Draft King Analysis|
February 9, 2015
Lou Pickney, DraftKing.com
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One month before the start of free agency in the NFL, the league faces a challenge in how to handle the unusual situation involving Carolina Panthers DE Greg Hardy. Earlier today, the domestic violence case against him were dropped when the alleged victim in the case could not be found to testify. There are also reports that Hardy and the victim reached a civil settlement, which if true would mean Hardy avoiding the hassle of facing a civil suit.
What is unclear is when, or under what terms, the NFL will choose to reinstate Hardy. After being franchised last year by the Panthers for a massive $13.1 million, he played in just one game before the NFL placed him on paid leave while his legal situation was sorted out. Hardy is in his prime, set to turn 27 this summer and, in theory, hit the open market for a potential big payday.
It remains to be seen how Hardy's situation will be handled by the league, or if a decision will be made before the start of free agency on March 10. Carolina is not expected to franchise him again after what happened last year, but demand for elite defensive ends is incredibly high in a league that has tilted so hard toward the passing game due to rules implemented for the purpose of player safety.
Doubt it? Take a look at this list of the top defensive end free agent signings of 2014, keeping in mind that many teams kept their top defensive end pass rushers off the market with contract extensions well ahead of the free agency deadline.
It was easy for NFL teams to portray taking a moral high road on Ray Rice, but the reality is that he was a running back whose production had dropped considerably in 2013, falling to an abysmal 3.1 yards per carry. It's another thing for teams desperately needing help at defensive end to not pursue an elite talent like Hardy. As always, wait and see, but general managers facing an unspoken "win now or you get fired" threat might find themselves willing to take a chance on a player like Hardy.
There is plenty of smoke from Philadelphia about the Eagles wanting to trade up to draft Oregon QB Marcus Mariota. It would make sense that head coach Chip Kelly would like to reunite with Mariota, but the reality is that trading up from the #20 spot to get him will be difficult.
It seems hard to fathom that the Eagles would be able to offer enough to jump to the #1 spot occupied by Tampa Bay, but it's entirely possible that the Buccaneers will opt for Florida State QB Jameis Winston over Mariota. If that happens, things could play out with Mariota perhaps dropping to the Jets at #6. Moving up to #5 would seem like the most likely scenario, only that selection is held by NFC East rival Washington, making such a move complicated beyond just the compensation involved.
And, in reality, the major needs for the Eagles are on the defensive side of the ball. The team had its struggles once Nick Foles suffered a broken collarbone against Houston and had to be replaced by the much-ridiculed Mark Sanchez, but Foles went 6-2 as a starter. He's entering the final year of his contract this season, and even if Philadelphia is unable to make the necessary moves to land Mariota, there is no guarantee that Foles will be an Eagle beyond 2015.
There is also the possibility that the Eagles would trade Foles, perhaps to the Rams or another team looking to improve at QB. If that were to happen, it would seem to signal the end of the Sam Bradford era in St. Louis. Bradford was the final number one overall pick under the old CBA, which tended to keep players with teams longer than they would be under the current system, which was one of many factors involved with the NFL opting out of the old CBA prior to the 2011 offseason.
There seems to be a growing line of thought that the Titans won't go with a quarterback at #2 overall. I would tend to agree, particularly with players like Nebraska DE/OLB Randy Gregory and USC DL Leonard Williams being available there and the Titans having such a huge need for front seven defensive stars as it prepares to enter year two of utilizing a 3-4 defensive front, now being piloted by recently hired DC Dick LeBeau.
As of this writing, I have Jacksonville projected to draft Alabama WR Amari Cooper. They could opt to go with Gregory or Williams here (presuming they don't go in the top two spots), but I would suggest that a top-tier wide receiver like Cooper would trump defensive line needs. Sen'Derrick Marks and Chris Clemons had stellar seasons last year, including a $600,000 sack made by Marks on the final play of the Jaguars' win over Tennessee on December 18.
To be clear, Jacksonville needs to improve on defense. But with Cooper as the clear wide receiver prospect in the draft, the Jaguars could be inclined to go in that direction at the #3 spot, provided of course that they don't target that position in free agency next month.