At 4 p.m. ET on March 3, NFL free agency will be officially underway, at which point a rather large number of former Ole Miss Rebels could be looking for new homes. In total, 11 pro Rebs have contracts set to expire, including Greg Hardy, Michael Oher and Dexter McCluster. Some of these guys, like Hardy and Dex, will be cashing in on Pro Bowl seasons for some serious dough. Others, most notably the Jerry brothers, will find tough sledding on the open market after a bad 2013.
Here's a breakdown of where all 11 players stand heading into free agency.
Talk about timing. Hardy piled up seven sacks over the final two regular season games of his Panthers' contract, pushing him from a strong free agent addition to the most in-demand defender on the market. He's also played himself out of Carolina's price range. The Panthers have 18 other unrestricted free agents to deal with and it's doubtful they'll be able to afford the "big number" Hardy's looking for.
He told the Charlotte Observer he's open to giving Carolina a home-town discount, but it doesn't sound like it'll be much of bargain.
"It's still discounted. If you take $10 million off $110 million, it's still $100 million," he said in the most Greg Hardy way possible. "That's not the case, but you know what I'm saying? It's a number, it's not ridiculous."
The Panthers could opt to slap him with the franchise tag, but then they'd have to find someone to walk into a room and deliver that news to his face.
Panthers blog Cat Scratch Reader:
Spotrac is projecting a six-year, $82 million contract for Hardy, which is fiscally impossible for the Panthers to meet. Furthermore, Spotrac's projection came before the season, meaning it's likely he'll command even more.
Now is probably about the time you should mentally prepare yourself for life without the Kraken.
Following a first-round selection in 2009, Oher's NFL career hasn't exactly been a Hollywood fairy tale. Apparently Leigh Anne Tuohy doesn't have John Harbaugh's cell phone number, because the Ravens have had to shift a struggling Oher from the blind side to right tackle. Even there he's struggled -- Pro Football Focus (PFF) rated him No. 68 out of 76 offensive tackles in 2013 (Bradley Sowell was No. 76, LULZ).
All that being said, Oher is still a quality NFL lineman who will land a starting job in the league -- just don't expect it to be in Baltimore. The Ravens traded for Jaguars left tackle Eugene Monroe mid-season, and their priority this offseason will be locking him into a long-term contract. There's probably not enough cap space to sign both he and Oher.
Ravens blog Baltimore Beat Down:
With Baltimore's attention turned to re-signing Monroe, Oher appears to be someone the Ravens will let walk. In reality, there's no reason to pay more than the five-year, $13.795 million rookie deal, which is why Oher will likely wear a different team's jersey next season.
Kansas City Chiefs
Wide receiver, kick returner
Dex had a breakout campaign in his fourth season as a pro, earning his first Pro Bowl and All-Pro honors… as a kick returner. What the Chiefs really need is a legitimate No. 2 wideout opposite Dwayne Bowe, and while McCluster put up a career-high 511 receiving yards in 2013, he's more of a slot/utility player.
It doesn't bode well that the Chiefs just signed Candian Football League star Weston Dressler -- a diminutive speedster that returns kicks. Dressler is a much cheaper option than McCluster, and if he proves to be an adequate replacement, it would free up money Kansas City can use to pursue a wideout like Jeremy Maclin or Emmanuel Sanders.
On the other hand, Dex is a fan favorite in K.C. and flourished in the first year of Andy Reid's new offense. Either way, he should fetch a pretty handsome contract wherever he ends up.
Chiefs blog Arrowhead Pride:
We have no clue whether Dressler can play or not so to assume that he is replacing McCluster is premature. ...
The Chiefs are probably going to try to re-sign McCluster because they're not in a position where they should be losing talent at receiver. They need to be adding talent there. The problem is that McCluster just had his best season as a pro and could be expensive to re-sign. Maybe too expensive for the Chiefs, who are up against the salary cap.
Kansas City Chiefs
Lewis is one of several defensive backs from the early Houston Nutt years that you never thought was all that great but has gone on to have a surprisingly successful pro career (also see: Jamarca Sanford, Cassius Vaughn). But Lewis's days as a starter look like they're over, at least in Kansas City. He struggled to keep plays in front of him all season and was a particularly lousy tackler -- he was in the bottom 20 percent in tackling efficiency among all NFL safeties, according to PFF.
