There sure seems to be a lot of quality players who will become free agents at the end of this season. In some cases, like with the San Francisco 49ers, Dallas Cowboys and Denver Broncos, there are at least two team members that have landed on this list. This is sure to add some extra drama and intrigue to the offseasons of their management and fans.
Consider the situation that awaits the Denver Broncos. Three of Peyton Manning’s primary weapons are at risk. Demaryius Thomas, Julius Thomas and Wes Welker all have contracts that are about to expire.
It will be interesting to also see what kind of value is placed on some of the higher priced veteran players, like Ndamukong Su, Carson Palmer, Wes Welker and Frank Gore. The money and level of interest might not be as strong.
In either case, this list of the 20 players who are about to become free agents will offer a good glimpse at what star players might become available at the end of this current season. Salaries reflect this year’s cap hit.
20. Jordan Cameron, TE – Cleveland Browns ($1.6 million)
Jordan Cameron came into his own last season on a Cleveland Browns team that struggled with consistency at the quarterback position and in the win-loss column as well. Cameron managed to catch 80 passes for 917 yards and seven touchdowns as the second option behind wide receiver Josh Gordon, earning him a trip to the 2013 Pro Bowl game. Now the question remains whether 2013 was a fluke or a step in the right direction for the young tight end.
This season, Cameron has struggled with injuries, including a shoulder injury and his third concussion in three seasons. His relevance is slipping while he remains sidelined with his pedestrian statistics of 17 receptions for 291 yards and only one touchdown. He needs a strong finish to draw more interest in his services.
19. Wes Welker, WR – Denver Broncos ($7.6 million)
Last year, in his first season with the Denver Broncos, Wes Welker was able to offer Peyton Manning many of the same clutch third down drive extending plays that he was famous for in New England. In only 13 games, Welker caught 73 passes for 778 yards and 10 touchdowns. He proved that even at 33 years of age, he could still make clutch plays on third down and goal line situations.
So far in 2014, Welker started the season by losing two games due to suspension and has had a rough start. He has only 376 yards of receiving on 41 receptions with two touchdowns. Welker can still be a dependable receiver in the slot, but his current salary of $7 million plus a year is starting to seem quite lofty as the season wears on.
18. David Harris, LB – New York Jets ($7 million)
David Harris has been a steady performer for the New York Jets the last few years. With games still left to play in 2014, Harris has accumulated 346 tackles and eight sacks in the last three seasons combined. He has racked up 860 tackles and 27.5 sacks in just about eight seasons of play. His productivity and high level of play was rewarded with a Pro Bowl selection in 2009.
Harris is consistent performer and seems to be playing well at this stage of his career. It might be a little hard to match his current salary, but his productivity and durability might command some respect when he hits the open market. He will be turning 31 in a couple of months but the “hitman”, on pace to top 120 tackles for the third year in a row, still has plenty of hard-nosed tackles left to give.
17. Mike Iupati, G – San Francisco 49ers ($4.6 million)
Mike Iupati has been a big reason why the San Francisco 49ers and Frank Gore have been able to be effective running between the tackles. The big guard was the first interior offensive lineman drafted in the first round (17th selection) by the 49ers since 1968. He has been selected to the Pro Bowl twice, in 2012 and 2013, quickly becoming one of the top guards in the NFC.
Iupati has missed five games in the last two years and has struggled to be a consistent force so far this season. The 49ers’ running game has also struggled this season and it doesn’t bode well for Iupati in a contract year. He is still only 27 years old and is incredibly nimble and manages to make devastating downfield blocks despite carrying over 330 lbs of weight. When healthy, he is worth every penny but his health remains a big question.
16. Terrance Knighton, DT – Denver Broncos ($2.8 million)
After a torrid start with the Jacksonville Jaguars, where he was selected to the 2009 Pro Football Weekly All-Rookie Team, Knighton’s productivity slipped until he recently became a member of the Denver Broncos. Last year, in his first season with the Broncos, Knighton was a major factor in helping the Broncos make it to the Super Bowl. He finished the season with three quarterback sacks and added a key sack on Tom Brady in the AFC Championship game.
