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Best free-agent fits

  • By Around The League Staff NFL.com
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Free agency is fast approaching. We've broken down our Top 101 free agents and ranked all the players by position.

Now, let's start matching some of the players up. We asked the Around The League crew to pick the best fits for some of the biggest names on the market. Consider this some logical dot connecting mixed with some good old fashioned irresponsible speculation.

Hakeem Nicks to Carolina


Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman was in the Giants' front office when Nicks was drafted after starring at the University of North Carolina. The position was already a trouble spot in 2013. With Brandon LaFell and Ted Ginn reaching free agency -- and Gettleman still evaluating Steve Smith's future -- a homecoming for Nicks makes too much sense not to happen.

-- Chris Wesseling

Jairus Byrd to Philadelphia


The possibility of a reunion with Cleveland Browns coach Mike Pettine is real. The connection with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers is even more obvious after Lovie Smith hired Jairus' father, Gill, as cornerbacks coach. If Byrd wants to play for a winner, though, why not team up with former college coach Chip Kelly? Having locked up their offensive nucleus, it would behoove the Eagles to add a difference-maker such as Byrd in the secondary.

-- Chris Wesseling

Ben Tate to Cleveland


Michael Lombardi's fascination with the Texans runner was no secret. The former Browns general manager is history, but the gaping void in Cleveland's backfield remains. A fresh-legged 25, Tate hits the open market with concerns over his durability, but pairing him with a hand-picked rookie would give the Browns a backfield with promise. Tate ranks as our top runner in an otherwise uninspiring crop of free agents, and Cleveland has the cap room to (over)pay him.

-- Marc Sessler

Michael Johnson to Minnesota


With Jared Allen set to exit stage left, Minnesota needs bodies at defensive end. The newly hired Mike Zimmer told Around The League at the combine that the Vikings had yet to commit to keeping Everson Griffen, but a pairing of Johnson, Griffen and Brian Robison would allow Zimmer to attack opponents with a wave of pass rushers. New coaches love to import former pupils to help teach their scheme, and the Vikings -- roughly $35 million under the cap -- have the greenbacks to make Johnson a defensive centerpiece.

-- Marc Sessler

Eric Decker to Indianapolis


Yes, the Colts have more pressing needs than adding a No. 1 wide receiver. The middle of the offensive line is a mess, and it's been that way since Andrew Luck got to town. Then again, Reggie Wayne won't be around forever, and Decker and T.Y. Hilton would form a potentially dynamic one-two punch for years to come. General manager Ryan Grigson has money to spend, and that's a good thing -- Decker won't come cheap.

-- Dan Hanzus

Michael Vick to the New York Jets


Several teams make sense as a landing spot for Michael Vick, but none come with the common sense logic of the Jets. Geno Smith needs true competition, and Vick would give the second-year QB all he could handle. (This isn't David Garrard limping around with a clipboard and a knowing smile.) Vick's glory days might be over, but he's familiar with Marty Mornhinweg's system and would give Rex Ryan a legitimate and intriguing alternative if the GenoCoaster careens into the swamps of Jersey.

-- Dan Hanzus

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Jermichael Finley to Detroit


The Lions have been looking for a second banana to Calvin Johnson for a while. Perhaps it doesn't have to be a wide receiver. Finley has to pass medical tests after his neck surgery last year, but he's expected to return to the league. That makes him a fine candidate for a one-year deal with a lot of incentives. Taking a shot with Finley makes a lot more sense than locking up Brandon Pettigrew long-term.

-- Gregg Rosenthal

Henry Melton to Dallas


Melton is hitting free agency after a torn ACL and an arrest. That's poor timing. But he's also hitting free agency in the same year that his former defensive coordinator (Rod Marinelli) and former head coach (Lovie Smith) get new jobs. That should help. Melton is more likely to follow Marinelli to Dallas. The Cowboys' defensive line is thin, and Melton makes for a perfect replacement for Jason Hatcher, who looks likely to leave via free agency. Dallas always finds a way out of their cap issues, and Melton's rough year should help keep his price down.

-- Gregg Rosenthal

Donte Whitner to NFL Media


I'm calling for NFL Media to pony up and bring Whitner to Culver City and place him in the desk next to Around The League's boss, Gregg Rosenthal. (For those who might have missed it, Whitner vociferously called out Rosenthal for the slight of being ranked No. 44 on ATL's free-agent list.) For the next year, Whitner can sit next to Rosenthal and pass on all his football wisdom. The two can watch film together and argue whether or not a hit is illegal and where Jon Asamoah should be on the free-agent list. I can just hear the constant, fantastic derision from Whitner. I'll gladly chip in at least seven bucks.

-- Kevin Patra

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