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NFL Free Agency 2016: Top Free Agents Available at Every Position

Richard JanvrinFeatured ColumnistFebruary 10, 2016

NFL Free Agency 2016: Top Free Agents Available at Every Position

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    Gregory Payan/Associated Press

    Ready or not, here comes the NFL offseason.

    While it is easy to assume that most guys will just be franchise-tagged, multiple top free agents will play elsewhere in 2016.

    In a class that is primed with talent, a lot of money is going to exchange hands. Teams have already cut a few veteran players, headlined by former Tennessee Titans safety Michael Griffin, per Jim Wyatt of the Titans' official website.

    Just think—this free-agency period will get much more entertaining as the cap casualties roll in.

    In total, this article features 30 players with a few of the top guys at each position. Let's start with the most important position on the football field—the quarterback.

    P.S. Denver Broncos fans, I hope you enjoyed the parade, because the Broncos have their work cut out for them this offseason.

Quarterback

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    Kirk Cousins
    Kirk CousinsAssociated Press

    Kirk Cousins, Washington Redskins

    Heading into 2015, Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins had more critics than almost anybody else in the sport.

    As the season progressed, it seemed as though the critics were right.

    Through the first six games, Cousins ranked 16th in passing yards with 1,420, 26th in passing touchdowns with six and fourth in interceptions with eight.

    Then, he flipped the proverbial switch.

    To close out the season, Cousins finished with nearly 4,200 passing yards, 29 touchdowns and just 11 interceptions. He ultimately led the Redskins to the NFC East title.

    Former Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan's comments about Cousins being a top-10 quarterback is starting to make more and more sense.

    Expect Cousins to be franchise-tagged.

     

    Brock Osweiler, Denver Broncos

    The longtime perceived successor to incumbent Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning will seemingly hit the open market for the first time in his career with the report from NFL Media's Ian Rapoport that the team is going to franchise-tag linebacker Von Miller.

    While we haven't seen all that much from the young quarterback, it's apparent that he has a place in this league. His efforts against the Pittsburgh Steelers, New England Patriots and Cincinnati Bengals support that narrative.

    Did Osweiler wow you with overwhelming statistics? No, but he assisted the Broncos on their run to Super Bowl 50.

    Re-signing Osweiler is far from a slam dunk. A quarterback-needy team may throw an exorbitant amount of money at him this offseason.

     

    Sam Bradford, Philadelphia Eagles

    Something tells me Sam Bradford wishes he took the four-year deal worth over $18 million per year from the Eagles before the 2015 season.

    However, it's back to square one for the former No. 1 overall pick.

    With rumors fluttering around about the Eagles' interest in current Los Angeles Rams quarterback Nick Foles, according to Adam Schefter of ESPN, Bradford could be looking for a new home in 2016.

    Through the last four weeks of the season, he gave his future team a preview of what could be, finishing with the fourth-best PFF grade among quarterbacks in that span.

    If Cousins is franchise-tagged, that means more eyes will turn toward Bradford.

Running Back

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    Doug Martin
    Doug MartinAssociated Press

    Doug Martin, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

    Remember when Buccaneers running back Doug Martin was dead in the water and bound to be cut?

    The 2015 season made that seem like ancient history.

    Trailing Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson by a mere 83 rushing yards, Martin bounced back and finished second in the league in rushing.

    Not only did he finish second in rushing, but among the 14 running backs in the NFL who played in at least 75 percent of their respective teams' snaps, Martin finished with the highest yards-per-carry average at 4.9.

    What a bounce-back season for Martin.

    This career season may result in a franchise tag.

     

    Matt Forte, Chicago Bears

    While he may not be the same workhorse he was earlier in his career, Bears running back Matt Forte remained his productive self, regardless of playing in just 67.9 percent of the Bears' snaps and missing three games.

    However, because of his absence, we saw the emergence of Bears rookie running back Jeremy Langford.

    Langford's success and Forte's age (30) have made the veteran that much more expendable.

    It's sort of surreal to imagine Forte in a different uniform, but it will likely happen in 2016.

     

    Lamar Miller, Miami Dolphins

    Dolphins running back Lamar Miller was so underutilized by Miami that it's almost mind-numbing.

    How do you give a back that talented who ran for nearly 900 yards and eight touchdowns fewer than 200 carries?

    A team that needs a lead back could have its guy for the foreseeable future with Miller, who's just 24 years old.

    I'm sure we will hear the Dallas Cowboys thrown around as a lead suitor as free agency unfolds.

Wide Receiver

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    Alshon Jeffery
    Alshon JefferyAssociated Press

    Alshon Jeffery, Chicago Bears

    This free-agent wide receiver class is thin; however, Bears wide receiver Alshon Jeffery is about as bright a spot as you can get.

    Let's face it—there's virtually zero chance that the Bears let him reach the open market.

    Jeffery will be back in Chicago for 2016 and beyond.

     

    Marvin Jones, Cincinnati Bengals

    With all due respect to Bengals wide receiver Marvin Jones, he's about a step-and-a-half down from Jeffery.

