Now that the Scouting Combine has come to a close, our attention shifts back to free agency. The market opens on March 11. Teams can start negotiating with free agents on March 8.
These aren't necessarily predictions on where free agents will land, but mere suggestions based on price tag, positional need and scheme fit. The majority of the players below aren't your high-profile, big-ticket fish that will be signing once the market opens on March 11. But they are solid role players that can be just as important as the big-money guys who land boat loads of guaranteed money.
49ers: Cornerback Terrell Thomas -- Slot corner Carlos Rogers is due $6.6 million in salary and bonuses and is fully expected to be released. Tarell Brown is also a free agent, but the 49ers will likely make an effort to re-sign him after he tests the market. After suffering back-to-back ACL tears, Thomas came back and appeared in all 16 games in 2013. He played the majority of his snaps in the slot and held up relatively well. Cornerback is easily the biggest need for GM Trent Baalke to address this offseason. Thomas wants to be an every-down player, but he might not be able to find a team willing to gamble that much on his knee.
Bears: Defensive tackle Jason Hatcher -- The Bears have holes all over their defense and could use upgrades at all three levels. Henry Melton, arguably the best player on that side of the ball, is set to become a free agent. GM Phil Emery has expressed a desire to re-sign Melton, but he's going to command a ton of money as long as his surgically-repaired ACL checks out okay. If Melton leaves, the Bears will need a pocket-pusher next to NT Stephen Paea. Hatcher is coming off a career-year in Dallas but will turn 32 in July, so he's not going to get the dollars Melton will. Hatcher also played for new Bears DL coach Paul Pasqualoni when Pasqualoni was on the Cowboys staff from 2006-07 and again in 2010. Hatcher proved to be a much better fit in the 4-3 defense.
Bengals: Defensive lineman Matt Shaughnessy -- RE Michael Johnson is almost certainly headed to the highest bidder in free agency. Shaughnessy is an extremely versatile piece. He played end and tackle in Oakland before playing 3-4 outside linebacker in Arizona on a one-year contract in 2013. Shaughnessy received very high marks as a run defender from Pro Football Focus. He wouldn't be asked to replace Johnson as a starter; Wallace Gilberry and 2012 second-rounder Margus Hunt could take on larger roles. But Shaughnessy would be a valuable situational defender and would come cheap like owner Mike Brown likes it. OC Hue Jackson was on Oakland's staff in 2010 when Shaughnessy had his best NFL season.
Bills: Tight end Brandon Pettigrew -- Scott Chandler is a free agent and likely won't be returning. Although he's a big body, Chandler isn't much of a blocker. The Bills don't have much behind him in the pipeline, aside from second-year "move" tight end Chris Gragg. The Bills would be wise to pursue a tight end like Pettigrew who can play on the end of the line as a blocker and work the short-to-intermediate range in the middle of the field as a pass catcher. The Bills led the league in rushing attempts last season. New Bills DC Jim Schwartz seemed to love Pettigrew in Detroit; Schwartz drafted him with the 20th overall pick in his first season as head coach of the Lions back in 2009. The Lions are prioritizing Pettigrew and may consider franchising him, but he'll likely have a handful of suitors if he reaches the open market.
Broncos: Inside linebacker Brandon Spikes -- Spikes is as good as gone in New England. Wesley Woodyard didn't handle the middle linebacker position well for the Broncos after making the switch from the weak side. He was eventually replaced down the stretch by veteran Paris Lenon. Both are free agents. The Broncos could potentially move WLB Danny Trevathan to the middle, but adding a two-down, run-stopping thumper like Spikes to an already elite run defense would be a better idea. He'd come off the field in obvious passing downs in favor of another defensive back.
Browns: Offensive guard Jon Asamoah -- Incumbent RG Shawn Lauvao is a free agent and likely won't be back. John Greco is probably locked in at left guard. The Browns want to re-sign C Alex Mack. That leaves right guard as a hole. Jason Pinkston is an in-house option, but he hasn't been able to stay healthy the past two seasons. New GM Ray Farmer was the Director of Pro Personnel in Kansas City when the Chiefs took Asamoah with the 68th pick in the 2010 draft. He fell out of favor under Andy Reid last season, getting replaced in the starting lineup by Geoff Schwartz. Asamoah was billed as a nasty run blocker coming out of Illinois and also excels in pass protection. He very well could have a hot market. At 6-foot-4, 305, he's light enough on his feet to excel in a zone-blocking scheme if OC Kyle Shanahan chooses to go that route.
