Predicting How Much Money the Top 25 NFL Free Agents Will Get This Offseason
Predicting Free Agent Contracts This Offseason
The free agency market opens for business on March 11 and for some organizations, it is just as important, if not more important than, the 2014 NFL Draft. The brief window of opportunity allows teams to cut the dead wood from their roster in an effort to free up cap space, add depth to depleted areas, and re-sign key players who are coming to the end of their respective contracts.
For the players entering free agency, testing the market may lead to a change of scenery and, more importantly, a significant pay increase from previous deals. Coincidentally, most players tend to play their best football during the final year of their contract. Of course, to suggest money as the motivating factor would be entirely unjustified.
Some teams are set to have a busy free agency period, while others will take a relaxed approach. The Indianapolis Colts, for example, have 22 players out of contract this offseason – many of whom are starters – and are rumored to have a cap space of more than $35 million, meaning owner Jim Irsay and general manger Ryan Grigson won’t be having an “offseason” this year. The St. Louis Rams, on the other hand, have only eight players hitting the market and extra cap space of around $15 million, suggesting high-profile moves will be few and far between at the Edward Jones Dome.
With several big names out of contract in the coming months, here is a breakdown of the top 25 free agents hitting the market and a prediction of what they are likely to earn from their next deals.
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25. Jared Veldheer
One of the lesser known free agent stars, third year offensive tackle Jared Veldheer has quietly put together an impressive stat sheet with the Oakland Raiders.
The latest word on the situation is that Oakland is looking to re-sign the 26 year old now that his four year, $2.6 million rookie contract has came to an end. With an abundance of cap space, the Raiders should have no problem matching any potential offers that come Veldheer’s way.
24. Henry Melton
The Chicago Bears used the franchise tag on defensive end Henry Melton in 2012 and his performances earned a first trip to the Pro Bowl for the 27 year old. His season was cut short this year after suffering an ACL tear in Week 3 and health concerns could see him leave Chicago during the offseason.
Melton earned $8,450,000 in 2013 and will need to take a pay cut if he wants to remain on the Bears’ roster.
23. Michael Johnson
Defensive end Michael Johnson stepped up to the plate after Cincinnati Bengals star Geno Atkins was lost for almost half of the season due to injury. He had 56 combined tackles, 3.5 sacks, two forced fumbles, and made an interception.
The Bengals placed the 26 year old under the franchise tag last year at a cost of $11 million and keeping him on the roster next season may require a similar amount of cap space.
22. Eugene Monroe
The Baltimore Ravens have a number of players entering the free agent market and none more important than left tackle Eugene Monroe. There is talk of the Ravens hoping to re-sign the 26 year old, but there is a high chance he will become a cap causality for the cash-strapped franchise.
Philadelphia Eagles’ Jason Peters is the NFL’s highest paid tackle at $12.9 million per year and Monroe will be looking to sign a deal worth more than $10 million.
21. Jason Hatcher
The 31-year-old defensive end, Jason Hatcher, finished the season with 11 sacks and two forced fumbles for the Dallas Cowboys, earning the first Pro Bowl selection of his eight-year career. Due to cap restraints, Hatcher is destined for pastures new and is likely to sign a short veteran contract worth $3 million to $4 million per year.
20. Donald Butler
San Diego Chargers linebacker Donald Butler is going to enter free agency, but the franchise seems keen to keep him on the roster with contract negotiations ongoing.
Butler had 84 tackles and an interception during the regular season, then added a second pick and a forced fumble during the playoffs. If the Chargers are to retain Butler’s services, they must tie him to a long-term contract worth more than $20 million.
19. Alex Mack
Two-time Pro Bowl center Alex Mack has been a consistent performer for the anything but consistent Cleveland Browns over the past five years and is widely regarded as one of the best offensive linemen in the NFL.
If the Browns are to re-sign Mack during the offseason, it will be via a long-term contract, as using the franchise tag would cost the organization an astronomical $11 million (Nick Mangold is the highest paid center in the league at $9.1 million). A five year deal worth around $8 million per season seems the most likely outcome for the Berkeley alumnus.
18. Branden Albert
Kansas City Chiefs left tackle Branden Albert is one of the best pass protectors in the league and a key component of the Chiefs’ offensive line when healthy. Set to hit free agency, Albert has struggled with injury for the past couple of seasons and backup Donald Stephenson proved to be a reliable option this year.
The Chiefs also have Eric Fisher, who they selected in the first round of the 2013 draft, meaning Albert’s time in Missouri could be coming to a close.
A tackle of Albert’s stature would usually command a hefty price tag, but teams may be reluctant to offer a 5-year, $30 million contract to a player unable to stay fit for a full season.
