The NFL free-agent period is frenetic.
Players you’ve never heard of get $20-plus million in guaranteed money while big names switch teams on a regular basis.
This year’s free-agent crop, however, isn’t loaded with star power, but it’s a deep class full of quality role players and recognizable names.
With the NFL’s legal 48-hour tampering period beginning today and the free-agency period kicking off Wednesday at 4 p.m. ET, here’s everything you need to know about the 2016 free agent class.
Franchised players: Von Miller (Broncos), Josh Norman (Panthers), Kirk Cousins (Redskins), Cordy Glenn (Bills), Alshon Jeffery (Bears), Muhammad Wilkerson (Jets), Eric Berry (Chiefs), Trumaine Johnson (Rams), Justin Tucker (Ravens)
Yes, a kicker.
TEAMS TO WATCH
1) Jacksonville Jaguars: Gus Bradley is entering his fourth season as head coach in Jacksonville, and the Jaguars have yet to post a winning season. Bradley knows his team has to take strides to keep his job and the Jaguars plan to use free agency as an avenue to help fix their defence. The Jaguars lead the NFL with a whopping $88 million in cap space.
2) Oakland Raiders: Oakland has made significant progress over the last two seasons and the roster is just a few talented starters away from being a playoff team. However, the team has some obvious holes, including a secondary that lost star safety Charles Woodson, but with over $70 million in cap space, the Raiders will be in play for several of the top names available.
3) New York Giants: The Giants’ defensive talent has deteriorated in recent years and with a new head coach and $56 million in cap space, New York has positioned themselves for an active free-agency period. The Giants will look to add younger free agents at all three levels of their defence.
4) San Francisco 49ers: New head coach Chip Kelly inherits one of the least-talented teams in the NFL, but plenty of salary-cap room to re-shape the roster. Kelly was super-aggressive in last year’s free-agency period with the Philadelphia Eagles and it remains to be seen if he can learn from his previous mistakes.
WHO’S GOING TO GET PAID
1) Malik Jackson, DL: The versatile defensive lineman is the best interior pass rusher available in free agency. After becoming a household name during the Denver Broncos’ run to the Super Bowl, the 26-year-old could command a yearly salary north of $12 million per year. Denver is unlikely to be able to afford him at that rate.
2) Kelechi Osemele, OL: Speaking of players you’ve never heard of, the Baltimore Ravens’ offensive lineman is going to get a monster new contract. Osemele has been a staple on the Ravens’ line, most notably as a dominant run-blocking guard, but improved his value late last season when he started four games at left tackle.
3) Olivier Vernon, DE: The Miami Dolphins placed a transition tag on Vernon, giving them the first right of refusal if any other team tries to sign him, but that won’t preclude other teams from making an offer. Vernon is a fantastic speed rusher off the edge, a premium position, and the Dolphins could have trouble matching a big offer given what they paid last year to sign Ndamukong Suh.
4) Bruce Irvin, OLB/DE: Irvin isn’t a game-changing talent but he’s about to be paid like one. The Seattle Seahawks linebacker was a reliable three-down player and a solid situational pass rusher on a spectacular defence but will get a hefty raise, likely coming from one of his former coaches (Atlanta and Jacksonville are the favourites).
THE BIG NAMES
1) Mario Williams, DE: Williams was released by the Buffalo Bills last week after a down season, but there will still be plenty of demand for the veteran pass rusher. He will need to find a coach who can utilize his talent after he struggled to fit in Rex Ryan’s defence in 2015.
2) Jason Pierre-Paul, DE: JPP is the most fascinating player in the free-agent class. He was a dominant force off the edge before he injured his finger in a fireworks accident last summer. Pierre-Paul was still a decent player when he returned with a club over his injured hand, but he had extreme difficulty tackling. Can he regain his form in 2016?
3) Doug Martin, RB: The value of the running back position has never been lower, but Martin improved his reputation around the league after a dynamic 2015 season for Tampa Bay. Martin is at a good age (27), especially for a running back, to land a big contract on the open market.
EXPECTED TO CHANGE TEAMS
1) Eric Weddle, S: Weddle’s relationship with the San Diego Chargers fell apart last season but the veteran safety can still be a reliable starter at age 31.
2) Danny Trevathan, LB: Trevathan. a solid three-down linebacker, steadily improved every season in Denver and will likely price himself out of the Broncos’ plans. He could land with his old coach, John Fox, with the Chicago Bears.
3) Matt Forte, RB: Forte likely isn’t an every-down back at this point in his career, but the long-time Bears runner can still be a valuable weapon. He is one of the most complete players at his position and can still be a dangerous receiver out of the backfield.
SLEEPERS WHO SHOULD STRIKE IT RICH
1) Brock Osweiler, QB: Peyton Manning’s longtime backup is hitting the market at the right time. Due to a simple lack of supply, Osweiler could land a deal worth over $15 million per year.
2) Jaye Howard, DL: Never heard of Howard? Not surprising. But the Kansas City Chiefs defensive lineman is coming off a breakthrough season in his contract year as a defensive lineman. You’ll be amazed how much he ends up making.
3) Marvin Jones, WR: With Alshon Jeffery getting the tag, there’s a lack of game-changing receiver talents available. Jones becomes the bonafide top option and the Cincinnati Bengals’ No. 2 wideout is a logical candidate to get a huge spike in salary as a result.