Now that the NFL regular season has concluded, we are getting to the point of the year where the top 20 of the Draft order has been settled and collegiate players are declaring for the NFL Draft.
Of course, before the Draft comes Free Agency, and we will be doing a Team-by-Team Offseason Blueprint feature in the coming weeks on what each NFL franchise needs to do from top to bottom this upcoming offseason to become more competitive in 2016 and beyond.
We don't know what will happen between now and Free Agency in March, and now until the Draft in April is even murkier waters, but what we do know is how much estimated cap room each team is slated to have going into this offseason and which players are set to hit the open market.
So with that being said, let's think through it and connect some dots. I have identified the Top 10 upcoming Free Agent Safeties with a little analysis to explain the logic behind where I think they will land next year.
ERIC BERRY | KANSAS CITY CHIEFS
The Chiefs have over $30 million in cap room this offseason, and I believe they focus on retaining their own upcoming free agents - chiefly Eric Berry and Derrick Johnson. Quality safety play is extremely difficult to come by in the NFL, and Berry will be wooed by an unreal amount of suitors this offseason, but the Chiefs will either match it or franchise tag the cancer survivor. Also, I believe that there is a feeling of reciprocity between Berry and the Chiefs for their support during his time away from the team dealing with his medical issues.
ERIC WEDDLE | OAKLAND RAIDERS
From one veteran FS to another. With the retirement of Charles Woodson, you better believe Jack Del Rio doesn't want to sacrifice the veteran presence that Woodson provided to the young secondary. Luckily for him, Weddle and the Raiders seem to have burnt their bridges, and Oakland has the most cap room of any NFL team going into this offseason. Additionally, with both teams pinned as the favorites to relocate to Los Angeles, you better believe that Weddle would love running out of the locker room playing for the other LA team - that's how toxic the relationship between the Chargers organization and Weddle are.
TASHAUN GIPSON | TENNESSEE TITANS
Along with Sean Smith in our Free Agency CB Predictions article, the Titans go all in on their secondary and add a solid 3-4 playmaking FS to replace the incumbent Michael Griffin. Although the Titans staff is likely to change, for now, defensive coordinator Ray Horton is familiar with Gipson from his time leading the Browns defense, and he is the type of player they need to shore up a leaky secondary.
REGGIE NELSON | CINCINNATI BENGALS
Much like we advocated Leon Hall and Adam Jones returning to the Bengals with their $34 million in cap space, the 2015 NFL leader in interceptions is another piece of that secondary puzzle that will be a high priority to retain. Marvin Lewis and the front office haven't tinkered with the roster much this year, and I would expect that trend to continue.
WALTER THURMOND | PHILADELPHIA EAGLES
Although Chip Kelly is gone and the Oregon nostalgia has fallen by the wayside, there is no questioning that Walter Thurmond played extremely well partnered up with Malcolm Jenkins. The Eagles have a good amount of cap space ($21 million-plus) heading into the offseason, and it is likely the new GM and Head Coach won't want to disrupt some of the little chemistry that this defense did have this season.
MARK BARRON | MINNESOTA VIKINGS
Mark Barron has played decent in a limited role for the Rams, but probably not well enough for them to re-sign him with TJ McDonald set to return. The Minnesota Vikings have a vacancy at SS heading into the upcoming offseason, and pairing the physical Barron with rangy FS Harrison Smith could be just the compliment that defensive mastermind Mike Zimmer is Su'a Craving to take his unit to the next level.
JAMES IHEDIGBO | NEW YORK GIANTS
The Giants have a HUGE opening at SS that they have had great difficulty filling since the departure of Antrel Rolle to Chicago. In fact, the lack of talent at the position has inhibited the development of rookie FS Landon Collins, who was stuck trying to worry about essentially covering up for two positions. Ihedigbo's play wasn't as strong as it was in 2014, but he would still be a tremendous upgrade over Cooper Taylor, and they have over $30 million in cap space to extend an aggressive offer to Ihedigbo.
TYVON BRANCH | TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
Tyvon Branch has had a good year in Kansas City, collecting a few big splash scoring plays that will certainly be high in the minds of NFL GMs this offseason. The Buccaneers need a physical presence at SS, who they currently have Darius Eubanks penciled in as the starter based on who they have under contract. What do you say, Bucs fans? Would you rather have Branch or Eubanks? There ya go.
RODNEY McLEOD | ST. LOUIS RAMS
With one Ram leaving in Barron, the other Ram stays. McLeod is a decent, not great, free safety and their next best option under contract is Christian Bryant. The Rams will likely keep one safety and one cornerback this offseason, and if I was going to bet, I'd say it's going to be Janoris Jenkins and Rodney McLeod.
TONY JEFFERSON | ARIZONA CARDINALS
There are no strong safeties under contract in 2016 for the Arizona Cardinals. None (unless you consider Deone Bucannon a SS). Jefferson has been a consistent player in the Arizona secondary and will be relatively inexpensive to retain for Arizona, and who wouldn't want to keep lining up next to Tyrann Mathieu?
*All Cap Projections are from www.spotrac.com