The National Football League is one of the most known entities in not only the sports realm, but in all of entertainment. The sports league is at the top of the United States and despite many problems in recent years (domestic abuse, lack of communication from the top, cheating teams), continues to grow at a rapid speed. The league's championship game, the Super Bowl, is the biggest of the year across all platforms and the athletes that play the sport are some of the most known personalities in the world.
Many of these athletes are known for being incredible deals for their organization. Russell Wilson, quarterback for the Seattle Seahawks may be the greatest value in the history of sports, earning only $662,434 this season. While Wilson will get the money he deserves in the near future, there are hundreds of players that will be looking for the payday of a lifetime this offseason.
Among the players that will be looking to put a new jersey on next season and add to their banks account include quarterbacks Mark Sanchez, Jake Locker, and Michael Vick; running backs Ryan Mathews, Mark Ingram, and Stevan Ridley; fullbacks John Kuhn and Henry Hynoski; wide receivers, Torrey Smith, Michael Crabtree, and Jeremy Maclin; tight ends Jordan Cameron, Jermaine Gresham, and Charles Clay, and defensive stars like Jason Pierre-Paul, Greg Hardy, Brian Orapko, Nick Fairley, Brandon Spikes, Lance Briggs, Devin McCourty, Byron Maxwell, and Antrel Rolle.
These players have all done their best to this point in their careers to make a lot of money this offseason, but who are the top 10 upcoming NFL free agents?
10 Justin Forsett, Running Back
The Baltimore Ravens backfield was a big question mark heading into the 2014 season because of the Ray Rice situation. The man who saved the position for the Ravens was the seventh-year player who was in his first season in Baltimore. He carried the ball 235 times for 1,266 yards and 8 touchdowns and turned out to be another of the biggest bargains in the league. The Ravens paid him just $730,000 this season and took a cap hit of $570,000. He will be a hot commodity in the offseason and will see his pay rise exponentially.
9 Randall Cobb, Wide Receiver
After just finishing his fourth professional NFL season, Randall Cobb is now an elite-level wide receiver. Lining up on the opposite side of Jordy Nelson will help any receiver put up big numbers, but what Cobb did this season was more than just cash in on having an easier matchup. He was targeted 127 times this season and made 91 catches for 1,287 yards and 12 touchdowns. After missing most of the 2013 season due to injury, his performance this season turned the heads of many NFL pundits and analysts and has made him one of the top free agents this offseason.
He earned $812,648 this season and his cap hit was $1,021,179 and will look to become one of the highest paid receivers in the league.
8 Julius Thomas, Tight End
If Julius Thomas didn’t suffer from injury problems during the 2014 season, he would have been a lot higher on this list. While he is listed as a tight end, he plays more like a wide receiver, which adds to his value that much more. He made just $645,000 this season and the Denver Broncos only took a $651,000 cap hit to have him on the roster. His first two seasons in the league were a wash, as he played in just nine games and made just a single catch. The past two seasons, he has made 108 catches for 1,277 yards with 24 touchdowns. The Broncos will have a lot of decisions to make in the offseason and will hope to afford re-signing Thomas and wide receiver, Demaryius Thomas.
7 Antonio Cromartie, Cornerback
Before the 2014 NFL season, the New York Jets released Antonio Cromartie from his contract after he suffered through the worst season of his career. If they had kept him, he would have cost them close to $15 million on their cap. Instead of staying with the Jets for a lesser salary, he signed with the Arizona Cardinals on a 1-year contract. They paid him $2.25 million and the team took a $4 million cap hit, but it was all money well spent. The Cardinals had one of the best defenses in the league and it was due in large part to Cromartie, who had three interceptions, 12 passes defended, a fumble recovery, and a defensive touchdown. For a player that once had 10 interceptions in a single season, he should be in high demand of any defensive unit looking to shake things up.
6 Demaryius Thomas, Wide Receiver
The second Denver Bronco to appear on this list is wide receiver Demaryius Thomas. Thomas just finished up the last year on his initial five-year contract that saw him become one of the top wide outs in the sport. After totaling just 54 catches in his first two seasons, he made 297 catches for 4,483 yards and 35 touchdowns during the past three seasons, including a career-year in 2014. He made 111 catches for 1,619 yards with 11 touchdowns, earning every penny of his $3.275 million deal. It was a steal for the Broncos, who only took a $4.7 million cap hit.
5 Justin Houston, Outside Linebacker
The top linebacker on the free agent market this offseason is Justin Houston. He just finished up the final year on his rookie contract and while he made $1.406 million this year and the Kansas City Chiefs took a $747,000 cap hit, he was one of the most underpaid players in all of professional sports. He recorded a league-high 22 sacks last season and now has 48.5 sacks over the course of his 4-year career. He also recorded 59 tackles during the season and forced four fumbles. During their Week 17 victory against the San Diego Chargers, Houston put on the performance of his career with 4 sacks, ending San Diego's hopes for a postseason run. He will demand a big pay day this offseason and his Week 17 performance will be what his 2015 team hopes to get from him regularly.
4 Darrelle Revis, Cornerback
When you ask around the league who the best cornerback in the league is, the first two responses you would normally get are Richard Sherman and Darrelle Revis. These two cornerbacks met in Super Bowl XLIX and while Sherman remains under contract with the Seattle Seahawks, the New England Patriots have quite a dilemma when it comes to keeping him around next season. If they Patriots exercise their team option on the 29-year-old, they will be hit with a $25 million cap hit. That figure is so astounding that it almost a no-brainer for the team to not pick up the option, automatically making him a free agent. If the Patriots do pick up the option, he will earn $12.5 million next season, which is a bargain for someone with the skill of Revis.
3 DeMarco Murray, Running Back
I know a lot of people might think I’m crazy for not putting DeMarco Murray at the no. 1 spot on this list. I normally wouldn’t blame you a single bit. But hear me out before you send me off never to be heard from again. Murray had an amazing 2014 season for the Dallas Cowboys. He led the league in yards (1,845), carries (392), and touchdowns (13). His yardage was the 17th most recorded in a single season and the number of carries he had tied him for seventh most all time in a single season with Terrell Davis and Ricky Williams. My only problem with that is looking at the other eight players that have carried the ball as much or more as Murray did in 2014, only nine more 1,000 yard seasons were recorded out of the 38 total seasons that followed those record-breaking seasons. In 2014, Murray earned $1,406,000 and his cap hit was close to $1.6 million.
2 Dez Bryant, Wide Receiver
The second member of the Dallas Cowboys to make the list is another of the biggest weapons on the offensive side of the ball. Wide receiver Dez Bryant earned a base salary of just $1.78 million a year ago with $1,118,5000 more coming as a signing bonus. All he did each week when he stepped onto the field was put on a show. He made 88 catches a year ago for 1,320 yards and NFL-best 16 touchdowns and now has 381 catches for 5,424 yards in his career with 56 touchdowns. He has the kind of playmaking ability only a few players have at the position, which will warrant him a massive pay raise from his 2014 salary.
1 Ndamukong Suh, Defensive Tackle
The top free agent on the market this season is the most intimidating player in the NFL today. Suh just completed the final year on his 5-year, $64 million rookie deal and the Detroit Lions were already faced with a $22 million cap hit this season. They won’t be able to afford the franchise tag, which would far exceed $25 million. With Suh’s contract being voided five days after the Super Bowl, the market for him will be an interesting one. Teams will have to decide if his incredible play (36 sacks in 78 games) is worth all the drama that his on-field antics have been known to create.