The NFL is a 365-day league, and even in the midst of the league's spotlight time on the field, there is an insatiable appetite for news that includes teams that have already been eliminated from contention. In that spirit, we will break down the top ten free agents who will be hitting the open market when the Super Bowl concludes, and the 2015 list is a robust mix of talent.
It is important to note that this list is anything but finalized, as there will almost certainly be cuts that will provide additional names. However, it would be irresponsible to speculate about players who are currently under contract for the 2015 campaign (i.e. Adrian Peterson and Jay Cutler), and they will be absent from this particular group.
Speculation about where these players will land will surely pick up over the next few weeks, but for now, let's take a look at who will be available in the coming months.
2015 nfl free agents
Ranking the top 10 NFL free agents in 2015
10) Julius Thomas, TE Denver Broncos
Unlike the majority of this list, Julius Thomas needs a pay day. The Broncos tight end was selected as a high-upside “project” in the fourth round of the 2011 NFL Draft out of Portland State, and that pick has paid major dividends for Denver.
Thomas is unlikely to actually reach full-fledged free agency, with the Broncos expressing interest in bringing him back, but if he does, there should be an all-out frenzy for his services. The 26-year-old has battled major durability concerns, including a three-game absence this season, but Thomas has 24 touchdown catches in the past two campaigns combined, and that is elite-level production.
At 6-foot-4 and 250 pounds, Julius Thomas can run like a receiver with a massive frame to support in-line blocking when called upon, and outside of likes of Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham, he is the best option at the tight end position in the NFL.
(Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
9) Mike Iupati, G San Francisco 49ers
Iupati is, by far, the least “sexy” name on this list, but offensive guards have commanded top dollar on the free agent market in recent seasons, and this is no exception. The 27-year-old is hitting free agency in the sweet spot from an age perspective, and while his play tapered off a bit in 2014 (along with the rest of the 49ers roster), the raw tools for his 6-foot-5, 330-pound frame are undeniable.
With his selection this season, Iupati is now a three-time pro bowler (though this year’s choice was dubious), and he could reasonably receive the highest contract number of any guard in the league. At the same time, there will be teams lined up for his services to shore up the interior line, and at his peak (and when fully healthy), there is no one more dominant that Iupati at the guard position.
San Francisco does not appear to be the front-runner, given their stockpile of talent at virtually every position coupled with salary cap rigidity, and Iupati seems to be very available.
(Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
8) Greg Hardy, DE Carolina Panthers
This is a tough one.
Hardy is currently awaiting a trial for assault, and that is the primary reason that he will be available for acquisition this summer. On one hand, Hardy set Carolina’s franchise record with 15 sacks during the 2013 season, but on the other, NFL teams are running away (quickly) from players with domestic violence history, and that major issue cost him all but one game during the 2014 campaign.
There is no denying his vast skill set, and at only 26 years old, the nearly 280-pound Hardy is basically an ideal fit as an every down defensive end. Still, it will be very interesting to monitor his legal status as the off-season moves forward, and it is no given that he will be available to participate when the 2015 season opens in September.
(Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
7) Randall Cobb, WR Green Bay Packers
In a jam-packed wide receiver market, Randall Cobb is often forgotten, but the 24-year-old is reaching free agency at the perfect time in his career arc. Green Bay is still playing, in large part due to Cobb, who caught 91 passes for 1,287 yards and 12 touchdowns in a big-time breakout campaign.
Many have pointed to Jordy Nelson as the most important receiver on the Packers roster, and that is difficult to argue, but Cobb provides a dynamic element for Aaron Rodgers in a way that makes him invaluable to their offense. It seems inherently likely that the Packers will attempt to lock him up, meaning that he would never hit free agency, but Cobb is now an undisputed member of the top ten as far as NFL wide receivers are concerned.
We may not see much of Randall Cobb in the return game as he becomes as a high-priced commodity, but that is about the only knock on his game right now.
(Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
6) DeMarco Murray, RB Dallas Cowboys
Murray may be the most interesting test case in free agency. On one hand, he was the most productive rusher in the NFL by a wide margin this season, but on the other, the running back position has lost so much value on the whole that many teams will simply punt on spending any time of “real” money on their ball carriers.
The 26-year-old Murray played all 16 regular season games for the first time in his career, and the results were staggering in 2014. He led the NFL in rushing by nearly 500 (!!) yards with 1,845 on the season, and Murray’s 13 rushing touchdowns placed him in a tie with Marshawn Lynch for the league lead. For perspective, DeMarco Murray set the franchise record for the Dallas Cowboys this season, and that is an organization with a significant history and a certain Hall of Fame running back in Emmitt Smith.
At this point, the general consensus is that the Cowboys will employ either Murray or Adrian Peterson (if he is available) at the running back spot next season. However, if Dallas chooses to move on from their stud running back, he is likely a rare breed in that he will command a big contract in free agency despite the shrinkage of perception at the position. Just how big that contract will be is up for debate.
