Jan 12, 2014; Charlotte, NC, USA; Carolina Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy (76) on the field prior to the 2013 NFC divisional playoff football game at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
With NFL Free Agency fast approaching Just Blog Baby podcast cohost Rory Anderson breaks down the 2014 NFL Free Agency class starting with the high end unrestricted free agents.
Last week I started a four week series of breaking down the potential offseason approaches the Raiders could take and now I am going to spend time dealing with the actual free agents and whether or not they fit with the Raiders. This week I will start with the big name free agents and cap casualties with a high profile. These players will get over seven million dollars a year most likely and are the names I get asked about most frequently. Next week I will address free agents that will get a moderate pay day but are good values, and the week after will be the under the radar guys to fill out the back end of the roster.
Jimmy Graham, TE Saints: Based on the massive cuts we saw Wednesday, it seems the Saints are prepping to franchise tag Graham. At least that way they can lock him up for a year at a lower price and then when the cap is in order they can pay him with a big pay day. In the wild case that Graham did hit free agency he would absolutely be a fit for the Raiders who want to have a balanced down field passing game.
Free Agency Projection: 6 years, $66 million dollars, $35 million guaranteed
Greg Hardy, DE Panthers: Hardy had a big year last season, but I do have reservations of him as a player. In 2012 he was still a mediocre defensive end, but this year with double digit sacks he is looking at a big pay day. What worries me is his production always came in bunches and he would disappear for a couple games at a time and then pick up multiple sacks. I am weary of “sack masters” whose production comes in that way. More importantly it is reported that the Panthers are planning on franchise tagging Hardy. If he did hit the market he would fit because he is a prototype 43 defensive end that is athletic, although I would be skeptical that the Raiders would pay the money for him.
Free Agency Projection: 5 years, $65 million dollars, $30 million guaranteed
Brian Orakpo, OLB Redskins: As a 34 outside linebacker Orakpo has been very productive and he has become a central part of the Redskins defense along with Kerrigan. Orakpo had 11 sacks this season and would be an ideal fit to play the Leo position for the Raiders in their hybrid defense (what Houston did this season). He is fit at the point of attack against the run and would be a solid pass rusher on third downs as well. The Redskins are looking at about 24.5 million in cap space this season with room to make that grow so I doubt he hits the market.
Free Agency Projection: 5 years, $50 million dollars, $30 million guaranteed.
Alterraun Verner, CB Titans: For the last couple of seasons Verner has been the best cornerback you have never heard of until now. He got a lot of publicity this season not for his interceptions, but for his ability to shut down one side of the field. His quarterback rating against is one of the best in the NFL. He does everything well and would be an incredible asset to any team. It has been reported that the Titans intend to franchise tag Verner although it will be tough to do it. There can be several cap casualties coming from the Titans in order to keep Verner which is what I expect.
Free Agency Projection 5 years, $55 million dollars, $28 million guaranteed
Jairus Byrd, FS Bills: Byrd is a big time play making free safety that can be an interception machine is allowed to play the middle of the field. The Raiders did a lot of that this season with Woodson who at times showed his age and was unable to get back to his spot. The Eagles game is a good example of this. Byrd would fit very well in this defense although he would not be able to be used interchangeably so the team would have to change the scheme to keep him in the deep middle. This has its advantages and if designed right he could be a central cog to a defense. It has been reported that the Eagles intend to throw a lot of money in Byrd’s direction and to expect a bidding war. I do not expect the Raiders to be in the bidding and he will be the NFL’s highest paid safety.
Free Agency Projection: 6 years, $54 million dollars, $30 million guaranteed
TJ Ward, S Browns: With all of the recent turmoil happening within the Browns organization several Browns free agents have said they do not wish to return. The problem is, the Browns can tag both of their top tier free agents and Ward is one of them. Using the transition tag on Ward would be ideal and it would limit who could pay for his services and any contract coming from a team like the Raiders would actually have to go above market value. This makes the interest in him difficult to gauge, but from a talent perspective he would fit in very well with the Raiders who would like to have interchangeable safeties and mix up their deep coverages.
Free Agency Projection: 6 years $48 million dollars, $24 million guaranteed
Alex Mack, C Browns: I expect Mack to franchise tagged this season because the tag is relatively small. Center contracts still tend to be small considering the offensive line numbers are going up. He is one of the best centers in the game and would be more than ideal for the Raiders to add and move Wisniewski to left guard. That would solidify the interior of the offensive line and prove to be a fantastic signing. Again, I highly doubt it happens, but it would be very good.
