NFL Rumors: Recapping the Biggest Buzz at the Start of Free Agency
Free agency looms in the NFL.
The new league year opens up on Tuesday, March 11, and we are firmly entrenched in the "legal tampering" period, which is also known by other names like the "rumor-mongering" and "appetite-whetting" period.
There are plenty of rumors flying around—some more credible than others—as we head into the annual feeding frenzy.
Here is the latest buzz regarding free agency on the day before it begins.
Branden Albert Is Practically a Miami Dolphin
Where there is smoke, there is fire; the question is whether or not it will be a dumpster fire in Miami.
The Dolphins are reportedly interested in multiple veteran offensive tackles on the market, and Branden Albert seems to be at the top of their list, per the Miami Herald's Adam Beasley:
Pro Football Talk reported Sunday that “all signs currently point to Albert signing with the Dolphins not long after the market officially opens on Tuesday.” The Miami Herald has heard the same from league sources.
Furthermore, Albert has been the Dolphins’ top target since a failed draft-weekend trade for the Chiefs lineman last spring, per a source with direct knowledge of the situation. The two teams couldn’t agree on terms.
Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun reported the Dolphins are expected to sign Albert for around $9 million per season, quite a hefty pay day for the 29-year-old tackle.
Even if that is overpaying, the Dolphins sorely need stability and quality at the left tackle position. Jake Long was elite for a few seasons, but injuries felled him during his last few seasons in Miami, and the position was a disaster last year without him.
Hakeem Nicks Open to a One-Year Deal...Until He Changed His Mind
The free-agent market is flooded with receivers, mostly ranging from bad to mediocre in talent; Hakeem Nicks is trying to avoid being lumped into that category.
On Saturday, the former New York Giant said he would be willing to take a one-year "prove it" deal, per CBS Sports' Josh Katzowitz, which made sense given the likely lukewarm offers he was expected to receive starting on Tuesday.
However, it wasn't long after word got out that he'd be willing to sign a one-year deal that he recanted. Nicks reportedly wants a multiyear deal now, and he named the San Diego Chargers, Indianapolis Colts and Carolina Panthers as his top choices, per Katzowitz.
It's no coincidence that those are all receiver-needy teams. Whether or not they want to hand an injury-plagued, underwhelming receiver to a multiyear deal is another story entirely.
Decision Deadline for the Patriots and Danny Amendola
Rumors arose over the weekend that the New England Patriots were mulling a trade or release of receiver Danny Amendola, and the rumors persist as a deadline approaches for such a move.
The Patriots have until the end of Tuesday to release Amendola—assuming no team wants to trade for him, which is likely—lest he receive a $2 million bonus, per the Boston Globe's Ben Volin:
The NFL Network reported last week that the Patriots cannot use the June 1 cut on Amendola because he automatically receives his bonus on Tuesday, the first day of the league year (and the first day Amendola could be cut), but that’s not quite accurate, the way we understand it. The league year begins at 4 p.m., and the Patriots will have until 11:59 p.m. Tuesday to decide whether or not to keep Amendola. If Amendola is still on the roster at midnight, then he gets his $2 million, and the Patriots lose incentive to cut him.
Most analysts around the league seem to think Amendola won't be released—after all, there is no reason to cut a clean, productive-when-healthy player when it won't save any money and could hurt the team—but anything is possible for head coach Bill Belichick.
The clock is ticking.
Michael Bennett to the Chicago Bears?
Winning a championship can certainly put you on cloud nine.
That's where defensive end Michael Bennett must have been just after the Seattle Seahawks won the Super Bowl. However, in an interview on NFL Network in February, Bennett made it very clear that he will not take a discount to remain with the reigning champs (h/t Josh Alper of Pro Football Talk).
Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tributne (subscription required) is reporting that Bennett could be set to join the Chicago Bears:
The Bears' top free-agent target, Michael Bennett, will appear with brother Martellus on Monday morning on NFL Network.
The segment on "NFL AM" is titled "Bro 2 Bro," according to the network, and is planned for recurring spots on Mondays. Before they're asked back, it could become "Teammate 2 Teammate."
More signs point to Bennett being the No. 1 free agent on general manager Phil Emery's want list after the Tribune reported Saturday the Bears were in strong pursuit of the defensive end to re-energize the club's pass rush.
Adding Bennett would certainly shore up a defensive line that faltered last season—though he might be replacing the still-productive Julius Peppers, who is likely to be cut because of his $18 million cap number, per Biggs.
It seems that, in the end, money talks.
Update (3/10/14): Well, perhaps money was soft spoken after all. Bennett has reached a four-year, $28.5 million deal with the Seahawks that is reportedly less than he was being offered from other teams, per Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio.
Ravens Close to Re-Signing Eugene Monroe
Monroe and the Ravens have continued to negotiate to bridge a significant gap that existed last week.
Although no deal is imminent and there's still a realistic chance that Monroe could test free agency -- during which other NFL teams could get involved that might potentially increase his asking price -- there is increased hope from both sides that something can be worked out.
The Ravens would ideally like to hold onto Monroe, 26, after trading fourth- and fifth-round draft picks to the Jacksonville Jaguars in October in exchange for him.
Indeed, the Ravens will have whiffed badly if they traded those picks to merely rent Monroe for half a season. Retaining Monroe would justify that trade and solidify the left tackle position for years in Baltimore.
