By Rick Gosselin
Talk of Fame Network
NFL owners are checking out their billfolds, checkbooks and cash reserves this month.
With free agency around the corner, there are some blockbuster names looking to cash in.
Start with NFL rushing champion DeMarco Murray. Pro Bowl pass catchers also are available (wideouts Dez Bryant and DeMaryius Thomas and tight end Julius Thomas), as are defensive tackles (Ndamukong Suh) and pass rushers (Justin Houston and Jason Pierre-Paul).
Green Bay wide receiver Randall Cobb, Cleveland tight end Jordan Cameron, San Francisco guard Mike Iupati, Detroit defensive tackle Nick Fairley and Seattle cornerback Byron Maxwell also will be looking to improve their tax brackets this offseason.
The window to sign players opens March 10 and several of the elite may already be off the market if their current teams slap franchise tags on them or if those players opt to re-sign.
But be careful how you spend your money.
The three top free-agent contracts last season were extended to cornerback Aqib Talib, safety Jairus Byrd and offensive tackle Branden Albert. All received guaranteed money in excess of $26 million. Talib’s total package from the Broncos came in at $57 million, Byrd’s from the Saints at $54 million and Albert’s from the Dolphins at $47 million.
Talib started 15 games and helped the AFC West champion Broncos vault from 14th in the NFL in defense in 2013 to third last season. He intercepted four passes and broke up 20 others. He was worth Denver’s investment. Not so Byrd and Albert. Byrd lasted only four games and Albert nine before injuries ended their seasons on non-playoff teams.
But the best deals are not always the biggest deals. The shrewd shopper can find values – as the Baltimore Ravens did in 2014.
The Ravens signed Justin Forsett away from the Jacksonville Jaguars in free agency for pennies on the dollar. He agreed to a one-year, $730,000 contract and wound up rushing for 1,266 yards to finish sixth in the league. He averaged 5.4 yards per carry and scored eight touchdowns as the Ravens vaulted from 30th in the NFL in rushing in 2013 to eighth in 2015. He also caught 44 passes.
The New York Jets signed wide receiver Eric Decker away from the Broncos for $36.2 million last offseason with $15 million of it guaranteed. He caught 74 passes for 962 yards and five touchdowns. Denver signed Emmanuel Sanders away from the Pittsburgh Steelers for less than half of Decker’s money — $15 million over three years – and he rewarded the Broncos with 101 catches for 1,404 yards and nine touchdowns.
The Lions signed safety James Ihedigbo for a fraction of what it cost the Saints to sign Byrd — $3.15 million over two years. He was a key reason the Lions vaulted from 17th in the NFL in 2013 defense to second, collecting 71 tackles, two sacks, four interceptions and forcing three fumbles.
The high-profile names will attract the headlines with their contracts this spring. But often it’s the lower-profile players who provide a bigger bang for their buck in the fall.