Free Agency Projection: 6 years, 48 million dollars, 20 million guaranteed
Michael Johnson, DE Bengals: I have engaged many fans and other writers about Michel Johnson being signed to the Raiders. I am not a fan of it. He has 31 sacks in five seasons and 13 of those came last year. The Bengals then decided to offer Carlos Dunlap a contract extension before Johnson and with only five sacks this season it seems to have been the right decision. According to profootballfocus.com Johnson had a 3.0 pass rush grade with only 5 sacks and 40 hurries which was 11th best in the NFL. He is considered great not due to his amazing pass rush talents, but his run stopping. He has the ideal build with the long arms to be a 43 defensive end, but signing him would be an inefficient use of the Raiders money. I think this signing would be an absolute waste and too high of a risk.
Free Agency Projection: 4 years, $50 million dollars, $25 million guaranteed
Michael Bennett, DE Seahawks: What makes Bennett so attractive as a free agent target is his versatility. He has the size and ability to rush both inside and outside giving whatever team that adds him some flexibility. He is not a top tier pass rusher, but a high motor guy that makes clutch plays. I fully expect the Seahawks to retain him by cutting some big salary guys in the near future.
Free Agency Projection: 4 years, $32 million dollars, $16 million guaranteed
Vontae Davis, CB Colts: Davis is almost a pure press man corner although he can do some other things effectively. He had a fairly consistent year and was one of the better cornerbacks in the NFL according to profootballfocus.com, but at his age he still has room for improvement. He has the speed and strength to be a solid playmaker although his hands are inconsistent. A tandem of Davis and Hayden could be a solid duo that in base downs provide enough time for a consistent pass rush. Luckily for the Raiders the cornerback market is depressed so there is value at a good price.
Free Agency Projection: 4 years, $32 million dollars, $16 million guaranteed
Sam Shields, CB Packers: Shields has gone through a rash of injuries at times, but has shown to be a playmaker. I am not the biggest Shields fan because he comes from a primarily zone system and he doesn’t step up against the run and because of that I am unsure if he is signed by the Raiders who highlighted Hayden’s run defense as a significant reason why they drafted him. There is also a lot of talk that the Dolphins are highly interested in him.
Free Agency Projection: 5 years, $37.5 million dollars, $20 million guaranteed
Linval Joseph, DT Giants: Joseph is a big time run stopper inside but his game is limited in terms of pass rush. He is however the best young defensive tackle available, and although I like his game I do not see the Raiders going out of their way to sign him when they have bemoaned the lack of consistent interior pass rush and depth.
Free Agency Projection: 5 years, $35 million dollars, $17 million guaranteed
Henry Melton, DT Bears: This is the big name interior lineman I see the Raiders having interest in. Yes he is coming off a big injury which makes his price susceptible to coming down and making him a true value addition. What makes Melton ideal is his athleticism which can be translated into versatility. Although he performs best going downhill, he could be asked to two gap in certain defenses. Most importantly he can provide interior pass rush in a division with two pocket quarterbacks that can tear up a defense if not moved off their spot.
Free Agency Projection: 5 years, $35 million dollars, $20 million guaranteed
BJ Raji, NT Packers: I have received a bunch of questions of BJ Raji being a Raider and I personally do not like it. Raji has been a pure two gap defensive lineman in a 34 system that has little history of producing in the pass rush as an NFL player. Furthermore he reportedly wants over eight million dollars and he is in no way worth it especially for a team that wants interior pass rush. Unless his number comes down considerably I see no way he is a Raider.
Free Agency Projection: 4 years, $36 million dollars, $20 million guaranteed
Aqib Talib, CB Patriots: Talib plays primarily in a zone system, but has shown off some decent man skills. He is a talented cornerback who has some off field issues, but he has found a home in New England and they have said they will open up the wallet for him.
Free Agency Projection: 4 years, $28 million dollars, $16 million guaranteed
Old Folks Home: the following free agents all have the title of being a top free agent in this draft and will cost significant money but because of their age will most likely not be Raiders who put a premium on guys in their prime.
Overrated but Will Get Paid: these are all top free agents that will get paid even though they aren’t worth the money
Cap Casualty Watch List: All of the following guys are players who may get cut to keep bigger name guys and if so would be of interest to the Raiders and would likely earn a salary of 3-8 million dollars. Three “$” is max out.
Louis Delmas, FS Lions: Cut while I was writing this. $
Lamarr Woodley, OLB Steelers: Would be a Leo for the Raiders and could happen if they want to keep Worilds instead. $$$
Miles Austin, WR Cowboys: $
Demarcus Ware, DE/OLB Cowboys: Another Leo prospect and although older he has massive production and versatility. $$$
Will Smith, DE Saints: He has already been cut but adding him for depth or a rush specialist would be fine for limited money. $
Sidney Rice, WR Seahawks: He has an injury history but he is a big bodied receiver that could help a young group in a limited fashion. $
Terrell Suggs, DE/OLB Ravens: Similar to Ware but I wouldn’t want to pay him as much. $$