1. Justin Houston, OLB Kansas City. 48.5 sacks in 59 games, Houston is the very definition of a premier pass rusher from the 34 outside linebacker spot. He’ll command top dollar whether or not he hits the open market. Expect a franchise tag leading to a massive contract. If you aren’t the Kansas City Chiefs and were hoping to bid on Houston, throw out a trade offer on Tamba Hali now.
Prediction: Stays in KC for 7 years, 96 million.
2. Ndamukong Suh, DL Detroit. As undeniably talented as he is undeniably a problem on and off the field, Suh will probably be the top player to actually hit the open market. With Nick Fairley also hitting free agency, a franchise tag for him seems uncertain. He’s also made it clear that he wants to go to a big market team that has a respectable franchise.
Prediction: New York Giants for a back loaded, incentive laden 5 years, 70 million contract.
3. Dez Bryant, WR Dallas. Welcome to the Spring of Dallas’ hard choices. They have both Bryant and Murray up for free agency and almost no cap room to work with. And not much that they can do to juke their contracts without making some serious cuts. Assuming that they void Henry Melton’s contract (saving 8.5 million) and dump Morris Claiborne on another team (saving less than a million but more down the road), they could keep them both if they backload the contracts to the post-Romo era. Personally this author would keep Bryant over Murray and that’s what they’ll probably do.
Prediction: Stays in Dallas for 8 years, 115 million.
4. Mike Iupati, OL San Francisco. He struggled more in 2014, but he’s still a premier Guard in the NFL. Expect any teams with any sort of tie to the 49ers to be after him, along with contenders in need of an interior OL upgrade. The 49ers are too cap strapped, so either they’ll retain Iupati or they’ll deal away Anthony Davis.
Prediction: Oakland for 7 years, 65 million.
5. Randall Cobb, WR Green Bay. Cobb would love to stay in Green Bay, but Green Bay will only do if he gives them a discount. With Boykin and Adams, Green Bay probably lets him walk when someone steps up with big numbers.
Prediction: Cleveland for 5 years, 52 million.
6. Bryan Bulaga, OL Green Bay. The Pack will shell out for Bulaga and keep him. Don Barclay (who's a RFA) was fine replacing Bulaga in 2013 but he’s not on the same level as Bulaga.
Prediction: Stays in Green Bay for 6 years, 45 million.
7. Demaryius Thomas, WR Denver. The Broncos love Thomas, but they don’t love the idea of giving him what he’s going to ask for. The NFL network is reporting that Denver is strongly considering giving him the franchise tag to buy themselves time to get him to sign a long term deal.
Prediction: Stays in Denver on the franchise tag.
8. Jordan Cameron, TE Cleveland. Cameron screwed himself before free agency began by declaring that he’s leaving Cleveland. It remains to be seen if Cleveland doesn’t tag him to force him to stay for another year (at least). If he hits the open market, someone will get themselves a good tight end.
Prediction: Minnesota for 4 years, 35 million.
9. Jeremy Maclin, WR Philadelphia. He’d love to stay in Philly and the have the cap room to keep him, but there’s a sense that Philly feels that they can replace his production with Matthews and a rookie. The Titans have the cash to give him what he wants.
Prediction: Tennessee for 7 years, 85 million.
10. DeMarco Murray, RB Dallas. The thought in Dallas is apparently that they believe that Murray is more replaceable than Bryant. Murray thrived behind their great offensive line and that they could plug in another back for cheaper than Murray and still see great production. Knowing Dallas, they probably will let Murray walk and trade for Adrian Peterson.
Prediction: Jacksonville for 6 years, 77 million.
11. Steve Wisniewski, OL Oakland. Oakland has the cash to keep him, but if they can get Iupati instead, they’d rather do that. If he hits the open market, expect him to stay on the west coast and probably in the AFC west.
Prediction: San Diego for 6 years, 45 million.
