NFL stars Kirk Cousins, Saquon Barkley, Chris Jones expected to make a big splash in free agency market


Kirk Cousins will be a free agent for the first time since the Vikings gave him the first fully guaranteed quarterback deal in the NFL. Baker Mayfield is expected to stay put in Tampa Bay. Russell Wilson has to make another move. Joe Flacco could find a new home, too.

The quarterback carousel will start spinning when the NFL’s free agency period opens Monday with the legal tampering period. Players can’t officially sign new deals until the opening of the league’s new year on Wednesday.

While the quarterbacks get much of the attention, many of the best players available play other positions.

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All-Pro defensive tackle Chris Jones heads a list that includes fellow defensive tackle Christian Wilkins, edge rushers Danielle Hunter, Chase Young and Jonathan Greenard, safeties Justin Simmons and Xavier McKinney, cornerbacks Xavien Howard and Tre’Davious White, linebackers Patrick Queen and Lavonte David, and many others.

saquon barkley free agent

New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley makes a play against the Philadelphia Eagles during a Christmas Day NFL football game in 2023. The star running back is inching closer to free agency when the New York Giants chose to not franchise tag the offensive weapon. (AP Photo/Rich Schultz)

There’s also plenty of talented guys on the offensive side, including running backs Saquon Barkley, Derrick Henry, Josh Jacobs and D’Andre Swift, offensive tackles Tyron Smith, Jonah Williams and Trent Brown, wide receivers Calvin Ridley, Marquise Brown and Odell Beckham Jr., and more.

Eight players received the non-exclusive franchise tag, including wide receivers Tee Higgins and Michael Pittman, edge rusher Josh Allen and All-Pro safety Antoine Winfield. They can still test the open market, but teams would have to give up a pair of first-round picks to sign them.

Jones will have an opportunity to cash in after helping Kansas City win its third Super Bowl in five years. The Chiefs tagged cornerback L’Jarius Sneed instead of placing it on Jones for the second straight season.

Jones’ price tag will likely exceed the $95 million, three-year deal eight-time All-Pro DT Aaron Donald got from the Los Angeles Rams in 2022.

The Chiefs already made it clear re-signing Jones is a top priority. They can get Sneed back for at least one year for the $19.8 million tag, give him a long-term deal or trade him.

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Half of the NFL’s teams have more than $30 million available in salary cap, making it a player-friendly market to a certain degree.

There’s much interest in how the running backs will fare.

Barkley, Jacobs and Tony Pollard received franchise tags last season but no team wanted to commit $11.9 million to its running back. Austin Ekeler rounds out the top six.

The Giants seem ready to move on from Barkley, who should get interest from plenty of teams, including a pair of New York’s NFC East rivals. The Eagles will be looking for a running back at the right price, of course, if they don’t retain Swift, who is coming off his first 1,000-yard season. Barkley would be an upgrade for the Cowboys over Pollard.

Henry is 30 but he ran for 1,167 yards and scored 12 touchdowns in 2023 and has had five 1,000-yard seasons in the last six years. He’d be a better fit for a Super Bowl contender than Tennessee.

NFL teams have undervalued the running back position to the point where they have the lowest franchise tag number among the skill players. Wide receivers are now nearly $10 million higher at $21.8 million.

“I think that, at the end of the day, talented players end up getting paid,” Eagles general manager Howie Roseman said. “So, I think everyone will kind of have value on players just like any other position. Obviously, those guys handle the ball a lot, and they’re important players.”

Nobody gets paid quite like the quarterbacks, whose franchise tag is $38.3 million.

Cousins, a four-time Pro Bowl pick, is coming off a torn an Achilles tendon that ended his season in October.

Minnesota wants him back and he prefers to stay there but there’s a possibility another QB-needy team like Atlanta steals him away.

Mayfield revived his career with the Buccaneers, had his best all-around season and led the team to the second round of the playoffs. Now, he’s set to cash in. Tampa Bay already re-signed wide receiver Mike Evans and tagged Winfield. They plan to keep Mayfield, who loves playing in the city.

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“Well, it didn’t take long for me to realize just what a great dude he was and what a great teammate he was,” Buccaneers GM Jason Licht said of Mayfield. “As the season went on more and more, how important it was for him to set an example of what we’re trying to be as a team, and that’s a tough team, that endures adversity, but also a physical tone setter out on the field. Typically, it’s not a good recipe to have your quarterback trying to run over linebackers and be the tone setter, but he’s willing to do whatever it takes to win. So, it’s a selfless nature of his.”

Wilson already was informed the Broncos will release him after two seasons in Denver. The Falcons, Steelers and Raiders are his most likely landing spots. If the Vikings lose Cousins, they’d have to consider Wilson. The Patriots could view him as a stopgap if they don’t take a QB with the No. 3 overall pick in the draft or prefer to let a rookie QB start the season on the sideline.

Justin Fields is another big-name quarterback expected to switch teams, though Chicago will have to trade him. The Bears have the No. 1 pick and it would be a shocker if they don’t take Caleb Williams.

More quality players could become available over the weekend as teams continue to manage their salary caps.

The frenzy begins Monday. Just one month after the Chiefs beat the 49ers in the Super Bowl, the NFL is set to dominate the headlines again.



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