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Old 12-29-2013   #1
Heath Shuler
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Default 2014 NFL Free Agents: Top Players at Every Position


1. Jay Cutler

As usual, there are few true starting options upcoming in free agency at quarterback. Cutler is really the only one, and he might not make it to market.

The Bears are reportedly considering the franchise tag for the 30-year-old—and, perhaps, trade him—which would remove him from free agency.

If Cutler does happen to hit the market, the mixed results throughout his career shouldn't preclude him from getting a big deal. As inconsistent and somewhat injury-prone he has been throughout his career, Cutler is still franchise quarterback material.

2. Michael Vick

The Michael Vick era is all but over. Long live Michael Vick.

Once hailed as the prototype for the future at his position, the 33-year-old quarterback finds himself at the twilight of his career. At least as a starter.

Per his modus operandi, Vick has been unable to stay healthy in recent years. He has also continued his inconsistent and turnover-prone ways, finally losing his job to second-year standout Nick Foles.

Vick still has some gas in his tank, but it's clear he is no longer an NFL starter.

3. Josh McCown

Cutler's backup in Chicago performed admirably this year.

McCown has completed 66.5 percent of his passes with 13 touchdowns to one interception this year. He has done well enough to cause some like CBS' Jason LaCanfora to question whether they should simply re-sign him and let Cutler go.

That is a bit ludicrous, but McCown has done himself plenty of favors when it comes to landing a nice contract as a backup.

4. Josh Freeman

Three months ago, Freeman was the starting quarterback for the Buccaneers. Today he finds himself on the brink of free agency, having been cast off by Tampa Bay and Minnesota.

At 25 and rock bottom, Freeman might benefit by signing with a team as a backup to an established starter. He could understudy Philip Rivers for a couple of seasons under quarterback guru and head coach Mike McCoy.


1. Knowshon Moreno

The Broncos originally had a cheap club option for 2014, but somehow that option was voided, per ESPN Denver's Cecil Lammey. So Moreno hits the market, coming off a career year with the Broncos.

Once a punch line teetering on the edge of the roster, Moreno surged back from the brink to meet those first-round expectations. He surpassed 1,000 rushing yards and hit double-digit touchdowns for the first time in his career, bucking the injury-prone and bust labels all at once.

Sure, it probably helps that teams had to worry about Peyton Manning shredding their defense, but Moreno has been good in his own right, getting tough yards and being a trustworthy pass blocker for Manning.

2. Ben Tate

Free agency has been a long time coming for Tate, who has been stuck behind Arian Foster in Houston throughout his career. But a lost season in The Bayou City claimed Tate, who was largely underwhelming before being put on injured reserve with cracked ribs.

The 25-year-old still managed 771 yards and four touchdowns despite playing through that injury for a good portion of the season.

Tate is young, and he has flashed his potential in the past. That should net him plenty of interest around the league.

3. Rashad Jennings

Like Tate this year, Jennings had a marvelous opportunity to shine in a contract year when Maurice Jones-Drew went down in 2012. Worse than Tate did this season, Jennings stunk it up.

One year later, however, and Jennings has redeemed himself in a big way with the Raiders.

Jennings has rushed for 584 yards and all six of his touchdowns at a 4.7 yards-per-carry clip since McFadden went down with an injury against the Eagles in Week 9. Outside his awful 2012 campaign, Jennings has averaged 4.9 yards per carry in his four-year career.

4. Darren McFadden

When he entered the league, McFadden was following in Vikings running back Adrian Peterson's footsteps. Expectations soared for the former Arkansas running back. Then reality hit.

Or, more accurately, injuries. Every year.

McFadden is the modern-day poster child for "injury prone," never playing more than 13 games in a season and averaging just over 11 per season.

More importantly, however, is the fact McFadden no longer looks like the dynamic back he was a few years ago. The six-year veteran has averaged just 3.3 yards per carry over the past two seasons. He has had to deal with scheme changes and a patchwork offensive line, but so has Jennings, who severely outshined McFadden this year.

5. Maurice Jones-Drew

Despite injuries in recent years, Jones-Drew has been quite effective for the Jaguars. But he has been healthy this year, and is averaging a paltry 3.5 yards per carry.

