All 32 teams -- whether they are alive in the playoffs or not -- are deep into personnel evaluations and roster planning for next season, as the window for taking action on 2020 NFL free agency opens in less than three weeks. The offseason waiver process begins Feb. 3, the day after Super Bowl LIV. Teams can begin to use franchise or transition tags on Feb. 25, and negotiations can begin March 16. Free agency officially opens March 18.
What follows is an early look at the 50 most valuable players set to qualify for unrestricted free agency. We've focused this list toward the philosophies of most teams rather than simply looking at skill level or 2019 production in a vacuum. Age is critical as teams attempt to project future performance -- 26 and 27 are the sweet spots -- and certain positions are always higher priorities. That's why this ranking includes quarterback Marcus Mariota, benched in Week 6 by the Titans, and not running back Carlos Hyde, who rushed for 1,070 yards at age 29 for the Texans.
There is no doubt that this list will look much different when the market opens. Some players will re-sign with their existing teams, while others will join the pool as roster cuts. But for now, consider this a wish list of the unrestricted free agents who NFL teams hope will be available. We did not include players who are likely to be cut but we did insert a few whose contracts are set to automatically void rather than simply expire. Let's jump in.
1. Dak Prescott, QB
2019 team: Dallas Cowboys | Age entering 2020 season: 27
Say whatever you want about Prescott's ceiling. If a 27-year-old quarterback coming off a 4,902-yard season ever reached the open market, he would be swarmed. It's hard to believe it will come to that. If the two sides can't reach a long-term agreement, the Cowboys almost certainly will use the franchise tag. But for now, Prescott is a pending free agent like everyone else on this list.
2. Tom Brady, QB
2019 team: New England Patriots | Age: 43
Retiring is "pretty unlikely," Brady said after the Patriots' wild-card loss to the Titans. That sentiment sets up a two-month guessing game about his 2020 team. The Patriots have agreed not to use the franchise tag on him, and without a new deal by March 18, Brady will become a free agent -- and deposit $13.5 million in dead money on the Patriots' cap -- for the first time in his career. The big unknown: Is there a franchise willing to offer a premium, short-term contract while also pairing him with the supporting cast he would want and need?
3. Drew Brees, QB
2019 team: New Orleans Saints | Age: 41