NFL Nation: 2014 AFC Free-Agency Primer

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With just under $6 million in projected salary-cap space, the San Diego Chargers are not expected to make a big splash at the start of free agency. But the Chargers could still add a few impact players at a reasonable price if the organization is patient and does its homework.

That said, we take a close look at San Diego's approach heading into free agency.

Key free agents: Chad Rinehart, Darrell Stuckey, Richard Marshall, Reggie Walker, Charlie Whitehurst.

Where they stand: San Diego already took care of the team's top offseason priority, with middle linebacker Donald Butler inked to a multiyear deal before the onset of free agency. The Chargers need help at cornerback, nose tackle, edge rusher, interior offensive line and in the return game. San Diego could look to sign a couple of their own free agents that produced in 2013, including Rinehart, Stuckey, Marshall and Walker. All four players had an impact in the team's surprising postseason run and could return at a reasonable price. The Chargers also need to find a capable backup for every-down running back Ryan Mathews, with veteran Ronnie Brown hitting the market.

What to expect: With a limited amount of cap space, expect the Chargers to be active in the secondary free-agent market, targeting veteran players with a specific skill set who can make an impact. The Chargers benefited from signing two such players to two-year deals last year in tackle King Dunlap and running back Danny Woodhead. San Diego also could look for front-line players who don't receive the type of lucrative offers they expect and want to re-enter the market after a one-year, prove-it deal.

Free-agency primer: Dolphins

March, 7, 2014
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Key free agents: DT Randy Starks, DT Paul Soliai, S Chris Clemons, G Richie Incognito, G John Jerry, OT Bryant McKinnie, OT Tyson Clabo

Where they stand: The Dolphins are expecting major turnover on their offensive line this offseason. Four starters -- Incognito, Jerry, McKinnie and Clabo -- are unrestricted free agents; most are not expected to return after Miami set a franchise record with 58 quarterback sacks allowed and were 26th in rushing. Incognito and Jerry were both involved in Miami’s high-profile bullying scandal. McKinnie and Clabo are older veterans at the end of their careers. So the Dolphins will look to get younger at offensive tackle. Starks and Soliai are solid defensive tackles who could get interest on the open market. Clemons is an average safety who has starting experience.

What to expect: Incognito and Jerry are as good as gone. Both were cited in the 144-page Ted Wells report. The Dolphins will let them go elsewhere in order to distance the franchise from that ugly scandal. Miami has plenty of cap room and will look to spend it at offensive tackle. Free-agent tackles like Eugene Monroe and Branden Albert could be high priorities. If the Dolphins can land one of them, that rules out a return for McKinnie. The defensive tackle position is interesting. Miami may aim to bring back Starks or Soliai, but nothing is guaranteed if neither player is signed before March 11. There is a chance the Dolphins could lose both players and need a contingency plan.

Free-agency primer: Chiefs

March, 7, 2014
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Key free agents: T Branden Albert, G Jon Asamoah, DE Tyson Jackson, LB Akeem Jordan, FS Kendrick Lewis, WR/PR Dexter McCluster, G Geoff Schwartz

Where they stand: The Chiefs need help at wide receiver but may prefer to do their shopping at this position through the draft after having made a sizable financial commitment to Dwayne Bowe last year. The Chiefs have the depth at tackle to withstand the likely loss of Albert, but they'll need to do some shopping if Asamoah and Schwartz, who split time as the starter at right guard last season, depart. On defense, the Chiefs could use another big body for their defensive line, particularly if Jackson leaves as a free agent. A replacement who can be an upgrade over Lewis is another priority. Sanders Commings, a rookie last season, could potentially fill that spot. Whether the Chiefs actively pursue a veteran there could depend on how they feel about Commings' ability to handle the position.

What to expect: The Chiefs should have about $9.6 million in salary-cap space, which is one of the lowest totals in the league and probably won't allow them to win many bidding wars. Even if the Chiefs had the cap room and were so inclined, this isn't a great crop of free-agent wide receivers. Seattle's Golden Tate might make sense for the Chiefs, but only if the price doesn't get out of hand. The Chiefs could look to division rival Denver for guard Zane Beadles if they need a starter to replace Asamoah and Schwartz. Seattle's Red Bryant could be a fit at defensive end if the Chiefs don't re-sign Jackson. Buffalo's Jairus Byrd is exactly what Kansas City is looking for at free safety, but he will likely be out of its price range. If the Chiefs go safety shopping, they might go for a lower-priced option, like Miami's Chris Clemons.

