2016 NFL Free Agency Preview: Five bold predictions

2016 NFL Free Agency unofficially begins on Monday with the opening of the tampering period where teams can start to target free agents, with a year of big spending expected. A salary cap increase and two teams with over $70 million in cap space set to flood the market for the top players who are all hoping to hit the jackpot with a massive contract.

Because of that market, 2016 Free Agency is going to be very compelling even with all of the big names being kept off the open market after being franchised tagged by their respective teams. Names like Von Miller and Josh Norman being kept off of the market setting the table for the secondary market to earn superstar money with cap space heavy teams looking to spend their money on the players that are available.

With players like Malik Jackson, Kelechi Osemele and Tashaun Gipson set to take advantage of a franchise tag filled beginning to the offseason, here are five bold predictions for this March’s free agency frenzy.

5. Kelechi Osemele will become the league’s highest paid guard 

Kelechi Osemele has played himself into a situation where he is entering free agency with the desire to become the highest paid player in his position, and like center Rodney Hudson last March there is a very good chance that Osemele will be becoming the highest paid in his position on the offensive line.

Osemele has had several strong seasons with the Ravens entering the open market, and with the Oakland Raiders already setting a precedent of being willing to give the best available offensive lineman the most money in his position last year with Hudson there is a good chance of a similar outcome repeating. If the Raiders aren’t interested in Osemele, which seems unlikely, somebody else will try to land Osemele and be willing to give top money at the position to do so.

4. Donald Penn will get overpaid 

Thanks to a weak left tackle market, veteran Donald Penn is in a perfect position to get one last monster contract from either the Oakland Raiders or from the open market. All thanks to the Buffalo Bills decision to franchise tag Cordy Glenn, Penn is all alone when it comes to above replacement level left tackles in the free agent class and he is ready to cash in on that leverage.

So far Penn’s talks with the Raiders have been discouraging, but once teams start making offers on the former Pro Bowler general manager Reggie McKenzie will likely start preparing to match what should be serious offers. Despite being 32 and on the downturn of his career, expect Penn to get a deal that will pay him far more than his actual value due to the weak market at his position.

3. Arian Foster will not get signed in March 

Recently released Houston Texans running back Arian Foster will be included in the runner back market trying to come back from an Achilles tear, but Foster’s presence in the March free agency market will likely be very quiet due to the injury that caused the end of his Texans career.

Teams are going to likely be willing to pass on Foster until after the NFL Draft and see how the rehab goes from his season ending 2015 injury before deciding if they are interested in an oft-injured player with tons of mileage. At his peak Foster is productive, but don’t expect teams to sign Foster until they see how his comeback develops.

2. Raiders will load up on veterans to make playoff push 

The Oakland Raiders are entering free agency with the second most cap space in the league and a young nucleus to build upon. Players like Derek Carr, Amari Cooper, Khalil Mack, Gabe Jackson and Latavius Murray all giving the Raiders franchise cornerstones in several positions out of the draft.

After a 7-9 season where Carr became second all-time in passing touchdowns in quarterback’s first two seasons in the league, the Raiders seem likely to make a push for players who have playoff experience to pair with their bright young talent to make a serious run at contender in the extremely difficult AFC West.

With Eric Weddle, Malik Jackson and Pacman Jones all being reported to have interest from the Raiders as targets, expect Reggie McKenzie to target top talent that is long on playoff experience as he looks to bring a winning culture to a rebuild in Oakland that appears on the verge of becoming a success.

1. Greg Hardy market will be silent early 

The elephant hanging in the room during free agency will be Greg Hardy, the formerly elite pass rusher who now serves as a massive distraction that seems to be on the path to becoming a has been. After his very public domestic violence scandal, Hardy served as a poor teammate with the Cowboys and was a big part of their failed season in 2015.

Now Hardy will become a free agent whose very name will draw a reaction whenever a team shows interest in a player whose reputation has become toxic. Fanbases and the local media in most NFL cities won’t want to see Hardy join their team, but his pass rushing production with the Carolina Panthers will force the interest of at least a handful of teams.

Don’t expect teams to show interest in Hardy right away as teams will likely explore all of their options, and even consider lesser options like Chris Long, before kicking the tires on Hardy. Hardy may be a former world class pass rusher, but teams will try to find a comparable talent before touching all of the negativity that comes with such a controversial player.

About Chase Ruttig

Chase Ruttig is a Canadian sportswriter who covers North American sports for various outlets.