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Ranking the 20 best players hitting NFL free agency in 2023

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Outside of the teams still in contention to win the Super Bowl, all of the focus in the league right now is on next season, specifically the upcoming NFL free agents in 2023.

But once the season officially ends, who will be the top NFL free agents available? Let’s take an early look at the top upcoming NFL free agents who will be on the open market this year.

Upcoming NFL free agents 2023

In fairness, the best upcoming NFL free agents in 2023 can vary based on a team’s specific needs. There are also salary cap rules to keep in mind, not to mention the fear that teams have of paying too much for the wrong player and ending up with one of the worst NFL contracts of all time.

However, all things being equal, let’s look at the 20 best players available in 2023 NFL free agency.

20. Dalton Schultz

With pickings rather slim with regard to the best wide receivers in free agency, a tight end like Dalton Schultz could get even more attention than usual in free agency. He’s surely among the top-10 tight ends in the league right now and became an invaluable part of the Dallas offense over the last few seasons.


He may not get a massive payday, but at age 27, a tight end of his caliber should draw a lot of attention on the open market.

19. Dre’Mont Jones

Dre’Mont Jones was one of Denver’s best defensive players this past season. He probably didn’t get the recognition he deserved because the Broncos were so terrible despite being strong defensively.

But Jones has far surpassed the expectations of a third-round pick in 2019 and should have no problem securing a long-term deal as a free agent.

18. Jimmy Garoppolo

Nobody will make the argument that Jimmy Garoppolo is a top-flight quarterback. But there’s no denying that the guy is a winner. Who’s to say the 49ers wouldn’t have still ended the regular season with 10 straight wins with Garoppolo at quarterback?

While he had a lot of help around him, he was putting together a strong season before getting hurt. Keep in mind the guy has a career record of 20-17 and 4-2 in the playoffs. There’s a team out there for whom Garoppolo can solve the issues at quarterback.


17. Patrick Peterson

Not since the 2018 season has Patrick Peterson been a Pro Bowler. But even if he’s not an elite corner anymore, he’s still worth something on the open market after collecting four interceptions and 14 defended passes in 2022, far better than his performance the previous year.

Peterson will turn 33 in 2023, so he’s not getting a long-term deal. However, he’s still better than most of the corners on the free-agent market this season. 

16. Jordan Poyer

It took a little time, but the rest of the league has finally discovered just how good Jordan Poyer is. He was a first-team All-Pro in 2021 and finally earned his Pro Bowl invitation in 2022. Poyer has been a huge – if overlooked – reason why the Bills have become one of the best defensive teams in the NFL over the past few seasons.

The only caveat is that he’ll be 32 years old next season, so he won’t be as valuable as some of the younger safeties in the league. However, he’s surely among the best defensive backs on the open market this offseason.

15. Geno Smith

It’s hard to figure out where Geno Smith ranks among the best players available in 2023 NFL free agency. He’s mostly been a backup throughout his career and is no spring chicken at age 32.

However, when he finally got a chance to start this season, Smith made the Pro Bowl, led the league in completion percentage, and helped guide the Seahawks to a surprising playoff birth. He may not get a lucrative long-term deal, but teams looking for a short-term fix at quarterback might be willing to throw a decent amount of money in his direction.

14. Tremaine Edmunds

While Tremaine Edmunds is not the type of linebacker who’s going to get after the quarterback and collect a lot of sacks, he’s going to be the top interior linebacker available this offseason.

Keep in mind the Bills have had one of the best defenses in the league over the last few seasons. Edmunds has been in the middle of that defense. While he’ll only be 25 at the start of next season, Edmunds is a proven leader and a consistent player who will be a key figure for whatever team signs him.

13. Mike McGlinchey

Unfortunately for Mike McGlinchey, he’s had a few injuries during his career. That could hurt his value on the open market. He’s also played right tackle for the 49ers rather than left tackle.

But when he’s healthy, McGlinchey is one of the most reliable right tackles in the NFL. Most teams in need of offensive line help should be able to see that, making him a free agent worth watching closely this offseason.

12. Tony Pollard

It remains to be seen if the broken leg he suffered in the playoffs will hurt Tony Pollard’s free agency. Prior to that, he had set himself up for a big payday after serving as the backup to Ezekiel Elliott for a few seasons.

Pollard is coming off the first 1,000-yard rushing season of his career and had over 300 receiving yards in back-to-back seasons. If he’s healthy, Pollard deserves to be a starting running back and should get that opportunity no matter where he signs in free agency.

11. Miles Sanders

Now is a good time for Miles Sanders to be hitting the open market. He’s fresh off his first 1,000-yard season and the first Pro Bowl selection of his career. While his numbers don’t paint the picture of a durable, workhorse back, Sanders has averaged over five yards per carry in three consecutive seasons.

