2017 NFL Free Agents: Rumors and Predictions for Elite Stars on Market

Ryan McCrystal@@ryan_mccrystalFeatured ColumnistMarch 2, 2017

HOUSTON, TX - FEBRUARY 05:  Matt Ryan #2 of the Atlanta Falcons throws a pass over Dont'a Hightower #54 of the New England Patriots in the second quarter during Super Bowl 51 at NRG Stadium on February 5, 2017 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

As the calendar turns to March, the NFL enters the busiest month of its offseason. 

On Wednesday, the deadline to place franchise tags on players passed, which solidified the pool of free agents for the class of 2017. And now the feeding frenzy begins. 

Free agency tentatively starts on Tuesday, when teams are allowed to begin contacting players. Then on March 9, at 4 p.m. ET, the floodgates open and teams are allowed to sign free agents. 

With all 32 teams and a host of media members packed into Indianapolis for the NFL Scouting Combine, free-agency rumors will be flying around this week. Many of these will change multiple times before players eventually ink their new deals, but here's a look into what is being said about a few high-profile names on the market and a prediction for where they may land later this month. 

Alshon Jeffery

CHICAGO, IL - NOVEMBER 01:   Alshon Jeffery #17 of the Chicago Bears catches a 21 yd pass for a touchdown against  Xavier Rhodes #29 of the Minnesota Vikings in the second quarter at Soldier Field on November 1, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Jonat
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Chicago Bears general manager Ryan Pace elected to not place a franchise tag on Alshon Jeffery, which makes him one of the most high-profile players to hit the open market. 

However, according to Chris Emma of CBS Chicago, Jeffery might not be going anywhere:

The Bears are in rebuilding mode and will likely part ways with quarterback Jay Cutler, ushering in a new era of Bears football. In this situation, teams often let aging veterans walk in free agency.

Jeffery is just 27 years old, however, making him young enough to potentially stick around through the rebuilding process and still be in his prime once the team turns the corner and becomes a contender again. 

Jeffery's skill set as a big receiver who can win the battle for 50-50 balls also makes him an ideal weapon for a young quarterback who adjusts to life in the NFL. If Chicago plans to draft a quarterback with the No. 3 overall pick, the Bears could try to keep Jeffery around to aid in their new quarterback's development.

Chicago will certainly have to battle with other suitors on the open market. ESPN.com's Tim McManus recently mentioned Jeffery as a potential target of the Philadelphia Eagles, and many other teams could join the bidding war as well.

Ultimately, Bears fans shouldn't give up hope on Jeffery's return, but a team closer to Super Bowl contention will likely throw out an offer the Bears are simply unwilling to match.

Prediction: signs five-year deal with Eagles 

Dont'a Hightower

ORCHARD PARK, NY - SEPTEMBER 20:  Dont'a Hightower #54 of the New England Patriots takes a defensive stance during the second half against the Buffalo Bills  at Ralph Wilson Stadium on September 20, 2015 in Orchard Park, New York. (Photo by Jerome Davis/G
Jerome Davis/Getty Images

The New England Patriots made the tough decision to let linebacker Dont'a Hightower test the open market rather than give him the franchise tag.

Given the depleted state of the Patriots depth chart at linebacker, it's a risky move, but one that was expected due to financial reasons. ESPN's John Clayton explained earlier this offseason that the franchise-tag price would likely be too high for the Patriots to give Hightower due to their desire to also re-sign other free agents. 

Despite allowing Hightower to enter the open market, the Patriots will likely make a strong push to bring him back. After trading Jamie Collins to the Cleveland Browns during the season, the Patriots' depth at linebacker became an issue, and losing Hightower would be an even more severe blow to the defense. 

Hightower is still young—he turns 27 later this month—so it won't be cheap to bring him back. But giving him a long-term deal rather than the franchise tag will allow the Patriots to spread out his money, giving them more flexibility in 2017.

Prediction: re-signs with Patriots on a five-year deal

Andrew Whitworth

CINCINNATI, OH - NOVEMBER 02: Andrew Whitworth #77 of the Cincinnati Bengals celebrates a victory during the game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at Paul Brown Stadium on November 2, 2014 in Cincinnati, Ohio. The Bengals defeated the Jaguars 33-23. (Phot
John Grieshop/Getty Images

Negotiations with longtime Cincinnati Bengals left tackle Andrew Whitworth could depend on his goals for his new contract. 

Whitworth has already been paid well during his 11 years in Cincinnati, but he's still searching for his first career playoff victory. While the Bengals certainly want Whitworth to return, the 35-year-old may be motivated by winning more than money at this stage of his career. 

If Whitworth is willing to take less money to land with an elite contender, the Seattle Seahawks could be an option. 

According to Spotrac, Seattle has only $25 million in cap space, nearly $20 million less than Cincinnati. As a result, an offer from Seattle likely wouldn't be the biggest deal on the table, but Seattle would appear to be in better position to make a deep playoff run in 2017. 

Other teams such as the Minnesota Vikings and New York Giants are also likely to enter the Whitworth sweepstakes, but they probably wouldn't offer a substantial upgrade over Cincinnati in terms of ability to compete for a Super Bowl. 

Prediction: signs one-year contract with Seahawks

Mike Glennon

JACKSONVILLE, FL - AUGUST 20: Mike Glennon #8 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers throws the ball against the Jacksonville Jaguars during a preseason game on August 20, 2016 at EverBank Field in Jacksonville, Florida. Tampa Bay defeated Jacksonville 27-21. (Photo
Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

Mike Glennon doesn't have the resume of a typical big name on the free-agent market. However, it's rare that a young potential starting quarterback hits the open market in free agency, so Glennon will attract some serious attention from teams. 

According to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, there are already two teams in the market for Glennon:

Both the Chicago Bears and New York Jets are expected to bring in new starting quarterbacks this offseason, which could mean Glennon is being viewed as a viable Week 1 starter by certain teams. 

The 27-year-old Glennon hasn't started a game since 2014, prior to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' selection of Jameis Winston in the 2015 NFL draft. He posted a disappointing 5-13 record as the Bucs starter but generated an impressive 30-15 touchdown-to-interception ratio. 

Despite the fact that Winston is clearly the long-term plan in Tampa, the Bucs are still interested in bringing Glennon back in 2017, according to Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times. The Bucs have reportedly offered Glennon a contract that would make him the league's highest-paid backup. 

Tampa's offer might intrigue Glennon under different circumstances, but with so many teams in search of starting quarterbacks this offseason, it seems unlikely that he will return to a situation where he has no chance to compete for playing time.

Glennon will likely receive a contract structured similarly to the one the Houston Texans gave Brock Osweiler last offseason. Osweiler's contract was heavily front-loaded, giving the Texans an easy escape after the second year of the deal if he doesn't pan out. 

Prediction: signs four-year contract with Bears

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