Free-agency primer: Ravens

March, 7, 2014
Mar 7
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Key free agents: OT Eugene Monroe, DT Arthur Jones, WR-KR Jacoby Jones, LB Daryl Smith, OT Michael Oher, SS James Ihedigbo, CB Corey Graham, TE Ed Dickson.

Where they stand: The biggest hole on the team is offensive tackle. Monroe and Oher, the Ravens' starting tackles from last season, are both unrestricted free agents. The Ravens want to get bigger on the interior of the offensive line, which indicates they want to upgrade from center Gino Gradkowski. The other need on offense is a wide receiver or tight end who can convert third downs and make yards after the catch. In other words, they are looking for someone to complement wide receiver Torrey Smith beyond tight end Dennis Pitta, who was re-signed this week. On defense, the priorities are at middle linebacker and free safety. The Ravens want to bring back Smith, but they will need to replace him if they can't. With the Ravens moving Matt Elam to strong safety, they need to add an athletic safety whose strength is coverage.

What to expect: With $26 million in salary-cap space, the Ravens need to get a left tackle, center, wide receiver, middle linebacker and free safety in free agency. Baltimore is trying hard to keep Monroe and Smith before free agency begins. If the Ravens fail to retain Monroe, left tackle has to be the focus early in free agency. The contingency plan is to either re-sign Oher (which isn't ideal because he's better at right tackle) or move Kelechi Osemele from left guard to left tackle. The options at center aren't as appealing after Cleveland put the transition tag on Alex Mack. The other free-agent centers are 20-something and middle of the road: Green Bay's Evan Dietrich-Smith, New Orleans' Brian De La Puente and New England's Ryan Wendell. At wide receiver, the top targets should be Denver's Eric Decker, New England's Julian Edelman, Seattle's Golden Tate and New York Giants' Hakeem Nicks, who has been linked to the Ravens since the end of the season. When it comes to free safety, the biggest name is Buffalo's Jairus Byrd. But Miami's Chris Clemons and Indianapolis' Antoine Bethea are solid starters as well.

Free-agency primer: Texans

March, 7, 2014
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Key free agents: NT Earl Mitchell, TE Garrett Graham, DE Antonio Smith, LB Darryl Sharpton, G Wade Smith, RB Ben Tate, OT Ryan Harris, FB Greg Jones.

Where they stand: It’s difficult to assess how new coach Bill O’Brien views guys he’s inherited and to judge how they will fit into his system. Graham might amount to the most valuable guy on the list if the Texans use a lot of two-tight end sets, as he’s grown into a productive and effective player. Tate and Sharpton are injury-prone guys expected to move on, and Tate could get a good deal elsewhere. Mitchell did mostly solid work, but Wade Phillips was a lot more at ease with a small nose tackle than Romeo Crennel typically is. The two Smiths are 32 years old, and I expect a big move toward youth.

What to expect: The Texans have roughly $8 million in cap space and can get more if they cut Matt Schaub and/or safety Danieal Manning. General manager Rick Smith has been measured in free agency. But with a new coaching staff, I certainly expect the franchise to reach out and bring in at least a few players who fit what they want to do and can be torchbearers for a new regime and new message. They could sift through the market for a safety, a guard and a nose tackle, among other things. Quarterback is the big issue, and perhaps O’Brien sees a reclamation project on the very limited list of free agents. The broader expectation, however, is that they address the position in the draft.

Free-agency primer: Jaguars

March, 7, 2014
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Key free agents: QB Chad Henne, RB Maurice Jones-Drew, CB Will Blackmon.

Where they stand: The Jaguars’ priority is re-signing Henne, ideally before he hits the open market at 4 p.m. Tuesday. Henne has said he wants to return, and GM David Caldwell has said that re-signing Henne, improving the offensive line and adding a few weapons would help keep the offense afloat -- which seems to indicate the Jaguars are leaning toward not taking a quarterback in the first round of the draft if they re-sign Henne. Caldwell said Jones-Drew has earned the right to test the market. The Jaguars would like to bring him back, but Jones-Drew is looking for a longer contract for more money than the Jaguars are willing to offer. Blackmon was a surprise in 2013, and the Jaguars want the veteran back.

What to expect: Interior offensive line is the biggest need in free agency after the release of Uche Nwaneri earlier this week. The center pool isn’t as deep as hoped, but expect the Jaguars to target players such as Brian De La Puente, Evan Dietrich-Smith and Ryan Wendell. Cleveland put the transition tag on Alex Mack, so the Jaguars also could make a run at him but run the risk of the Browns matching the offer. There are more options at guard, and the Jaguars will target several players here, possibly Geoff Schwartz, Zane Beadles and Shelley Smith. The Jaguars also will try to find help at outside linebacker, running back and receiver.

