After the Super Bowl wraps up, NFL fans the world over begin to buckle up for free agency. It comes crashing in like a wave, after weeks of rumors, predictions, and uncertainty about where the players looking for a new home may end up. It’s a tense time of the NFL offseason, and rightfully so, as players may decide to stay with their incumbent team, or look for new stomping grounds, and change their mind at a moment’s notice. Free agency is the time for teams on the cusp to get better, and teams who are rebuilding to let go of some of their best assets to free up cap space. It makes for an interesting dynamic every year.
It’s safe to say that 2017 will be no different, with a whole host of new players on the market. It’ll be a contested battle between front offices to see who gets them, with plenty of money being thrown around. It’s the next best thing to having the NFL actually on TV, so let’s take a look at who’s available during this free agency period, and where they’re most likely to end up.
Ranked below are the top 20 NFL free agents, and where they might sign.
20. Kenny Britt – Washington Redskins
Coming off of his first 1,000 yard season, Britt is a veteran receiver with an underrated amount of talent, and a varied skill set. His issue has always been the quality of the talent around him however, being stuck in mediocre offenses with the Titans and Rams for his entire career up to this point. Jay Gruden and the Redskins value the wide receiver position, and with one or two on their way out from Washington, Britt would be a nice fit on the outside, for a good value. He isn’t young, but he’s also still under the age of 30, and the Redskins offense would be the best one that he has played in up to this point. This move makes a lot of sense for both parties.
19. Eddie Lacy – Green Bay Packers
There are tons of questions about Lacy’s conditioning and durability at this point in his career, but the fact remains that the Packers have little to no other reasonable options at running back currently on their roster. Even with the elite Aaron Rodgers at quarterback, it’s important that Green Bay doesn’t become one-dimensional going forward, and resigning a running back like Lacy who has proven himself in the past would go a long way in ensuring that doesn’t happen. He probably won’t cost too much money, unless there’s an eager bidder on the free agent market, and Green Bay would have a true starting running back, instead of having to force a receiver like Ty Montgomery in that role, like they’ve been recently doing.
18. Jamie Collins – New York Giants
Collins was traded to the Browns during the 2016 season from the Patriots, and while it would be assumed that Cleveland would prioritize resigning him in the offseason, it’s not a forgone conclusion. Collins is now a league veteran, and doesn’t really fit within the youth movement that head coach Hue Jackson currently has going on with the team. His asking price may be too high for them, but just low enough for a team like the Giants to make a bid. New York would be aided with a better presence at middle linebacker, and it would instantly turn their good defense into a great one. Collins is a sure tackler, and confirmed play-maker when put in the right situation; he likely won’t want to stay in Cleveland, and will look for a quality defense to lend his talents to.
17. Trumaine Johnson – Los Angeles Rams
The Rams have lost a ton of talent in their secondary over the past couple of seasons. Rodney McLeod and Janoris Jenkins have left the team, and T.J. McDonald might do the same this year in free agency. One player they cannot afford to lose is cornerback Trumaine Johnson, who has proven himself as a worthy number one corner on the outside in the 2016 season. He’s worth the money, and his presence will establish some continuity on the back end of the Rams defense, which will prove valuable for incoming head Sean McVay and his new staff. There will definitely be interest in Johnson from other teams, but ultimately the Rams will likely pony up the money and sign him to a well-deserved long-term deal.
16. Dontari Poe – Oakland Raiders
The Chiefs have several valuable players hitting free agency this year, and they probably won’t be able to sign all of them. It seems that Poe may be the odd man out in this scenario. The gigantic defensive tackle is a feared run-stuffer up front who can occasionally get to the quarterback. He’s now a league veteran, but still young enough to have several peak production years left in him. A team like the Raiders could use such a presence on their defensive line, as they’ve slowly been trying to rebuild the rest of the defense in recent years. With Poe eating up blockers on the line, it could prove an asset for a pass-rusher the quality of Khalil Mack, and the Raiders may be able to turn their middling defensive fortunes around.
15. DeSean Jackson – Philadelphia Eagles
Almost sure to be let go into free agency from Washington, there’s been a lot of talk about Jackson making a return to the Eagles for 2017, and it actually makes a lot of sense. Young quarterback Carson Wentz needs a productive weapon right now, and Jackson has shown that he can still beat defenders deep on a regular basis, despite hovering around the age of 30. The asking price shouldn’t be elite-level money, and then Philadelphia won’t be forced to take a receiver with their first round pick if they don’t see fit. Having spent the bulk of his career with the Eagles, Jackson knows the team, and Doug Pederson’s coaching methods are probably more familiar to him than that of Chip Kelly’s, who left him go from the team originally. This one seems to have a pretty good chance of happening.
