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An early look at the top 2024 NFL free agents: Mike Evans, Chris Jones among 50 best veterans

The 2023 NFL season is finally upon us, which means the offseason is almost officially in the rearview. But just because the games are about to get underway doesn’t mean some teams aren’t already eyeing next year’s potential player movement.

A lot can change between now and next spring, but as clubs scout possible 2024 targets, here’s a way-too-early look at the top players set to be available in free agency next offseason:

Quarterbacks

Best available: Kirk Cousins (Vikings), Ryan Tannehill (Titans), Sam Darnold (49ers), Jacoby Brissett (Commanders), Tyler Huntley (Ravens)

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As usual, the market for proven, above-average starters is pretty thin. Cousins is the juiciest of the bunch; no stranger to maximizing his value relative to the market, he’s still hunting for big-game results but has been a durable and efficient starter for close to a decade now. Darnold will surely get a boost just from being in Kyle Shanahan’s system, unless he bombs in extensive playing time this year. Huntley at least offers athletic upside after filling in for Lamar Jackson in Baltimore.

Running backs

Best available: Derrick Henry (Titans), Josh Jacobs (Raiders), Jonathan Taylor (Colts), Saquon Barkley (Giants), Austin Ekeler (Chargers)

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AKA the big names who struggled to get big money this offseason, this group is loaded with elite, multipurpose options. The question is whether the increasing resistance from NFL teams to pay them a premium will affect their availability. Jacobs, for example, is threatening a holdout into the 2023 season. And Taylor, who wants out of Indianapolis, could revert to being a restricted free agent if he doesn’t suit up for at least six games. Every back here is dynamic when healthy.

Wide receivers

Best available: Mike Evans (Buccaneers), Tee Higgins (Bengals), Calvin Ridley (Jaguars), Michael Pittman Jr. (Colts), Tyler Boyd (Bengals), Gabriel Davis (Bills)

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If you’re looking to shop for a starting wideout, 2024 might be the time to do it. Evans is older yet all but QB-proof after nine straight 1,000-yard seasons. Higgins is the balanced complement to the explosive Ja’Marr Chase in Cincinnati, though Boyd is a much likelier candidate to actually hit the market as a plug-and-play possession target. Ridley has to prove himself in Jacksonville but has the tools to be an All-Pro. And both Pittman and Davis have flashed in different ways – the latter as a defense-tilting speed threat.

Tight ends

Best available: T.J. Hockenson (Vikings), Dalton Schultz (Texans), Hunter Henry (Patriots)

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Schultz was just on the market after a solid, if unspectacular, run in Dallas. But Hockenson could be a prized addition in the unlikely scenario he doesn’t strike a long-term deal with Minnesota. He’s been an elite safety valve for two different teams. Henry’s name is a touch bigger than his resume, but he’s still topped 500 receiving yards five different times.

Offensive linemen

Best available: Jason Kelce (Eagles), Tyron Smith (Cowboys), Kevin Zeitler (Ravens), Connor Williams (Dolphins)

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It’s not exactly a star-studded crop here. Kelce is one of the game’s best interior blockers, but he’s poised to retire after he’s done with the Eagles. Smith is a solid left tackle with serious availability concerns. Williams at 26 is arguably the best option with a rising trajectory, having turned in productive starts for both the Cowboys and Dolphins.

Defensive linemen

Best available: Chris Jones (Chiefs), D.J. Reader (Bengals), Christian Wilkins (Dolphins), Grover Stewart (Colts), Leonard Williams (Giants), Denico Autry (Titans)

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Jones is the superstar of a well-stocked interior market on defense, and while the Chiefs figure to lock him up, his monster production – 56.5 sacks the last five years – could price him out of Kansas City. Reader’s logged just two sacks the last three years while battling injuries, but he’s been a vital piece of Cincy’s title-contending “D” when healthy. Wilkins is destined for a big payday, gradually getting more disruptive in four years as an anchor of Miami’s front.

Defensive ends/outside linebackers

Best available: Nick Bosa (49ers), Brian Burns (Panthers), Montez Sweat (Commanders), Josh Allen (Jaguars), Rashan Gary (Packers), Danielle Hunter (Vikings), Leonard Floyd (Bills)

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Talk about a loaded crop of edge rushers. Bosa isn’t going anywhere; it’s more a matter of how much the 49ers are prepared to dish out in making him one of the game’s highest-paid players. But there’s an abundance of other up-and-comers, from Burns (38 sacks in four years) and Sweat (29 sacks) to Allen (27.5) and Gary (22.5), each of whom could line up in either 3-4 or 4-3 systems. Hunter and Floyd are no longer spring chickens but have proven consistently effective when on the field.

Linebackers

Best available: Devin White (Buccaneers), Patrick Queen (Ravens), Isaiah Simmons (Cardinals), Anthony Walker Jr. (Browns), Willie Gay Jr. (Chiefs), Josey Jewell (Broncos)

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Basically every big name comes with question marks here, which isn’t unusual for a position increasingly less relevant than, say, edge rusher or corner. White, Queen and Simmons are all young with ridiculous athletic profiles, albeit inconsistent track records.

Cornerbacks

Best available: Stephon Gilmore (Cowboys), Adoree’ Jackson (Giants), Michael Davis (Chargers), Emmanuel Moseley (Lions), Jeff Okudah (Falcons), Jaylon Johnson (Bears), L’Jarius Sneed (Chiefs)

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It’s telling that a handful of these starters just switched teams this offseason. In truth, barring a surprise breakout from Okudah or another younger prospect, there isn’t a bona fide frontrunner for a mega deal at this position. Other vets to monitor include Shaquill Griffin (Texans), Chidobe Awuzie (Bengals) and Eli Apple (Dolphins).

Safeties

Best available: Antoine Winfield Jr. (Buccaneers), Micah Hyde (Bills), C.J. Gardner-Johnson (Lions), Jordan Whitehead (Jets)

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Gardner-Johnson was a gem of an acquisition for the Eagles in 2022, and with a feisty debut in Detroit, he might finally get the longer-term deal he seeks. Winfield is the most promising all-around package, offering leadership to Tampa Bay’s secondary since Day 1. Whitehead has been an underrated starter in New York since departing Winfield and the Bucs.

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