Bucs: Defensive lineman Corey Wootton -- The Bucs desperately need help along the defensive line. RE Adrian Clayborn is their most reliable pass rusher, but he has just 13 career sacks through three seasons. Wootton has a history with new coach Lovie Smith and had his best season in 2012, Lovie's final year in Chicago. Wootton started the final seven games at left end that season and tallied seven sacks on the year. The Bears aren't expected to re-sign him as they overhaul their defense. Wootton can play inside and outside. Jared Allen also makes a ton of sense for the Bucs, but that was too obvious.
Cardinals: Tight end Ben Hartsock -- Outside of the offensive line and maybe rush linebacker, this Cardinals team doesn't have many weaknesses. Coach Bruce Arians stated at the Combine that he prefers his tight ends to block, and Hartsock may be the best pure in-line tight end on the free-agent market. Rob Housler struggled mightily in this area and saw his snaps decrease down the stretch. He has one year left on his rookie deal and may not be long for the desert. Hartsock would come cheaply for a team that doesn't have a ton of cap space and is about to shell out major dollars to CB Patrick Peterson. Hartsock wouldn't be a factor as a pass catcher.
Chargers: Wide receiver Andre Roberts -- The Chargers have plenty of holes for a team that just made the playoffs. Receiver is definitely one of them. Keenan Allen is a legit No. 1 on the outside, but asking Eddie Royal to produce like he did in 2013 again in 2014 would be an awful lot. Royal may also even be released due to a lofty cap number. Vincent Brown was a major 2013 disappointment. Danario Alexander is a free agent and may never play again due to ongoing knee complications. Roberts can play the slot and outside. New Chargers OC Frank Reich was the Cardinals WRs coach in 2012 when Roberts had easily his best pro season, catching 64 balls for 759 yards and five scores. Roberts was sparingly used under Bruce Arians and hasn't heard from the Cardinals about a new deal. He just turned 26.
Chiefs: Defensive lineman Arthur Jones -- LE Tyson Jackson is a free agent, and there's been no indication that the two sides have discussed a new deal. Since becoming a starter midway through the 2012 season, Jones has been one of the more disruptive 3-4 ends in the league. He plays stout run defense and has racked up a respectable 8.5 sacks the past two seasons. Jackson came into his own in 2013 but is a one-dimensional run-stuffer. Jones is going to get paid handsomely and is your prototypical five-technique 3-4 end.
Colts: Center Jonathan Goodwin -- The Colts can save $4 million against the cap by releasing C Samson Satele, and signs have pointed to them making the move. He's been pushed around the past two seasons with Indy. The Colts have already invested in the offensive line at left tackle, left guard and right tackle, so we're not expecting them to pour money into the center position. But the interior line needs to be shored up. Goodwin recently turned 35 and isn't going to be re-signed by the 49ers. He might have one or two years left in the tank and shouldn't command much. Goodwin has a connection with the Colts; his brother, Harold, was coach Chuck Pagano's offensive line coach in 2012 before going to Arizona as Bruce Arians' OC.
Cowboys: Defensive tackle Corey Peters -- Jerry Jones has a mess on his hands with the salary cap, so we can't expect the Cowboys to be major players in free agency. They're going to be hunting for bargains in the second and third waves. Defensive line is easily this club's biggest weakness. Adding a quality run-stuffer should be a major priority, so that ILB Sean Lee can roam free and make more plays instead of having to take on offensive guards all day. Peters tore his Achilles' in Week 16 but should be ready for Week 1, barring setbacks. He's still just 25, so he has age on his side. Being that he's coming back from a serious injury, Peters should come cheap. The Cowboys will need to hit defensive line in both free agency and the draft.
Dolphins: Running back James Starks -- Lamar Miller was a major disappointment. The jury is still out on him. Daniel Thomas is not the answer. We still believe Miller can be a feature back in the league, but this backfield needs a jolt of talent. Starks knows coach Joe Philbin from their days together in Green Bay, and Philbin witnessed firsthand Starks' big postseason that helped the Packers win the 2010 Super Bowl. Starks is going to be looking for a place where he can have a bigger role. If Philbin and new OC Bill Lazor aren't sold on Miller, Starks could easily carry the load. He looked much fresher and healthier in 2013.
Eagles: Nose tackle Paul Soliai -- Overall, the Eagles played pretty solid run defense in their first season under DC Billy Davis. That's partly because they were so bad against the pass that teams didn't need to run the ball. Isaac Sopoaga was a free-agent bust last offseason and was dealt to the Patriots at the trade deadline where he also flamed out. The Eagles then turned to undersized rookie Bennie Logan to man the nose. He played well down the stretch and showed promise, but the Eagles would be wise to add an anchor in the middle of the defense and allow Logan to mix in up front. Soliai, at 6-foot-4, 340, certainly fits the profile. He's annually one of the top run-plugging nose tackles.
