NFL free agent frenzy looming
By LIAM BEVANS
College Contributor Network
The NFL season is over for all but two of the league's franchises, so why not take a look at the major names that are hitting the market as unrestricted free agents this offseason?
There are some incredibly talented names hitting the market this season at multiple positions, which could cause a dramatic shift in the power structure amongst the NFL elite.
First up, the ever-talented and oft-polarizing NdamukongSuh.
The enormous defensive tackle was one of the main reasons why Detroit finished first in league against the run, allowing a measly 69.3 yards per game. Seeing as it would cost $26.7 million for Detroit to apply the franchise tag to Suh, Detroit has been dealing with his inevitable departure for quite some time. The enormous price tag that Suh carries will most likely dissuade the Lions from re-signing him, seeing as they have a bevy of other players that also need attention including DT Nick Fairley, DT C.J. Mosley, and G Rob Sims to name a few. Expect Suh to exceed JJ Watt's contract this offseason, making him the highest-paid defensive player in the league, by looking outside of Detroit for his second NFL contract.
There are a couple of options for teams that both rated in the bottom half of the league against the run and have the wiggle room within the salary cap to make a major splash. The Colts with $36,388,059 in cap room, according to OverTheCap.com, ranked in the middle of the pack (18th) against the run this season. However they struggled mightily in that department in their playoff loss to New England, a team they will continue to have to battle in the postseason for the foreseeable future.
The Raiders were even worse against the run this season ranking 22nd of 32 teams, and only had 22 sacks this season. With the departure of backup DT Pat Sims, and $56,117,366 in cap space, they should be poised to add to their defensive line in an attempt to dramatically increase production. Suh would be a major upgrade for the Raiders, and with his bad boy image firmly entrenched he is probably the perfect Raider.
Other possibilities include Chicago ($27,644,395 cap space, 17th against the run) but Terrance Knighton re-uniting with John Fox is probably a more realistic possibility, and Atlanta ($23,534,848 cap space, 21st against the run). Let's not put it past Atlanta to spend big on offense again however.
The Green Bay Packer had himself a career year, and it just so happened to coincide with a contract season. It seems a rather unlikely scenario that Green Bay would use the franchise tag on Cobb despite his 91 catch, 1,287 yard, and 12 touchdown performance in an injury-free 18 game season. The franchise tag would most likely cost the Packers $12.8 million if they slap it on the speedster, who has consistently voiced his preference to stay in Green Bay, a large sum when compared to the similarly talented Victor Cruz ($8.6 million/year over five years). Cobb will have some serious competition if he does end up on the market, facing two big-bodied home run threats in Dez Bryant and Demaryius Thomas. Cobb will not command the same salary as those two, but due to his fantastic year he will certainly get paid. Although I think, in the end, Green Bay will retain Cobb let's take a look at some other possibilities.
The first team that comes to mind is Kansas City, and their historically bad receiving corps. The Chiefs need a playmaker on offense outside of Jamal Charles, and they need one badly. However Kansas City will have to shed some salary in order to free up some cap space to make a play at Cobb. With the bevy of talent in the market at receiver, and Bowe under contract through 2017, it seems logical that Kansas City would go after the slot receiver with a slightly smaller price tag than Bryant or Thomas.
The Bengals also have the cap room to make a move, and have two slot receivers heading out of town. A receiving corps of Mohamed Sanu, A.J. Green, and Cobb could push the Bengals' offense into the elite category. They will need to save some money for the re-signing of tight end Jermaine Gresham, as well as linebacker Rey Maualuga if they decide they need to maintain a veteran presence at linebacker.
The final player we will take a look at is 3-4 outside linebacker Justin Houston. The two-time Pro Bowler from Kansas City is a potential franchise tag candidate after his 22.0 sack performance, although he could be listed as defensive end under franchise tag rules. Thus he would carry an approximate $14.68 million price tag, significantly higher than the franchise tag for a linebacker. Houston and the Chiefs have been unable to get on the same page, and it seems that a flurry of late-season sacks will propel him into a Cash WinFall in free agency. So who needs help on the outside?
Once again the Colts top my list of teams that are in need on the defensive front. Not only were they pushed around by the Patriots' run game, their lack of a pass rush was also exposed. The Colts' 3-4 scheme, to which Chuck Pagano has transitioned Indy since his arrival, requires an elite pass rusher like Justin Houston. With that big cap number to play with, Indy could offer Houston the money that Kansas City probably shouldn't.
The Tennessee Titans should also be looking for an upgrade at the OLB position. Derrick Morgan led the team with just 6.5 sacks, a paltry total when compared to Justin Houston's 22. The Titans have some serious cap room to play with, over $40 million to be exact, so they have the potential to be major players this offseason. And make no mistake about it, Houston would be a major splash for a team that struggled mightily to get to the quarterback.
Those are just three of the major players available this offseason, really just the tip of the iceberg. With players like Dez Bryant, Demaryius Thomas, Julius Thomas, Jason Pierre-Paul, and Greg Hardy set to make big bucks, this is going to be one exciting free agent frenzy.
Liam Bevans is a graduate student at Boston College. He has spent the last six years working for the BC football team both as a student and as an intern. Follow him on twitter: @liham_andcheese