    After missing the entire 2014 NFL season, Jones did come back and have a quality season. Including the playoffs, he accrued nearly 70 receptions for nearly 850 yards and four touchdowns in 2015.

    Michael Rothstein of ESPN.com considers Jones to be an ideal target for the Detroit Lions. With the probable retirement of Calvin Johnson, Jones would be a nice piece to go with Golden Tate.

    With a quarterback such as Matthew Stafford, Jones would have more opportunities to put up higher statistics.

     

    Travis Benjamin, Cleveland Browns

    Where the heck did Browns wide receiver Travis Benjamin come from?

    The numbers 32.9, 26.4 and 36.5 represent the percentage of snaps Benjamin had played in 2012, 2013 and 2014, respectively.

    2015? 77.1 percent.

    Kicking off the season with a hot start, Benjamin wavered as the season went on. However, he showed that he could be a legitimate deep threat for a team that will use him and his skill set properly.

    A team that likes to throw the deep ball will be a good fit for Benjamin, but he has expressed a desire to return to Cleveland.

Tight End

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    Antonio Gates
    Antonio GatesAssociated Press

    Antonio Gates, San Diego Chargers

    What is going to come first for Chargers tight end Antonio Gates—a non-productive season or social security enrollment?

    At the ripe age of 36, Gates is still in the conversation as one of the NFL's better tight ends.

    While he has dealt with some nagging injuries over the past few seasons, it seems as though he will give it another go in 2016. It's hard to imagine Gates ending his career with another team.

     

    Ladarius Green, San Diego Chargers

    Coming into 2015, Chargers tight end Ladarius Green was perceived as the Chargers' secret weapon.

    That narrative intensified with the suspension of the guy mentioned above this tidbit. While Green did not have quite the season we all anticipated, he did see 56 targets and hauled in four touchdowns.

    If Gates does come back, Green may be tempted to head elsewhere in order to become the No. 1 tight end option.

    The Atlanta Falcons make a lot of sense here because, well, they have not really had a go-to tight end option since Tony Gonzalez retired, and adding Green would take some pressure off wide receiver Julio Jones.

Offensive Tackle

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    Cordy Glenn
    Cordy GlennAssociated Press

    Cordy Glenn, Buffalo Bills

    Ironman.

    That sums up Bills offensive tackle Cordy Glenn to a T.

    Through the first four seasons of his NFL career, he has played in over 98 percent of his career snaps and has earned positive PFF grades each season.

    While the Bills have some cap issues as of right now, Glenn is undoubtedly the team's No. 1 priority.

     

    Mitchell Schwartz, Cleveland Browns

    Just when I think Glenn is Ironman, Browns tackle Mitchell Schwartz one-ups him—he's never missed a snap.

    Finding consistency along the offensive line is about as critical to a football team as anything else. We saw it with the New England Patriots in 2015—switching offensive linemen in and out can only go on for so long.

    The lucky team that nets Schwartz will not be disappointed and can count on him being the right tackle for a long time.

     

    Donald Penn, Oakland Raiders

    Coming out of Utah State, Donald Penn was undrafted in 2006.

    Going back as far as PFF shows (2007), he has posted positive grades in every single season.

    It's easy to agree with Penn's stance on getting paid this offseason—it's put up or shut up for the Raiders if they want to retain one of the most consistent left tackles in the NFL.

Offensive Guard

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    Kelechi Osemele
    Kelechi OsemeleAssociated Press

    Kelechi Osemele, Baltimore Ravens

    Although he missed two games this season, Ravens guard Kelechi Osemele had another fantastic season in 2015.

    At PFF, Osemele had his worst grades in Weeks 1 and 17. What contributed to the decline overall was the Ravens using him at left tackle the last four weeks of the season because of injury.

    Face it—Osemele is purely a left guard.

    However, showing that he can fill in at tackle if needed should earn him an extra few bucks this offseason.

     

    Richie Incognito, Buffalo Bills

    Like him or not, you have to admit that Bills guard Richie Incognito had a great season in 2015 after missing the entire 2014 season.

    Not only did he have a great bounce-back campaign, but Incognito enjoyed what was likely the best season of his career, shattering all past PFF grades.

    Incognito earned himself some extra spending money this offseason.

Center

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    Stefan Wisniewski
    Stefan WisniewskiBrian Bahr/Getty Images

    Stefan Wisniewski, Jacksonville Jaguars

    In his first season away from the Oakland Raiders, Stefan Wisniewski assisted in facilitating a phenomenal season for second-year quarterback Blake Bortles.

    Playing in every snap except for a total of 19 in 2014, Wisniewski represents stability at perhaps one of the most underrated positions in football.

    Any team that gets its hands on him will not have to worry about potential injury concerns.

Defensive End

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    Muhammad Wilkerson
    Muhammad WilkersonAssociated Press

    Muhammad Wilkerson, New York Jets

    Although he ended his season with a major injury, few defensive ends are more talented than Muhammad Wilkerson.

    As Rich Cimini of ESPN.com noted, Wilkerson should be back in time for training camp.

