When free agency begins next week, three veterans — Champ Bailey, Devin Hester and Cortland Finnegan — will be on the market. Could their sudden availability have any impact on Aqib Talib‘s asking price if he ends up in free agency?
The 35-year-old Bailey, a three-time All-Pro, will be released by the Broncos, Jason LaCanfora of CBS Sports reported Wednesday night. He saw a reduction in his playing time in 2013, as he struggled with injury, playing in a career-low five regular-season games and finishing with 23 tackles. The 2013 season marked the first year he did not have an interception — he had 52 picks over the course of his career. Bailey, who reached the Super Bowl for the first time in his career this season with the Broncos, has said he’s not done playing. (For what it’s worth, he doesn’t sound open to the idea of moving to safety.)
As for Hester, the 31-year-old Swiss army knife of a player told NFL Network on Wednesday he understands the Bears are ready to go a “different route,” which means he’ll be on the open market when free agency begins later this month. He’s made his bones as one of the best return men in the history of the league and occasional receiver, but was drafted out of Miami as a corner in 2006, and could still line up opposite a receiver if need be.
When it comes to how Bailey’s situation relates to Talib’s impending free agency, Bailey’s presence on the market probably won’t have a sizable impact on Talib’s overall value. Bailey is a Hall of Famer, but not the player he once was, and certainly not among the elite corners who are set to hit the market later this month. Someone who is likely closer to the top of the list is Finnegan, a 30-year-old who bid farewell to the Rams on Wednesday via Twitter. Finnegan, who signed a five-year, $50 million deal with St. Louis before the 2012 season, might have made an intriguing addition to the Patriots in 2012, but it remains to be seen what sort of fit he’d be with New England at this point in his career. (There’s a school of thought that’s already out there that says Finnegan will return to the Rams at a reduced rate.) If Talib does sign elsewhere and Finnegan is on the market, he might be an option, but he probably isn’t an overwhelming priority for New England if it gets to that point.
As far as how this all relates to Talib, given Denver struggles with depth in the secondary at times in 2013 (and the potential of Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to bolt as a free agent), it would certainly put the Broncos in the market for another corner. And given the fact that they just unloaded a major cap hit — believed to be in the $10 million range — with the decision not to bring Bailey back, the Broncos suddenly have a few extra dollars to throw around. This is not to suggest that John Elway is going to open up the checkbook for Talib (the Broncos also could be players in a possible chase for Darrelle Revis) but Denver likely will be shopping for a corner when free agency begins.
While you should never say never, New England doesn’t figure to be a destination spot for Bailey. However, Hester does present an intriguing skill set. We all know that Bill Belichick loves football players, and Hester has lined up on offense, defense and special teams over the course of his career. He’s still one of the best in the league when it comes to working as a return man — he led the league in kickoff return yardage in 2013, and finished fifth in kick-return average. He’s not an elite receiver, but had six straight seasons of 20 catches or more prior to last year. There’s no telling what sort of payday Hester is seeking (it’s likely out of the Patriots’ price range), but his versatility would certainly be intriguing if he could connect with New England.