Free agency officially begins on March 9 when the new league year starts at 4 p.m. ET. Every team in the NFL is looking to upgrade its roster in hopes of improving in the upcoming 2017 season.
With franchise tags having been handed out, the market is already a bit less exciting than it initially appeared a few weeks ago. Chandler Jones, Kawann Short, Melvin Ingram, Trumaine Johnson, Jason Pierre-Paul, Le’Veon Bell and Kirk Cousins are now all off the market, but there are still plenty of top players who will be available.
Quarterback Colin Kaepernick opted out of his contract in San Francisco, leaving the 49ers without a single quarterback on the roster heading into free agency. Meanwhile, running back Adrian Peterson is a free agent after his $18 million option was declined by the Vikings. There are also players like Doug Martin, who could still potentially be cut in the near future, whose free agency status could shake things up.
Though this year’s free agent class is a bit weak, there are still some big names on the market. So we identified one major need for every NFL team, along with three players who could fit that need. And for the sake of keeping things interesting, we didn’t assign a single player to multiple teams.
Arizona Cardinals: Wide receiver
Carson Palmer is 37, so upgrading the quarterback position is something Arizona will need to think about in the near future. But for now, it would be interesting to see the team add some weapons to the passing game. Since Bruce Arians took over as head coach, the Cardinals have had a penchant for drafting smaller, speedier receivers like John Brown and J.J. Nelson. With Larry Fitzgerald entering his age-34 season and Michael Floyd out of the mix, the Cardinals could use another red zone threat.
Names to consider: Kenny Britt, Brandon LaFell, Robert Woods
Atlanta Falcons: Defensive line
It might seem strange to list defensive line as a need for Atlanta after defensive tackle Grady Jarrett sacked Tom Brady three times in the Super Bowl. But with several impending free agents — both at tackle and end — and not much depth at the position, it wouldn’t hurt the Falcons to add another lineman in free agency.
Names to consider: Calais Campbell, Nick Fairley, Stacy McGee
Baltimore Ravens: Outside linebacker
Baltimore doesn’t have much at outside linebacker behind Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil, and even if those two can get back to pre-injury form, it wouldn’t hurt to get younger at the position.
Names to consider: Nick Perry, Datone Jones, Jarvis Jones
Buffalo Bills: Wide receiver
Regardless of whether the Bills stick with Tyrod Taylor, they will need to make their QB’s job as easy as possible for next season. Only Sammy Watkins is guaranteed to return as a starting wideout next season, and the team can use all the help it can get.
Names to consider: DeSean Jackson, Michael Floyd, Kendall Wright
Carolina Panthers: Offensive tackle
Tackle has been an issue for the Panthers for quite some time now. Michael Oher was signed to fix the problem two years ago, but he has been in concussion protocol since September. Even if he remains the starter, the team needs help at the position.
Names to consider: Rick Wagner, Riley Reiff, Kelvin Beachum
Chicago Bears: Kicker
After moving on from Robbie Gould last season, the Bears’ kicking problems didn’t go away. Connor Barth only converted 18 of 23 field goals last season (78.3 percent), and he doesn’t have convincing range, either. Quarterback will also be a position to consider, but it’s hard to imagine a premium replacement for Jay Cutler will be found in free agency.
Names to consider: Steven Hauschka, Greg Zuerlein, Nick Folk
Cincinnati Bengals: Defensive End
For a six-win team, the Bengals still have some talent. That said, there are a couple of positions the team has neglected for quite some time. Defensive end, where starter Michael Johnson has only generated 8.5 sacks over the past two seasons, is one of them. The Bengals hardly ever make flashy signings, however.
Names to consider: Mario Williams, William Gholston, Dion Jordan
Cleveland Browns: Safety
Losing out on T.J. Ward in free agency a few years ago and Tashaun Gipson a couple of years later, the Browns have been severely missing an impact safety. Cleveland has plenty of holes to fill, but safety might be the shallowest position on the team’s roster.
