For some players on the Seahawks and Broncos, there will be more on the line on Sunday than just a Super Bowl championship. Sure, they'll all say the right things. That they're focused on the game and will worry about the future later. That very well may be true, but at some point more than a few players are going to cash in and the Super Bowl could help determine how many zeroes are on the check.
The Super Bowl is just one game and overvaluing its importance in free agency can be a costly mistake for any team. A mistake that is made often. Dexter Jackson turned a pair on Super Bowl interceptions into a $14 million contract, before being released a year later. Joe Flacco rode his Super Bowl MVP to the richest deal in NFL history. Flacco would have received a sizable contract regardless but it may have had one less zero on it without the Super Bowl.
The Broncos and Seahawks have loaded rosters and that talent will be on display on Sunday. Nearly a third of the players playing in Super Bowl XLVIII will hit free agency this offseason. That crop includes several notable names who could be preparing for their final game in their current jersey.
Here is a look at a few players who could ride the Super Bowl into a big payday.
Michael Bennett, DE, Seattle
The versatile Bennett does a little bit of everything for the Seahawks. He rushes the passer as a defensive end, slides inside and continues to create havoc and plays the run. He didn't find a big offer in free agency last year and opted to sign a one-year deal with Seattle. Now, after another very productive season, he'll hit the market again. He finished the regular season with 8.5 sacks. He's added another 1.5 sacks and two forced fumbles in the playoffs. Pro Football Focus graded him as the fifth-best 4-3 defensive end.
Bennett is 28 years old, so it's possible teams will be wary of giving him a long-term deal. Still, he should be in line for a lucrative three- or four-year deal. Although they play different roles, Bennett could land a deal similar to the five-year, $34 million deal Desmond Bryant signed with the Browns last offseason. Bennett is just a month older than Bryant.
Eric Decker, WR, Denver
Decker is an interesting case. He's coming off a pair of strong statistical seasons, including his 87-catch, 1,288-yard campaign this year. Is he a No. 1 receiver playing the role of No. 2 because of Demaryius Thomas? Or is he a No. 3 receiver elevated to a very good No. 2 because of Peyton Manning and the Denver offense? That is a question teams will have to answer in free agency.
Regardless of whether Decker is a No. 1, No. 2 or a No. 3 receiver, teams will pay for his level of production. He isn't likely to get a contract in the Mike Wallace range, but at 26, he should receive a long-term offer. Brian Hartline signed a five-year, $30 million deal last offseason. The five-year, $45.5 million deal Pierre Garcon signed in 2012 could also be in Decker's range.
Golden Tate, WR, Seattle
Tate hasn't put up the numbers Decker has, but he could be in line for a similar deal. He's been productive playing in a run-first offense and has shown the ability to make plays few others can. Tate won't turn 26 until late in the offseason, set career-highs for receptions and yards and was an explosive punt returner. He may be slightly miscast as the No. 1 WR in Seattle with Sidney Rice and Percy Harvin injured, but should be an attractive No. 2 on the open market.
Seattle has a lot of money tied up in Harvin and Rice, although Rice could be a candidate for release. Tate has a knack for making big plays and one or two in the Super Bowl could boost his free agent stock into Decker's range. If not, he should still be in line for a deal similar to the five-year, $28.5 million deal Danny Amendola signed last year.
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, CB, Denver
Although he hinted at retirement early in Super Bowl week, Rodgers-Cromartie figures to put that off for now and cash in this offseason. He singed a one-year deal with Denver last offseason, then proceeded to have an excellent year. Pro Football Focus graded him as the fifth-best corner in the league. He'll turn 28 this offseason and should be one of the top free agents on the market.
Corner is a deep market and a few of the top free agents last season were forced to settle for one-year deals. It will be interesting to see how the market is a year later, as it should once again be flush with talent. If he does land a multi-year deal, it could be worth between $5 million and $6 million per season, similar to the deals Cary Williams and Sean Smith inked last year.
Knowshon Moreno, RB, Denver
Moreno is in the midst of a breakout season, nearly doubling his rushing total from last season. The career-best year comes at an opportune time with free agency around the corner. Denver drafted Montee Ball in the second round last year and Ronnie Hillman in the third round the year before. That could make Denver more likely to allow Moreno to test free agency.
If he does, he should land on his feet. NFL teams have shied away from giving running backs big-money contracts recently, but Moreno won't turn 27 until late in the summer and is playing better than ever. He'll be one of a few attractive options at running back on the market. A deal similar to the one Reggie Bush signed last offseason -- four years, $16 million -- doesn't seem too far off Moreno's market this offseason.