Alshon Jeffery figures to be one of the most sought-after free agents on the market
The NFL’s unofficial free agency period began on Tuesday afternoon. From now until 3:59 p.m. ET on Thursday all 32 teams can negotiate with free agents. But no contract can officially be signed until 4 p.m. ET on March 9, which is the start of the new league year.
Related: Top 10 NFL Free Agents for 2017
However, anyone who pays any attention to the NFL knows that there will be a lot of free agency news between now and Thursday afternoon. There are some big-name players looking for new homes this offseason, which only adds to the intrigue with free agency upon us. Here are some predictions on where some of the more sought-after free agents may end up signing.
Alshon Jeffery, wide receiver
Last offseason, the Chicago applied the franchise tag on Jeffery, but the Bears weren’t willing to do so again, since it would have cost them more than $17 million, assuming they wouldn’t have been able to come to agreement on a long-term contract.
Instead Jeffery will test free agency, coming off of a season that was marred by a four-game suspension for violation of the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing substances. In the 12 games he did play, Jeffery recorded 52 receptions for 821 yards and two touchdowns, so he’s not exactly hitting the market at peak value.
The Tennessee Titans figure to be one of the teams that will at least reach out to Jeffery since they are in need of a big-play, legitimate No. 1 receiver. The Titans have Rishard Matthews and tight end Delanie Walker, but are lacking a downfield threat.
Tennessee has more than $60 million in cap space, so they could certainly afford Jeffery. San Francisco and Philadelphia are two other teams that need to upgrade at wide receiver as well.
Prediction: Tennessee Titans
Dont’a Hightower, inside linebacker
Coming off of a Super Bowl championship where his strip sack made him a hero in the New England area, Hightower will have plenty of suitors. While there are no doubt teams out there that can pay him more, his best fit is to stay with the Patriots.
In a move that surprised some, New England did not use the franchise tag on Hightower. The Patriots traded away defensive standouts Jamie Collins and Chandler Jones in a span of 12 months, so it is hard seeing them just letting Hightower walk. The Patriots’ defense fits Hightower’s strengths perfectly. If by some chance Hightower doesn’t return to New England, Oakland and Indianapolis are two teams that may try to sign him.
Prediction: New England Patriots
Calais Campbell, defensive lineman
In spite of his age (30), Campbell shouldn’t lack for potential suitors. A versatile defensive lineman, Campbell recorded 53 tackles, eight sacks, three fumble recoveries and two forced fumbles for Arizona last season.
Jacksonville would probably love to have Campbell anchor its defensive line, but his preference may be to join a team that’s closer to contending. He grew up in Denver and the Broncos’ defense was pretty bad against the run in 2016, so a homecoming could be in order. Indianapolis, Oakland and Washington are other teams that make sense.
Prediction: Denver Broncos
DeSean Jackson, wide receiver
Some durability questions aside, Jackson should be one of the most popular targets on the market. Last season for Washington, Jackson caught 56 passes for 1,005 yards and four touchdowns.
Jackson could return to the Redskins, but there are rumors that Tampa Bay is the current favorite to land him. Jackson joining forces with fellow wideout Mike Evans and quarterback Jameis Winston could give the Buccaneers one of the league’s most potent passing attacks.
A return to Philadelphia, the team that drafted him in 2008, can’t be ruled out either, especially if the Eagles don’t sign Jeffery. San Francisco could offer Jackson a lot of money to return to go back to the Bay Area where he played his college ball at California.
Prediction: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Stephon Gilmore, cornerback
There are not a lot of marquee cornerbacks in this free agent class, so Gillmore could be in line for a huge pay day. Gillmore recorded 48 tackles, five interceptions and 12 pass breakups for Buffalo last season, but he’s also been inconsistent at times.
Jacksonville is once again flush with cap space (estimated $71 million), so the Jaguars could certainly outbid another team if they chose to pair Gillmore with 2016 first-round pick Jalen Ramsey. Chicago is in desperate need of upgrading its secondary and has plenty of cap space to work with as well. The New York Jets and Oakland also could pursue Gillmore.
Prediction: Jacksonville Jaguars
— Written by Antwan Staley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and has extensive experience covering Florida sports teams. Staley has written for Bleacher Report, the Miami Herald and the Palm Beach Post and is a reporter for Pro Player Insiders. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.