With NFL free agency coming up there are a lot of high profile names that could be switching uniforms next season. Many guys helped their stock and had huge years that will result in massive payouts, and a few others are going to most likely need to take a pay cut to get signed. After all is said and done, this will be a wild free agency period and I think that a lot of big name guys will end up on different teams than this past season. It is definitely something to watch.
Von Miller OLB, Denver Broncos
Von Miller had one of the most dominant performances we have seen in Super Bowl history in the Broncos’ win over the Panthers in SB50. He took home MVP honors with 6 tackles including 2.5 sacks and was a dominant force against Cam Newton and the Carolina offense. This could not come at a better time because his value skyrocketed from an already high number. I doubt the Broncos will let him hit the open market, but the extremely high value will have a direct impact on how they handle their many other free agents, especially with Peyton Manning’s contract still looming before he makes a decision about retirement.
Brock Osweiler QB, Denver Broncos
Brock Osweiler took full advantage of his opportunity to play when Peyton Manning injured his foot, and was having a bad year. Osweiler didn’t light up the stat sheet but he showed everyone that he could manage a great game. Despite only playing in 8 games this season, he made a great case for himself as far as being a good NFL starting QB. It is a similar situation to when Matt Cassell replaced Tom Brady in 2008, in which Cassell made a killing the following season. The Patriots used the franchise tag on him and then traded him to the Kansas City Chiefs where he signed a 6 year, $63 million contract with $28 million guaranteed. Cassel played an entire season with New England and led the team to an 11-5 record which is a much bigger sample size than Osweiler has but with so many teams looking for a reliable option at quarterback, don’t be surprised if he gets a few big offers. I would expect the Broncos to do everything they can to resign him but testing the market might be the better option for his wallet.
Alshon Jeffery WR, Chicago Bears
The Bears had extremely high expectations for Alshon Jeffery this year after having such a great 2014 campaign and after the Bears traded away fellow receiver Brandon Marshall. Jeffery battled injuries all season long and only recorded 4 touchdowns in 9 total games which will make his value drop from what it could have been. With the Bears already saying that they won’t resign Matt Forte, they will most likely make a push to keep Jeffery in Chicago, but I don’t see it as one of their top priorities. The Bears drafted Kevin White from West Virginia and they have a lot invested in his success so breaking the bank to keep Jeffery might not be the smartest financial decision. The Bears could use the franchise tag to see if Jeffery and White could work together for a season and reevaluate him next offseason, but $14 million is a lot of money for a guy who may not reach 1,000 yards receiving. I could see the New England Patriots making a solid offer to get Jeffery in the mix with some of the quicker receivers on their roster and the same goes for the Carolina Panthers, who are very thin at the position. Matching Jeffery with Kelvin Benjamin coming back next season would be a similar situation to how it was with both Jeffery and Marshall in Chicago, which would greatly help Cam Newton. When healthy, he is one of the top receivers in the league and I wouldn’t be surprised if he signed a short term deal with a contender to raise his long term value. Jeffery just turned 26 yesterday and he has plenty of time to make a lot of money. But after this past season he needs an opportunity to play at a high level before cashing out and signing a long term deal.
Matt Forte RB, Chicago Bears
Keeping it in Chicago, the Bears have already told Forte that they will not resign him and that his career as a Bear is over. Forte is a tremendous multipurpose back who can both run between the tackles and catch passes out of the backfield. He has some mileage on him, and at age 30 I don’t see him going anywhere other than a championship contender. With LeGarrette Blount being a free agent and coming off of a season ending hip injury I don’t see him getting resigned in New England which opens up a roster spot for Forte. He fits the same mold that Corey Dillon did before he played with New England and I’m sure that Forte wants the opportunity to compete for a title before he calls it a career.
Olivier Vernon DL, Miami Dolphins
The Miami Dolphins have invested a lot of money in their defense, more notably Ndamakong Suh. Vernon has been lined up across from Cameron Wake for his entire Dolphins career and is entering free agency with an extremely high price tag. After 7.5 sacks and a career high 61 tackles, a lot of teams will be looking to add an edge rusher with his ability. The Dolphins will most likely not be able to resign him so look for many teams will try and break the bank so sign him. Look for the New York Giants to be the front runners for adding him. Jason Pierre-Paul is set to become a free agent, and it is unclear if they will resign him after the fiasco that came with his hand injury last offseason. Vernon is just 25 years old and he can become the effective Giants pass rusher like Michael Strahan, Justin Tuck and Osi Umeniora were during the several years of Giants success.
