Outside of the quarterback position, the 2020 NFL free-agent class left a lot to be desired. That won’t be the case next March. Multiple young stars are set to hit the open market, while others are going to cash in with jaw-dropping contract extensions before they ever hit the open market.
It’s in this that I look at the top-25 potential free agents around the NFL next year, including several future Hall of Fame performers.
A.J. Green, wide receiver, Cincinnati Bengals
This seven-time Pro Bowler will return to the Bengals for his 10th season after they surprisingly placed the franchise tag on him. Green, 31, missed all of last season with an ankle injury. He’s hitting the back end of his prime, having put up 1,000-plus yards just once since the end of the 2015 season. However, Green will be rookie quarterback Joe Burrow’s top target this season. That should enable him to cash in one final time next March.
Yannick Ngakoue, EDGE, Jacksonville Jaguars
By now, it’s well known that Ngakoue wants out of Duval. Jacksonville placed the franchise tag on the 25-year-old Ngakoue after another brilliant season from the former Maryland standout. Though, it now appears that the team is not going to trade its best edge pass rusher. A third-round selection back in 2016, Ngakoue has recorded 71 quarterback hits and 29.5 sacks over the past three seasons. Should he hit the open market, we’re looking at a record-breaking deal valued at north of $20 million annually.
Todd Gurley, running back, Atlanta Falcons
A surprising release by the Los Angeles Rams just two years after earning All-Pro honors, now provides Gurley the chance to rebuild his stock in Atlanta. Still only 25 years old, he’s in a tremendous situation on a one-year, prove-it deal. Despite recent struggles with consistency and injuries, the former Georgia star is averaging nearly 1,700 total yards and 18 touchdowns over the past three seasons.
Jalen Ramsey, cornerback, Los Angeles Rams
It’s no secret that Ramsey wants to reset the cornerback market as we know it. That would include the three-time Pro Bowler outpacing the five-year, $82.5 million deal Byron Jones signed with the Miami Dolphins back in March. The outspoken defensive back remains one of the better cover corners in the NFL. Despite consistency issues after being traded from Jacksonville to Los Angeles last season, he will be paid like a top corner. Unfortunately for the Rams, they are not in a great position to keep Ramsey off the open market.
Keenan Allen, wide receiver, Los Angeles Chargers
Was Allen a product of Philip Rivers in Los Angeles? Maybe he’s simply underrated? Either way, the 2020 campaign with Tyrod Taylor under center for the Chargers will tell us everything we need to know about the 28-year-old, three-time Pro Bowler. Allen is averaging north of 100 receptions for almost 1,300 yards while catching 68% of his targets over the past three seasons. If he duplicates that with either Taylor or rookie Justin Herbert tossing him the rock, Allen will get paid big time in free agency next March.
Joey Bosa, EDGE, Los Angeles Chargers
There’s absolutely no way Bosa hits the open market next March. Los Angeles will gladly place the franchise tag on the former No. 3 overall pick. Bosa, 24, has recorded 82 quarterback hits, 40 sacks and five forced fumbles in four NFL seasons. That’s despite missing four games as a rookie to a holdout and another nine games in 2018 to injury. The only issue I could see here if a contract stalemate if the two sides are not able to come to terms on a long-term deal.
Brandon Scherff, guard, Washington Redskins
Here’s a top-end 2021 free agent who might actually hit the market. Washington placed the franchise tag on this former top-five pick back in March, paying Scherff north of $15 million in 2020. That’s a lot of cash to pay out to an interior offensive lineman. It also suggests there would have been significant interest across the NFL if he could test free agency. A product of Iowa, Scherff has earned three Pro Bowl appearances in five NFL seasons.
Ryan Kerrigan, EDGE, Washington Redskins
I previously focused on Kerrigan as a potentially surprising release candidate heading into the 2020 season. There’s a simple reason for this. Washington selected fellow edge pass rusher Chase Young No. 2 overall in April’s NFL Draft. It also picked Montez Sweat in the first round of the 2019 draft. Needless to say, the Skins are preparing for a future without this four-time Pro Bowler. If that is the case, he’ll have a robust market. The former first-round pick is averaging 10 sacks and has recorded 141 quarterback hits across nine seasons.
