Which teams are in danger of losing their top players?
Before getting into the list of each team’s most notable unrestricted free agent, first we must distinguish between what it means to be restricted and unrestricted.
Essentially an unrestricted free agent is a player who isn’t attached to a single team; they have the option to discuss deals with any teams with or without the intention to actually play for them in the future. Meanwhile, a restricted free agent is a player who has received a starting offer from his previous team, but other teams still have the ability to offer him a deal. If another team decides to offer this player a deal, the previous team can match and retain him (this concept can become more complicated, but these are the basics).
Here are the top unrestricted free agents for each of the 32 NFL teams alphabetically:
Rashad Johnson (Safety)
Sporting one of the larger lists of unrestricted free agents this offseason, the Cardinals have a number of older players who are reaching the end of their careers. Johnson isn’t exactly young himself as he turned 30 this year, but after notching five interceptions this season he proved to be a key part of the success for the Cardinals secondary. I wouldn’t be surprised if they let him go as cap space may be spent on more talented players, nonetheless Johnson was an impact player and deserves to get paid.
Adrian Clayborn (Defensive End)
There were limited expectations after signing Clayborn to a one-year deal this past season, but Clayborn showed signs of life. With the capability to play both defensive end and defensive tackle, the Falcons will need him to bolster their run defense as they were ranked 21st in rush yards allowed per game.
Kelechi Osemele (Offensive Guard)
As the Ravens continue to pound teams on the ground rather than the air, it’s crucial that they take a look at re-signing Osemele. As one of the top possibly available offensive guards, there will be a handful of other teams looking to add him to their roster.
Cordy Glenn (Offensive Line)
As the most talented offensive linemen on the team, there is no other player that deserves to be paid more so than Glenn. He has played in nearly every snap since he entered the league four years ago, and has developed into a top offensive lineman.
Josh Norman (Cornerback)
Probably the easiest selection of all the NFL teams this offseason, and it’s pretty obvious why. Norman has developed as one of the premier corners in the league, and there is no denying it. The Panthers need to pay him, and they will.
Alshon Jeffery (Wide Receiver)
Although I don’t think the Bears should re-sign Jeffery due to injury problems that have limited his time on the field, he is undoubtedly one of the most talented wide receivers in the NFL. Despite playing in only nine games this season, he was still targeted a ridiculous 17 times in the redzone, further illustrating his importance to any team thinking about signing him.
Reggie Nelson (Safety)
Having possibly the best season of his career, Nelson was an absolute ball hawk, coming up with eight interceptions on the year. He not only causes turnovers, but also puts fear into opposing wide receivers and running backs with crushing hits.
Mitchell Schwartz (Offensive Tackle)
Durability is huge when it comes to offensive linemen, and Schwartz has proven to be as durable as they come, having not missed a start since entering the league in 2012. Also grading out as the top right tackle according to Pro Football Focus, Mr. Schwartz should be receiving a hefty paycheck.
Lance Dunbar (Running Back)
This isn’t the most obvious choice for the Cowboys as there are plenty of other players that could be considered. Dunbar is one of the best receiving backs in the league when healthy. If he can stay healthy, and if McFadden can continue his success next season, there is a possibility that the Cowboys backfield could be the best in the league.
Von Miller (Outside Linebacker)
This is the toughest pick of all 32 teams as the Broncos have so many talented defensive players as unrestricted free agents this offseason. It will be interesting to see who gets paid, but the man with 11 sacks and the Super Bowl MVP must be the top priority.
Haloti Ngata (Defensive Tackle)
Brought in to replace Suh, the ex-Baltimore Raven did a great job of clogging up the middle last season. If the Lions want any chance at making the playoffs they need to continue to pay Ngata to stop teams from running on them.
Green Bay Packers
B.J. Raji (Nose Tackle)
Entering his seventh season in 2016, Raji has proven to be a force in stopping the run. His movement up front is like no other man of his size, and giving him up to another team would be crushing to the Packers defense.
Brandon Brooks (Guard)
Having not missed a game in three straight seasons, Brooks has been an affordable guard with decent talent. The Texans’ offseason is going to take on the role of a team rebuilding and why not re-sign someone who rarely ever misses a start?
Jerrell Freeman (Inside Linebacker)
With three sacks and 112 combined tackles, Freeman has always been known to find the man with the ball. Turning 30 this year, he could possibly be on the decline in future seasons, but the Colts have very few options right now.