Free-agency primer: Colts

March, 7, 2014
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Key free agents: CB Vontae Davis, S Antoine Bethea, K Adam Vinatieri, RB Donald Brown

Where they stand: The Colts have the fourth-most salary-cap space ($41 million) in the league. They solved one of their issues when they signed inside linebacker D'Qwell Jackson on Thursday to start alongside Jerrell Freeman, Erik Walden and Robert Mathis. Davis is the most important player to re-sign with having to acquire a new starting center next in line after Samson Satele was released on March 6. The Colts re-signed punter Pat McAfee to a five-year deal Friday. The 41-year-old Vinatieri believes he can kick for several more seasons. Expect the Colts to look to add depth at receiver to give quarterback Andrew Luck another target to go with receivers T.Y. Hilton and Reggie Wayne and tight ends Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen.

What to expect: The Colts should be able to work out a deal with Davis, who was inconsistent last season but has the talent to be one of the top cornerbacks in the league. Don't expect the Colts to go with a rookie or second-year player as their starting center. The position is too valuable for them to go that direction with their franchise player, Luck, taking the snaps. New Orleans' Brian De La Puente and Green Bay's Evan Dietrich-Smith are both free agents. Denver receiver Eric Decker is an ideal receiver to go with Hilton and Wayne. The Colts and Decker have mutual interest, but he may be out of their price range if he wants to be paid like a No. 1 receiver. Hakeem Nicks and James Jones are also free agents the Colts could pursue. Acquiring a veteran guard is a better option than drafting one, because Indianapolis has the talent to take another step in the AFC next season. Decker's teammate in Denver, guard Zane Beadles, is a free agent.

Free-agency primer: Titans

March, 7, 2014
Mar 7
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Key free agents: CB Alterraun Verner, DE Ropati Pitoitua, KR Leon Washington, WR Damian Williams, DT Antonio Johnson, WR Kenny Britt.

Where they stand: The Titans re-signed outspoken, thumping strong safety Bernard Pollard, one of their most important free agents, with a two-year deal. He has spoken glowingly about the direction the team will head under coach Ken Whisenhunt and defensive coordinator Ray Horton. "We're going to be 11 dogs without leashes running around biting people," Pollard told a Nashville radio station 3HL. They also re-signed third-string running back Jackie Battle, who’s a staple special-teamer. It’s hard to know how other people project into the new systems that come along with a new coaching regime. The Titans have indicated to everyone on that list, beside Britt, that they are interested. But will the interest translate into new contracts?

What to expect: The Titans will wind up with a couple of their own guys back, though they are not desperate to keep anyone on the list. Verner is very likely to hit the market and find a team that puts a higher price tag on him than the Titans will. I believe Pitoitua can be a valuable piece of the new hybrid front, particularly in the run-stopping effort. Washington can bring a secure feeling to the return game. Williams is a smart and versatile fourth wide receiver, but there is a giant pool of free-agent wideouts and a quality draft class, so he'll need to settle for minimal money if he wants to stay and they want to have him. The team won't spend $100 million in free agency, as it did last year, but will make several key additions.

Free-agency primer: Broncos

March, 7, 2014
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 Key free agents: WR Eric Decker, RB Knowshon Moreno, LB Wesley Woodyard, G Zane Beadles, CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, DE Robert Ayers, DE Shaun Phillips, S Mike Adams, LB Paris Lenon, CB Quentin Jammer.

Where they stand: The Broncos have significant issues on defense. They have six defensive backs who are unrestricted or restricted free agents; they have told Champ Bailey, who had a year left on his deal, they will release him; they don’t have a middle linebacker who started any games in 2013 on the roster; and two of their top three players in sacks in 2013 (Phillips and Ayers) are free agents. That’s an awful of uncertainty on the depth chart with starters at defensive end, linebacker, cornerback and safety now on the open market. They also have two of the four wide receivers who were on the 53-man roster last season -- Decker and Andre Caldwell -- as free agents.

What to expect: Broncos executive vice president of football operations/general manager John Elway has consistently said he believes that free agency is where a team should target “glaring needs," so the draft can be a best-player-available affair. So, with some cap room to work with, the Broncos will be aggressive with a few targeted deals -- as they have done in both 2012 and 2013 with Elway calling the shots -- before they back out and then wait for the first waves to pass. But they lean defense early in the checkbook frenzy because they need pass-rush help, have already worked out linebackers D'Qwell Jackson and Lofa Tatupu -- Jackson eventually signed in Indianapolis -- and likely will sign a veteran receiver as well. The Broncos are selling a potential Super Bowl shot with Peyton Manning back at quarterback, so they figure to be a popular stop for players looking for a run at a ring.