17. Alterraun Verner
Cornerback Alterraun Verner is certainly the best potential free agent on the Tennessee Titans' roster. The 25 year old had a Pro Bowl-caliber season in 2013, amassing 57 combined tackles and five interceptions -- third highest in the league.
With several solid cornerbacks already signed and in desperate search of a capable quarterback, the Titans may let their young star test the market where he is sure to receive offers of $30 million or more.
16. Michael Bennett
Re-signing defensive end Michael Bennett should be the No. 1 priority for the Seattle Seahawks, but they are sure to face competition for the 28 year old's signature.
The Bears are rumored to be interested in Bennett when he hits the market and a bidding war could see a sizeable contract come his way. With players like Cameron Wake and Darnell Dockett making more than $5 million per year, Bennett should command a similar price.
15. T.J. Ward
Cleveland Browns safety T.J. Ward enjoyed the best season of his four-year career at just the right time. Soon to enter free agency, Ward accumulated 112 combined tackles, 1.5 sacks, and two interceptions as the Browns finished bottom of the AFC North with a lowly 4-12 record.
At 27 years of age, Ward is entering the prime of his playing days and should have a number of offers on the table during the offseason. Another point of interest is the possibility of the Browns exercising their franchise tag. The projected cost for a tagged safety in 2014 is around $8 million and could prove to be a viable option for the franchise.
14. Karlos Dansby
Linebacker Karlos Dansby returned to the Arizona Cardinals on a one year deal worth $2.25 million after spending two seasons with the Miami Dolphins. He led the team with 122 tackles, sacked the quarterback six times, forced a fumble, and returned two of his four interceptions for touchdowns.
Despite a stellar 2013 campaign, the 32 year old is unlikely to attract substantial offers in free agency and it would make sense for him to remain a part of Arizona’s great defensive unit. He will likely earn a similar amount to this season, but should be tied down for more than a single year.
13. Ben Tate
Ben Tate had a breakout year in 2013 with the Houston Texans and is set to earn himself a big money contract during free agency. After spending the first two years of his career behind Pro Bowl running back Arian Foster, Tate seized the moment following Foster’s injury, clocking 771 rushing yards and four touchdowns in 14 games.
The 25 year old has already stated the likelihood of him changing teams this offseason and with starting-caliber running backs a precious commodity in the NFL, Tate should be set for a four or five year deal worth around $25-30 million.
12. Brent Grimes
Cornerback Brent Grimes had a great season with the Dolphins and earned his second trip to the Pro Bowl in four years. He had 60 total tackles on the year and led the team with four interceptions, one of which was returned for a 94-yard touchdown.
The Dolphins could choose to use their franchise tag on Grimes at a cost of around $11 million or may offer the 30 year old a contract similar to that of Dolphins' safety Reshad Jones, which would see Grimes earn around $30 million over four years with $15 million guaranteed.
11. Vontae Davis
Colts cornerback Vontae Davis was bought over from the Dolphins prior to the 2012 season in exchange for a second-round draft pick. His first year in Indiana was largely successful and despite periods on inconsistency and nagging injuries in 2013, Davis remains one of the premier cornerbacks in the league, and is certainly the best on the Colts’ roster.
All signs point towards Davis re-signing with the organization and the player has expressed a desire to return next year, but the cost is certain to rise from the $1.8 million cap hit in 2013. The Colts are rumored to have an abundance of cap space heading into the offseason and Davis is likely to receive a lengthy contract extension worth around $40 million.
10. Knowshon Moreno
After a rocky start to his NFL career, Broncos running back Knowshon Moreno came into his own during 2013, breaking the 1,000-yard barrier and scoring 10 touchdowns on Denver’s potent offense. The Broncos have several high-profile free agents this offseason and with Montee Ball and Ronnie Hillman waiting in the wings, re-signing Moreno may not be a high priority for the franchise.
The issue with Moreno is that one great season may not be enough to earn a blockbuster contract. He played just 15 games in two years between 2011-12 and his numbers this year can be partly attributed to the fact that he is playing on arguably the best offense of all time. If he does hit free agency, a long-term, $35 million contract would seem likely.
9. Jared Allen
Jared Allen has started every game for the Minnesota Vikings over the past six seasons, but questions remain over the 31 year old’s future. He made $17 million in 2013 and despite performing to a high standard, the Vikings are unlikely to offer a contract of that size this time around.
The chances of Allen relocating were heightened in October when defensive end Brian Robinson signed a four-year contract extension and Allen will not be short of suitors in the free agent market. Despite his age, Allen remains a solid pass rusher and is likely to receive short-term offers in the $10-15 million area.
8. Brian Orakpo
Brian Orakpo was one of the few bright spots on the Washington Redskins' 2013 roster, making a fantastic comeback having missed 14 games last season. He finished the season with 60 combined tackles, 10 sacks and an interception return for a touchdown.
