The biggest talking point surrounding the NFL after the Super Bowl pertains to the draft.
Rightfully so, too. Peyton Manning got his Lombardi Trophy, and the globe would like to know if he will hang up the cleats, but even that pales in comparison to the upcoming combine and draft season.
The best franchises, though, have a close eye on the market. Just look at Manning's Denver Broncos—the perfect blend of free-agent moves and drafting prompted a championship.
Plenty of teams will look to once again fill in the gaps with names from the market. With guys like Matt Forte, Doug Martin and so many more currently available, this might turn out to be one of the more memorable markets in recent history.
Matt Forte's Value
The above seems like an almost silly statement.
Forte, formerly of the Chicago Bears, has been one of the most valuable backs around for years, in large part helping to evolve the position thanks to his ability to catch passes out of the backfield.
Formerly, though, because Forte revealed the Bears won't bring him back next year:
It's hard to blame the Bears after the emergence of a Forte clone, Jeremy Langford.
Unlike Langford, Forte has age to worry about. He's now at the dreaded age of 30, and more backs who can function in a similar versatile role continue to enter the league each year.
Perhaps what is most interesting centers on the rumblings about Forte's value. ESPN.com's Jeremy Fowler provided the details:
Jeremy Fowler @JFowlerESPN
Asked a few NFL folks about Forte’s value. A few said he’ll be lucky to get more than $4M per year. Life of 30-yo back.2/12/2016, 10:57:46 PM
While a sad day when a legendary back cannot command top dollar, Forte in large part helped the transition. In his case, hitting the dreaded age after missing three games and only rushing for 898 yards and four scores certainly hurts, too.
Many teams will get thrown around in the speculation department. Forte could join the Green Bay Packers. Maybe the Dallas Cowboys or Seattle Seahawks. He seems (like anyone) like he'd be a good fit with the New England Patriots.
At the end of the day, though, Forte isn't hitting the market because he wants to, and it's clear the trip won't be about money. Look for him to pick a team that puts him in the best possible spot to win a title.
Doug Martin Looking for 'Jackpot'
The blight of the running back doesn't stop with Forte, though, not with guys like Martin on the market, too.
It's hard to know how much Martin can command on the market after four seasons with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He looked like the next big thing as a rookie in 2012 with 1,454 yards and 11 scores, then he fell off a cliff the next two years.
Martin bounced back this past season, though, finishing second in the league in rushing at 1,402 yards with six scores. According to Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times, it has the former Boise State star thinking big things.
"Doug Martin will make it to free agency and test the market," Stroud wrote. "There is still time to strike a deal before the signing period begins March 9. Martin, 27, is hoping to hit the jackpot after becoming the NFL's second-leading rusher with 1,402 yards and six touchdowns last season."
The question is pretty simple: What team will open up the checkbook for Martin? A contract-year outburst from any player should always have shoppers feeling cautious, especially when it comes to a running back who just turned 27.
For his part, Martin told PFT Live early this month that he'd play out the contract if the Buccaneers slapped him with a franchise tag and that Tampa Bay is where he prefers to remain.
“I love Tampa and Tampa loves me,” Martin said, according to ProFootballTalk.com's Curtis Crabtree. “I’ve got a house out there so I do wish I’ll go back to Tampa.”
Unlike Forte, Martin isn't much of a weapon through the passing game, though top-tier backs who rush well enough can make good cash regardless, like DeMarco Murray did last offseason.
Martin could prove to be an interesting case study, both of how teams view players who perform well in contract years and if the age cutoff for running backs and big deals is about to move again.
In theory, Martin should be able to lean on his production and get a big deal. It might just not be where he wants.
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It sounds silly, but Denver quarterback Brock Osweiler might be the most important free agent around this offseason.
Osweiler showed flashes this year when asked to step in for Manning, finishing the season with a 61.8 completion percentage, 1,967 yards and 10 touchdowns to six interceptions. Being just 25 years old and the guy hand-picked to take over once Manning retires, the Broncos would obviously like to get him back under contract.
Except not right now. Mike Klis of 9News revealed any contract talks between Osweiler and the Broncos remain on hold while Manning figures out what to do:
Tick … tick … Had enough time, Peyton? … Tick … tick … the business of Brock Osweiler awaits. Out of respect to Manning, the Broncos have not engaged in contract negotiations with Osweiler, who played well while posting a 5-2 record as a starting quarterback in 2015 but otherwise spent the past 3 ½ seasons serving as Manning’s backup.
This is a fickle situation for the Broncos. Quarterback is by far the most important position in the NFL, and they have a young backup who has learned behind Manning for years, not to mention played well when asked.
But other teams certainly have an eye on the situation. The Cleveland Browns, Houston Texans, Los Angeles Rams and probably a few others likely wouldn't mind bringing on a quarterback of Osweiler's caliber. It's an easy call for a rebuilding team—a guy with pro experience while learning from Manning bests an inexperienced rookie every day of the week.
The deadline is March 8. The next day, as Klis noted, the $19 million owed to Manning for the 2016 season kicks in and won't go away.
If the Broncos are lucky, Manning has made a decision by then. If not, well, rebuilding teams might have blank checks mailed to Osweiler's address, inciting a bidding war that everyone will want to see.
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