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NFL Rumors: Free-Agent Buzz on Demaryius Thomas, Dez Bryant and More

Chris Roling@@Chris_RolingFeatured ColumnistFebruary 9, 2015

ARLINGTON, TX - DECEMBER 21:  Dez Bryant #88 of the Dallas Cowboys celebrates his touchdown reception against the Indianapolis Colts in the first half at AT&T Stadium on December 21, 2014 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
Tom Pennington/Getty Images

For all of the chatter about how the New England Patriots and the Seattle Seahawks reached and played the Super Bowl without top-tier wideouts, such talents are all that seems to dominate the NFL rumor mill right now. 

In reality, it is hard not to wonder about the future of Demaryius Thomas, Dez Bryant and others. Both will cost their teams significant coin and present cap restrictions for years to come, but they also present different kinds of gambles in the process.

Normally, free agency is much more boring than it seems set to be in February as franchise tags and negotiations come out.

This year feels different, though, thanks to the wealth of talent former teams might not be able to afford.

As the opening of the floodgates approaches in March, some new rumblings about names—big and small—are worth a look.

Demaryius Thomas, the Franchise

DENVER, CO - JANUARY 11:  Demaryius Thomas #88 of the Denver Broncos runs onto the field during player introductions before a 2015 AFC Divisional Playoff game against the Indianapolis Colts at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on January 11, 2015 in Den
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

It is so easy to forget that Thomas will be a free agent. 

Bryant consumes most of the headlines while Thomas instead floats around with other forgotten names, such as Torrey Smith, Michael Crabtree, Randall Cobb and Jeremy Maclin.

Perhaps most choose to forget about Thomas because it seems impossible that John Elway and the Denver Broncos front office would let him hit the open market. According to a new revelation by CBS Sports' Jason La Canfora, this seems to be the case: "Thomas is a freak of nature and, sources said, the top offseason priority for the Broncos. He will be franchised in hopes of getting a long-term deal done. Whether it's Peyton Manning or Brock Osweiler at quarterback, this is the most vital target in the passing game."

The approach by the front office is smart. The Georgia Tech product is smack dab in the middle of his prime at 27 years old.

Weighing in at 6'3" and 229 pounds, Thomas can help whomever lines up under center, especially because of his ability to secure the ball behind the line of scrimmage and do the rest of the work himself.

Most teams are not fortunate enough to unearth a receiver as consistent as Thomas, who has a minimum of 1,400 receiving yards and 10 scores in each of the last three seasons.

There are other weapons in Denver, sure, but Thomas is the glue that holds it all together.

Dez Bryant, the Gamble

For the Cowboys, the question boils down to one thing: Bryant or DeMarco Murray?

In a normal situation, the question finds an easy answer. Murray put together a jaw-dropping season, but he plays a dying position and last year was his first 16-game season.

This is not a normal situation, though.

Bryant is one of the sport's most volatile personalities—or he is portrayed that way. These things factor into Dallas' decision on his impending free agency, per La Canfora:

Bryant's off-field issues are having a significant impact in talks on a long-term deal, league sources said, and trepidation about putting a ton of guaranteed money on the table is likely to limit the tenor of long-term talks. Going year-to-year with Bryant is OK with Jerry Jones, even at this steep price, and in terms of on-field importance, Bryant is seen as more significant than franchising running back DeMarco Murray.

It is hard to imagine the Cowboys find nearly enough money to keep both of their superstars. Receivers such as Bryant are even harder to find, after three consecutive seasons of 1,200 yards and 12-touchdown minimums.

If owner Jerry Jones and the Cowboys want to walk the prove-it tightrope with Bryant, the franchise tag makes loads of sense.

From there, the ball goes back to Bryant's court for the offseason thereafter.

Jake Locker, the Eagle?

Mark Zaleski/Associated Press

While not the biggest name on the market, Jake Locker is an intriguing quarterback—especially if he lands in the right situation. 

The No. 8 overall pick in the 2011 draft has appeared in more than seven games in a season just once in his four years as a pro. The upside is apparent, though, so long as he can stay on the field.

Quarterback guru and Philadelphia Eagles coach Chip Kelly comes to mind.

According to Mark Eckel of NJ.com, the Eagles have an interest: "At least, that is the informed-opinion of a long-time player agent, who has another quarterback about to be a free agent. According to the agent, who requested anonymity , there will be interest from the Eagles and head coach/personnel czar Chip Kelly in the 8th overall pick of the 2011 NFL Draft."

It all checks out, really. The Nick Foles and Mark Sanchez era may be over. Philadelphia may not have enough in the way of resources to move up in the draft and grab someone such as Marcus Mariota.

As for Locker, he hails from a Pac-12 school and has never been in an offense that suits his skills.

At the very least, Kelly would provide such an environment. From there, who knows what the former top-10 pick could accomplish, health providing?

Note: Stats courtesy of NFL.com as of Feb. 8 at 9 p.m. ET. All advanced metrics via Pro Football Focus.

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