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    2014 NFL Draft: The free agent signings likely to impact the draft

    2014 NFL Draft: The free agent signings likely to impact the draft
    By Rob Rang | The Sports Xchange/CBSSports.com
    March 15, 2014 1:01 pm ET

    The goal of every NFL franchise is to build through the draft. Savvy teams, however, make re-signing their own best players as a top priority and then use veteran free agency to fill obvious gaps in the roster. With their biggest concerns met with established players, clubs can follow the Best Player Available strategy in the draft.

    Spending millions on a veteran won't preclude a team from doubling down with an early pick in the draft. Evidence of this can be seen just last year when the Browns signed former Ravens pass rusher Paul Kruger to a five-year $41 million deal only to complement him with Barkevious Mingo at No. 6 overall. The Titans were similarly determined to improve their offensive line, inking former Bills guard Andy Levitre to a six-year, $46 million contract before adding Chance Warmack with the 10th overall pick.

    Generally speaking, however, once a team fills a big need in free agency, they'll turn their attention to other areas of concern. As such, keeping track of the biggest moves can provide a clue as to what teams are planning to do in the draft.

    What follows are the 15 free agent signings likely to impact the 2014 NFL Draft:

    WR Hakeem Nicks to the Colts: The anticipated healthy return of Reggie Wayne and addition of Nicks gives Andrew Luck two established outside receivers to complement speedy slot T.Y. Hilton. Nicks signed a one-year deal with the obvious hope that he'll parlay this contract into a much bigger one a year from now with a bounce-back season.

    LB Karlos Dansby, S Donte Whitner to the Browns: With these moves the Browns quickly filled gaps in their defense left with the loss of D'Qwell Jackson and T.J. Ward. While Dansby and Whitner are older (and proved more expensive) than their predecessors, they should have an immediate impact, allowing Cleveland to focus on more pressing needs on offense.

    S Jairus Byrd to the Saints: Pairing Byrd with last year's first-round pick Kenny Vaccaro gives defensive coordinator Rob Ryan a duo of safeties as athletic as any in the league. That would seemingly open the door for the Saints to focus on pass rushers early and often in the draft.

    OT Michael Oher to the Titans: In large part due to the hype created with The Blindside, the novel and movie based on his early life, Oher has been painted by some as a bit of a bust. While he's not an elite pass blocker, he is a highly physical and durable right tackle -- precisely what the Titans need with longtime starter David Stewart released and expected to retire.

    WR Eric Decker to the Jets: Decker's length, sharp routes and soft hands should make him a quality possession receiver for Geno Smith. Don't be surprised when the Jets supplement Decker with a speedier option at wide receiver (Marqise Lee?) or tight end (Eric Ebron?) via the first round.

    WR Steve Smith to the Ravens: With a talented quarterback and an established big-play threat in Torrey Smith already in place, Steve Smith could enjoy a rebirth of sorts with the Ravens. Set to enter his 14th season, Smith is getting a bit long in the tooth but his addition (along with the re-signing of Jacoby Jones) may mean that GM Ozzie Newsome can cross receiver off his draft's to-do list.

    OT Branden Albert to the Dolphins: Albert's solid protection at left tackle played an underrated role in the Chiefs' rise from the league's worst team (at least according to record) in 2012 to the playoffs this past season. Albert is an upgrade over embattled former Dolphin (and current 49er) Jonathan Martin and could allow the Dolphins to shift their attention to left guard or elsewhere in the draft now that quarterback Ryan Tannehill can breathe a little easier.

    Lovie, Licht living it up in Tampa: Given Lovie Smith's wizardry on the defensive side of the ball and Licht's skill as a talent evaluator, the Bucs' signing of defensive end Michael Johnson and defensive tackle Clinton McDonald could pay off big in the NFC South race. Johnson and McDonald are each ascending talents who, now paired with holdovers Gerald McCoy and Adrian Clayborn, quietly give the Bucs one of the best young defensive lines in the league. Expect Tampa Bay to focus on adding a quarterback or wide receiver at No. 7 overall.

    CBs Darrelle Revis, Brandon Browner to the Patriots: Bill Belichick is often characterized as a defensive genius and his five Super Bowl rings (three as head coach of the Patriots, two as the defensive coordinator of the Giants) speak for themselves. His ability to adjust to the ever-evolving NFL was shown with the signings of Revis and Browner, whose length and physicality on the boundaries will allow the Patriots to focus elsewhere in the draft.

