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2014 NFL Free Agents: Stock Up, Stock Down After 2013 NFL Season

Russell S. BaxterContributor IFebruary 9, 2014

2014 NFL Free Agents: Stock Up, Stock Down After 2013 NFL Season

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    Will Seattle Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett be "back" with the team in 2014?
    Will Seattle Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett be "back" with the team in 2014?Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

    Shopping anyone?

    With roughly a month to go before the unrestricted free-agency period in the NFL begins, here’s a quick look at which players elevated their game and which perhaps took a step backward when it came to 2013.

    Be it a bad season or even a bad stretch, perception can become financial reality rather quickly when it comes to this league.

    Here is the customary reminder: All eight of these individuals can be re-signed by their teams before March 11. So before you make up that list, make sure you check it twice.

    As usual, we have enlisted the support of Spotrac (subscription required), Pro Football Focus (subscription required) and Pro-Football-Reference.com for financial and statistical assistance.

Stock Up: RB Donald Brown, Indianapolis Colts

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    Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

    Perhaps one of the most discussed player moves of the 2013 NFL season was a huge success after all.

    It just didn’t turn out the way that many thought it would.

    When the Indianapolis Colts gave up a first-round draft choice in September for Cleveland Browns running back Trent Richardson, it appeared to be a solid acquisition for a team that needed some offensive balance.

    However, forget what former Cleveland star Richardson did for the Colts. The move appeared to awaken another Brown—as in running back Donald Brown.

    A first-round pick by Indianapolis in 2009, the former University of Connecticut standout had been somewhat of a disappointment in four NFL seasons. But he played with a purpose this past season, leading the team with 537 yards rushing, totaling a career-high 27 receptions with the first two touchdown catches of his career and leading the Colts with eight total touchdowns.

    The fact that he also does not have a lot of wear and tear in five seasons makes him an appealing addition as well.

Stock Down: WR Eric Decker, Denver Broncos

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    Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

    Sometimes all it takes is one less-than-scintillating performance to change perception...especially when your craft as an NFL player is all about making the reception.

    Super Bowl XLVIII proved to be a miserable experience for the Denver Broncos. Wide receiver Eric Decker can vouch for that. He was targeted five times by quarterback Peyton Manning against the Seattle Seahawks and caught one pass for six yards in the team’s 43-8 loss.

    Then again, the 2013 playoffs were not a huge success for the potential free agent. Decker was targeted a total of 18 times in three contests and managed just eight catches for 111 yards and zero touchdowns.

    During the regular season, the four-year veteran ranked second on his team with 87 grabs for 1,288 yards and 11 scores. Eight of those touchdowns came in his final five regular-season outings.

    It will be interesting to see if the less-than-productive postseason has an effect on his value if he hits the open market.

Stock Up: QB Josh McCown, Chicago Bears

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Veteran quarterback Josh McCown entered 2013 having played for five different teams in 10 seasons, including the Chicago Bears.

    However, the journeyman signal-caller seized the moment in the Windy City when starter Jay Cutler was unavailable. McCown wound up playing in eight games and starting five of them. His season total saw him complete 66.5 percent of his throws for 1,829 yards, 13 scores and just one interception. He also ran 13 times for 69 yards and one touchdown.

    Last month, general manager Phil Emery and the organization re-upped with Cutler on a seven-year contract. It will be interesting to see if head coach Marc Trestman and the team plan on making a play for McCown. There appears to be interest by the quarterback and the team.

    “I think from both sides, when I left and was exiting and doing all those things, I think it was mutual that both [parties] want to keep working together," said McCown to Jeff Dickerson of ESPNChicago.com.

    We shall see soon enough.

Stock Down: QB Josh Freeman, Minnesota Vikings

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    Jim O'Connor-USA TODAY Sports

    As we know in the National Football League, it’s not a far drop from the penthouse to the basement.

    It wasn’t long ago that Josh Freeman was regarded as an up-and-coming quarterback in this league. He and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had their high and low points, but there was no disputing his talent or potential.

    The 17th overall selection in the 2009 NFL draft played in 10 games as a rookie and threw almost twice as many interceptions (18) as touchdown passes (10). A year later, he impressed everyone with his 25 scores compared to only six interceptions.

