flexibility along the line, so Oakland may have planned to play him inside at guard with Menelik Watson at LT and Howard on the right. If that's the case, then the Raiders can proceed by hunting for interior-line help in free agency or in the draft's mid-to-late rounds. If, however, they have any doubts about Watson -- and the type of money they tried to give Saffold was more reflective of a starting LT than a starting LG -- this is a prime opportunity to pounce. Any of Greg Robinson, Jake Matthews or Taylor Lewan would represent an upgrade in Oakland.
MORE: NFL mock draft database: SI’s experts weigh in | 2014 NFL free agent tracker
Atlanta Falcons (No. 6)
The moves: Signed DT Paul Soliai and DE Tyson Jackson
What it means: Well, what it appears to mean is that the Falcons are going to show a lot of 3-4 looks on defense -- Soliai can take over at nose tackle, while Jackson is best-suited for an end spot in that same scheme. Soliai played the NT role when current Atlanta defensive coordinator Mike Nolan held the same position in Miami from 2010-11.
What the Falcons do not have for a 3-4 (or a 4-3 or anything else they can come up with) is enough pass-rushers off the edge. Enter Khalil Mack, if he's still sitting on the board at No. 6. Atlanta also has shown it will not hesitate to trade up if such a move makes sense, so chasing either Mack or Jadeveon Clowney could be even more in the cards now than it appeared before.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (No. 7)
The moves: Signed DE Michael Johnson and QB Josh McCown
What it means: Let's start with McCown ... since Lovie Smith plans to start McCown. The Buccaneers are not overly committed, at least in a financial sense, to either McCown or 2013 draft pick/starter Mike Glennon, so they could add another QB at No. 7 if they really fall in love with a player. Otherwise, if Smith is as confident in McCown as he seems, the Buccaneers will turn their attention elsewhere.
Defensive end was another area of focus until Johnson signed. Clowney and Mack were likely to be off the board before Tampa Bay went on the clock (as mentioned, Atlanta should snag one if either is there), so waiting for the draft at that position did not make much sense.
Minnesota Vikings (No. 8)
The moves: Signed Linval Joseph; brought Henry Melton in for a visit
What it means: That we likely can cross the Vikings off the list for Louis Nix III (or any other defensive tackles). Joseph is coming off a terrific 2013 season in New York and should be a full-time starter. He and Melton could form one of league's better pairings at DT, plus Minnesota already has 2013 first-rounder Sharrif Floyd there.
Detroit Lions (No. 10)
The moves: Signed WR Golden Tate and (reportedly) S James Ihedigbo
What it means: Calvin Johnson has his sidekick in the passing game. Because of Tate's versatility, the Lions still could target Sammy Watkins or Mike Evans and move Tate to the slot. The odds on that are dwindling, though, given how much Detroit already has invested in its top two receivers. This team also has ample needs elsewhere on the field and just re-signed wide receivers Kris Durham (No. 2 in targets behind Johnson last season) and Kevin Ogletree.
A reach for one of the top safety prospects -- Ha Ha Clinton-Dix or Calvin Pryor -- stood as a long-shot backup plan. Ihedigbo's expected arrival crosses that idea off the list, too.
New York Giants (No. 12)
The moves: Re-signed Jon Beason; signed O'Brien Schofield
What it means: Maybe nothing. But the Giants have a history of avoiding the linebacker position in Round 1, so stockpiling depth there prior to the draft could indicate that the front office plans to aim away from that spot again in 2014. A player like C.J. Mosley still has the talent to ascend the depth chart rapidly, but the Giants no longer have an overwhelming need on the second level of their defense.
Chicago Bears (No. 15) and Pittsburgh Steelers (No. 16)
The moves: Chicago signed safeties M.D. Jennings and Ryan Mundy; Pittsburgh signed S Mike Mitchell
What it means: That's two landing spots for Clinton-Dix, Pryor and other safeties that might no longer be on the table. Either team conceivably could still take a safety -- Jennings proved in Green Bay that he's best-suited for a part-time role, and the Steelers kept their guaranteed-money commitment to Mitchell rather low because of worries that he was a flash in the pan with Carolina. The counter-argument is that both the Bears and Steelers have way too many needs all over the field to overload at one position.
New York Jets (No. 18)
The move: Signed WR Eric Decker
What it means: The answer all depends on if the Jets view Decker as a true No. 1 receiver or as a complementary piece to a TBD No. 1. With Decker making a very reasonable $7.25 million per year with $15 million guaranteed, New York really could go either way. The more sensible play, depending on how the draft board falls, may be to nab a true No. 1 tight end in the first round, then circle back to a deep receiver class later.
Miami Dolphins (No. 19) and Arizona Cardinals (No. 20)
The moves: Miami signed OT Branden Albert; Arizona signed OT Jared Veldheer
What it means: That the two teams with arguably the worst O-line situations have taken significant steps forward. Miami and Arizona both still could stand to improve at right tackle (and guard), so the early signings do not completely change the gameplan here. What the additions of Albert and Veldheer do accomplish is to decrease the overwhelming desperation levels for their new teams.
Philadelphia Eagles (No. 22)
The move: Signed S Malcolm Jenkins
What it means: The Eagles absolutely had to improve at the safety position, where Pat Chung really faltered in 2013. Jenkins may not be a perfect defensive player, but he without question makes Philadelphia better there. This had been a prime mock-draft landing spot for a safety -- Louisville's Calvin Pryor, for example. If one of the Eagles' next moves is to re-sign Nate Allen, the safety-to-Philadelphia gameplan will be in need of revision.
New Orleans Saints (No. 27)
The move: Signed S Jairus Byrd
What it means: A few of the free-agency dominoes fell early this week, including here where the Saints rather surprisingly landed Byrd shortly after Jenkins bolted for Philly. Many of the teams on this list could consider drafting positions at which they've already signed players this offseason. This is not one of those situations. With Byrd joining Kenny Vaccaro at safety, the Saints are in better shape there than any team this side of Seattle.
Denver Broncos (No. 31)
The move: Signed everyoneWhat it means:
That Denver can hone in sharply on the best player available. By signing CB Aqib Talib
, S T.J. Ward
and DE DeMarcus Ware
, the Broncos
upgraded their defense to a ridiculous degree. (They'll also have a healthy Von Miller
back for 2014.) Talib replaced one of their expected free-agent losses: CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie
. What Denver has yet to do is find a fill-in for WR Eric Decker
, who signed with the Jets on Wednesday. Solving that problem could be the plan at No. 31.