It’s not too early to start to look at who will be the big names when free agency kicks off on March 10. This list will change between now and then, due to releases and teams using the franchise and transition tags. Today we look at the top five offensive free agents by position and tomorrow I will take a look at the top defensive players who are potential free agents.
On the offensive side of the ball, some of the NFL’s biggest stars are available. But if your team is looking for a quarterback, pickings are pretty slim.
Brian Hoyer (Cleveland):
Hoyer was 10-7 as a starter the past two seasons before being benched in favor of rookie Johnny Manziel in December. Even with his 2014 struggles, Hoyer should draw interest from a team seeking a veteran starter or top-flight backup.
Ryan Mallett (Houston):
The Texans only got a taste of what Mallett could accomplish before he was placed on injured reserve with a torn pectoral muscle. Mallett’s potential upside and background as Tom Brady’s former backup make him intriguing despite extremely limited NFL playing time.
Mark Sanchez (Philadelphia):
While his NFL career received a boost playing in Chip Kelly’s offense, Sanchez didn’t distinguish himself as a long-term starting option. He committed 14 turnovers in eight games and isn’t a great downfield passer.
Jake Locker (Tennessee):
Nobody knows how good Locker could become with injuries having ruined his first four NFL seasons. Locker has the earmarks of a boom-or-bust acquisition in free agency.
Mike Vick (New York Jets):
This past season was further proof that Vick’s best days are behind him. Vick, though, would be a credible backup with big-game experience if called upon to play. Of course, that’s exactly what the Jets thought they were getting in Vick, only to have him admit he was unprepared when thrust into a game against the Chargers in Week 6.
DeMarco Murray (Dallas):
Murray proved what he can accomplish when healthy by leading the NFL with a franchise-record 1,845 yards. The Cowboys have Murray as their second-highest target to re-sign behind wide receiver Dez Bryant.
Mark Ingram (New Orleans):
Ingram’s fourth NFL season was his best, with 964 rushing yards and nine touchdowns. The Saints will be hard-pressed to keep Ingram because of salary-cap issues.
C.J. Spiller (Buffalo):
A clavicle injury limited Spiller to nine games in 2014. With his game-breaking speed, Spiller would serve as an excellent complement to a bigger back in a rushing tandem.
Stevan Ridley (New England):
Two torn knee ligaments ended Ridley’s 2014 campaign in Week 6. How much interest there is in Ridley, who rushed for 20 touchdowns the previous three seasons, will depend on his health in March.
Frank Gore (San Francisco):
San Francisco general manager Trent Baalke recently expressed interest in re-signing the franchise’s all-time rushing leader. If the 49ers can’t pull it off, Gore will be a popular target for a team seeking a short-term running back fix.
G Mike Iupati (San Francisco):
Although the overall play of San Francisco’s offensive line dipped in 2014, Iupati was selected to his third straight Pro Bowl. He has started all but five games at left guard since becoming a first-round 49ers pick in 2010.
T Bryan Bulaga (Green Bay):
Bulaga has played left tackle before, but his power blocking style makes him better suited for right tackle. The Packers should have ample cap space to make a strong run at re-signing Bulaga and wide receiver Randall Cobb
G/T Orlando Franklin (Denver):
After starting his career at right tackle, Franklin shifted to left guard in 2014. Such versatility is a plus for Franklin as he approaches free agency.
T Byron Bell (Carolina):
Bell was inconsistent during his first season at left tackle as he surrendered 9.5 sacks and 32 pressures during the first 16 regular-season games, according to STATS. Bell, though, should be more comfortable in 2015 and could always shift back to right tackle.
T King Dunlap (San Diego):
The NFL’s biggest left tackle had a monster season. The 6-foot-9, 330-pound Dunlap did an excellent job protecting quarterback Philip Rivers’ blindside.
WR Dez Bryant (Dallas):
Bryant isn’t going anywhere if you take Cowboys owner Jerry Jones at his word. Jones has said his star wide receiver would be given the franchise tag if the team couldn’t strike a long-term deal.
WR Demaryius Thomas (Denver):
Peyton Manning’s top target in Denver got hot at the end of the regular season with 21 catches for 353 yards and one touchdown in the final three games. He’ll be a hot commodity in free agency, too, if allowed to test the market.
WR Randall Cobb (Green Bay):
An outstanding complement to Packers top receiver Jordy Nelson, Cobb had a breakout regular season with 91 receptions for 1,287 yards and 12 touchdowns. He’s a dangerous returner as well.
WR Michael Crabtree (San Francisco):
His production dipped in 2014 along with that of San Francisco’s entire offense. There also are questions about whether Crabtree’s speed has fully returned following a torn Achilles tendon in the 2013 offseason.
Jeremy Maclin (Philadelphia):
The 2014 Eagles never found a way to replace the speed element provided by DeSean Jackson following the wide receiver’s offseason release. Losing a dependable target and team leader like Maclin would be another significant blow to the offense.
Julius Thomas (Denver):
If unable to re-sign either Julius Thomas or Demaryius Thomas to a long-term contract before free agency, don’t be surprised if the Broncos use their franchise tag on the former. Game-changing tight ends are harder to find and the designation is cheaper at that position than wide receiver.
Jermaine Gresham (Cincinnati):
Although never a spectacular play-maker with the Bengals like one would hope from a first-round pick, Gresham was a solid receiving threat and blocker. Multiple injuries hampered Gresham down the stretch in 2014.
Jordan Cameron (Cleveland):
Cameron wasn’t able to build on a breakthrough 2013 campaign because of injuries. Some teams may be wary of Cameron’s concussion history since he has suffered at least three in the past two seasons, including one that forced him to miss five games this season.
Charles Clay (Miami):
Whether it was because of lingering knee problems or the change of system under new offensive coordinator Bill Lazor, Clay’s statistics fell across the board from his strong 2013 season. Dolphins fans will hate to hear this, but Clay’s skill-set would fit perfectly in New England.
Niles Paul (Washington):
Paul posted career highs in receptions (39) and yards (507) this season. Because he’s undersized at 6-foot-1 and 241 pounds, Niles’ niche is as a receiving tight end and special-teams contributor.