It’s that time of year again. Time for all of us football fanatics and geeks to read, debate, and predict potential moves to be made in the 2014 off-season in our effort to be every NFL team’s General Manager. This exercise is as tiring as it is fun, yet we still stay up late and wake up early reading everything the internet will throw at us to figure out where NFL free agents will be suiting up next year. There is so much to decipher through: franchise tags, player tenders, and of course the Draft. With so much information and projections out there, it is time to attempt the impossible: predict where the top five free offensive free agents (according to NFLDraftinsiders) will end up for the 2014 season.
5. Golden Tate, WR 5’11” 195 lbs: Tate is a tough player to grade. First, he is a champion with the Seattle Seahawks. Second, he came out of college with a lot of hype that he just has not seemed to live up to yet. Lastly, he plays on a run first offense with no clear number one wide receiver. Can Golden be a golden #1 option for an NFL team? Tate does not have the physical stature and play, making ability to be a clear cut number one receiver. He is better suited as a second or even third option for a team. There are plenty of teams looking for a good opposite-of-the-field guy; Carolina Panthers, San Francisco 49ers and Green Bay Packers all come to mind. Tate has averaged 54 receptions, 793 receiving yards and six touchdowns over the last two seasons. For teams like Carolina and San Francisco, these numbers should be expected if Golden was added to the offense. For a team like Green Bay who has Aaron Rogers, more production could be expected from a talent like Tate. Recently, Golden alluded to the fact that he would consider a hometown discount for his Championship team, Seattle. Seattle has a lot of options coming back next year at wide receiver considering they will see Percy Harvin for the full year, so bringing Tate back might not be a top priority unless the “discount” is big.
Prediction: Seattle Seahawks
4. Knowshon Moreno, RB 5’10” 215 lbs: Moreno is another player who was expected to make an immediate impact with the team that drafted him. While it did take Knowshon five seasons to produce as expected, he did so in his contract year. This will drive up the market value for the best running back out of this year’s free agent. Moreno had a stellar season in 2013 amassing 1,038 rushing yards and ten touchdowns. He added 60 receptions for 548 yards and three more touchdowns. In total he had 1,586 all-purpose yards and 13 total touchdowns. He also improved his pass-blocking ability and is in the start of his prime at only 27 years old. This amounts to a probable departure from the AFC Champion Denver Broncos. While Moreno only has one season with over 1,000 yards rushing, he does have three out of five seasons with over 1,000 all-purpose yards. This year’s running back free agent pool is talented but not reliable. Ben Tate, Darren McFadden, Maurice Jones-Drew, and the rest have major negatives to their game. The draft class of 2014 is loaded with running back talent, but none show the immediate impact a team needs for their bell cow in the back field. Knowshon is a lead back candidate for teams like the Cleveland Browns, Oakland Raiders, and Jacksonville Jaguars. All of these teams have the cap space to make serious offers to Knowshon, and the draft picks to fill other voids in their roster. The Atlanta Falcons might make a run at Moreno, as well, since Steven Jackson did not produce as expected and has major injury risks.
Prediction: Cleveland Browns
3. Dennis Pitta, TE 6’4” 245lbs: Dennis has the most intrigue of any free agent this off-season. A huge, athletic, and dynamic player, Pitta looks to establish himself as receiving a top option at any position in 2014 and not just from the tight end position. This is evident by his request to be tagged as a franchise wide receiver and not a tight end. So is Pitta worth that? Early indications are that the Baltimore Ravens Offensive Coordinator Gary Kubiak thinks so. Dennis was hurt for the majority of last year. In the four games he played he averaged five receptions per game and scored one touchdown. For his career, Dennis average 10.2 yards per completion. These numbers do not scream franchise wide receiver. This situation could be uncomfortable for the Pitta camp. The Ravens are all but guaranteed to franchise Pitta, and will more than likely do so as a tight end. They need to give their franchised, and highly paid, quarterback, Joe Flacco, more than one receiving option. Tagging Pitta will accomplish this. Let’s pretend, for just a second, Dennis makes it to the free agent market…the Patriots are the most likely team to sign Pitta. Their system is built around a tight end like Dennis and they are abnormally thin at tight end going into 2014.
