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2023 NFL free agency: Dre'Mont Jones, Jamel Dean among 7 less-heralded players who could get PAID

The NFL's negotiating window for free agents opens this coming Monday at noon ET, with the free agency period officially beginning at the start of the new league on Wednesday at 4 p.m. ET. The record salary cap of $224.8 million per club is good news for those hitting the open market.

There are notable names -- such as safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson, receiver Jakobi Meyers and 2022 franchise players Orlando Brown Jr., Jessie Bates and Dalton Schultz -- among those in line for big second contracts. But some less-heralded young players are in position to break the bank, too.

Here's a short list, with help from PFF stats compiled by NFL Research's Katherine Baker.

Dre'Mont Jones
DL · Age: 26

With Daron Payne getting the franchise tag in Washington, a lot of the defensive line focus in free agency will be on veteran Javon Hargrave, who is set to bank another lucrative contract at age 30. But Jones -- a third-round pick in 2019 who only became a full-time starter in Denver last season -- could end up being one of the biggest winners in the open market. He has 22 sacks in 56 career games (29 starts) and was just enjoying his best pro campaign before suffering a season-ending hip injury in Week 14. Per PFF, Jones generated 45 total pressures (tied for 11th among interior DL) with a 10.6 pressure percentage (11th, min. 200 pass rushes) in 2022, while also racking up 6.5 sacks. Jones figures to have multiple suitors, which could drive the price to the $18 million-per-year range.

One more name to watch in the secondary D-line market: Zach Allen, who logged 9.5 sacks in two seasons as a full-time starter for the Cardinals.

Jamel Dean
CB · Age: 26
Byron Murphy
CB · Age: 25

Veterans James Bradberry (age 29), Jonathan Jones (29) and Cam Sutton (28) figure to do well on their third multi-year deals. But don't be surprised if Dean paces the CB market, with a contract that could start in the range of $16 million a year. A third-round pick by the Buccaneers in 2019, Dean quietly has emerged as one of the NFL's better young cornerbacks, with seven interceptions and 41 passes defensed in 57 career games (38 starts). Per PFF, Dean allowed a 50 percent completion rate (fourth among CBs with at least 50 targets) and 6.1 yards per target (T-10th) in primary coverage last season, with a forced incompletion rate of 16.2 percent (T-12th).

Murphy potentially could push toward $16 million per year, too, as a do-it-all corner whom the Cardinals used at times to shadow the likes of Davante Adams. By PFF's count, Murphy allowed 9.7 yards per reception in primary coverage last season (ninth among CBs, min. 50 targets) and yielded just seven plays of at least 15 yards (tied for fourth).

Tremaine Edmunds
LB · Age: 24

Perhaps Edmunds doesn't fit the "less-heralded" label, with two Pro Bowl appearances in 2019 and '20 -- the only player on this list ever selected to the NFL's all-star game -- but the man isn't exactly a certified star, either. And if one linebacker gets the proverbial bag in this free-agent class, it'll probably be Edmunds, a first-round pick by the Bills in 2018 whose age (turns 25 in May) and productivity (five seasons with 100-plus tackles) may well yield a contract topping the $15 million-per-year figure Foye Oluokun got from the Jaguars a year ago. Per PFF, Edmunds had an 88.1 coverage grade last season (sixth-highest in the entire NFL, min. 25 targets), allowing just 5.3 yards per coverage target (third among LBs).

It's been tricky in recent years for free-agent linebackers, but there should be a strong secondary market at the position, as well. Two names to monitor: Bobby Okereke, who has started every game but one over the past two seasons and put up a career-high 151 tackles with the Colts in 2022; and T.J. Edwards, an undrafted free agent who turned into a three-year starter with the Eagles and was among the NFL leaders with 159 tackles last season.

Jawaan Taylor
RT · Age: 25
Kaleb McGary
RT · Age: 28
Mike McGlinchey
RT · Age: 28

Four-time Pro Bowl selection Orlando Brown Jr. was a somewhat-surprising addition to the free-agent pool when the Chiefs didn't tag him a second time, and he should get his bag as the clear top left tackle available. But three right tackles also figure to cash in.

The going rate for top RTs these days is $15 million to $19 million a year, and it won't be a surprise if Taylor lands on the high end of that range after starting all 68 games (including the playoffs) since he joined the Jaguars as a second-round pick in the 2019 draft. Per PFF, Taylor allowed a 2.5 percent pressure rate last season (third-lowest among tackles with at least 300 pass-blocking snaps) and posted a 98.4 pass-blocking efficiency grade (fifth-best). McGary also could land in that price range, benefiting from the Falcons' decision to decline his fifth-year option last year. Per PFF, McGary earned a 91.6 run-blocking grade last season (second among tackles) and was also effective in pass protection, allowing a 3.9 percent pressure rate. Another name to watch is McGlinchey, the No. 9 overall pick in 2018 who returned from a season-ending torn quadriceps in 2021 to start all 20 games (including playoffs) for the 49ers last season. On PFF's charts, McGlinchey recorded a 5.1 percent pressure rate and a 96.9 pass-blocking efficiency grade last season, both career bests in a season with at last 300 pass-blocking snaps.

Follow Tom Pelissero on Twitter.

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