Down, set… shop!
Although the signing period doesn't begin until Tuesday at 1 p.m. PDT, the league this off-season has made time for some window-shopping. In an attempt to cut down on tampering, the league has instituted a three-day negotiating period, which began Saturday morning, allowing teams to discuss contract numbers with agents. The teams aren't allowed direct contact with players, and nothing can be signed until Tuesday.
A handful of high-profile players got an early jump on free agency when they were released recently by their teams, among them Denver cornerback
More purges are on the way. A look at 20 of the best players expected to be available in free agency:
Eugene Monroe, T, Baltimore — Capable left tackles are hard to come by, and Monroe figures he can command $10 million per year, about $1 million more than the
Alex Mack, C, Cleveland — The
Aqib Talib, CB, New England — The combustible Talib has his share of baggage, but when healthy he's a shutdown corner, and in a passing league those players are at a premium.
Jairus Byrd, S, Buffalo — The playmaking Byrd has forced 19 turnovers during the last three seasons and seems to show up weekly on highlight tapes. He could wind up in Tampa, where his dad, Gil, coaches
T.J. Ward, S, Cleveland — Ward is a big hitter, perhaps best known for his shot that ended the season of
Eric Decker, WR, Denver — Decker put up No. 1 receiver numbers last season with a career-best 87 catches, but how much of that was having
Hakeem Nicks, WR,
LaMarr Houston, DE, Oakland — There aren't many 300-pounders with Houston's quick first step. He had six sacks last season. The
Alterraun Verner, CB, Tennessee — He's not flashy or super-fast, but the reliable Verner made his first
Michael Johnson, DE, Cincinnati — Now that former
Jared Veldheer, T, Oakland — As with teammate Houston, the Raiders have the money to re-sign their left tackle, Veldheer, but have yet to do so. He won't be without a team for long if he hits the open market.
Ben Tate, RB, Houston — Tate says he's an elite running back, although he still needs to prove that. After sitting out his rookie year with a broken ankle, he combined for 1,992 yards and 10 touchdowns in the last three years.
Branden Albert, T, Kansas City — Arizona's
Darren McFadden, RB, Oakland — When he's healthy, McFadden can roll up the yards. Problem is, he's seldom healthy (or doesn't stay that way for long). In six years, he has never played more than 13 games in a season.
Henry Melton, DT, Chicago — Melton made the Pro Bowl in 2012 and can be an outstanding defensive tackle. He's coming off anterior cruciate ligament surgery on his left knee, though, and was limited to just three games last season.
Shaun Phillips, OLB, Denver — The Broncos will work hard to re-sign Phillips, who made the most of his one-year, $1-million deal after departing San Diego. He had 10 sacks and helped Denver through a stretch without the suspended/injured Von Miller.