The Chiefs have the strong side of their secondary locked down with former Tennessee Vol and 2013 Pro Bowler Eric Berry, but need an upgrade on the other side. I expect they'll let Lewis walk and target free agent Jairus Byrd as a replacement.
Kendrick Lewis has taken a lot of deserved criticism and his play has declined in consecutive seasons. Lewis is too slow to play the single high safety and has never regained confidence in his shoulder after the initial injury which has affected his tackling in the worst way.
Kansas City Chiefs
Powe was essentially the last man on the Chiefs' 53-man roster last season, getting cut every time they needed an addition and getting re-signed every time a spot opened up. He's actually a restricted free agent, which means he'll stay in Kansas City unless another team submits an offer to him, which can then be matched by the Chiefs if they so chose. Considering he was never picked up by another team in any of his multiple leaves of absence, I wouldn't expect anyone to bother wresting him away.
Powe has promise, adds depth, and I love the Land Shark nickname.
There was a good chance Jerry was already on his way out of Miami after an underwhelming four seasons, but his involvement in the Jonathan Martin bullying scandal has sealed his fate. The independent investigation report named Jerry alongside Richie Incognito and Mike Pouncey as the lead instigators, and the Dolphins will be looking to get as far away from that debacle as possible.
Jerry's contract season was bad even before the Wells report: he was the 67th best run-blocking guard in the league, per PFF, and allowed five sacks and 16 quarterback hurries. Throw on recent developments, and he could have a hard time finding employment this offseason.
As a side note, Miami's offensive line issues are almost comical at this point. Martin and Incognito are obviously gone, and there's a good chance Pouncey will be cut. Throw in Jerry's inevitable exit and the Dolphins could enter the offseason without both of their starting guards, their starting center and their starting left tackle. Oh, and Tyson Clabo and Bryant McKinnie, the starting right tackle and the man that replaced Martin at left tackle, are free agents.
Then there's John's older brother, Peria, who entered the league one pick behind Oher in the first round of the 2009 draft. There's no polite way to put this: Peria's been an epic bust. He's made little impact in Atlanta, managing just 34 tackles in his first four seasons. While he nearly matched that career total with 33 in 2013, the Falcons are likely ready to see him gone.
Falcons blog The Falcoholic:
These two DTs would receive gold stars if we were giving them out. But unfortunately Peria Jerry ate all the gold stars; he thought they were candy.
Jerry played the most snaps of his career in 2013 and finished with a career-high 3.5 sacks. He was also rated as the third-worst defender on the Falcons by PFF. Just don't think about the fact that he was a first-round pick and it's not so bad.
Vaughn picked off three passes in 2013 despite playing only 52 percent of defensive snaps in games he suited up for, but his chances of staying in Indy are shaky. He ended the season fourth on the depth chart and was graded by PFF as the fourth-best corner on the team. Indy's focus will be on re-signing their top option at the position, Vontae Davis.
Colts blog Stampede Blue:
[Vaughn] had some great performances and he had some terrible performances with the Colts. He brings depth to the position, but he's also easily replaceable (although I said the same about Donnie Avery last year and look how that turned out...).
Wide receiver, kick returner
If you had told me in 2005 that Michael Spurlock would be playing in the NFL in 2013, I would slapped the shit out you. The former Rebel quarterback (though to call his aimless scrambles "quarterbacking" is an insult to the position) has pieced together a surprisingly nice pro career as a return man. Outside of four seasons in Tampa Bay, he's been a journeyman, playing for six teams in seven seasons. He's 31 years old now, so you have to wonder how much longer he'll be able to stretch this run.
New York Giants
McBride's lack of size has had him in and out of the league since being drafted in the seventh round in 2007, but he finally found some traction with the Giants this season. He was one of the lone bright spots in the secondary, and Conor Orr of the New Jersey Star Ledger gives him a 65 percent chance of returning to the team.
Spencer started one game last season and is just a backup at this point. The Titans could use the depth, but interior line backups are relatively easy to come by, so whether he re-signs is up in the air.