The 2015 free agent class could be star-filled, with top players both on offense (Dallas Cowboys RB DeMarco Murray and WR Dez Bryant, Denver Broncos WR Demaryius Thomas and TE Julius Thomas) and defense (Detroit Lions DT Ndamukong Suh, Kansas City Chiefs LB Justin Houston, New York Giants DE Jason Pierre-Paul) set to become unrestricted free agents. Though much can change between now and March, here’s a look at which teams have the most to gain and the most to lose in free agency:
Most to gain
5. Cleveland Browns: If Mike Pettine can drag this version of the Browns to a 7-6 record, just imagine what Year 2 might hold. Cleveland made sure CB Joe Haden wouldn’t hit free agency with an extension in May. More shrewd signings, such as LB Karlos Dansby, should elevate the defense to Pettine’s standards.
4. Tennesssee Titans: A major shakeup is in order in Nashville, at least if you believe Titans CEO Tommy Smith. “The roster is going to look a lot different next year,” Smith said last Wednesday, per the Tennessean. With needs at quarterback and edge rusher, among other positions, the Titans won’t solely be able to rely on the draft. A focused spending spree could jolt a team left stagnant by pedestrian drafts in recent years.
3. Oakland Raiders: The Silver and Black will have money to throw around in March. Will it be enough to lure top players to the moribund franchise? The Raiders’ free agent crop turned up over-the-hill players this offseason, a mistake which can’t be repeated next year. Landing an established coach (whether that’s the 49ers’ Jim Harbaugh or another figure) would help set the tone for the spring and perhaps make Oakland a legitimate destination once again.
2. New York Jets: General manager John Idzik might have to make a long-awaited splash in free agency to get off the hot seat. Whether Percy Harvin returns or not, Gang Green should have plenty of cap space with which to work. With the Jets likely holding an early draft pick, they might have to address their pressing need at cornerback through free agency. Settling for the quickly cut Dimitri Patterson proved New York can’t ignore the position much longer.
1. Jacksonville Jaguars: Jaguars owner Shad Khan and general manager Dave Caldwell likely have been looking forward to 2015 for some time. Khan told the Florida Times-Union in November that his team should be “very active” in the upcoming free agency. With a rookie quarterback and young talent at the skill positions, the Jaguars can focus on their offensive line and defense. Expect them to find upgrades at multiple positions from playoff teams that can’t afford to pay all of their starting-level talent.
Most to lose
5. San Francisco 49ers: The hardball negotiating tactics have worked up until now, but a season of turmoil could make San Francisco’s rigidity more off-putting to its impending free agents. G Mike Iupati and WR Michael Crabtree might be able to command more money elsewhere. And a hard decision could be coming on 31-year-old running back Frank Gore, whose role has diminished in the 49ers’ increasingly Colin Kaepernick-centric offense.
4. Philadelphia Eagles: Chip Kelly’s crew makes an appearance on this list due to its pressing situation at quarterback. Mark Sanchez is set to become an unrestricted free agent in 2015, but are the Eagles ready to commit to him? Trotting out Nick Foles on the final season of his contract seems like an unwise gamble after his rocky campaign this year. WR Jeremy Maclin’s decision to play on a one-year deal could pay off for him this season, as he is on the short list for Comeback Player of the Year.
3. Dallas Cowboys: Now that Jerry Jones finally has a consistent winner, keeping WR Dez Bryant and RB DeMarco Murray will be the offseason’s top priority. But the Cowboys can only use the franchise tag on one of their offensive stars, which could result in a costly long-term deal for the other. Even if Dallas retains both, it still must pay up for current cost-effective starters in LB Rolando McClain and G Ronald Leary.
2. Detroit Lions: There’s no winning for Detroit in its negotiations with Ndamukong Suh. Using the franchise tag would cost the Lions a projected $26.7 million, and the lineman told reporters Wednesday that agent Jimmy Sexton would pick his team this offseason. Losing Suh, and possibly DT Nick Fairley as well, would gut a second-ranked defense that has Detroit in the mix for a postseason berth.
1. Denver Broncos: John Elway and the Broncos might emerge from this offseason relatively unscathed, a feat that would just be as impressive as the sum of their 2014 acquisitions. But there are so many pieces to re-sign, with WR Demaryius Thomas and TE Julius Thomas both crucial to keep at home. CB Chris Harris also should be a top priority, but another team might swoop in on the 25-year-old with a significant deal. WR Wes Welker, DT Terrance Knighton, S Rahim Moore and G Orlando Franklin all are scheduled to hit the open market.