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With just the Pro Bowl and Super Bowl left in the 2013 NFL season, attention is now slowly turning towards the offseason. The 2014 Draft class is already being boasted as one of the deepest in years, but the potential class of free agents is certainly noteworthy also, and this offseason is shaping up to be one of the most exciting in some time. Without further ado, here are the top 10 names who could very well be at the heart of bidding wars in a couple of months time.
1. Greg Hardy, Defensive End, Carolina Panthers
Hardy, or ‘The Kraken’ as he is widely becoming known, tops the list of 2014 NFL Free Agents, and for very good reason. Not only is the potential of Hardy is exciting, but he is already regarded as one of the premiere pass rushers in the NFL, despite being just 25 years of age. Although there are little-to-no weaknesses in Hardy’s game, his age offers scope for him to improve further yet, and in the right system, he could easily be a Defensive Player of the Year candidate next season. There’s no doubt the Panthers will be keen to secure Hardy to a new deal, and even though the player has admitted he would offer Carolina a hometown discount, If the Panthers can’t hammer out a deal with him, he could command a big deal in free agency.
2. Jimmy Graham, Tight End, New Orleans Saints
The tight end enjoyed a very productive season, stacking up 1,215 yards on 88 receptions, as well as a career-high 16 touchdowns, as he continued to become Drew Brees’ favored target in New Orleans. His weakness as a blocker is all that prevented him from taking the top spot, but there are plenty of teams who will happily fork out big bucks for Graham this offseason. The Saints are not blessed with an abundance of cap space, but will surely look to restructure a number of contracts in order to try and make Graham an offer he can’t refuse.
3. Jairus Byrd, Safety, Buffalo Bills
The 2013 NFL season will be one to forget for Byrd, who was initially reluctant to sign his franchise tender in the preceding offseason, seemingly unhappy in Buffalo, and saw his numbers drop across the board. It’s yet to be seen whether his public discontent over his situation in Buffalo affects how big a deal he can attract in free agency, but it’s a fairly sure bet that he won’t be returning to the Bills next season. His talents however are impossible to ignore, and with a multitude of teams looking for dynamic playmakers in the secondary, Byrd will have no shortage of suitors this offseason.
4. Alterraun Verner, Cornerback, Tennessee Titans
Verner has all the abilities to be a number one corner for a number of NFL sides, but newly hired Head Coach Ken Whisenhunt will be eager to keep Verner, and will need to convince the former UCLA man that he can achieve success with the Titans. Verner racked up five interceptions this season, a career-high, and with Tennessee’s pass rush anything but consistent, it makes Verner’s accomplishment all the more impressive. He has formed a nice tandem with Jason McCourty in Tennessee’s secondary, and may well be happy to stay, but the Titans will need to make him a considerable offer. Given that other areas of the roster are in need of heavy investment, it may be a price Tennessee are unwilling to pay.
5. Hakeem Nicks, Wide Receiver, New York Giants
Nicks chalked up just 898 yards on 56 receptions this season, which for a man of his ability, has to be considered a disappointment. The play of quarterback Eli Manning (and the Giants’ offensive line) has to be taken into consideration, but with further reports that Nicks turned up late to training on a number of occasions, it’s unlikely the Giants will offer Nicks the kind of deal he will almost certainly garner in free agency. Nicks has all the physical tools to be a dominant receiver in the NFL, and he has shown previously that he is capable of being one, but will need to convince prospective teams of his consistency. Just two years ago, Nicks looked a certainty for a big deal at the end of his rookie contract, and although he could well get one this offseason, there will be nagging questions surrounding him for potential suitors.
6. Eugene Monroe, Offensive Tackle, Baltimore Ravens
The Ravens traded for Monroe mid-season, giving up multiple draft picks, and will now be eager to secure their new asset to a long-term deal. Monroe is two years the junior of fellow left tackle Brandon Albert (also facing the prospect of free agency), and that could be enough to make him the premiere target at the position this offseason, with little else separating the two players. The Ravens have their own cap concerns, but noise out of Baltimore so far this offseason suggests they are very keen to work out a deal with Monroe, and they seem confident of doing so.
7. Brian Orakpo, Outside Linebacker, Washington Redskins
Orakpo bounced back well from an injury-hit 2012 season, registering 10 sacks, and 60 total tackles in 2013, even as part of a fairly mediocre defense in Washington. Washington have decided to retain Jim Haslett as Defensive Coordinator, potentially quashing the rumors they may adopt a 4-3 defense with new Head Coach Jay Gruden, and Orakpo is certainly the best 3-4 outside linebacker in this year’s class of free agents. Ensuring Orakpo remains in Washington should be high on the Redskins’ list of priorities this offseason, and with a fair amount of cap space available to them, it should be an achievable goal.
8. Alex Mack, Center, Cleveland Browns
Interior linemen often fail to receive the same attention as their colleagues at the offensive tackle positions enjoy in free agency, but with a relative lack of talent at the center position currently in the NFL, Mack could make himself a very rich man this offseason. Cleveland certainly have the cap space to make Mack an enticing offer, but whoever is finally appointed as the Browns’ Head Coach, will face the unenviable task of trying to convince Mack that the Browns are now moving in the right direction.
9. Eric Decker, Wide Receiver, Denver Broncos
Decker is a physical and efficient receiver, but one who often gets forgotten in the high powered Broncos’ offense. Denver may not be able to offer Decker the deal he wants, or deserves, and they could be comfortable about letting him hit the open market, especially given that they already have Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker, and Julius Thomas at their disposal. Proven as a highly effective number two receiver, Decker could struggle to draw the same interest as Nicks, a prototypical number one receiver, but should still have considerable interest from receiver-hungry teams, such as Cleveland and Buffalo.
10. Linval Joseph, Defensive Tackle, New York Giants
Joseph narrowly takes the final slot over Lamarr Houston of the Oakland Raiders, with both players versatile additions to any defensive line in the league. Both players have the rare skill sets which would allow them to play in either a 3-4, or 4-3 defense, but Joseph’s ability to play nose tackle, and play it well, gives him the edge. The Giants would be foolish not to try and resign Joseph, but after drafting Johnathan Hankins last year, their hand will not be forced to do so. If Joseph hits the open market, San Francisco could well become a very interested party, as they have struggled at nose tackle in recent seasons, and would see Joseph as one of the final missing pieces of the jigsaw in their hunt for the Super Bowl.
Image credit: Carolina Panthers via Facebook