NFL: Top 25 free agents include Russell Wilson, Justin Simmons, Saquon Barkley and more

By | March 11, 2024

More than a week before free agency officially starts, the top shelves have been largely cleared.

The original No. 1 player on this list, defensive tackle Chris Jones, re-signed with the Kansas City Chiefs to a big five-year contract just days before hitting free agency.

Starting with the first edition of the top 25 free agents this offseason, eight players were given the franchise tag. Here are all who were tagged: Cincinnati Bengals WR Tee Higgins, Jacksonville Jaguars DE Josh Allen, Carolina Panthers DE Brian Burns, Chicago Bears CB Jaylon Johnson, Tampa Bay Buccaneers S Antoine Winfield Jr., Indianapolis Colts WR Michael Pittman Jr., Kansas City Chiefs CB L’Jarius Sneed and Baltimore Ravens DL Justin Madubuike.

All of these players have been given non-exclusive tags and can theoretically negotiate with other teams, but that rarely happens in the NFL. Another top 25 free agent, New England Patriots safety Kyle Dugger, was given the transition tag. Buccaneers receiver Mike Evans also signed a two-year extension.

All these moves took a huge bite out of what was already a fairly liberal class. That’s a big negative for teams that are sitting on a lot of salary cap space.

The NFL’s salary cap is set at a whopping $255 million, and teams will find players to spend it on. Free agency officially begins on March 13 and many players on the roster could be extended before then, but here are the top 25 potential free agents as the new league year approaches.

If Kirk Cousins ​​doesn't return to the Vikings, where will he end up next season?  (AP Photo/Duane Burleson, File)

After Jones held out all of training camp last season in hopes of landing a long-term contract, that won’t be a problem for the Chiefs this time around. He has reportedly agreed to a five-year contract, including $95 million in guarantees, that will likely keep him in Kansas City for the rest of his prime.

Cousins ​​is an interesting case. He is often criticized, but has put up good numbers throughout his career. Yet he will be 36 years old next season and suffer from an Achilles tendon. He is paid more than some players on this list due to his position and the desperation of many teams, but there are a lot of risks due to injuries and age.

Wilkins, the 13th pick of the 2019 draft, has been a steady and durable producer on the inside of the Miami line. On the brink of free agency, he had a career-best nine sacks last season. He will be in high demand.

Hunter will be 30 years old next season, which works against him, but he has been to four Pro Bowls and is coming off a 16.5-sack season. He has reached double-digit sacks in five of his eight NFL seasons and pass rushers are always appreciated.

When Seattle pushed for the playoffs in the 2023 season, it traded a 2024 second-round draft pick and a 2025 fifth-round pick for Williams. That shows he still has value as he enters his age-30 season. He has 43.5 sacks in his nine NFL seasons with the Giants, Jets and Seahawks.

6. New York Jets EDGE Bryce Huff

Huff hasn’t started a game in either of the past two seasons and had just 7.5 sacks through his first three NFL seasons. However, the former free agent had a big breakthrough in 2023 with 10 sacks. He doesn’t turn 26 until April. His pass-rush winning percentage, via PFF, was third in the NFL behind Myles Garrett and Micah Parsons, and ahead of Nick Bosa and Aidan Hutchinson. That’s the kind of season that could lead to a monster contract, even with the risk that comes with just one breakout season.

Fuller has been a productive player for years, finishing seventh among cornerbacks in Pro Football Focus’ rankings last season. At 29, there are fears he will slip, but he should still get a big contract this season.

Greenard has been a solid edge rusher in his four NFL seasons and had 12.5 sacks this past season. He will be 27 years old next season and will receive a nice contract.

It was a surprise that the Giants didn’t tap McKinney. He’s only 24 and a former second-round pick who has suffered some injuries but is coming off a strong 2023 season. He gets a nice deal.

Running backs matter. But paying top dollar is usually a bad investment. Barkley might be an exception. Barkley was one of the best running back prospects ever and the No. 2 pick in the draft, and he’s had some big seasons. He has also dealt with injuries, including a torn ACL. He also hasn’t replicated his monstrous rookie season of 2018, and that’s been a long time coming. The Giants didn’t give Barkley the franchise tag for a second offseason, so we’ll see what kind of deal he can get on the open market.

