NFL Nation: 2014 NFC Free-Agency Primer

Free-agency primer: Falcons

March, 7, 2014
Mar 7
11:00
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Key free agents: DT Jonathan Babineaux, C Joe Hawley, DT Peria Jerry, TE Chase Coffman, OL Mike Johnson.

Where they stand: Nothing is more important for the Falcons this offseason than improving up front. They need more toughness on both the offensive and defensive lines. Getting a pass-rusher would be key, but they might have to wait until the draft to fill that need after watching top target Brian Orakpo get franchised by the Washington Redskins. A safety could help, too, but top target Jairus Byrd is likely to be too costly to pair alongside William Moore. The Falcons won't invest in a tight end to replace the retired Tony Gonzalez, although they could add another body to the mix.

What to expect: The Falcons will fill a hole at right guard after watching the now-departed Garrett Reynolds and Peter Konz struggle at the position last season. Look for the Falcons to target Kansas City’s Jon Asamoah, provided he reaches free agency. Falcons assistant general manager Scott Pioli drafted Asamoah when Pioli was the Chiefs' general manager. Getting a couple of defensive linemen will be key, too, so keep an eye on Miami’s Paul Soliai as a run-stuffer. And if recently released Champ Bailey is willing to play nickelback, don’t be surprised if the Falcons try to bring the veteran back to his home state.

Free-agency primer: Cardinals

March, 7, 2014
Mar 7
11:00
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Key free agents: LB Karlos Dansby, RT Eric Winston, S Yeremiah Bell, K Jay Feely, LB Matt Shaughnessy

Where they stand: Arizona has talked to all of them, but it's unlikely the Cardinals re-sign any of the team's key free agents until after March 11. Dansby could be the trigger, however. If he re-signs for an affordable price or doesn't re-sign, Arizona may be able to re-sign some of their veteran free agents instead of opting for cheaper options. According to reports, Arizona has been negotiating with linebacker Shaughnessy. Bell has expressed his desire to return to Arizona mainly because of what the Cardinals' defense started last year. Winston may be the Cardinals' best option at right tackle for another season and his camp has begun talks with the Cardinals. Feely has said he talked to the Cardinals this week.

What to expect: Don't expect Dansby to re-sign before free agency begins. If it hasn't happened yet, it probably won't until he tests the market to see what his worth is. Then the Cardinals could come into play again. Winston could be whom Arizona needs to anchor the line for another year. He, along with the rest of the offensive line, matured together and were protecting quarterback Carson Palmer better in the second half of the season than the first, momentum that can only continue to grow. Bell isn't likely to return because his size and speed make him a liability against bigger, faster receivers and tight ends. Even though he was in Bruce Arians' dog house at the end of the season, Feely can return because of the limited number of good kickers available. Shaughnessy is also likely to re-sign because of his value at a low cost.

Free-agency primer: Redskins

March, 7, 2014
Mar 7
11:00
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Key free agents: LB Brian Orakpo (franchise), LB Perry Riley, WR Josh Morgan, WR Santana Moss, S Brandon Meriweather, S Reed Doughty, LB Rob Jackson

Where they stand: The Redskins have about $30 million of cap space available, even with the franchise tender to Orakpo, so they will be able to upgrade defensively for the first time in a couple years. The problem is, Washington has so many holes to fill defensively. The Redskins need two starting safeties and must replace retired inside linebacker London Fletcher. If Riley leaves -- they would like him back, but they are not yet close to a deal -- then it creates another spot. They could use more help along the defensive line. Offensively, their holes are fewer, but they need another receiver -- or two -- and an interior lineman. Moss and Doughty -- as a backup -- could return at small deals; it’s tough to see Morgan coming back. He just wasn't productive enough. Meriweather wants to return, but the Redskins need an upgrade over his 2013 performance.

What to expect: A much more eventful period than last year, when the Redskins could only re-sign their own players and added no one of significance in free agency thanks to the second year of their $36-million cap penalty. But the question is, Can Washington pursue someone such as safety Jairus Byrd while having so many other needs? It will be difficult, but he would solidify the deep middle. They like safety Mike Mitchell as well. Giants defensive tackle Linval Joseph is another possibility. Brandon Spikes, a liability in coverage, or Daryl Smith would fill a hole at inside linebacker. What the Redskins should not do is try and fill every need with a free agent and use up all their cap space. With several prominent players up for new deals in the next couple years, they need to also have an eye on the future.