Names to consider: Tony Jefferson, Jairus Byrd, Bradley McDougald
Dallas Cowboys: Cornerback
The Cowboys are short on money and probably won’t even be able to retain either of their starting corners in free agency. If they do manage to lock up either Morris Claiborne or Brandon Carr, a low-profile guy could be had for a more reasonable deal.
Names to consider: D.J. Hayden, Tramon Williams, Greg Toler
Denver Broncos: Nose tackle
The Broncos might just have the deepest roster in the NFL. Only a couple of positions will need to be addressed over the offseason, but nose tackle — where starter Sylvester Williams is hitting free agency — is one of them.
Names to consider: Brandon Williams, Dontari Poe, Bennie Logan
Detroit Lions: Outside linebacker
DeAndre Levy hasn’t been able to stay healthy since signing a mega-contract and could potentially be on his way out this offseason. Even if Levy sticks around, there’s not much depth at the position. Another linebacker addition would make sense here.
Names to consider: Dont’a Hightower, Karlos Dansby, Daryl Smith
Green Bay Packers: Outside linebacker
Three of Green Bay’s outside linebackers from last season — Nick Perry, Julius Peppers and Datone Jones, all of whom played significant roles — are impending free agents, so because it’s the Packers, at least two of these guys will probably be re-signed. Imagining we’re in an alternate world where the Packers spend on external free agents is always fun, though.
Names to consider: Alex Okafor, Lorenzo Alexander, Trent Cole
Houston Texans: Offensive tackle
Duane Brown will be 32 by next season, and Derek Newton can be upgraded. Houston probably won’t be shelling out money in free agency after the Brock Osweiler nightmare last year, but if it does, it should be at this position.
Names to consider: Menelik Watson, Mike Remmers, Marshall Newhouse
Indianapolis Colts: Outside linebacker
Robert Mathis has retired, and four of his teammates at the outside linebacker position are impending free agents. Adding an edge rusher makes sense for Indy, a team which has a strange infatuation with veteran linebackers.
Names to consider: DeMarcus Ware, Julius Peppers, Dwight Freeney
Jacksonville Jaguars: Offensive line
Blake Bortles wasn’t great last year, but he could be even worse next season if Jacksonville doesn’t shore up its O-line. With plenty of cap space to work with, the Jaguars could make another flashy signing should they choose to do so.
Names to consider: Kevin Zeitler, Chance Warmack, Matt Kalil
Kansas City Chiefs: Running Back
Jamaal Charles is gone, so maybe the Chiefs really believe the Spencer Ware and Charcandrick West tandem can be effective moving forward. On the other hand, maybe Kansas City is just looking for a more reliable or less expensive runner. Sure, the Chiefs signed C.J. Spiller, but there’s no guarantee he even makes the roster next year.
Names to consider: Rex Burkhead, Darren McFadden, DeAngelo Williams
Los Angeles Chargers: Safety
Implementing a new defensive system is no easy task, especially when it requires new defensive personnel. The Chargers might learn that the hard way, as they look to solidify the back end of the defense behind superstar corners Jason Verrett and Casey Hayward.
Names to consider: Barry Church, T.J. McDonald, Johnathan Cyprien
Los Angeles Rams: Wide receiver
Even in a scenario where Tavon Austin earns every penny of the massive contract he signed, Jared Goff needs some more weapons in the passing game. With two of the team’s top pass catchers from a year ago hitting free agency, it’s time to bring in some help.
Names to consider: Alshon Jeffery, Terrelle Pryor, Anquan Boldin
Miami Dolphins: Outside linebacker
Miami traded for Kiko Alonso last offseason, and even though the move ended up working out in its favor, the team still needs some more help at the position. If the Dolphins end up trading for a corner, however, it could be a pretty uneventful summer in Miami with that aside.
Names to consider: Malcolm Smith, Keenan Robinson, Josh Bynes
Minnesota Vikings: Running back
Adrian Peterson is technically no longer on the roster after his $18 million option was declined by the Vikings. Adding a quality running back — Peterson or not — who can immediately contribute makes the quarterback’s job a lot easier. Whether it’s Peterson or someone else will be the true question to answer.
