February 20, 2015 / 11:15 am

The top 5 NFL free agents and where they’ll end up

As we move further into the new NFL season, more and more rumors regarding this year’s free agent class abound. The most prominent gossip this week has focused on NFL teams’ use of the franchise tag on star players who are due for new lucrative deals.

This past Monday was the first day NFL teams could officially classify their imminent unrestricted free agents as “franchise players” with the franchise tag. By tagging a player, each NFL team can hold on to one player for an additional year in an attempt to bide more time to work out a long-term contract.

With no immediate changes in the status of my 2015 top 25, this week’s update will focus on my projections for where the top five players in the rankings will land this upcoming season through franchise tags or other means.

  1. Dez Bryant (WR) – Dallas Cowboys

Dez will remain a Cowboy in 2015; the question will be whether Dallas chooses to sign the fiery wide-out to a long-term deal or use the franchise tag on him. ESPN’s Todd Archer reported today the Cowboy’s executive VP Stephen Jones told sources “the club is leaning toward using the franchise tag on wide receiver Dez Bryant, but is not in a hurry to do so.” While securing their No. 1 receiving threat should be top priority for “America’s Team,” Dallas should tread lightly it considers not giving Bryant the big-money deal he deserves. If Bryant has proven anything, it is that he is ruled by emotion, and a franchise tag may be interpreted as a lack of confidence in his enduring production.

  1. Ndamukong Suh (DT) – Detroit Lions

Ranking a defensive tackle this high is a rarity, but Ndamukong Suh is not an everyday talent. Few interior defensive lineman possess Suh’s ability to be so disruptive and, with J.J. Watt receiving a record-breaking new deal, Suh is in line for a substantial payday. NBC Sports’ Darin Gantt reported today that Lion’s General Manager Martin Mayhew is “very optimistic we’ll get something done,” regarding contract talks between Suh and his current team when he spoke at his press conference today. Expect the four time pro-bowler to remain in Detroit unless the team low-balls him on his new deal.

  1. Justin Houston (OLB/DE) – Kansas City Chiefs

The Kansas City Chiefs have been the beneficiary of two top-flight pass rushers on their front seven in Tamba Hali and Justin Houston. But with the Chiefs having just over one million in salary cap space for 2015, Houston will be looking to find a team who with the ability to let him cash in. That team will be the Atlanta Falcons who are in desperate need of help on defense and will be more than willing to pay top dollar to procure it. Houston’s league-leading 22 sacks matched Atlanta’s 22 total sacks last season, ranking 30th overall in the NFL. New defensive-minded head coach Dan Quinn will be looking for a player with Houston’s unique skill set and will push hard to make Atlanta Houston’s new home.

  1. Demaryius Thomas (WR) – Denver Broncos

The Denver Broncos would love to work out a new deal for Peyton Manning’s favorite target, Demaryius Thomas. Denver has had a five-year offer on the table since this past June and Thomas recently said he would like to remain a Bronco, but it appears that the two sides have been unable to come to a compromise. This, in all likelihood, means an inevitable franchise tag for Thomas. With an aging Manning coming back for what is probably his final season, GM John Elway will want to keep as much consistency around the veteran quarterback as possible. And when you consider the impending departure of breakout tight-end Julius Thomas and implementation of a foreign offensive scheme under new head coach and offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak and Rick Dennison, tagging No. 88 may be the only chance to replicate the prolific offense we’ve seen in the Manning/Bronco era.

  1. Randall Cobb (WR) – Green Bay Packers

The Green Bay Packers do not want to let go of Randall Cobb, and he is certainly in no hurry to leave. Pack GM Ted Thompson has given no indication that he plans to tag Cobb at this juncture after reports surfaced Cobb would seek a workable $9 million annual salary, similar to the deal teammate Jordy Nelson signed this summer, for play-making receivers of their caliber, nine million a year is an absolute steal. But if the two sides cannot find the middle ground, the Pack can still afford to tag Cobb. The current market price for a tagged wide receiver is projected at $12.7 million and with the 24-year-old coming off his best season statistically, Cobb is in a very comfortable position to cash in this off-season. But is a max contract with another team really worth losing Aaron Rodgers?

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