Free agency: 10 things I'd like to see


The National Football League officially turns the page to the 2014 season Tuesday. Here are 10 things I'd like to see happen with free agency upon us.

More teams re-sign their own players: Free agency is fun for fans, but teams need to treat it like dessert and partake in moderation. The draft is dinner.

The smartest franchises build through the draft by taking the best player available on their board and supplement for need through free agency. That is how championships typically are won. Seattle is the most recent example.

The most recent cautionary tale of how a team can mishandle free agency was the Philadelphia Eagles in 2011. Led at the time by president Joe Banner, coach Andy Reid and general manager Howie Roseman, the Eagles were chasing a title. They felt they were just a few pieces away from winning the franchise's first Super Bowl.

After the lockout, Philadelphia added cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins, defensive end Jason Babin, running back Ronnie Brown, wide receiver Steve Smith and quarterback Vince Young in free agency and traded quarterback Kevin Kolb to Arizona for cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. The Eagles went 8-8 and missed the playoffs, then went 4-12 in 2012, and Reid was fired.

The Eagles learned their lesson, which is part of the reason why Roseman and new coach Chip Kelly made re-signing their own players a priority this offseason. They kept wide receivers Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper from hitting the free-agent market and extended the contract of offensive tackle Jason Peters, among other moves.

The Oakland Raiders do the same: OK. It is Oakland. The Raiders don't have a starting quarterback, a starting running back or a starting left or right tackle. They need to overhaul their defensive line and retool their secondary. They haven't had a winning season since 2002.

But Reggie McKenzie has more money to work with than any other general manager in the NFL. He should throw some of that money at left tackle Jared Veldheer and defensive end Lamarr Houston. Convince Veldheer and Houston to stay the only way possible: by paying them.

If Veldheer and Houston say no, then McKenzie has a bigger problem than even he might have thought.

Buyers beware of running backs: Rashard Mendenhall announced his retirement, at age 26, over the weekend. The former Pittsburgh Steelers and Arizona Cardinals running back said he was tired of living a private life in the public eye and wanted to do other things. Good for him.

But there might not have been much of a market for Mendenhall, who gained 687 rushing yards and scored eight touchdowns last season, just like there might not be much demand for any other backs in free agency. Donald Brown, LeGarrette Blount, Rashad Jennings, Knowshon Moreno, Ben Tate, Darren McFadden, Darren Sproles, Maurice Jones-Drew and the list goes on and on. Too many running backs, not enough jobs.

It used to be that age 30 signaled the end of a running back's NFL career. Now, it is more like 27.624 years old. Teams need to fill this position through the draft, not free agency.

Indianapolis and Miami exercise restraint: Last season, the Dolphins and Colts were the most active in free agency. Miami gave big money to wide receiver Mike Wallace and linebacker Dannell Ellerbe. Indianapolis paid linebacker Erik Walden and defensive end Ricky Jean Francois.

Given the money invested, those moves were busts. Neither team can afford more high-priced mistakes.

Atlanta (re)builds from within: We can debate forever the merits of giving up five picks to move up in the 2011 draft to select wide receiver Julio Jones out of Alabama. Jones is a dynamic player. He is the ultimate deep threat for quarterback Matt Ryan. Before breaking his foot in Week 5 against the Jets last year, Jones was on pace for 131 catches and 1,856 receiving yards.

But losing so many draft picks caught up with the Falcons last season.

Their two most pressing needs now are to find adequate protection for Ryan and one if not two players who can rush the passer. There is no shortage of quality tackles in the draft, which means general manager Thomas Dimitroff could move back to acquire more picks or stay put and take the best tackle available.

While the Falcons desperately need a difference maker coming off the edge on the defensive side of the ball, neither Jared Allen nor Jon Beason are the answers.

Aqib Talib and Eric Decker stay put: With free agency often comes life-changing money that is hard to turn down. In a league in which contracts aren't guaranteed and careers are typically short, you can never blame a player from making a money grab.

Talib and Decker should have an opportunity to do just that. But often times what is best for a player's wallet isn't the same as what is best for his career. Talib has thrived in Bill Belichick's defensive system in New England. Decker has been a viable third and sometimes fourth option for Peyton Manning. Each should recognize the value in taking less money to stay with stable, successful organizations.

Michael Vick gets a chance to compete for a starting job: The free-agent quarterback market is not great, with Matt Schaub and Mark Sanchez likely to join it. Vick wants another chance to compete for a starting job. He should get it. Teams need to understand this: While Vick fully supported Nick Foles last year after Foles earned the Eagles' starting job while Vick was hurt, he is not wired to be a backup quarterback. He wants to play. He wants the spotlight.

While he could help a young player such as  Geno Smith or a newly drafted quarterback who needs time to sit and learn the pro game, Vick is best suited to be a starter. Vick going somewhere with a franchise quarterback in place makes no sense.

Josh McCown returns to Chicago: McCown will soon turn 35 years old. He and Bears quarterback Jay Cutler are, as McCown said on Monday, like brothers. They have a healthy, productive quarterback room. McCown likes quarterbacks coach Matt Cavanaugh and head coach Marc Trestman. He likes playing with Cutler and the array of talented teammates he has on the Bears.

McCown understandably wants to play, but he also wants to be part of a winning franchise. He makes the Bears better.

Houston finds a capable starting QB in free agency instead of with the No. 1 overall draft pick: One general manager who is not looking for a franchise quarterback recently told me he did not think that Texas A&M's  Johnny Manziel, Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater or Central Florida's Blake Bortles are first-round talents. However, according to the GM, the market will probably drive each quarterback into the first round and potentially into the top 10.

Given that information, Houston should use the No. 1 pick on the best prospect in the draft: Jadeveon Clowney, the prized defensive end from South Carolina. Clowney and J.J. Watt would give the Texans the most feared pass rush in the league.

Veterans Champ Bailey and Jason Avant find soft landing spots: Successful team builders are capable of removing emotion from transactions. The NFL is, after all, a business. That is why Denver waived Bailey, a future Hall of Fame cornerback, and Philadelphia issued statements from its owner, general manager and coach after cutting Avant, a popular leader and slot receiver.

While neither Bailey nor Avant are ascending players, they are both fantastic locker room guys with a wealth of experience, integrity and clout. If I were running a team, I would make a roster spot for either.