There is set to be a slew of high-profiles names ready to hit the free agent market for the National Football League's 2017 offseason and it's always fun to figure out where each will land based on every team's needs.
In all likelihood, some of these players will get locked up by their own teams before hitting the open market and talking to other teams. For others, the murky waters of free agency are inevitable, which could lead to a new home for these players for years to come.
Not only do we have some nice role players on this list who can help an offense or defense, but there are also some real studs who can change a franchise simply by suiting up. A perfect example of a guy with star ability that could jump ship is wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, who may want out of Chicago with the franchise in rebuild mode.
Other players like running backs Terrance West and Latavius Murray, as well as tight end Martellus Bennett are pieces that can help put an offense that is close to being great over the top. Unfortunately for teams looking for a quarterback, only Kirk Cousins made the top 15 - unless your team wants to convert Terrelle Pryor back to quarterback - and is likely to be locked up by the Washington Redskins at season's end
Let's find out if your team is one of the lucky ones to snatch a player off this list, as we not only look at the top-15 free agents next year but also where they will land.
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15 Jason Pierre-Paul - Indianapolis Colts
The Indianapolis Colts have one of the worst defenses in the NFL this season, which has become a common trait for the franchise for years. Opposing passing attacks are lighting the Colts up again in 2016, mostly because of a weak pass rush that doesn’t put pressure on the quarterback. That has got to change if the Colts hope to improve their defense next season.
Jason Pierre-Paul will be one of the best pass rushers on the market during the offseason and would be a major upgrade for the Colts’ defensive line. Granted, he isn’t racking up sacks like he used to, but Indy would still welcome his ability to put pressure on the quarterback and he might actually come at a reasonable price given his drop in production. At this point, the Colts need all the help they can get and JPP is the best solution for a price Indy can afford.
14 Terrance West - Minnesota Vikings
The future of Adrian Peterson with the Minnesota Vikings may not extend past this season and that will leave a hole at running back. The Vikings have been using Matt Asiata and Jerick McKinnon to fill the void, however, but neither has gotten the job done as Minnesota sports one of the worst rushing attacks in the NFL.
Terrance West is a solid between the tackles runner who can change that. He’s had a resurgence of sorts this season with the Baltimore Ravens and has added legitimacy to their rushing attack. Unfortunately for West, the Ravens have moved away from him as the season goes on and will likely stick with rookie Kenneth Dixon as the starter beyond this year. West would be a nice addition for Minnesota as the early-down back, leaving McKinnon in the passing-down role that best fits his skill set.
13 Isaiah Crowell - Oakland Raiders
As you’ll find out later, a certain team is going to pluck Latavius Murray away from the Oakland Raiders, leaving head coach Jack Del Rio’s team without a no. 1 back. While both DeAndre Washington and Jalen Richard have gotten plenty of reps this season behind Murray, Washington hasn’t proven to be an effective every-down back and Richard is no more than a third down player.
Isaiah Crowell will be the kind of back the Raiders are looking for. Sure, he has slowed down since a hot start to the 2016 campaign, but that’s because he’s running behind a horrid offensive line in Cleveland that doesn’t have an air attack to keep defenses honest. The Raiders have an up-and-coming o-line that could emerge as one of the best in football and Crowell will benefit greatly from better protection in an offense that can dominate through the air. The holes will be plentiful for Crowell in Oakland and he should thrive there as the team’s starter.
12 Eddie Lacy - Cleveland Browns
Once the Cleveland Browns lose out on Crowell, they’ll make a typical Browns move by signing a risky player like Eddie Lacy. The Green Bay Packers are likely done with the 26-year-old after he was once again out of shape to start the season and suffered another serious injury. It has been the story of Lacy’s time in Green Bay and will likely lead to his exit.
Short at options, the Browns will be forced to add Lacy to their backfield. Despite his issues, Lacy would be a nice fit in Cleveland as the early-down back to complement pass-catching back, Duke Johnson. With Lacy and Johnson, the Browns could have a formidable ground game that can do just about anything that is needed on offense, whether it’s to pound the rock or gain yards through the air. The pairing will be similar to what head coach Hue Jackson had in Cincinnati with Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill, which was quite successful for the former Bengals offensive coordinator.