Free-agency primer: Panthers

March, 7, 2014
Mar 7
11:00
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Key free agents: FS Mike Mitchell, WR Ted Ginn Jr., CB Captain Munnerlyn, OT Bruce Campbell.

Where they stand: The immediate future of Carolina’s top two free agents -- left tackle Jordan Gross and defensive end Greg Hardy -- has been decided. Gross retired, and Hardy was franchised. Now the Panthers turn their attention to Mitchell at free safety and Ginn at wide receiver. They want Mitchell back because of the attitude he brought to the league's second-ranked defense. They also like Ginn because of his value as a kick returner beyond stretching the field for quarterback Cam Newton. Look for Carolina to let its other free agents test the open market. If the price is right, the Panthers will bring some back. If not, they’ll look for bargain upgrades.

What to expect: Gross' retirement and the uncertainty surrounding the future of wide receiver Steve Smith make signing a veteran at each position almost a necessity. Carolina won’t spend a ton on either because of salary-cap limitations, so look for general manager Dave Gettleman to be patient and let the market level out before making a big run at players. One of the intriguing names is wide receiver Sidney Rice, who was released by Seattle. He's 27, grew up about an hour from Charlotte and went to the University of South Carolina less than two hours away. He would provide the big target Newton hasn't had.

Free-agency primer: 49ers

March, 7, 2014
Mar 7
11:00
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Key free agents: S Donte Whitner, CB Tarell Brown, K Phil Dawson

Where they stand: The 49ers are already off to a productive start to free agency. They re-signed receiver Anquan Boldin to a team-friendly two-year, $12 million extension earlier this week. Boldin was the team's top free-agency priority. No matter what happens once free agency starts Tuesday, the 49ers already accomplished Task 1. But that doesn't mean their work is over. The 49ers love their roster and they want to keep their talent. Whitner, Brown and Dawson are all players the 49ers want back.

What to expect: The 49ers have been in contact with all of their top priorities. But it won't be a surprise if they have to wait out Whitner, Brown and Dawson. All three may want to test the market. I wouldn't be surprised if both Brown and Whitner get heavy interest, but the 49ers may be willing to do what it takes to keep both, within reason. Dawson may be easier to get done. If Whitner and/or Brown leave, the 49ers may have to dip into the outside free-agent market. I think that's the only way the 49ers become big players in the outside market. They may sign a few pieces here and there, but for the most part the 49ers like their roster and want to keep it in place as much as possible.
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Key free agents: LB Adam Hayward, FB Erik Lorig, LB Jonathan Casillas and WR Tiquan Underwood.

Where they stand: The Buccaneers don't have any huge names among their own free agents, but they'd like to keep some of them as role players. Hayward is a key special-teams player and Lorig is important as the lead blocker for Doug Martin in the running game. If Casillas returns, he's a candidate to start at strongside linebacker. The major need on defense is for a pass-rusher. On offense, the team may look to overhaul its offensive line. Tight end and depth at wide receiver also are big needs.

What to expect: The Bucs were 4-12 last season and they have a new coaching staff and general manager. That means there will be significant changes. The Bucs have $18 million in cap room, so they’re going to be active in free agency, even though they've stated their goal is to build through the draft. Look for connections to the new regime to play into free-agent signings. Return man Devin Hester and cornerback Charles Tillman played for coach Lovie Smith in Chicago and defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier worked with defensive end Jared Allen in Minnesota. All of those players could be prime targets. A veteran quarterback also could be added to the mix, with Josh McCown and Michael Vick as possibilities.

Free agency primer: Lions

March, 7, 2014
Mar 7
11:00
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.Key free agents: QB Shaun Hill; RB Joique Bell (restricted); WR Nate Burleson; TE Brandon Pettigrew; DE Willie Young; CB Rashean Mathis; S Louis Delmas.

