2016 NFL Free Agents: Rumors and Predictions for Big-Ticket Names on Market

Mike Chiari@mikechiariFeatured ColumnistMarch 6, 2016

Denver Broncos defensive end Malik Jackson (97) during during warm-ups before an NFL football game on Thursday, Sept. 17, 2015, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Reed Hoffmann)
Reed Hoffmann/Associated Press

Potential impact players on both sides of the ball litter the 2016 NFL free-agent market, and while the signing period doesn't officially open until Wednesday, there is already plenty of buzz regarding where some of the biggest names may ultimately land.

Several stars have already been locked up through the franchise tag over the past week, but with so many players getting released due to salary-cap issues in addition to the original free-agent class, franchises will have an opportunity to add some significant pieces.

With the NFL's free-agent frenzy quickly approaching, here is a look at some of the top available names, along with rumors and predictions related to their landing spots.

Malik Jackson

The Denver Broncos proved definitively this past season that defense can still be the driving force behind championships, and one of the most underrated contributors to their success was defensive lineman Malik Jackson.

The 26-year-old former fifth-round pick out of Tennessee registered 45 combined tackles and 5.5 sacks during the regular season, and he recovered a fumble for a touchdown in Denver's 24-10 Super Bowl victory over the Carolina Panthers.

Much of the focus regarding Denver's defensive success is on Super Bowl MVP Von Miller, fellow pass-rusher DeMarcus Ware and cornerbacks Aqib Talib and Chris Harris. Jackson is a glue guy who produces, though, and losing him would be a big blow to the Broncos.

Denver reportedly made Jackson a significant offer, but it is still nowhere near his preferred asking price, according to Eric Goodman of Mile High Sports Radio:

One team that could easily reach that price, though, is the Jacksonville Jaguars. Per Mike Klis of 9News, the Jags have interest in Jackson and boast the most cap space in the NFL at nearly $80 million.

Jacksonville is no stranger to signing star players away from the Broncos, as it inked tight end Julius Thomas to a big contract last offseason.

Jaguars head coach and former Seattle Seahawks defensive coordinator Gus Bradley would benefit greatly from more talent among his front seven, and Jackson would certainly provide that along with defensive end Dante Fowler, who should return in 2016 after missing his entire rookie campaign due to injury.

Jackson may ultimately have to choose between winning and money, but if the Jaguars are willing to give him what he wants, then it will be an extremely difficult offer to turn down.

Jacksonville may also be close to contending in the AFC South due to its high-powered offense led by quarterback Blake Bortles, so look for Jackson to join the up-and-coming franchise and bring it even closer to returning to the playoffs.

Antonio Cromartie

Bill Kostroun/Associated Press

Four-time Pro Bowl cornerback Antonio Cromartie is back on the open market once again following his second stint with the New York Jets, and the veteran defensive back shouldn't have much trouble finding a new team despite his poor 2015 season.

Cromartie played for the Jets from 2010-13 before signing with the Arizona Cardinals for one season. He made the Pro Bowl in 2014 but returned to Gang Green last offseason. The 2015 campaign broke his streak of three consecutive Pro Bowl appearances and ultimately led to his release.

Following the former first-round pick's ouster from the Big Apple, Jets head coach Todd Bowles readily admitted that Cromartie struggled mightily last season, and that injuries may have played a role, according to Brian Costello of the New York Post.

"Well, we looked at the tape," Bowles said. "After we looked at the tape, he didn't have the greatest year, but he played with a lot of injuries to his credit. Cromartie is one of the finest players I've coached. It was a hard decision, but we need to upgrade a little bit at that position, and that was why the decision was made."

Cromartie made 29 tackles in 15 games, and he failed to record an interception for the first time since his rookie campaign with the San Diego Chargers in 2006.

His 2015 performance may suggest he is no longer an elite corner, but he could still provide quality depth as a starter or even a reserve.

According to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, one team that may look to add Cromartie to its defensive backfield is the Buffalo Bills:

Cromartie played under Bills head coach Rex Ryan with the Jets from 2010-13 to great effect, so there is little doubt he would be a strong fit in Buffalo's scheme.

The Bills already have one of the best cornerback tandems in football in the form of Stephon Gilmore and Ronald Darby, but they could use some depth after releasing Leodis McKelvin.

Cromartie would provide the Bills with both experience and a great deal of size at the cornerback position at 6'2".

Familiarity may represent Cromartie's best chance at returning to prominence in 2016 and beyond, so signing a one-year, "prove-it" deal with the Bills is a strong possibility that is easy to envision coming to fruition.

Travis Benjamin

Don Wright/Associated Press

Wide receiver Travis Benjamin picked the right time to have a breakout season for the Cleveland Browns in 2015, as he is now set to his free agency and land a hefty contract.

While a return to Cleveland is possible, NFL Network's Rand Getlin reported that contract talks between the two sides broke down recently.

On the heels of that, DraftInsider.net's Tony Pauline heard at the NFL Scouting Combine that the San Diego Chargers and Atlanta Falcons are two teams believed to be interested in signing Benjamin.

The former fourth-round pick out of Miami (FL) set career highs in 2015 with 68 receptions for 966 yards and five touchdowns despite an unstable quarterback situation that saw Josh McCown and Johnny Manziel shuttle in and out of the starting lineup.

Benjamin is also a fantastic punt returner who took one the distance in 2015 and has done so on three occasions over the course of his NFL career.

Both San Diego and Atlanta represent good landing spots for Benjamin, since he will receive passes from a reliable quarterback in either instance, whether it's Philip Rivers with the Bolts or Matt Ryan with the Falcons.

He would also become a complementary target to either Keenan Allen or Julio Jones, which means he should regularly face single coverage.

Due to the fact that the Falcons are closer to the 26-year-old's hometown in Florida and are seemingly closer to being a playoff team than the Chargers, though, Benjamin's likeliest landing spot appears to be in Atlanta.

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