There’s also no denying the key role he played in Philadelphia’s prolific offense during the 2022 season. That should be enough to create plenty of interest in him in free agency.

10. Josh Jacobs

A year ago, the Raiders declined the fifth-year option on Josh Jacobs. He responded by leading the league in rushing with his third 1,000-yard season in four years. The Raiders actually did him a favor by sending Jacobs to free agency a year early, which is a big deal for a running back.

Jacobs will only be 25 next season, and unless the Raiders put the franchise tag on him, he’s bound to a lucrative contract somewhere.

9. Jessie Bates

The Bengals put the franchise tag on Jessie Bates last year, but now it looks like they might lose a player who’s been key to their ascent to the top of the AFC in recent years.

Bates had an interception in Cincinnati’s Super Bowl loss last season and then set a career-high with four interceptions in 2022. He figures to be the top safety available in free agency this year.

8. James Bradberry

While there are some good defensive backs available, James Bradberry arguably leads the list of the best cornerbacks in free agency this year.

After getting released by the Giants last offseason, Bradberry signed a one-year deal with the Eagles and has made the most of it. He earned second-team All-Pro honors this season and looks likely to turn that performance into a long-term deal.

7. Tom Brady

The only thing we know for sure is that Tom Brady will technically be a free agent this offseason. It’s possible that he’ll retire again and mean it this time. But it’s also possible that he’ll want to play at least one more season.

After a rough season in Tampa, perhaps he won’t be excited to return to the Bucs. If he does decide to play in 2023, it’s a huge mystery where he’ll end up. But even at his age, Brady’s track record will have a lot of teams curious about signing him.

6. Javon Hargrave

Javon Hargrave seems to have gotten better each season of his career. He set a new career-high with 11 sacks in 2011, becoming a huge contributor to Philadelphia’s overlooked defense. Even if he can’t match those 11 sacks moving forward, he’s still one of the most impactful interior linemen in the league.

Turning 30 in February could make it hard to do much better than the three-year, $39 million deal he got from the Eagles in 2020. Nevertheless, there will be a lot of teams interested in his services this offseason.

5. Yannick Ngakoue

Teams looking for an elite pass-rusher on the free-agent market won’t find one this year. However, Yannick Ngakoue is close, collecting 10 sacks for the Raiders in 2021 and 9.5 with the Colts this past season. While Ngakoue has already played seven seasons in the NFL and hasn’t been to the Pro Bowl since 2017, he’ll only be 28 at the start of next season.

Despite going on IR late this past season, Ngakoue has largely stayed away from injuries during his career while averaging 9.3 sacks per season over his seven years in the league. That makes him the best pass-rusher in this year’s free-agent class and a valuable commodity.

4. Daron Payne

On the heels of his first Pro Bowl selection, Daron Payne is heading into free agency. The former first-round pick has gotten progressively better during his five seasons in the league, amassing 11.5 sacks in 2022. He’ll only be 26 at the start of next season, which means Payne is heading for a big payday if Washington doesn’t place the franchise tag on him.

The Commanders actually considered trading Payne earlier this season because they weren’t sure they could re-sign him, meaning he’s likely to hit the open market as the best defensive lineman available.

3. Orlando Brown

After failing to reach a long-term agreement, Orlando Brown received the franchise tag in 2022, which means he’s definitely hitting the open market this year. He’s been a Pro Bowler every year but his rookie season, making him the best offensive lineman available on the market this year.

Brown is unlikely to re-sign with the Chiefs, likely giving him a long list of suitors this offseason.

2. Saquon Barkley

Staying healthy has been Saquon Barkley’s biggest problem during the early part of his career. However, he stayed healthy in 2022, helping the Giants to the playoffs and regaining the Pro Bowl form he had as a rookie.

That will make him one of the top NFL free agents available if the Giants don’t use the franchise tag on him. With Barkley and Daniel Jones both headed for free agency, the Giants have some soul-searching to do after such an outstanding season. His injury history also figures to remain a factor in how he’s viewed in free agency despite Barkley’s incredible upside.

1. Lamar Jackson

There is no question that Lamar Jackson deserves to be at the top of the list of upcoming NFL free agents in 2023. The caveat is that there’s no chance he gets to the open market. Even if he and the Ravens fail to reach a long-term agreement, Baltimore will slap the franchise tag on him before he has a chance to sign elsewhere.

However, if Jackson receives the franchise tag, there’s a chance the Ravens will trade him if they don’t think a long-term agreement is realistic. That will give teams in need of a quarterback a chance to acquire Jackson, albeit at a high price both financially and with regard to draft capital.

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