20 highest-graded unrestricted free agents available

David Aitken lists PFF's highest-graded unrestricted free agents about to get paid this offseason.

| 1 year ago
(AP Photo/Brad Penner)

(AP Photo/Brad Penner)

20 highest-graded unrestricted free agents available

For all but two NFL teams, the 2015-16 season has come to a conclusion, and it is time to start planning for the offseason. While the free agent pool is bound to change between now and March between franchise tags and re-signings, here is an early look at PFF’s 20 highest-graded players currently set to hit the open market.

To see every 2016 free agent, be sure to check out PFF’s free agency tracker.

(Editor’s note: Each players’ overall season grade is noted next to his name; grades fall within PFF’s new 1–100 scale. Only unrestricted free agents included in this list, not restricted free agents.)

1. Alshon Jeffery, WR (94.2)

2015 team: Chicago Bears

Jeffery missed half of the 2015 season sidelined with several injuries, but that did not stop him from leading the Bears in receiving yards by a large margin. Should Chicago let the 25-year-old hit the open market, he will easily be the most sought after skill player in free agency, with the potential to totally transform a passing offense. Jeffery finished the year as PFF’s third-highest graded wide receiver, behind only Antonio Brown and Julio Jones.

2. Von Miller, ED (92.9)

2015 team: Denver Broncos

Having led his position group in total pressure four of his five years in the league, (2013 being the exception, when he missed seven games), Miller’s reputation as an elite pass rusher speaks for itself. Far from a one-trick-pony, however, Miller has graded out very strongly in run defense every season, and positively in pass coverage four of his five seasons in the NFL. Denver has a number of difficult decisions to make this offseason, but the question of whether to retain Miller’s services seems obvious. If he does hit the market, he’s a good bet to be the league’s highest-paid defender.

3. Olivier Vernon, ED, (92.2)

2015 team: Miami Dolphins

If you want an example of a player turning it on right before free agency, look no further than Olivier Vernon. Halfway through the season, Vernon looked like just one of many under-performers in Miami this season; that changed drastically in the second half. PFF’s second-highest graded overall edge defender in the regular season, Vernon earned positive game grades in each of the last eight weeks. Leading all 4-3 ends in QB hits, with 30, he would accumulate 24 of those in those final eight games, in addition to eight of his 10 sacks and 25 of his 41 hurries.

4. Damon Harrison, ID (91.3)

2015 team: New York Jets

The highly-paid nose tackle may be a dying breed, but Damon Harrison has a great chance to buck the trend. Harrison is the classic two-down, run-plugging tackle in a league that has geared itself more and more toward defending the pass, but Harrison’s work against the run has been dominant enough to warrant special attention. As a three-year starter for the Jets, Harrison has led all defensive tackles in run stop percentage each of those three seasons.

5. Jerrell Freeman, LB (90.6)

2015 team: Indianapolis Colts

The 29-year-old former CFL star had the best year of his NFL career with the Colts this season. Freeman was third in the league amongst inside linebackers in run-stop percentage, and also sat comfortably in the top five in tackling efficiency. Only Derrick Johnson bested him in the metric yards-per-cover-snap. As far as the hierarchy of inside linebackers goes, it is Luke Kuechly’s world, and everyone else is living in it, but Freeman is the only ILB that came close to Kuechly’s run defense grade.

6. Richie Incognito, OG (90.0)

2015 team: Buffalo Bills

Incognito’s off-field reputation preceded him heading into 2015, but he has always been one of the better guards in the league, and his signing always seemed a shrewd piece of business by Rex Ryan from an on-field perspective. It would appear the year out of the league did him a world of good, as he never had a season as strong as 2015 with Buffalo. Baltimore’s Marshal Yanda held the top spot in PFF’s guard grades for the second straight year, but right behind him was Richie Incognito, buoyed by an excellent performance in the run game.

7. Muhammad Wilkerson, ID (89.2)

2015 team: New York Jets

If it weren’t for coming into the league with J.J. Watt, Muhammad Wilkerson would have the argument for being the league’s top 3-4 defensive end. This year, he took it to the next level as a pass rusher, setting career highs in sacks, hits and hurries. His 78 total pressures trailed only Watt at the position. Always stout against the run additionally (second in run-stop percentage in 2014), Wilkerson is poised for a major payday, whether with the Jets or another franchise.

8. Evan Mathis, OG (88.6)

2015 team: Denver Broncos

The 34-year-old Mathis did not get the big payday he was hoping for following his release from Philadelphia, but he will get another crack at one after yet another excellent year. Despite new surroundings in Denver, he found himself in the familiar position of being PFF’s top-graded run blocking guard.

