NFL free agency, which opens for unofficial “legal tampering” business on March 7, is the real kickoff to the NFL offseason. Some teams will be willing and able to spend a lot more to upgrade their rosters, but all teams should be interested in at least one impact veteran who fits their budget.
Although several of the top pending free agents (Le’Veon Bell, Eric Berry, Kawann Short, Terrelle Pryor, Kirk Cousins) will be unrealstic options because of franchise tags and re-signings, there will still plenty of help on the open market.
From the team with the most projected salary-cap space to the least — according to SN contributor Jason Fitzgerald of OverTheCap.com — here’s a list of the top unrestricted free agent every team should target as a good fit:
A.J. Bouye, CB, Texans. Cleveland has become a mess at corner with the fade of Joe Haden. Bouye’s breakout season was timed well with breaking the bank, and this team has the most money to address a monster need.
Alshon Jeffery, WR, Bears. San Francisco has to provide Kyle Shanahan with the goods to bring its passing game back up to a legitimate level. Getting Jeffery along with a designated new franchise QB would be a strong start.
Jason Pierre-Paul, DE, Giants. Will the influence of Tom Coughlin get the freakish pass rusher back to Florida? Jacksonville officials need to be down with JPP revving up their pressure up front.
DeSean Jackson, WR, Redskins. Tampa Bay has its big time No. 1 in monstrous Mike Evans but needs a field-stretcher who can take advantage of single coverage on the other side and help the offense get more out of Jameis Winston’s strong arm. Jackson is better seen as a complementary speedster on the other side of 30.
Stephon Gilmore, CB, Bills. Tennessee can take a look at Bouye, too, but Gilmore is better built for its coverage scheme.
Latavius Murray, RB, Raiders. Murray worked better in Oakland as an early-down power back spelled by two versatile guys for passing downs. With LeGarrette Blount headed to free agency, Murray makes sense as a replacement to complement the James White-Dion Lewis combination.
Brandon Williams, DT, Ravens. Washington needs to address its run defense with someone to stuff from the nose. The Redskins don’t need to look far from the Beltway to Baltimore for the perfect answer.
Melvin Ingram, OLB, Chargers. Ingram shook off his early injury issues to explode into the terrific impact edge player San Diego expected when it drafted him in the first round. Indianapolis and Chuck Pagano will need to stave off contract competition from Oakland — the team that now employs Pagano’s brother and former Chargers defensive coordinator John.
Trumaine Johnson, CB, Rams. Johnson didn’t deliver up to his value with the franchise tag, but Chicago should be still heavily attracted to his rangy playmaking pop, something John Fox and Vic Fangio’s defense was sorely missing last season.
Kenny Stills, WR, Dolphins. Miami will do its best to keep its best outside receiver, but it also has to worry about locking up do-everything No. 1 Jarvis Landry. Stills’ vertical threat, however, would find a great natural home with the Panthers’ scheme.
Ricky Wagner, RT, Ravens. You can pretty much put every big name in play for Oakland. Its aggressiveness yielded some big hits (Kelechi Osemele) and major misses (Sean Smith) last offseason, but they all added up to a playoff berth. Getting Wagner would give the Raiders the last solid piece for the offensive line.
Dontari Poe, DT, Chiefs. If Cincinnati wants to get out of character to splurge on anyone, it should be Poe. He can be huge working as a run-plugger for them, even no longer in a 3-4.
Kevin Zeitler, G, Bengals. Right guard is a real trouble spot for MIami, and with Laremy Tunsil sliding over to left tackle, there’s more an emphasis on inside run-blocking help to flank center MIke Pouncey.
DeMarcus Ware, OLB, Broncos. Green Bay doesn’t tend to dive into free agency, but from Charles Woodson to Julius Peppers, it knows when to strike for big-name veteran defenders. File Ware in the same category, because he can help the Packers’ 3-4 situational edge pass rush.