Jones-Drew will be 29 this March, and he is heading into the twilight of his career. He is a hard-nosed running back with something left to give, but he will likely be best in a timeshare.

Ian Rapoport of NFL.com reported Jones-Drew and the Jaguars are mutually interested in the veteran re-signing in Jacksonville. If that doesn't happen, it will be interesting to see how much interest he gets on the open market.

6. Rashard Mendenhall

Given Arizona's success this season—particularly running the ball—you would think Mendenhall is in for a nice payday this offseason. But he is only averaging 3.1 yards per carry, and rookie Andre Ellington is severely outplaying him.

Mendenhall is a decent goal-line backup in the Shonn Greene and Michael Bush mold, but nothing more.

7. Donald Brown

It seems like a little-known fact that Brown is a former first-round pick, but the Colts might want to bury that information.

Recently, however, Brown has turned a corner. He has actually overtaken Trent Richardson, who the Colts traded a first-round pick to obtain earlier this year. He has over 700 total yards and seven touchdowns, both better than his counterpart.


1. Eric Decker

Decker is certainly a beneficiary of having guys like Demaryius Thomas and Wes Welker around him. But the fourth-year receiver is pretty good in his own right.

After all, he has 31 touchdowns over the past three seasons, which includes one season with Kyle Orton and Tim Tebow throwing passes his way.

The raw numbers might be inflated by his surrounded cast, but Decker is no slouch. He is not a No. 1 receiver, but none in this year's free-agent receiver class really are, save perhaps Hakeem Nicks.

2. Hakeem Nicks

If Nicks lived up to his potential, he would be a shoo-in for a big contract as a No. 1 receiver.

The injury bug has largely stayed away from Nicks this season, but he couldn't escape the pervasive ineptitude in the Giants organization.

Nicks had a poor season however you slice it, though. His underwhelming and injury-riddled career have likely cost him a good chunk of change this offseason.

Chris Orr of the Newark Star-Ledger reported Nicks would like to come back to New York, but the Giants have a recent history of stinginess when it comes to wide receivers.

3. Jeremy Maclin

Imagine how good the Eagles offense would look with a healthy Maclin in the fold.

Unfortunately for Maclin and the Eagles, the talented receiver was lost for the 2013 season with a preseason knee injury, meaning he will hit free agency while still rehabbing.

Maclin expressed his desire to return to the Eagles, per Sheil Kapaida of Philadelphia Magazine, so he might not hit the open market. If he does, however, he should garner plenty of interest as a solid No. 2 receiver.

4. Anquan Boldin

Were Boldin a scant few years younger, he would have likely topped this list. At 33, however, Boldin is a tad overripe from a free-agent standpoint.

Sure, Boldin has had some big games for the 49ers this year, but a big contract isn't on the cards for the aging veteran. He will make a team looking for a solid No. 2 quite happy.

4. Emmanuel Sanders

Pittsburgh liked Sanders so much they matched New England's offer last offseason, despite the fact the Steelers would have gotten a third-round pick and they were tight on cap space.

Sanders responded by having the best year of his career, though he won't crack 800 yards at his current pace.

5. James Jones

The question about Jones has always been whether or not his success has been predicated on having an All-World quarterback, Aaron Rodgers. Through just about seven games without Rodgers this year, the jury is still out.

Jones has 32 catches for 410 yards in that span. Of course, the entire Packers receiving offense has been down in that span, so the results aren't trustworthy.

In truth, Jones is a solid No. 2 receiver, as he has been during his tenure in Green Bay.

6. Julian Edelman

What a difference good health and opportunity make.

Edelman has stepped in for the departed Wes Welker and injured Danny Amendola and Rob Gronkowski this year. The diminutive receiver is on pace for 100 catches and 1,000 yards, and he is a big reason the Patriots offense hasn't completely collapsed in the wake of all the turnover and affliction.

His own injuries have, perhaps, prevented him from getting a longer contract last offseason. He wound up settling for a one-year deal to stick with the Patriots, a move that has paid off in spades for both parties in the end.

the rest:

I wonder what the market is for McCown?
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