NFL: Top 25 free agents includes Saquon Barkley, Justin Simmons and more


More than a week before free agency officially begins, the top shelves have been mostly emptied.

The original No. 1 player on this list, defensive tackle Chris Jones, re-signed with the Kansas City Chiefs on a huge five-year deal just days before hitting free agency.

From the first edition of the top 25 free agents this offseason, eight of the players were given the franchise tag. Here’s all who got tagged: Cincinnati Bengals WR Tee Higgins, Jacksonville Jaguars DE Josh Allen, Carolina Panthers DE Brian Burns, Chicago Bears CB Jaylon Johnson, Tampa Bay Buccaneers S Antoine Winfield Jr., Indianapolis Colts WR Michael Pittman Jr., Kansas City Chiefs CB L’Jarius Sneed and Baltimore Ravens DL Justin Madubuike.

All of those players got non-exclusive tags and theoretically can negotiate with other teams, but that rarely happens in the NFL. Another top-25 free agent, New England Patriots safety Kyle Dugger, got the transition tag. Also, Buccaneers receiver Mike Evans signed a two-year extension.

All of these moves took a huge bite out of what was already a so-so free-agent class. That’s a major bummer to teams sitting on a lot of salary cap space.

The NFL salary cap is set at a whopping $255 million, and teams will find players to spend it on. Free agency officially starts March 13, and many players on the list could be extended before then, but here are the top 25 potential free agents as the new league year approaches.

If Kirk Cousins isn't returning to the Vikings, where will he end up next season? (AP Photo/Duane Burleson, File)If Kirk Cousins isn't returning to the Vikings, where will he end up next season? (AP Photo/Duane Burleson, File)

After Jones held out all of training camp last season hoping to land a long-term contract, that won’t be an issue for the Chiefs this time around. He reportedly reached a five-year deal that includes $95 million in guarantees, which will keep him in Kansas City for what is likely to be the remainder of his prime.

Cousins is an interesting case. He’s often criticized but has put up good numbers throughout his career. Still, he’ll be 36 years old next season and coming off an Achilles tear. He’ll get paid more than some of the players on this list because of his position and the desperation from many teams, but there’s a lot of risk due to injury and age.

Wilkins, the 13th pick of the 2019 draft, has been a steady and durable producer on the interior of Miami’s line. On the verge of free agency, he had a career-best nine sacks last season. He’ll be in high demand.

Hunter will be 30 years old next season, which works against him, but he has been to four Pro Bowls and is coming off a 16.5-sack season. He has reached double-digit sacks in five of his eight NFL seasons and pass rushers are always valued.

When Seattle was pushing for the playoffs in the 2023 season, it traded a 2024 second-round draft pick and a 2025 fifth-round pick for Williams. That shows he still has value as he goes into his age-30 season. He has 43.5 sacks in his nine NFL seasons with the Giants, Jets and Seahawks.

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6. New York Jets EDGE Bryce Huff

Huff hasn’t started a game in either of the past two seasons and had just 7.5 sacks through his first three NFL seasons. The former undrafted free agent had a big breakout in 2023 however, with 10 sacks. He doesn’t turn 26 until April. His pass-rush win rate, via PFF, was third in the NFL behind Myles Garrett and Micah Parsons, and ahead of Nick Bosa and Aidan Hutchinson. That’s the kind of season that can lead to a monster contract, even with the risk that comes with just one breakout season.

Fuller has been a productive player for years, and he finished seventh among cornerbacks in Pro Football Focus’ grades this past season. At 29 years old there’s concern he’ll slip, but he should get one more big contract this offseason.

Greenard has been a solid edge rusher in his four NFL seasons and had 12.5 sacks this past season. He’ll be 27 years old next season and get a nice contract.

It was a surprise the Giants didn’t tag McKinney. He’s just 24 and a former second-round pick who has had some injuries but is coming off a strong 2023 season. He’ll get a nice deal.

Running backs do matter. But paying running backs top dollar is usually a bad investment. Barkley might be an exception. Barkley was one of the best running back prospects ever and the second pick of the draft, and he has had some big seasons. He also has dealt with injuries, including a torn ACL. He also hasn’t replicated his monster rookie season of 2018, and that’s a long time ago. The Giants didn’t give Barkley the franchise tag for a second straight offseason, so we’ll see what kind of deal he can get on the open market.