Falcons: Defensive lineman Alex Carrington -- The Falcons need a ton of help on both lines. On the defensive side, they need pocket pushers. The Falcons have seemed to like their defensive tackles to be on the lighter side. Carrington (6-foot-5, 285) is a versatile lineman capable of playing both tackle and end. He's coming off a torn quad that limited him to just three games in 2013. Prior to that, in 2012, Carrington proved to be a disruptive force in limited snaps with the Bills. All three of Peria Jerry, Jonathan Babineaux and Corey Peters are free agents in Atlanta. The Falcons need to overhaul their front four and will make multiple additions.
Giants: Offensive guard Chad Rinehart -- The G-Men are in need of a total rebuild on the interior of their front five. LG Kevin Boothe is a free agent and struggled on his one-year deal. C David Baas has been an injury-prone free-agent bust. RG Chris Snee's tank is on E and is going to be cut if he doesn't take a massive pay cut. G/T James Brewer hasn't shown he can grab one of the spots. Rinehart (6-foot-5, 321) can play either left or right guard. He's made it through a 16-game season just once in his five-year career, however. But when healthy, Rinehart is above-average in all phases.
Jaguars: Wide receiver Golden Tate -- Jacksonville can't rely on Justin Blackmon to be reinstated by the time the season rolls around. The Jaguars brass has already said whatever they get from Blackmon will be a "luxury." Cecil Shorts is locked in at one outside receiver spot. His inability to stay healthy is a cause for concern. Ace Sanders is a decent gadget piece, but Mike Brown couldn't cut it when pressed into a heightened role. Tate would complement Shorts well. Both are deep threats, but Tate also has the tackle-shedding ability to pick up YAC on short routes. He also happens to know both coach Gus Bradley and OC Jedd Fisch from their Seattle days.
Jets: Wide receiver Sidney Rice -- GM John Idzik knows Rice from their time together in Seattle. He'd be a solid fit in OC Marty Mornhinweg's West Coast offense as a receiver with reliable hands on the outside. Jeremy Kerley is a fine slot receiver, but Gang Green has nothing behind him. Rice would be a solid No. 2, allowing the Jets to find a true No. 1 receiver in the early rounds of the draft. Rice would come cheap on a one-year deal. By all accounts, he's progressing well after ACL surgery.
Lions: Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders -- GM Martin Mayhew has seemed to favor smallish, speedy receivers opposite Calvin Johnson. (See: Titus Young and Ryan Broyles.) New OC Joe Lombardi comes from New Orleans where Lance Moore has been a key piece for a number of years. Sanders fits the bill. He's a field stretcher and isn't expected back in Pittsburgh. Ideally, he'd be a No. 3 on a top-of-the-line offense. The Lions could attack receiver or a seam-stretching tight end early in the draft in addition to their free agency acquisition.
Packers: Safety Stevie Brown -- The combination of M.D. Jennings and Morgan Burnett was one of the worst safety duos in football last season. Burnett inked a long-term deal and isn't going anywhere, but Jennings needs to be replaced. GM Ted Thompson isn't one to pay a premium price for free agents. Brown is coming off a torn ACL and missed the entire 2013 campaign. In 2012, he picked off eight passes. DC Dom Capers' defense needs playmakers. Brown qualifies and is young enough (26) for Thompson to justify paying.
Panthers: Offensive tackle Anthony Collins -- Following longtime LT Jordan Gross' retirement Wednesday, finding Cam Newton's blindside protector might be GM Dave Gettleman's No. 1 priority. He has plenty of other holes to plug, but the offensive line picture in Carolina is as clear as mud. Collins started the final six games of the Bengals' season at left tackle and didn't surrender a single sack. He's also shown flashes of dominance in spot starts in the past. Cincinnati wants to lock him up and kick Andrew Whitworth inside to guard, but Collins will likely want to see what the market offers. He won't command what Eugene Monroe and Branden Albert will, but we'd almost rather pay 27-year-old Collins than 30-year-old injury-prone Albert.
Patriots: Defensive tackle Clinton McDonald -- Chris Jones and Joe Vellano were pleasant surprises for the Patriots after Tommy Kelly (knee) and Vince Wilfork (Achilles') went down, but New England can't go into the 2014 season without upgrading this position. Kelly is a candidate to be released. Wilfork is a graybeard. McDonald was a late cut by the Seahawks before Week 1 but returned as a key piece in Seattle's rotation, notching 5.5 sacks. Surely he was helped by the surrounding talent, but the Patriots' ends and linebackers are no slouches. McDonald could contribute as a pocket pusher next to Wilfork.
