NFL free agency begins in just a few weeks as all 32 teams are gearing up to make valuable additions (and subtractions) to their respective rosters. Hundreds of players will hit the open market, the top tier of which is prepared to come in and start from Day 1.
While some positions are deeper than others, there’s a good amount of talent throughout the pool of free agents. Quarterback and tight end are top-heavy, while other spots such as cornerback and linebacker are a bit deeper.
To put into perspective the amount of talent across the board, we put together a team of free agents with the best player at each position.
Quarterback: Kirk Cousins, Redskins
For the second straight offseason, Kirk Cousins is the top quarterback on the market. After a 4,900-yard season with 25 touchdowns, he’s certain to land a lucrative long-term deal if the Redskins don’t slap him with the franchise tag.
Running back: Le’Veon Bell, Steelers
The Steelers are more than likely going to franchise tag Le’Veon Bell in advance of a potential long-term deal, taking one of the best free agents in a long time off the market. He’s arguably the best available player in all of football with his versatile skill set as a running back and receiver.
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Wide receiver: Alshon Jeffery, Bears
Alshon Jeffery did himself no favors this season by putting up only 821 yards and two touchdowns in a contract year. His character concerns also came into question when he was suspended four games. Neither of those things will prevent him from being the top receiver on the market, though.
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Wide receiver: DeSean Jackson, Redskins
DeSean Jackson has a reputation of only being a deep threat. While he certainly is, he’s not a one-trick pony. Jackson is a complete receiver who can carry corners across the field on drag routes or blow the top off a defense on a go route. Terrelle Pryor might be younger, but Jackson fits with many more teams and should generate a lot of buzz.
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Wide receiver: Terrelle Pryor, Browns
Terrelle Pryor has really come into his own as a receiver, and the Browns have taken notice. He’ll be signed long-term this offseason after a terrific 1,000-yard season. Pryor is only going to get better as the years go on, understanding the nuances of playing wideout in the NFL.
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Tight end: Martellus Bennett: Patriots
The Patriots will have to decide between two great free agents in Martellus Bennett and Dont'a Hightower with one of them likely to receive the franchise tag. Bennett is far and away the best tight end on the market after his resurgent 2016 season in New England, and like he said, teams “overpay Super Bowl champs.”
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Left tackle: Andrew Whitworth, Bengals
Andrew Whitworth may be 35 years old but he’s still one of the best left tackles in the league. He’ll become a free agent next month and will generate a great deal of interest from both the Bengals and outside suitors. Look for the Giants and Jets to make a play for him.
Left guard: Ronald Leary, Cowboys
There are a number of very talented free-agent guards set to be available, but Ronald Leary takes the cake on the left side. He’s a great run blocker who’s improved in the passing game, fitting nicely between Tyron Smith and Travis Frederick on the left side. He’ll finally get his due and will be paid handsomely this offseason.
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Center: J.C. Tretter, Packers
J.C. Tretter has been riddled with injuries in recent years, surrendering the starting job to Corey Linsley in 2016. He’s still a very talented center who will be the top guy available at his position next month, he just needs to stay healthy. At 26 years old, some team is going to get a steal.
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Right guard: Kevin Zeitler, Bengals
The second offensive lineman out of Cincinnati, Kevin Zeitler might just be better than Whitworth. He’s a premier guard, one the Bengals may not be able to afford. The Jaguars and Dolphins both need guards, so keep an eye on those teams as potential suitors – though there will be no shortage of those next month.
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Right tackle: Ricky Wagner, Ravens
Right tackle often takes the backseat to left tackle, but that doesn’t mean it’s not an important position. Ricky Wagner headlines a decently strong group at the position, as he had a great 2016 season on the right side. He’ll make his next team very happy with solid play at right tackle.
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Defensive end: Jason Pierre-Paul, Giants
Jason Pierre-Paul bounced back from a rough 2015 season with a terrific campaign this past year, recording seven sacks in 12 games. He’s once again established himself as a top-flight defensive end and will be paid accordingly. He may have played himself out of New York’s price range.
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Defensive tackle: Kawann Short, Panthers
Kawann Short’s numbers dipped a bit from 2015, going from 11 sacks to six, but his production was still there. Short is one of the premier defensive tackles in the NFL who has the ability to stop the run and also rush the passer from the inside, which is why he’ll be such a prized free agent if the Panthers don’t tag him for some reason.
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Defensive tackle: Dontari Poe, Chiefs
Dontari Poe is one of two stud free agents the Chiefs have with the other being Eric Berry. Poe had one of his worst seasons in 2016, but based on sheer athletic ability and potential alone, he’s sure to be a high-priced guy next month.
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Defensive end: Calais Campbell, Cardinals
Calais Campbell doesn’t put up astronomical numbers, but his presence on the defensive line is always felt. The massive 3-4 defensive end is best suited in that role, but he can also kick inside as a defensive tackle in a 4-3. That makes him valuable in free agency.
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Outside linebacker: Chandler Jones, Cardinals
Chandler Jones proved this season he can play both defensive end and outside linebacker, making the transition from the former to the later with the Cardinals. There are probably 25-plus teams that would love to have him on the roster, but his price will be in the range of Olivier Vernon’s $85 million contract, most likely.
Inside linebacker: Dont'a Hightower, Patriots
Dont'a Hightower proved his worth in Super Bowl LI with his game-changing strip sack of Matt Ryan, but he’s been making plays like that for years. If the Patriots somehow let him hit the open market, he’s going to have suitors lining up by the dozen. Jamie Collins’ deal should be a baseline for him.
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Outside linebacker: Melvin Ingram, Chargers
The other elite pass rusher set to hit free agency is Melvin Ingram, a speedy outside linebacker off the edge. He has 18.5 sacks in the past two seasons, but it remains to be seen if Gus Bradley feels he’s a good fit in his defense. If not, some team is going to pay him a lot of money to fit into theirs.
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Cornerback: A.J. Bouye, Texans
A.J. Bouye was a no-name corner before this past season, but he’s no longer such after turning in a great 2016 campaign. Much like Josh Norman a couple years ago, Bouye has burst onto the scene to emerge as an elite cornerback who’s only going to get better.
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Cornerback: Trumaine Johnson, Rams
This was between Trumaine Johnson and Stephon Gilmore, and in the oft-used nickel defense, they’d both make the team. However, Johnson gets the nod because of potential and consistency. He has ideal size for the position and showed what he’s capable of when he pulled down seven picks in 2015. With the right fit, he could become a premier corner.
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Safety: Eric Berry, Chiefs
This is the second straight year Eric Berry will be the top free-agent safety, and this time, his price tag will be even higher. Berry was worthy of Defensive Player of the Year in 2016, turning in his best season as a pro. There isn’t much he can’t do as a safety, providing great versatility on the backend.
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Safety: Tony Jefferson, Cardinals
Tony Jefferson gets overshadowed by Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu in Arizona, but he’s a playmaker in his own right. He showed off his versatility this season with 96 tackles, five passes defensed, two sacks and two forced fumbles. He always finds himself around the ball, which is a trait teams covet.
Kicker: Steven Hauschka, Seahawks
Steven Hauschka is a good kicker from long range, but he missed six extra points in 2016, which is concerning. He’s still the top unrestricted free-agent kicker and is likely to be scooped up this offseason.
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Punter: Britton Colquitt, Browns
Britton Colquitt struggled in 2015, but he bounced back for the Browns this past season. Punters aren’t typically hot commodities in free agency, but for a team in need of one, Colquitt is a good option.