Knighton, nicknamed “Pot Roast”, has had problems with his weight and going easy on the pot roast throughout his career. He is big, listed at 330 pounds, and is rather athletic for his size, making him a valuable commodity in the NFL. Knighton is only 28 years old and given the right situation, he has plenty of potential yet to give.
15. Antrel Rolle, S – New York Giants ($9.3 million)
Antrel Rolle has been a steady performer for the New York Giants since he moved over from the Arizona Cardinals in 2010. The three-time Pro Bowler has also managed to amass 96 tackles in a season three years in a row. He also has totals of 68 passes defended, 658 tackles, 26 interceptions and eight forced fumbles in his 10-year NFL career.
Rolle is having a solid year up to this point with 70 tackles, seven passes defended and three interceptions. He continues to be the iron man of the Giants defense, playing in every game since coming to the Giants. The dilemma is that Rolle is in the final year of a healthy five-year, $37.1 million contract and is now 31 years old. Rolle has made it public that he wants to finish his career with the Giants, but at what cost?
14. Jason Pierre-Paul, DE – New York Giants ($4.6 million)
It seems like Jason Pierre-Paul has been terrorizing quarterbacks in the NFL for quite some time now, yet he was only drafted in 2010. Pierre-Paul has already been to two Pro Bowls (2011, 2012) and even has a Super Bowl ring (2011). On top of that, he has already amassed 36.5 sacks, 269 tackles, 28 pass deflections, seven forced fumbles and two interceptions in his brief five year NFL career.
This season, Pierre-Paul has made his share of tackles (61) and pass deflections (7), but has only seven quarterback sacks. He missed games last season due to injury but seems to have come back to form this season. Earlier this year, Pierre-Paul had two sacks in a losing effort against the Dallas Cowboys . He is only 25 years old and has plenty of time to return to the form that produced 16.5 sacks in 2011 or he might be considered too much of a risk.
13. Jeremy Maclin, WR – Philadelphia Eagles ($5.4 million)
The departure of DeSean Jackson has paved the way for Jeremy Maclin to become the number one receiver of the Philadelphia Eagles. Before this season, Maclin has been consistently average with over 60 receptions and 850 yards of receiving in each of his last three seasons. He has scored 36 touchdowns in five NFL seasons while averaging 13.7 yards per reception. Fortunately for Maclin, his best season has come in a contract year.
In 2014, Maclin already has 1,109 yards of receiving in only 13 games played. His current totals of 73 receptions, 10 touchdowns and 15.0 yards per reception are already personal bests with three games left to play. Maclin is only 26 years old and despite coming back from a serious ACL injury, he has become quite relevant again. He is now one of the premier receivers in the league, but it remains to be seen if he will get paid like one?
12. Devin McCourty, S – New England Patriots ($5.1 million)
Devin McCourty has been a steady performer in the New England Patriots secondary for almost five years now. All McCourty has done is average over 70 tackles, 11 passes defended and over three interceptions per season. He was recognized with a Pro Bowl selection in 2010. McCourty has also returned kicks, scoring a touchdown on a 104-yard return in 2010. It seems like McCourty can perform wherever he is asked to play.
McCourty has been named to the AP All-Pro team as a cornerback in 2010 and also as a safety in 2013. He is versatile, athletic and only 27 years old, so there are plenty of plays left in his body. Any team looking for a safety who can cover and tackle will not be disappointed in McCourty, but it remains to be seen if his great consistency will earn him a raise.
11. Tramon Williams, CB – Green Bay Packers ($9.5 million)
Tramon Williams went from being an undrafted free agent signed by the Houston Texans in 2006, to getting his chance by intercepting five passes in nine starts for the Green Bay Packers in 2008. Now in his eighth NFL season, Williams has amassed 450 tackles, 27 interceptions and 110 passes defended throughout his career. He earned a Pro Bowl selection in 2010 and helped the Packers reach the Super Bowl with three key interceptions in their playoff run that included a pick-six.