9. Robert Ayers, ED (88.5)

2015 team: New York Giants

One of the more slept-on pass rushers since his move from Denver to New York in 2014, Ayers has joined Odell Beckham Jr. in being one of the few bright spots for the Giants the past two seasons. Going back to his final season in Denver, Ayers has hovered around the top 10 in pass-rush productivity for 4-3 defensive ends, including leading the league in 2014. Injuries have been an issue with Ayers, but if healthy, he will certainly be a boost to a team’s pass-rush in 2016.

10. Derrick Johnson, LB (88.3)

2015 team: Kansas City Chiefs

Having torn his Achilles tendon in Week 1 of 2014, nobody would have blamed the now 33-year-old Johnson for being a shell of his former self. On the contrary, Johnson worked himself back to full strength and had one of his best seasons in 2015. Johnson was one of the very best overall players at the position, leading the league amongst ILBs in yards-per-cover-snap and grading out highly in run defense, as well.


11. Doug Martin, RB (87.8)

2015 team: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Doug Martin is the cream of the crop in what is shaping up to be the deepest free agent running back class of the last few seasons. In addition to proving his worth once again as a workhorse and pushing Adrian Peterson for the rushing title, Martin led the league in elusive rating, yards-after-contact, and 15+ yard runs. Only Peterson and Melvin Gordon had more fumbles than Martin, however, which could scare off some suitors.

12. Danny Trevathan, LB (87.6)

2015 team: Denver Broncos

Injuries ruled Danny Trevathan out for much of 2014, but his 2015 campaign built on his solid 2013 season, as he flourished in Wade Phillips’ 3-4 scheme. Trevathan finished in the top five for ILBs in both run-stop percentage and tackling efficiency, while also having PFF’s sixth-highest coverage grade amongst ILBs. With Trevathan one of four Broncos on this list, and several more starters set to become free agents, linebacker-needy teams should like their chances of Trevathan hitting the market.

13. Eric Berry, S (87.5)

2015 team: Kansas City Chiefs

For Eric Berry to have played football again so soon after being diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma is a remarkable story. For Berry to return from successfully battling the disease and immediately return to being one of the best safeties in the entire league is nothing short of incredible. The former top-five pick finished in PFF’s grades as a top-five safety, particularly shining in coverage.

14. Mitchell Schwartz, OT (86.6)

2015 team: Cleveland Browns

PFF’s highest-graded right tackle in the league in 2015, Schwartz has not missed a start for Cleveland since entering the league as a second-round pick in 2012. Hue Jackson will surely want Schwartz back in order to keep one of the league’s best lines in tact, but it is going to take a nice pay bump in order to do so. Young, durable, and consistent, Schwartz stands to make a comfortable sum if he hits the market.

15. Manuel Ramirez, C (86.3)

2015 team: Detroit Lions

Despite starting only seven games, Ramirez was Detroit’s highest graded lineman and third-highest graded offensive player overall. He held up particularly well in pass protection, giving up just eight combined pressures in his 502 total snaps. Teams will also value his versatility—Ramirez has plenty of starting experience at both guard positions, as well as center.

16. Malik Jackson, ID (86.1)

2015 team: Denver Broncos

The pair of Malik Jackson and Derek Wolfe had excellent years in Denver’s defensive front, but the likelihood of Jackson returning to the Broncos took a hit when Denver recently gave Wolfe a big extension. Jackson will surely cash in somewhere as a disruptive interior pass rusher, even if it’s not with the Broncos. Amongst 3-4 defensive ends, only J.J. Watt, Muhammad Wilkerson, and Fletcher Cox had more total pressure.

17. William Hayes, ED (85.8)

2015 team: St. Louis Rams

Despite all of the first-round talent on the Rams’ defensive line, the second-best lineman after Dwight Stephenson Award winner Aaron Donald was William Hayes. Having nearly identically-effective grades against the run and as a pass rusher, Hayes has set himself up nicely for one last payday. He had the best run-stop percentage of any 4-3 end, in addition to a pass-rush productivity score comfortably in the top 10.

18. Ian Williams, ID (85.6)

2015 team: San Francisco 49ers

The team that loses out in the Damon Harrison sweepstakes could do a lot worse than signing Ian Williams. His first full season as a starter was one of the few bright spots in San Francisco’s otherwise disastrous year. Only Harrison and Philadelphia’s Bennie Logan made more stops in the run game amongst defensive tackles.