Perhaps Mayfield should be higher on the list, but it always seemed inevitable he would return to the Buccaneers. Mayfield resurrected his career on a cheap one-year deal, led the Bucs to a playoff win and the former first overall pick will be just 29 years old next season under a new hefty contract.

Wilson will be a free agent when the Broncos cut him at the start of the league year. He’s an interesting case, a player who was on a Hall of Fame track with nine Pro Bowls in 10 Seattle Seahawks seasons, but then everything came apart in Denver. The Steelers are getting a veteran QB with a Super Bowl ring and do it for the league minimum salary because of the offset language in Wilson’s Broncos contract.

Dotson spent his first three seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers, then his fourth season was a big one. He finished as PFF’s second-best-graded guard this past season. Guards are valued in the NFL landscape and the 321-pound Dotson should get a big deal.

Brown has just one 1,000-yard season in his five-year NFL career and injuries have been an issue. He has the talent. He was once a first-round draft pick and has a lot of ability. Some team will gamble on him staying healthy and productive as he goes into his age-27 season.

15. Jacksonville Jaguars WR Calvin Ridley

Ridley’s value is hard to gauge. At one point he looked like an elite receiver. That was before a strange 2021 with the Atlanta Falcons in which he played just five games, a yearlong gambling suspension in 2022 and an up-and-down 2023 with the Jaguars. He’s still good and just 29, but the shine is mostly off.

When Smith is on the field, he’s still an excellent performer. The problem is he hasn’t played a full season since 2015 and he’s 33 years old. He played in 13 games last season and his team would probably take that. He’d be higher on the list but durability is a major concern.

Consider Simmons one of the casualties of the Russell Wilson trade. The Broncos, saddled with huge dead cap hits for releasing Wilson, are cutting Simmons to save $14.5 million on the salary cap. Simmons made a Pro Bowl and was second-team All-Pro last season. He led the NFL in interceptions for the 2022 season. He’s 30 years old but still capable of being a very good safety.

18. New England Patriots OT Trent Brown

The massive Brown has been a good left tackle for many years, and he still has plenty left in the tank. He could move on to a team that has offensive line issues.

Las Vegas Raiders running back Josh Jacobs was an All-Pro performer two seasons ago. (Heidi Fang/Las Vegas Review-Journal/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)Las Vegas Raiders running back Josh Jacobs was an All-Pro performer two seasons ago. (Heidi Fang/Las Vegas Review-Journal/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)

19. Las Vegas Raiders RB Josh Jacobs

Jacobs was arguably the NFL’s best running back in 2022. He led the NFL in rushing yards and was an All-Pro. He took a step back last season, but played better after the team fired head coach Josh McDaniels, before he suffered a season-ending injury. He’s still of prime age (just turned 26) and can be a big asset to an offense in need of a lead back.

Pollard got a shot to be the Cowboys’ unquestioned top back and wasn’t great, barely breaking 1,000 yards. But as part of a committee he was electric, with a career average of 4.8 yards per carry. As long as Pollard’s new team doesn’t overextend his role, he can be a strong contributor.

Henry had a great eight-year run with the Titans, including a 2,000-yard season that led to him winning NFL Offensive Player of the Year. The issues with Henry is he’s 30 years old and has led the NFL in carries four of the past five seasons. His effectiveness is surprising given his massive workload all the way back to the University of Alabama. Some team could still see him as a short-term option.

Queen was a first-round draft pick and while he hasn’t been a star, he’s a true three-down linebacker who rarely comes off the field and had 133 tackles last season. He is also just 24 years old, so there’s plenty of time for Queen to reach his ceiling.

23. New England Patriots OT Mike Onwenu

Playing right tackle last season, Onwenu was PFF’s 29th-ranked tackle in the NFL. He’s just 26 years old, and good offensive line help is scarce.

Baker should get some interest. He’s a solid off-ball linebacker who is 27 years old. He can play all three downs. He’s not an impact player but a good defender.

In 2022, Howard signed a deal that was the richest for any cornerback in NFL history. He’s 30 now, didn’t have a great 2023 season and was just cut by the Dolphins. But he was a Pro Bowl performer in 2022, and good cornerbacks are hard to find.



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