The Best NFL Free Agent at Every Position This Offseason

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxFeatured ColumnistDecember 25, 2019

The Best NFL Free Agent at Every Position This Offseason

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    For more than half of the NFL's 32 teams, it's time to start focusing on the 2020 offseason. You can bet that they've already begun identifying which areas on their rosters they need to build or rebuild through free agency and the draft.

    Of course, identifying areas of weakness is the easy part. Finding players who can provide the best solutions is another matter.

    The 2020 free-agent class is shaping up to be a loaded one, with several intriguing options at most positions. A "best solution" is going to vary from team to team; therefore, in identifying the best players at each position, we're going to examine them in a relative vacuum.

    Factors such as talent, recent production and player health will be considered, while items such as age and potential price tag will not. In other words, if your favorite team is a piece or two away from contention in 2020 and has plenty of cap space, these are the players you'll want it to target.

    We'll also examine the top value and long-term options at each offensive and defensive position—though in some cases, categories will overlap.

           

Quarterback: Drew Brees

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    If you're a potential contender that only needs a quarterback to get over the hump, there isn't a more enticing option than New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees. Tom Brady is a close second, but Brees is two years younger, appears to have more zip on his throws and is still capable of carving up opposing defenses.

    Between Weeks 15 and 16, Brees threw for 586 yards with seven touchdowns and no interceptions. He has completed 75.3 percent of his passes this season and has 24 touchdowns against four interceptions over 10 games.

    Although it seems unlikely that Brees will play elsewhere in 2020, it's within the realm of possibility if the Saints decide they want to move on while Brees wants to keep playing.

    Teams looking for more of a long-term solution should be interested in fellow Saints signal-caller Teddy Bridgewater, who went 5-0 as a starter in place of Brees (thumb). He's just 27.

    Ryan Tannehill, who has revived his career with the Tennessee Titans, should be viewed as a prime budget option. While his run in Nashville will make him some money, he is still likely looking at a prove-it deal.     

    Best Budget Option: Ryan Tannehill

    Best Long-Term Option: Teddy Bridgewater

Running Back: Derrick Henry

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    A bruising runner with breakaway speed, Tennessee's Derrick Henry is everything a team could want in a workhorse back. In 14 games, he has amassed 1,329 rushing yards, 206 receiving yards and 15 total touchdowns.

    Henry has also been durable. Though he is dealing with a nagging hamstring injury, he has only missed two games in his four-year pro career.

    At just 25 years old, Henry is a prime candidate for a team in search of a long-term solution. He's received a heavy workload over the past two seasons but hasn't been run into the ground like, say, Ezekiel Elliott. Elliott has seen 1,151 carries in his four-year career—while playing six fewer games—while Henry has just 772 rushing attempts.

    Henry should have plenty of tread left on the proverbial tires.

    Teams looking for more of a budget option may want to roll the dice on Arizona Cardinals back Kenyan Drake. Also 25, Drake hasn't emerged as a reliable workhorse back, but he has flashed a ton of potential. Over the last two weeks, he ran for 303 yards and six touchdowns. 

    Best Budget Option: Kenyan Drake

    Best Long-Term Option: Derrick Henry

Wide Receiver: Amari Cooper

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    Amari Cooper was a capable receiver during his three-and-a-half years with the Oakland Raiders, but he has emerged as a legitimate No. 1 with the Dallas Cowboys.

    With one game left to go in 2019, Cooper has already caught 75 passes for 1,097 yards and eight touchdowns. At only 25 years old, he should be a top target for contenders and rebuilding teams alike.

    Prying Cooper away form Dallas could be a challenge. If the Cowboys are willing to offer him an extension, he appears inclined to stay.

    "I want to be here. I just love this situation, my teammates. I just feel it’s the place for me," Cooper said, per Clarence E. Hill Jr. of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

    Expect plenty of teams to go after Cooper anyway.

    Those looking for a low-price option may take a chance on Breshad Perriman. The 2015 first-round pick hasn't lived up to expectations, but he's been productive down the stretch for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this season, hauling in 20 catches for 372 yards and four touchdowns over the past four weeks.

    Best Budget Option: Breshad Perriman

    Best Long-Term Option: Amari Cooper

Offensive Tackle: Anthony Castonzo

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    A nine-year starter, left tackle Anthony Castonzo has been a mainstay of the Indianapolis Colts offensive line since they drafted him 22nd overall in 2011. Though he has never been a Pro Bowler, he has been one of the more consistent left tackles of the past decade.

    Teams looking to solidify the line's most important position should have significant interest in Castonzo. The 31-year-old shouldn't be viewed as only a short-term option, either.

    Teams looking for a younger option at tackle may want to consider 2016 first-round pick Jack Conklin. While he isn't elite, the 25-year-old is still a starting-caliber right tackle.

