Top 2016 NFL Free Agents By Position: Offense

NFL free agency will get underway on Wednesday, March 9th, and while we can still expect the list of free agents to undergo some major changes between now and then, we’ll head into free agency week with a pretty good idea of what the market will look like. Franchise and transition tags have been assigned, many teams have cut their overpriced veterans, and most clubs are in the process of assigning RFA and ERFA tenders, if they haven’t already done so.

With free agency around the corner, it’s time for us to break down the outlook for each position. We’ll start today on offense, before getting to defense and special teams tomorrow.

Listed below are our rankings for the top 15 free agents at each offensive position. These rankings aren’t necessarily determined by the value of the contracts – or the amount of guaranteed money – that each player is expected to land in free agency. These are simply the players we like the most at each position, with both short- and long-term value taken into account.

Restricted and exclusive-rights free agents, as well as players who received the franchise tag, aren’t listed here, since the roadblocks in place to hinder another team from actually acquiring most of those players prevent them from being true free agents.

We’ll almost certainly be higher or lower on some free agents than you are, so feel free to weigh in below in our comments section to let us know which players we’ve got wrong.

Here’s our breakdown of the current top 15 free agents by offensive position for 2016:


  1. Brock OsweilerBrock Osweiler
  2. Ryan Fitzpatrick
  3. Chase Daniel
  4. Matt Moore
  5. Tarvaris Jackson
  6. Drew Stanton
  7. Matt Hasselbeck
  8. Colt McCoy
  9. Brandon Weeden
  10. Jimmy Clausen
  11. Matt Schaub
  12. T.J. Yates
  13. Matt Cassel
  14. Kellen Clemens
  15. Michael Vick
    Honorable mention: Charlie Whitehurst, Dan OrlovskyLuke McCown

A week ago, when it was unclear whether Washington would use a tag on Kirk Cousins and whether the Eagles would extend Sam Bradford, the quarterback free agent market looked a little more intriguing. Virtually every member of this current group has started games at some point, but with perhaps two or three exceptions, you probably wouldn’t want to see any of them getting starts for your favorite team in 2016.

Having said that, there are some interesting situations to watch here. For instance: If Brock Osweiler reaches the open market without a new deal in hand from the Broncos, would a rival team like the Texans or Rams be willing to make a big offer? The 25-year-old has only made seven career starts, but you could make the case that Denver wouldn’t have had a chance to win Super Bowl 50 without him.

Second-tier free agents like Chase Daniel and Matt Moore will also be worth keeping an eye on. They’ve been considered high-end backups for the last several years. Will this be the year they finally get a chance to compete for a starting role? Daniel’s odds of becoming a starter likely dipped when the Eagles re-signed Bradford, but I’ll be curious to see if his old offensive coordinator Doug Pederson goes after him anyway.

Running back:

  1. Doug MartinDoug Martin (vertical)
  2. Lamar Miller
  3. Matt Forte
  4. Chris Ivory
  5. Alfred Morris
  6. Arian Foster
  7. Bilal Powell
  8. Chris Johnson
  9. James Starks
  10. Ronnie Hillman
  11. Lance Dunbar
  12. LeGarrette Blount
  13. Tim Hightower
  14. Khiry Robinson
  15. Stevan Ridley
    Honorable mention: Ahmad Bradshaw, Joique Bell, Bryce Brown, Chris Polk, Matt Asiata

Running backs aren’t the big-money players they used to be, but the top player(s) at the position will still get paid. Doug Martin, coming off a perfectly-timed contract year performance, looks like that top player in 2016, so we’ll see how heavily teams are willing to invest in him after last year’s top free agent contract for a running back (DeMarco Murray‘s) looked like a mistake in year one.

While teams are increasingly relying on mid-round draft picks to contribute at running backs, the free agent market features a number of noteworthy options this winter. Teams looking for a pass-catching back may prioritize Matt Forte, but Bilal Powell and Lance Dunbar are a couple solid under-the-radar options. And like Martin, Lamar Miller and Chris Ivory are capable of being feature backs.

The most difficult player on this list to assess is Arian Foster, who looked terrific in his Pro Bowl campaign in 2014, but is now coming off a torn Achilles and is set to enter his age-30 season. Foster has so much talent that if he’s able to fully recover from that injury, it’s entirely possible he returns to form as one of the league’s most productive backs. But we’ve also seen veteran backs never be the same after suffering that sort of major injury seven or eight years into their careers. An incentive- and bonus-heavy deal could be on tap for Foster.


  1. Mike Tolbert
  2. John Kuhn
  3. Will Tukuafu
  4. Tyler Clutts
  5. Will Johnson
  6. Darrel Young

The low number of fullbacks eligible for free agency, as well as the decreasing usage of fullbacks in general, make it impossible to create a top 15 here. But there are still some recognizable names in play here, including Mike Tolbert, who could probably qualify as a running back, given the way he’s frequently used by the Panthers.

Outside of Tolbert, these players primarily serve as blockers, combining for a total of 39 touches in 2015 compared to 80 for Tolbert. That doesn’t mean they don’t have value, but it does mean that they’re unlikely to land deals worth much more than $1MM or so annually.

Wide receiver:

  1. Marvin JonesMarvin Jones
  2. Travis Benjamin
  3. Rishard Matthews
  4. Rueben Randle
  5. Anquan Boldin
  6. Jermaine Kearse
  7. Mohamed Sanu
  8. Marques Colston
  9. Brandon LaFell
  10. James Jones
  11. Andre Johnson
  12. Roddy White
  13. Nate Washington
  14. Brian Quick
  15. Andre Holmes
    Honorable mention: Leonard Hankerson, Percy Harvin, Riley Cooper, Greg Jennings, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Jerricho Cotchery

Teams looking to make a splash this offseason by landing a wide receiver must have been dismayed to see the Bears use their franchise tag on Alshon Jeffery, since outside of the Chicago wideout, this market looks awfully thin.