19. Lamar Miller, RB (85.2)

2015 team: Miami Dolphins

If PFF gave an award for the most underutilized player in the league, Lamar Miller would have been a frontrunner. In what was admittedly an overall down year for running backs, Miller finished fifth in PFF’s overall RB grades. His average of 2.76 yards-after-contact, 96.6 pass blocking efficiency score, and drop rate of 4.08 percent all placed him within the top five of running backs. At just 24-years-old, Miller will have plenty of suitors and the opportunity to pick a franchise he know for sure will commit to running the football.

20. Cordy Glenn, OT (85.0)

2015 team: Buffalo Bills

The Bills’ offensive line, as a whole, had a huge turnaround from the largely disastrous performance of the 2014 season, but it’s a testament to Glenn’s consistency that he was the highest-graded Bills offensive player in 2014, despite the poor play of his fellow linemen. Having been in the top-15 in pass-blocking efficiency each of the last three seasons, and starting every game, Glenn stands to see a large pay increase as the market’s top pure left tackle.

  • TincanJoey

    What position is an ID or an ED?

    • Kevin Carmody

      Interior defenseman. Edge defender

    • machu46

      Interior and Edge defender

    • BearsSaveLives

      I believe it’s interior defender and edge rusher. But I could be wrong.

  • Rodgohard

    Boy, 9ers could spend on Oline and Dline in free agency. Rack up and just spend the whole draft on skill position. Receivers, tight ends, running backs, etc.

    • RaidersBlazers

      Yeah, every FA’s dream right now. To play for the 49ers.

      • AMAC

        Its all about the $$

    • AMAC

      I like that idea. Id give big $$ to Wilkerson and Schwartz. Draft Treadwell in the 1st. Maybe even look at Ramirez

      • Timothy Mendoza

        I’d get ILB Freeman, DT Wilkerson, OLB Irvin and TE Gresham in Free Agency, maybe an OL too like Mathis from Denver. Draft WR, WR, RB and QB, DT, OL in draft.

  • ITguy

    Cordy Glenn would be perfect for Carolina. Eric Berry would too.

  • Lane Trujillo

    Denver has 4 players in the top 20 and 2 former players. Crazy work to do this off season.

  • Faris

    Green Bay could sorely use one of the 3 ILB’s listed here. I actually specifically mentioned all 3 in this post I recently made: https://bigcheesepackers.wordpress.com

    • TJ

      I watched Freeman play for a couple of seasons in CFL, he is a sideline to sideline tackling machine. He is not that big but is fast and can hit. He would sure look good in Green & Gold.

    • Cant FixStupid

      I think we need to get a TE Ladarius Green in free agency and use our 1st round pick to get the ILB we need. Darron Lee from Ohio State seems like our best bet at 27. The guys on this list will be too pricey.

  • Tim Edell

    The players on this list I can see getting tagged if they don’t re-sign with their own teams are: Alshon Jeffrey, Von Miller, Muhammad Wilkerson, Cordy Glenn, and possibly Eric Berry.

    • AMAC

      Not sure Jets have cap room to pull that off

      • NateP

        The Broncos are gonna be squeezed too. Might be forced to decide between Miller or Jackson and Trevathan.

        • Cant FixStupid

          Once Peyton comes off the books they’ll have 30 mil to spend. Ware likely cut, 40 mil to spend. Miller gets tagged without a doubt. They likely look to make Trevathan a priority and get him locked up, and they’ll still have plenty of money left to spend. Might not be as “squeezed” as ya think

      • Cant FixStupid

        They can always tag him and trade him if they can’t get something done. I seriously doubt he’d be too hard to deal to somebody with plenty of cap room to use and nobody left to use it on. I doubt the Jets let him get to free agency without one of the 2 franchise tags. There’s no way they do.

  • jamfed

    Keep P.Rivers upright and give Manuel Ramirez a decent $3mm, 2 year contract. SD needs a starting center as Chris Watt cannot stay healthy.

    • RaidersBlazers

      Lol 3 million over 2 years? Throw in a gift card to Target while you’re at it, that’ll really sweeten the deal. People take notice when someone has a career year like Ramirez did. Regardless of his age..He’ll go for at least 4 million per year my friend.

    • Max

      He will be 33 for the 2016 season. With that being said I’m not really not sure how much tread is really left on his tires but with his performance in 2015 I wouldn’t be surprised if he plays well for the next two or three years. 3yrs, $4.5 million per year w/ 25% guaranteed would be a solid ball park. Could even receive a little more with that figure being conservative but It wouldn’t surprise me if someone threw a boatload of cash his way either like a team like SD who needs to win now.