Jairus Byrd's Pursuers
The "Byrd" is the word around the league.
Predictably, star safety Jairus Byrd figures to be the free-agent market's hottest commodity. After all, he figures to help his future team's defense soar. If the legal tampering period is any indication, Byrd's suitors are just starting to flock to him.
Not only are the Miami Dolphins reportedly going to sign Branden Albert, but they are serious players for Byrd as well, per the NFL Network's Ian Rapoport. The St. Louis Rams have also reportedly contacted the talented safety, per Rapoport.
St. Louis' goose might be cooked, however.
Miami has roughly $27 million more in cap space right now, per OverTheCap.com. Even if the Dolphins sign Albert to a massive contract, they still seem to have the upper hand—in fact, Pittsburgh Steelers safety Ryan Clark seems to think Byrd is headed to Miami.
Of course, the Dolphins and Rams won't be the only teams in the hunt for Byrd's services. There are certainly other teams "Byrd-watching," but none of them have been seriously linked to the 27-year-old—for now.
Byrd may well fly south for next season, but there is plenty of time left on the clock.
Jared Veldheer Heading to the Desert?
Per OverTheCap.com, the Oakland Raiders entered the offseason with $63.8 million in cap space, by far the highest total in the league. They were expected to at least try and re-sign their top free agents, with offensive tackle Jared Veldheer perhaps being priority No. 1.
That has not been the case, however—at least Veldheer hasn't shown interest in staying in Oakland thus far—and the Arizona Cardinals have swooped in to try and snatch him away from the Raiders, per the Arizona Republic's Kent Somers:
The Cardinals have more interest in Raiders left tackle Jared Veldheer, who at 26, is three years younger than Albert.
Albert’s deal is expected to average between $8 million and $10 million a year, more than it’s going to take to sign Veldheer.
The Cardinals’ interest in Rams’ tackle/guard Rodger Saffold appears to have cooled, if it was ever that warm.
For the past few weeks, sources indicated that Saffold was the Cardinals’ second choice behind Albert, but it appears Veldheer is the more viable target.
The Raiders have made an offer to Veldheer, but he reportedly is considering other options this weekend.
Left tackle was a glaring need for the Cardinals this offseason, and it seems as though they are on track to make an upgrade at the position. It was just two years ago that Veldheer protected quarterback Carson Palmer's blind side in Oakland—something Palmer sorely missed in Arizona last season—and he could well be on his way toward doing so again in 2014.
Tennessee Titans Trying to Trade Chris Johnson
The Tennessee Titans and running back Chris Johnson have been hurtling toward a divorce for months.
The disappointing running back has never lived up to the $55.3 million that contract he signed in 2011, and his 2014 cap number of $10 million just isn't worth it.
Interestingly—or perhaps just predictably sad—the Titans are making a last-ditch effort to trade him, per Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio. Why not try to get something for him, after all?
Florio goes on to say that if Johnson were to be released, he would instantly become the top option available at the position in free agency, a generous assumption given that Johnson is a 28-year-old running back with plenty of mileage and diminishing efficiency.
It's doubtful the Titans will get anything for the former 2,000-yard rusher, but it doesn't hurt to try.
Lovie Smith Wants Michael Johnson
It was a foregone conclusion that the defense would get plenty of attention when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers hired head coach Lovie Smith, and he apparently wants to get started with a stud pass-rusher.
Per the Chicago Tribune's Brad Biggs, the Bucs are hot after former Cincinnati Bengal Michael Johnson.
Finding a pass-rusher was arguably the biggest need in Tampa Bay this offseason. The defense is loaded with talent elsewhere, and adding a guy like Johnson could put the unit on the fast track toward elite status.
Anthony Spencer has spent the last two seasons with the franchise tag on his back, but he is now finally free to fly from Dallas.
Getting hit with the franchise tag last year might have been a blessing in disguise for Spencer. The market was depressed for pass-rushers, which led to things like Michael Bennett signing a one-year deal in Seattle.
This year, the market seems to be more robust, as evidenced by the fact several teams already have an interest in the 30-year-old lineman, per Calvin Watkins of ESPN Dallas.
He is coming off a season-ending ACL injury, though, so it will be interesting to see just how many teams are in for the big pass-rusher.
Washington Has Money to Burn Again
Washington has been shackled with hefty cap penalties over the past two offseasons, stemming from rules violations that occurred during the league's uncapped year in 2010.
Finally free from punishment, general manager Bruce Allen has some wiggle room in free agency this offseason.
So it should come as no surprise to see that Washington is expressing interest in several free agents, including Aqib Talib, offensive tackle Anthony Collins and safety Mike Mitchell, as the Washington Post's Mike Jones tweeted.
Rodger Saffold Tied to Several Teams
It's a hot market for offensive tackles, and Rodger Saffold might be cashing in as a result.
The former St. Louis Ram has garnered interest from several teams so far, including the Miami Dolphins, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Arizona Cardinals and Oakland Raiders.
Of course, where he lands partially depends on how the other dominos fall. With fellow tackles Branden Albert expected to land in Miami and Jared Veldheer in Arizona, Saffold's options are shrinking. Whether he plays tackle or guard remains to be seen—he was better at guard last season—but he will command a big contract, nonetheless.
To wit, Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun reported that Saffold is expected to sign with the Raiders for around $8 million per season, though he also mentions that the Buccaneers are still in play for his services.
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