11 LeGarrette Blount - New England Patriots
At age 29 (30 in December), LeGarrette Blount won’t command an expensive, long-term deal on the open market. That makes him a perfect fit for the New England Patriots, a team not looking to break the bank for a position that has been devalued over the years. Whether it’s Dion Lewis or James White as the scat back, Blount is the kind of punishing runner that goes nicely with either player.
Blount isn’t exactly an explosive back, but that doesn’t matter when you consider the Patriots move the ball down the field with Tom Brady and the passing game. Regardless, Blount is a top-10 rusher in terms of yards and is among the league leaders in rushing touchdowns this season. With the Patriots constantly getting leads and blowing teams out, Blount remains the perfect back to wear teams down in the second half and help New England run out the clock en route to victory.
10 Latavius Murray - New York Giants
The New York Giants’ ground game has been non-existent in 2016, a problem that extends back a few seasons for head coach Ben McAdoo’s squad. A combination of Rashad Jennings and Paul Perkins remains ineffective, leading the Giants to a bottom-five rushing attack that no opposing defense has to respect.
Latavius Murray is the type of workhorse back the Giants need. Not only is he still young, but he has proven time and time again that he can handle a big workload and break big plays, as well as having a nose for the end zone in goal line situations. If the Giants really plan on improving their rushing attack to the level it was during the team’s most recent Super Bowl runs, it will depend on making adjustments on the offensive line first and foremost; however signing Murray is definitely a step in the right direction.
9 Martellus Bennett - Green Bay Packers
Ever since the retirement of Jermichael Finley, the Green Bay Packers have been lacking at the tight end position. Green Bay tried to finally shore up that problem in 2016 by signing Jared Cook, but as is normally the case with the injury-prone tight end, he has spent most of the season on the shelf. It isn’t likely the Packers are going to waste another season on Cook as he simply can’t stay healthy.
Martellus Bennett has been a monster for the Patriots this season and has even outperformed Rob Gronkowski on some occasions. Bennett is on his way to a great season and some money in free agency, which will almost certainly force the Patriots to let him walk. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers would love to have the benefit of Bennett on the offense and he would be an upgrade over the likes of a Richard Rodgers, who is no more than a below-average pass-catching tight end. Not to mention, the downfall of Randall Cobb has limited Rodgers’ options this season, so adding a player like Bennett is even more important at this point.
8 Terrelle Pryor - San Francisco 49ers
The San Francisco 49ers might have the worst group of receivers in the NFL. A combination of Torrey Smith and Jeremy Kerley have been dreadful, no matter who has been behind center. The 49ers are in the midst of a rebuilding period and what better way to start that than to sign a no. 1 receiver like Terrelle Pryor.
Pryor was converted from a quarterback to receiver since entering the league and is a top option at the position for the Browns this season. Adding to the intrigue of the 49ers signing him, Pryor can still line up behind center and be an asset that way in head coach Chip Kelly’s offense. While he’d definitely see the vast majority of his time at receiver, Pryor could play in Wildcat formations and add a new element to Kelly’s offense that he hasn’t had since taking the job in San Fran. It remains to be seen who the Niners have at quarterback next season, but Pryor will undoubtedly make them better.
7 Kirk Cousins - Washington Redskins
The Washington Redskins were hesitant to give Kirk Cousins the big money during the offseason, so the team decided to stick the franchise tag on him instead. During a season in which he’s playing for a contract, Cousins has delivered solid numbers after a slow start. He’s on pace to break his career-high in passing yards and should match or better his touchdown total from a season ago. More importantly, the Redskins are in the thick of things for a playoff spot and would be challenging for the division if not for a sensational season from the Dallas Cowboys.
Seeing as how difficult it is to actually get a good quarterback nowadays, the Redskins are not going to let Cousins leave. There is no option even close to Cousins sitting on Washington’s bench and the organization would be foolish to move on from a signal-caller who has done nothing but win since taking the starting job. Cousins will remain in Washington and be the franchise quarterback for years to come.
6 Josh Gordon - New England Patriots
Easily the most troubled player on this list, Josh Gordon desperately needs a change of scenery and the Browns will likely allow that to happen. Things have gone from bad to worse for Gordon, who has been suspended multiple times for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy. The 25-year-old’s 2016 season ended after he checked himself into rehab after serving yet another suspension.