Pierre Garcon, WR, Redskins. Los Angeles has already been tied to Jackson, the other of new head coach Sean McVay’s former wideouts in Washington. But the Rams need more of a smooth route-running all-around security blanket for Jared Goff. Garcon is the better choice to pair with a young No. 1 in the making.
Jack Doyle, TE, Colts. The team likes Ladarius Green but can’t count on him being healthy after spending good money on him last year. Jesse James has promise, but Doyle is the more finished blocking and receiving product. There are many simliarities between Doyle and long-time Steeler Heath Miller.
Dont’a Hightower, ILB, Patriots. New England has the means to easily bring back its middle thumper, but Detroit should be ready to act quickly if HIghtower goes to the highest bidder outside of Foxborough. The Lions are in desperate of a good playmaking clean-up man.
Logan Ryan, CB, Patriots. Arizona struggled to have reliable coverage opposite Patrick Peterson. Ryan can make an easy transition as a strong No. 2 after working very well opposite Malcolm Butler in New England.
Calais Campbell, DE, Cardinals. The attention will go heavily toward Tony Romo when the Cowboys release him, but for now, Denver can dream biggest about getting the massive Campbell to stamp its defensive line.
Andrew Whitworth, LT, Bengals. Whitworth wants to play for a contender, which Cincinnati may no longer be in the AFC. New York, fresh off a playoff berth, needs a little more offensive line help to help both its run blocking and pass protection. Whitworth’s savvy provides both as a good shorter-term anchor.
T.J. Lang, G, Packers. New Orleans will make upgrading guard a priority, and if it’s not in position to go all in on Zeitler, Lang would be a pretty darn good alternative. What he did for Aaron Rodgers and Green Bay’s running game has great appeal for a Drew Brees-led offense.
Zeitler. Two words that will define Seattle’s entire offseason Offensive line. The ‘Hawks might go all in on upgrading across the board, and that plan can easily include the best lineman on the market.
Poe. Houston’s defense is a couple players away from being downright dominant. One of those is a healthy J.J. Watt. Another could very well be Poe, the younger stud at the nose it needs to improve upon aging Vince Wilfork.
Wagner. Minnesota’s offensive line was a big disappointment in every capacity. Now it’s prepared to let one of those strugglers, left tackle Matt Kalil, go. Wagner would provide a rock for at least the other side.
Jeffery. Wideout will be on the radar for San Diego as it looks for someone who can go up and get everything for Philip Rivers. Keenan Allen is coming off another major injury, and neither Travis Benjamin, Dontrelle Inman nor Tyrell Williams provide a complete outside No. 1. Jeffery is an expensive long shot, but one worth taking.
Charles Johnson, DE, Panthers. Carolina is bringing back Mario Addison at end, and will also take care of Short at tackle at some point. Johnson is set to walk, and should want to follow his former defensive coordinator, Sean McDermott, to Buffalo.
Nick Perry, OLB, Packers. Perry finally broke out as an edge pass rusher for Green Bay after being more of a steady run defender for his first few seasons. Dan Quinn needs to keep adding more pop to his defense, and Perry will fit well as a hybrid/LEO type in his scheme.
Tony Jefferson, S, Cardinals. Matt Elam was done with the Ravens before all of his off-field trouble. Jefferson already has semi-recruited himself to Baltimore, where he indeed would be the pefect complement to last year’s big addition at the position, Eric Weddle.
Stills. Philadelphia has been rumored for a big wideout prize such as Jeffery, but it really can’t afford that level. Stills has expressed he doesn’t mind going to a West Coast-tinged offensive team and can work nicely as a busy outside go-to guy for Carson Wentz.
Bouye. New York is experiencing the same rapid decline at corner Cleveland has. Bouye is the ideal addition for Todd Bowles’ defense, but it will be tricky for the Jets to come with a competitive offer.
Robert Woods, WR, Bills. Kansas City has to worry about keeping Berry, which imeans it can’t afford Poe or much else. Woods would be a sneaky offensive pickup as a possession receiver who would work well with Andy Reid and Alex Smith.