With pass-rushing linebackers at a premium, expect the three-time Pro-Bowler to command a $40 million contract this offseason.
7. Anquan Boldin
Traded from the Ravens in exchange for a sixth-round pick in the 2013 NFL draft, Anquan Boldin had a sensational year with the San Francisco 49ers. He led the team with 85 receptions for 1,179 yards and his seven receiving touchdowns was bested only by tight end Vernon Davis.
Approaching 34 years of age, Boldin is unlikely to receive a lengthy contract offer from any potential suitors and is expected to sign a short-term contract not too dissimilar to the $6 million he received this season. With many high-profile players hitting free agency this offseason, it remains unclear whether the Niners will be willing to replicate Boldin’s current deal.
6. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie
Six-year veteran Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie had another standout year in 2013 and may find himself on a third different team in as many years if his free agency plans come to fruition.
Drafted by the Cardinals in 2008, Rodgers-Cromartie spent three years in Glendale before joining the Eagles in 2011.
Now with the Broncos on a one-year, $5 million deal, the one-time Pro Bowler admits that a long-term contract could lure him away from Denver and judging by other cornerback contracts, Rodgers-Cromartie could secure a deal worth around $35 million.
5. Aqib Talib
New England Patiots cornerback Aqib Talib returned to form in 2013 having played just 10 games over the previous two seasons. He made 41 combined tackles and four interceptions during the regular season and most New England natives will argue that the Patriots would be playing at Super Bowl XLVIII on Sunday if Talib hadn’t been forced from the Championship game against the Broncos thanks to a questionable hit from Wes Welker.
Talib signed a one-year, $5 million contract with the Patriots prior to last season and a similar offer should be made in the coming months. Talib’s talents warrant a contract bigger than most cornerbacks in the league, but the question marks surrounding his health loom too large for teams to take the risk.
4. Eric Decker
Wide receiver Eric Decker is one of several Broncos players set to enter the free agent market in a couple of months and viewed by some as a luxury, Decker could be on his way out of Mile High coming off the best season of his four-year career, potentially with a Super Bowl ring in hand.
The 26 year old caught a career-high 87 passes for 1,288 yards and 11 touchdowns during the Broncos' record-breaking 2013 regular season, and formed a formidable receiving unit alongside Demaryius Thomas, Welker and Julius Thomas.
Arguably the best wide receiver available, Denver will need to use its franchise tag if they want to keep Decker next season. Notable free agent pickups at wide receiver over the last couple of years include Mike Wallace and Vincent Jackson, who signed deals worth $60 million and $55,555,555, respectively. Decker will be expecting a similar offer should he hit the market.
3. Jairus Byrd
Buffalo Bills safety Jairus Byrd is one of the hottest free agent prospects this offseason and several teams are set to compete for his signature if the Bills are not able to reach an agreement with the three-time Pro-Bowler. Byrd had a combined 48 tackles in 2013 and made four interceptions during his fifth year in the league.
The Bills placed the franchise tag on their star man last season at a cost of $6.9 million and will have to offer much more this time around. The Redskins and Atlanta Falcons are among the teams rumored to be interested in Byrd and a player of his stature is worth a $40 million contract.
2. Greg Hardy
Carolina Panthers linebacker Greg Hardy had a standout season in 2013, earning himself a place on Deion Sanders’ Pro Bowl roster and a huge contract moving forward. The 25 year old recorded 59 tackles during the regular season and his 15 sacks was third highest in the league behind Robert Quinn and Robert Mathis.
“The Kraken” has not shied away from the topic of free agency, openly stating that he wants to get paid as much as possible by whoever is willing to pay it. This is bad news for the cash-strapped Panthers, who simply cannot compete with the mega deals of $60-$70 million expected to come Hardy’s way during the offseason.
A potential short-term fix could see the Panthers use their franchise tag to keep Hardy through 2014 at a cost of around $11 million. This would give the organization some time to cut the dead wood from the roster and free up cap space.
1. Jimmy Graham
New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham's future is undoubtedly the most interesting situation as we approach free agency. He had another stellar season in 2013, leading the NFL with 16 touchdown receptions and amassing 1,215 yards from 86 catches.
In the final year of his rookie contract, Graham earned $1.3 million in 2013 and is set for a substantial pay increase heading into next season. Talk of the Saints using their franchise tag to retain his services was branded “unfortunate” by the 27 year old who is looking for a long-term contract.
If the franchise tag is used, the organization will hope to pay the going rate for a tight end of around $ 6 million. If – as expected – Graham's representatives argue that their client should be paid as a wide receiver, the figure could rise to more than $10 million.
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