While Marvin Jones should be a solid No. 2, the club that signs him may have to pay him like a low-end No. 1, and many of the players behind him on this list will also benefit from the lack of star-power in the group. Jones, Travis Benjamin, Rishard Matthews, Rueben Randle, Jermaine Kearse, and Mohamed Sanu are all no older than 26, so this crop of free agent wideouts at least has youth on its side.

This group also features a few notable veterans who have been released by their former teams within the last week or two. A wide receiving corps led by Marques Colston, Andre Johnson, and Roddy White – who have each accumulated at least six 1,000-yard seasons – would have been the best in the NFL five years ago. In 2016, however, teams will have to try to determine how much those veterans have left in the tank. Clubs may prefer to bet on the untapped potential of a younger player like Brian Quick or Andre Holmes.

Tight end:

  1. Antonio GatesAntonio Gates
  2. Coby Fleener
  3. Dwayne Allen
  4. Ladarius Green
  5. Zach Miller
  6. Jared Cook
  7. Ben Watson
  8. Marcedes Lewis
  9. Vernon Davis
  10. Scott Chandler
  11. Jermaine Gresham
  12. Rhett Ellison
  13. Clay Harbor
  14. John Phillips
  15. Logan Paulsen
    Honorable mention: Garrett Graham, Kellen Davis, Andrew Quarless

A pair of Colts and Chargers duos dominate the top of this list, and it remains to be seen whether both teams will lock up their top two free agent tight ends. Of those four players, Antonio Gates seems most likely to re-sign with his current club, while Coby Fleener and Ladarius Green are the top candidate for lucrative, long-term deals. Both players are flawed, but they’ve shown flashes of tantalizing upside, and they’re still in their mid-20s. They should get paid.

Further down the list, there aren’t any stars, but there are a few potential starters. There’s also a curious mix of veterans players who are coming off career years and veterans who took a step back in 2015. Zach Miller and Ben Watson, for example, will bring up last season early and often in contract negotiations, hoping they get paid for their 2015 performances rather than their career résumés.

On the other hand, Vernon Davis, Scott Chandler, and Jermaine Gresham are among the players who will point to their longtime track records, rather than their mediocre 2015 numbers, in the hopes of landing a decent contract.

Offensive tackle:

  1. Russell OkungRussell Okung
  2. Kelvin Beachum
  3. Mitchell Schwartz
  4. Donald Penn
  5. Andre Smith
  6. Joe Barksdale
  7. Bobby Massie
  8. Will Beatty
  9. Byron Bell
  10. Ryan Harris
  11. Jake Long
  12. J’Marcus Webb
  13. Chris Clark
  14. Donald Stephenson
  15. Jermon Bushrod
    Honorable mention: Chris Hairston, Jason Fox, Don Barclay

Any of the top four players in this group could make a case for the No. 1 spot. Donald Penn has been the most durable and reliable of the free agent tackles over the last couple years, but his age (33 in April) is of some concern. Kelvin Beachum may have the highest ceiling of any player here, but he’s coming off a torn ACL. As for Mitchell Schwartz, his lack of experience at left tackle hurts him a little. Russell Okung has a handful of question marks himself, but he narrowly takes first place here, and should be in a good position to negotiate a nice deal for himself next week.

There are a few other players here who have spent most of their careers as left tackles, but they come with health concerns — Will Beatty, Jake Long, and Jermon Bushrod fit this bill. Most of the other players on this list shouldn’t be counted upon to play the left side, though several would be solid options on the right side, or as swing tackles.

Joe Barksdale, in particular, is a player I like in this group. After a few solid seasons with the Rams, Barksdale headed to San Diego in 2015, and was one of the lone bright spots on an offensive line that finished the season in disarray. Barksdale’s ability to change teams without missing a beat is the sort of positive characteristic that potential suitors will value.

Interior offensive line (guard/center):

  1. Kelechi OsemeleKelechi Osemele
  2. Alex Mack
  3. Jeff Allen
  4. Richie Incognito
  5. Alex Boone
  6. Evan Mathis
  7. Brandon Brooks
  8. Ramon Foster
  9. Stefen Wisniewski
  10. Ben Jones
  11. Jahri Evans
  12. Manny Ramirez
  13. Geoff Schwartz
  14. Mike Harris
  15. J.R. Sweezy
    Honorable mention: Chris Chester, Zane Beadles, Ryan Wendell, Kraig Urbik, Josh LeRibeus

It almost feels like cheating to place Kelechi Osemele in the top spot here, since there’s a real chance his 2016 team – whether it’s the Ravens or another club – will pencil him at left tackle rather than at guard. No matter where he ends up, Osemele is probably in line for a contract that either compensates him like a left tackle or makes him the highest-paid guard in the NFL.

For teams in need of a center, Alex Mack was a welcome addition to the free agent market when he opted out of his contract with the Browns this week. There are plenty of good players on this list, but most of them would be considered guards rather than centers. If Mack hadn’t reached the market, Stefen Wisniewski and Ben Jones would have been vying for the top position among centers.

This is another spot where there are a handful of veteran players who may or may not have plenty left in the tank. Evan Mathis looked great in Denver, but will turn 35 later this year and is reportedly mulling retirement. Jahri Evans and Geoff Schwartz are among the other players who will require something of a leap of faith — Evans’ best years are almost certainly behind him, and Schwartz has had a hard time staying healthy in recent seasons.

Dallas Robinson contributed to this post. Photos courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

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