Free agency is one of the most exciting times of the NFL offseason. It’s when big-name players change teams, key contributors are re-signed and underpaid stars get their due.
We’re exactly a month away from the start of free agency (March 9), so it’s a good time to peg one player each team should target when the period begins. These include players teams can re-sign, as well as outside options from other squads. While some of these names may not hit the open market, there’s always a chance and you simply never know what’s going to happen when the money starts flying around.
Arizona Cardinals: Stephon Gilmore, CB (Bills)
The Cardinals have one standout corner in Patrick Peterson, but the depth behind him has been an issue for years. Gilmore is likely to command a hefty amount of money, but he’d be a good fit in Arizona with his physicality and ability to match up one-on-one.
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Atlanta Falcons: Lorenzo Alexander, OLB (Bills)
The Falcons are a fairly complete team with few needs on either side of the ball. One area where they can certainly improve is at pass rusher. Vic Beasley is going to get double-teamed constantly without a strong presence on the other side of the line. Enter Lorenzo Alexander. Due to his age (33), he won’t be as expensive as the top targets. However, he’s still a dynamic pass rusher and would be a good complement for Beasley.
Baltimore Ravens: Nick Perry, OLB (Packers)
The Ravens don’t have a great deal of cap space heading into 2017, which is why they probably can’t afford guys like Chandler Jones or Melvin Ingram. A cheaper option would be Perry, who had a breakout year in 2016 with 11 sacks. He can help as a pass rusher off the edge – something the Ravens desperately need.
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Buffalo Bills: Terrelle Pryor, WR (Browns)
Pryor will probably be re-signed by the Browns, but if he isn't, the Bills should take a look. He figures to be even better next season with another year of playing wide receiver under his belt, providing Tyrod Taylor with a reliable No. 2 option opposite Sammy Watkins.
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Carolina Panthers: Ricky Wagner, RT (Ravens)
The Panthers need help at both tackle spots. Wagner is the top right tackle on the market and is someone Carolina should absolutely target. He would be an upgrade over Mike Remmers, who was not good in 2016. He could do great things for Cam Newton’s development.
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Chicago Bears: Calais Campbell, DE (Cardinals)
The Cardinals are going to do their best to retain the veteran defensive end, but the Bears should go after him if that doesn’t happen. He’d be an ideal fit in the Bears’ 3-4 front, which is similar to Arizona’s. Not only can he rush the passer a bit, but he stuffs the run with the best of them, which is an area that the Bears struggled with this season.
Cincinnati Bengals: Larry Warford, OG (Lions)
If the Bengals don’t stay in-house with Andrew Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler, Warford should be a target. He’s a solid guard, which is a position of need for the Bengals. Adding Warford would improve Cincinnati’s running game, which was stagnant this season.
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Cleveland Browns: A.J. Bouye, CB (Texans)
The Browns already took care of Jamie Collins, and Terrelle Pryor is likely up next. However, they were terrible against the pass this season and should target one of the top corners on the market in Bouye. If he gets away from Houston, Bouye will be coveted by several teams. The Browns, boasting the most cap space, can throw their money at him – and they should.
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Dallas Cowboys: DeMarcus Ware, DE (Broncos)
Because of the Cowboys’ cap situation, and their reluctance to make splashy free-agent moves in recent years, they’re not likely to go after Chandler Jones or Melvin Ingram if they hit the open market. Ware, despite being oft-injured and a guy the team let walk to Denver three years ago, would help the Cowboys greatly in a potential reunion. He could add a spark to the pass rush and help Dallas’ young guys develop.
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Denver Broncos: Andrew Whitworth, LT (Bengals)
Russell Okung did not play well for the Broncos, and he should be on his way out this offseason. = Whitworth is an underrated left tackle and should be a top priority for Denver. Improving the left side of the line will only help the Broncos' young quarterbacks.
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Detroit Lions: Jason Pierre-Paul, DE (Giants)
This seems like a perfect scenario for the Lions. Pierre-Paul would be a nice complement for Ziggy Ansah with his physicality and ability to play the run, which is exactly why the Lions should go after him hard – as long as he isn’t demanding outlandish money.
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Green Bay Packers: Stephon Gilmore, CB (Bills)
It’s not like the Packers to dole out big money in free agency, but for the sake of this post, Gilmore is a player they should absolutely go after. With Sam Shields out of the mix and their young corners struggling, the Packers need to improve in the secondary, which Gilmore would help them do right away.
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Houston Texans: Ronald Leary, OG (Cowboys)
Outside of landing a quarterback, the Texans need to improve their offensive line. Leary is outstanding in the running game, boasting the athleticism and strength to get to the second level and open up running lanes for backs – just as he did for Ezekiel Elliott this season. Lamar Miller would love this signing.
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Indianapolis Colts: Riley Reiff, RT (Lions)
The Colts need help on the right side of the offensive line, particularly at right tackle. Ricky Wagner is also an option at this spot, but with several other needs on the roster, Reiff is a cheaper choice. He moved to right tackle this season and played fairly well, so another year at the position will only help.
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Jacksonville Jaguars: Kevin Zeitler, OG (Bengals)
Luke Joeckel is on his way out, and he should be replaced by Zeitler. He’d make Blake Bortles’ life easier by providing better pass protection on the interior of the line.
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Kansas City Chiefs: Eric Berry, FS (Chiefs)
Eric Berry has already said he’s not going to play on the franchise tag, so it’s up to the Chiefs to sign him long-term. If that doesn't happen , another team is absolutely going to. Berry was KC's defensive MVP last year and losing him would be an absolute disaster for the Chiefs.