Where they stand: Of Detroit’s major free agents, Bell is almost certainly returning to the team and Burleson and Delmas almost certainly will not after being released as cap cuts last month. The rest are likely headed toward free agency when it opens Tuesday. Detroit already took care of some of its free agents, Dominic Raiola and Don Muhlbach, bringing them back with one-year deals. Pettigrew and Young are likely to test the market fairly heavily and should have multiple suitors. Mathis’ age is a question, but he will end up somewhere next season. Whether it is in Detroit is an unknown. Hill has to make a decision if he wants to go somewhere he can push for a starting gig or if he is content backing up Matthew Stafford. Detroit’s other free agents either won’t be back with the team or should come cheap if the Lions want them back.

What to expect: The Lions are going to make a run at wide receivers and potentially some secondary help in free agency. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Detroit try to bring back Pettigrew, and to do it sooner in free agency before he can talk to more teams as one of the top free agents at his position. Pay attention to sure-handed wide receivers, as that was a major issue with the Lions last season. Also, the team could go after a mid-level safety and possibly a mid-level cornerback if either is available at the right price. Other than that, Detroit might look at value plays to bolster the offensive line and front seven. Backup quarterback could be interesting -- Luke McCown could be a target -- but again, that has to be at the right price.

Free-agency primer: Rams

March, 7, 2014
Mar 7
11:00
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Key free agents: OL Rodger Saffold, QB Kellen Clemens, OL Chris Williams, OG Shelley Smith

Where they stand: The offensive line is the one area with the most questions heading into 2014. The larger-than-expected salary-cap increase will likely allow the Rams to retain one of their costlier veterans (probably center Scott Wells) to lessen the need a little, but the Rams still have a decision to make on guard Harvey Dahl and his $4 million cap number. Likewise, Saffold, Smith and Williams are set to become unrestricted free agents. The Rams badly want to keep Saffold and will push hard to do so with the idea that he can be a starter at one of the guard spots long term. Bringing back Williams or Smith would give them a potential starter inside or better yet, experienced depth. The secondary is the other area in need of reinforcements. St. Louis could probably use a starter and a backup at safety and another top-three-caliber corner with the pending release of Cortland Finnegan. Bringing Clemens back as a No. 3 who can tutor whomever the Rams draft in May might also make sense.

What to expect: The Rams have spent lavishly in free agency in each of their first two years under coach Jeff Fisher and general manager Les Snead. The results of those signings have been mixed at best, and the better signings have been the more midlevel moves, like signing and re-signing defensive end William Hayes and the addition of defensive tackle Kendall Langford. The Rams insist they're coming close to breaking through, and if they truly believe that, they'll have some young talent to re-sign in the next few years. Spending big in free agency isn't usually a path to success, and the Rams probably won't be very active this year, at least compared to the previous two. Many will connect the Rams to Tennessee cornerback Alterraun Verner, but that seems a bit overblown given what Verner is likely to cost. If Saffold departs, perhaps the Rams spend to find a piece on the offensive line or elsewhere, but if they have it their way, expect retaining Saffold to be the "big" free-agent move.

Free-agency primer: Bears

March, 7, 2014
Mar 7
11:00
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Key free agents: Charles Tillman, Henry Melton, D.J. Williams, Major Wright, Devin Hester, Corey Wootton, Josh McCown.

Where they stand: The club informed Hester it won't be re-signing him for 2014, but the Bears are making a concerted effort to try to bring back Tillman. Still, there's a chance the economics won't work out, as Tillman could have other suitors willing to pay more than Chicago. The Bears did some work in re-signing free agents, such as defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff, cornerback Kelvin Hayden along with center Roberto Garza, to cap-friendly deals. Negotiations to re-sign McCown have moved along slowly, which means there's a chance the Bears could lose him if another team gives the backup an opportunity to win a starting job. There's interest from both sides in re-signing Williams, and talks are expected to continue over the weekend.

What to expect: At this point, it's unknown where Chicago's pro personnel department has rated its own unsigned free agents against what else is available on the market. So count on the Bears waiting to see what the market value for their own players is before moving to re-sign them, which is actually a smart move that will keep them from overpaying. The Bears aren't expected to overspend on big names in free agency, but general manager Phil Emery has been known in recent years to make a couple of surprise moves. The Bears would like to infuse youth on defense, but that could prove to be a pricey proposition in free agency for a team with limited cap space. They do have the flexibility to free up cash by cutting players such as Julius Peppers, or restructuring Jay Cutler's deal, which includes a base salary of $22.5 million in 2014.

