Each offseason teams turn to free agency as a means to improve their team and get them one step closer to the Lombardi Trophy. As we’ve seen in the past, a team’s signing very well could prove to be the missing piece they need to make a run at a Super Bowl, as Darrelle Revis’ stunt with the Patriots proved this past season. On the other hand, a team could miss on their big signing, as we’ve seen from DeMarco Murray and the Philadelphia Eagles so far this season.
Free agency brings more of an immediate approach and gives teams a chance to address needs with proven players. On the other hand, the draft is more-so for the long term and has more of a long term effect on the respective team’s future.
The free agency class of 2016 was shaping up to be the best in NFL history with elite talent all across the board. However, the cream of the crop reached deals with their respective teams prior to the season. For teams needing playmakers on the offense, there were plenty to choose from, but not so much anymore. Elite receivers such as: Julio Jones, Dez Bryant, A.J. Green, Demaryius Thomas and T.Y. Hilton all reached deals in a short span, taking them off the market this upcoming offseason. Defensive studs such as Marcell Dareus and Bobby Wagner made themselves unavailable along with established veteran QBs such as Eli Manning and Philip Rivers.
Here we’ll take a look at the remaining top free agents of 2016. These players will cash in big this upcoming offseason and make a big impact on their new teams, if they aren’t re-signed.
- Sam Bradford, QB, Philadelphia Eagles
- C.J. Anderson, RB, Denver Broncos
- Matt Forte, RB, Chicago Bears
- Lamar Miller, RB, Miami Dolphins
- Alfred Morris, RB, Washington Redskins
- B.J. Raji, DL, Green Bay Packers
- Derrick Johnson, LB, Kansas City Chiefs
- Brandon Marshall, LB, Denver Broncos
- Danny Trevathan, LB, Denver Broncos
- Sean Smith, CB, Kansas City Chiefs
10.) Pass Rushers (Greg Hardy, Bruce Irvin, Jason Pierre-Paul, Aldon Smith)
In a league where defense is so dependent on the pass rush, this is a great free agent class for teams looking to get more pressure on opposing QBs. With a great 2015 campaign, guys like: Greg Hardy, Bruce Irvin, Jason Pierre-Paul and Aldon Smith could be in for a big payday come March.
The more intriguing names of the group are Greg Hardy and Aldon Smith. Hardy is set to make his Cowboys debut in week 5 after serving a 4 game suspension. He signed a one year lease with Dallas and has proven to be among the best 4-3 defensive end pass rushers in the league as he averaged 13 per season from 2012-2013. If he can recreate that type of impact, he is set for a multi-year deal this offseason. While Smith brings the most upside of the group, he also presents the biggest risk. Smith has major off-field concerns and can never seem to stay out of trouble. Oakland has given him another chance, but not only will he need to keep his head on straight, he will need to perform on the field as well. Smith has natural pass rushing talent, he recorded 19.5 sacks in 2012. With a good, healthy season, a team may be willing to pay him a lot of money.
The safest of the group is Bruce Irvin. A strong, consistent performer, Irvin has been a pivotal piece in Seattle’s tough defenses the past few seasons. While he has stuck to playing linebacker, he brings versatility and can play defensive end as well; a great fit in a multiple-look, 4-3 defense. As for Jason Pierre-Paul, his future is up in the air. After suffering a hand injury this past Summer, he has missed an extended amount of time and hasn’t played in a game yet. However, JPP is still among the most consistent pass rushers in the game, he had 12.5 sacks last season. It’ll be interesting to see if he gets on the field this season.
9.) Eric Weddle, S, San Diego Chargers
Now a seasoned veteran, it doesn’t look like Eric Weddle will be re-signed by the Chargers this upcoming offseason. Weddle is the only active safety to be named to 5 consecutive first or second-All Pro teams. The 3x Pro Bowler is as reliable as they come at the safety position and has missed only 3 games since being drafted in 2007. Weddle brings versatility and can play at strong safety or free safety. He would be a perfect fit on a winning team and could prove to be a difference maker on whichever defense he lands on.
