New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley (26) heads to the goal line in the second quarter past Philadelphia Eagles linebacker Nolan Smith (3). (Syndication: The Record)

NFL Analysis

February 8, 2024

14 min read

1 Free Agent Each NFL Team Must Re-Sign In 2024 Offseason

NFL free agency begins in March, and it's projected to be one of the best free-agent classes in recent memory. Which free agent must each team retain this offseason? Here's our list:

AFC East

Buffalo Bills

LB Tyrel Dodson

Injuries at linebacker hurt the Buffalo Bills all season — they're probably why Buffalo lost in the Divisional Round. Tyrel Dodson was one of the view bright spots on defense, starting 10 games and appearing in all 17.

Even if Matt Milano returns from his leg injury, keeping Dodson would ensure the Bills have adequate linebacker depth going into the 2024 season.

Miami Dolphins

DT Christian Wilkins

Christian Wilkins had a big 2023 season for the Miami Dolphins, recording a career-high nine sacks and playing all 17 games. He turned himself into one of the best interior defensive linemen in the NFL.

With significant injuries to Bradley Chubb (torn ACL) and Jaelan Phillips (torn Achilles), the Dolphins must keep Wilkins to ensure their defense can hold up.

New England Patriots

OL Michael Onwenu

Michael Onwenu isn't the best sixth-round pick in New England Patriots history, but he is on the shortlist. Since being drafted at pick No. 182, Onwenu has started 56 games at guard and tackle.

He can play on both sides and is among the league's best pass protectors. New England’s offensive line wasn’t very good in 2023, but Onwenu is an ascending player who is just 26. Look for the Patriots to make him a priority this offseason.

New York Jets

OL Mekhi Becton

The New York Jets have a lot of older free agents scheduled to hit the open market, but one young player worth keeping an eye on is Mekhi Becton. He had a rough 2023 season, but he managed to stay on the field — he appeared in 16 games playing both left and right tackle.

While the results weren't ideal, he's still just 24 and made it to his first offseason healthy. It wouldn't be a surprise if he played his best football this coming season, so the Jets should consider bringing him back for one more year to see if he can finally put it all together.

AFC North

Baltimore Ravens defensive tackle Justin Madubuike
Baltimore Ravens defensive tackle Justin Madubuike (92) celebrates after beating the Jacksonville Jaguars at EverBank Stadium. (Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports)

Baltimore Ravens

DT Justin Madubuike

Justin Madubuike developed into a star during the 2023 season — he was the best defensive lineman for the Baltimore Ravens. Baltimore can't afford to lose him in the middle of its defense, especially with its smaller linebackers behind him.

Cincinnati Bengals

WR Tee Higgins

When Tee Higgins is healthy, he might be the best No. 2 receiver in the NFL. The Cincinnati Bengals are in a Super Bowl window with Joe Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase, so they’ve got to find a way to keep Higgins on the roster for at least the 2024 season.

>> READ MORE: Top Landing Spots for Higgins

Cleveland Browns

EDGE Za’Darius Smith

Za'Darius Smith didn't have big sack totals in 2023 (5.5), but he proved to be precisely what the Cleveland Browns needed opposite Myles Garrett. Smith was an outstanding run defender who put pressure on opposing quarterbacks.

Look for the Browns to bring back Smith on another one-year deal because he's the ideal bookend to Garrett.

Pittsburgh Steelers

QB Mason Rudolph

Is Mason Rudolph the long-term answer at quarterback for the Pittsburgh Steelers? Absolutely not. But he might be the best quarterback on the roster, and his teammates love him.

Rudolph is also a strong fit in Arthur Smith's offense, so bringing him back for another year would be wise. If nothing else, he'll be a cheap insurance policy if/when Kenny Pickett struggles again.

AFC South

Houston Texans tight end Dalton Schults

Houston Texans

TE Dalton Schultz

Dalton Schultz signed a one-year deal with the Houston Texans during the 2023 offseason, and that move couldn't have worked out better for both sides. Schultz had a big season and improved his value around the league.

It won't cost Houston much to keep Schultz, and the team needs to ensure it surrounds C.J. Stroud with as many weapons as possible going into the 2024 season.

Indianapolis Colts

WR Michael Pittman Jr.

Despite playing with multiple quarterbacks last year, Michael Pittman Jr. had the best season of his career. He caught 109 passes for 1,152 yards and four touchdowns, developing into the No. 1 receiver the Indianapolis Colts have always needed.

With a young Anthony Richardson returning in Year 2, the Colts must keep Pittman around for the quarterback's development. A franchise tag here is possible, but expect both sides to come to a long-term agreement to keep the former USC receiver in Indianapolis.

Jacksonville Jaguars

EDGE Josh Allen

Josh Allen is coming off the best season of his career, racking up 17.5 sacks for the Jacksonville Jaguars. After struggling to stay on the field in the early portion of his career, Allen has played 50 games during the last three seasons and has totaled 32 sacks.