Free-agency primer: Eagles

March, 7, 2014
Mar 7
11:00
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Key free agents: QB Michael Vick, WR Jason Avant, S Nate Allen, P Donnie Jones, S Kurt Coleman.

Where they stand: By keeping wide receivers Riley Cooper and Jeremy Maclin off the market, the Eagles assured their starting offense would look very much as it did in 2013. There are no obvious positions of need on that side of the ball that would likely be addressed in free agency. The defensive side is another matter. That unit made fine progress in its first year with coordinator Bill Davis’ 3-4 scheme, but the Eagles need playmakers there, especially in the secondary. Having $20-25 million in salary-cap space gives them the flexibility to do whatever they choose.

What to expect: GM Howie Roseman has repeatedly said he does not want to overpay in free agency, but the Eagles might have to go that route with a safety like Jairus Byrd, T.J. Ward or Chris Clemons. Going for bargains at that position just has not worked, and Roseman has acknowledged he doesn’t want to get to the draft in dire need of a safety. There isn’t a lot of depth at outside linebacker -- teams do their best to hold on to effective pass-rushers -- but Roseman could look for a second-tier guy there. It would not be surprising if the Eagles re-signed Jones and added a kicker in free agency to compete with, or flat-out replace, Alex Henery. Keep an eye on a return man, perhaps Devin Hester or Dexter McCluster.

Free-agency primer: Packers

March, 7, 2014
Mar 7
11:00
AM ET
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Key free agents: TE Jermichael Finley, CB Sam Shields, DT B.J. Raji, DT Johnny Jolly, DT Ryan Pickett, WR James Jones, OLB Mike Neal, C Evan Dietrich-Smith, RB James Starks, QB Matt Flynn, FB John Kuhn.

Where they stand: The Packers, who have $35 million in available salary-cap space, on Thursday moved closer to re-signing Raji, one of their three starting defensive linemen who were in the final years of their contracts. Last month at the NFL scouting combine, coach Mike McCarthy sounded optimistic that Finley would be cleared to play again after undergoing neck fusion surgery in November. The Packers were in on-and-off negotiations with Shields dating to this past June, but they remain significantly apart, making it more likely he will hit the open market next week. There's a chance that many of, if not all, the remaining free agents could do the same. That doesn't mean they won't re-sign, but it means the Packers will let the market help determine their value, which means they could risk losing them.

What to expect: Everyone knows that general manager Ted Thompson does not use free agency as a tool for restocking his roster very often. But Thompson usually tries to retain many of the players who have come through the organization. He could lose more of them than usual if he can’t get any more deals done before Tuesday. However, it remains to be seen what kind of market there will be for players like Jones (who will turn 30 on March 31), Dietrich-Smith (who has just one full season as a starter to his credit), Starks (who has a long injury history) and Flynn (who failed to win starting jobs in Seattle and Oakland).

Free-agency primer: Giants

March, 7, 2014
Mar 7
11:00
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Key free agents: DT Linval Joseph, LB Jon Beason, WR Hakeem Nicks, DE Justin Tuck, RB Andre Brown, TE Brandon Myers, CB Terrell Thomas, CB Trumaine McBride

Where they stand: The Giants have 23 unrestricted free agents and a crying need to rebuild an offense that bottomed out around quarterback Eli Manning in 2013. They need to find a wide receiver, a running back, a tight end and at least two starting offensive linemen. New offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo is likely to have some input in the kinds of players they pursue in free agency because he's installing a relatively new offense in New York for the first time in 10 years. They will also need to plug holes on defense if they don't re-sign Beason, Tuck or Joseph. And they could use an upgrade over McBride at cornerback.

What to expect: The Giants are trying to lock up Beason in advance of free agency but haven't yet. Once the market opens Tuesday, expect them to be aggressive in their pursuit of interior offensive linemen. If they find an upgrade at center, they can gain significant cap room by designating David Baas a June 1 cut. But they will go after at least one free-agent guard (Geoff Schwartz, Jon Asamoah, guys like that) and possibly more. Improving the protection of Manning is a primary goal for the Giants this offseason. Beefing up the interior of the line would also help them re-establish the run game. As they pursue wide receivers, keep an eye on players like Dexter McCluster and Golden Tate, who could help the Giants' weak return units.