In 2014, Williams has continued his solid play with 56 tackles, 10 passes defended and 2 interceptions in 12 games. Williams might watch Richard Sherman and Patrick Peterson play enjoy most of the trips to Hawaii, but he has been a solid performer and spectacular when the Packers have needed it most. At 31 years of age, he can still impact a game, but the real questions might be how much and at what cost.
10. Frank Gore, RB – San Francisco 49ers ($6.5 million)
The most consistent offensive performer on the 49ers for the past eight seasons, Gore runs with a passion and ferocity that belies his age and makes up for any loss in speed in his 31-year-old body. Last year, Gore had his seventh 1,000 yard rushing season, finishing with 1,128 yards and nine touchdowns in 276 carries. He was also selected to participate in the Pro Bowl for the third consecutive season.
Although yardage and scores have not come easily for Gore this season, he still has 775 yards of rushing and has averaged almost four yards per carry in 13 games. Gore has been a relative bargain for the 49ers, making just under $6.5 million a year the past couple of seasons. The 49ers have drafted Marcus Lattimore and Carlos Hyde the past couple of years, but Gore still remains the feature back and a good value.
9. Ryan Mathews, RB – San Diego Chargers ($3.6 million)
Ryan Mathews has finally proven to be worth moving up in the draft in 2010 and only has to prove that he can stay in games. In five years, Mathews has had only one full season of play (2013), where he did gain over 1,200 yards on the ground (1,255). He has rushed for over 1,000 yards twice and has 23 rushing touchdowns and over 5,000 yards in combined rushing and receiving yardage in his five year career.
Mathews is certainly a difference maker for the Chargers when he can remain on the field. If he can remain healthy for an extended period of time he can be a valuable addition to any team looking for a back who runs hard and has enough speed to break off some longer runs. Even though he has been beset by injuries, most of them have been to his upper body keeping his legs relatively fresh.
8. Darelle Revis, CB – New England Patriots ($7 million)
Darelle, “Revis Island”, Revis is still one of the premier cornerbacks in the league even as he approaches 30 years of age. He has been to five Pro Bowls, with his most recent selection coming last year, and has been the AFC Defensive Player of the Year (2009). Revis also has 385 tackles, 122 passes defended, 23 interceptions and six forced fumbles in what amounts to seven seasons of work, despite having most opponents throw to the other side.
Revis managed to escape Tampa Bay for the New England Patriots and the move has paid dividends. In 13 games played so far this season, Revis has 14 passes defended and two interceptions despite seeing the ball get thrown the other way. Although Richard Sherman and Patrick Peterson have garnered most of the attention over in the NFC, Revis is playing like he still wants to be on the same stage.
7. Julius Thomas, TE – Denver Broncos ($741,000)
Julius Thomas has quickly become one of the better receiving tight ends in the NFL today. A productive basketball player in college at Portland State, Thomas started playing collegiate football as a senior in 2010. Still learning the game of football, he had a breakout season last year, catching 65 passes for 788 yards and 12 touchdowns, after seeing very little action in his first two seasons as a pro.
Thomas has had some struggles playing with consistency this season, but has still managed to find his way into the end zone 12 times in the 10 games he has played. Despite his struggles this season, Thomas has still been a bargain for the Broncos and also remains a player full of the potential to be greater. He likely will get a raise, but the jury is still out on just how high of a ceiling he actually has.
6. Justin Houston, LB – Kansas City Chiefs ($1.6 million)
Justin Houston has been one of the most explosive edge rushers in the NFL during the last three seasons. In the 40 games he has played in during this span, he has accumulated 36 sacks. Houston has been enough of a disruptive force to be selected to the last two Pro Bowls (2012, 2013). He is well known in the AFC West where opponents know their game plans must include a way to prevent Houston from reaching the quarterback.