(Ron Jenkins/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/TNS via Getty Images)
5) Justin Houston, DE/OLB Kansas City Chiefs
Perhaps you have heard of J.J. Watt. The Houston Texans defensive lineman just submitted one of the best individual defensive seasons in NFL history, and with that, he is in real contention for the league’s MVP award.
Justin Houston had more sacks than J.J. Watt.
The former Georgia Bulldog and current Kansas City Chiefs pass-rusher notched 22 sacks for the season, besting Watt by 1.5 in the category, and that is a snapshot at his immense value. In fairness, Houston is much more of a one-dimensional force than Watt, but in the same breath, he certainly isn’t a bad player against the run, and with three consecutive seasons with double-digit sacks, he is a proven commodity at only 25 years old.
Kansas City has its franchise tag available, making it increasingly unlikely that we’ll be able to see a bidding war for Houston, but if he hits the market, the numbers could be comically high.
(Photo by Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images)
4) Darrelle Revis, CB New England Patriots
Revis is in a unique situation, given that he technically is not a free agent, but rather a player who has an option for the 2015 season. Still, the Patriots cornerback has a $25 million cap hit for next year (per Spotrac), and that basically assures that Revis will need to re-work his deal in order to remain in New England over hitting the free agent market once again.
The 2014 season was a bit of a renaissance year for the former Jets and Buccaneers cornerback, as some of the shine of his play had deteriorated during his time in Tampa Bay. Revis has re-joined the “shutdown corner” conversation after an All-Pro season, and while he produced only two interceptions, that is more indicative of the opposition’s fear of challenging him on anything resembling a regular basis.
It will be exceedingly interesting to see what Darrelle Revis and the New England Patriots can come up with, but from a standpoint of watching elite football, the two sides should be highly invested in remaining together.
(Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
3) Dez Bryant, WR Dallas Cowboys
Unlike DeMarco Murray before him, the Dallas Cowboys have made it clear that Dez Bryant is a priority for them moving forward, which could make his inclusion on this list a moot point. With that on the table, Bryant is a significantly valuable commodity.
At 26 years old, the former Oklahoma State star has three consecutive seasons with 1,200-plus yards and double-digit touchdowns receiving, and his 16 touchdowns in 2014 led the NFL by leaps and bounds. Bryant’s personality is sometimes an interesting animal in itself, but he has stayed out of trouble in Dallas, and in terms of chemistry with quarterback Tony Romo, there have been no issues.
Dez Bryant is durable (missing only one game over the past four seasons), he is productive, and with Jerry Jones at the helm of a potential contract, he could become the highest-paid wide receiver in the NFL without breaking a sweat.
(Ron Jenkins/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/TNS via Getty Images)
2) Demaryius Thomas, WR Denver Broncos
With all of the love that was just given to Dez Bryant, I would rather have Demaryius Thomas. Admittedly, Thomas is a year old than Bryant, but he has out-produced his counterpart in Dallas (from a yardage perspective) in three consecutive seasons, and that can’t all be attributed to the greatness of Peyton Manning.
At 6-foot-3 and 230 pounds, Thomas is an athletic freak. It seems almost criminal that he was buried in a triple-option system when he played college ball at Georgia Tech, but that simply allowed his stock to drop far enough to land in a perfect situation with the Broncos. Like Bryant before him, it doesn’t seem likely that the Broncos will allow him to hit free agency, with the franchise tag being a possibility, but it would be undoubtedly intriguing to see what he could produce in a different system.
Calvin Johnson still exists, making it difficult to proclaim anyone else as the best wide receiver in football, but Demaryius Thomas has been making a firm case for a few years now.
(Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
1) Ndamukong Suh, DT Detroit Lions
The free agent saga of Ndamukong Suh is going to be a wild one.
Detroit would love to keep their best defensive player around for the next few seasons (at a minimum), but Suh is already operating on a comically huge contract ($22.4 million cap hit in 2014), and that basically removes the possibility of the Lions handing out a franchise tag that would be worth more than $25 million.
It should be noted that Detroit isn’t fully out of the picture, as they could simply re-up him on another massive long-term contract, but regardless of their availability, Suh is going to get paid in a significant way. The 27-year-old defensive tackle has 36 sacks in five seasons, which is a staggering total for an interior lineman, and his general disruption is the center of what was a tremendous Detroit defense in 2014.
For all of the scorn that his on-field antics (i.e. the Aaron Rodgers “stomp” in Week 17) garner, Suh is considered a high-end community guy off the field, and there is no indication that his contract value will slip. In short, he has a real chance to make more money than J.J. Watt just received from the Houston Texans, and Suh is the second-best defensive lineman in football today.
This is the perfect free agent storm of a player in his absolute prime hitting free agency because of odd circumstances, and the intrigue is just getting started.