Free-agency primer: Patriots

March, 7, 2014
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Key free agents: CB Aqib Talib, WR Julian Edelman, RB LeGarrette Blount, LB Brandon Spikes, C Ryan Wendell

Where they stand: The Patriots would like Talib back, and Brent Grimes' four-year, $32 million contract with $16 million guaranteed in Miami provides a ballpark for the marketplace. Is that too rich for the Patriots? The club would also like Edelman back, but after investing in a receiver with a similar skill set last offseason (Danny Amendola), it will be interesting to see how far the Patriots are willing to extend to do so. Talib is the key piece, and similar to Wes Welker last year, it makes sense to think the team will quickly move to Plan B if a deal isn't struck by the start of free agency.

What to expect: The Patriots aren't flush with cap space, and Bill Belichick often says that free agency is one slice of the team-building process, along with the draft and trades. A focus on retaining their own, with a few complementary pieces from other teams added in free agency, would be our best guess as to how the Patriots approach things in 2014. Key spots in addition to retaining Talib and Edelman are adding a more dynamic presence at tight end, more pass-rush help and depth at defensive tackle.

Free-agency primer: Raiders

March, 7, 2014
Mar 7
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Key free agents: LT Jared Veldheer, DE Lamarr Houston, RB Rashad Jennings, FS Charles Woodson, CB Tracy Porter, RB Darren McFadden

Where they stand: With 17 remaining unrestricted free agents -- Oakland re-signed offensive tackle Khalif Barnes last week -- the Raiders chose not to use the franchise tag on Veldheer or Houston. That should not surprise anyone; general manager Reggie McKenzie said he wanted to avoid using it, and Veldheer said he did not want to be tagged. With nearly $65 million in cap space, the Raiders are primed to be players during free agency. They need help especially on the defensive line -- all four starters are free agents -- and in the secondary, and ditto with both cornerbacks and the free safety. The primary need on defense is a prototypical edge rusher.

What to expect: As McKenzie said last year, just because he has money to spend does not mean he’s going shopping at Macy’s. And as he restated this year, just because he has money does not mean he’s going to spend it on junk. True, it’s time for McKenzie to make like Macklemore and “pop some tags,” but don’t expect him to break the bank. He’ll use the money judiciously, and although the Raiders have the most cap space, they also have the most needs. It makes sense for Oakland to find a veteran quarterback to serve as a bridge, of sorts, while McKenzie strengthens to team around said quarterback, someone the staff trusts and already knows. Targets could include Josh Freeman, Josh McCown and Mark Sanchez (if and when the Jets cut him). Defensively, Jared Allen could fit the bill at defensive end.

Free-agency primer: Bills

March, 7, 2014
Mar 7
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Key free agents: S Jairus Byrd, TE Scott Chandler, K Dan Carpenter

Where they stand: With just six unrestricted free agents -- the fewest in the league -- the Bills are in good shape heading into free agency. However, they could lose one of their best players. The Bills decided not to franchise Byrd, a three-time Pro Bowler; franchising him would have cost $8.4 million against the cap and risked another summer-long contract dispute. The Bills need offensive weapons and help along the offensive line. They could use the ninth overall pick in the draft to help improve their offense while supplementing other positions through free agency. Jim Schwartz's defensive scheme could require some help at linebacker, while they will need reinforcements at safety if Byrd signs elsewhere.

What to expect: The Bills have about $25 million in cap space and will be "active" in free agency, according to CEO Russ Brandon. One sleeper position to watch is quarterback, where the Bills have thrown their support behind EJ Manuel but still could look for a veteran as a backup plan. They've shown a preference for mobile quarterbacks, which could mean Michael Vick is on their radar.

The Bills recently worked out linebackers Jasper Brinkley and Jameel McClain, who were released by their former teams (Arizona and Baltimore, respectively), which could signal an interest at that position. They just gave Aaron Williams, their young safety, a contract extension, but they could be in the market for a second-tier free agent there.

