When NFL free agency begins today, lots of players will get lots of money. Some will even earn it throughout those massive contracts.
An early rush to haul in those big bucks will be followed by weeks of secondary signings that often are more critical to a team’s success than the headline-grabbing deal.
WHERE DO THE ALL-PROS LAND?
Two dominant players who made the 2014 All-Pro squad are on the market and a third still could wind up there.
Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh and Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray, the AP Offensive Player of the Year and league’s leading rusher, will be available. So might be Patriots star cornerback Darrelle Revis.
Suh appears ticketed for Miami. He is that rare star just entering his prime and became available to any team willing to commit nine figures over a lengthy period for his services. Yes, he has had some anger-management problems, but that didn’t seem make him any less attractive for the Dolphins and owner Stephen Ross, who wants to make a big splash.
Suh is an every-down player and a force in all situations, and Miami has the financial room and the need.
Murray’s one drawback is the same for all running backs — longevity. At 27, though, he’s not particularly worn, and he’s versatile. His best option would be returning to Dallas to run behind that superb line, but the Cowboys are cap-strapped. The next-best choice would be a team with a solid passing game to balance Murray’s running.
San Diego and Indianapolis could make sense.
Revis is a strange case. His contract history is to take the money and then shut down the opponent’s best receiver. But now that he’s won a Super Bowl, perhaps he’ll find that championship rings are just as valuable as huge bank accounts.
He easily could wind up back in New England, but pretty much any team except Tampa Bay, Dallas and Arizona figure to contact him.
WHO ARE THE BIG SPENDERS?
Some really bad teams: the Jaguars, Raiders, Titans and Jets, all with tons of salary cap room.
And some mediocre clubs: the Browns, Dolphins and Panthers.
And even some pretty good ones: the Eagles, Bengals and Colts.
HOW MUCH INTEREST IN RUNNING BACKS?
Usually, not much. But this is a highly intriguing crop, led by Murray, and with Frank Gore headed to Philadelphia. Mark Ingram added to the group before agreeing to return to New Orleans, which let Pierre Thomas go.
Few teams find value in long-term deals with guys who play the most physically punishing skill position. Murray figures to be an exception, and for strong passing clubs needing a boost on the ground, he’ll be a prime target.
What about Justin Forsett, C.J. Spiller, Reggie Bush and Shane Vereen? The money might not be what they project, but they should find jobs relatively quickly.
WHERE ARE THE BARGAINS?
How much teams dish out for the following players will determine if they fall into the bargain category. Someone might get nice value for grabbing linebacker Pernell McPhee, receiver Brian Hartline, defensive tackle Jared Odrick and center Rodney Hudson.
Is there a market for players whose off-field issues short-circuited their careers? There’s talent available with the likes of defensive end Greg Hardy, defensive tackle Ray McDonald and running back Ray Rice. But will anyone bite considering the public relations problem that would accompany such signings?
“Perhaps most importantly, there are clubs that ownership will simply say I am not interested in a player who has these issues,” says 2015 Pro Football Hall of Famer Bill Polian, who built Super Bowl teams in Buffalo, Carolina and Indianapolis. “The owner will say our sponsors and season ticket holders and our market won’t like it. And so there will be owners who are not interested no matter what the football people think.”
But, as Polian also notes, it only takes one buyer.