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NFL Free Agency 2024: 9 Best Players Who Could Hit Open Market

Nick Bosa 49ers Edge Rusher

The 2023 free agent class had plenty of impact players who made big bucks on the open market. But the 2023 class pales in comparison to the superstar talent that could hit the market next year. 

Of course, many of these players will have their contracts extended this year, or they'll be franchise-tagged next February. But we can expect some of these All-Pro caliber players to make it to the 2024 free-agent market, where they will cash in big-time. 

Here are the top-nine potential free agents and six other players who earned honorable mentions.

>>READ: Bargain Free Agents With Something to Offer

Honorable Mentions

Mike Evans, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Mike Evans is getting older (30 in August), but he's coming off a 77-catch season (for 1,124 yards, six TDs), and he's a four-time Pro Bowl pick. Evans is finishing a five-year, $16.5 million per year deal and is more durable than Julio Jones, who has bounced around in recent years. 

T.J. Hockenson, TE, Minnesota Vikings

T.J. Hockenson is a former first-round pick of the Detroit Lions, who was traded to the Minnesota Vikings at the trade deadline last season and quickly became Kirk Cousins' second favorite target behind Justin Jefferson. Hockenson produced 60 catches for 519 yards and three TDs in 10 games with the Vikings.

He's a two-time Pro Bowl tight end and will earn $9.4 million on his fifth-year option this coming season. He could face a franchise tag if the cap-strapped Vikings can afford it.

Top Running Backs

Josh Jacobs, Jonathan Taylor, Derrick Henry, and Saquon Barkley are listed together because they're all in the same boat — more or less. They play the NFL's most undervalued position in a league where top receivers make $30 million per year, but the best backs struggle to make more than $10 million per year. Case in point: Philadelphia Eagles Pro Bowl back Miles Sanders signing with the Carolina Panthers for $6.35 million annually. 

Jacobs, Taylor and Henry led the league in rushing in 2022, 2021 and 2020, respectively. Jacobs and Barkley were first-round picks and were hit with the franchise tag this year. Henry is entering the final year of his four-year, $12.5 million per year deal. Taylor has one year left on his rookie deal. So all four players could get new contracts this year, be franchised next year or hit free agency in 2024. 

Top 9 Potential 2024 Free Agents

9. Brian Burns, Edge, Carolina Panthers

Brian Burns is a somewhat under-the-radar star because the Panthers haven't gotten a lot of national attention in the past few years. But Burns is a two-time Pro Bowl pick who recorded 12.5 sacks, 22 quarterback hits, along with 63 tackles and 17 tackles for loss last season. 

Carolina exercised the fifth-year option for $16 million on its 2019 first-rounder, who has missed only two games in his career. Burns is only 24 years old, and it would be foolish for the Panthers to let him play out his contract without an extension or franchise tag. He would be highly sought after as an unrestricted free agent in 2024. But they did move on from franchise stalwart Christian McCaffrey by trading him to the San Francisco 49ers last season, so anything's possible.   

8. Trevon Diggs, CB, Dallas Cowboys

Trevon Diggs is a former second-round pick from the 2020 draft, so he doesn't have to deal with a fifth-year option. In 2021, he led the league with 11 interceptions, including two returned for touchdowns, and had 21 passes defended. His interception total fell to three last season (with 14 passes defended), as teams didn't target him as often. 

Diggs is due $4.3 million this year, and he's made the Pro Bowl the past two seasons. He's a big corner at 6-foot-2, 198 pounds, and will be high on teams' wish lists if the Dallas Cowboys don't extend or franchise him. That could be difficult for the Cowboys when they have two star players in Dak Prescott and Micah Parsons likely getting extensions in the next year. Then, there's Pro Bowl receiver CeeDee Lamb who is seeking a big extension this year. Diggs could be the odd man out and hit the open market next year.

7. Tee Higgins, WR, Cincinnati Bengals

It was a close call between Tee Higgins and Evans to make this top nine list, but I opted for the 24-year-old Higgins over the soon-to-turn-30 Evans. Higgins is a big target at 6-foot-4, 219 pounds, and has been a consistent producer the past two seasons along with QB Joe Burrow and fellow receiver Ja'Marr Chase.

Higgins was the first pick in the 2020 second round and will make $3 million this year. He had 74 receptions for more than 1,000 yards in each of the past two seasons, with 13 total TDs. With Burrow due for a huge extension this year and Chase in the same situation next year, it will be challenging for Cincinnati to keep all three players. So Higgins is likely to hit the market and land a $20 million plus per year deal with a new team.

6. Kirk Cousins, QB, Minnesota Vikings

The 2023 free agency period saw Derek Carr and Jimmy Garoppolo move to new teams. It is unusual for starting-caliber quarterbacks to even hit the market. Next year, Cousins could be a free agent, which is surprising after he had his best season yet, leading eight come-from-behind victories for the 13-win Vikings before a shaky finish in the playoff loss to the New York Giants.

This is a curious case. Vikings coach Kevin O'Connell constantly praises Cousins, yet the team has not yet extended his contract — which was expected to lower his cap number significantly. Instead, the Vikings exercised their right, under his current $35 million per year contract, to restructure his deal, add void years and lower his cap hit by $16 million. 