He is among the NFL's top young edge rushers and is the best player on Jacksonville's defense. The Jaguars must keep Allen this offseason if they are serious about contending for the AFC South title again.

>> READ MORE: Top Landing Spots for Allen

Tennessee Titans

LB Azeez Al-Shaair

There aren’t a ton of unrestricted free agents the Tennessee Titans need to worry about — and they aren’t expected to keep Derrick Henry, either. But Azeez Al-Shaair is a player the team would love to have back.

A 17-game starter, Al-Shaair was a playmaker and racked up 163 total tackles. There aren’t a ton of quality linebackers in the NFL, but Al-Shaair is one of them. Expect the Titans to hold onto the former Florida Atlantic star this offseason.

AFC West

Lloyd Cushenberry snaps the ball against Kansas City Chiefs
Denver Broncos center Lloyd Cushenberry (79) lines up against the Kansas City Chiefs during the game at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium. (Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports)

Denver Broncos

C Lloyd Cushenberry

Lloyd Cushenberry had a rocky start to his career with the Denver Broncos, but he became one of the NFL's better centers by the end of the 2023 season.

Denver's offensive line is one of its strengths, and the Broncos would be wise to keep their center, who has started 57 games since being drafted in 2020.

Kansas City Chiefs

DT Chris Jones

The Kansas City Chiefs have allowed just three total points in the fourth quarter of their three playoff wins this season. A big reason why? Chris Jones is back to being one of the most dominant defenders in the league.

When he's healthy, few players make more of an impact than him. Signing Jones to a long-term deal will be challenging, but the Chiefs can't afford to lose their best defender this offseason.

Las Vegas Raiders

C Andre James

During the 2021 offseason, the Las Vegas Raiders moved on from Rodney Hudson and started Andre James at center. That move proved to be wise: James has improved each season with Las Vegas. He's only 26 years old and has 49 starts, and his 2023 season was his best to date.

The Raiders will need a strong offensive line, regardless of who is at quarterback next season. Keeping James around is a must for new general manager Tom Telesco.

Los Angeles Chargers

K Cameron Dicker

Cameron Dicker is an exclusive-rights free agent, so he'll return in 2023. But it's been so long since the Los Angeles Chargers had a reliable kicker that he deserves to make the list. Dicker has made over 94 percent of his kicks since joining the Chargers and all 57 of his extra points.

He has yet to miss a single kick inside of 50 yards and has developed into one of the league's most accurate kickers.

NFC East

Tyron Smith on the line of scrimmage
Washington Commanders defensive end KJ Henry (55) and Dallas Cowboys offensive tackle Tyron Smith (77) in action during the game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Washington Commanders at AT&T Stadium. (Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports)

Dallas Cowboys

LT Tyron Smith

Tyron Smith had arguably his best season in several years, playing 13 games for the Dallas Cowboys. He's still an elite left tackle when he's on the field and someone the Cowboys can't lose this offseason.

Unfortunately, it might not be their decision — Smith has dealt with a ton of injuries in his career, and retirement is an option.

New York Giants

RB Saquon Barkley

Paying top-flight money for a running back in free agency is usually a bad idea, especially for one with as many injuries and touches as Saquon Barkley. But the New York Giants aren't in a position to lose their best skill player.

They have arguably the NFL's worst group of receivers and hardly got any production from their tight ends. Another one-year deal makes sense for Barkley, as the Giants try to rebuild their offense this offseason.

Philadelphia Eagles

RB D’Andre Swift

The Philadelphia Eagles have built an offensive system that allows just about any running back to be productive, but D'Andre Swift is a perfect fit in Philadelphia.

Swift had a career year in 2023, totaling 1,263 yards from scrimmage and six touchdowns on 268 touches. It won’t be all that expensive for him to return in 2024 — look for the Eagles to bring him back on a short deal.

Washington Commanders

CB Kendall Fuller

The Washington Commanders were a mess on defense last season, but Kendall Fuller was one of the few bright spots. He played in the slot and on the outside for Washington and had another strong year.

With Dan Quinn coming to town, Fuller will be a key player in his defense. Fuller turns 29 in February, but look for Washington to keep him around as they try to rebuild the defense.

NFC North

Chicago Bears defensive back Jaylon Johnson
Chicago Bears defensive back Jaylon Johnson (33) steps in front of Las Vegas Raiders wide receiver Davante Adams (17) to intercept a pass before returning the ball for a touchdown in the fourth quarter at Soldier Field. (Jamie Sabau-USA TODAY Sports)

Chicago Bears

CB Jaylon Johnson

It took until Jaylon Johnson's fourth season for him to finally break out, but he was a difference-maker for the Chicago Bears this season. Johnson had a Pro Bowl season in 2023, recording four interceptions.