    Those hunting in the bargain bin might instead consider Greg Robinson. He has started 21 games at left tackle for the Cleveland Browns over the past two years and likely can be had on another team-friendly, prove-it deal. Cleveland signed Robinson to a one-year, $6.4 million deal last offseason.

    Best Budget Option: Greg Robinson

    Best Long-Term Option: Jack Conklin

Interior Offensive Line: Brandon Scherff

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    Mark Tenally/Associated Press

    The Washington Redskins likely won't have Pro Bowl left tackle Trent Williams back in their lineup next season following his 2019 holdout. They may also end up losing three-time Pro Bowl guard Brandon Scherff, who is one of the best overall players set to hit the open market.

    The fifth overall pick in the 2015 draft has developed into one of the NFL's top interior linemen. The 27-year-old is only entering his prime as well. Whether a team is looking for a quick fix or a long-term anchor, Scherff should be at the top of its wish list.

    In terms of bargains, Richie Incognito may be the best option, provided teams are willing to look past his off-field issues. He has been involved in several alarming incidents, including the Miami Dolphins' bullying scandal and threats to shoot funeral home employees in 2018. But on the field, he's a Pro Bowl-caliber interior lineman.

    Incognito played for the Oakland Raiders on a one-year, $1.03 million deal in 2019.

    Best Budget Option: Richie Incognito

    Best Long-Term Option: Brandon Scherff

Tight End: Austin Hooper

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    John Bazemore/Associated Press

    A few enticing tight ends are set to become free agents. However, Atlanta Falcons tight end Austin Hooper tops the list.

    The 2018 Pro Bowler has been even more productive in 2019 than he was a year ago. In 12 games, he has caught 68 passes for 742 yards and six touchdowns. The 25-year-old can be a long-term building block for teams in need at the position.

    Los Angeles Chargers tight end Hunter Henry is also an intriguing free-agent option, though his injury history—he suffered a torn ACL in 2018 and a tibial plateau fracture in 2019—puts him a notch below Hooper.

    Teams that are willing to take on an injury risk may also be interested in Cincinnati Bengals tight end Tyler Eifert. The 2013 first-round pick played in only 14 of 48 games over the previous three seasons, but he has 41 receptions for 402 yards and three touchdowns in all 15 games this year.

    Best Budget Option: Tyler Eifert

    Best Long-Term Option: Austin Hooper

Interior Defensive Line: Gerald McCoy

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    Any team looking to upgrade the interior of its defensive line should view Gerald McCoy as a premier target. At 31, the 10-year veteran is experienced but not yet past his prime. He's been tremendous for the Carolina Panthers this season, amassing 35 tackles and 6.0 sacks.

    McCoy's upside rests in his ability to both stifle the run and create interior pressure. There will be younger and cheaper options on the market, but McCoy is the best.

    Among those cheaper options, New England Patriots defensive tackle Danny Shelton stands out. The 2015 first-round pick has quietly been great for New England this season, amassing 55 tackles and 3.0 sacks. However, he isn't quite as versatile as McCoy and is best suited for a nose role.

    Cowboys defensive tackle Maliek Collins should spark the interest of teams seeking a long-term solution. He is also capable of creating interior pressure, and at only 24 years old, he should be able to do so for many seasons to come.

    Best Budget Option: Danny Shelton

    Best Long-Term Option: Maliek Collins

Defensive End: Yannick Ngakoue

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    Jacksonville Jaguars defensive end Yannick Ngakoue may not be a household name, but he's one of the best young defenders in the NFL today. Durable and consistent—he's missed only one game in four seasons—the 2016 third-round pick is the top defensive end to target in 2020.

    Ngakoue is both an edge-setter and an edge-rusher, and he's one of the league's best combinations of the two. This year, he has 40 tackles, 8.0 sacks, six passes defended and an interception. In his four pro seasons, he has 120 tackles, 37.5 sacks and 13 forced fumbles.

    At just 24 years old, Ngakoue should be a target for every non-elite defense. He narrowly beats out other options such as San Francisco 49ers defensive end Arik Armstead.

    Teams looking to spend a little less may want to target Kansas City Chiefs defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah. Before landing on injured reserve with a torn pectoral, Ogbah amassed 32 tackles and 5.5 sacks in 10 games.

    Best Budget Option: Emmanuel Ogbah

    Best Long-Term Option: Yannick Ngakoue

Linebacker: Jamie Collins

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    Few linebackers in the NFL possess the sort of all-around game that Jamie Collins has. The Patriots defensive standout can do a little bit of everything, and he does it well. 

    Through 15 games this season, Collins has 78 tackles, 6.0 sacks, seven passes defended, three interceptions and three forced fumbles. He has also shown that he isn't dependent on the Patriots system, as he had a 104-tackle, four-sack campaign with the Browns in 2018.

