There are still four weeks left in the regular season, but let’s turn our attention to the offseason for a moment, and take a look at the first edition of our 2016 NFL Free Agent Power Rankings. This list — compiled using our list of 2016 free agents — is comprised only of upcoming unrestricted free agents, and is sorted by projected guaranteed money.
1. Von Miller, LB: The 26-year-old Miller has the highest draft pedigree of any player on this list, having been selected second overall back in 2011. He’s certainly lived up to that draft billing, posting 58 sacks in 68 starts during his five years in the league. The advanced metrics like Miller as well, as he grades as the fourth-best edge defender in the NFL per Pro Football Focus (subscription required), which also rates him as the best pure pass-rusher at his position. PFR’s Luke Adams examined Miller’s extension case last November, projecting a five-year deal in the neighborhood of $75MM, but given that Miller has continued his high level of production in the year-plus since, I think it’s fair to argue that he’ll garner even more. His target will be Ndamukong Suh‘s ~$19MM average salary, and while he might not get there, $18MM annually isn’t out of the question.
2. Alshon Jeffery, WR: Injuries have hampered Jeffery thus in 2015, as he’s been limited to playing in only seven of 12 games. But when he has been active, he’s been as consistent as ever, averaging nearly 100 yards per game through the air while acting as the only reliable option in the Bears’ passing attack. Jeffery is as good a candidate as any to receive a franchise tag next spring, as he’s not only the real option for such a tender on the Chicago roster, but he’s easily the best receiver of the 2016 free agent class. Such a tender will obviously hinder his market value (at a one-year cost of about $14.5MM, per Joel Corry’s projections), but otherwise he’d be in line for a Julio Jones-esque deal: five years at more than $14MM per season.
3. Josh Norman, CB: Like Jeffery, Norman will almost certainly be franchise-tagged, essentially locking him onto the Panthers’ roster while the two sides attempt to knock out an extension. It’s been a true breakout season for Norman, who turns 28 years old on Tuesday — through Week 13, he grades as the best corner in the league (per PFF), just a touch better than Tyrann Mathieu. I looked at Norman’s case for an extension last month, arguing that Norman has certainly earned the going rate for top cornerbacks: five years, $70MM or so. That $14MM AAV would put him right in line with the league’s other top defensive backs, such as Darrelle Revis, Richard Sherman, and Patrick Peterson.
4. Muhammad Wilkerson, DE: Trade rumors surrounded Wilkerson during the draft following the Jets’ selection of Leonard Williams, who was added to an already loaded New York defensive line that also fields Sheldon Richardson and Damon Harrison. Wilkerson ultimately stuck with Gang Green, but cut off extension talks before camp, determined to play out his current contract. Not only has Wilkerson continued to exhibit his high level of play, but he’s remarkably active, having played the fifth-most snaps of any defensive lineman in the league. He’s another candidate for the franchise tag, as he’ll be likely be looking for a contract that makes him the second highest-paid 3-4 defensive end (after J.J. Watt). PFR’s Rob DiRe profiled Wilkerson — and his case for a new deal — in July.
5. Russell Okung, T: The 28-year-old Okung hasn’t always been the most consistent or the most durable player, as he missed an average of four games during the first five years of his career. But he’s got a first-round pedigree, and he’s been a part of one of the more successful clubs in the NFL during the past few seasons (including perhaps the preeminent running game). As Jason Fitzgerald of Over the Cap noted earlier this week, Okung — playing on one of the last surviving contracts signed under the old CBA — has already set a floor for talks with his six-year, $48.5MM rookie deal. He probably won’t match the $13MM annual salary reached by Trent Williams earlier this year, but Okung could aim for the second tier of tackle contracts ($10-11MM per year). I looked at Okung as an extension candidate earlier this year.
6. Kelechi Osemele, G: The Ravens likely won’t re-sign Osemele, having already handed fellow guard Marshal Yanda a four-year, $32MM deal earlier this year. I actually thought Yanda, who might be the single best interior lineman in the NFL, took less than he was worth, and I expect Osemele to not only aim higher, but seek to top the five-year, $40MM ($15.75MM guaranteed) contract inked by Mike Iupati last offseason, a topic I broached in my analysis of Osemele and Yanda’s extension arguments. He’d be worth the money, as he ranks as the fifth-best guard in the league per PFF (Yanda, ever the stalwart, ranks first).
7. Cordy Glenn, T: Glenn has perhaps the least name value of any on this list, as the former second-round pick has spent the entirety of his career in the relative anonymous confines of Buffalo. He’s been incredibly durable (just three missed starts in his career, all during his rookie season), and he’s performing quite well in his platform year, grading as the sixth-best tackle in the league per PFF. Glenn is solid option, not a star, but despite the decreasing disparity in importance between left and right tackles, those who protect the blind side still earn the bigger contracts.
8. Eric Berry, S: Perhaps the best story in the NFL this season, Berry is not only cancer-free about a year after being diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, but he’s playing the best football of his career, ranking as the league’s best overall safety per PFF. I expect he’ll return to the Chiefs, the club that drafted him with the fifth pick in 2010 (and the only team he’s ever played for). But there could be a hefty contract available on the free agent market, as safety salaries have steadily risen in recent years. Like Okung, he already scored a large rookie deal (more than $8MM annually), so he’ll probably be looking for more this time around. He’ll probably slide in just under Earl Thomas and Devin McCourty at $9MM per year or so.
9. Brock Osweiler, QB: The first wild card on the list, Osweiler has only three career starts to his name, but he is set up to earn a significant contract in free agency. His numbers thus far aren’t world-beating — he’s averaging just 208 yards passing per game while completing about 61% of his passes — but the dearth of quarterback talent in the NFL at the moment cannot be overstated. Any signal-caller who displays even a modicum of competence is potentially in line for a nice deal (let’s not forget Nick Foles garnered $12MM in guarantees this offseason). Also in Osweiler’s favor: Denver will likely use its franchise tag on Miller, meaning Osweiler could hit the open market unfettered.
10. Kirk Cousins, QB: The fact that the NFL has seen more of Cousins than Osweiler is, in my mind, a strike against the Washington quarterback — in other words, the league has seen the poor game tape of Cousins, where as Osweiler is still mostly projection. Still, there’s no denying that Cousins has played better football this year, and while he probably isn’t a candidate for the franchise tag, I’d be surprised if Washington doesn’t seek to work out a long-term deal.