14. Kawann Short – Carolina Panthers
After the Panthers came crashing down to Earth in 2016, it’s clear that they need to retain all of their confirmed productive players, and then go from their to address their needs. Short is easily their best defensive lineman, and is one of the better ones league-wide. After letting Josh Norman go in the 2016 offseason, and then promptly watching their secondary fall apart, they know they can’t afford to make the same mistake with their defensive line. Short deserves a big contract, and the Panthers should pony up the money and pay him what he’s worth. They don’t need to go into full rebuild mode quite yet, and Short is one of their best players.
13. Ryan Fitzpatrick – Retirement
What a debacle Fitzpatrick was involved in last offseason before going back to the Jets, and what a disaster the regular season turned out to be. After a poor season as the teams starter, it seems like this may be the end of the line for the veteran journeyman quarterback. Fitzpatrick will likely demand too much money on the free agent market, and not even the most quarterback-desperate teams will be willing to pay it. His best option is honestly just to retire, since he did receive his final big payday from last season on the one-year deal the Jets gave him. He won’t be worth the asking price, and his skills have deteriorated due to age. Just about every team will give a hard pass on Fitzpatrick this offseason.
12. Melvin Ingram – San Diego Chargers
San Diego seems to be building a quietly effective defense lately, and Ingram is a huge piece to the puzzle. They have good complimentary pieces on nearly every end of the defense, with players like Joey Bosa and Jason Verrett. Giving Ingram a long-term extension would shore up their linebacking corps for the forseeable future, and give the Chargers an identity something other than Philip Rivers throwing deep. There’s every reason for the Chargers to try and keep as many defensive pieces as possible, so when they are looking to replace the aging Rivers, they’ll still be able to compete. Ingram is one of the most underrated linebackers in the league, and frankly he deserves the money.
11. Pierre Garcon – Washington Redskins
The Redskins may be losing DeSean Jackson from their receiving corps, but they should be able to retain Garcon, who is now one of the longest-tenured players on the team. He’s still effective, and has a more maintainable skill set as a possession receiver and crisp route runner than Jackson does as a pure deep threat. He probably won’t get a massive deal, but the Redskins like to have a volume of quality receivers, and if they want to continue with that personnel style, they’ll have to pay up for Garcon, and likely land another free agent. He could end up hitting the market, but for right now it’s a safe bet that you’ll see Garcon back in a Redskins uniform for the 2017 season.
10. A.J. Bouye – Atlanta Falcons
Bouye is a name that’s caught fire in recent weeks as one of the hottest potential cornerback signings in free agency this year. The 25-year-old has been a breakout playmaker with the Texans this season, and they aren’t guaranteed to pay him a contract that is increasing in value by the day. A team like the Falcons who are a solid defense looking to take the next step may shell out the money. With solid players already, namely Vic Beasley and Deion Jones already on the Atlanta defense, Bouye could both give them an elite secondary option, and stick around for the long-term. The Texans may indeed resign him, but if not, a team like the Falcons would be the most likely landing spot.
9. Eric Berry – Kansas City Chiefs
There’s no question that the Chiefs are going to do everything they can to keep Berry around. He’s not only an excellent safety in the prime of his career, but also a team leader and motivator. In a way, he’s the anchor of their defense, and invaluable to their team as a whole. He deserves a long-term deal, and he’s likely going to get it, as Kansas City will let some other free agents that are due for an extension walk in free agency, which will give them the amount of money necessary to do so. It’s not an absolute lock, but it makes the most sense for both parties, and the Chiefs will be able to retain to top leader on and off the field. Berry’s one of the best safeties in the league, and will still have numerous seasons of peak productivity.
8. Darren McFadden – New England Patriots
So with Ezekiel Elliott becoming a phenomenon in the 2016 season, there’s little room for anyone else in the Cowboys backfield, which means that McFadden will be looking for new stomping grounds in the offseason. It’s really anyone’s guess as to where he actually ends up, as he’s had his ups and downs, yet at the same time, he’s recently proven that he can have success behind a good run-blocking offensive line, as he did in the 2015 season. Bill Belichick has a penchant for turning these middling players into productive entities in his system, and will take a chance on many players that are considered washed up. It wouldn’t be too surprising to see McFadden in a Pats uniform next year, and Belichick is the coach that could best make it work.
