Now that the Scouting Combine has come to a close, our attention shifts back to free agency. The market opens on March 11. Teams can start negotiating with free agents on March 8.
These aren't necessarily predictions on where free agents will land, but mere suggestions based on price tag, positional need and scheme fit. The majority of the players below aren't your high-profile, big-ticket fish that will be signing once the market opens on March 11. But they are solid role players that can be just as important as the big-money guys who land boat loads of guaranteed money.
49ers: Cornerback Terrell Thomas -- Slot corner Carlos Rogers is due $6.6 million in salary and bonuses and is fully expected to be released. Tarell Brown is also a free agent, but the 49ers will likely make an effort to re-sign him after he tests the market. After suffering back-to-back ACL tears, Thomas came back and appeared in all 16 games in 2013. He played the majority of his snaps in the slot and held up relatively well. Cornerback is easily the biggest need for GM Trent Baalke to address this offseason. Thomas wants to be an every-down player, but he might not be able to find a team willing to gamble that much on his knee.
Bears: Defensive tackle Jason Hatcher -- The Bears have holes all over their defense and could use upgrades at all three levels. Henry Melton, arguably the best player on that side of the ball, is set to become a free agent. GM Phil Emery has expressed a desire to re-sign Melton, but he's going to command a ton of money as long as his surgically-repaired ACL checks out okay. If Melton leaves, the Bears will need a pocket-pusher next to NT Stephen Paea. Hatcher is coming off a career-year in Dallas but will turn 32 in July, so he's not going to get the dollars Melton will. Hatcher also played for new Bears DL coach Paul Pasqualoni when Pasqualoni was on the Cowboys staff from 2006-07 and again in 2010. Hatcher proved to be a much better fit in the 4-3 defense.
Bengals: Defensive lineman Matt Shaughnessy -- RE Michael Johnson is almost certainly headed to the highest bidder in free agency. Shaughnessy is an extremely versatile piece. He played end and tackle in Oakland before playing 3-4 outside linebacker in Arizona on a one-year contract in 2013. Shaughnessy received very high marks as a run defender from Pro Football Focus. He wouldn't be asked to replace Johnson as a starter; Wallace Gilberry and 2012 second-rounder Margus Hunt could take on larger roles. But Shaughnessy would be a valuable situational defender and would come cheap like owner Mike Brown likes it. OC Hue Jackson was on Oakland's staff in 2010 when Shaughnessy had his best NFL season.
Bills: Tight end Brandon Pettigrew -- Scott Chandler is a free agent and likely won't be returning. Although he's a big body, Chandler isn't much of a blocker. The Bills don't have much behind him in the pipeline, aside from second-year "move" tight end Chris Gragg. The Bills would be wise to pursue a tight end like Pettigrew who can play on the end of the line as a blocker and work the short-to-intermediate range in the middle of the field as a pass catcher. The Bills led the league in rushing attempts last season. New Bills DC Jim Schwartz seemed to love Pettigrew in Detroit; Schwartz drafted him with the 20th overall pick in his first season as head coach of the Lions back in 2009. The Lions are prioritizing Pettigrew and may consider franchising him, but he'll likely have a handful of suitors if he reaches the open market.
Broncos: Inside linebacker Brandon Spikes -- Spikes is as good as gone in New England. Wesley Woodyard didn't handle the middle linebacker position well for the Broncos after making the switch from the weak side. He was eventually replaced down the stretch by veteran Paris Lenon. Both are free agents. The Broncos could potentially move WLB Danny Trevathan to the middle, but adding a two-down, run-stopping thumper like Spikes to an already elite run defense would be a better idea. He'd come off the field in obvious passing downs in favor of another defensive back.
Browns: Offensive guard Jon Asamoah -- Incumbent RG Shawn Lauvao is a free agent and likely won't be back. John Greco is probably locked in at left guard. The Browns want to re-sign C Alex Mack. That leaves right guard as a hole. Jason Pinkston is an in-house option, but he hasn't been able to stay healthy the past two seasons. New GM Ray Farmer was the Director of Pro Personnel in Kansas City when the Chiefs took Asamoah with the 68th pick in the 2010 draft. He fell out of favor under Andy Reid last season, getting replaced in the starting lineup by Geoff Schwartz. Asamoah was billed as a nasty run blocker coming out of Illinois and also excels in pass protection. He very well could have a hot market. At 6-foot-4, 305, he's light enough on his feet to excel in a zone-blocking scheme if OC Kyle Shanahan chooses to go that route.
