Burning Questions for NFL Free Agency in 2015
Before the confetti is swept up after Super Bowl XLIX, most fanbases will have already started looking ahead to the offseason. After all, there can only be one winner.
Plenty of speculation, rumors, outcry and joy will follow as teams figure out how to keep their own players or jockey for free agents.
There are many questions heading into the offseason surrounding teams and potential free agents. Let's look at some of the hotter ones as we speed toward free agency.
Will Ndamukong Suh Break a Record?
The Houston Texans broke the bank when they signed J.J. Watt to a record $100 million extension, the most money ever given to a defensive player in NFL history. Can Ndamukong Suh top that?
Watt's big extension was inevitable, given the fact he has been the most dominant defensive player in the league over the past several years. The fact he keeps it clean on and off the field made the investment far less riskier than the one Suh would bring.
The latter's malicious antics on the field have earned him heavy fines and even suspensions, which might diminish his earning power this offseason.
It may not be much of a drag in the end, and the ballooning salary cap inflates contracts like the rising tide lifts all boats. If it's not a record deal—whether it's with the Detroit Lions or elsewhere—it should come close.
Will DeMarco Murray Cash In, or Will the Cowboys Cash Out?
It was a banner year for DeMarco Murray. The question is whether he will cash in on his success in free agency.
The star running back for the Dallas Cowboys easily led the league in rushing, amassing 1,845 yards on the season after starting out on a record-breaking tear. Murray rushed for 100-plus yards in the first eight games of the season, breaking Jim Brown's 56-year-old record.
Despite lingering doubts about durability, Murray was healthy for most of the year and played through injury when he did get hurt. The thought of a hefty payday may have helped him get through those painful days near the end of the season.
There is only one problem: He plays the wrong position, at least if he is looking to get paid.
Huge contracts are a thing of the past for running backs, if the market in recent years is any indication. Last year the top contract was three years for $10.5 million, signed by Toby Gerhart in Jacksonville and Donald Brown in San Diego.
Those guys aren't nearly as good as Murray, however. So where does it leave him as he seeks a new contract?
That is a very good question, one the Cowboys might be content to let the market answer, given they have other priorities like re-signing star receiver Dez Bryant.
Will Oakland Capitalize on Its Mulligan?
After years of clawing and suffering, the Oakland Raiders finally climbed out of salary-cap hell last offseason. Unfortunately, general manager Reggie McKenzie didn't do much to help.
Despite having the most cap space in the NFL last offseason, the Raiders used it to patch the myriad holes on the roster with low-level free agents.
McKenzie let his best free agent go when offensive tackle Jared Veldheer signed with the Arizona Cardinals—though he may not have wanted to stay in Oakland—and his best signing turned to embarrassment when offensive lineman Rodger Saffold's contract was voided after he failed a physical.
Partially as a result of a lackluster showing in free agency, the Raiders stumbled to a 3-13 record, one game worse than in 2013. Fortunately, McKenzie got himself a mulligan.
The good thing about last offseason is the Raiders didn't put themselves in a bad position with bloated contracts. That means they have a ton of cap space—$58 million, to be almost exact.
With so many quality free agents set to hit the market—and even after some are most likely retained—the Raiders need to spend some money on quality to turn things around quickly, as McKenzie likely needs to keep his job through next offseason.
Will Darrelle Revis Hit Free Agency Again?
The marriage has been harmonious and fruitful. Now we will see if it is built to last.
The New England Patriots made a huge investment in cornerback Darrelle Revis after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers cut him last year, signing him to a one-year deal worth $12.5 million with a second-year option worth a whopping $20 million.
Salary rules put Revis' cap number at $25 million for 2015, a number that is seemingly untenable given the Patriots are currently slated for a dearth of cap space. According to NFL.com reporter Ian Rapoport, the Patriots are reportedly willing to pick up that option if they can't come to a long-term agreement.
And who could blame them? Revis has been his usual fantastic self and helped an improved New England defense propel the Patriots to their sixth Super Bowl appearance of the new millennium.
It's likely the two sides will come to an agreement on a long-term deal—they were reportedly working on one during the preseason, just a few months after he signed in the first place. But there is the real possibility his demands will be too much, even if Bill Belichick wants to keep him.
Should he hit the open market again, there are a few teams that might be willing and able to break the bank to get him, including his old New York Jets.