Names to consider: Peterson, LeGarrette Blount, Jamaal Charles
New England Patriots: Defensive end
Two of New England’s top edge rushers, Dont’a Hightower and Jabaal Sheard, are hitting free agency. So expect the Patriots to look for additional pass-rushing help, even if one or both are re-signed. New England has done a terrific job at getting production out of veteran castoffs, not only at the end position but all across the roster.
Names to consider: Charles Johnson, Paul Kruger, Jared Odrick
New Orleans Saints: Defensive end
Cameron Jordan needs a tag-team partner on the defensive line. Adding another edge rusher opposite Jordan could turn New Orleans’ line from one of the NFL’s worst into a quality unit — especially if 2016 first-rounder Sheldon Rankins makes some plays in year two.
Names to consider: Chris Long, Ryan Davis, Erik Walden
New York Giants: Tight end
There are more pressing needs for the Giants, but adding a quality tight to catch passes alongside Odell Beckham could make New York not only a more exciting team but more importantly, a better one.
Names to consider: Martellus Bennett, Jack Doyle, Vernon Davis
New York Jets: Quarterback
The Jets have a long road to travel before they’re back in playoff contention, so addressing the most important position on the roster would be a good first step. Even if the team decides to roll with one of its own as a starter, there could still be a need for a veteran backup.
Names to consider: Mike Glennon, Colin Kaepernick, Brian Hoyer
Oakland Raiders: Backup quarterback
The Raiders were a Derek Carr injury away from winning their first playoff game in years, but fell short against a Brock Osweiler-led Texans team. The Bengals showed how valuable a backup quarterback is by deciding not to trade AJ McCarron last offseason, so expect the Raiders to follow suit and look for an insurance policy for next year.
Names to consider: Ryan Fitzpatrick, Josh McCown, Mark Sanchez
Philadelphia Eagles: Wide receiver
Giving a quarterback weapons is one of the best ways to help him progress as a player. After rolling out one of the worst receiver groups in recent memory last season, the Eagles need to give Carson Wentz a playmaker or two in the passing game as soon as possible.
Names to consider: Pierre Garcon, Terrance Williams, Vincent Jackson
Pittsburgh Steelers: Backup running back
As expected, Le’Veon Bell was franchised. But with a back like Bell, who has missed 14 regular season games in two seasons, it’s important to have a reliable No. 2. DeAngelo Williams played that role very well and could be an option, but if Pittsburgh elects to move on, there could be a few interesting names to consider.
Names to consider: Latavius Murray, Danny Woodhead, Chris Johnson
San Francisco 49ers: Quarterback
The Niners are starting from scratch, with a new head coach and general manager. Identifying a franchise quarterback will be paramount for them. With Cousins franchised in Washington and Colin Kaepernick opting out of his contract, San Francisco will need to get creative should the team decide to sign its starter in free agency.
Names to consider: Matt Barkley, Geno Smith, Case Keenum
Seattle Seahawks: Offensive tackle
Pete Carroll’s No. 1 goal this offseason should be to find a starting tackle with at least one year of starting experience (sorry, George Fant). That might not be possible with Tom Cable still around, but hey, it’s worth a shot.
Names to consider: Andrew Whitworth, Ryan Clady, Will Beatty
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Wide receiver
The Bucs could use another receiver, because if they stay stagnant, Mike Evans is going to have some back spasms from carrying his entire team on it. Jameis Winston would gladly welcome another pass catcher to the lineup, as well.
Names to consider: Kenny Stills, Ted Ginn, Markus Wheaton
Tennessee Titans: Wide receiver
Marcus Mariota, like many young quarterbacks in this league, could use some help in the passing game. More specifically, the Titans could use a receiver who can make an impact in the return game in addition to on offense.
Names to consider: Cordarrelle Patterson, Victor Cruz, Jordan Norwood
Washington: Defensive end
Wide receiver will be another position to upgrade, but defensive line will be a major need in Washington. Several defensive linemen are slated to hit free agency, with little to no depth behind last year’s starters.
Names to consider: Johnathan Hankins, Alan Branch, Lawrence Guy