For a Detroit Lions fan like me, the offseason is actually the most exciting part of the NFL season. For one, I don’t have to watch the Lions lose, which is a plus. But more importantly, I get to get my hopes up about the Lions bringing in free agents and drafting players that they never end up bringing in.
Life as a Lions fan goes on, and so does the NFL; despite their losing ways, I’m not giving up. This could be the offseason where things come together in a wild hailstorm and the Lions somehow end up with a team that can win more than six games.
Ok, they won seven last year, sorry; credit where credit is due.
While the Lions certainly deserve none of that credit stuff, there are a few guys who deserve heaps of it, and will probably earn it in the form of a big payday this offseason.
Note: I am not including restricted NFL free agents in this list- only the fun, unrestricted guys. Yay.
Second note: Not counting Jimmy Graham. He’s obviously number one and the Saints are going to keep him. No, this is not up for debate.
10. Brian Orakpo, outside linebacker (Washington Redskins)
Orakpo has been stellar when healthy, and if his track record was cleaner when it came to his bill of health, he’d be higher up my list. However, the fact that he was able to come back from his injury and record 60 tackles and 10 sacks makes him a top-10 free agent.
9. Jordan Gross, offensive tackle (Carolina Panthers)
Yes, Gross is 33, but this durable veteran (15 or more games in 10 of his 11 NFL seasons) is coming off one of his best years in the NFL. He was the anchor on a line that allowed only 62 hits on the quarterback, good for 6th in the league.
8. Michael Bennett, defensive end (Seattle Seahawks)
Bennett is reportedly asking for big boy money, and he’ll likely get it. He’s a dynamic pass rusher, but is also athletic enough to play in coverage in a 3-4 scheme as an OLB. Some might say he’s a product of Seattle’s system, but his physical tools are as good as any.
7. Jared Veldheer, offensive tackle (Oakland Raiders)
He’s supremely underrated, and whoever signs him will probably get the 26-year-old Veldheer for cheap. I really like this guy, and he’s from my hometown of Grand Rapids, Michigan- which naturally means he’s a stud.
6. Aqib Talib, cornerback (New England Patriots)
Talib was New England’s most important defensive player this season, and when he went down against the Broncos, it was lights out for that defense. He’s big and athletic and will likely get some solid money after a solid 2013 campaign.
5. TJ Ward, safety (Cleveland Browns)
To show how bad the Browns were up front last season, Ward made 112 tackles. In other words, there were a lot of guys running around in the secondary when the Browns came to town. Ward’s a well-tested, sure tackler that can also make plays- he had two picks in 2013 and took one to the house.
4. Alterraun Verner, cornerback (Tennessee Titans)
The speedy fifth-year corner from UCLA emerged onto the scene in 2013, intercepting five passes and shutting the door on receivers league-wide. He’s in line for a big payday before next season.
3. Michael Johnson, defensive end (Cincinnati Bengals)
His numbers were definitely down this year, but they don’t tell the whole story. His breakout 2012 season coupled with the injury of Geno Atkins put all the attention on Johnson. Need proof? The double-teams Johnson drew allowed Wallace Gilberry and Carlos Dunlap to combine for 15 sacks.
2. Jairus Byrd, safety (Buffalo Bills)
Byrd is emerging as one of the NFL’s elite safeties and he will be highly coveted this year along with Ward. He had four INTs last season and is a bona fide ballhawk- he’s recorded 22 picks and 11 forced fumbles in his career.
1. Greg Hardy, defensive end (Carolina Panthers)
There’s no doubt that there is a premium on rushing the passer in today’s game and the best pass rusher in this free agency class is Greg Hardy. The sixth-rounder from Ole Miss has recorded 26 sacks in the last two years, including 15 last season.