The 10 Best NFL Free Agents of 2016

Super Bowl 50 is still fresh in our minds, the NFL Combine just happened, but right now all eyes are on the upcoming NFL free agency period. As you may or may not already know, with a hard salary cap, it is nearly impossible for NFL teams to keep all of their homegrown talent off of the free agent market. That said, it’s quite rare for a team to let an elite player in the prime of his career test the free agency market, but every so often, salary cap issues, scheme concerns, personality conflicts, or off-field problems give players the opportunity to test their value on the free agent market.

In this article, we are going to look at the 10 best players who are scheduled to become free agents this offseason. Most of the big name players that could reach free agency will likely receive long-term, big-money contract extensions from their current teams, but there is no doubting that there will still be All-Pro caliber talent available on the free agent market in 2015.

Now, without further ado, here is a look at the top 10 players who are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents in 2016 (in no particular order).

* Note: Due to his knee injury, we chose to leave Pittsburgh Steelers offensive tackle Kelvin Beachum off of this list for now. 

1.  Eric Berry, safety, Kansas City Chiefs

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

  • Age:  27
  • Status:  Unrestricted free agent
  • 2015 Salary:  $8,357,700

Berry’s story is truly remarkable. In a matter of one year, the 27-year-old safety managed to beat cancer, and then went on to reclaim his place as one of the premier safeties in the NFL. As a result, Berry is undoubtedly going to be rewarded with a massive contract extension, likely from the Chiefs, this offseason.

Update: The Chiefs used their franchise tag on Berry (valued at $10.806 million)

2.  Eric Weddle, safety, San Diego Chargers

  • Age:  31
  • Status:  Unrestricted free agent
  • 2015 Salary:  $10.1 million

Weddle may be 31-years-old, but the five-time All-Pro has more than enough left in his tank to attract a fair amount of attention when free agency opens in March. At this point, we know that Weddle will not be back with the Chargers in 2016, and if we had to guess, we would predict that he will sign with a team that he views as a legitimate Super Bowl contender this offseason.

3.  Von Miller, outside linebacker, Denver Broncos

Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

  • Age:  26
  • Status:  Unrestricted free agent
  • 2015 Salary:  $9,754,000

Miller may just be the best pure pass rusher the NFL has seen since the late Derrick Thomas, who was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2009. The 26-year-old Miller is likely going to land the richest contract among all free agents around the league this offseason (assuming he does not receive the franchise tag from the Broncos), and let’s face it, after his amazing performance in the AFC Championship Game, there is virtually no chance that Denver let’s the four-time All-Pro hit the open market. If the Broncos and Miller can avoid using the franchise tag for 2016 and reach an agreement on a long-term deal, expect it to be more lucrative than the contract that Kansas City Chiefs outside linebacker Justin Houston signed last offseason.

Update: The Broncos used their franchise tag on Miller (valued at $14.129 million)

4.  Muhammad Wilkerson, defensive end, New York Jets

  • Age:  26
  • Status:  Unrestricted free agent
  • 2015 Salary:  $6,969,000

Wilkerson may ultimately end up being the best player in the league to change teams this offseason. The 26-year-old is hands down one of the best 3-4 defensive ends in the league, and is coming off a season in which he posted a career-high 12 sacks. We know for a fact that the Jets really want to keep Wilkerson around for the long term, but seeing as how the five-year veteran will command a contract with an average annual value well north of $10 million, they may run into salary cap issues during the negotiation process.

Update: The Jets used their franchise tag on Wilkerson (valued at $15.701 million)

5.  Josh Norman, cornerback, Carolina Panthers

Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Grant Halverson/Getty Images

  • Age:  28
  • Status:  Unrestricted free agent
  • 2015 Salary:  $1,591,750

Norman has seemingly come out of nowhere over the last two seasons to emerge as one of the best cornerbacks in the game. Given that he is just now entering the prime of his career, we are fully expecting Norman to land a contract that will pay him an eight-figure annual salary – something that will likely come from the Panthers.

Update: The Panthers used their franchise tag on Norman (valued at $13.952 million)

6.  Olivier Vernon, defensive end, Miami Dolphins

  • Age:  25
  • Status:  Unrestricted free agent
  • 2015 Salary:  $1,701,520

Vernon is a rising star, and unfortunately for the Dolphins, their disastrous salary cap situation will likely ensure that he will be continuing his career with another franchise in 2016. Seeing that he is just 25-years-old, we are fully expecting someone to offer Vernon a five or six year deal worth$8-$10 million per season.

Update: The Dolphins used their transition tag on Vernon (valued at $12.734 million)

7.  Kirk Cousins, quarterback, Washington Redskins

David Banks/Getty Images

David Banks/Getty Images

  • Age:  27
  • Status:  Unrestricted free agent
  • 2015 Salary:  $778,172

While Cousins is technically an unrestricted free agent, there is little-to-no-chance that he will not be playing for the Redskins in 2016. After winning the starting job this offseason, the former Michigan State Spartan went on to surprise almost everyone around the league by leading the Redskins to an NFC East title while playing at a Pro Bowl level. Expect to see Cousins land a deal that pays him no less than $15 million per season on average.

Update: The Redskins used their franchise tag on Cousins (valued at $19.953 million)

8.  Malik Jackson, defensive end, Denver Broncos

  • Age:  26
  • Status:  Unrestricted free agent
  • 2015 Salary:  $1,595,403

Jackson may be the best player in the league that you have never heard of. While his teammates – most notably Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware – get most of the media attention, Jackson has quietly developed into one of the premier 3-4 defensive ends in the NFL. The Broncos may not be able to find the money to keep the 26-year-old in Denver, but however this situation ends up playing out, we are confident that Jackson is going to become a very wealthy man sometime in the next few months.

9.  Alshon Jeffery, wide receiver, Chicago Bears

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

  • Age:  25
  • Status:  Unrestricted free agent
  • 2015 Salary:  $1,447,036

Jeffery may be coming off of a season that was marred by injuries, but we are confident that his health won’t scare teams away if the Bears fail to lock him up before free agency opens in a couple of months. At 6-foot-4 and 230 pounds, Jeffery is one of the most physically imposing wide receivers in the league, and when he is healthy, he has the ability to take games over. Expect to see Jeffery sign a deal with an average annual value of well over $10 million.

Update: The Bears used their franchise tag on Jeffery (valued at $14.3 million)

10.  Richie Incognito, offensive guard, Buffalo Bills

  • Age:  32
  • Status:  Unrestricted free agent
  • 2015 Salary:  $1.1 million

We were convinced that Incognito’s NFL career was over after he spent the entire 2014 season out of football following his release from the Miami Dolphins for his involvement in a locker room bullying scandal. Buffalo head coach Rex Ryan decided to take a chance on the controversial lineman shortly, and needless to say, his risk paid off. Incognito was widely viewed as one of the top five offensive guards in the league in 2015, and positioned himself to land a hefty long-term contract this offseason.

All statistics courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference. Contract data courtesy of Spotrac

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