In case you missed it, check out the best sports photos of the week in the gallery below:
Sports PotW 1/5
Ranking the top 10 NFL free agents in 2015
Quarterback Matthew Stafford #9 of the Detroit Lions fumbles the ball after being sacked by defensive end Demarcus Lawrence #90 of the Dallas Cowboys in the fourth quarter during a NFC Wild Card Playoff game at AT&T Stadium on January 4, 2015 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
Andrew Shaw #65 of the Chicago Blackhawks is sprayed with water prior to the NHL game against the Dallas Stars at the United Center on January 4, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Bill Smith/NHLI via Getty Images)
Jermaine Edmondson #39 of the Michigan State Spartans celebrates a 42-41 win against the Baylor Bears during the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic at AT&T Stadium on January 1, 2015 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
In this handout image provided by the Volvo Ocean Race, Misty Start of Leg 3 from Abu Dhabi to Sanya on January 03, 2015 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. The Volvo Ocean Race 2014-15 is the 12th running of this ocean marathon. Starting from Alicante in Spain on October 04, 2014, the route, spanning some 39,379 nautical miles, visits 11 ports in eleven countries (Spain, South Africa, United Arab Emirates, China, New Zealand, Brazil, United States, Portugal, France, The Netherlands and Sweden) over nine months. The Volvo Ocean Race is the world's premier ocean yacht race for professional racing crews. (Photo by Ainhoa Sanchez/Volvo Ocean Race via Getty Images)
Roger Federer takes part in the Pat Rafter Arena Spectacular during day one of the 2015 Brisbane International at Pat Rafter Arena on January 4, 2015 in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)
Oussama Assaidi of Stoke City battles for the ball with Rob Evans of Wrexham during the FA Cup Third Round match between Stoke City and Wrexham at Britannia Stadium on January 4, 2015 in Stoke on Trent, England. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
Germone Hopper #5 of the Clemson Tigers attempts a reception against Jordan Thomas #7 of the Oklahoma Sooners during the Russell Athletic Bowl at Florida Citrus Bowl on December 29, 2014 in Orlando, Florida. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
Max Domi #16 of Team Canada scores an empty net goal to secure Team Canada's win over Team United States in a preliminary round game during the 2015 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championships at the Bell Centre on December 31, 2014 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
Spectators watch a competitor jump during Day One of the FIS Nordic Combined World Cup HS 106 Team Competition on January 3, 2015 in Schonach, Germany. (Photo by Michael Kienzler/Bongarts/Getty Images)
The Washington Capitals swarm goalie Braden Holtby (70) after their 3-2 win over the Chicago Blackhawks in the Winter Classic at Nationals Park on January 1, 2015 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Jonathan Newton / The Washington Post via Getty Images)
Jack Nowell of Exeter Chiefs dives over for his side's first try during the Aviva Premiership match between Exeter Chiefs and Gloucester Rugby at Sandy Park on January 3, 2015 in Exeter, England. (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)
#301 Nasser Al Attiyah of Qatar and Mathieu Baumel of France for the ALL4 Racing Mini Qatar Rally Team compete during day 1 of the Dakar Rallly on January 4, 2015 between Buenos Aires and Villa Carlos Paz, Argentina. (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)
Emily Sweeney of the United States competes in the 1st run of the Women's FIL Luge World Cup Koenigssee at Deutsche Post Eisarena on January 3, 2015 in Koenigssee, Germany. (Photo by Dennis Grombkowski/Bongarts/Getty Images)
Lucie Safarova of the Czech Republic serves in the mixed doubles match against Eugenie Bouchard and Vasek Pospisil of Canada during day one of the 2015 Hopman Cup at Perth Arena on January 4, 2015 in Perth, Australia. (Photo by Will Russell/Getty Images)
Severin Freund of Germany during the FIS Ski Jumping World Cup Vierschanzentournee (Four Hills Tournament) on January 04, 2015 in Innsbruck, Austria. (Photo by Stanko Gruden/Agence Zoom/Getty Images)
In this handout image provided by the Volvo Ocean Race, onboard Team Alvimedica. Sunrise in the Straits of Hormuz after a busy night of sailing north along the UAE coastline. Dave Swete gets a hand from Seb Marsset while he repairs a rip in the A3 sail January 4, 2015 during Leg 3 between Abu Dhabi, UAE and Sanya, China. The Volvo Ocean Race 2014-15 is the 12th running of this ocean marathon. Starting from Alicante in Spain on October 11, 2014, the route, spanning some 39,379 nautical miles, visits 11 ports in 11 countries (Spain, South Africa, United Arab Emirates, China, New Zealand, Brazil, United States, Portugal, France, the Netherlands and Sweden) over nine months. The Volvo Ocean Race is the world's premier ocean race for professional racing crews. (Photo by Amory Ross/Team Alvimedica/Volvo Ocean Race via Getty Images)
Adrian Colunga of Brighton celebrates scoring the first goal during the Sky Bet Championship match between Fulham and Brighton & Hove Albion at Craven Cottage on December 29, 2014 in London, England. (Photo by Justin Setterfield/Getty Images)