Where the Top NFL Free Agents Need to Sign

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In our perfect world, Eric Decker will play for Tennessee this season

Where the Top NFL Free Agents Need to Sign

NFL free agency officially gets started at 4 p.m. ET on Tuesday, meaning more than 500 players will be looking for employment. While salary cap, team needs, system fit, and other football-related matters drive this process, that doesn’t mean it’s the only criteria that can be applied.

In the interest of having some fun, here are some free agent marriages we would love to see happen. In some cases these player-team pairings actually make some sense on the field, but in many instances these matches are simply too intriguing and/or entertaining to pass up.

Eric Decker signs with the Tennessee Titans
Why this makes some sense: Decker is coming off of a season in which he posted career bests in catches (87) and yards (1,288) and hauled in 11 touchdown passes for the highest-scoring offense in NFL history. Arguably the most attractive free agent wide receiver on the market, the Titans finished 21st in passing offense last season and could use another reliable target to complement Kendall Wright.

Why it probably won’t happen: The Titans have spent high picks on wide receivers in each of the past two drafts. In 2012, Wright was taken with the 20th overall selection and last April, Tennessee traded up to grab Justin Hunter early in the second round. While another weapon in the passing game would certainly be nice, this team has much more pressing issues at other positions.

Why we really want to see this happen: Decker’s wife, Jessie James, is a country artist on Mercury Records. They already have their own reality show (“Eric & Jessie” on E!) and are expecting their first child, so it only makes sense to have the oh-so-photogenic couple working in the same town, no? Also, they could potentially challenge Music City’s reigning sports-entertainment duo – Carrie Underwood and Nashville Predators center Mike Fisher – for the top spot in this category.

Michael Vick signs with the Minnesota Vikings
Michael VickWhy this makes some sense: Have you forgotten the revolving door that was the Vikings’ quarterback situation last season? Christian Ponder (nine games), Matt Cassel (six) and Josh Freeman (one) all started for Minnesota and collectively went 5-10-1 while throwing more interceptions (19) than touchdown passes (18). The Vikings could take a quarterback early in the upcoming draft, but still go with Vick under center to ease the rookie’s transition to the NFL.

Why it probably won’t happen: Vick will turn 34 years old before training camp starts and besides his age being a factor, he also lost the starting job in Philadelphia last season to Nick Foles. Besides nearing the end of his career, Vick has never been a model of durability and his career completion percentage (56.2) is lower than what the Vikings’ trio combined for (59.5) in 2013. And most of all, it's the fact that Minnesota re-signed Cassel to a two-year deal on Friday. One 30-something-year-old quarterback is probably enough for a team that's rebuilding under first-year head coach Mike Zimmer.

Why we really want to see this happen: Adrian Peterson has already come out and lobbied for the team to sign Vick and who doesn’t want to make their All-Pro running back happy? Also, it’s not like we haven’t seen this script before with the Vikings. Remember Randall Cunningham and Brett Favre? Both came to Minnesota at the end of their respective careers and nearly led the Vikings to the Super Bowl. Heck, even 37-year-old Gus Frerotte got the Vikings to the playoffs in 2008. Why not let Vick have his chance to try and do the same?

Darren McFadden signs with the Dallas Cowboys
Darren McFaddenWhy this makes some sense: Most teams rely on more than one running back to carry the load these days and in Dallas’ case, having someone like McFadden would mean less wear and tear on DeMarco Murray. Murray rushed for a career-high 1,121 yards last season, but also missed two games because of injury.

Why this probably won’t happen: Murray hasn’t exactly been durable, missing 11 of a possible 48 career games so far, but McFadden’s injury track record is much worse. Since being taken 4th overall in the 2008 NFL Draft, McFadden has missed no fewer than three games in any season. In total, he has missed 29 games, including six last year, and also has seen his yards per carry decrease from 5.4 in 2011 to just 3.3 last year. The Cowboys also appear pretty set at running back with Murray and last April’s fifth-round pick, Joseph Randle, among those on the roster currently.

