The start of the new league year is just around the corner, which means the start of free agency is fast approaching. Not every team spends big on the open market, and some are totally quiet throughout the whole period. But there should be plenty of action this year, given the potential for one of the best free agent classes we've seen in some time.
As a result, there should be several massive contracts this offseason, with more and more players pushing the limits of the NFL's salary cap. There are multiple guys who could get contracts among the top players at their positions, and at least one who may get the richest contract in the NFL.
That guy is Detroit Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, arguably the biggest name in free agency. But after Suh, it's still an incredibly strong class, not noticeably weak at any one position. Below, we'll take a quick look at the top 20 players set to hit the open market on March 10.
1. DT Ndamukong Suh - Signed a six-year, $114 million deal with Miami
Suh has been one of the most disruptive defensive players in the league since Detroit drafted him in the first round in 2010. This past season, he compiled 8.5 sacks and 53 tackles, all while being stalwart against the run. Despite his history of getting fined for on-the-field misconduct, his play would help any team in the league. The Lions definitely want to keep him, but using the franchise tag would have cost them over $26 million.
2. S Devin McCourty - Signed a five-year, $47.5 million deal to return to the Patriots
McCourty was originally a cornerback but the Patriots switched him to safety, and they haven't looked back. He was instrumental to New England's success and became the backbone of a defense that helped lead the Patriots to a Super Bowl win. McCourty had a pair of interceptions and 68 tackles in 2014. He'll benefit from a weak draft class at the position and plenty of teams in need of help.
3. TE Julius Thomas - Signed a five-year, $46 million deal with the Jaguars
Thomas has dealt with injuries throughout his career, and that's his biggest red flag. What he has going for him, though, is 24 touchdowns over the past two seasons. He's not a guy who is known for getting a ton of yardage, but he's one of the best red zone threats and should be highly coveted in free agency. Of all the positions this year, tight end is one of the weakest, making the market for Thomas even stronger. It doesn't hurt that he might be the best pass catcher available on the market this year.
$. RB DeMarco Murray - Signed a five-year, $42 million deal with Eagles
Murray dominated the headlines throughout the season when he was on pace to break the league's single-season rushing yardage record. He ultimately fell short of that mark, but with 2,261 total yards and 13 touchdowns he'll be a hot commodity. Teams have been hesitant to spend big on the RB position in the past, however, and Murray had a massive 449 touches this past season. That's a lot of wear and tear.
5. DE Greg Hardy
Hardy comes with plenty of baggage, including the fact that his eligibility to even suit up next season is unknown at this point. His domestic violence case was dismissed recently, but he could still face punishment from the NFL, hurting his potential at earning a huge, long-term contract. If he does play in 2015, whichever team signs him will be getting a top pass rusher.
6. WR Randall Cobb - Signed a four-year, $40 million deal to return to Green Bay
Cobb is yet another receiver who put up more than 1,000 yards and over 10 touchdowns on an expiring contract. He caught 91 passes for 1,287 yards and 12 touchdowns, and he was still Aaron Rodgers' secondary target on offense. He can be a No. 1 receiver on most teams in the league, though he does his best work from the slot position.
7. CB Byron Maxwell - Signed a six-year deal worth $63 million with the Eagles
It's a thin group of corners available through free agency this spring, ditto the draft. That bodes well for the former Seahawk who should be able to cash in with so many teams in need of corners. He only allowed one touchdown last season, according to Pro Football Focus' charting, and has the size/speed combo that teams covet at the position. Philadelphia has openings for two starters and a plethora of cap room.
8. RB C.J. Spiller - Signed deal worth $4.5 million annually with Saints
Nobody's going to overpay for a running back this year (right?), but Spiller shouldn't have any problem finding a new home thanks to his playmaking ability.
