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NFL Free Agency: Where will Byrd, Top Safeties Play in 2014?

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NFL free agency will officially begin Tuesday, but what has commonly been referred to as “the legal tampering” period of free agency will begin today at noon (ET). That means teams can communicate with players’ agents and work out deals in principle–no contracts can be signed until Tuesday.

Soon enough these “deals in principle” will be taking over twitter feeds across the nation.

With the NFL becoming more and more of a pass-happy league, top-flight safeties are becoming a pivotal part of successful defenses. This year’s free-agent safety class is a top-heavy one, with each of the top three likely to make a big impact where ever they land.

Here’s a look at likely landing spots for some of the NFL’s finest safeties:

 

Jairus Byrd (Bills)

The cream of the crop of free-agent safeties, Byrd will command top dollar on the open market, and rightfully so–he’s a premier safety in the NFL.

Byrd has the elite range and ball skills to upgrade the free safety spot on any NFL roster (OK, except for the Seahawks).

The Cleveland Browns could be without their top safety T.J. Ward, who is a free agent, and may be looking to upgrade. Byrd would be a great fit in Cleveland’s defense, especially considering their new head coach, Mike Pettine, was Byrd’s defensive coordinator last year in Buffalo. The switch to the Browns’ defense would be a seamless one for the three-time All Pro.

Not to mention, he’d get paid too. Per Spotrac.com, the Browns currently have $45,756,355 in cap space.

Prediction: Cleveland Browns

 

T.J. Ward (Browns)

Largely considered the second-best safety on the free-agent market, T.J. Ward is bound to get paid. Whoever signs him will be doing so with a hefty contract.

Perhaps best known for his running-stuffing prowess and knee-destroying hits (sorry Gronk), Ward is also very effective in coverage, grading out well in that department according to ProFootballFocus (subscription required).

If they are serious about getting back to the Big Show in 2014, the Denver Broncos need to do something about their horrific secondary. There is plenty of blame to spread around in the back-end of their defense, but at times, their safety play was the worst I saw in the NFL in 2013.

With that said, the Broncos could use a guy like Ward. He would certainly help shore things up back there and also inject a little attitude into their defense.

The Broncos are also well under the cap (per Spotrac), so they shouldn’t have trouble fitting him under.

Prediction: Denver Broncos

 

Donte Whitner (49ers)

Since signing with the San Francisco 49ers in 2011 for a modest deal, Whitner has blossomed into one of the league’s better safeties and has been an integral part of one of the league’s finest defenses.

Whitner’s main knock to his game has been his inconsistencies in coverage, however in 2013 he drastically improved. In fact, he was the fifth highest rated safety in coverage, according to ProFootballFocus (subscription required).

The St. Louis Rams have a nice young core on defense, particularly up front. A seasoned vet like Whitner could go a long way in closing the gap between their division foes, which includes the Super Bowl Champion Seahawks and the tough-as-nails 49ers.

The Rams main priority is likely keeping free agent left tackle Rodger Saffold, but they should have enough cap space (currently about $10.5 under the cap, per Spotrac) to make a pretty big move like signing Whitner.

Prediction: St. Louis Rams

 

Follow James DiMaio on Twitter @JamesDiMaio

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Tags: 2014 Nfl Free Agency Donte Whitner Jairus Byrd T.J. Ward

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