When NFL free agency opens in early March, there is going to be plenty of action.
The salary cap is likely to go up by as much as 10 percent, and that is just the impetus needed to send struggling teams, and those that were previously hesitant to spend, into action.
Players like Justin Houston, Ndamukong Suh, and Darrelle Revis have put themselves in a position to cash in very shortly with exceptional play in 2014.
In this piece, we look at the top eight free agents who will most likely be on the market March 10.
DT Ndamukong Suh, Detroit Lions – Suh may be the best interior defensive lineman in the league, and his on-field play has been consistently superior through his first five years. “I look at him and see a player who can do it all with his speed, quickness and ability to get to the ball carrier,” said one AFC scout. “He was a rare athlete when the Lions drafted him and he has become a complete player.”
The big issue with Suh has been the numerous fines he has been hit with throughout his career. He was fined $70,000 for stepping on Aaron Rodgers in 2014, but the large majority of his fines and penalties occurred prior to the 2013 season. Still, it will take a leap of faith for any team to believe that Suh has truly turned a corner in his on-field behavior.
The Lions want to keep him, but there’s a very good chance that he will say goodbye to Detroit.
OLB Justin Houston, Kansas City Chiefs — Houston has provided the perfect example of how a third-round draft choice is supposed to play the first four years of his career. Houston had double-digit sacks in 2012 and 2013, but he became a dominant superstar in 2014 with 22.0 sacks. Houston has excellent speed and quickness and can get an edge on opposing blockers with his quick first step. Additionally, he has developed a slew of sensational moves that enable him to win the one-on-one battle. The Chiefs are almost certainly going to slap the franchise tag on him.
WR Dez Bryant, Dallas Cowboys – The Cowboys have some difficult decisions to make in free agency this year, as both Bryant and DeMarco Murray will be available during free agency. While both are extremely productive and valuable players, Jerry Jones is not likely to be able to keep both of them. Of the two, Bryant is the one that he must-keep. Bryant has sensational hands, leaping ability, and the talent to make the big play when it is needed most. While he is overly emotional on the field, he is a game-changer and the Cowboys cannot let him go.
RB DeMarco Murray, Dallas Cowboys – There is a strong feeling in the NFL that even the best running backs have a limited shelf life and that it may be difficult for a stud like Murray to come close to matching the success he had last year. Murray ran for 1,845 yards and 13 touchdowns behind the Cowboys’ huge and powerful offensive line, and that’s one of the issues. Is he really a dominant back, or did he just take advantage of his circumstances? The Cowboys have to contend with having two superstar free agents, and keeping both will be difficult. It seems more likely the Cowboys will keep Bryant than Murray.
WR Randall Cobb, Green Bay Packers – Cobb played all season as if he had something to prove to the Packers. He knew he had a role to play as the team’s No. 2 receiver behind Jordy Nelson, and he did everything that head coach Mike McCarthy expected of him and more. Cobb had a sensational season as he caught 91-1,287-12 last year, and he punched his golden ticket with that production. The Packers have plenty of cap space, and they would love to keep him.
TE Julius Thomas, Denver Broncos – Since the Broncos are likely to use their franchise tag on wide receiver Demaryius Thomas, Julius Thomas should have an opportunity to become one of the big success stories of the free-agent season. Thomas is a big-play tight end, and his ability to go down the field and make game-changing plays will make him very attractive. Thomas caught 12 TD passes even though he struggled with injuries in the final weeks of the season.
WR Demaryius Thomas, Denver Broncos – Whether Peyton Manning returns or not – and we hear that nothing is guaranteed at this point – the Broncos need their big-play wideout to continue to produce for them. Thomas has rare speed and he has developed into an accomplished receiver who can make the difficult catch in traffic and make big yards after the catch. Thomas caught 111-1,619-11 last year, and that marked the third straight season that he has caught 92 passes or more. The Broncos will almost certainly franchise him.
RB Justin Forsett, Baltimore Ravens – The Ray Rice fiasco forced the Ravens to look for a starting running back who could produce consistently. While Forsett had bounced around the league with Indianapolis, Seattle, Houston, and Jacksonville, he had never established himself as anything close to a starting running back. It was expected that Bernard Pierce would take over that role, but when Forsett got an opportunity, he made the most of it. Forsett ran for 1,266 yards and he averaged 5.4 yards per carry and scored eight touchdowns. He is going to hit the mother lode in free agency.
CB Darrelle Revis, New England Patriots – Revis is technically under contract with the Patriots after he signed with them last year in the offseason. However, Revis will have a roster bonus of $12.5 million if the Patriots keep him around and a cap hit of $25 million. The Patriots certainly want to keep the best cover man in the league in their starting lineup, but they are going to have to work out a more cap-friendly deal if they are going to keep him around in 2015.