8.) Mike Daniels, DL, Green Bay Packers
The biggest priority for the Green Bay Packers this upcoming offseason will be re-signing Mike Daniels. The 4th year defensive linemen has emerged as the best player up front for Green Bay and has already made a huge impact this season (2.5 sacks, FF in 3 games). From 2013-2014, Daniels proved to be a good pass rusher up front as he racked up 12 sacks, he also plays tremendous run defense. If the Packers are unable to come to an agreement with the up and coming defensive linemen, Daniels could be a great fit in a 4-3 system as a defensive tackle, or stick to a 3-4 as a defensive end. Either way, Daniels will continue to progress and have a big impact up front.
7.) Tashaun Gipson, S, Cleveland Browns
Since entering the league in 2012 as an undrafted free agent, Tashaun Gipson is 2nd in interceptions with 11 only behind Richard Sherman; Gipson has led the AFC in picks the past two seasons. The Pro Bowler signed a franchise-tag tender this past Summer, but the 4th year free safety is ready to cash in big this offseason; but are the Browns willing to pay him? Gipson has proved to be arguably the best ball hawking safety in the NFL at only 25 years old.
6.) Russell Okung, OT, Seattle Seahawks
It’s not every year that a Pro Bowl offensive tackle hits the open market. Russell Okung has already stated that he will test the free agent market come March. Okung can prove to be a great match with a team who is desperate for offensive line help. Over his 4 years in the NFL, he has established himself as an extremely well-balanced tackle who especially excels as Russell Wilson’s blindside blocker.
5.) Josh Norman, CB, Carolina Panthers
While he isn’t a household name, just yet, you may know Josh Norman for one of two things. Either you know him for his Odell Beckham-esque interception to secure Carolina’s week 3 victory over New Orleans. Or, you know Norman as the guy who got into a Training Camp scuffle with Cam Newton. Regardless if you know him or not, you sure will this offseason as he is set to make himself a lot of money. Norman has been drawing comparisons to Richard Sherman due to his lockdown ability and tremendous athletic ability, the comparison speaks for itself. Norman could be in the conversation as a top 5 CB come next season.
4.) Alshon Jeffery, WR, Chicago Bears
Finally, an offensive skill player appears on the list. While Jeffery has played in only one game to start the season, he will still be the top wide receiver on just about every team’s free agency wish list. From 2013-2014, Jeffery saw consecutive 1,100+ yard seasons with 17 TD receptions in that span. His size and big play ability will have QBs drooling as they hope to have a new #1 WR. With the struggles Chicago has suffered this season they have entered a rebuilding mode early on, it will be interesting to see if Jeffery is part of their long-term plans. Let’s remember that they drafted Kevin White very high this past NFL Draft.
3.) Marshal Yanda, G, Baltimoe Ravens
A guard rated as the 3rd best free agent? Yes. Not only is Marshal Yanda the best guard in the NFL, he very well could be the best offensive linemen in all of football. Yanda has made 4 consecutive Pro Bowls and has been a vital piece for the Ravens’ success over the past few seasons. Whether they can afford to re-sign him or not, Yanda will sign a record-breaking deal in March.
2.) Muhammad Wilkerson, DL, New York Jets
At only 25 years old, Muhammad Wilkerson has already established himself as an elite 3-4 defensive end. After drafting Leonard Williams with the 6th overall pick this past draft and already with Sheldon Richardson, it doesn’t look like the Jets will be willing to meet the big contract that Wilkerson will demand. He is great all around player, a good pass rusher and tremendous run stopper; he entered the season with 26 sacks in 4 seasons. As a young, elite defensive linemen, Wilkerson will be given an enormous contract. Whichever team ends up throwing the money at Wilkerson, they will be very happy with their investment as he brings rare talent up front.
1.) Von Miller, LB, Denver Broncos
The top free agent of the 2016 class is none other than the prized pass rusher, Von Miller. The Broncos will desperately try to bring back Miller as DeMarcus Ware is likely to retire very soon. The loss of both would diminish all pass rush. Miller is an elite pass rusher which is extremely valuable in today’s NFL. In 3 of his first 4 seasons, Miller recorded double-digit sack totals, the only time he didn’t was in 2013 when he missed half the season. Aside from that, he averaged 14.5 per season. I fully expect the Broncos to retain their difference maker in the front 7, but anything could happen in free agency.