Franchise tag or new deal? Ndamukong Suh, Dez Bryant among guys on the spot

NFL free agency begins on March 10. But before the market opens, a number of teams will play tag. Yes, Feb. 16 is the first day for clubs to apply franchise tags. And the tag has been discussed as a stopgap solution for each of the top four players on Around The NFL's list of the 25 best free agents-to-be:

Of those four stars, who is most deserving of a long-term contract from his current team?

The key words in this question: "current team." And thus, the answer is Ndamukong Suh. It is really simple: If Suh leaves, Detroit cannot recover and win. He's that talented -- a true difference-maker on the defensive line.

Now, I'm on record begging Dallas to re-up Dez Bryant. He's a special receiver, and if the Cowboys let him go, they'll always be chasing that kind of player. He would be second on my list. But Suh is unique and dominant. The Lions just cannot function without him. Justin Houston and Dez Bryant deserve it most. The former is the kind of elite pass rusher that is very difficult to find in today's NFL. His production this past season (22 sacks) was beyond reproach. Not to mention, it's not like that absurd total was solely the mark of a guy playing for a contract; Houston has been one of the best the last three years running. Meanwhile, Bryant has been one of the top two or three wideouts over the past three campaigns. He's caught 41 touchdown passes during that span, attacking the football while using his athleticism to create separation between himself and some of the best defensive backs in the game.

[Ndamukong Suh](/player/ndamukongsuh/496861/profile) and 
[Demaryius Thomas](/player/demaryiusthomas/497328/profile) are very good players, but both have questions. Suh can be a distraction, no matter how solid a player he is. Thomas undoubtedly has been helped by the play of 
[Peyton Manning](/player/peytonmanning/2501863/profile) over the last three years. Could he do it with 
[Brock Osweiler](/player/brockosweiler/2533436/profile) ... or somebody else? If we are splitting hairs here (we are), those factors would cause me to lean toward Houston and Bryant. 

Goes without saying -- but I'll say it anyway: All four teams would suffer significantly if they lost those guys, each of whom ranks among the best players in the game. Debating who'd be the WORST worst loss is like arguing if cheese, sauce or dough would be the biggest loss to pizza.

Here's where it gets really fun ... or scary, depending on your rooting interest: Where might those guys wind up if they do move on? What if Demaryius Thomas found his way to New England, where he, Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman would be almost unstoppable? Why'd I bother typing "almost"? Because the Seahawks, with regional hero Ndamukong Suh joining the already-dominant Seattle D, would have a great shot at stifling that Pats offense.

Now that we're recklessly speculating ... what if the Eagles could land Dez Bryant? Dallas would crumble, Philly would soar. Then again, the Rams would be transformed to formidable if THEY added Dez. ( Los Angeles does love star power, y'know.)

Yes, the offseason is fun. Not as fun as the actual season ... but fun. First of all, there's no question about Ndamukong Suh's durability -- he's started 78 games in his five-year career. He's also a good teammate who has gotten along well with his fellow Lions players. Suh is a top-notch run defender and pass rusher, and you know he enjoys playing football and excelling at it. I would think the chances of Suh getting a big contract and not playing up to it are very slim. Suh reminds me of veteran 49ers defensive lineman Justin Smith, who was the same age Suh is now (28) when he left the Bengals to sign in San Francisco. To borrow a well-used line: " Deserve's got nothing to do with it"

All four players deserve long-team deals and the stability that goes with them. They've earned it, which is why they are atop the free-agency list.

[Justin Houston](/player/justinhouston/2495493/profile) is most likely to get a long-term deal from his team this offseason. Houston harassed the quarterback with more ferocity than any NFL player outside of 
[J.J. Watt](/player/j.j.watt/2495488/profile) this past season. His talent for disruption makes it paramount for the 
[Chiefs](/teams/kansascitychiefs/profile?team=KC) to hang on to 
[the NFL's 2014 leader in sacks](http://www.nfl.com/stats/categorystats?tabSeq=0&statisticCategory=SACKS&conference=null&season=2014&seasonType=REG). I expect Houston to get franchise tagged, but there aren't huge obstacles when it comes to potentially inking him long term later in the offseason -- unlike others on this list. 
[Chiefs](/teams/kansascitychiefs/profile?team=KC) general manager John Dorsey and coach Andy Reid know the importance of hanging on to homegrown talent. A multi-year deal might not get done until the Suh situation untangles itself, but Houston isn't leaving Kansas City any time soon. 

All of them deserve long-term contracts, but if I have to choose one, I'll go with Ndamukong Suh. He gives the defense a strong inside presence against the run and the pass. And he's the biggest reason Detroit just finished No. 2 in total defense.

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