12. Pernell McPhee, DL/LB Baltimore. McPhee was the sub package master in 2014, even being the Ravens’ fourth option as an edge rusher and playing half of his time down in a three point stance, he still had 7.5 sacks. Baltimore probably won’t pay to keep him to give Upshaw his playing time, but Pittsburgh would love to get him.
Prediction: Pittsburgh for 4 years, 19 million.
13. Dan Williams, DL Arizona. A very underrated interior defensive lineman who might try to go follow Bowles to NYC. They’d like to have him but already have a lot of money and talent on the line. The Redskins are looking for new defensive talent and would give him a decent sized contract.
Prediction: Washington for 4 years, 24 million.
14. Sean Weatherspoon, OLB Atlanta. A do-it-all OLB who gets everyone lined up right, its hard to see him ever getting close to the open market.
Prediction: Stays in Atlanta for 6 years, 40 million.
15. Rodney Hudson, OL Kansas City. A very underrated interior lineman fit for the Zone block scheme. Kansas City wants him badly but with Houston to pay, it might be difficult.
Prediction: Stays in Kansas City for 4 years, 22 million.
16. Jason Pierre-Paul, DL New York Giants. JPP needs a change of scenery in the worst way. He’s loved by the coaches, FO and fans but there’s no priority from the FO on giving him a new deal. On the flip side, the Giants are mulling whether to franchise tag him and give him a massive contract. Assuming that they don’t, he’ll walk-probably on a short term deal with a contender to earn a massive contract down the road.
Prediction: New England for 2 years, 11 million.
17. Terence Newman, CB Cincinnati. Newman is beloved in Cincy for how well he’s done reviving his career there. They also love Hall and have some young guys that they want to give playing time to, so it looks likely that he’ll have to go elsewhere.
Prediction: Minnesota Vikings for 2 years, 11 million.
18. Devin McCourty, SAF New England. The Pats can pay him or Revis. This is a no brainer for them. As is Tennessee’s interest in him: his brother plays there, they need a veteran safety and have plenty of cap room.
Prediction: Tennessee for 5 years, 30 million.
19. Julius Thomas, TE Denver. If the Broncos let Demaryius Thomas walk, they won’t let Julius do the same. They won’t give him a massive contract though: expect a big signing bonus and low base salaries.
Prediction: Stays in Denver for 4 years, 21 million.
20. Brooks Reed, OLB Houston. With Clowney and Mercilus, this is Reed’s chance to find a starting gig. Chicago needs an OLB especially if Jared Allen is dealt and could use a sub package rusher even if they keep Allen.
Prediction: Chicago for 3 years, 11 million.
21. Frank Gore, RB San Fran. Gore appears not to be in the 49ers’ short term plans. With Carlos Hyde and Hunter, the 49ers seem to want to get younger at RB. He’s going to go to a team that wants a power back for a power running attack.
Prediction: Washington Redskins for 3 year, 12 million.
22. Michael Roos, OL Tennessee. Roos is young(ish) but has a lot of snaps on his body. If you’re going after him, you’re looking for a warm body to let a young OT develop or just want to desperately dump your current starter.
Prediction: New York Giants for 2 years, 12 million.
23. Greg Hardy, DL Carolina. Hardy is gone from Carolina. They didn’t miss him in 2014 and won’t be paying him the massive figure he got for sitting at home until he paid off his accuser to leave town so she couldn’t testify against him (allegedly). A defense starved team will go hard after him.
Prediction: Philadelphia for 5 years, 50 million.
24. Brian Hoyer, QB Cleveland. Hoyer, along with most of the Browns’ roster is just looking for the exit. The market for Hoyer seems uncertain: he’s not good enough to be a franchise QB, but he’s not bad enough to justify a 1 year to a 2 year (when they get a better guy) set up.
Prediction: Washington for 2 years, 6 million.
25. Nick Fairley, DL Detroit. If Suh is leaving the Motor City, Fairley is not. That said, Fairley isn’t going to command nearly as much as Suh will and if Fairley demands anything within 70% of Suh they’ll just give that cash to Suh.
Prediction: Stays in Detroit for 4 years, 29 million.