NFL free agency preview: Ranking which teams to watch in free agency, from 1-32

Every NFL fan base wants their team to sign every big-name free agent this month. That won’t happen.

Some teams are positioned well to make a huge splash in free agency. Other teams have tended to their roster in other ways and don’t have much cap space left. A few teams have some cap space but generally don’t heavily invest in free agents.

[Check out our top 10 quarterbacks and our top 20 skill-position players in free agency]

But there’s plenty of money to be spent and every team has needs. Here’s our rundown of all 32 teams, with their cap space (based on the NFLPA’s public salary cap report as of Wednesday morning — keep in mind those figures will change as teams make cap-related cuts) and biggest needs, ranked by how interesting they will be to watch as we head into what should be a fun free-agency period:

Quarterback Kirk Cousins will be the most interesting player to watch in free agency. (AP)
Quarterback Kirk Cousins will be the most interesting player to watch in free agency. (AP)

32. Philadelphia Eagles
Cap space: Over the cap by $9.8 million
Biggest need: Offensive tackle

The Eagles will have virtually no cap room, so don’t expect any major additions. The good news is they don’t have a lot of pressing issues. Some depth at tackle is important if Jason Peters isn’t back.

31. Miami Dolphins
Cap space: Over the cap by $8 million
Biggest need: Guard

The Dolphins line has been bad for years, and they still need upgrades at guard. A new tight end would be nice too, but it’ll be tough to find the cap space for that.

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30. Kansas City Chiefs
Cap space: Over the cap by $11.4 million
Biggest need: Cornerback

The Chiefs moved on from cornerback Marcus Peters, and they weren’t very good opposite Peters last year. So they practically need two cornerbacks. While Kendall Fuller (acquired in the Alex Smith trade) helps in the slot, they still need better options on the perimeter. The problem is, they don’t have the cap space to land any of the top cornerbacks on the market.

29. Atlanta Falcons
Cap space: $13.2 million
Biggest need: Defensive tackle

The Falcons still have most of the same deep roster that made the Super Bowl two seasons ago. The interior of both lines is a need, especially with defensive tackle Dontari Poe’s one-year deal expiring.

28. Pittsburgh Steelers
Cap space: Over the cap by $8.5 million
Biggest need: Inside linebacker

It’s an unfortunate circumstance, but the fact is the Steelers don’t know if Ryan Shazier will ever return and they struggled without him. Shazier has already been ruled out of 2018. They’ll need to work on inside linebacker this offseason, and there will be a few options in free agency.

27. Los Angeles Chargers
Cap space: $22.8 million
Biggest need: Safety

The Chargers got a nice season out of Tre Boston, but he’s going to be a free agent. The Chargers don’t have a ton of glaring needs, but safety is one.

26. Dallas Cowboys
Cap space: $467,000
Biggest need: Wide receiver

Dez Bryant’s down season exposed a fairly big flaw. Whether or not Bryant is back, the Cowboys need more weapons for Dak Prescott. Tight end could be a need too because Jason Witten can’t play forever, but maybe Rico Gathers can develop.

25. Oakland Raiders
Cap space: $16.5 million
Biggest need: Cornerback

The Raiders hope 2017 first-round pick Gareon Conley has an impact after a lost rookie season. Even then, Oakland needs to add a cornerback or two for depth. The Raiders also need cap space for Khalil Mack’s extension.

24. Jacksonville Jaguars
Cap space: $35.2 million
Biggest need: Linebacker

The Jaguars have Telvin Smith and Myles Jack, but Paul Posluszny is a free agent and depth is an issue whether the 33-year-old Posluszny is back or not. The Jaguars should be in the mix for a guard too.

23. New England Patriots
Cap space: $15.4 million
Biggest need: Cornerback

We got a glimpse at life after Malcolm Butler when Nick Foles threw for 373 yards in the Super Bowl while Butler mysteriously didn’t play a snap. The Patriots will also need a tight end if Rob Gronkowski retires.