Stefen Wisniewski (Center)
In his first season with the Jaguars, Wisniewski helped propel Blake Bortles into a successful second year. Playing in nearly every snap this season, there could be potential for these two to play with each other for a long time.
Kansas City Chiefs
Eric Berry (Safety)
As a top-five safety in coverage according to Pro Football Focus, it’s evident that Hodgkin’s lymphoma was no match for this man both physically and mentally. Storming back into the league, Berry has proven why he was drafted fifth overall in 2010.
Los Angeles Rams
Janoris Jenkins (Cornerback)
With drastic changes to be made on the offensive side, the Rams need to ensure their defense stays somewhat the same. Jenkins played a key part in limiting opponents in the passing game, and the Rams must consider re-signing him for that reason.
Lamar Miller (Running Back)
Although the Dolphins have no sense of how to use this talented running back, they will attempt to bring him back in the offseason. There isn’t much hope as Miller has expressed his disinterest in the team on several occasions and after receiving an average of 12 rushing attempts per game, who can blame him?
Chad Greenway (Outside Linebacker)
As a Vikings legend, Greenway has given fans something to cheer about each time he steps onto the field. His production has sunk in recent seasons, but he works harder than anyone else on the team and is a great leader to have in the locker room.
New England Patriots
LeGarrette Blount (Running Back)
Some may think Blount is old, but in reality he is only 29 and has plenty left in the tank. After his season ended due to injury in 2015, the Patriots could easily use him in the future as they pound away at opponents unwilling to stack the box.
New Orleans Saints
Benjamin Watson (Tight End)
The 35-year-old played like he had just entered the league in 2015, securing 74 passes for over 800 yards and six touchdowns. He has become a crucial part to what this offense does through the air, and also blocking for the ground game.
New York Jets
Muhammad Wilkerson (Defensive End)
Trailing only J.J. Watt in total QB pressure while also recording 12 sacks, Wilkerson is as dynamic of a player as they come. If the Jets can’t find a way to re-sign this beast there will be a huge hole to fill in the defense.
New York Giants
Jason Pierre-Paul (Defensive End)
Returning mid-season due to a fireworks accident, Pierre-Paul quickly showed the Giants coaching staff how much of an impact he makes. Forcing teams to double team him off the line can create openings for fellow defensive linemen and linebackers to make easy plays.
Marquette King (Punter)
Putting a punter on this list is quite fascinating, but King has become a top special teams player in the league. Ranking second overall in placing teams inside their own 20 yard line, there aren’t many other punters out there that can replace him.
Sam Bradford (Quarterback)
This is quite obvious as the Eagles don’t really have many options of finding a new quarterback for this upcoming season. Bradford struggled at times throughout the year, but with Chip Kelly gone there is potential for progress.
Ramon Foster (Guard)
Starting in all 16 games last season, Foster helped boost the Steelers to a top-10 rushing offense. It seems as though the Steelers always need help with offensive linemen, so why not keep this man?
San Diego Chargers
Eric Weddle (Safety)
It’s tough to find a reliable safety in the NFL, but Weddle has always been there for the Chargers in his nine year career. At the age of 31 it’s tough to pay him a large sum of money, but he offers a veteran presence in the secondary that not many other players have.
San Francisco 49ers
Alex Boone (Guard)
The 49ers are in desperate need of any player with the ability to provide assistance in winning a football game. Boone has been quite reliable, as he has missed only four games in the last four seasons.
Bruce Irvin (Outside Linebacker)
The Seahawks are known for having the most versatile defense in the league, and Irvin is capable of filling multiple roles. Consistently getting to the QB when needed, Irvin has been able to record five or more sacks in three of his first four seasons as a pro.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Doug Martin (Running Back)
Martin had his best season in the NFL, rushing for over 1,400 yards while also piling up 270 yards in receiving. If the Bucs want to have any type of future with Winston at QB then they will need a RB to complement him. Martin has proved to be that guy.
Sammie Lee Hill (Nose Tackle)
Hill may have only played in a limited amount of games over the course of his career, but the Titans’ list of free agents is slim. Hill’s size can pose a problem for any team’s offensive line.
Kirk Cousins (Quarterback)
Captain Kirk led a below-average team to the playoffs. As possibly the best quarterback in the entire league during the final three weeks of the regular season, Cousins threw for 11 touchdowns and zero interceptions in that span. The Redskins’ potential could increase enormously with any additions on the defensive end.
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