Why we really want to see it happen: Dallas owner/general manager Jerry Jones is a University of Arkansas graduate who was an offensive lineman on the Razorbacks’ 1964 national championship team. He is a proud alumnus and has been known to go with his heart over his head when it comes to personnel decisions. McFadden is the most decorated player to ever play for Jones’ beloved alma mater, as he holds the majority of the rushing records at the school. Jones didn’t have a shot at drafting McFadden back in 2008, so surely he won’t pass on the opportunity now, right?

And besides, how fitting would it be for Jones to overpay to bring McFadden to Big D even though the Cowboys already have a 1,000-yard rusher in Murray? The end result would be just what embattled head coach Jason Garrett doesn’t need – more drama and controversy that he didn’t create in the first place.

Maurice Jones-Drew signs with the San Francisco 49ers
Why this makes some sense: Frank Gore will be 31 years old by the time the 2014 season starts and he has averaged 272 carries over the last three seasons alone. Jones-Drew is two years younger and has carried the ball a total of 320 times the last two seasons combined. The 49ers’ other backfield options are either unproven (LaMichael James) or come with injury risks (Kendall Hunter, Marcus Lattimore).

Why this probably won’t happen: The reason Jones-Drew has so few carries the past two seasons is that he missed 10 games in 2012 because of a Lisfranc injury that eventually required surgery on his foot. And although he is younger (29 on March 23) than Gore, there already are concerns that his productive years may be past him. After leading the NFL in rushing with 1,606 yards in 2011, he’s averaged just four yards per carry over the last two seasons, including a meager 3.4 in 2013. The 49ers also don’t lack for other options with the aforementioned James, Hunter and Lattimore on the roster.

Why we really want to see it happen: Jones-Drew starred at UCLA before being selected by Jacksonville in the second round of the 2006 NFL Draft. This will give the California native a chance to come home and play on the West Coast. Also, 49ers tight end Vernon Davis is said to be recruiting him, perhaps because he feels sorry for him. In eight seasons with the Jaguars, Jones-Drew has played in the postseason just once (2007), which also is the only time he’s enjoyed being a part of a winning team. MJD deserves better, no?

Kenny Britt signs with the New York Jets
Why this makes some sense: No team had fewer touchdowns passes than the Jets’ 13 last season and only one team (Tampa Bay) finished with fewer passing yards (2,932). Second-year quarterback Geno Smith needs all the weapons the team is able to surround him with.

Why this probably won’t happen: Tennessee’s first-round draft pick in 2009, Britt’s tenure with the Titans will be remembered more for what he did off of the field than on it. Seemingly on the verge of breaking out in 2011 after posting 14 receptions for 271 yards and three touchdowns in the first two games, Britt injured his knee the next week and things just went downhill from there. He did return to the field in 2012, but his production was never the same and frequent legal issues and other poor decisions became the focus instead. Some team may end up taking a chance on Britt, but it doesn’t need to be the Jets, who have enough other problems to worry about.

Why we really want to see it happen: Come on, these are the Jets we are talking about, do I really need to say anything more? OK, Britt was a former Rutgers star, so maybe a homecoming of sorts will be just what he needs to get his career going again. But the real answer is who better than Britt to help fill the role of the malcontent wideout the Jets always seem to end up with. First it was Keyshawn Johnson than Braylon Edwards and most recently Santonio Holmes. Dare I say this is just meant to be?

Jared Allen signs with the Green Bay Packers
Why this makes some sense: A team can never have too many pass rushers, especially when it finished 24th in that category last season. The Packers had a respectable 44 sacks in 2013, but the most they got from a defensive lineman was Mike Daniels’ 6.5. Allen had 11.5 for Minnesota and he has averaged 14.4 over his last seven seasons.

Why it probably won’t happen: Allen will be 32 years old in April and the Packers’ have plenty of areas to address on a defense that ranked 25th in yards allowed and tied for 24th in points last season. There are probably several other teams that could pay Allen much more than Green Bay could or would be willing to fork out.