Patrick Peterson, cornerback, Arizona Cardinals
The subject of trade rumors in recent years, it seems that this future Hall of Fame corner will ultimately finish his career in the desert. Peterson, 29, has played all nine NFL seasons with the Cardinals since they made him a top-five pick in 2011. He’s earned eight Pro Bowl appearances during that span, the only exception being this past season when he served a six-game PED suspension
Shaq Barrett, EDGE, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Barrett came out of nowhere in his first season with Tampa Bay after moving on from the Denver Broncos. The former undrafted free agent recorded a league-high 19.5 sacks to go with 37 quarterback hits and a whopping six forced fumbles. This forced Tampa to place the franchise tag on the Colorado State product. If the 27-year-old Barrett is able to come anywhere near that production in 2020, he’s looking at a huge pay day next March.
Derrick Henry, running back, Tennessee Titans
The reigning NFL rushing champion is set to earn $10-plus million in 2020 after having the franchise tag placed on him. This seems to suggest that the Titans are just going to play it out and let Henry hit the open market next March. If so, there’s going to be a ton of interest in his services. Henry led the league in rush attempts (303), rushing yards (1,540) and rushing touchdowns (16) last season. He’s also still in his prime at just 26 years old.
Von Miller, EDGE, Denver Broncos
There’s been a lot of talk about this former Super Bowl MVP leaving the Broncos in the not-so-distant future. It makes sense in that Denver has a young edge rusher in Bradley Chubb ready to replace for the 31-year-old as the face of the defense. Even then, the eight-time Pro Bowler would draw significant interest in free agency. He’s racked up eight-plus sacks in all but one season in the NFL.
Justin Simmons, safety, Denver Broncos
Denver’s decision to place the franchise tag on this 26-year-old safety will cost the team $11.44 million in 2020. It’s a bargain considering that four other players at his position are earning $14 million annually. This won’t be the case following the 2020 season. A third-round pick out of Boston College back in 2016, Simmons has recorded 19 passes defended and seven interceptions over the past two seasons. He’s legitimately one of the best cover safeties in the league, and will soon be paid like it.
T.Y. Hilton, wide receiver, Indianapolis Colts
This 30-year-old impending free agent must have a bounce-back 2020 campaign if he’s going to cash in one more time before he retires. Hilton recorded just 45 catches for 501 yards in 10 games last season. The good news here is that Indy added an upgrade at quarterback in that of Philip Rivers. This could lead to a rebirth for a player who entered 2019 averaging north of 1,200 receiving yards since the start of the 2013 season.
Philip Rivers, quarterback, Indianapolis Colts
Rivers, 38, opted to sign with the Colts after spending his first 16 NFL seasons with the Chargers. It was somewhat surprising that Rivers made this move without really considering any other options. He loves the fit, and could look to finish his career in Indy. However, there’s a chance Rivers’ experiment with the Colts could fail. He signed a mere one-year contract, leading to the possibility of moving on to another team if the opportunity presents itself.
Alejandro Villanueva, left tackle, Pittsburgh Steelers
A two-time Pro Bowler, this military veteran has quickly morphed into one of the best blindside protectors in the entire NFL. He’s earned two Pro Bowl appearances in four seasons as Pittsburgh’s starting left tackle. Now 31 years old, it’s not yet known whether Villanueva will get a long-term deal in free agency next March. What I do know is that he’ll get a significant raise from the $6 million he’s earning annually on his current deal.
Anthony Harris, safety, Minnesota Vikings
Yet another former undrafted free agent, this Virginia product came out of nowhere last season. Harris, 28, recorded 60 tackles and 11 passes defended while leading the league with six interceptions. He’s seen as a single-high safety with broad coverage ability. Harris’ skills led to Minnesota placing the franchise tag on Harris, paying him $11.44 million next season. That will ultimately be Harris’ low-water mark once he hits free agency following the 2020 season.