Will Peyton Manning Retire?
Will he stay or go?
That's the $38 million question in Denver as quarterback Peyton Manning mulls his future with the Broncos. Manning is scheduled to make that much money over the next two seasons, making it seem like a bit of a stretch that this should even be a question.
The problem is that Manning's health is also in question, as are his eroding skills. Granted, he is just a year removed from shattering passing records, but his arm strength seems to be waning. Perhaps his desire to keep taking hits is, too.
Woody Paige already reported in The Denver Post that Manning would likely return:
According to three trustworthy sources, Manning wants to return to the Broncos, but won't and can't make a final decision until he takes an annual physical examination mandated by his contract. Last year, the test results were learned at the beginning of March. The Broncos have requested that Manning let them know his plans by March 9 — the day before teams must exercise their rights on veteran players under contract. Manning, who turns 39 on March 24, is due $19 million next season.
That doesn't sound like an ironclad decision from Manning. Retiring would thrust the Broncos into disarray and into the middle of the pack or worse, even if they think Brock Osweiler can somehow handle the succession.
Who Will Get the Dreaded Franchise Tag?
The franchise tag is a funny thing.
For some players, being tied to a team for one season with no guarantees of future earnings is a scary thought. For others, making a massive chunk of change for one years' worth of work is a boon.
Perhaps it depends on which positions those guys play—after all, a kicker on a franchise tag isn't exactly getting paid like a quarterback.
We see players of varying skill and value get tagged in different ways every year, and this offseason should be no different. But which players should we expect to see tagged?
The biggest and most obvious case would be Chiefs outside linebacker Justin Houston.
Kansas City's ferocious pass-rusher had a career year and holds almost all the leverage heading into free agency. The only bit of leverage the Chiefs have is the franchise tag, and they may have to use it.
Re-signing a player coming off his best year—or simply a white-hot run to a championship—can get pricey. Just ask the Baltimore Ravens, who had to spend a ton of money to re-sign quarterback Joe Flacco after his torrid postseason run when they could have signed him for far cheaper a few months earlier.
Kansas City might be so inclined to keep Houston under the franchise tag—an expensive proposition for 2015 at $13.08 million, as suggested by Jason La Canfora, to be sure—and see if he can do it all again rather than give out a massive contract.
Similar things could be said about Dez Bryant in Dallas, though it seems likelier owner Jerry Jones will open up his wallet to keep his star receiver a Cowboy for life.
Jason Pierre-Paul is another good candidate for the franchise tag if he and the New York Giants can't agree on value. His issue is durability—injuries have plagued the star pass-rusher, and the Giants may not be willing to commit to big guarantees and extra years if they fear he will be hobbled again.
Will Any Big Names Hit the Market?
The list of potential free agents is loaded with talent. Unfortunately, most hopeful fans may not see their wishes granted.
We've already seen who might be taken off the market by the franchise tag, but there are many talented players slated to hit free agency who are liable to re-sign with their own teams. These guys include:
- Demarco Murray
- Dez Bryant
- Demaryius Thomas
- Julius Thomas
- Ndamukong Suh
- Nick Fairley
- Jason Pierre-Paul
- Justin Houston
- Randall Cobb
- Jeremy Maclin
- Byron Maxwell
Good teams tend to keep their best players, even when they're strapped for cash. It would be surprising to see more than a couple of these names actually hit the open market, which will make the next few weeks a big tease.
How Will the Saints Get Out of Cap Hell?
Somehow, New Orleans was spared the executioner's blade despite a gloomy salary-cap situation. This year, the Saints won't be so lucky.
If the salary cap sits at $142 million or thereabouts, the Saints would currently be an eye-popping $21 million over the cap.
Back-loading contracts helped them re-sign star tight end Jimmy Graham and offensive tackle Zach Strief and give safety Jairus Byrd a $54 million deal.
The Saints are going to have to take a machete to their roster to even get on the right side of the cap, with guys like receiver Marques Colston, guards Ben Grubbs and Jahri Evans and linebackers David Hawthorne and Curtis Lofton could all be on the chopping block.
Some contracts could certainly be restructured, but the point is that free agency is going to be painful for a Saints squad that was surprisingly bad last season.
All salary information courtesy of OverTheCap.com.