Early Look at the Top Players in 2020 NFL Free Agency

Chris Roling@@Chris_RolingFeatured ColumnistDecember 11, 2019

Early Look at the Top Players in 2020 NFL Free Agency

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    Frank Victores/Associated Press

    Less than a month remains in the NFL season. For about half the league, the focus has shifted to the offseason—where a notable potential free-agent market awaits.

    Some of the names set to be free agents are downright massive.

    Tags, extensions and even trades will play a factor in the final list that makes it to market before bidding wars begin.

    The top free agents listed below are notable for a mix of star power, production and the remaining upside that will assuredly make them some of the highest-paid players in the league. Note this largely won't include veteran mainstays like Drew Brees because of the unlikely nature they leave their respective teams.

           

Honorable Mentions

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    Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

    Here are some other names to keep in mind, though unlikeliness of a move or their positional value keeps them from registering as the very top players.

    Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans Saints: It's impossible to imagine the Saints and Brees part ways given his connection to the city and the fact that he's still a top-tier passer and winning plenty of games.

    Dak Prescott, QB, Dallas Cowboys: Hard to think Dallas lets its franchise passer go.

    Melvin Gordon III, RB, Los Angeles Chargers: An extended holdout hasn't diminished Gordon's value.

    Derrick Henry, RB, Tennessee Titans: Henry has 35 rushing touchdowns over four years. Enough said.

    Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Arizona Cardinals: Is Fitzgerald done? Will he return to the Cardinals or move on?

    Bradon Scherff, OG, Washington: Washington could let one of the best interior players in the NFL slip to market.

    Byron Jones, CB, Dallas Cowboys: With so many other big names in need of contracts, Dallas could be in danger of losing top-flight corner Byron Jones.

Teddy Bridgewater, QB, New Orleans Saints

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    Butch Dill/Associated Press

    Is Teddy Bridgewater going to get a chance to lead a franchise? One team could choose him over a rookie.

    As briefly outlined with the honorable mentions, it's hard to imagine the New Orleans Saints choose Bridgewater over Brees unless the veteran retires this offseason. 

    That could leave Bridgewater on the market with a chance to be a franchise passer again. It's easy to forget he's just 27 years old and that he had a Pro Bowl 2015 season in which he completed 65.3 percent of his passes with 3,000-plus yards and 14 touchdowns and took the Minnesota Vikings to the playoffs. 

    For now, Bridgewater functions as a high-powered backup. But it isn't outlandish to think a team could build a multiyear plan around him. And knowing the wild quarterback market, he could get one of the bigger deals of free agency outright. 

Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots

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    Charles Krupa/Associated Press

    It doesn't get much bigger than this.

    It's almost impossible to imagine Tom Brady leaves the New England Patriots or that the Patriots let arguably the greatest ever get away. But he's worth a nod nonetheless because Brady himself has commented on rumors that suggest he'd leave the team.

    Some of the rumblings come from the fact that his contract voids after this season and the team can't apply the franchise tag. That limits options for the front office and places more agency in the hands of the player, creating speculation.

    But why a 42-year-old quarterback would want to change teams is hard to say. Why the Patriots would want to let go of a six-time Super Bowl champ who's nearing the 75,000-yard mark is equally puzzling.

    If Brady hits the open market, even if it is just a smooth leverage play for a new deal in Foxborough, it would be a historic occasion.

Philip Rivers, QB, Los Angeles Chargers

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    Of the big-name passers technically slated to hit free agency, Philip Rivers feels like the likeliest to leave his team.

    Rivers is 38. He's got the not-so-passionate Los Angeles Chargers fanbase behind him after the team fled San Diego. And those Chargers are in an unexpected downswing at just five wins in December.

    But Rivers himself hasn't had much of a downswing, completing 65.1 percent of his passes with 3,700-plus yards and 20 touchdowns over 13 games. The latter stat could be better and 15 interceptions sticks out as an issue, but he has plenty left in the tank and could perhaps smoothly adapt to a new team for a few years.

    In May, Rivers said he wants to stick with the Chargers. But the mood for both parties can change on a dime, especially if the team starts flirting with the idea of seeking out a successor. Plenty of teams with cap space could consider making Rivers one of the league's highest-paid players on something like a three-year deal if it meant a stab at going all-in for a title. 

A.J. Green, WR, Cincinnati Bengals

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    Gary Landers/Associated Press

    The situation between the Cincinnati Bengals and wideout A.J. Green hasn't become any less confusing as this season has neared a close.

    After missing at least six games in two of his last three seasons, Green went down with an injury on the first day of training camp and has yet to be a full-go in practice since. He suffered a swelling setback after Cincinnati's bye week.