This season, Houston already has 16 sacks and even has two forced fumbles to add to his already impressive resume. Houston, who was selected in the third round of the 2011 NFL Draft, has been a bargain for Kansas City and pass rushers off the edge are not exactly commonplace in the NFL. The question is not “if” Houston will get a raise, but “how much” of a raise he will get.
5. Randall Cobb, WR – Green Bay Packers ($1 million)
Randall Cobb has established himself as one of the more exciting big-play receivers in the league. Cobb broke into the NFL as a kick returner, until he came into his own in his second season on the Green Bay Packers. Cobb went on to have a breakout season (2012) with 80 receptions and 954 yards and stands to be in position to improve on those numbers this years.
So far this season, Cobb has 65 catches for 922 yards with 10 touchdowns and an average of 14.2 yards per reception. After the Packers started the season 1-2 and quarterback Aaron Rodgers told the world to relax, Cobb has responded with four games with more than 100-yards of receiving. Considering Cobb’s salary represents just over a million dollar cap hit for the Packers this year, it will be safe to say Cobb will be looking at a raise.
4. Ndamukong Suh, DT – Detroit Lions ($22.4 million)
Ndamukong Suh is in his fifth NFL season and has already been to three Pro Bowls up to this point. Despite commanding many double-teams, Suh still has produced 223 tackles and 33 quarterback sacks up to this point in his career. Sure, Suh has racked up over $200,000 in fines for his disorderly conduct on the field of play, but there is very little argument about his ability and the productivity he has had so far in his career.
Suh reminds many of Warren Sapp with his nasty disposition and ability to penetrate to make plays in both the running and passing games. With three games left to play this season, Suh already has 36 tackles and 5.5 quarterback sacks. Suh should still command some big bucks, but might want to enjoy the final year of his current five-year, $64.5 million contract.
3. Dez Bryant, WR – Dallas Cowboys ($3.1 million)
Dez Bryant might have his difficulties handling losing and poor play, but nobody can question his production or work ethic. Bryant is having his third straight 1,000 yard receiving season and has scored an incredible 50 touchdowns in the 72 NFL games he has played. In his five NFL seasons, Bryant has 366 receptions for 5,138 yards and has averaged 14.0 yards per reception.
Bryant is on track to eclipse 1,200 yards of receiving for his third straight year and might even have his third straight season with at least 12 touchdown receptions. Bryant’s blend of speed and athleticism coupled with his ability to make clutch grabs, particularly on high balls) make him a valuable commodity in the NFL. The Cowboys will face some tough decisions this offseason with both Bryant and DeMarco Murray.
2. DeMarco Murray, RB – Dallas Cowboys ($1.6 million)
Tony Romo has been having a nice season, but the Dallas Cowboy’s success in 2014 has been due in large part to the running of DeMarco Murray. This is only Murray’s fourth season in the league, but he already has over 4,000 yards of rushing. He came into his own in 2013 after finishing with 1,121 yards of rushing and nine touchdowns. He has responded by following that up with what has been a career defining season so far this year.
Currently the NFL’s leading rusher, Murray already has 1,606 yards of rushing with a nice 179 yard output in his last game against the Chicago Bears. He has equaled his 2013 output of nine touchdowns with three games left to better that mark. Running backs might be losing some of their luster in the pass-happy NFL these days but without Adrian Peterson in the picture, Murray has played his way into being in a class by himself.
1. Demaryius Thomas, WR – Denver ($4.7 million)
Demaryius Thomas has become one of the elite receivers in the NFL and his emergence made it easier for the Denver Broncos to let Eric Decker go this offseason. Barring no injury or unforeseen event, Thomas should finish this current season with his third consecutive year with over 1,400 yards of receiving. He more than likely will be named to his third consecutive Pro Bowl for his production this year.
Thomas currently has 90 receptions for 1,266 yards with 10 touchdowns and still has three games left to improve these stats. He has the size and speed to break down defenders and the consistency and durability to make his $4.7 million salary look like a bargain. Given his productivity for the Broncos this year, it might be a mistake they were unable to lock him up prior to the start of the season.
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