FREE AGENCY 2015: A look at this year’s crop
NEW YORK (AP) — When the checkbooks fly open on Tuesday, the bidding wars figure to be concentrated on receivers and defensive linemen.
Yet the most interesting position in free agency is running back.
As the NFL has evolved into a pass-prone league, the role of the ball carrier has diminished. Still, when the reigning Offensive Player of the Year, DeMarco Murray, and two other 1,000-yard rushers, Justin Forsett and Frank Gore, are on the block, it’s impossible to overlook the position.
The key question: Which teams are willing to sink big bucks into running backs who generally begin to decline before players at other spots?
“I don’t know who came up with the idea that the running game is devalued,” says former NFL personnel executive Pat Kirwan, now an analyst for SiriusXM NFL Radio and CBS Sports. “How well did Seattle run the ball with Marshawn Lynch, and the Seahawks won one Super Bowl and played in another.”
Murray, the league’s leading rusher by nearly 500 yards, is 27, and there figures to be a strong market for him. Forsett is 29. Gore is a well-worn 31.
Because enough teams have been burned by big-money contracts for running backs — Chris Johnson in Tennessee, Steven Jackson in Atlanta, Knowshon Moreno in Miami — it could make everyone antsy. But Murray is a rarity, just entering his prime and at the top of his game.
One area that certainly will get plenty of attention, and dollars, is receiver. A dynamic crop awaits, including All-Pro Dez Bryant, Randall Cobb, Torrey Smith, Wes Welker and Jeremy Maclin.
Another is the defensive line, featuring All-Pro tackle Ndamukong Suh, DTs Terrance Knighton and B.J. Raji, and ends Brian Orakpo, Brooks Reed and Anthony Spencer — several of whom can also play outside linebacker.
So where might the money go, and who might be left out of the big bonanza? Here are some possibilities:
HEAD OF THE CLASS:
Ndamukong Suh, DT, Detroit. The dominant Suh’s penchant for drawing fines and suspensions — some say for playing dirty — is the only real drawback to signing him. He’ll cost plenty.
Randall Cobb, WR, Green Bay. The No. 2 wideout in Green Bay could be a No. 1 elsewhere. He can play the slot, outside or in the backfield, and returns kicks.
DeMarco Murray, RB, Dallas. Teams might be wary of spending big money on running backs, but Murray has been a game changer. He also has some injury history.
Darrelle Revis, CB, New England. If he doesn’t rework his current deal with the Patriots and is available, Revis is among a handful of outstanding coverage cornerbacks who can shut down almost anyone. He will be very expensive.
Julius Thomas, TE, Denver. Fits perfectly in most offenses because he can get deep as well as find open spaces in the seams.
Stefen Wisniewski, C, Oakland. The best blocker in this crop, young, energetic and versatile. He can be an anchor on many offensive lines.
Mike Iupati, G, San Francisco. Solid player who slumped in 2014 amid the Niners’ turmoil.
Byron Maxwell, CB, Seattle. Any starter from the Legion of Boom who becomes available will get snapped up quickly.
NEXT IN LINE:
Terrance Knighton, DT, Denver. Versatile space-eater who provides experience and leadership, but not nearly as dominant as Suh.
Torrey Smith, WR, Baltimore. Any team looking for a deep threat will consider him.
Jeremy Maclin, WR, Philadelphia. Proved he can come back from serious injury and be a major contributor.
David Harris, LB, New York Jets. One of the building blocks for Rex Ryan’s defenses in New York, which says a lot.
Devin McCourty, S, New England. Also can play cornerback, a leader and one of the game’s most intelligent defensive backs.
Bryan Bulaga, G-T, Green Bay. Not a franchise-type blocker, but more than serviceable if he can stay healthy.
Brooks Reed, LB-DE, Houston. Dependable defender who shows flashes, could wind up with bigger contract than expected.
Rodney Hudson, C, Kansas City. Experienced centers who excel at run blocking are hard to find in free agency.
Davon House, CB, Green Bay. One of the more improved cornerbacks in the league even though he’s rarely started.
Jared Odrick, DT, Miami. A good player with good timing who will find lots of interest after Suh and Knighton.
Brian Orakpo, LB-DE, Washington. Past injury issues will limit interest, incentive-laden deal likely.
Jordan Cameron, TE, Cleveland. The top player available at an important position in some offensive schemes.
Some of these players might get quick deals more because of the position they play than their overall production:
Jerry Hughes, DE, Buffalo; Reggie Bush, RB, Detroit; Michael Crabtree, WR, San Francisco; Antonio Cromartie, CB, Arizona; Louis Delmas, S, Miami; Justin Forsett, RB, Baltimore; Greg Hardy, DE, Carolina; Brian Hartline, WR, Miami; A.J. Hawk, LB, Green Bay; Mark Ingram, RB, New Orleans; Jacoby Jones, WR, Baltimore; Pernell McPhee, LB, Baltimore; Mark Sanchez, QB, Philadelphia; Anthony Spencer, DE-LB, Dallas; Shane Vereen, RB, New England; Vince Wilfork, DT, New England.
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