Free agency is drawing near. On Feb. 3, the NFL's waiver system opens and teams can begin the process that leads into the opening of the 2019 free-agent market. Many of the best players with expiring contracts will re-sign with their current teams or be protected by the franchise/transition tags before the negotiating period opens March 11, and then free agency hits on March 13.
The following is a mouthwatering ranking of the NFL's 50 most notable players with expiring contracts. Baked into this list are a number of long-standing market variables. It isn't solely a ranking of talent. Age is a major factor; the sweet spot is 26. Quarterbacks are overvalued, and teams are more desperate for pass-rushers and outside receivers than they are for safeties. Veteran running backs are waaaay in the back (sorry, Mark Ingram).
Keep in mind several won't be on this list in March. We'll update this ranking throughout the offseason as new players become available and others are taken off the market.
1. DeMarcus Lawrence, DE
2018 team: Dallas Cowboys | Age entering 2019 season: 27
A year on the franchise tag appears to have paid off for Lawrence, who followed up his 14.5-sack performance last season with 10.5 in 2018. It's possible that the Cowboys could tag him again, but Lawrence would otherwise be among the rarest of commodities: an available elite pass-rusher.
2. Le'Veon Bell, RB
2018 team: Pittsburgh Steelers | Age: 27
Bell sat out the entire 2018 season, losing $14.45 million in the process, to get to this point. It remains to be seen if teams will view him as a top-end playmaker with fresh legs or a 27-year-old running back with 1,541 touches of wear and tear already baked into his body.
3. Dee Ford, DE/LB
2018 team: Kansas City Chiefs | Age: 28
A perfectly timed 13-sack season has raised Ford's stock to elite pass-rusher level. If the Chiefs don't use the franchise tag on him, he would almost certainly be among the most-pursued free agents on the market.