9. DT Terrance Knighton - Signed a one-year, $4 million deal with Washington
The man they call Pot Roast would be a nice consolation prize for whatever team doesn't come out on top in the Suh sweepstakes. He may not be as prolific rushing the passer as Suh, but he did have a solid stat line last season with two sacks and 30 more pressures on opposing passers. Knighton is lights-out as a run defender too.
10. DE/OLB Brandon Graham - Signed a four-year, $26 million deal with the Eagles
Graham's hinted before that he would prefer to be an edge rusher in a four-man defensive front. He's no slouch as an outside linebacker either. The Eagles used him situationally, so any suitor will have to answer the question of just how much they'd like him to play. Still, pass rushers are always at a premium.
11. WR Jeremy Maclin - Signed a five-year, $55 million deal with the Chiefs
Maclin signed a one-year contract last season after a season-ending injury in 2013. He made the most of that contract, catching 85 passes for 1,318 yards and 10 touchdowns over a full 16 games. More importantly, he did this with Nick Foles and Mark Sanchez throwing the football.
12. G Mike Iupati - Signed a five-year, $40 million deal with Arizona
Iupati had something of a down year last season, but there's no question about what it is he does and how well he does it. He leads the way for running backs, and he does it very, very well. His pass blocking leaves a lot to be desired, but he has real claim to being one of the best run blockers in the NFL.
13. DE Jerry Hughes - Re-signed with Buffalo on a five-year, $45 million deal
You hear a lot more about Mario Williams than you do about Hughes, but after back-to-back 10-sack seasons, the Bills lineman is primed for a nice payday. He's a good pass rusher and a solid tackler, and most teams should have no trouble finding him a place on their defensive lines.
14. LB Jason Worilds - Decided to retire to pursue other interests
Worilds always seems on the cusp of breaking out, and after the Steelers used the transition tag on him a season ago, he could finally be looking at his first big contract. He put up 7.5 sacks and an interception last season, and is still seen as an up-and-comer. Then again, the Steelers can always tag him again this season.
15. T Bryan Bulaga - Re-signed with Green Bay for five years and $33.75 million
Bulaga faced a lot of criticism coming out of college, with many claiming his arms were too short for him to be an effective pass blocker in the NFL. Now, Bulaga might be more valuable than Green Bay's left tackle, and he's one of the best pass blockers in the league. He does have injury concerns, however, after missing the entire 2013 season with a torn ACL.
16. WR Torrey Smith -Signed a five-year, $40 million deal with the 49ers
Smith is a deep threat, though he took a slight backseat to Steve Smith this past season. The latter finished with over 1,000 yards on the year, while the former finished with just 767. But where Torrey Smith excelled was touchdowns, catching 11 of them from Joe Flacco while Steve Smith caught six. There should be a big market for the 26-year-old's services.
17. CB Brandon Flowers - Re-signed with San Diego for four years and $36 million
Flowers started 14 games for the Chargers after being released by the Chiefs last year. He was credited with 10 passes defensed and three interceptions, along with 52 tackles. At 29 years old, Flowers may be looking at his last chance at a big long-term deal, but there should be suitors.
18. OT Doug Free - Returned to Dallas on a three-year, $15 million deal
Free would be the top tackle if not for Bulaga, although the length of his potential contract is a big question mark. Free is 31 years old, and while he's playing at a very high level right now, who knows what could happen one or two seasons down the line. Unfortunately, he missed five games this past season with various lower body injuries.
19. LB Pernell McPhee - Signed a five-year, $40 million deal with the Bears
McPhee didn't start a single game, but was used as a situational pass rusher. In that role, he put up a career-high 7.5 sacks and a forced fumble. McPhee will be looking for somewhere he can be a full-time starter.
20. DT Nick Fairley - Signed a one-year, $5 million deal with Rams
Fairley's level of play on the field is definitely up there. He's a very solid tackler and a force on the defensive line, but he's got injury and off-the-field issues that forced him into playing in just eight games last season. Prospective teams will need to be assured he's got his head in the right place before offering big bucks.