2014 NFL Free Agency: Estimating Price Tags for Top Free Agents

Alessandro MiglioFeatured ColumnistJanuary 13, 2014

2014 NFL Free Agency: Estimating Price Tags for Top Free Agents

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    Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

    The top NFL free agents of the 2014 class are detailed here, but which ones will fetch the biggest contracts this offseason?

    Each player will have "best matches" based on teams with needs at their positions and available cap space. The latter consideration will remove certain teams that don't have a realistic shot to sign players to big contracts, given those teams won't have enough money to sign them.

    Each player's "best matches" will exclude their current teams, because that is an obvious match.

     

    *Cap and contract information courtesy of Overthecap.com.

Branden Albert, Offensive Tackle

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    Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

    Price Tag: Six years, $35 million

    Quality left tackles aren't exactly a dime a dozen in the NFL, and the market for Branden Albert will reflect that reality.

    There isn't much room for the big lineman in Kansas City with Eric Fisher as the future at the position for the Chiefs, and they don't exactly have a bag of money to spend this offseason.

    There are plenty of teams that could use an upgrade at the position, some of which with plenty of cash to spend. Albert could find himself the subject of a bidding war in March.

     

    Good Matches: Miami, Oakland, Jacksonville, Tampa Bay

Jairus Byrd, Safety

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    Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Spor

    Price Tag: Five years, $45 million

    Last year, Jairus Byrd got the franchise tag. He should get his chance to hit free agency this coming March, assuming he doesn't re-sign in Buffalo.

    The Bills want to keep him, naturally, given he's one of the best free safeties in the league. Despite injuries slowing him down this season, Byrd was ranked as one of the top safeties over at Pro Football Focus (subscription required).

    If they can't manage to keep him in Buffalo, he will fetch quite a nice contract on the open market. Either way, Byrd is in for a nice payday.

     

    Best Matches: Green Bay, Chicago

Greg Hardy, Defensive End

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    Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

    Price Tag: Five years, $50 million

    Career years are best when they also happen in contract years.

    Greg Hardy did just that, though he has had a nice two-year run at this point. The Kraken swallowed up opposing quarterbacks 15 times this season, and he is one of the top-rated defensive ends over at Pro Football Focus (subscription required).

    Hardy wants to get paid in whatever fashion this coming offseason, even welcoming the franchise tag, which could be worth over $11 million. Carolina can pull it off, though the Panthers probably want to lock him up long-term.

    The problem is the massive contract fellow defensive end Charles Johnson is currently earning. Will the Panthers be willing to sink another $40 million-plus into a second defensive end, given it would mean over $100 million total under contract at the position between two players?

     

    Best Matches: Tampa Bay, Oakland, Minnesota, Tennessee

Henry Melton, Defensive Tackle

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    Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

    Price Tag: Four years, $35 million

    Henry Melton is recovering from a season-ending knee injury, which might hamper his ability to maximize his next contract. But he should still see a nice payday.

    Melton has been great since the Bears drafted him, particularly as a pass-rushing interior lineman. He had recently rounded into a good run-stopper, as the Bears run defense might indicate after he went down for the count this season.

    Chances are Bears general manager Phil Emery locks him up to a long-term deal in Chicago after hitting him with the franchise tag last year—he has already re-signed quarterback Jay Cutler, cornerback Tim Jennings and guard Matt Slauson.

     

    Best Team Matches: Tampa Bay, Minnesota, Oakland

Donald Butler, Linebacker

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    Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

    Price Tag: Five years, $28 million

    It hasn't been a great season for linebacker Donald Butler, who fell off after a strong start to his career. Injuries took their toll, though he has improved as his health has in recent weeks.

    Butler is just 25 and brimming with potential. The Chargers were trying to sign him to an extension before the season started, and there has been little word out of San Diego since talks were suspended.

    San Diego doesn't have any cap space as it stands, though a few cuts could easily net the Chargers enough room to bring Butler back. 

     

    Best Matches: Indianapolis, Green Bay, Philadelphia

Aqib Talib, Cornerback

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    Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

    Price Tag: Four years, $25 million

    The more receivers cornerback Aqib Talib keeps under wraps, the higher his price tag will go.

    Talib isn't quite Richard Sherman or Darrelle Revis, but the talented cornerback has proved his worth with the Patriots this year.

    Off-field issues hurt his stock last offseason, so he took a chance when he signed a one-year contract. He has stayed clean while playing well this season, so he should get a bit more play on the open market if the Patriots don't lock him up.

     

    Best Matches: Oakland, Philadelphia, New York Jets

Jimmy Graham, Tight End

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    Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

    Price Tag: Seven years, $60 million

    A dubious performance in a playoff elimination game notwithstanding, tight end Jimmy Graham is going to make bank this offseason.

    It will be interesting to see if the Saints can get far enough under the cap to re-sign or franchise him. They are roughly $10 million over the proposed cap heading into the offseason, though they have some options to shed salary.

    The 6'7" Graham is a weapon unlike any other in the NFL, and he should break Rob Gronkowski's record contract at the tight end position if he's not hit with the franchise tag.

     

    Best Matches: Tampa Bay, Atlanta

Michael Bennett, Defensive End

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    Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    Price Tag: Five years, $35 million

    If anyone in the general football-watching public didn't know who Michael Bennett was, they found out last week. Bennett may as well have donned a supervillain costume as he terrorized quarterback Drew Brees and that Saints offense in the divisional round.

    It was par for the course for Bennett, who has had another great year after his breakout with the Bucs last year. 

    Bennett had his best season to date despite playing in two fewer games and 38 percent fewer snaps than in 2012. He is in line for a nice paycheck.

     

    Best Matches: Tampa Bay, Oakland, Minnesota, Tennessee

T.J. Ward, Safety

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    Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

    Price Tag: Five years, $40 million

    One of the better safeties in the league since being drafted, T.J. Ward should be a coveted free agent come this March.

    The tumult in Cleveland might jettison several free-agents-to-be, including Ward. The talented safety said the decision to fire head coach Rob Chudzinski—whom he liked—could affect his decision to stay or go.

    Given Browns CEO Joe Banner's history foregoing big contracts at positions like Ward's, it seems the four-year veteran will be looking for a new home come March.

     

    Best Matches: Tennessee, Chicago, Miami, Cincinnati

Knowshon Moreno, Running Back

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    Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

    Price Tag: Four years, $25 million

    It has been quite the journey for running back Knowshon Moreno. 

    The former first-round pick almost flat-lined after injuries and poor play plagued him in his first few seasons. A late surge last year and a huge 2013 season has him seeing dollar bills, y'all.

    Moreno does happen to play in the most productive offense in NFL history, so teams aren't likely going to give him Adrian Peterson money. But the five-year veteran has become a well-rounded threat out of the-backfield—he runs well, catches passes out of the backfield with aplomb and pass-blocks to quarterback Peyton Manning's satisfaction.

    The Broncos once had an inexpensive club option for Moreno in 2014, but that was voided somehow. Given that they drafted Ronnie Hillman and Montee Ball in consecutive seasons, it might be a tough choice whether to let Moreno go in free agency.

     

    Best Matches: Oakland, Cleveland