Looking ahead to what will be a tumultuous offseason for many organizations, this current crop of free agents could potential change the landscape for the teams that sign them. Though the current draft touts many highly regarded and talented players, many clubs chose to build from free agency with battle tested and proven commodities that would fit well in their already established systems. Let’s take a look at the top free agents and where they might end up.
James Jones, Green Bay Packers, WR: James Jones who had a stellar 2012 season, probably wished he had entered free agency at the end of last season. The 2013 season was mired by injury and lack of production for Jones, however he is still a highly valuable offensive weapon. Jones has great size, speed and athleticism that make him a very dangerous target on 3rd down and in the red area.
Putting into consideration his performance in 2013 and what some GMs might view as an injury prone asset, Jones’ asking price in the current market is low for what he can bring to a football team. A landing spot that makes the most sense is New England. The Patriots glaring weakness in their AFC Championship loss to the Denver Broncos was a lack of a big experienced target on the outside. And considering the Belichick business model a commodity like James Jones that is undervalued on the current market, who has a lot of playoff experience, and that can cause matchup problems for opposing defenses fits right into what could become a big offseason signing. Other teams that could throw their hat in the mix for Jones are the Packers (for obvious reasons), Lions who could use a more physical number two receiver and the Steelers who desperately need a big target. Best Fit: New England Patriots
Ben Tate, Houston Texans, RB: Ben Tate might be the most proven offensive commodity of the entire free agency market. Tate has been a consistent performer over the past few seasons and is a player that is a veteran back but does not have that much mileage on his body which is a huge facet of his resume for potential suitors. There are many teams throughout the NFL that need a reliable and consistent runningback to solidify their offensive but only a few that would truly be a good fit.
Looking at the needs of teams across the league a few look like potential landing spots for Tate. Starting in the NFC, a team that badly needs a reliable running game for their offense is the New York Giants. The Giants might have had the most anemic and pathetic offense in the NFL last season. For an organization that has built its team image on hard nosed ball control football constructed on the back of a strong running game, the Giants running attack was non-existent at times in 2013. Tate would prove to be a valuable asset to the Giants, first because of his proven status in the NFL and second because of the huge blunder selecting David Wilson in the 1st round in 2012.
The next potential suitor for Ben Tate will most likely be the Cleveland Browns. The Browns had a revolving door of either over-the-hill or unknown runningbacks in 2013 and sported one of the most unimpressive rushing attacks in the NFL. Though the team has no Head Coach or assistant coaches and were not really sure who’s even at the table making decisions in Cleveland (outside Joe Banner), it is not a bare cabinet in that locker room. They have a litany of talented guys on both sides of the ball. Playmakers like Josh Gordon, Jordan Cameron, and Greg Little show off a more impressive unit on offense than most would think with their awful 4-12 record. We will know more once a coach is hired in Cleveland, however Tate would be a good fit in the Cleveland offense that badly needs a real runningback. Other teams that will undoubtedly contact Tate for his services will most likely include the Texans because of Arian Foster’s injury issues, the Falcons who need more stability in their backfield, and the Titans because of the uncertain future with Chris Johnson. Best Fit: New York Giants
T.J. Ward, Cleveland Browns, S: Ward is a very talented and underrated player in the current free agent market. This is most likely due to the fact that he’s been playing on a bad team, in a small market, that no one watches. However, when you watch this guy play he’s shows why football people believe him to be a true triple-threat safety. The triple threat being: a player who is strong against the run, who can play effective man defense against both a TE and Slot WR, and a player that possesses the ability to play the middle field safety and make a play on every deep ball.
There are a ton of teams throughout the league that need safety help, however none need it more than the porous defense of the Dallas Cowboys. The Cowboys under new management on defense last season sported one of the worst secondary’s in league history. Teams threw the deep ball at will on Big D last season and were incredibly effective on critical 3rd downs that broke the will of the Cowboys in all of their big games. However, with the Cowboys looking at some salary cap restrictions and the depth at defensive back in the 2014 Draft, who knows what Jerry and Stephen Jones will do concerning T.J. Ward.
Another team that needs a safety and that has some wiggle room in their budget is the Minnesota Vikings. The Vikings who will probably be letting some high priced assets go like veteran DE Jared Allen, have some money to spend and have a lot of holes on a defense that allowed the most points in the NFL in 2013. The Vikings need to make a splash for a fan base that is becoming increasingly inpatient with an organization that for the most part has looked mismanaged and signing a player like T.J. Ward is a step in the right direction. Other teams that might give Ward a look will most likely include the Jets who will be looking to replace the combo of Landry and Reed in the back end of that secondary, the Steelers who need some youth in an old and slow secondary, and the Lions who could use a strong veteran leader on that defense. Best Fit: Dallas Cowboys
Jared Allen, Minnesota Vikings, DE: Allen might be the most high profiled free agent on the market other than Jimmy Graham (who most expect to resign with the Saints). The Vikings appear to have seen enough of the perennial pro bowl d-lineman and are most likely moving in a different direction. The 31 year-old Allen will most likely have a ton of suitors this offseason because of how rare his skill set is as a pure 4-3 pass rusher with the addition of his proven productivity.
Looking throughout the NFL landscape a few good fits makes sense for the veteran defensive end. The first that comes to mind is the Dallas Cowboys. Like I stated earlier, Dallas has some cash flow issues however, with the possibility of losing Anthony Spencer and Jason Hatcher to free agency Dallas has some money to spend on their defensive line. Furthermore, because of Allen’s age he most likely will come at a relative discount. One of the biggest problems in Big D last season was a lack of a consistent pass rush. Demarcus Ware because of injury and change of scheme was not a huge factor and pressure that came from Jason Hatcher, George Selvie and the rest of the rag tag band of lineman who started games for the Cowboys last season, was honestly not getting the job done. Allen would serve as a consistent pass rusher, a verteran leader and a shot in the arm for a fan base that is fed up with mediocrity.
Moreover, another team that makes a lot of sense for Jared Allen is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. As we know Lovie Smith has become the team’s Head Coach and he’s hired close friend and former head man in Minnesota Leslie Frazier as the Defensive Coordinator. This combo of incredibly talented defensive coaches who love guys that can attack the quarterback at DE in the 4-3 scheme and the relationship that already exists between Frazier and Allen makes a lot of sense. In most games last season, the Buccaneers needed a guy like Allen in the fourth quarter to make a critcal stop or sack on a 3rd down to close games, but they didn’t have a guy like that. The Bucs lost more close games than any other team in the NFL last season. A guy like Allen could prove to be a big game changer in for Tampa. Look for the Patriots, 49ers and Falcons to pursue Allen’s talents this offseason as well. Best Fit: Tampa Bay Buccaneers