    Wilkerson is a consensus top-five overall free agent, and the Jets would be insane to let him go.

    I smell a franchise tag.

     

    Olivier Vernon, Miami Dolphins

    The AFC East has a wealth of talent at the defensive end position.

    Like Wilkerson, Dolphins defensive end Olivier Vernon warrants a franchise tag. However, the Dolphins have some cap issues to work out first.

    Going off the franchise-tag number from last season of $14.785 million, the Dolphins need to work out the cap quickly in order to secure Vernon's services for 2016.

     

    Jason Pierre-Paul, New York Giants

    In the news as much as Cleveland Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel was to open the season, Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul joins Vernon and Wilkerson in a talent-rich defensive end pool.

    While Pierre-Paul should have a fair number of suitors, the narrative of his having a difficult time finishing plays because of his hand injury could be out there.

Defensive Tackle

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    Damon Harrison
    Damon HarrisonAssociated Press

    Damon Harrison, New York Jets

    Outside of Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald, there was not a better defensive tackle against the run in 2015 than Jets defensive tackle Damon Harrison.

    As it stands right now, Houston Texans defensive tackle Vince Wilfork and Washington Redskins defensive tackle Terrance Knighton each made close to $4.5 million in 2015, and according to Rich Cimini of ESPN.com, Harrison is looking for "at least" $5 million.

    It's time for Big Snacks to get paid.

     

    Ian Williams, San Francisco 49ers

    Arguably the best defender on the 49ers last season, defensive tackle Ian Williams (26) is one of the best young defensive tackles in the NFL.

    Throughout his career, he has dealt with major injuries, which stunted his growth as a player, but the talent persevered.

    In his first healthy season, Williams posted the ninth-best PFF grade among all defensive tackles.

    He is on his way to becoming a premier defensive tackle in this league.

Linebacker

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    Von Miller
    Von MillerAssociated Press

    Von Miller, Denver Broncos

    Whatever amount of money he is paid is simply not enough.

    Broncos linebacker Von Miller is a once-in-a-generation talent.

     

    Derrick Johnson, Kansas City Chiefs

    With some doubts about how he would bounce back after tearing his Achilles during the 2014 season, Chiefs linebacker Derrick Johnson returned with a vengeance in 2015.

    In 2015, he recorded four sacks and more than 100 solo tackles.

    As Terez A. Paylor of the Kansas City Star mentioned, Johnson is essentially the soul of the Chiefs defense.

     

    Brandon Marshall, Denver Broncos

    Rated as PFF's ninth-best linebacker, the Broncos' Brandon Marshall is one of the best linebackers against the run in the league.

    Astoundingly, he had just one missed tackle on the season.

    With Marshall, Miller, Danny Trevathan, Antonio Smith, Evan Mathis and Malik Jackson all set to hit free agency, the Broncos will have some difficult decisions to make this offseason.

Cornerback

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    Josh Norman
    Josh NormanAssociated Press

    Josh Norman, Carolina Panthers

    There's nothing more anyone can say to validate the on-field excellence Carolina Panthers cornerback Josh Norman portrays on the field.

    He's undoubtedly the No. 1 cornerback free agent who is—you guessed it—likely to be franchise-tagged if the Panthers and Norman are unable to work out a long-term deal right off the bat.

     

    Janoris Jenkins, Los Angeles Rams

    Every season, Los Angeles Rams cornerback Janoris Jenkins improves .

    While he may not be in the conversation of elite corners yet, he has become a top-shelf starter with real playmaking ability. He will make any cornerback-needy team very happy.

    Unfortunately for the Rams, Jenkins and fellow cornerback Trumaine Johnson are both free agents.

     

    Sean Smith, Kansas City Chiefs

    While it may seem like ancient history, the Chiefs could not stop any passing attack until cornerback Sean Smith returned in Week 4.

    To end the season, the Chiefs finished inside the top five in pass coverage, which was a far cry from the once-porous pass defense to begin the season.

    With a plethora of other free agents for the Chiefs to deal with, Smith could find his way to a new team in 2016.

Safety

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    Eric Berry
    Eric BerryAssociated Press

    Eric Berry, Kansas City Chiefs

    A true inspiration after overcoming cancer, Eric Berry's hard work is about to be rewarded with a huge payday.

    While a franchise tag is likely, the Chiefs do have numerous other players they need to work into the cap.

    According to PFF, Berry had the second-best season of his career.

    Congratulations to Berry on everything; it's well-deserved.

     

    Eric Weddle, San Diego Chargers

    It's impossible for Chargers safety Eric Weddle to have a bad season.

    Unlike most of the top free agents, it's guaranteed he will play elsewhere in 2016.

    After the whole halftime debacle with the Chargers and ultimately being placed on injured reserve, Weddle said he'll never figure out the reason why things went south the way they did the last few weeks of the season. Why? "Because I probably won't ever speak to them again," he said, according to Michael Gehlken of the San Diego Union-Tribune.

    Weddle will have multiple suitors this offseason.

     

    Statistics courtesy of Pro Football Focus.

    Follow me on Twitter @RichardJanvrin

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