After months of school girl-ish speculation as to who likes who and what relationships could be ending, free agency has finally arrived. Beginning Tuesday, players with expiring contracts are officially free to negotiate with other teams on the open market.
Some of the bigger fish were plucked out of the water by the franchise tag (Jimmy Graham, Greg Hardy, Brian Orakpo) and others were netted by their current team with long-term deals (Brent Grimes), but plenty of the trophy catches managed to work their way into free agency. Let's take a look at some of the biggest names and which teams have a legitimate shot at landing them.
FS Jairus Byrd
Three possible landing spots: Philadelphia, Cleveland, St. Louis
You could pencil just about any team in the league down as interested in Byrd. After over a year of failed negotiations and back-to-back Pro Bowls with the Buffalo Bills, the 27-year-old safety will finally be hitting the open market -- and he'll be doing so as the most sought-after player in free agency.
The Rams need an upgrade in the secondary and signing Byrd would certainly provide that for Jeff Fisher's team. The Browns will likely let their own Pro Bowl safety, T.J. Ward, walk in free agency, and are rumored to have interest in replacing him with Byrd. Byrd responded favorably when asked about the possibility of signing with the Eagles and Chip Kelly, who he played for at Oregon. Philly has the most cap space of the three, and therefore the most money to throw at him.
LT Eugene Monroe
Three possible landing spots: Arizona, Oakland, Baltimore
After giving up a fourth and fifth-round pick to pluck Monroe from Jacksonville midway through the 2013 season, the Ravens failed to lock him down while they had the chance. They're still in the running, but if they couldn't come to an agreement before other teams got involved, it doesn't seem likely they can seal the deal now.
It's more likely the Cardinals or Dolphins grab him. Arizona's Bradley Sowell was the single worst tackle in the league last season according to Pro Football Focus (PFF), and they badly need an upgrade to keep Carson Palmer upright. Oakland's offensive line is in shambles after watchign Jared Veldheer likely leaving for greener pastures. The Raiders have a ton of cap space and could pay Monroe more than any other team.
The teams that fail to land Monroe need not panic -- Jared Veldheer is also on the open market.
DE Michael Johnson
Three possible landing spots: Chicago, Atlanta, Tampa Bay
Johnson didn't have sexy sack numbers last season (3.5), but still managed to rank as the No. 4 4-3 defensive end at PFF. Rangy and freakishly athletic, he'll be the top defensive end target now that Hardy has been franchised.
Chicago came really close to landing Michael Bennett by all accounts, but the Super Bowl champ decided to sign on with the Seahawks again at the last minute. Johnson will definitely be a target for Phil Emery in the Windy City. Then there's the Falcons, who clearly need to get some help along the defensive line after watching Osi Umenyiora flop last season. The Buccaneers have a pressing need for an athletic outside rusher, and have plenty of cap space to sign an elite one with new head coach Lovie Smith running the show.
For those that miss out on Johnson, Lamarr Houston provides more than an adequate alternative.
CB Alterraun Verner
Three possible landing spots: Minnesota, St. Louis, New England
The Vikings could use a shutdown cornerback after finishing second to last in pass defense last season, and with over $40 million in cap space, they have plenty of room to afford the big contract that Verner will command. The Rams recently freed up a sizable chunk of cap space by releasing top corner Cortland Finnegan, and the buzz is that they did so to make room for Verner. The Patriots could pursue Verner if his fellow Pro Bowl corner, Aqib Talib, decides he wants to leave New England.
SS T.J. Ward
Three possible landing spots: Denver, Washington, Detroit
It's easy to assume that whoever misses out on Byrd will automatically look to Ward, but their differing styles mean that's not necessarily the case. Byrd is an athletic free safety who excels in pass coverage and has excellent ball skills. Ward is a traditional strong safety who brings physicality and likes to play close to the line of scrimmage.
With that said, the Broncos wouldn't mind added a Pro Bowl player to their porous defense, and will likely have their eye on Ward if they can't sign Byrd. The Redskins need help at both safety positions, and could potentially target both players. Complementing Byrd's cover skills with Ward's physicality in the same secondary would mean perhaps the strongest safety corps in the league. Then there's the Lions, who after losing Louis Delmas will take whatever secondary help they can get.
WR Eric Decker
Three possible landing spots: Indianapolis, Cleveland, New York Jets
Decker is perhaps the most intriguing name in free agency. While he's put up monster numbers with the Broncos over the past two seasons, there's concern that he is simply a product of Peyton Manning. Teams will have to debate whether he is truly a No. 1 receiver in the NFL.
The Jets are by far the most receiver-needy team in the league, but there have been rumors that they're not convinced of Decker's abilities. The Colts and Browns make more sense for two reasons: they have the cap room and they already have established No. 1 options. Reggie Wayne in Indy and Josh Gordon in Cleveland would relieve some of the pressure on Decker to produce as the top guy.
RB Knowshon Moreno
Three possible landings spots: Cleveland, Jacksonville, New York Giants
The Browns' Trent Richardson trade actually looks pretty good after Richardson struggled in Indy, but that doesn't change the fact they have nothing that resembles a productive running back on their roster. The Jaguars will be bidding goodbye to Maurice Jones-Drew, who averaged just 3.4 yards last season and hasn't looked the same since injuring his foot in 2012, and Moreno could be a quick fix as a primary back. The Giants spent a first-round pick on David Wilson two years ago, but a neck injury is threatening his football future. They certainly don't want to relive last year's piecemeal running back corps, which included an aging Brandon Jacobs and Peyton Hillis off the street.
Moreno does come with a degree of risk considering that 2013 -- when he rushed for over 1,000 yards and double-digit touchdowns for the first time in his career -- is the only season he's been productive as a pro.
QB Michael Vick
Three possible landing spots: New York Jets, Cleveland, Minnesota
Can Vick still produce as an NFL starter? He began 2013 hot before yet another injury issue cropped up, eventually allowing Nick Foles to take over in Philly. He'll be 34 next season and his durability isn't getting any better, but he could provide a solid fill-in option for a team looking to ease in one of the top quarterback prospects in the upcoming draft.
The Vikings should be trying to grab such a prospect in May, but need a veteran option on the roster. Getting back Matt Cassel is their top choice, but that doesn't appear all that likely. Vick has Adrian Peterson's vote, for what it's worth. The Browns desperately need a quarterback and have a boatload of cap space. New general manager Ray Farmer is very likely to draft a quarterback early, but Vick could serve as a nice bridge as the kid develops. The Jets have reportedly expressed interest as well. The issue there is that he would have to come in as the backup to Geno Smith, though Vick would have a shot to leapfrog the second-year player if he doesn't show early improvement.
The Raiders and Bills are also realistic landing spots for Vick.