    Jaguars build up defensive line: The Jaguars are a convenient landing spot for South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney at No. 3 overall for many mock draft enthusiasts but with the addition of five-technique Red Bryant and a pair of two established LEOs in Chris Clemons and Jason Babin (who re-signed with the team), it would be a surprise to see Jacksonville eschew their greatest remaining need -- quarterback -- to take a player from any other position in the first round.

    Paul Soliai, Tyson Jackson bulk up Atlanta DL: The addition of the highly physical Soliai and Jackson on the defensive line and guard Jon Asamoah could bring some of the grit that has been missing from these Dirty Birds. Soliai and Jackson are perfect schematic fits for the 3-4 look favored by defensive coordinator Mike Nolan and sets up the Falcons to target an impact rush linebacker early in the draft.

    WR Golden Tate to the Lions: Detroit has been searching for an ideal complement to Calvin Johnson for years and few seem better suited to handle this role than Tate, whose average of 8.0 yards gained after each catch was better than any wide receiver who caught more than 15 passes in 2013. More protection up front for Matthew Stafford or a back seven defender seems likely in the first round for the Lions.

    OT Jared Veldheer to the Cardinals: Despite operating behind one of the league's leakiest offensive lines, Carson Palmer quietly enjoyed a solid first season in the desert. Palmer's ratio of touchdowns (24) and completion percentage (63.3 percent) was his best since 2007 and he knows better than most how underrated Veldheer is after the left tackle protected his blindside for two seasons in Oakland. With Veldheer manning left tackle and 2013 first-round pick Jonathan Cooper expected to make a full recovery from the broken leg that ended his rookie season in August, Arizona is closer to competing with the Seahawks and ***** in the NFC West than many realize.

    Da Bears bring back da D: Given the Bears' toothless defense a year ago and the explosive offenses of the NFC North it seemed obvious just a few days ago that Chicago would be focusing on defensive linemen with the No. 14 overall pick. The addition of Lamarr Houston and Willie Young -- two gifted and young defensive linemen just now beginning to realize their potential -- could shift Chicago's attention to the back seven.

    Denver is all in: With the signings of three Pro Bowlers in pass rusher DeMarcus Ware, cornerback Aqib Talib and hard-hitting safety T.J. Ward, the Broncos made an emphatic statement in free agency that the time is now. These moves will give John Elway and John Fox plenty of wiggle room on draft day and could set them up for selecting No. 32 overall a year from now.


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    Re: 2014 NFL Draft: The free agent signings likely to impact the draft

    I think in terms of looking at how these free agent signings effect the draft comes in many different forms including who was lost. Although this article does not include the draft strategies of players former teams, I believe that will be a better indication of how the draft will be impacted. For example, the Ravens adding Steve Smith to the team will make them less likely to draft a WR in round 1 but if we look at the Panthers losing Smith, it clearly effects their strategy.

    These are the biggest free agency effects the draft will have in my opinion:

    Carolina Panthers, WR-
    From NFL.com- "the Panthers landed a blocking tight end with five career receptions -- three more than all wide receivers on the roster combined" That obviously creates a huge need for WR and the best one left on the market is who? Sidney Rice or Santonio Holmes? Regardless, the Panthers need much WR help and it is no secret. They have the 28th pick in the draft but might not be able to wait that long if they wish to give Cam Newton a viable option in the passing game.


    New York Jets, CB-
    Dee Milliner has been a major disappointment so far and the Jets do have Kyle Wilson but they also do have the number 18 overall pick. There are two clear-cut, top CBs in the draft in Denard and Gilbert and Rex Ryan is a defensive-minded guy. Sure, there is a chance the Jets don't choose to go with a CB on day 1 of the draft, but I'd like to imagine that if a top-tier CB is sitting around at the 12 spot, the Jets would love to bump in front of the Rams, who are also looking for secondary help.

    Cleveland Browns, QB-
    Right now the only two QBs on the Browns roster are Brian Hoyer and Alex Tanney. The Browns have a chance to land Bortles, Manziel, or Bridgewater if they wait at #4 in the first round but they may be on the outside looking in by staying put. It's all but a foregone conclusion that some team will trade up to a premier pick (*cough, number 2 pick, cough*) if Clowney is the first name read off the board and a team if QB hungry. The Browns have 10 picks in this draft including two first rounders and may be the ideal trade partner to move up 2 spots to land their man.


    Dallas Cowboys, DE/OLB-
    This could obviously change with a signing of Henry Melton or Jared Allen but losing Demarcus Ware is an extraordinary loss. The Cowboys surely don't have enough firepower to trade up and grab Clowney but if Barr or Mack are sliding come draft day, they may be willing to sacrifice some future picks to move up from number 16.

