So far, we have covered running backs, safeties, red-zone threats, throwing arms, quarter-pole surprises, quarter-pole disappointments, franchise cornerstones, players deserving of Pro Bowl consideration, best free-agent pickups, biggest free-agent flops, rookie classes and Comeback Player of the Year candidates.
This week, we look forward to the 2015 offseason. Below is a list of the premier impending free agents, several of whom will be assigned the franchise tag if no long-term contract can be reached before the end of February.
Without further ado, here is the list:
1. Ndamukong Suh, Lions defensive tackle: It's exceedingly rare for superstars of Suh's age (27), talent level and pedigree to reach the open market, which is why he's poised to surpassJ.J. Watt as the NFL's highest-paid defensive player. Because it would take a whopping $26.7 million to wield the franchise tag, the Lions are willing to let Suh explore free agency even if he notches a third All-Pro selection. In other words, Suh could be playing for the Giants, Jets, Cowboys or Bears in 2015.
2. Justin Houston, Chiefs pass rusher: The Chiefs couldn't work out a deal with Houston last offseason. It's going to cost them even more to re-sign their premier pass rusher now that he's leading the NFL in sacks while rivaling Von Miller as the best defensive player not named J.J. Watt. The Chiefs really like Houston and don't want to let him get away, per NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport, so the franchise tag is an option.
3. Dez Bryant, Cowboys wide receiver: The most efficient red-zone weapon in the league, Bryant is the only NFL player with double-digit touchdowns in each of the past three seasons. His physicality, vice-grip hands and explosive run-after-catch ability make him a nightmare for cornerbacks. Rapoport has suggested Bryant is seeking upward of $16 million annually. Owner Jerry Jones is determined to ensure that Bryant never wears another uniform.
4. Demaryius Thomas, Broncos wide receiver: For opposing defensive backs, there's no scarier sight than Thomas with the ball in his hands and a full head of steam coming off a bubble screen. He doesn't fight for contested balls like Bryant but still ranks second to Antonio Brown in receptions, yards and touchdowns. It's hard to imagine the Broncos allowing him to reach free agency.
5. Darrelle Revis, Patriots cornerback: Revis' contract was announced as a two-year deal, but the $20 million option for 2015 means he will have to restructure to remain in New England. Revis might not be what he was as a shut-down force from 2009 through 2011, but he knows wide receiver routes better than any cornerback in the game. Over the past two months, he ranks with Richard Sherman as the NFL's best.
6. Julius Thomas, Broncos tight end: Despite missing the last two games, Thomas is already the first tight end in NFL history with at least 12 touchdowns in back-to-back years. Skill-set wise, he ranks behind only Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham at tight end. The Broncos realize his importance to Peyton Manning's aerial attack, which means he's highly unlikely to reach the open market.
7. Mike Iupati, 49ers guard: Iupati has been one of the league's most decorated interior linemen the past few years, earning two Pro Bowl berths and a first-team All-Pro selection in 2012. The 49ers work with a fairly rigid salary hierarchy that could present a problem for a player who could become the NFL's highest paid at his position.
8. DeMarco Murray, Cowboys running back: Even though Murray is in the MVP discussion, the Cowboys will place a higher priority on Bryant this offseason. Running backs no longer get paid, in large part because they can be too easily replaced. Murray deserves to be rewarded for a historically great season, but his injury track record and heavy workload aren't doing his market value any favors. Interesting subplot: Adrian Peterson is already on Jerry Jones' speed dial and has designs on finishing his career with the Cowboys.
9. Jason Pierre-Paul, Giants defensive end: The bulk of JPP's pass-rushing productivity has come in three games versus Tyron Smith (Cowboys), Jared Veldheer (Cardinals) and Jake Matthews (Falcons). While he doesn't harass quarterbacks at the same level as three years ago, he remains dominant against the run. Still just 25 years old, Pierre-Paul has the raw talent that will tempt at least one team into believing he can recapture early-career form.
10. Randall Cobb, Packers wide receiver: Cobb has more value to the Packers than to any other team because he is Aaron Rodgers' security blanket on broken and improvised plays. Per Pro Football Focus, the NFL's best quarterback-to-wide receiver passer rating this season is Rodgers-to-Cobb at 143.6 (not bad for a receiver who was deemed too small for the Bears to draft). The second-best? Rodgers-to-Jordy Nelson at 125.1. We expect the Packers to try to hammer out a long-term deal with Cobb prior to the start of free agency.
Honorable mention:Greg Hardy, Devin McCourty, Jared Odrick, Jerry Hughes, Chris Harris, Jason Worilds, Cliff Avril, Pernell McPhee, Brian Orakpo, Michael Crabtree, Nick Fairley, Jordan Cameron, Jeremy Maclin, Torrey Smith, C.J. Spiller, Brandon Flowers, Ryan Mathews, Mark Ingram, Cecil Shorts, Jabaal Sheard, Mark Sanchez, Brian Hoyer