Top 25 NFL free agents include Tee Higgins, Kirk Cousins, pair of star Chiefs defenders

The story of NFL free agency this offseason might not be any particular player, but a team trying to retain two of its best players.

Maybe if the Kansas City Chiefs can’t retain all their top talent, someone can catch them and win a Super Bowl.

The Chiefs don’t have many huge questions this offseason, but they do have two of the 10 best free agents on our top 25 list. It will be a challenge to retain defensive lineman Chris Jones and cornerback L’Jarius Sneed, but not impossible. It’s crucial for their desire to win a third straight title. And, as is the case with just about any big-name free agent, the franchise tag could come into play.

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

1. Kansas City Chiefs DL Chris Jones

Kansas City Chiefs defensive lineman Chris Jones (95) is one of the top potential free agents heading into the offseason. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

Kansas City Chiefs defensive lineman Chris Jones (95) is one of the top potential free agents heading into the offseason. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

Jones went from perennially underrated to a three-time Super Bowl champ and a potential Hall of Famer. He’ll turn 30 in June but has plenty to give as a first-team All-Pro each of the past two seasons. He reportedly wanted $30 million per year during his holdout last season, and he should end up among the highest-paid defensive players in the NFL. He told the crowd at the Chiefs’ Super Bowl parade, “I ain’t going nowhere.” We’ll see if that ends up being true.

Allen was the seventh overall pick of the draft, will be 27 years old next season and is coming off a 17.5-sack season. Allen would get a monster contract on the open market, but it’s more likely he’ll get the franchise tag if the Jaguars don’t extend him before the deadline.

3. Cincinnati Bengals WR Tee Higgins

As we’ve seen, the market for receivers has exploded the past couple years. And Higgins would have been a No. 1 on many teams. He had a rough season with inconsistency and injuries but still has shown he can be a top-end target for any offense.

In 2022, the Rams reportedly offered Carolina two first-round draft picks for Burns, and the Panthers declined. That says a lot about Burns’ value. He’s a former first-round pick with 46.5 sacks in five seasons.

Johnson had the best Pro Football Focus grade among cornerbacks last season. He’ll be just 25 years old next season. The Bears couldn’t get a long-term deal done before his big breakout and now they’ll likely need to use the franchise tag to keep him.

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 ahead of him 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.

Winfield was considered the biggest Pro Bowl snub this past season but then got a spot as a first-team All-Pro, which is a better indicator of his value. Winfield is one of the best safeties in the NFL and just 25 years old.

Pittman would probably be a bigger name if he had better quarterback play throughout his Colts career. Despite that he had 109 catches for 1,152 yards this past season. It would be a bit surprising if Pittman doesn’t get the franchise tag or a long-term extension before the deadline.

Kansas City Chiefs cornerback L'Jarius Sneed is eligible to become a free agent this offseason. (AP Photo/Ed Zurga)Kansas City Chiefs cornerback L'Jarius Sneed is eligible to become a free agent this offseason. (AP Photo/Ed Zurga)

Kansas City Chiefs cornerback L’Jarius Sneed is eligible to become a free agent this offseason. (AP Photo/Ed Zurga)

10. Kansas City Chiefs CB L’Jarius Sneed

Sneed has been a great fit for Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo’s scheme. He’s a versatile player who does a lot of things well. And he just turned 27. Kansas City has a challenge getting Sneed and Jones back for next season.

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.

Madubuike picked a heck of a year to break out. He had 13 sacks, more than doubling his total through his first three seasons, and hits free agency at age 26.

13. Tampa Bay Buccaneers WR Mike Evans

Plenty of people picked Evans to take a step back last season. Instead, he led the NFL with 13 receiving touchdowns. Evans is a future Hall of Famer with 1,000 yards in all 10 of his NFL seasons. He’ll be 31 next season but showed he still is a No. 1 receiver.

When Seattle was pushing for the playoffs in the 2023 season, it traded a 2024 second-round 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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15. 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 years old 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 some concern he’ll slip, but he should get one more big contract this offseason.

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. It’s hard to say what market he’ll have after getting the franchise tag last season.

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.

Perhaps Mayfield should be higher on the list, but it seems inevitable he returns to the Buccaneers. If things don’t work out there, he’d have interest elsewhere. 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.

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, but injuries have been an issue. He has the talent. He was once a first-round 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.

22. Jacksonville Jaguars WR Calvin Ridley

Ridley’s value is hard to gauge. At one point he looked like an elite receiver. But that was before a strange 2021 with the Atlanta Falcons in which he played just five games, a year-long 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.

Dugger is a smart, do-everything safety. Last season he had 109 tackles, two interceptions and 1.5 sacks. He’ll mostly play near the line of scrimmage and that can be an asset for many defenses.

24. 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.

Let’s lump all three running backs in together. They all are well-known stars, but we all understand how tough it can be for running backs in free agency. Barkley is part of the star running back group that will be looking for big, long-term contracts. That might be hard to find, but all of the big-name backs will have value to their teams in 2024 and probably beyond.


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