The best way for Gordon to get his act together is to surround himself with veterans who can take him under their wing and mentor him. There’s no better place in the NFL than with the Patriots, a team notorious for turning troubled players around. Not to mention, it has been years since Brady has enjoyed an outside threat in his receiving corps. Gordon is exactly the kind of receiver the Pats need and should come relatively cheap thanks to his baggage. The talented wideout was once on his way to superstardom, and he can get back there again if he joins Bill Belichick and company.
5 Dont’a Hightower - New England Patriots
Normally when the Pats know they won’t be bringing back an impending free agent, the trades start flying and we saw that recently with linebacker Jamie Collins, and before him, there was Chandler Jones. Considering the Pats have yet to trade Hightower means they will work to keep him on the team.
So far, no good for New England as no extension has been reached with Hightower at the moment. The Pats might be forced into paying him more than they want, as the aforementioned Collins and Jones have already left holes. Hightower remains the most talented defensive player on the roster and is not only a lock for 100 tackles when he can play a full season, but he’s also a leader on that side of the ball. Not even the Patriots can afford to lose that much talent on defense.
4 Chandler Jones - Indianapolis Colts
As the Arizona Cardinals move to a rebuilding phase in the next couple of years, a player like Chandler Jones won’t be in their plans. Instead, the Colts will look to add the talented linebacker in what will be a defensive coup for the inept Indy defense. Jones would not only help Indy with its pass rush, but he’d also be a huge upgrade against opposing rushing attacks trying to turn the corner.
If Jones were on the Colts now, he’d be among the team leaders in sacks and would be a nasty combination when combined with fellow outside linebacker, Eric Walden. After adding Pierre-Paul and Jones, the Colts may actually be able to stop someone in 2017 and give Andrew Luck the defensive support he needs to finally get over the hump.
3 Alshon Jeffery - Los Angeles Rams
The Los Angeles Rams have next to no talent at the wide receiver position, with veteran Kenny Britt being the team’s best option. Sure, Britt is having a career season in 2016, however, he is going to be 29 when next season starts and the Rams would be better suited spending their money on a younger option.
That younger option is none other than Alshon Jeffery. The 26-year-old has become a top wideout in the NFL and has only struggled because his quarterback, Jay Cutler, has been so inconsistent during Jeffery's short career. Jeffery is a big, strong receiver who can make plays down the field with the best of them. The Rams must add a no. 1 receiver to their offense, especially with the move to no. 1 overall pick and quarterback of the future, Jared Goff. Jeffery would be the perfect fit in Los Angeles and might come a bit cheaper after he was given a four-game suspension for performance-enhancing drug use.
2 A.J. Bouye - Houston Texans
Rated as Pro Football Focus’ no. 1 cornerback in 2016, A.J. Bouye will be the top defensive player on the market in the offseason. Shutdown corners are hard to come by and Bouye is quickly establishing himself as one of those guys. With a lackluster pass rush that is missing J.J. Watt due to injury, Houston still ranks in the top-five against passing attacks, mostly due to the sensational play of its top corner.
Seeing as how he’s had such an impact this season, there is no way the Texans let their best defensive player outside of Watt walk in free agency. Expect the Texans to break the bank for the 25-year-old and make him one of the cornerstones of this defense for years to come, along with Watt. If the Texans are playing this well against passing attacks without Watt, just imagine what having Bouye and Watt could do for head coach Bill O’Brien’s team.
1 Le’Veon Bell - Pittsburgh Steelers
There are few running backs in the NFL right now - or even in the history of the game - who have a more complete skill set than Le’Veon Bell. Not only does the Pittsburgh Steelers running back have great vision and breakaway speed to make big plays, he is also likely the best receiving back in the NFL and can even line up at receiver when the offense calls for it. On a team with a messy situation at receiver with the exception of Antonio Brown, Bell’s value becomes even more apparent.
Bell won’t come cheap, though, and the Steelers also have to extend Brown at some point. While he’s likely to be expensive, it’ll be worth it to keep Bell in Pittsburgh and continue making him one head of the three-headed monster that is the Steelers offense. No team in the NFL has a better quarterback-running back-receiver combo than Mike Tomlin’s, so expect Bell to remain in Pittsburgh to help keep the Steelers’ offensive identity.
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