A number of the NFL’s biggest stars could enter the 2015 season on the final year of their contracts, which may set up one of the biggest free agent classes in the league’s history in 2016. For many the upcoming season represents a tremendous opportunity to land the most lucrative contract of their careers, and it should serve as motivation. Others could represent a distraction to the team, with reports about negotiations, or lack thereof, bleeding into the locker room.
Let’s take a look at 11 of the most notable potential free agents, and gauge their chances of staying with their current team and review the latest updates on their contract status.
Eli Manning, QB, New York Giants
Agent Tom Condon spoke to the New York Daily News late last month and stressed his belief that Manning and the Giants will iron out a new deal at some point. Even though his turnover woes can make Giants’ fans queasy, at 34 Manning’s still one of the top passers in the game and is very durable, having never missed a game. But rather than ink a new extension the Giants could wait and use the franchise tag on Manning, which would cost roughly $20 million but only covers one season. As the team’s leader, Manning’s situation doesn’t figure to affect the Giants play or locker room this season.
Philip Rivers, QB, San Diego Chargers
On the other hand, Rivers and his apparent refusal to even discuss a new contract with San Diego could be trouble this season. The 33-year-old Pro Bowler isn’t too keen on the Chargers apparent plans to move to Los Angeles, and he’s openly questioned whether they have enough pieces to win a Super Bowl while he’s around. Rivers is scheduled to make $15.75 million next season, and like Manning, should a contract fail to materialize the Chargers won’t let him walk and will probably use the franchise tag if necessary.
Jason Pierre-Paul, DE, New York Giants
The fireworks incident that resulted in the loss of his right index finger came at the worst possible time for Pierre-Paul, one of the top pass rushers in the league. There’s no doubt the Giants were likely trying to save some cap room for Pierre-Paul as they were negotiating Manning’s deal, but now the defensive end has little leverage. He’s still expected to play next season, and Pierre-Paul will probably sign his $14.8 million franchise tender in the near future, but a long-term deal might not be on the horizon until 2016.
Justin Houston, OLB, Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs already used the franchise tag on Houston last year, and will have to pony up a new deal for the NFL’s sack leader soon or risk losing him 2016. Beside Tamba Hali, Houston’s a premier pass rusher on a Chiefs defense that carried an offense that didn’t have a single receiver score a touchdown last year. However, according to CBS Sports, Houston’s expectations on a new deal rose significantly after Ndamukong Suh’s $114 million contract with Miami came to light.
Demaryius Thomas, WR, Denver Broncos; A.J. Green, WR, Cincinnati Bengals; Julio Jones, WR, Atlanta Falcons; Dez Bryant, WR, Dallas Cowboys; T.Y. Hilton, WR, Indianapolis Colts
We lump this incredible group of the league’s best receivers together because their potential deals are lined up like dominoes. Whoever lands the first deal, sets the bar for the rest and could lead to a string of signings. Bryant’s situation has gone back and forth from contentious to quiet, and the threat of sitting games out could be real, though the Cowboys don’t think so. Of this group only Hilton seems like the one who could leave. The Colts drafted receiver Phillip Dorsett in the first-round of the draft, and brought on veteran Andre Johnson during the offseason. Furthermore, the Colts still have to work out a new contract for Andrew Luck, whose deal is also tied to the next person on our list.
Russell Wilson, QB, Seattle Seahawks
Unlike Luck, as a third-round pick in the 2012 draft Wilson hasn’t been paid like one of the league’s best quarterbacks. After guiding Seattle to two straight Super Bowls and his cheap deal affording the team cap space to keep its batch of defensive stars together, Wilson wants a new deal to put him on the same level as Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, and Peyton Manning. He’s scheduled to make $1.7 million in 2015 and was quoted as saying he would play hard whether he made that much or $25 million a season, a figure Wilson’s probably had in mind for a while. Assuming he plays well and Seattle keeps winning, Wilson’s contract shouldn’t be an issue this season.
Muhammad Wilkerson, DE/DT, New York Jets
As NJ.com posits, the Jets may have to decide between Wilkerson and fellow defensive end Sheldon Richardson. Wilkerson’s been a force on the Jets stacked defensive line ever since he entered the league, and he’s racked up 16.5 sacks the last two years. But he too could be looking for a contract similar to Suh’s if not more, considering he’s only 25. The franchise tag also remains a possibility, but Richardson will be seeking a deal before his contract expires after the 2016 season, though New York does have a fifth-year option and could delay any extension talks.