It's doubtful the Vikings would franchise Cousins in 2024, which would constitute a huge cap hit. If the team drafts a quarterback high in this month's draft, Cousins could hit the open market next year, and he would have plenty of suitors as a four-time Pro Bowl quarterback.

>> READ: Cousins' Vikings Future Is Murky

5. Jeffery Simmons, DT, Tennessee Titans

Jeffery Simmons is another star player who had his fifth-year option exercised ($10.75 million) for 2023. As a former first-round pick in 2019, Simmons is an extension or franchise tag candidate for a Tennessee Titans team with only $7.5 million in cap room currently. 

Simmons has been consistent with 7.5 sacks, 54 tackles, nine tackles for loss and 14 quarterback hits last season after 8.5 sacks, 54 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, and 16 quarterback hits in 2021. He was selected to the Pro Bowl and was named a second-team All-Pro the past two years. He'll be hunting at least Daron Payne and Javon Hargrave-level deals. The Titans didn't want to pay wide receiver A.J. Brown his market value before trading him to the Eagles on draft day in 2022, so it will be interesting to see how they approach Simmons' negotiations.

4. Devin White, LB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Devin White is a Pro Bowl inside backer who had a sensational second season in 2020 when he had nine sacks, 140 tackles, 15 tackles for loss and 16 quarterback hits. He had his fifth-year option exercised last May for this season for $11.7 million. 

He was one of the stars of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' dominant defense that throttled Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs in their Super Bowl LV victory (White had 12 tackles, two TFLs and a critical interception that day). 

White's sack total dropped to 5.5 in 2022, but he had 124 tackles and is an elite linebacker in his prime, so he'll be a priority for the Buccaneers to re-sign or franchise. But it might be tough to get a deal done this year with the Buccaneers' cap issues. Will they even have the room to put the franchise tag on him next year? If not, he'll be a hot commodity on the 2024 free-agent market.

3. Chris Jones, DT, Kansas City Chiefs

There were some excellent defensive tackles among 2023 free agents, including Payne, who Washington re-signed for four years, $90 million, and Javon Hargrave, who San Francisco signed for $84 million over four years.

Chris Jones is a better player than either of them and perhaps only a healthy Aaron Donald is above him talent-wise. Jones was a terrific second-round pick in 2016 by Kansas City. He's a four-time Pro Bowl selection who was more productive than Payne, Hargrave or Donald in 2022. Jones had 15.5 sacks, 17 tackles-for-loss and 29 quarterback hits as the best defensive player for the Super Bowl-champion Chiefs. 

The 6-foot-6, 310-pound Jones enters the final year of his four-year, $80 million deal this coming season, and he's carrying a $28.3 million cap number. It behooves the Chiefs (who only have $5.6 million in cap room) to extend the 28-year-old Jones and get his 2023 cap lowered to free up funds.

Jones says he wants to be "a Chief for life." It won't be easy to get his next deal done because Jones surely wants to surpass Payne's $22.5 million per year average and set his sights on approaching Donald's $31.7 million per year deal.

2. Lamar Jackson, QB, Baltimore Ravens

Could 2024 be a repeat of 2023, with Lamar Jackson being franchise-tagged by the Baltimore Ravens as he and the team wrestle over a long-term deal? I tend to think cooler heads will prevail, and Jackson will sign a new contract this year in the three-year range for about $48 million per year. That would put him above Deshaun Watson and Kyler Murray and trailing Aaron Rodgers' $50 million per year. 

Jackson most likely will not get an offer from another team as a non-exclusive franchise player due to his demand for a fully guaranteed contract. If he does not sign with the Ravens long-term by mid-July, he'll be forced to play under the $32.4 million tender, and Baltimore could franchise him again in 2024 for a 20 percent raise to $38.9 million. That's not in his best interest, as it limits his guaranteed money, and his high cap number makes it hard for the Ravens to add more talent to support him.

Jackson needs to hire an agent, get a shorter deal negotiated and shoot for an extension in two years. If he can stay healthy and play at his 2019-MVP level while winning a couple of playoff games — and perhaps lead a Super Bowl run — he could cash in. The best news for Jackson is he's only 26 and has several more big contracts to sign if he can overcome the injury bug that has cost him 11 games over the past two seasons.   

>> DEBATE: How Will Jackson-Ravens Stalemate End? 

1. Nick Bosa, DE, San Francisco 49ers

The chances of the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year and NFL sack leader hitting the open market are slim to none. Still, you never know when a team and player can't reach an agreement on an extension or if the franchise tag isn't salary-cap-friendly. Along with his 18.5 sacks last season, Nick Bosa added 51 tackles, 19 tackles-for-loss and a fantastic 48 quarterback hits. He also had 15.5 sacks with four forced fumbles in 2021 and has eight career postseason sacks.

Bosa is a three-time Pro Bowl selection who was the No. 2 overall pick in 2019. He's only 25, so he's the perfect age for a mammoth new contract, as signing players out of their rookie deals is preferred. He will be shooting for the top of the defensive end/edge rusher pay scale currently led by T.J. Watt at $28 million per year. Bosa is scheduled to earn $17.9 million this year on his fifth-year option. His next deal — almost certainly with the 49ers — will top the $30 million per year mark.