Jones, Cousins ready to test NFL’s free agency waters

Kansas City's Chris Jones and Minnesota's Kirk Cousins are among the biggest-named free agents free to negotiate deals with other teams starting Monday. Jones is ranked Among the most valuable players on the market.



March 8, 2024 - 2:45 PM

Kansas City Chiefs defensive tackle Chris Jones celebrates after he recovered a fumble against the Dallas Cowboys on Nov. 21, 2021. Photo by Tammy Ljungblad/The Kansas City Star/TNS

Kirk Cousins will be a free agent for the first time since the Vikings gave him the first fully-guaranteed quarterback deal in the NFL. Baker Mayfield is expected to stay put in Tampa Bay. Russell Wilson has to make another move. Joe Flacco could find a new home, too.

The quarterback carousel will start spinning when the NFL’s free agency period opens Monday with the legal tampering period. Players can’t officially sign new deals until the opening of the league’s new year on Wednesday.

While the quarterbacks get much of the attention, many of the best players available play other positions.

All-Pro defensive tackle Chris Jones heads a list that includes fellow defensive tackle Christian Wilkins, edge rushers Danielle Hunter, Chase Young and Jonathan Greenard, safeties Justin Simmons and Xavier McKinney, cornerbacks Xavien Howard and Tre’Davious White, linebackers Patrick Queen and Lavonte David, and many others.

There’s also plenty of talented guys on the offensive side, including running backs Saquon Barkley, Derrick Henry, Josh Jacobs and D’Andre Swift, offensive tackles Tyron Smith, Jonah Williams and Trent Brown, wide receivers Calvin Ridley, Marquise Brown and Odell Beckham Jr., and more.

Eight players received the non-exclusive franchise tag, including wide receivers Tee Higgins and Michael Pittman, edge rusher Josh Allen and All-Pro safety Antoine Winfield. They can still test the open market, but teams would have to give up a pair of first-round picks to sign them.

Jones will have an opportunity to cash in after helping Kansas City win its third Super Bowl in five years. The Chiefs tagged cornerback L’Jarius Sneed instead of placing it on Jones for the second straight season.

Jones’ price tag will likely exceed the $95 million, three-year deal eight-time All-Pro DT Aaron Donald got from the Los Angeles Rams in 2022.

The Chiefs already made it clear re-signing Jones is a top priority. They can get Sneed back for at least one year for the $19.8 million tag, give him a long-term deal or trade him.

Kirk Cousins (8) of the Minnesota Vikings looks to pass against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field on Oct. 29, 2023, in Green Bay, Wisconsin. Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images/TNS

Half of the NFL’s teams have more than $30 million available in salary cap, making it a player-friendly market to a certain degree.

There’s much interest in how the running backs will fare.

Barkley, Jacobs and Tony Pollard received franchise tags last season but no team wanted to commit $11.9 million to its running back. Austin Ekeler rounds out the top six.

The Giants seem ready to move on from Barkley, who should get interest from plenty of teams, including a pair of New York’s NFC East rivals. The Eagles will be looking for a running back at the right price, of course, if they don’t retain Swift, who is coming off his first 1,000-yard season. Barkley would be an upgrade for the Cowboys over Pollard.

Henry is 30 but he ran for 1,167 yards and scored 12 touchdowns in 2023 and has had five 1,000-yard seasons in the last six years. He’d be a better fit for a Super Bowl contender than Tennessee.

NFL teams have undervalued the running back position to the point where they have the lowest franchise tag number among the skill players. Wide receivers are now nearly $10 million higher at $21.8 million.