Tuesday March 10th at 4 p.m. Eastern Time all contracts of NFL players who have not been resigned come to an end. They will then be free agents, able to sign with any team which offers them a contract. From April 30th to May 2nd, the NFL will hold its annual draft. These two events offer the possibility of changing the entire season of a team.
Free agency has proven to make the greatest difference; often for the team which loses that player, and occasionally for the team who signs him. The NFL salary cap has ended dynasties, and increases the difficulty of a repeat Super Bowl Champion. The loss of a single key player has the ability to change the entire offensive or defensive unit.
The choice of any team to sign a potential season-changing player is not entirely based on that player’s on-field talent. General Managers and coaches must decide if each player will fit within the team’s system. Moral character and a professional attitude on and off the field are important considerations for most NFL franchises.
And changes in the way the NFL is played will add value to certain positions and devalue others. Now a ‘pass first’ league, thanks to new restrictions on defensive players, wide receivers are in demand. Their opposite, defensive backs, are also considered premium players.
So who are the most valuable, most talented free agents in 2015? Everyone has an opinion; I might as well give you mine.
I believe that two stand above the rest.
- Green Bay wide receiver Randall Cobb will be courted by several teams. He was Aaron Rodgers second receiver, and still managed to catch 91 passes for 1,287 yards and 12 touchdowns. Joining his talent with a premier quarterback could add two or three additional victories for that team. (Now that the Colts are not resigning Reggie Wayne, how about Indianapolis?)
- New England safety Devin McCourty is one of the top five defensive backs in the NFL. Bill Belichick converted McCourty from a cornerback to safety, and he was instrumental in their Super Bowl run. During the 2014 season he had 68 tackles.
There are several other wide receivers available. Some are standouts at their positon. Ten Ginn, Torrey Smith, Wes Welker, Hakeem Nicks, Reggie Wayne, Cecil Shorts, Brian Hartline, Brandon Gibson, Andre Jones, Jeremy Maclin, Eddie Royal, Michael Crabtree, and Kenny Britt are all available to the highest bidder.
Several cornerbacks and safeties are also available; here are those considered the best at their position. Antonio Cromartie, Charles Tillman, Terrance Newman, Buster Skrine, Davon House, Tramon Williams, Kareem Jackson, Cortland Finnegan, Patrick Robinson, Ike Taylor, Brandon Flowers, Chris Culliver, Rahim Moore, Danieal Manning, Antrel Rolle, Bernard Pollard, Ryan Clark, and Brandon Merriweather are available, and no team ever has enough talented ‘D’ backs.
Several other outstanding players are available playing positions where they could fill a void.
- Detroit Lions’ defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh will not receive a franchise tag. Although he may be the league’s dirtiest player, he has been dominant at his position since 2010. Last season Suh had 8.5 sacks, and 53 tackles. He is known as one of the game’s best run stoppers.
- Tight end Julius Thomas will be leaving the Denver Broncos. He has had injury problems, but his 24 touchdowns over the last two years is impressive. His expertise is in the red zone.
- Running backs used to be a high priority for every team. Although that has changed, DeMarco Murray stood out for the Dallas Cowboys in 2014. He nearly set the single-season rushing mark with 2,261 yards. Murray scored 13 touchdowns, and he had 449 touches last year.
There are many, many more talented players available; to list them all would make for a very long book.
Today each of the 32 teams are studying the long list to decide who will be the best fit for their style of play. We may have to wait until September for the next season to begin, but at least we have something to talk about now.
By James Turnage