Prediction: Baltimore Ravens
2. Eric Decker, WR 6’3” 206 lbs: Is Decker a low end number one wide receiver or the best number two receiver in the game? We will find the answer to that question in 2014. Decker has put up top option numbers in the past two seasons having at least 85 receptions, 1,000 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns both seasons. Decker’s size is very attractive to potential suitors. He does not have top end speed or fly paper for hands. There is also a question of whether Decker is this good or if he is a product of an amazing offensive scheme with one of the greatest quarterbacks ever throwing to him. No matter the answer, Decker is, without question, the best wide receiver available. Eric has expressed interest returning to Denver, but the likelihood of the Broncos being able to offer him what he wants is low. Denver is looking ahead to next year when Demaryius and Julius Thomas’ contracts are up. The positive side is Montee Ball will likely take the lead back role and Denver will save money not re-signing Moreno. Teams that have the need and money to sign Decker include New England, Indianapolis, New York Jets, Cleveland, and Green Bay. Green Bay would be the best fit for Decker with their pass first style offense and Aaron Rogers at quarterback. Two more teams that could use Decker but would need to move money around are Carolina and San Francisco. Decker is slightly hurt by one of the deepest wide receiver draft classes in years. His immediate impact compared to a potential waiting period will benefit teams like New England and New York. Decker’s ability to put up number one receiver metrics as a number two option will entice teams like Carolina, Indianapolis, Green Bay, Cleveland, and San Francisco. In particular, San Francisco should think about signing Decker with Anquan Boldin a free agent this year and with Michael Crabtree a free agent after 2014.
Prediction: Green Bay Packers
1. Jimmy Graham, TE 6’7” 265 lbs: Graham is, with Rob Gronkowski’s injuries, the best tight end in the National Football League. He is large, unprecedentedly athletic, and the most versatile offensive player in the NFL. He can line up like and block like a tackle. As previously stated, he is the best tight end in football. He can line up out wide as a pass catcher as well. In fact, Graham lined up as a wide receiver for more snaps last year than he did as a tight end. Graham is easily the most desired offensive commodity this off-season; whether it is from free agency or the draft. Not only can Graham dominate a game, but he can do it with every defense keying in on him being the number one option. It takes a special player to produce like that; however, Graham is not without his faults. He has been hit with the injury bug the last two seasons, causing him to miss time. Jimmy had incredible numbers last year hauling in 86 passes, 1,215 yards and, a League high, 16 touchdowns. As a tight end, no one can compete. As a wide receiver, these numbers are great, but not tops in the league. Graham wants to get paid as a number one pass catching option. There are teams out there capable of doing so. While the New Orleans Saints do not have the money other teams do for a multi-year deal, they do have the trump card; a franchise tag. Graham has shown concern about the Saints using this tag and that he will be tagged a tight end versus a wide receiver. Financially, the difference is $4.6 Million to Jimmy, with wide receivers earning $10.6 Million compared to a tight end’s $6 Million. Everyone associated with the Saints hints towards Graham being back in the Bayou next year. That will give the Saints one year to create the space to sign a Graham long term. There really is no way New Orleans lets go of their star.
Prediction: New Orleans Saints
With a draft overflowing with NFL quality talent at just about every position, this year’s free agency will not be as exciting as in the past. The franchise tag will also be used quite a bit this off-season. The top five offensive free agents will all find homes between now and opening kickoff; some will be new and some will be the same as 2013. Free agency starts Tuesday, March 11 at 4 p.m. EST. Until then, let us enjoy the predictions and debates.
Written By Nic Amanno
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