Raiders: Defensive tackle B.J. Raji -- Raji isn't looking like he's going to return to the Packers. All four of Oakland's 2013 starters on the defensive line are free agents. GM Reggie McKenzie was in Green Bay when the Packers made Raji their first-round pick in 2009. McKenzie and the Raiders also happen to be flush with cap space. I'm not advocating throwing $7-8 million annually at Raji, but McKenzie seems like the type to do it. Raji would like to be able to get after the quarterback more on his next team, and the Raiders' 4-3 could allow him to do so.
Rams: Safety Malcolm Jenkins -- FS Rodney McLeod is a backup and special teamer at best. Jenkins had his best seasons under new Rams DC Gregg Williams in New Orleans. The Rams can't keep overpaying free agents they know from previous stops, but coach Jeff Fisher loves his guys. Jenkins isn't a playmaker but would shore up the back end. He can also cover the slot in nickel situations, allowing the Rams to still use an early-round pick on a safety in May's draft.
Ravens: Wide receiver James Jones -- Jones is a candidate to see a softer market than he may be expecting. He's about to turn 30 years old and isn't a big-time playmaker. Jones is more of a chain-mover and red-zone threat. It fits the profile of what new OC Gary Kubiak likes in a No. 2 receiver. Torrey Smith is going to dominate targets as the No. 1, but the Ravens badly need someone to take some heat off him on the opposite side. Jones may not command much more than $5 million annually.
Redskins: Wide receiver Kenny Britt -- New coach Jay Gruden likes his receivers to be able to block. Although Britt was benched multiple times for effort reasons in Tennessee, he once was a willing blocker and destroyed opposing defensive backs on occasion at Rutgers. Britt is a high-profile name. We know owner Dan Snyder likes those. Leonard Hankerson may not be ready for Week 1, and Josh Morgan is a free agent. It's still unclear if Britt will ever be the same player he showed flashes of being early in his career, but he's still just 25 and would be worth a prove-it one-year deal.
Saints: Cornerback Will Blackmon -- The Saints handed CB Keenan Lewis a five-year, $25.5 million deal last offseason. They use a couple more corners like him, but it's hard to see GM Mickey Loomis shelling out another big contract to a corner. Corey White isn't a viable No. 2. Blackmon (6-foot, 210) is a bigger corner who excels against the run and in physical defenses like DC Rob Ryan's. He shouldn't command more than $3-4 million per year on the open market on a two- or three-year deal. The Jaguars, however, are said to want Blackmon back.
Seahawks: Defensive lineman Antonio Smith -- The Seahawks are going to release LE Red Bryant in order to free up some money and try to retain free agent DL Michael Bennett. Seattle loves its depth and will need to replace Bryant in the rotation, but they'll want to do it on the cheap. Smith is a quality pass rusher and played in a similar attacking-style defense in Houston as a 3-4 right end. At 6-foot-3, 272, he can play inside and outside. Smith is 32 years old and should come cheap on a one- or -two-year pact.
Steelers: Defensive lineman Tyson Jackson -- Jackson revived his career as a 3-4 end under coach Andy Reid and DC Bob Sutton with the Chiefs in 2013 and is hitting the market at the right time. DEs Ziggy Hood and Brett Keisel are free agents in Pittsburgh and likely aren't going to be brought back. The Steelers need to get younger up front and shore up their 21st-ranked run defense. Jackson will turn 27 in June and can play either side of the line.
Texans: Nose tackle Terrence Cody -- Although new DC Romeo Crennel and outgoing DC Wade Phillips both run 3-4 defenses, their philosophies differ in many ways. Phillips was comfortable with undersized Earl Mitchell manning the nose in Houston. He's a free agent, and Crennel prefers his nose tackles to eat up blockers. Cody is 340 pounds and should be able to do that, even though the NFL has proven to be a struggle for him. He's still young and a change of scenery could do him some good. Even if he's not asked to start, the Texans badly need depth up front.
Titans: Right tackle Breno Giacomini -- Incumbent RT David Stewart and his $6.4 million salary are expected to be released, leaving a hole on the right side. New coach Ken Whisenhunt has had physical offensive linemen in every city he's coached in, and Giacomini's biggest asset is his physicality and ability to get under the skin of opposing defensive players. He's an above-average pass protector but should be a better run blocker. The Titans have a lot invested in their offensive line. Giacomini won't command much money.
Vikings: Defensive end Lamarr Houston -- I fully expect the Vikings to target RE Michael Johnson in free agency, but that would have been too easy here. Instead, I'll go with a similar player in Houston who most of the casual football world doesn't know about. Houston was arguably Oakland's best player in 2013. He's a behemoth of a man at 6-foot-3, 300 pounds, but carries the weight well. Like Johnson, Houston can rush the passer and plays stout run defense. He'd be a great fit in new coach Mike Zimmer's defense.
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