The NFL announced its Pro Bowlers for the 2015 season on Tuesday night, and while those rosters will certainly undergo some changes in the coming weeks – as players with injuries or on Super Bowl teams bow out and are replaced by alternates – it’s worth noting that several players in this initial crop are in contract years, and will be eligible for free agency this winter.
Currently, there are eight players in contract years among the Pro Bowlers, and not all of them are players you might expect. When we ranked the top free agents of 2016 earlier this month, we placed Bears wideout Alshon Jeffery second overall, but Jeffery didn’t get a Pro Bowl nod, partly due to the injuries that have slowed him down this season, and partly due to the star-studded group of receivers he was up against.
Similarly, our list of this offseason’s top 10 potential free agents included a pair of left tackles, Russell Okung of the Seahawks and Cordy Glenn of the Bills. However, given the strong group of left tackles that are locked up to long-term deals – including Tyron Smith (Cowboys), Jason Peters (Eagles), Joe Thomas (Browns), and others – neither Okung nor Glenn could crack the initial Pro Bowl roster.
Here are the eight potential free agents who earned Pro Bowl berths:
- Eric Berry, S (Chiefs)
- Doug Martin, RB (Buccaneers)
- Von Miller, OLB (Broncos)
- Reggie Nelson, S (Bengals)
- Josh Norman, CB (Panthers)
- Mike Tolbert, FB (Panthers)
- Muhammad Wilkerson, DL (Jets)
- Charles Woodson, S (Raiders)
Berry, Miller, Norman, and Wilkerson earned spots on our top-10 list, and each of those four standout players should be in line for either the franchise tag or a lucrative long-term contract. However, the extension cases for the other four players on this list aren’t quite to cut-and-dried.
Woodson, of course, has an expiring contract, but isn’t expected to sign another one, having announced earlier this week that he’ll retire after the season. That takes him out of the extension equation entirely.
Martin is having an excellent bounce-back season in Tampa Bay, and is the most logical candidate to receive the biggest free agent deal for a running back this offseason. As we saw last winter though, not many running backs sign massive free agent contracts, and 2015’s biggest deal – DeMarco Murray‘s – won’t exactly encourage teams to invest heavily at the position. So there’s a ceiling on how much Martin will earn this winter, despite his Pro Bowl berth.
Nelson and Tolbert are interesting cases. Nelson’s counting stats (an NFL-best eight interceptions) and Pro Football Focus grades (10th among safeties) suggest he’s had a very strong year, but he’ll also be entering his age-33 season, so it’s fair to question whether he’s deserving of a contract in the range of the ones that Berry and perhaps Eric Weddle will sign.
As for Tolbert, his Pro Bowl nod comes at one of the league’s least-valued positions, and he’s also now on the wrong side of 30, which is generally bad news for running backs. I expect he’ll draw interest from plenty of teams if the Panthers don’t lock him up, but as a 30-year-old fullback, his earning potential is limited.
One more player worth mentioning is Browns center Alex Mack. Technically, Mack still has three years remaining on his contract, but he’ll have the opportunity to opt out this winter, and coming off a Pro Bowl season, there’s a good chance he’ll take advantage of that option.
Ultimately, these eight players – plus Mack – aren’t likely to get a huge boost to their annual salaries on their next contracts simply because they made the Pro Bowl. In fact, Tuesday’s Pro Bowl announcement may very well have a more tangible impact on players with Pro Bowl bonuses in their current contracts.
Still, you can bet that the representatives for these potential free agents will be sure to point to this year’s Pro Bowl roster to help make their case that their clients are among the best players in the NFL at their respective positions.