22. New Orleans Saints
Cap space: $32.6 million
Biggest need: Edge rusher

The Saints have defensive end Cameron Jordan, who is outstanding. They could use a rusher opposite Jordan, though they likely don’t have the cap space to spend big at that position (remember when you see that cap number that it doesn’t include Drew Brees’ anticipated new contract).

21. Baltimore Ravens
Cap space: $5.4 million
Biggest need: Wide receiver

The Ravens have little at receiver or tight end. It’s hard to even put together a depth chart at either position for them. They’ll be linked to every big-name receiver and tight end, and in trade talks for Jarvis Landry too. They just don’t have a ton of cap space to make huge moves, so it will be curious to see how they fix the offense.

20. Cincinnati Bengals
Cap space: $35.5 million
Biggest need: Offensive line

The Bengals lost Kevin Zeitler and Andrew Whitworth last offseason and did little to replace them. It showed, especially early in the season. Fixing offensive line issues in free agency is expensive, but the Bengals — who typically aren’t very active in the high end of free agency — need to try.

19. Carolina Panthers
Cap space: $26.5 million
Biggest need: Safety

Guard also needs some depth if Andrew Norwell is not retained (and there are no signs he will be), and receiver is still a bit thin. But after veteran safety Kurt Coleman was released and then signed by the Saints, that position looks perilously thin.

18. Tennessee Titans
Cap space: $48.4 million
Biggest need: Guard

The Titans’ strength the past couple seasons has been offensive line, but the guard position is shaky heading into the offseason, especially with Josh Kline set to hit free agency. There’s enough cap space to address both guard positions.

17. Arizona Cardinals
Cap space: $21.1 million
Biggest need: Quarterback

The retirement of quarterback Carson Palmer created an urgency at quarterback. The Cardinals have other weaknesses, like every team, but nothing else matters before they settle their quarterback situation. They have no quarterbacks under contract.

16. Los Angeles Rams
Cap space: $29.6 million
Biggest need: Edge rusher

Acquiring Marcus Peters in a trade helps mitigate the anticipated loss of free agent Trumaine Johnson, though the Rams haven’t closed to door on trying to re-sign him too. Edge rusher is an issue, especially after the Robert Quinn trade. The good news is they have the cap space to find one, though they still have to pay Aaron Donald.

15. Buffalo Bills
Cap space: $24.8 million
Biggest need: Receiver

Tight end could have also been listed as the biggest need. The Bills need players who can make something happen in the passing game. LeSean McCoy has to carry too much of the offensive load, and he’ll turn 30 this year. He needs some help.

14. Indianapolis Colts
Cap space: $72.8 million
Biggest need: Offensive line

For about the 12th straight year, the Colts’ O-line needs help. They couldn’t protect Jacoby Brissett and they can’t risk Andrew Luck taking that abuse (if he returns from shoulder surgery).

13. Green Bay Packers
Cap space: $15.4 million
Biggest need: Tight end

The Packers signed Martellus Bennett last year, and that didn’t work out. A great tight end might make the offense unstoppable. If not tight end, an edge rusher or some defensive line help would work. It will be interesting to see how aggressive the Packers get with a new general manager. Old GM Ted Thompson rarely dabbled in free agency.

12. New York Giants
Cap space: $24 million
Biggest need: Offensive line

The Giants need to overhaul the line. They’ll have to make decisions on free agents Justin Pugh and Weston Richburg, and should invest heavily on the line whether either one is back. It seems too obvious that GM Dave Gettleman, formerly of the Panthers, will make a run at guard Andrew Norwell, who was named All-Pro with the Panthers last season. That would help tremendously.

11. Detroit Lions
Cap space: $28.1 million
Biggest need: Running back

The last time the Lions had a 100-yard rusher was Reggie Bush on Thanksgiving in 2013. The Lions need to invest in a good back. Maybe that comes in the draft, allowing Detroit to use its cap space on the defensive line.

