NFL free agency rarely provides excellent value, as teams are often willing to overpay for veterans with proven track records. The head of each class typically consists of upper-middle-class quality players receiving top-tier contracts. Therefore, the spring hype surrounding each big-money acquisition often far outstrips the fall contributions seen from that player.
However, a preliminary look at the 2015 NFL free-agent class suggests that teams might actually be justified in shelling out huge dollars next year. Some, like USA Today's Nate Davis, are already pointing out the plethora of elite young talent set to hit the market next spring—a few of whom could establish new contract parameters for their position.
In compiling a list of players who are the likeliest to receive the biggest contracts after 2014, a few caveats are in order. Most of the names in Davis' list won't hit the open market. So while opposing fans can dream of stealing Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas away from Seattle, the Seahawks are almost certainly going to lock up those foundational stars for the foreseeable future.
Additionally, the 2011 CBA implanted an automatic fifth-year team option in the contract of all 2011 first-rounders. Players like J.J. Watt and A.J. Green, for example, won't be on this list because they are technically under contract in 2015, even though they are likely to receive extensions before then. Likewise, 2011 rookies who are likely to have their options exercised soon, like Cam Newton and Julio Jones, will be left off this list.
Even after removing all those impressive names, the list of potential free agents in 2015 is stunning. When looking at the names who could realistically hit the open market next year, the free-agency hype might finally be justified.