Free-agency primer: Bengals

March, 7, 2014
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Key free agents: DE Michael Johnson, OT Anthony Collins, S Taylor Mays, S Chris Crocker, WR/KR/PR Brandon Tate, OG Mike Pollak

Where they stand: Last week the NFL's franchise/transition tag deadline came and went without the Bengals using either designation for the first time in three years. Johnson, who held the team's franchise tag in 2013, enters free agency with the ability to go anywhere he picks up a quality offer. The Bengals are hoping to extend a strong-enough offer to him, but teams like the Vikings and Falcons could enter the stakes and raise his price tag even higher. Cincinnati is also currently at a standstill with Collins, another big-name free agent who could soon call another city home.

Earlier this week, the Bengals tendered restricted free agents Andrew Hawkins, Vincent Rey and Dane Sanzenbacher. Since they weren't drafted, the Bengals won't be receiving any draft-pick compensation in the event they don't match other offers that those three will receive.

What to expect: Some teams are always heavy players in free agency. That's not really the case for the Bengals. They'll do what they can to re-sign the 14 free agents they currently have, but outside of that, don't expect much wheeling, dealing and spending. Johnson and Collins will receive the bulk of the Bengals' attention early in the free-agency period, with other players being handed offers in the background. Mays, Tate and Pollak in particular are unrestricted free agents whose fates remain somewhat uncertain. Tate and Pollak have more of a legitimate chance at being re-signed, although Mays could still assist in the team's defensive backfield depth. Don't expect punter Zoltan Mesko to be re-signed. The player he replaced in December, Kevin Huber, is still rehabbing from a broken jaw but should be fully healthy long before the 2014 season begins.

If the Bengals make any external additions during free agency, they are most likely to do so with fairly cheap veteran players who could assist with immediate depth. Defensive ends, cornerbacks and running backs are among those who could be added.

Free-agency primer: Browns

March, 7, 2014
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Key free agents: C Alex Mack (transition), S T.J. Ward, G Shawn Lauvao

Where they stand: The Cleveland Browns have a ton of salary-cap space and a ton of needs. The team hopes the transition tag keeps suitors from signing Mack, but they could have ensured he’d stay in Cleveland by simply paying another $1.6 million and making him the franchise player. If he leaves, that means the Browns have added another need to others that include safety, guard, inside linebacker, running back and receiver. They could go in any direction they choose in free agency, but given the strength of the draft at receiver, that is probably one area they will bypass.

What to expect: The Browns should be active on the free agent market. They have cap room, they have needs and they have an owner in Jimmy Haslam who has made no secret he feels this offseason is critical to the team’s future. Guessing what positions the Browns focus on might be foolish, but clearly they need help at safety, and they could go after Buffalo’s Jairus Byrd. They also need help at linebacker after the release of D'Qwell Jackson, and they need help at guard. The biggest splash might just come at running back, though, where a guy like Houston’s Ben Tate might appeal to Mike Pettine’s physical approach. As for the much-needed and discussed quarterback spot, look for the Browns to bypass free agency and look to the draft.

Free-agency primer: Steelers

March, 7, 2014
Mar 7
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Key free agents: WR Emmanuel Sanders, DE Ziggy Hood, WR Jerricho Cotchery, DE Al Woods, DE Brett Keisel, S Ryan Clark, RB Jonathan Dwyer, C Fernando Velasco, OT Guy Whimper, C/G Cody Wallace, TE David Johnson, LB Stevenson Sylvester.

Where they stand: General manager Kevin Colbert has said the Steelers may be more active in free agency than in recent years, but don’t expect their philosophy to fundamentally change. The Steelers will focus on their own players and are likely to sit out the first wave of free agency and target midlevel free agents after the marquee names have signed with other teams. Colbert hinted that the Steelers could try to land a potential starter via free agency, and they could use immediate help as well as depth at just about any position on defense. Nothing would help the Steelers more than if they could sign a free agent who will make an impact like Ryan Clark (2006) or James Farrior (2002) did, though they would have to splurge to get a free agent the caliber of Farrior.

What to expect: Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, the team's top free agent, is going to command more money than the Steelers are willing to pay. He will almost certainly sign elsewhere, though look for veteran Jerricho Cotchery to re-sign with the team after catching 10 touchdown passes last season. Defensive end Ziggy Hood is likely to sign elsewhere, making it imperative that the Steelers bring back Al Woods. They could also re-sign Brett Keisel for one more season if the two sides can find common ground on compensation. The Steelers have a good chance of signing most of their free agents with the exceptions of Sanders and Hood, and that is how they will add depth to their offensive line. Free agents they could target include former Seahawks defensive end Red Bryant, Dolphins defensive tackle Paul Soliai and 49ers cornerback Tarell Brown. The Steelers met with former Lions safety Louis Delmas last month, but his knee issues may be too much of a red flag for them, and they have since re-signed veteran Will Allen.

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