    The Bucs fell apart after a 4-2 start in 2011 and lost their last 10 games. Freeman was a big part of a team that committed a league-high 40 turnovers that season.

    Under new head coach Greg Schiano, the talented signal-caller looked like he had once again turned the corner. In 2012, he threw a career-high 27 touchdown passes and was picked off just 17 times. However, nine of those interceptions came in the final three games, as the Bucs collapsed after a 6-4 start.

    In 2013, it was over before it really began. Three games and three losses into the season, Freeman was released by the team ,and all kinds of speculation began. He was picked up by the Minnesota Vikings and made one less-than-scintillating Monday night start for the team before not being heard from again.

    With only five NFL seasons under his belt, the question is: Will Freeman be heard from again by anyone anytime soon?

Stock Up: WR Ted Ginn Jr., Carolina Panthers

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    Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

    Known more for his work on returns, let’s see if wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr. returns to the Carolina Panthers in 2014.

    The ninth overall pick in the 2007 draft made a terrific impression on his latest team this past season.

    Ginn ranked sixth in the NFL in punt-return average (12.2) and 16th in the league in kickoff-return average (23.8).

    However, he also made a somewhat surprising impact as a wide receiver. He finished fourth on the team with 36 receptions—his highest total since catching 38 passes with the Miami Dolphins in 2009.

    He totaled 556 yards receiving, and his five touchdown grabs tied for second on the club.

    In his first six seasons in the NFL, Ginn had totaled six touchdown receptions with the Dolphins and San Francisco 49ers. He caught four passes for 104 yards in the team’s NFC divisional round loss to the Niners in January.

    Perhaps Ginn’s third stop in the NFL, if he remains with the Panthers, will prove to be a charm.

Stock Down: ILB Brandon Spikes, New England Patriots

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    Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

    Sometime the numbers only tell half the story.

    So what do we make of New England Patriots linebacker Brandon Spikes?

    This past season, for the first time in his four-year NFL career, the former University of Florida performer played in all 16 games. He finished third on the team with 86 tackles. The veteran defender is regarded as a solid performer against the run.

    However, he has totaled only one sack and two interceptions in four seasons, which are surprising numbers on a defensive unit where versatility is stressed by head coach Bill Belichick.

    In 2013, Spikes finished the season on injured reserve, and his return to Foxborough is a subject that has various opinions. Both Tom E. Curran of CSSNE.com and Nick Underhill of MassLive.com weigh in on the matter.

    Eventually, we will see what way the Patriots are leaning in 2014.

Stock Up: DE Michael Bennett, Seattle Seahawks

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    Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    A little less than a year ago at this time, some were wondering why the Tampa Bay Buccaneers would allow the team’s sack leader in 2012 to simply walk away.

    Defensive end Michael Bennett made them regret that decision in a big way.

    The somewhat underappreciated defender enjoyed a very solid season for the eventual Super Bowl champions in 2013. And no one should be surprised by his production and consistency.

    Bennett led the Seattle Seahawks with 8.5 sacks this past season and racked up 31 tackles. One year earlier in Tampa, the former undrafted free agent totaled 41 stops and a team-high nine sacks.

    Last offseason, the five-year veteran signed a one-year, $4.8 million contract to join the Seahawks. With 17.5 sacks over the last two seasons, it’s safe to say he’s about to receive a much more lucrative offer from some team.

Stock Down: FS Kendrick Lewis, Kansas City Chiefs

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    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    Apparently, all’s well isn’t what ends well.

    That’s because an amazing start by the Kansas City Chiefs in 2013 ended with a whimper rather than a bang.

    Andy Reid’s team got off to a surprising 9-0 start this past season, wound up 11-5 and reached the playoffs. When you do the math, you realize that the Chiefs lost five of their last seven games. In the AFC Wild Card Round versus the Indianapolis Colts, Kansas City squandered a 38-10 third-quarter lead en route to a 45-44 loss.

    It’s safe to say that free safety Kendrick Lewis, who could become an unrestricted free agent in March, took his lumps down the stretch and in the playoffs with his teammates. Including the playoff loss to the Colts, Reid’s team allowed 239 points in its last eight games. Kansas City gave up a mere 111 points during its 9-0 start.

    And as the numbers from Pro Football Focus indicate, Lewis really had his problems late in the season and at Indianapolis in January.

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