Why we really want to see it happen: Chalk this one up to karma. Wide receiver Greg Jennings left Green Bay and signed with Minnesota last season, taking some not-so-veiled shots at teammates, notably quarterback Aaron Rodgers, and the organization on the way out. Should Allen likewise change NFC North allegiances, it would be interesting to see if he would follow Jennings’ playbook or not. Also what sweeter revenge for Allen than to play on a team that has a MVP signal-caller while also guaranteeing him two shots at punishing whomever the Vikings end up with under center.

Golden Tate signs with the San Francisco 49ers
Why this makes some sense:
The 49ers’ passing offense was 30th in the NFL last season. Only the Jets and Buccaneers threw for fewer yards while just nine teams finished with fewer than the 21 touchdowns Colin Kaepernick tossed. Meanwhile Tate led Seattle in catches and yards and helped the Seahawks win the Super Bowl. What better way to hurt the defending champs, not to mention your hated division rival, than to “take” away one of their biggest weapons?

Why this probably won’t happen: San Francisco has already re-signed Anquan Boldin, should have a healthy Michael Crabtree this season and also has an All-Pro tight end in Vernon Davis. Tate figures to be one of the more attractive wide receiver options on the market and will likely cost more than a run-heavy team like the 49ers is willing to spend on the position.

Why we really want to see it happen: Seattle and San Francisco absolutely despise one another, something neither side has had any problems making known. The fact the Seahawks beat the 49ers before going on to win the Super Bowl only adds more spice to this already heated rivalry. Player poaching, if you will, is nothing new to these two teams, but this would be without a doubt the highest-profile instance. I am not the only one who would love to see this happen either, as NFL beat writers, sports talk radio, the blogosphere and social media would devour this whole. And you thought their two NFC West divisional matchups were already intriguing enough? Welcome to the next level.

You can come “home” again?

While their situations may not be as interesting or entertaining as the ones mentioned above, there is something to be said for some other potential “homecomings” that could happen via free agency.

Wide receiver Hakeem Nicks has seen his production steadily decline in each of the past two seasons, so a change of scenery for this New York Giant may be in order. A potential landing spot for Nicks could be in Carolina, where the defending NFC South champions could use another reliable target in the passing game.

This is especially the case considering Steve Smith is seemingly on the downside of his career, if not on his way off of the Panthers’ roster. Nicks was a record-setting, All-ACC wider receiver when he was at North Carolina, so perhaps a return to the Tar Heel State is just what he and the Panthers need.

Just like Nicks, Justin Tuck also may have played his final game for the Giants. An All-Pro defensive end who has been to two Pro Bowls and has 60.5 sacks in nine seasons, Tuck will turn 31 in a few weeks but he is coming off of an 11-sack 2013 campaign.

A Notre Dame graduate who starred for the Fighting Irish, Tuck could help solve Chicago’s defensive line and pass-rush issues should he end up in the Windy City. After all, Tuck is three years younger and finished with four more sacks than Julius Peppers, the Bears’ high-priced pass-rushing end who could wind up being a salary cap casualty.

And then there’s Jairus Byrd, a Pro Bowl safety who is looking to get paid like one of the best defensive backs in the NFL. Prior to Buffalo selecting him in the second round of the 2009 draft, Byrd was an all-conference cornerback at Oregon from 2006-08. And who just happened to be the offensive coordinator for the Ducks Byrd’s last two seasons in Eugene? None other than Chip Kelly, who is now the head coach in Philadelphia and led the Eagles to an NFC East title in his rookie season.

As successful as the Eagles were last season, however, there is still plenty of room for improvement, especially on defense. Philadelphia was dead last in the league in passing defense in 2013, giving up 290 yards through the air per game. Provided the Eagles have the cap space, signing Byrd would be a significant step towards upgrading the secondary while also reuniting a pair of former Ducks. It’s just like I said earlier, sometimes these pairings make sense, both on the field as well as off of it.

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