K.J. Wright, linebacker, Seattle Seahawks
One of the more consistent linebackers in the game, an argument can be made that Wright has performed at a higher clip than better-known fellow Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner in recent years. The nine-year veteran recorded a career-high 132 tackles to go with 11 passes defended, three interceptions and he excelled in coverage this past season. Despite the fact that Wright will turn 31 during the 2020 campaign, he’s looking at a huge contract next March.
Matt Judon, EDGE, Baltimore Ravens
Noticing a theme here? There’s a lot of late-round picks and undrafted selections slated to head the free-agent class next March. None is more relevant than this former fifth-round selection of the Ravens. Judon, 27, recorded a ridiculous 33 quarterback hits and 9.5 sacks a season ago. He’s put up seven-plus sacks in each of the past three seasons. Playing under the $15.83 million franchise tag tender in 2020, look for Judon to top $20 million annually if he’s able to hit free agency next spring.
Ronnie Stanley, left tackle, Baltimore Ravens
Baltimore has made it clear that the team is looking to lock up both Stanley and the above-mentioned Judon ahead of the 2020 season. That would come at an enormous cost. It’s also magnified with Stanley given the ridiculous contract a lesser player in Laremy Tunsil received from the Houston Texans this year. Stanley, 26, has started all 56 games in which he’s appeared in the four seasons since Baltimore made him a top-six pick back in 2016. He was among the best left tackles in the game last season, making the Pro Bowl and earning All-Pro honors in the process.
Chris Jones, defensive line, Kansas City Chiefs
Jones’ contract issues with the Chiefs ahead of last season could ultimately lead to a trade ahead of the 2020 campaign. Even if that weren’t to happen, the Pro Bowler can’t be happy with Kansas City placing the franchise tag on him in March. He’s worth north of $20 million on an annual basis. The defensive lineman has recorded a combined 49 quarterback hits, 24.5 sacks and nine passes defended over the past two seasons. He’s right up there with Aaron Donald and DeForest Buckner as the most-productive interior linemen in the NFL. Look for Jones’ free-agent contract to take that into account.
Joe Thuney, guard, New England Patriots
New England surprisingly placed the franchise tag on the 27-year-old Thuney after a brilliant fourth year with the team. Said tag represents top-five money, a total of $14.78 million next season. Given that the Pats are apparently headed into rebuild mode, there’s a chance he will be traded. If not, expect Thuney to be among the most-coveted free agents once the 2020 season comes to an end. Guard has taking on a more important role in recent seasons, and he’s a franchise-caliber player at that spot.
Richard Sherman, cornerback, San Francisco 49ers
One of many top-end free agents for the defending NFC champs after the 2020 season, Sherman showed out big time in his second year with the team. The future Hall of Fame corner recorded 11 passes defended and three interceptions en route to earning his fifth Pro Bowl selection. Sherman, 32, also yielded a sub 50 quarterback rating when targeted. While he’s expected to return to San Francisco, look for Sherman to cash in one more time before he calls it quits.
Trent Williams, left tackle, San Francisco 49ers
Acquired by San Francisco during the 2020 NFL Draft, Williams replaces the recently-retired Joe Staley as Jimmy Garoppolo’s blindside protector. It’s an upgrade of sorts. Despite sitting out all of last season with the Redskins due to a contract dispute, Williams remains one of the best left tackles in the game. He earned seven consecutive Pro Bowl appearances before sitting out last season. Given the tackle market and how it has reset in recent years, a deal worth nearly $20 million annually could be in the cards here.
Dak Prescott, quarterback, Dallas Cowboys
Speaking of resetting the market, Dallas has already offered this Pro Bowl signal caller the richest deal for a player in NFL history. At issue here is the fact that Prescott wants a four-year contract, while the Cowboys want him under contract for five seasons. Either way, the franchise-tagged signal caller is looking at a deal worth $35-plus million annually. However, it’s highly unlikely Prescott will even sniff the open market next March. Even if the two sides are unable to come to terms on a long-term deal, Dallas will franchise him once again.