Look for Chicago to slap the franchise tag on him if the two sides can't come to a long-term deal.

>> READ MORE: Top Landing Spots for Johnson

Detroit Lions

G Graham Glasgow

No team in the NFL had better offensive line play than the Detroit Lions this season, but the unit is about to get much more expensive. Graham Glasgow is set to become a free agent, but the Lions must keep their top guard.

He has started 106 games since being drafted in 2016, and this was arguably his best season yet. With all of the uncertainty surrounding starting center Frank Ragnow, Detroit must find a way to keep Glasgow this offseason.

Green Bay Packers

SS Darnell Savage

Darnell Savage has undoubtedly had an up-and-down career for the Green Bay Packers, but his play rose during the playoffs. In the first round of the playoffs, he was all over the field and had an incredible pick-six off Dak Prescott.

The Packers don’t have many unrestricted free agents to worry about, so keeping Savage around for another year or so makes some sense.

Minnesota Vikings

EDGE Danielle Hunter

Kirk Cousins needs to be mentioned because he might be the top free agent on the market. However, there are some concerns about bringing him back due to his age and his Achilles injuries.

Another key free agent the Minnesota Vikings have to lock up is Danielle Hunter. After overcoming back and knee injuries, Hunter finally looked healthy during the 2023 season, recording 16.5 sacks. He has now played all 17 games in each of the last two seasons.

Hunter will turn 30 during the 2024 season but is still a high-quality player capable of wrecking games. Minnesota should bring him back on another short deal this offseason.

NFC South

Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Mack Hollins (18) reacts after a catch against the Green Bay Packers in the second half at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. (Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports)

Atlanta Falcons

WR Mack Hollins

The Atlanta Falcons don't have a ton of unrestricted free agents worth mentioning, but Mack Hollins is a do-it-all receiver who can make plays on special teams.

While his numbers aren't eye-popping, he's a solid NFL contributor and someone Atlanta should want back on a modest deal.

Carolina Panthers

EDGE Brian Burns

Brian Burns has 46 career sacks and doesn't turn 26 until April. That alone is a good enough reason to bring him back. He has developed into one of the NFL's most explosive edge rushers, and the Carolina Panthers can't afford to lose top-end talent on defense.

A franchise tag is likely for Burns, but the Panthers should lock him up to a long-term deal as soon as possible.

New Orleans Saints

EDGE Zack Baun

Zack Baun was a third-round pick by the New Orleans Saints in the 2020 draft and didn't register a sack, forced fumble, interception or fumble recovery in his first three seasons.

That's because the Saints were using Baun as an off-the-ball linebacker rather than an edge defender, which is his natural position. But at the end of the 2023 season, the Saints finally moved him back to the edge, and he found some success as a rusher.

His market won't be strong, but New Orleans did stumble into something at the end of the season. Bringing him back as a rotational rusher is something the Saints have to do this offseason.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

S Antoine Winfield Jr.

You can make a strong case that Antoine Winfield Jr. was the NFL's best safety this season. He was named a first-team All-Pro selection after recording three interceptions and six forced fumbles (NFL leader).

And his speed and coverage ability transformed the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' defense and made it one of the best units in the league. The Buccaneers already have an expensive secondary, but keeping Winfield is necessary.

NFC West

Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Marquise Brown
Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Marquise Brown in a game against the New York Giants. (Rob Schumacher-Arizona Republic)

Arizona Cardinals

WR Marquise Brown

The Arizona Cardinals traded their 2022 first-round choice for Marquise Brown and need to keep him this offseason.

The Cardinals will likely draft a wide receiver at No. 4, but keeping Brown ensures Kyler Murray will have plenty of suitable weapons around him in 2024.

Los Angeles Rams

G Kevin Dotson

The Los Angeles Rams swapped Day 3 picks with the Steelers before the 2023 season for the rights to Kevin Dotson, and that couldn't have worked out any better for Los Angeles. Dotson turned into one of the best guards in the league and was a perfect fit in Sean McVay's offense.

There's some concern about paying a one-year-wonder big money, but Doston had a major impact on Los Angeles' run game. Look for the Rams to find a way to keep him around moving forward.

San Francisco 49ers

EDGE Chase Young

The San Francisco 49ers added Chase Young before the trade deadline, and the results have been mixed. However, the smart move is to keep him for a full offseason and see how he develops in Steve Wilks' defense.

Young is still so young and is incredibly talented, so expect the 49ers to find a way to hold onto him this offseason.

Seattle Seahawks

DT Leonard Williams

The Seattle Seahawks traded their 2024 second-round pick at the trade deadline to acquire Leonard Williams, so it only makes sense they would want to lock him up to a long-term deal this offseason.

Williams is one of the better all-around defensive tackles in the league, and his position flexibility will be tremendous in Mike Macdonald's defense. Look for Williams to be back in 2024 and to have a huge season in Seattle next year.