    It isn't hard to see why this situation has fueled speculation. New Bengals head coach Zac Taylor captained the worst start in franchise history, benching quarterback Andy Dalton before going back to him. The team sits first only in draft positioning at 1-12.

    It's hard to tell what's going on between the two sides behind the scenes. While the Bengals are known for taking care of their own, Green's health issues and age (he turns 32 next summer) could mean he slips to market. It's safe to say a team would take a risk on a wideout with nearly 9,000 yards and more than 60 touchdowns over 111 appearances. Green might like the idea of avoiding a rookie passer and extensive rebuild, which could create a big bidding war.

Amari Cooper, WR, Dallas Cowboys

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    Roger Steinman/Associated Press

    When Amari Cooper found himself freed of the Oakland Raiders, the fate of his long-term earnings was thrust onto the massive stage of the Dallas Cowboys.

    He has done nothing short of impress since.

    Last year, over nine games in Dallas, Cooper put up 700-plus yards and six touchdowns while propelling the Cowboys offense in impressive ways compared to its sluggish performance before his arrival. This year, he's caught 70 passes over 13 games, going for 1,054 yards and eight touchdowns while averaging a career-high 15.1 yards per catch.

    Cooper is only 25, yet he's sitting on nearly 5,000 yards with 33 touchdowns. He's seemingly still on the upswing, which will assuredly make him one of the NFL's highest-paid wideouts this offseason.

    Where that happens will come down to the Cowboys. Cooper is listed here and Dak Prescott is not because Jerry Jones and Co. will undoubtedly use whatever tag and cap space necessary to keep the franchise passer in town, perhaps letting Cooper slip through the cracks.

Marcus Peters, CB, Baltimore Ravens

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    The word "premium" gets tossed around often when it comes to the NFL, but few things qualify more than a shutdown corner.

    Marcus Peters qualifies more than most when it comes to the 2020 free-agent class. His expiring contract may be one of the reasons the Los Angeles Rams saw it fit to ship him to the Baltimore Ravens in October.

    Peters has used the opportunity to show he's one of the NFL's best regardless of locale. He's recorded three interceptions in seven games with the Ravens, has an 85.1 grade at Pro Football Focus and has allowed a completion percentage of less than 60 percent.

    While he's been with three teams since entering the league in 2015, Peters is only 26 and will have immense value if he hits the open market.

Jadeveon Clowney, Edge-Rusher, Seattle Seahawks

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    Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

    Jadeveon Clowney went through the speculation spin cycle last offseason before getting dealt to the Seattle Seahawks in September.

    He's headed right back for another spin this offseason.

    Still just 26 years old, Clowney only has three sacks on the season over 12 games, down from nine over 15 in Houston the year prior. But he's never been one to pile up sacks, and it's hardly the only number that matters. He continues to be an elite, multifaceted player, hence the grade of 88.7 at PFF this year—right in line with 2018. Keep in mind he's dealt with injuries this year too.

    Still one of the best all-around edge defenders in the NFL with no quantifiable drop-off in sight given his age, Clowney is going to get a monster headline deal this offseason, whether with his third team or with Seattle.

Chris Jones, DE, Kansas City Chiefs

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    Chris Jones isn't a major household name, which is bound to change when he becomes one of the NFL's highest-paid defenders this offseason.

    The 2016 second-round pick has blossomed with the Kansas City Chiefs, recording 15.5 sacks last season and seven more through 10 games this year.

    Jones, just 25, has a cap hit of less than $2 million this year, making him one of the best bargains in the league. While he's regressed slightly (21 pressures, compared to 49 last year), nagging injuries have had an impact alongside the typical statistical step back after a breakout.

    None of those factors should hurt Jones in free agency should the Chiefs let him slip to market. He's a trench cornerstone most teams would love to have and more than a handful would pay up big to roster.

Yannick Ngakoue, Edge-Rusher, Jacksonville Jaguars

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    Yannick Ngakoue has been terrorizing quarterbacks for years.

    A third-round pick in 2016 by the Jacksonville Jaguars, Ngakoue put up 8.0, 12 and 9.5 sacks over his first three seasons. It's no wonder he held out this past offseason.

    Ngakoue has battled injuries this year but has six sacks in 12 games, and he's added three forced fumbles and an interception return for a touchdown to his impressive resume.

    According to NFL Network's Tom Pelissero, the Jaguars offered an extension worth about $19 million per year during talks last offseason. That didn't cut it and won't be the cutoff for a premium pass-rusher as the emphasis on pressure continues to climb in response to quarterback play leaguewide.

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