The NFL Divisional Round is often considered among the greatest weekends in sports. This year we had two epic football games—in both cases, the early game of the day.
Each game had at least one free-agent-to-be who stood out and guaranteed themselves an opportunity to secure a grand deal in this offseason.
Here are just a few of those players:
Baltimore QB Joe Flacco
Joe Flacco had the finest game of his five-year NFL career—postseason or regular season—Saturday at Denver. Not only did he make one of the most clutch postseason throws in recent memory, but he made great decisions all day.
He made several "wow" throws throughout the game—on a day that felt like minus-two degrees (the kind of weather that is anything but conducive to passing success).
He has now reached the AFC Championship Game in three out of five seasons and holds a 7-4 playoff record. Baltimore may believe it can find a more explosive and productive quarterback, but few guys have been as successful as Flacco.
He will become one of the highest-paid quarterbacks in the league this offseason.
Denver OT Ryan Clady
Despite playing with an injury, Ryan Clady played well on Saturday against the Ravens. He was not perfect but was certainly not the primary reason the Broncos lost.
His entire career to this point has made him worth every penny he will receive. Franchise left tackles do not surface every day. It is unimaginable to think he will leave Denver in the offseason.
Green Bay CB Sam Shields
Shields has had better games than the one he played Saturday night in San Francisco. It is clear, however, that the Miami product was not the primary problem in the rout.
His consistent production since he came into the league warrants a decent contract, though as a restricted free agent, the Packers only have to tender him, which will guarantee him a one-year deal worth roughly $2 million.
A cornerback-needy franchise could come calling if the tender is low enough.
Atlanta CB Brent Grimes
Watching the struggles of the Atlanta secondary against rookie quarterback Russell Wilson made it evident that Atlanta missed the veteran cornerback, Brent Grimes. He is one of the finest players—not just corners—on the free-agent market.
He will make some money this offseason.
New England OT Sebastian Vollmer
Tom Brady did not face a ton of pressure against a Houston defense known for pressure. A big reason was the play of Vollmer. The tackle stands to secure a hefty amount of cash from some tackle-starved franchise. It is unlikely to be the Patriots.
Houston OLB Connor Barwin
Connor Barwin has had a wonderful season, as he has adjusted to the NFL and the outside linebacker spot. His pass-rushing abilities were not exactly noteworthy against the Patriots, but his success on the season most definitely was.
Barwin will likely be retained by the Texans, though he will have many suitors.
Interestingly enough, the 49ers and Seahawks, each have done a masterful job of wrapping up their most talented players to long-term contracts. Is it any wonder the future of those two teams appears as bright as any in the NFL?