Free-agency primer: Vikings

March, 7, 2014
Mar 7
11:00
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Key free agents: QB Matt Cassel, DE Jared Allen, DT Kevin Williams, DE Everson Griffen, CB Chris Cook, WR Jerome Simpson

Where they stand: The Vikings' biggest issue is at quarterback, where Christian Ponder is the only player they have under contract. They've told Cassel's agent they want to bring him back, but that could depend on how much more interest Cassel attracts on the free-agent market. Of the free agents on the Vikings' defensive line, Griffen probably has the best chance of returning to Minnesota to play in Mike Zimmer's new-look defense. But he, too, could attract attention from teams who think he can be an outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme.

What to expect: Cincinnati defensive end Michael Johnson could find a natural landing spot in Minnesota because of his familiarity with Zimmer and the Vikings' likely need for a new right end. Tennessee cornerback Alterraun Verner, who played for new Vikings defensive backs coach Jerry Gray in Tennessee, could also make sense for Minnesota, though both Verner and Johnson will have plenty of suitors. The Vikings have more than $40 million in cap space, though, so they could be contenders for both. If Cassel doesn't come back, the Vikings will also have to pursue another veteran quarterback; running back Adrian Peterson tweeted on Wednesday that Michael Vick could quickly turn the team into a playoff contender.

Free-agency primer: Cowboys

March, 7, 2014
Mar 7
11:00
AM ET
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Key free agents: Jason Hatcher, Anthony Spencer, Brian Waters, Danny McCray, Ernie Sims, Jarius Wynn

Where they stand: After finishing with the worst-ranked defense in the NFL in 2013, the Cowboys need help everywhere, but mostly on the defensive line. The need could be even greater if the Cowboys are unable to come up with a new deal for DeMarcus Ware, who is set to make $12.25 million in 2014 and count $16.003 million against the cap. Coming off an 11-sack season, Hatcher is likely to command more money from another team that will make it unlikely for the Cowboys to match, but they will not close the door on keeping him. Spencer is rehabbing from knee surgery and could be had on a short-term deal that will not involve a lot of money. The rest of their free agents are more fill-in types who will be allowed to test the market if not allowed to leave altogether.

What to expect: Not much. Last year the Cowboys added safety Will Allen and linebacker Justin Durant in free agency on short-term, low-money deals. The approach will be more that way than setting the market on a player as they did in 2012 for cornerback Brandon Carr (five years, $50 million). Executive vice president Stephen Jones said the Cowboys can be "efficient" spenders in free agency. The Cowboys will have to create space under the cap to sign players to modest deals. The best bet is for them to look for low-cost help on players on the line looking to rebound from down years or injuries. They also could look at safety, though Jerry Jones said at the NFL scouting combine that they liked their young safeties such as J.J. Wilcox. Whatever money the Cowboys do have is more likely to be set aside for Tyron Smith and/or Dez Bryant.

Free-agency primer: Saints

March, 7, 2014
Mar 7
11:00
AM ET
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.Key free agents: TE Jimmy Graham (franchised), RT Zach Strief, C Brian de la Puente, S Malcolm Jenkins, OLB Parys Haralson, WR Robert Meachem

Where they stand: The New Orleans Saints have a limited amount of cap space. But they should be able to make room to re-sign one or two of their own starters (in addition to Graham) and add one or two newcomers. The secondary should be a top priority after they released veterans Jabari Greer and Roman Harper last month. The Saints should be in the market for a cornerback who can come in right away and start -- and maybe a safety, too, if they don’t re-sign Jenkins. The offensive line will become a priority if they don’t re-sign Strief or de la Puente -- although they could address that in the draft. They also need to get younger at receiver and linebacker, although those spots also could be addressed in the draft.

What to expect: First and foremost, I ultimately expect the Saints to keep Graham on a long-term deal, although it could be a drawn-out negotiation. Beyond that, I expect a very similar approach to last year, when the Saints lost one key free agent (left tackle Jermon Bushrod), signed one high-priced free agent (cornerback Keenan Lewis) and added some nice depth at value prices (linebacker Victor Butler and tight end Benjamin Watson). My best guess is they keep one of their two starting linemen and add a starting-caliber cornerback (maybe in the range of the San Francisco 49ers' Tarell Brown or the Carolina Panthers' Captain Munnerlyn).

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