With free agency in full swing, players across the NFL are packing up and heading for new homes. Amid the excitement generated by fresh starts, I thought I'd examine the teams left behind. Which 10 players will be missed the most by their former organizations? Here's my list:
Bouye will be hard for the Texans' otherwise strong defense to replace. The 25-year-old had just come into his own, displaying excellent cover skills while emerging as Houston's best cornerback in Year 4. With Bouye gone, 2015 first-round pick Kevin Johnson -- who hasn't shown the cover skills Bouye has -- will need to step up, or the team will have to turn to the draft.
Zeitler is very good as a run blocker and in pass protection, with the ability and speed to block people on the second level. No wonder the Brownsmade him the highest-paid guard in the NFL. He's a special player who (along with the next player on our list) creates a monumental hole on the Bengals' offensive line. At least Andre Smith -- returning to the team that drafted him after a season with the Vikings -- is a familiar face, though he's three years older than Zeitler with more miles on his body, and he failed to make an impact on a Minnesota team hurting for line help last season.
Though he's 35, Whitworth showed no signs of slowing down in 2016, serving as a force on the line and acting as a great help to the young players in Cincinnati. He's really a unique guy, very athletic -- an outstanding tennis player and golfer who is almost more like a point guard, athletically speaking, than he is a tackle. He's the kind of guy who can be a rock on your team. Lots of veterans look down on rookies, but Whitworth does what he can to assist up-and-comers like Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher. He told me the other day that Ogbuehi will get the first crack at replacing him at left tackle, but I'm not sure what the Bengals will get out of Ogbuehi, who has not played very much. Losing Zeitler and Whitworth figures to hurt Cincinnati even more than last offseason's free agency departures, headed by Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones.
Wagner, who is only 27, is a very solid right tackle who has continued to get better each year since entering the NFL as a fifth-round pick in 2013. He's strong and did an excellent job in pass protection last season for a Ravens line that was trying to make up for the loss of Kelechi Osemele, who signed with the Raiders in the 2016 offseason. James Hurst could replace Wagner, but I don't know if he has the strength and toughness that enable Wagner to block the faster defensive ends in the league.
When he's on the field, Jeffery is a productive player, one of those muscle-up type of receivers who gets in position to catch the ball like a rebounder in basketball. He also has above-average hands. It's not clear how Chicago will replace him. Much depends on Kevin White, who has been limited by injuries to four games since being drafted seventh overall in 2015. Everybody -- myself included -- thought White would be a good player coming out, and he could still emerge, but he just hasn't been able to stay healthy. Third-year pro Cameron Meredith, who led Chicago in receiving yards in 2016, has just four touchdown catches in the last two years and represents a fairly steep drop-off from Jeffery. Free-agent signees Kendall Wright -- who hasn't topped 420 receiving yards since 2013 -- and Markus Wheaton are lottery tickets.
I imagine Washington's NFC East opponents are happy Jackson is no longer in town. He's a long-ball threat with a great ability for tracking the ball. Recently signed receiver Terrelle Pryor can also go deep, and he's younger and bigger than Jackson, but I'm not sure if he can track the ball as well as Jackson can. Jackson will elevate both Jameis Winston and Mike Evans in Tampa. Washington still has Jamison Crowder and tight end Jordan Reed, plus Josh Doctson (something of a question mark after Achilles issues stole most of his rookie season), but Jackson really stood out for his ability to change a game in the blink of an eye.
It's hard to replace an athletic competitor who can thrive at defensive tackle and defensive end. If 2016 first-round pick Robert Nkemdiche can recover from a lost rookie season and play to his potential, or if Rodney Gunter can take a step, the loss of Campbell won't be as great as it might seem now, aside from the veteran leadership Campbell is taking with him. Nkemdiche does have a lot of ability and quickness.
Gilmore has the size and speed to play the position. New England seems to do a good job improving the consistency of up-and-down talents like Gilmore, who started slow in 2016 before picking it up toward the end of the season. But going off what he did most recently in Buffalo, the loss might not be as significant as Gilmore's first-round pedigree and big-money deal with the Patriots would suggest, especially with defensive back Micah Hyde signed to pick up some of the slack in the secondary. It's still a loss, but it's not as dramatic as it might've been if Hyde hadn't come aboard.
Though he's not necessarily great at any one thing, the Johnny-do-everything type has the ability to play so many different roles, and it could be tricky for Green Bay to make up for that. I don't think the loss is completely debilitating -- recently signed corner Davon House will help mitigate the impact -- but it's still something the Packers have to account for.
With Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick and Zack Martin holding things down, the Cowboys still have a top-five offensive line. But Leary is an above-average player who filled in well at left guard when La'el Collins landed on injured reserve in 2016. Losing Leary to the Broncos and veteran Doug Freeto expected retirement hurts Dallas' depth. There's a sizeable drop-off from Leary to Chaz Green, a third-year player who hasn't played much because of injuries. Losing two guys who started will be a challenge and affect the continuity on the unit, even with a trio of All-Pros on hand.