    At 30 years old, Collins should have several prime seasons left in his career.

    Teammate Kyle Van Noy, who has 51 tackles and 6.5 sacks this season, appears a bit more dependent on New England's system, but the 28-year-old should be one of the best linebacker values on the market.

    Browns linebacker Joe Schobert is the top option for teams seeking youth. The 26-year-old was a Pro Bowler in 2017 and is having arguably an even better season this year. He currently has 125 tackles, 2.0 sacks and four interceptions. 

    Best Budget Option: Kyle Van Noy

    Best Long-Term Option: Joe Schobert

Edge: Shaquil Barrett

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    While defensive ends and outside linebackers can fill multiple roles, edge-rushers have one primary job: get after the quarterback.

    Few players have done that as well as Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Shaquil Barrett this season.

    With one game left to go, Barrett has racked up 52 tackles, 16.5 sacks and six forced fumbles. Only Chandler Jones has more sacks this season.

    There is some risk associated with Barrett, as he has only one year of elite production. As such, the Buccaneers may be the team most willing to foot the bill for him in 2020.

    "I don't think I'm going anywhere," Barrett recently said, per Eduardo A. Encina of the Tampa Bay Times.

    Barrett's limited production prior to this season may keep his price tag relatively low. He should be more of a budget option than, say, Jadeveon Clowney.

    Bud Dupree, the 26-year-old Pittsburgh Steelers pass-rusher, is similar to Barrett in that he has only one year of high-level production. However, Dupree is a tremendous option for teams interested in youth.

    Best Budget Option: Shaquil Barrett

    Best Long-Term Option: Bud Dupree

Cornerback: Marcus Peters

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    Cornerback Marcus Peters doesn't have a playing style that works for every team, which is why both the Chiefs and the Los Angeles Rams have traded him away. He's a gambler who will sometimes whiff when going for the big play.

    When his gambles pay off, though, it's hard to argue with the results.

    In five seasons, Peters has accumulated 27 interceptions and three Pro Bowl nods. In nine games with the Baltimore Ravens this year, he has 10 passes defended, three picks and two touchdowns.

    At only 26 years old, Peters should be a target for any team willing to accept his boom-or-bust nature.

    Because of his big-play potential, Peters is likely to command a hefty price tag. Teams looking for more value should consider New Orleans Saints cornerback Eli Apple. The 2016 first-round pick was largely viewed as a bust with the New York Giants, but he has emerged as a reliable starter since being traded to New Orleans.

    Best Budget Option: Eli Apple

    Best Long-Term Option: Marcus Peters

Safety: Devin McCourty

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    Patriots safety Devin McCourty can fill just about any role a defensive coordinator could concoct for him. He can be a center fielder, play in man coverage, be a defensive field general and a run-support option.

    With two Pro Bowls and three Super Bowl wins on his resume, there's no denying his experience.

    At 33, McCourty won't be a fit for every team, but he's a premium option for a team with championship aspirations. He hasn't missed a game since 2015, and he has 54 tackles, seven passes defended, five interceptions and two forced fumbles in 2019.

    Denver Broncos safety Justin Simmons—who has 89 tackles, 14 passes defended and four picks this season—isn't far behind McCourty in terms of talent. At 26, he's also a far better long-term option.

    Teams looking for value may look past players like McCourty, Simmons, Anthony Harris and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and take a chance on Damarious Randall. The 2015 first-round pick fell out of favor with the Green Bay Packers and may be doing the same with the Browns—he was benched at one point this season—but he's still a starting-caliber player.

    Best Budget Option: Damarious Randall

    Best Long-Term Option: Justin Simmons

Specialists

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    Kicker: Mason Crosby

    Many teams may show more interest in a young up-and-coming kicker than in 35-year-old veteran Mason Crosby. However, the longtime Green Bay Packers specialist is the best option for a contending team.

    Crosby has been tremendous in 2019, making 19 of his 20 field-goal attempts and all but one of his 39 extra-point tries. He's been more reliable than Greg Zuerlein, another top option, by a considerable amount. Zuerlein has missed eight of his field-goal attempts this season.

    Zuerlein is four years younger than Crosby, though, and should command a considerable market.

            

    Punter: Britton Colquitt

    Punters are often overlooked in today's NFL, but good ones are incredibly valuable. An ability to flip field position can mean the difference in a hard-fought contest.

    Minnesota Vikings punter Britton Colquitt has that ability, though it may often go underappreciated. Through Week 16, Colquitt ranks eighth in net punting average at 42.5 yards. At 34 years old, he may not be a fit for every team—the Browns parted ways with Colquitt last offseason in favor of rookie Jamie Gillan—but he's the best option for a contender in need of punting help.

           

    All contract information and free-agent statuses via Spotrac.

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