Cover-Two: Free agency storylines
NFL free agency opens at 4 p.m. ET, ushering in the new league year. What can we expect from the open market? Chris Burke and Doug Farrar examine the burning questions.
Team that will be most active
Chris Burke: Indianapolis.
Maybe not in terms of signing the most players or spending the most cash, but I'd be willing to bet that Indianapolis is one of the more aggressive teams early on in free agency. With Andrew Luck getting better and better, this team knows it's really not all that far away from being a legitimate Super Bowl threat. Plugging a few holes, particularly on defense, should keep the AFC South running through Indianapolis and could shift the balance of power in the conference away from New England and Denver.
Doug Farrar: Oakland.
At least, they'd better be. The Raiders come into the 2014 free agency period with about $60 million in cap room, and this is the year they're finally free of all those bad Al Davis contracts. General manager Reggie McKenzie has been hiding behind the mistakes of the previous regime long enough -- yes, the situation he inherited was a disaster. But at a certain point, executives must and will be judged on their own deals and actions. For McKenzie, that time is now ... and he will be hamstrung to a point by the fact that premier free agents aren't exactly doing backflips about the idea of playing for the Raiders anymore. No matter ... if McKenzie has to overpay to right that in the short term, that's part of the deal.
Player who will be overpaid
CB: Julian Edelman.
Either the Patriots will hand him a substantial contract to stay put or he will be one of the most popular receivers on the market. No matter the outcome, the price will be slightly over the top for a player who broke through with a 100-catch season in his contract year -- topping by a wide margin his combined receptions total from the previous four seasons.
The Patriots have shown that they can plug-and-play to some extent at the WR position (possibly why they'd let Edelman walk in the first place). Outside of that system, it's hard to imagine Edelman coming anywhere close to his 2013 numbers.
DF: Eric Decker.
If the Denver Post is right and Decker does get a contract in the region of $9 million per year, it's a lot of scratch for a guy who was average at best until Peyton Manning swaggered into the Mile High City. Yes, he's a fine No. 2 receiver, and yes, he's faster and more elusive than he's given credit for, but that sort of money should be reserved for receivers who have proven that they can outplay their systems and quarterbacks from time to time.
Player who will be underpaid
CB: Daryl Smith.
Again. The Ravens secured Smith on the cheap last offseason, and he proceeded to rack up 123 tackles while easing the post-Ray Lewis transition. But he turns 32 later this week, meaning that he may have a tough time convincing any team -- Baltimore or otherwise -- to commit to him long term. The team that does ante up will land one of the league's steadiest linebackers.
DF: Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.
The recently released Champ Bailey wasn't Denver's best cornerback last year, nor was slot expert Chris Harris. Rodgers-Cromartie has stretches where he might have been Denver's best defensive player overall, allowing just 30 catches on 68 targets and an opponent passer rating of 67.8. And this for a team whose opponents were passing all the time to play catch-up with Peyton Manning. Whether he re-signs with the Broncos or decides to test the market, DRC could well be a major bargain.
Player poised to linger on the market
CB: Antonio Cromartie.
After being axed by the Jets in a cap move, Cromartie has landed on a market already populated by better options at cornerback, including Alterraun Verner, Aqib Talib and possibly even Darrelle Revis. Cromartie will be 30 next month and his play dropped off rather significantly last season. Interested teams may be hopeful of talking him into a short-term, incentive-laden deal. Odds are, Cromartie will set his sights on more than that.
DF: Santonio Holmes.
While some team might take a flyer on him as the receiver market dries up, Holmes' recent lack of production -- just 43 catches in the last two seasons -- and recent injury history will have many teams balking. His age isn't really the concern; he just turned 30, and we've all seen enough receivers excel after that supposed line of demarcation. But Holmes was never a transcendent player during his four years with the Jets, and though he's never had a good quarterback, receivers of his supposed caliber are supposed to make their offenses better. Holmes has only ever done that in fits and starts.
Will any of the franchise tag players change teams?
The only one that even looks like a possibility is Alex Mack, who was transition tagged by the Browns. For a team needing a center, it's worth at least ringing Mack's agent to see what his demands would be on a contract. Otherwise, the prices will run too high -- and the commitment needed even for negotiations here too time-consuming -- for teams to chase.
DF: No.Jimmy Graham