Like every year, the early look at 2016 NFL free agency is a combination of good and bad news. The bad news first: Many of the top names on this list will never hit the market because of franchise/transition tags, as well as the possibility of contract extensions with their current teams. The good news: There is still ample talent available for clubs hoping to upgrade their rosters. FOX Sports Senior NFL Writer Alex Marvez takes a look at the top 10 offensive players whose contracts are expiring after the 2015 season ends. His look at the top 10 defensive players will be posted Jan. 22.
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1. Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins
Franchise/transition tag possibility without contract extension: High. There is virtually no chance Washington lets Cousins walk after he blossomed when given the starting nod ahead of Robert Griffin III for the 2015 season. The bigger question is whether the Redskins and his agents can come to agreement on how much Cousins is worth. He hasn’t proven worthy of 'elite' quarterback money yet and may never hit the heights of Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers et al. Cousins also might not be as successful playing in another team’s offense. But having to use a franchise tag in the $20 million dollar range to make sure Cousins is kept in the fold for at least one season isn’t an appealing option for Washington under the salary cap, either.
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2. Tampa Bay running back Doug Martin
Franchise/transition tag possibility without contract extension: Possible. Because injuries limited him to 17 of a possible 32 games the previous two seasons, the Buccaneers decided against exercising a $5.6 million contract option on Martin for the 2016 season. Martin will be more expensive to keep now that he rebounded in 2015 with 1,402 rushing yards -- the NFL’s second-highest total behind Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson (1,485) -- while appearing in all 16 contests.
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3. Denver quarterback Brock Osweiler
Franchise/transition tag possibility without contract extension: Likely. It will be now or never for the Broncos to deem Osweiler their starting quarterback and take the necessary steps to install him as such. That would mean saying goodbye to 39-year-old Peyton Manning, whose release would clear $19 million under the salary cap that could be funneled toward Osweiler’s new contract.
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4. Chicago running back Matt Forte
Franchise/transition tag possibility without contract extension: Doubtful. Trying to forecast the market for a 30-year-old running back isn’t easy, especially in Forte’s case. Having only missed eight games in eight seasons, his durability is evident, but Forte’s total number of touches (2,522 combined rushing and receiving) comes with a heavy physical toll. If the Bears can’t re-sign him, 2015 fourth-round pick Jeremy Langford appears ready to replace him. But those would be big shoes to fill. Forte would leave Chicago as the second-most statistically productive running back in franchise history behind the iconic Walter Payton.
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5. Philadelphia quarterback Sam Bradford
Franchise/transition tag possibility without contract extension: Possible. Predicting Bradford's future is difficult, what with the Eagles having made major changes in the front office and at head coach with the firing of Chip Kelly, who brought Bradford to Philadelphia last March in a trade with St. Louis. While his 2015 production was erratic, that may have stemmed more from Bradford not being an ideal fit in an up-tempo attack that sputtered across the board. Bradford could excel in the more conventional West Coast-style system the Eagles are expected to use this season under new head coach Doug Pederson, but are the Eagles willing to pay the price to keep him -- and does Bradford even want to return?
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6. Chicago wide receiver Alshon Jeffery
Franchise/transition tag possibility without contract extension: Possible. After two straight seasons of 1,100-plus receiving yards, Jeffery’s production dipped in 2015 when he missed seven games because of injury. It would cost the Bears $13 million-plus to use the franchise tag on Jeffery, which could dissuade Chicago from doing so -- specially with 2015 first-round draft pick Kevin White expected to return from a leg injury that sidelined the wideout for his entire rookie campaign. Even though there is a long history of money wasted on high-paid WR signings in free agency, Jeffery’s speed and penchant for big plays will draw him a huge offer elsewhere if he’s available.
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7. Seattle left tackle Russell Okung
Franchise/transition tag possibility without contract extension: Iffy. Since head coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider arrived in 2010, the Seahawks have signed only one veteran offensive lineman (center Max Unger) to a big-money contract. Now, with his six-year rookie contract expiring, the Seahawks must decide whether Okung should become the second, or they need to find a new blindside protector for quarterback Russell Wilson.
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8. Buffalo left tackle Cordy Glenn
Franchise/transition tag possibility without contract extension: Possible. At 6-foot-6 and 345 pounds, Glenn doesn’t have the prototypical size for a left tackle. He may even draw as much interest in free agency as a right tackle. But Glenn has established himself enough at left tackle to draw strong interest at both spots if given the chance to leave western New York.
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9. Miami running back Lamar Miller
Franchise/transition tag possibility without contract extension: Extremely low. Because he was so underutilized during his first four seasons with the Dolphins despite his productivity (a 4.8 yard average and 1,971 rushing yards on 410 carries combined in 2013 and 2014), Miller should be one of the most sought-after running backs in free agency if not re-signed. One caveat: Miller would have to be willing to leave South Florida, which is where he grew up and played collegiately (at the University of Miami). The Dolphins are far more likely to use their franchise tag on defensive end Olivier Vernon barring a new deal.
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10. New York Jets quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick
Franchise/transition tag possibility without contract extension: Probable. While not an all-star by any means, Fitzpatrick was the best quarterback New York fielded since Chad Pennington enjoyed a 22-touchdown, six-interception campaign in 2002. Fitzpatrick is a great fit working under Jets offensive coordinator Chan Gailey, his former head coach in Buffalo. That relationship should prompt the 33-year-old Fitzpatrick to re-sign rather than seek a contract from what would be his seventh NFL team in 12 seasons.