Bucs: Defensive lineman Corey Wootton -- The Bucs desperately need help along the defensive line. RE Adrian Clayborn is their most reliable pass rusher, but he has just 13 career sacks through three seasons. Wootton has a history with new coach Lovie Smith and had his best season in 2012, Lovie's final year in Chicago. Wootton started the final seven games at left end that season and tallied seven sacks on the year. The Bears aren't expected to re-sign him as they overhaul their defense. Wootton can play inside and outside. Jared Allen also makes a ton of sense for the Bucs, but that was too obvious.
Cardinals: Tight end Ben Hartsock -- Outside of the offensive line and maybe rush linebacker, this Cardinals team doesn't have many weaknesses. Coach Bruce Arians stated at the Combine that he prefers his tight ends to block, and Hartsock may be the best pure in-line tight end on the free-agent market. Rob Housler struggled mightily in this area and saw his snaps decrease down the stretch. He has one year left on his rookie deal and may not be long for the desert. Hartsock would come cheaply for a team that doesn't have a ton of cap space and is about to shell out major dollars to CB Patrick Peterson. Hartsock wouldn't be a factor as a pass catcher.
Chargers: Wide receiver Andre Roberts -- The Chargers have plenty of holes for a team that just made the playoffs. Receiver is definitely one of them. Keenan Allen is a legit No. 1 on the outside, but asking Eddie Royal to produce like he did in 2013 again in 2014 would be an awful lot. Royal may also even be released due to a lofty cap number. Vincent Brown was a major 2013 disappointment. Danario Alexander is a free agent and may never play again due to ongoing knee complications. Roberts can play the slot and outside. New Chargers OC Frank Reich was the Cardinals WRs coach in 2012 when Roberts had easily his best pro season, catching 64 balls for 759 yards and five scores. Roberts was sparingly used under Bruce Arians and hasn't heard from the Cardinals about a new deal. He just turned 26.
Chiefs: Defensive lineman Arthur Jones -- LE Tyson Jackson is a free agent, and there's been no indication that the two sides have discussed a new deal. Since becoming a starter midway through the 2012 season, Jones has been one of the more disruptive 3-4 ends in the league. He plays stout run defense and has racked up a respectable 8.5 sacks the past two seasons. Jackson came into his own in 2013 but is a one-dimensional run-stuffer. Jones is going to get paid handsomely and is your prototypical five-technique 3-4 end.
Colts: Center Jonathan Goodwin -- The Colts can save $4 million against the cap by releasing C Samson Satele, and signs have pointed to them making the move. He's been pushed around the past two seasons with Indy. The Colts have already invested in the offensive line at left tackle, left guard and right tackle, so we're not expecting them to pour money into the center position. But the interior line needs to be shored up. Goodwin recently turned 35 and isn't going to be re-signed by the 49ers. He might have one or two years left in the tank and shouldn't command much. Goodwin has a connection with the Colts; his brother, Harold, was coach Chuck Pagano's offensive line coach in 2012 before going to Arizona as Bruce Arians' OC.
Cowboys: Defensive tackle Corey Peters -- Jerry Jones has a mess on his hands with the salary cap, so we can't expect the Cowboys to be major players in free agency. They're going to be hunting for bargains in the second and third waves. Defensive line is easily this club's biggest weakness. Adding a quality run-stuffer should be a major priority, so that ILB Sean Lee can roam free and make more plays instead of having to take on offensive guards all day. Peters tore his Achilles' in Week 16 but should be ready for Week 1, barring setbacks. He's still just 25, so he has age on his side. Being that he's coming back from a serious injury, Peters should come cheap. The Cowboys will need to hit defensive line in both free agency and the draft.
Dolphins: Running back James Starks -- Lamar Miller was a major disappointment. The jury is still out on him. Daniel Thomas is not the answer. We still believe Miller can be a feature back in the league, but this backfield needs a jolt of talent. Starks knows coach Joe Philbin from their days together in Green Bay, and Philbin witnessed firsthand Starks' big postseason that helped the Packers win the 2010 Super Bowl. Starks is going to be looking for a place where he can have a bigger role. If Philbin and new OC Bill Lazor aren't sold on Miller, Starks could easily carry the load. He looked much fresher and healthier in 2013.
Eagles: Nose tackle Paul Soliai -- Overall, the Eagles played pretty solid run defense in their first season under DC Billy Davis. That's partly because they were so bad against the pass that teams didn't need to run the ball. Isaac Sopoaga was a free-agent bust last offseason and was dealt to the Patriots at the trade deadline where he also flamed out. The Eagles then turned to undersized rookie Bennie Logan to man the nose. He played well down the stretch and showed promise, but the Eagles would be wise to add an anchor in the middle of the defense and allow Logan to mix in up front. Soliai, at 6-foot-4, 340, certainly fits the profile. He's annually one of the top run-plugging nose tackles.