7. Kirk Cousins – Washington Redskins
After being franchise-tagged in the 2015 offseason, Cousins probably did just enough to warrant being brought back as the Redskins starting quarterback. There were plenty of pros and cons to his game in the 2016 season, but the team really doesn’t have any better options to replace him with, and a long-term deal is almost a necessity. Cousins may not be an elite quarterback, but he certainly isn’t bad, and would establish some longevity at the position for a Washington team that is now depending on their offense to win them games. Without a doubt, Cousins will be back with the team in 2017, and likely for the next few years at least. It’s unlikely they’ll find a better solution in the interim.
6. Terrelle Pryor – Cleveland Browns
One of the most surprising stories of the 2016 season was the emergence of a former quarterback in Pryor becoming a reliable outside wide receiver with the Browns. He displayed superior route running abilities, and is a big-bodied target that can make a contested catch. One would think that he would be a hot commodity on the free agent market this year, but everything seems to point to Pryor coming back to Cleveland. At 28-years-old, and only having played the position for one season, he won’t command a massive deal, but he and Corey Coleman should form a fairly effective duo of receivers in the coming years. The Browns may be in a state of flux right now, but Pryor was a pleasant surprise during the regular season.
5. Stephon Gilmore – Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Another of the biggest names on the cornerback market this offseason, Gilmore is young, talented, and could even get better in a year or two. With the Bills as a huge question mark right now, and the recipients of an incoming coaching staff, Gilmore has no established allegiance to anybody, and is probably going to be taking the highest monetary offer. The Bucs are an emerging team in the NFC, and could use a corner to pair with Vernon Hargreaves on the back end of their defense. Gilmore fits the bill, and will command a high payday. In return, the stability should be enough to make them a complete team, and give Gilmore a real chance at a winner, something that Buffalo won’t be able to claim until Tom Brady retires, and is out of the AFC East.
4. Chandler Jones – Arizona Cardinals
The Cardinals have several key defensive players up for free agency this offseason. Even though they had a down year, they aren’t in rebuilding mode quite yet, and it’s likely that Bruce Arians is going to do his best to get back in the playoffs with Carson Palmer as his quarterback for at least one more season. In this event, it would be a good idea to resign these key defensive assets, and Jones falls into that category. He’s a proven pass rusher, and a focal point of the Cardinals defensive line, after coming over from the Patriots in the 2015 offseason. They’ll need his production if they want to find themselves back in the playoff hunt next season, and will extend him for a few more years, or at the very least, give him the franchise tag for this season.
3. Dont’a Hightower – San Francisco 49ers
Hightower has been a key player on the Patriots defense for a while now, but knowing how Bill Belichick operates, no player is untouchable. It wouldn’t be surprising to find Hightower on a rebuilding team with some nice defensive pieces next season. Enter, the San Fransisco 49ers. With players like Arik Armistead, Jimmy Ward and DeForest Buckner on the roster, the Niners actually have a decent defensive base, if they can just add some talent around it. Signing Hightower would go a long way in doing so, and would also come closer to giving the team some kind of identity, something that’s been desperately needed after Jim Harbaugh left in 2015. It’s not a surefire bet, but if the Patriots have the cavalier attitude towards departing players like they have in the past, Hightower could be playing elsewhere next season.
2. Le’Veon Bell – Pittsburgh Steelers
Despite his injury history, and several suspensions he’s racked up, Bell is one of the best running backs in the league. He’s dynamic and a certified game-breaker, and will command a good amount of money to keep him in Pittsburgh. The Steelers are probably more than up to the task however, and will likely pay Bell whatever his asking price is. They know that a combination of Bell, Antonio Brown and Ben Roethlisberger on the offensive side of the ball is trio that is unrivalled throughout the league. If those three players are on the field together for the next few seasons, the Steelers know they’re Super Bowl contenders all the time. Bell will stay in Pittsburgh, though there will be plenty of alternative suitors bidding for his talents.
1. Alshon Jeffery – Baltimore Ravens
Jeffery is the hottest wide receiver name in free agency this year, and he’s almost certain to be leaving the Bears. He’s an elite talent, and a proven 1,000 yard receiver; the kind of player who can make or break an offense. Needless to say, there are going to be plenty of teams willing to pay through the roof for him, so it’s really anyone’s guess as to what ends up happening. However, a team like the Ravens, fresh off of losing Steve Smith to retirement, would make a lot of sense. Jeffery’s presence would give them a go-to player on offense, as Joe Flacco heads into the stretch run of his career. It’ll cost a lot of money, but with a good young defense in place, the Ravens are best-served upgrading the offense and getting an elite player. Jeffery fits the bill, and with a good quarterback and talent around him, he has a chance to have a career-year next season.
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