NFL free agent rumors: Jared Veldheer, Branden Albert and much more

Kirby Lee-US PRESSWIRE

The NFL offseason is starting to heat up in a big way with free agency around the corner.

With NFL free agency beginning on Tuesday, but the flirting period having begun on Saturday, the rumor mill is churning fast and furious. All 32 front offices are hard at work, trying to re-sign their own guys before they hit the open market at 4 p.m. ET Tuesday, while chatting with men they hope will become available.

This offseason, the salary cap saw a $10 million increase, giving teams an added boost in spending cash. For teams like the Oakland Raiders who now have over $64 million in cap space, the possibilities are endless. For a franchise such as the Dallas Cowboys, now $300,000 under the cap, it's a helpful reprieve.

Without further banter, here are the latest news, notes and rumors from around the NFL:

Latest tackle rumors

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Left tackle is the most sought-after position on the offensive line, and it is showing early on. Branden Albert of the Kansas City Chiefs played under the franchise tag in 2013 but is set to walk, and it appears he is headed to the Miami Dolphins, per reports. The Phinsider talks about why Albert makes a nice fit on South Beach.

The Dolphins have not made it a secret that they would like to land Albert.  The team nearly traded for him last year, with head coach Joe Philbin reportedly heading the charge to get him.  Then general manager Jeff Ireland, however, overruled Philbin, preferring to not trade draft picks for a player he felt the team could sign in free agency this year.  After a deplorable performance by the offensive line in 2013, including allowing a franchise record 58 sacks, Ireland left the team, but it does appear his vision of signing Albert could become a reality.

The Arizona Cardinals are in a similar spot to Miami's, desperately needing help along the offensive front. Should Albert be off the table, one of the next men in line is Jared Veldheer. Veldheer was expected to sign long-term with the Raiders, who have a ton of aforementioned money to spend and reportedly made Veldheer their top priority.

However, he now looks to be testing free agency, per Silver and Black Pride.

The Cardinals have been making left tackle a priority during the free agent tampering window. According to Kent Somers of AZCentral.com they had been looking at Branden Albert but with Albert signing with Miami looking to be a done deal, they have turned their attention to Veldheer.

If Veldheer indeed decides to skip town, Oakland is going to be scrambling for a replacement. Here are a couple of options, according to Levi Damien of Silver and Black Pride.

The Raiders are said to have shown interest in free agent tackles Eugene Monroe and Rodger Saffold according to Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun. The question then becomes whether they see Monroe and/or Saffold as better options than Veldheer or if they are simply preparing a contingency plan.

Brotherly love in Chicago?

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Michael Bennett signed a one-year, $5 million deal last offseason to join the Seattle Seahawks in hopes of proving his worth and winning a Super Bowl. He accomplished both and now is ready to lock himself up long-term.

Bennett has been vocal about his hopes for a multi-year deal, and the Chicago Bears seem eager to make that happen. With an aging Julius Peppers perhaps about to be cut or have his role drastically reduced, the need for a defensive end is there. It also doesn't hurt to have his brother, Martellus, already on the roster. Over at Windy City Gridiron, the potential for a marriage is discussed.

Bennett is one of the two top pass rushers hitting free agency this week, and indications are that the Bears are already showing significant interest. We can expect there to be multiple teams in play for Bennett, but considering how much Phil Emery was able to do last year during Free Agency (remember Jermon Bushrod and Martellus Bennett?), and how talented general counsel Cliff Stein is with working out the Bears salary cap situation, it wouldn't surprise me one bit if the Bears ended up being the team to land the top pass-rusher on the market.

Rams, Fins in on Jairus Byrd

Jairus Byrd is one of the most coveted players of the free agency period. After playing the first five years of his career with the Buffalo Bills, Byrd is going to hit the market for the first time in his career.

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Not shockingly, he has a long list of suitors including the St. Louis Rams and Dolphins. St. Louis has been thought by many to be in the mindset of drafting a safety with its second first-round pick. Still, the Rams could fill a hole before May with a big check. Ryan Van Bibber of Turf Show Times writes about the desperate need for an upgrade.

Safety is perhaps the team's biggest need, on defense at any rate. Opposing offenses torched the Rams without a reliable deep presence last season, and the free safety position is an important one in Gregg Williams' defense scheme, often left alone to handle deep coverage on blitzes.

Miami is another team on the prowl for Byrd. The Dolphins are likely losing safety Chris Clemons to free agency, opening up a spot for the more-expensive free agent. Over at Buffalo Rumblings, Brian Galliford hits on why the Dolphins are a likely destination for Byrd.

Miami is quickly developing a reputation as one of the league's biggest-spending teams in free agency. They have already reportedly locked up Kansas City left tackle Branden Albert, with Pro Football Talk reporting that Miami will sign Albert shortly after free agency opens on Tuesday afternoon. With more than $35 million in cap room, however, the Dolphins have plenty of ammo to make a run at Byrd, as well.

Jets target several FAs

The New York Jets had a surprisingly solid season at 8-8 last year, and are hoping to make the leap to the playoffs. After releasing Antonio Cromartie and Santonio Holmes, New York has the money to throw at some key free agents. Cleveland Browns safety T.J. Ward is among the targets, per Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News.

Should Ward not work out, Clemons could be another viable option, according to Gang Green Nation. Donte Whitner is another free agent safety who could be pursued by general manager John Idzik.

So if Byrd is looking at $10 mill or around that number, and Whitner is likely looking at around $8 mill, can Clemons be had for around $5-6 mill per. Perhaps. What do you think? Does that weaken a division rival while strengthening ourselves.

On the offensive side of the ball, New York is rumored to be targeting Maurice Jones-Drew. The Jacksonville Jaguars running back could be a starter with the Jets to pair with Chris Ivory.

With over 1,800 rushing attempts in the NFL, is there any life left in the tires? I happen to think there is. In 2012 he experienced an injury to his left foot, and wasn't immediately placed on IR which was a mistake.  In 2013 he played on a terrible team and looked to be still feeling the injury. However now with a full off-season recovery and potentially a new team, it could breath some new life into what is a fantastic career.

Adam Vinatieri moving on?

Only Jan Stenerud is in the Hall of Fame as a pure placekicker. When Indianapolis Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri retires, he could be the next inducted at Canton. Interestingly, during his career, Stenerud played for three teams. Now Vinatieri could be heading for his third team as well.

Without a new contract in place, and Pat McAfee being signed to a five-year deal to punt and potentially kick, Vinateri could be finding a new home, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter. There is not a more accomplished kicker in the NFL, with four Super Bowl rings including two game-winning kicks.

Over at Stampede Blue, Josh Wilson writes about the year Vinatieri is coming off.

In 2013 he had one of his best career years, making 35 of 40 field goals, including a league best 19 of 23 from 40+ yards.  Many fans have suggested that Vinatieri isn't worth re-signing simply because he was "the 18th best kicker in the league last year," basing it on field goal percentage.  That analysis is so short sighted, simplistic, and inaccurate that I really don't know what to say about it - look at more than just one stat, please.

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