We've arrived at that time of year when most of the NFL is deep into offseason analysis. Some teams are trying to hire a head coach. Others need to find a new general manager. All but four, however, know they won't have a meaningful game for nearly eight months.
So as they analyze and evaluate their rosters, one of all the teams' top priorities is determining which pending free agents they want back. Then they determine how. Will they make a new contract offer? Extend the franchise or transition tag? Or will they let the player seek employment elsewhere and then use the salary-cap space to sign an outside free agent of their own?
What follows is ESPN's annual January ranking of the top 50 players who will be eligible for unrestricted free agency if they aren't retained before the market opens March 16, either because their contracts are expiring or the remaining years on their deals are set to automatically void. We don't include restricted or exclusive free agents, for whom the original teams have the right of first refusal. And yes, this list will look much different when the market opens, as teams keep some players and terminate other players' contracts over the next two months.
As always, our ranking is skewed toward players coming off their first contracts -- at the free-agent sweet spot of about 26 years old -- and keeps in mind that some positions are much more valued on the open market than others. Let's jump in, starting with one of the game's top receivers.