With free agency set to open this Thursday, NESN.com took a look at the top players expected to be available on the open market. Note: This list does not include restricted free agents or players who have been franchise-tagged.
1. Dont’a Hightower, linebacker, New England Patriots
A well-rounded linebacker with a penchant for making game-changing plays, Hightower is the crown jewel of this year’s free-agent crop.
2. Alshon Jeffery, wide receiver, Chicago Bears
Jeffery would be the No. 1 wideout on most teams around the league, but his availability is a concern after he missed 11 games over the past two seasons (seven for injury, four for suspension).
3. Calais Campbell, defensive end, Arizona Cardinals
Though he’ll be 31 in September, Campbell still is playing at a high level. A second-team All-Pro in 2015 and 2016, he reportedly isn’t expected to re-sign with Arizona.
4. A.J. Bouye, cornerback, Houston Texans
Bouye broke out in a big way in 2016 after spending his first three seasons as a backup. He’ll get paid this spring.
5. Kevin Zeitler, guard, Cincinnati Bengals
Zeitler is the best offensive lineman on the open market, and he’ll be just 27 when the season starts.
6. Brandon Williams, defensive tackle, Baltimore Ravens
Williams has drawn a lot of comparisons to Damon Harrison, who became a first-team All-Pro in 2016 after moving from the New York Jets to the Giants.
7. Stephon Gilmore, cornerback, Buffalo Bills
Gilmore is immensely talented, but consistency has been an issue for the Bills’ top corner.
8. Martellus Bennett, tight end, New England Patriots
Bennett had a strong first season with the Patriots, and the fact he’s by far the best tight end available will boost his value considerably.
9. Tony Jefferson, safety, Arizona Cardinals
Like Campbell, Jefferson also is expected to depart Arizona this offseason. He’s just 25 and is coming off a career year, starting 14 games and racking up 96 tackles.
10. T.J. Lang, guard, Green Bay Packers
The 2016 Pro Bowler is in line for a hefty pay raise, though his recent injury history might give some teams pause.
11. DeSean Jackson, wide receiver, Washington Redskins
The 30-year-old righted his ship this season after a lackluster 2015, amassing 1,005 receiving yards and posting a 17.9 yards-per-catch average that was tied for tops in the NFL.
12. Terrelle Pryor, wide receiver, Cleveland Browns
Pryor impressed in his first season as a full-time receiver. Just imagine what he could do with a real quarterback throwing him the ball.
13. Logan Ryan, cornerback, New England Patriots
Ryan is a tackling machine who’s also shown an ability to lock down some of the NFL’s better wideouts. With fellow Patriots corner Malcolm Butler also hitting free agency (restricted), it’s unlikely New England will be able to keep both.
14. Dontari Poe, defensive tackle, Kansas City Chiefs
Poe is incredibly athletic for a man his size (6-foot-3, 346 pounds) and has missed just two games in his five-year NFL career. He’s managed just 2 1/2 sacks over the last two seasons, however, after recording 10 1/2 over the previous two.
15. Andrew Whitworth, offensive tackle, Cincinnati Bengals
He’s 35, but Whitworth is the best free-agent option for a team looking for an upgrade at left tackle.
16. Nick Perry, linebacker, Green Bay Packers
Perry’s 11 sacks this season should earn him a nice deal.
17. Johnathan Hankins, defensive tackle, New York Giants
Hankins and Harrison spearheaded one of the NFL’s best defensive lines this season.
18. Zach Brown, linebacker, Buffalo Bills
Brown ranked second in the NFL with 149 tackles this season, more than 50 more than his previous career high. At 27, is he a player who’s finally coming into his own or a one-hit wonder?
19. Alan Branch, defensive tackle, New England Patriots
Branch is a dynamite run defender who had the best season of his career in 2016. Even at age 32, he looks like he has plenty left in the tank.
20. Micah Hyde, defensive back, Green Bay Packers
Hyde can line up all over the field, playing both safety and cornerback and also returning punts for the Packers. He intercepted a career-high four passes this season, including playoffs.
21. Kenny Stills, wide receiver, Miami Dolphins
Though he finished with fewer catches and receiving yards than teammates Jarvis Landry and DeVante Parker, only five NFL players caught more touchdown passes this season than Stills’ nine, a career high for the 24-year-old.
22. Reilly Reiff, offensive tackle, Detroit Lions
Reiff ranks near the top of a lean group of free-agent tackles.
23. Eddie Lacy, running back, Green Bay Packers
Lacy has dealt with weight issues in recent years and is coming off a season-ending ankle injury, but he’s probably a safer bet than guys like Adrian Peterson and Jamaal Charles.
24. Nick Fairley, defensive tackle, New Orleans Saints
Fairley set career highs with 43 tackles and 6 1/2 sacks in his first season with the Saints.
25. Mike Glennon, quarterback, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Is Glennon the 25th-best free agent available? Absolutely not. But he’s probably the top quarterback on the market, which says a lot about how weak this year’s crop of free-agent signal-callers is.
Thumbnail photos via Kyle Terada/USA TODAY Sports Images; Tim Heitman/USA TODAY Sports Images
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