      • jamfed

        Ramirez had a good year, but he won’t get a contract larger than $2MM per year. I’m calling two year $3MM, $2MM guaranteed. He does have a connection to Mike McCoy & the AFC West. Jeff Davidson is the new O-Line coach, so we’ll see who he can recruit.

        • AMAC

          You clearly dont follow free agency do you? Thats chump change. Ill bet a team pays him 4 to 5 mill per yr for a couple years. Bank it. Especially with the salary cap going up this year

      • Mark Erickson

        Spot on, given his age most teams would likely shoot for a 2 year deal (maybe 3 with a 1 year option), which will have to be sweetened by getting overpaid, say 5-6 million, or an incentive-based contract that could top out around 7, depending on how desperate potential teams are.

  • jamfed

    I’d have Eric Weddle, FS anywhere from #8 to #12

  • Nik Hildebrand

    The Jets really can’t afford to lose either of those guys.

  • Bob Barker

    Hope the Bills can keep the left side of their OL together. Also wouldn’t mind Rex making a run at Damon Harrison. Big run stuffing NT would free up Dareus and Kyle Williams to really pin their ears back and go after the QB.

    Of course Mario will have to go before they can even think about bringing Glenn and Incognito back.

  • Venerable Axiom

    The Bronco’s will be hard pressed to sign all their free agents. I’m hoping the Dolphins pick up Trevathan. They probably won’t match what Vernon can get on the market unless he signs a hometown team deal.

    • Cant FixStupid

      Trevathan will be the one guy they sign long term. Miller will be tagged this year. Brandon Marshall is a RFA so he’ll be tendered with a 1st rounder at 3 mil. If they cut Ware which is likely, they’ll likely re-sign Jackson. Once Petyon comes off the books, that give them around 30 mil to work with. Ware gives them another 10. I don’t think the Broncos will be as hard pressed to retain their defensive players as you’d think.

  • dlund6cutler

    Bears need to resign Jeffery because if Kevin White doesn’t pan out, then we go back to the Earl Bennett and Johnny Knox days:(

    • crosseyedlemon

      The Bears were able to get by with Earl & Johnny because they had a defense that could carry the load. Unfortunately that is no longer the case making the re-signing of Jeffrey even more imperative.

      • dlund6cutler

        Yeah but the defense is getting a little better then it was 2 years ago. All we need to do is draft defense and get a good free agent and in 2 years we might make the playoffs

  • Wayne S

    Hmm…..interesting situation brewing with Groh hired as Rams passing coordinator…..could Jeffrey be headed to the Rams??

    • Jpeezer

      Jeffrey isn’t leaving Chicago without some draft picks

  • Anthony Girodo

    Miller had a 85 yard and 35 yard run where he broke an arm tackle at the line of scrimmage and ran straight ahead for a TD. If there was a ‘award for someone who is overrated by analyst’ Lamar Miller would be it. Outside of 4 games, he was really poor. Take the last Pats game week 17, his 1st run, a cutback, went 29 yards. The rest of the game was straight into the line for 1-2-3 yards. Leading to a 17-51 line or something. That is horrible with a 29 yard run. There was a reason he was underutilized. 85% his runs had no vision, little power, and very few broken tackles. LM will get paid, it won’t be by the Phins unless he can get more physical.

    • Cant FixStupid

      I’m gonna remember your name, so when Lamar Miller is among the league leaders in rushing yards, total yards and TDs next year, i’m gonna find you so I can laugh at you and this unknowledgeable post. Guess that career 4.6 ypc average is because of that awesome OL he had to run behind, not his ability to make things happen huh??

      • Anthony Girodo

        again put on the tape of NE game, 3rd 1 4th 1 3rd goal at the 1, guess how many yards he got? Miller was good last season. this season he was not. Somehow he is immune to criticism I guess. Millers is a great 1B player, you just don’t want him as your 1A Running Back.

        • crashby89

          Miller was underused because the Dolphins coaches were terrible. You are also forgetting to take into account that the Dolphins O-line was terrible this year. They ranked 32nd (dead last) in run blocking according to PFF and were 28th according to Football Outsiders. They ranked 30th in stuffs allowed against the run. No one is going to succeed behind blocking that bad.

          • Anthony Girodo

            more excuses. it was the same line from last year and the same coaches. i suggest you look at the games when the dolphins played the afc east = the teams that knew how to play him. Would you continue to give him carries in those games? Miller did improve as pass catcher this season so there is that.