Maybe Mayfield should have been higher on the list, but it always seemed inevitable that he would return to the Buccaneers. Mayfield revived his career on a cheap one-year deal, led the Bucs to a playoff win, and the former first overall pick will be just 29 years old next season under a new, hefty contract.

Wilson will be a free agent if the Broncos cut him at the start of the league year. He’s an interesting case, a player who was on a Hall of Fame circuit with nine Pro Bowls in 10 Seattle Seahawks seasons, but then everything fell apart in Denver. The Steelers are getting a veteran QB with a Super Bowl ring and doing so for the league minimum salary because of the compensatory language in Wilson’s Broncos contract.

Dotson spent his first three seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers, then his fourth season was a big one. He finished last season as PFF’s second-highest rated guard. Guards are valued across the NFL landscape and the 321-pound Dotson should get a big deal.

Brown has just one 1,000-yard season in his five-year NFL career and injuries have been an issue. He has the talent. He was once a first-round draft pick and has a lot of skills. A team is betting on him staying healthy and productive as he enters his age-27 season.

15.Jacksonville Jaguars WR Calvin Ridley

Ridley’s value is difficult to estimate. At one point he looked like an elite receiver. That was before a strange 2021 with the Atlanta Falcons in which he played just five games, a one-year gambling suspension in 2022 and an up-and-down 2023 with the Jaguars. He’s still good and only 29, but most of the shine has gone.

When Smith is on the field, he still performs excellently. The problem is he hasn’t played a full season since 2015 and he’s 33 years old. He played thirteen games last season and his team would probably achieve that. It would be higher on the list, but durability is a major issue.

Consider Simmons one of the victims of the Russell Wilson trade. The Broncos, saddled with huge dead cap hits due to Wilson’s release, cut Simmons to save $14.5 million on the salary cap. Simmons made a Pro Bowl and was second-team All-Pro last season. He led the NFL in interceptions for the 2022 season. He is 30 years old, but can still be a very good safety.

18. New England Patriots OT Trent Brown

The towering Brown has been a quality left tackle for years, and he still has plenty left in the tank. He could move on to a team that has offensive issues.

Las Vegas Raiders running back Josh Jacobs was an All-Pro performer two seasons ago.  (Heidi Fang/Las Vegas Review-Journal/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)Las Vegas Raiders running back Josh Jacobs was an All-Pro performer two seasons ago.  (Heidi Fang/Las Vegas Review-Journal/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)

19. Las Vegas Raiders RB Josh Jacobs

Jacobs was arguably the NFL’s best player in 2022. He led the NFL in rushing yards and was an All-Pro. He took a step back last season but played better after the team fired head coach Josh McDaniels before suffering a season-ending injury. He is still at his prime age (just turned 26) and could be a great asset to an offense that needs an edge.

Pollard was given a chance to be the Cowboys’ undisputed top defenseman and wasn’t great; he barely broke 1,000 yards. But as part of a committee, he was electric, with a career average of 4.8 yards per carry. As long as Pollard’s new team doesn’t overplay his role, he can be a strong contributor.

Henry had a stellar eight-year stint with the Titans, including a 2,000-yard season that led to him winning NFL Offensive Player of the Year. The problem with Henry is that he is 30 years old and has led the NFL in four of the last five seasons. His effectiveness is surprising considering his enormous workload all the way back to the University of Alabama. A team could still see him as a short-term option.

Queen was a first-round draft pick and while he hasn’t been a star, he is a true three-down linebacker who rarely comes off the field and had 133 tackles last season. He’s also only 24 years old, so there’s still plenty of time for Queen to reach his ceiling.

23. New England Patriots OT Mike Onwenu

Onwenu played right tackle last season and was PFF’s 29th ranked tackle in the NFL. He’s only 26 years old and good help on the offensive line is scarce.

Baker should get some interest. He is a solid off-ball linebacker and is 27 years old. He can play all three downs. He is not an impact player, but a good defender.

In 2022, Howard signed a deal that was the richest for any cornerback in NFL history. He’s now 30, didn’t have a great 2023 season and was just cut by the Dolphins. But he was a Pro Bowl performer in 2022, and good cornerbacks are hard to find.

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