10. Seattle Seahawks
Cap space: $18.5 million
Biggest need: Defensive line

The Seahawks still need offensive line help, but the defensive line is showing some wear and tear too. Michael Bennett has been in trade talks, Cliff Avril might have to retire and Sheldon Richardson could leave via free agency. The Seahawks have been strong up front for years, but might need to retool this offseason.

9. Washington Redskins
Cap space: $49.1 million
Biggest need: Receiver

Terrelle Pryor didn’t work out, to say the least. Jamison Crowder is a nice slot receiver and the Redskins need to hope Josh Doctson continues to develop in the offseason. Even if Doctson can be a reliable No. 1, Washington still needs more playmakers for new quarterback Alex Smith.

8. Houston Texans
Cap space: $68.1 million
Biggest need: Offensive tackle

The Texans need to be smart in free agency, because they don’t have a pick in the first two rounds of the draft due to trades. They have to make sure Deshaun Watson is protected, especially coming off his knee injury. They could sign a tackle and a guard.

7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Cap space: $71.8 million
Biggest need: Defensive end

The Buccaneers were very thin at defensive end by the end of the season and the pass rush was anemic. Tampa Bay can’t be a playoff contender without a pass rush, so that’s where the offseason needs to start. Tampa Bay had a ton of money last season and their free-agent additions didn’t pan out well; hopefully for them this offseason goes better.

6. Chicago Bears
Cap space: $42.9 million
Biggest need: Wide receiver

It was embarrassing how poorly the Bears managed the receiver position last year. Mitch Trubisky had few reliable targets to throw to. It won’t be easy to add multiple receivers in one offseason, but getting Trubisky help has to be the top priority. They need to at least make a run at Allen Robinson or Sammy Watkins.

5. Denver Broncos
Cap space: $25.9 million
Biggest need: Quarterback

The Broncos will be in on Kirk Cousins. If Cousins doesn’t sign with them, it seems likely they’ll go after Case Keenum. If Keenum doesn’t sign, they’ll go after … you get the point. The Broncos have to address quarterback, though they could do so with the fifth pick of the draft.

4. New York Jets
Cap space: $84.2 million
Biggest need: Quarterback

While it seems the Jets could have Josh McCown back, they want an upgrade. They’ll be players for Kirk Cousins. However, you could list almost any position but safety as a need. The Jets need a lot of work, and have the cap room to add multiple pieces. If Cousins doesn’t take their money, they’ll have even more to spread around.

3. San Francisco 49ers
Cap space: $70 million
Biggest need: Cornerback

Jimmy Garoppolo got all the headlines during a fun winning streak to end the season, but the 49ers still have a long way to go. Cornerback is the most pressing need, but they need an edge rusher, some receivers and maybe a running back if Carlos Hyde leaves and perhaps an inside linebacker depending on Reuben Foster’s future.

2. Cleveland Browns
Cap space: $114.4 million
Biggest need: Quarterback

There are seeds of an interesting team here. But the Browns still need to find a competent quarterback before there’s a turnaround. They’ll likely address quarterback in the draft (though I’m still not sure whey they’re not in on Kirk Cousins, it’s not like they don’t have the cap space for him), which leaves a lot of money for every other position. The Browns will presumably get an answer from left tackle Joe Thomas on his retirement plans before free agency, and if Thomas walks away then Cleveland will be spending on the offensive line. Let’s put it this way: The Browns could theoretically sign the top five free agents, not counting quarterbacks, and still have cap space left over.

1. Minnesota Vikings
Cap space: $54 million
Biggest need: Quarterback

The Vikings have a good, deep roster without many deficiencies. However, they have one enormous hole if Case Keenum signs elsewhere. They need a backup too if Sam Bradford and Teddy Bridgewater leave. If the Vikings have the right quarterbacks, the rest of the roster is championship caliber. It seems like the NFL world will be put on pause next week as we wait to see if the Vikings and Kirk Cousins can work out a deal.

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Frank Schwab is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at or follow him on Twitter!

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