          • crashby89

            It’s funny I just finished reading something about how too many people can’t separate analysis from excuses. I’ll say it again: the Dolphins had one of the worst lines in the NFL. The stuffs allowed is especially telling. In case you don’t know stuffs are when the RB is stopped before even reaching the line. That’s really bad. No one is going to succeed there. As for the division rivals the Jets have one of the best D-lines in the NFL and allowed the 3rd fewest YPC and the Pats have really good LB’s and allowed the 10th fewest YPC. So in short no one was successful running against them.

            Miller despite his terrible line play still managed one of the better YPC of starting RB’s this year, tying AP and coming in just behind Gurley and Martin. Really if you don’t understand how having a terrible O-line hurts the run game then there is no hope.

            I’m curious what did you think of Suh this year?

          • Anthony Girodo

            Suh at $12 million was fine. At $26 million is he going to double his production? not likely. nfl is about allocating resources and these can never seem to do it. he is such a huge burden. Can they over come it? where to spend the most? go RT-Jones-Suh and cut costs. If they hit 1st round pick thats automatic 7 wins.
            You proved my point Miller big YPC when he gets huge runs. Would rather sign Matthews (move on from stills) then OV then Miller. Also Wake > Grimes

          • crashby89

            We agree to disagree then. No problem there the best analysts and even coaches out there disagree all the time so no why not amateurs right?

            And call me an a hole if you want but I use players like Suh, Clowney and Teddy, guys who don’t have great traditional stats but play really well, to measure how much a person really understands what they are saying. You do. I know I have a lot to learn but there is no point with arguing with someone who just looks at the box score.

            As for Suh doesn’t the contract have a built in ability to restructure? Should help the cap hit some.

          • Anthony Girodo

            My point with Suh, if they had signed say Iupati, Gore, Searcy, instead of Delmas, Suh. Do you think they are better team last year? I say yes, this year, absolutely since they can sign an impact FA. Don’t see that happening now. Puts pressure on everyone to get better.
            I commented on Dolphins: offseason about a month ago, if you want to check those out.

          • crashby89

            I get and even agree with the money issue. That’s a whole lot for a DT who no matter how good can only do so much. What I meant is his play, so many say he was bad cause he does not get JJ numbers when that’s just not the nature of the position. I’ll check those out.

          • Timothy Mendoza

            Hey, what do you make of Miami using the Transition tag on Vernon instead of Franchising him exclusively or at least un-exclusively? I think it’s hedging to say nobody will want him at 12million a year, but I say that thinking is wrong. Another team, like my 49ers, who have money to spend and need an edge rusher, will come along and offer him 13.5 and he’ll be gone. How far do you think Miami FO will go to keep him? What do you think of Shelby as a FA? Is he any good rushing the passer?

          • crashby89

            I think Miami is going to lose 2 good players. I cant imagine another team not going after Vernon and if they were willing to match why not franchise tag him? Shelby is a guy who has not made many plays but has potential and youth on his side so Miami could re-sign him but he will be popular for teams looking for a potential cheaper impact player. I honestly am behind on where I would like to be looking at free agency, I’ve been looking mainly at the combine and draft. Gonna try and catch up this week though.

          • Timothy Mendoza

            No, not excuses, they are called FACTS. Everyone is entitled to their own opinions, just not their own FACTS.

  • Devin

    Even though he is nowhere near on this list, I could see the Patriots trying to sign Alfred Morris. Buying low on a guy with a pretty decent track record.

  • Craig W

    would love to see Richie “The Bully” Incognito in Minnesota at LG and Fusco back at RG

  • Cant FixStupid

    I can’t wait to see Lamar Miller somewhere next year they actually like him and want him. I don’t like the Cowboys, but they’d be perfect for Miller if they could somehow get their cap situation in a little better shape to sign him, cause right now their cap is a mess. Carolina would be another great place with the offense they run, but Stewart has been very good this year. It’ll be nice to see him out of Miami though ,that’s for sure.

    • Anthony Girodo

      Going to the Giants put money on it now.

    • Timothy Mendoza

      Cowboys are drafting Elliot or Henry to run behind that wall of an offensive line.

      • Cant FixStupid

        Dallas might not be in the position to draft either unless you’re gonna take either at #4. Elliot is going between 10 n 22 without a doubt, and if he goes closer to 10, don’t be surprised to see Henry go sooner than Dallas pick in the 2nd. I see Tennessee going Tunsil in #1, Henry #2 in the 2nd round, now you’re stuck. Dallas would be wise to grab Miller in free agency this year, target Ramsey #4. Hell, they really probably should go QB now that Romo has a plastic collarbone, get CB William Jackson in the 2nd if he’s there. Sign Miller, draft Goff and Jackson 1 n 2.

  • Scott Wallace

    Bears will target Broncos. Bears have over 50 million in freed up cap money.