    Kansas City Chiefs, OL-
    Bleacher Report -"Left tackle Branden Albert, right tackle Geoff Schwartz and guard Jon Asamoah each signed elsewhere. It is tough to lose three linemen and not feel the sting." Not to mention that Eric Fisher had a pretty poor year for the first overall pick. The Chiefs may have to engineer something to move up from the 23rd spot to land the third or fourth OT off the board.

    Obviously I could be dead wrong as I am not an NFL Scout or talent evaluator (yet) but it has been clear through the last couple years that draft day trades are inevitable. Also, it would be silly to think that if a great RG3-esque trade was offered to the Rams on draft day, that Snead and Fisher would pass it up.

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    Re: 2014 NFL Draft: The free agent signings likely to impact the draft

    Quote Originally Posted by timsum1283 View Post
    Carolina Panthers, WR-
    From NFL.com- "the Panthers landed a blocking tight end with five career receptions -- three more than all wide receivers on the roster combined" That obviously creates a huge need for WR and the best one left on the market is who? Sidney Rice or Santonio Holmes? Regardless, the Panthers need much WR help and it is no secret. They have the 28th pick in the draft but might not be able to wait that long if they wish to give Cam Newton a viable option in the passing game.


    It would be a surprise at this point if Carolina's first round pick is something other than a WR or OT.


    Quote Originally Posted by timsum1283 View Post
    New York Jets, CB-
    Quote Originally Posted by timsum1283 View Post
    Dee Milliner has been a major disappointment so far and the Jets do have Kyle Wilson but they also do have the number 18 overall pick. There are two clear-cut, top CBs in the draft in Denard and Gilbert and Rex Ryan is a defensive-minded guy. Sure, there is a chance the Jets don't choose to go with a CB on day 1 of the draft, but I'd like to imagine that if a top-tier CB is sitting around at the 12 spot, the Jets would love to bump in front of the Rams, who are also looking for secondary help.


    Unless Gilbert or Dennard is there @ 18, I'm not sure there's value for a CB where the Jets pick. Now obviously they could move up or down the order (or reach), but I think there will be better value on the board if the Top Two corners are gone, which IMO they should be.


    Quote Originally Posted by timsum1283 View Post
    Cleveland Browns, QB-
    Quote Originally Posted by timsum1283 View Post
    Right now the only two QBs on the Browns roster are Brian Hoyer and Alex Tanney. The Browns have a chance to land Bortles, Manziel, or Bridgewater if they wait at #4 in the first round but they may be on the outside looking in by staying put. It's all but a foregone conclusion that some team will trade up to a premier pick (*cough, number 2 pick, cough*) if Clowney is the first name read off the board and a team if QB hungry. The Browns have 10 picks in this draft including two first rounders and may be the ideal trade partner to move up 2 spots to land their man.


    I'm still not convinced the Browns don't take BPA @ 4 and then come back with their second pick in the first round and take a QB, but that's risky. It's all going to depend on who is available and how they've evaluated these guys.


    Quote Originally Posted by timsum1283 View Post
    Dallas Cowboys, DE/OLB-
    Quote Originally Posted by timsum1283 View Post
    This could obviously change with a signing of Henry Melton or Jared Allen but losing Demarcus Ware is an extraordinary loss. The Cowboys surely don't have enough firepower to trade up and grab Clowney but if Barr or Mack are sliding come draft day, they may be willing to sacrifice some future picks to move up from number 16.
    DE is a huge need for them, but it's going to depend on how they value these second and third guys because I don't think there's a chance they get Clowney or Mack, and I don't know if Barr fits their system at this point. If they want a DE, I could see them going after Ealy, Ford, or Crichton in the first round. But after the surprise move they pulled last year, I don't think you can rule anything out. They could go DB, DT, OL, WR... QB if one slips and they love him.


    Quote Originally Posted by timsum1283 View Post
    Kansas City Chiefs, OL-
    Quote Originally Posted by timsum1283 View Post
    Bleacher Report -"Left tackle Branden Albert, right tackle Geoff Schwartz and guard Jon Asamoah each signed elsewhere. It is tough to lose three linemen and not feel the sting." Not to mention that Eric Fisher had a pretty poor year for the first overall pick. The Chiefs may have to engineer something to move up from the 23rd spot to land the third or fourth OT off the board.
    They've lost a lot of OL talent, so they'll be on the lookout for sure.

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