NFL contracts not signed beyond 2021 expire at 4 p.m. ET March 16, meaning that teams have from the end of the season until that time to sign their pending free agents to contract extensions. A few will get tagged (the franchise tag period begins Feb. 22), some will get extensions, but it’s a good bet most of the players set to reach unrestricted free agency will do so.

But if we were in charge, these are the players we’d keep — one per team as decided by the NFL Wire staff.


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Patriots CB J.C. Jackson

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

The Patriots’ list of must-retain free agents is extremely long, from Jackson to Trent Brown to Dont’a Hightower (and so many others). Ultimately, the Patriots defense wouldn’t be successful if not for Jackson, who has been an enormously consistent contributor (playing in every game) at the highest level a cornerback can play. Whether they franchise tag him or extend him, the Patriots need Jackson back in 2022. — Henry McKenna, Patriots Wire

Bills DT Harrison Phillips

Democrat and Chronicle

It’s been some ride for Harrison Phillips. As his rookie contract expires, injuries have derailed his career, and Phillips is even playing on a PCL issue this season. Despite that, he is finally rounding into top form, which it looked like he was achieving before tearing his ACL in 2019. Phillips has become an asset as a run stopper that can even get after the quarterback a bit from the middle of the D-line. Pro Football Focus ranks him as the 13th best DT in the league, but this will come down to dollars vs. injury. How much will the Bills want to shell out for someone with injury concerns? They did for LB Matt Milano last offseason. — Nick Wojton, Bills Wire

Jets WR Braxton Berrios

The Record

Berrios has been the Jets’ most reliable…



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