Eric Weddle S, San Diego Chargers
Eric Weddle is almost guaranteed to hit the free agent market after a somewhat messy ending to his time in San Diego this season. At the age of 31 he is towards the end of his career and will most likely look to sign with a contending team and look for an opportunity to win a title before he hangs up the cleats. Two likely teams would be the Pittsburgh Steelers or the Dallas Cowboys. Both of these teams are set to be in a good position to compete for a title in the next couple of years and Weddle would add a veteran presence to both of these defensive backfields. He will most likely need to sign a cheaper contract than he is worth, but if winning is a priority it is going to have to be a sacrifice he is willing to make. But if he takes the money look for the Oakland Raiders to be an option. The Raiders are up and coming and looking to replace Charles Woodson at the safety position. It is tough to pick them to compete for their division yet with both Kansas City and Denver still around, but if Weddle wants to stick it to San Diego, why not go to a division rival?
Jason Pierre-Paul DE, New York Giants
It’s been a tough year for JPP and I expect his salary to take a huge hit from what it was before the Giants used the franchise tag on him a year ago. Since his hand was mangled in a fireworks accident last July 4th, he nearly was unable to play again. He underwent a procedure to surgically repair his hand this week to give him the ability to wear a 4 fingered glove next year as opposed to the club he wore this season, but there has not been any reports of whether or not the procedure was successful. He will need to take a major pay cut from any team willing to take a shot at him because the accident left him as a speed rusher that cannot shed blocks or tackle. One team I could see taking a look at him would be the Miami Dolphins. It is unlikely that they will be able to resign Olivier Vernon and if they could have JPP on the opposite side of Cameron Wake and Ndamakong Suh in the middle, all JPP has to do is be an edge rusher and let Suh and Wake take care of the tackling. Pierre-Paul’s agent will be looking for a big deal but with so much uncertainty in his abilities it will most likely not be until after this season. And if the Dolphins can sign him for very cheap it would be a good move for both sides. I don’t expect a long term deal, but I could see a 1 year deal with a team option for the 2nd year.
Doug Martin RB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The market for a running back this offseason will be high with players like Matt Forte, Lamar Miller and Chris Ivory set to hit free agency but a guy like Doug Martin has flown under the radar so far. He had over 1,400 yards in the last year of his rookie deal and put himself in a position to “hit the jackpot” this offseason. He was the NFL’s 2nd leading rusher this season and a lot of teams will look to snag him away from the Bucs, who are still very interested in keeping him. But with Charles Sims having a good year I doubt they will spend a crazy amount of money to hang onto him. When he is healthy he is a great running back but he has had injury problems in the past. I could see him going to a team like the Washington Redskins, who could lose Alfred Morris. I think that Martin is an upgrade from Morris and if they resign quarterback Kirk Cousins, which I believe they will, he could help improve the running game and help a playoff team get over the hump and win a playoff game.
Malik Jackson DE, Denver Broncos
Malik Jackson may have played himself into a massive payday this past season. He did a tremendous job on the d-line along with DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller but I doubt the Broncos will be willing to pay him the kind of money he will be offered this offseason. A team to watch for him could be the Cleveland Browns, who need help on the defensive line. The Browns had a tough year defensively and they could look to add a pass rusher to go opposite of Paul Kruger. Jackson could play both inside and outside of the d-line and could be a similar player to Jabaal Sheard, who the Browns lost in free agency after the 2014 season. Another team is the San Diego Chargers. It will be tough for the Broncos if they were to lose Jackson to a division rival but the Chargers desperately need a dominant defensive lineman. If the Chargers go with the rebuilding route they will most likely look to the draft to pick up a d-lineman but don’t be surprised if they make a splash in free agency to try and get one more championship caliber year for Phillip Rivers and Antonio Gates, who do not have the time to wait around for a rebuild.
Danny Trevathan ILB, Denver Broncos
Trevathan is another one from Wade Phillips’ defense who will most likely not be a Bronco next season. Both he and Brandon Marshall are unrestricted free agents and the Broncos will likely keep the cheaper of the two, which will be Marshall. That means that Trevathan will hit the market and get paid big money. The San Francisco 49ers would be a good fit for Trevathan and I think are the right team for him as well. The 49ers had a tough year defensively and are still looking for a guy to replace Patrick Willis in the middle of the defense. Trevathan has played both inside and outside in a 3-4 and 4-3 so whoever Chip Kelly decides to call the defense will have the option to put him in either spot.
This spring and summer will be very interesting regarding how teams handle their free agency. Teams can officially use the franchise tag on players starting tomorrow and it will go all the way until free agency begins March 9th. These are just a few of the bigger name players who will make a splash this offseason and it is setting up for a great 2016 season!