Los Angeles Chargers: Alshon Jeffery, WR (Bears)
Philip Rivers thrived when he had a big target like Vincent Jackson on the outside. It’s not a necessity for his success, but having a true X receiver in the mold of Jackson could help Rivers rebound. Jeffery is a similar player with great athleticism, and he should be a target for the Chargers this offseason.
Los Angeles Rams: Ronald Leary, OG (Cowboys)
If the Rams want to get Todd Gurley going, Leary would be a perfect fit. He’s an elite run blocker and has been great for the Cowboys at left guard. He’s the type of player Gurley could put his head down and run behind, gaining good yardage consistently. Leary can also hold his own in pass protection, too.
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Miami Dolphins: Jason Pierre-Paul, DE (Giants)
As good as Cameron Wake is, he’s not going to play forever. And even if he is somehow immortal and beats Father Time, the Dolphins need a pass rusher to play on the other side of the line. Pierre-Paul was one of the best 4-3 DEs in the NFL this past season, and while that will drive up his asking price, he’d be worth it for Miami.
Minnesota Vikings: Sebastian Vollmer, RT (Patriots)
The Vikings don’t have much cap space compared to other teams, which is why I have them targeting a mid-tier right tackle instead of someone like Ricky Wagner. Though they could also use a left tackle to replace Matt Kalil, Vollmer would be an upgrade on the right side at a discounted price due to injury concerns.
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New England Patriots: DeSean Jackson, WR (Redskins)
The Patriots’ wide receivers are all fairly similar. They don’t have elite speed, and they thrive on underneath routes and make a living after the catch. Jackson would break that mold a bit by providing them with a true deep threat. Tom Brady is one of the best deep passers in the NFL – just look at what he did with Randy Moss – and a combination of he and Jackson would add a new dynamic to the offense.
New Orleans Saints: A.J. Bouye, CB (Texans)
The Saints need help at cornerback to play alongside Delvin Breaux. Bouye would be an ideal fit, considering the experience he has playing the slot. He’d be expensive, but in the pass-happy NFC South, the Saints need all the cornerbacks they can get. Bouye had a breakout season in 2016.
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New York Giants: Andrew Whitworth, LT (Bengals)
The Giants need a great deal of help on the offensive line, particularly at left tackle. They need to move Ereck Flowers from that spot, and signing Whitworth would allow them to do exactly that. Eli Manning isn’t mobile and isn’t getting any younger, so the Giants need to protect him at all costs.
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New York Jets: Melvin Ingram, OLB (Chargers)
The Jets will be a bit strapped for money this offseason, but releasing veterans like Brandon Marshall and Darrelle Revis could open up cap space for Ingram. He would be a huge upgrade at outside linebacker if he hit the open market. Green Bay's Nick Perry would be a good consolation prize if the Jets can’t make room for Ingram.
Oakland Raiders: Dont'a Hightower, LB (Patriots)
The Raiders figure to turn their focus to the defensive side of the ball this offseason, beginning with the linebacker position. Hightower, if he somehow hits the open market, would be a perfect fit in Oakland. He’s a downhill backer who loves to hit running backs, something Perry Riley Jr. and Malcolm Smith didn’t do much of. He can also drop back and cover.
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Philadelphia Eagles: Alshon Jeffery, WR (Bears)
Priority No. 1 for the Eagles has to be surrounding Carson Wentz with more talent. He needs playmakers at wide receiver – guys who he can rely upon to make easy catches. Jeffery has character and injury concerns, but he’s a true No. 1 receiver and can win both deep down the field and on quick routes like slants and drags.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Le’Veon Bell, RB (Steelers)
This is an obvious one, but it’s also completely necessary. The Steelers have to re-sign Le’Veon Bell and keep their trio of playmakers together. They simply cannot let him hit the open market.
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San Francisco 49ers: Kirk Cousins, QB (Redskins)
It was reported that Kyle Shanahan could be interested in a reunion with Kirk Cousins in San Francisco. If Cousins gets away from Washington, keep an eye on San Francisco, which will be desperate for quarterback help.
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Seattle Seahawks: Ricky Wagner, RT (Ravens)
Matt Kalil could be an option for the Seahawks at left tackle, considering Pete Carroll recruited him and coached him at USC. However, if the Seahawks opt to look at the right tackle position, Wagner should be a target. He’s expected to be expensive, but he’d be worth it after seeing what the Seahawks played with at the position this season.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Eric Berry, FS (Chiefs)
The Buccaneers had a weak group of safeties in Bradley McDougald, Keith Tandy and Chris Conte. Adding Berry wouldn’t solve all their problems, but it would do wonders. He’d be expensive – likely one of the top-paid safeties – but Berry is the complete package.
Tennessee Titans: Trumaine Johnson, CB (Rams)
Frankly, the Titans could use an upgrade at three of their four starting spots in the secondary. Cornerback should be the top priority, though, and Johnson would be a good fit. His price should be a bit cheaper than it was a year ago after he led the league in interceptions.
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Washington Redskins: Kirk Cousins, QB (Redskins)
If the Redskins re-sign Cousins to a long-term deal, it could very well make him the highest-paid quarterback in the NFL. That would make him overpaid by most standards, but what other options do the Redskins have? The franchise tag is a possibility, but he’s done enough to prove he’s deserving of an extension.