Top-20 logical NFL free agency fits

Matt Harmon
Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Golden Tate (19) celebrates after an NFL wild-card playoff football game against the Chicago Bears Sunday, Jan. 6, 2019, in Chicago. The Eagles won 16-15. (AP Photo/David Banks)
Golden Tate looks likely to find a new home after a quiet stint with the Eagles. (AP Photo/David Banks)

The NFL’s free agency is one of the more exciting times of the offseason calendar. Players we know change hands, teams improve and perhaps most fascinating, organizations tip their hand as to where they believe they stand.

The 2019 free agency crop brings layers of storylines. We’re going to get a possible long-term starting quarterback in the mix. One of the NFL’s truly elite running backs will move cities. A litany of big-name defensive players could bring reinforcements to possible contenders. Through it all, we’ll see what teams truly believe about themselves.

Here we’ll examine 20 of the most notable free agents that could hit the market and logical landing spots where they would fit in. While it’s fun to wish cast all of these players to spots that would make out fantasy hearts flutter, we’ll pair them with spots that could reasonably happen. Some of these players could certainly return to their teams, but for the sake of content, let’s pretend they will all move on.

Likely franchise tag recipients:

DeMarcus Lawrence, EDGE

Grady Jarrett, DT

Jadeveon Clowney, EDGE

Dee Ford, EDGE

Frank Clark, EDGE

Donovan Smith, T

Quarterbacks

Nick Foles, QB

The 2018 Super Bowl MVP, Nick Foles enters the market after two consecutive strong end of season runs that stretched into the playoffs. He’s only 30 years old and should theoretically be right in the prime of his career, even if it’s been a rocky journey to get here. We don’t see situations like this happen often. Whoever signs Foles in free agency will view him as a multi-year solution and not just a bridge.

Logical fit: Jacksonville Jaguars

While a situation where a starting-level passer hits the open market are rare and usually result in big bidding wars, this is also remarkably bad timing for Foles. The vast majority of NFL teams currently believe they have their guy in place or won’t have the resources to get in the race. It really seems like we’re down to one likely landing spot, at this point.

Teddy Bridgewater, QB

After spending the 2018 season marinating as a backup on the Saints roster, Teddy Bridgewater was certainly hoping for more of a robust market for possible starting quarterbacks. Unfortunately for the one-time first-round pick, most of the league at least has hope that their current starter is their long-term solution. The mere brief glimpses (24 regular season passes) we’ve had at him since 2015 isn’t enough to create a seismic change in any team’s plans, either.

Logical fit: Cincinnati Bengals

At this point, the Bengals have to admit that Andy Dalton is not good enough to effectively guide the roster unless it’s absolutely stocked with talent. It’s been apparent for years but the evidence is damning at this point. With Marvin Lewis now gone, this may finally be the year they bring in some realistic competition for Dalton.

Tyrod Taylor, QB

Tyrod Taylor is a competent NFL quarterback who is right on the line between capable but low-end starter and high-end backup. He showed last season that he’s not a player who can elevate players around him in a bad situation. Officially in the “bridge quarterback” stage of his career, Taylor will have a market as teams look for a temporary solution.

Logical fit: Washington Redskins

Washington basically just has to pretend they’re playing with $20 million less than the rest of the league for the time being with Alex Smith’s albatross contracts on the books despite his injury status. Taylor feels like a fine Band-Aid on the situation who should come in at a modest $15 million per year salary.

Skill position players

Le’Veon Bell, RB

After sitting out all of 2019 in protest, Le’Veon Bell will finally get the chance to reach the open market and cash in. The question is whether a team will shell out the $14 million-plus Bell is likely looking for. Even given some the evidence 2019 provided against running backs being a position that dramatically moves the needle, Bell is enough of a difference-maker that he should be coveted by a handful of teams.

Logical fit: Oakland Raiders

Many more teams would send fantasy players into a tizzy. Too bad. The Raiders have a gaping hole at running back, a bevy of resources and nary an identity of offense. The eager Jon Gruden could view a feature back like Le’Veon Bell as the centerpiece of his scoring unit for years to come. Bell’s market may not be as hot as he once hoped for a year ago but the Raiders will be his safety net.

Tevin Coleman, RB

Despite a career-high 4.8 yards per carry, the 2018 season provided plenty of evidence as to why Tevin Coleman is merely a complementary piece to a backfield. He had several games where he was a complete non-factor. Not a great showing in his one audition season without Devonta Freeman. Nevertheless, Coleman clearly has juice and would fit in as a big play asset for a variety of teams. While his impact in the passing game took a hit in back-to-back years under Steve Sarkisian, he has demonstrated ability there.

Logical fit: New York Jets

The Jets can get out of Isaiah Crowell’s contract this offseason and the new staff might be tempted to do so after his mediocre 2018 run as a starter. Coleman would provide a home run threat for a team that needs to surrounds Sam Darnold with more playmakers.

Atlanta Falcons running back Tevin Coleman (26) fends off Arizona Cardinals free safety Antoine Bethea (41) during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 16, 2018, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Danny Karnik)
Tevin Coleman didn't thrive as a true lead back but would bring juice to any backfield. (AP Photo/Danny Karnik)

Mark Ingram, RB

Despite being a strong runner, Mark Ingram is unlikely to be met with a booming market. Given the hesitation teams have in dishing out big resources to running backs off the elite tier and the lack of open depth chart holes, it’s not a player’s market. Ingram also saw his touches per game dip this year following a great 2017 season. Ingram is still an above average back but may have to wait out the first few waves of free agency before landing a new home.

Logical fit: Miami Dolphins

The Dolphins look headed for a complete teardown, which would seem an odd fit for a back who will turn 30 this December. Yet, they could afford to allocate a few million for Ingram and place him in a committee with talented incumbent, Kenyan Drake. It would also make sense for Ingram to take a prove-it-deal and try to hit the market with more momentum in 2020.

Golden Tate, WR

It’s easy to forget given what a dud his half-season stint with the Eagles turned out to be, but Golden Tate was still playing to peak form early in 2018. Tate was on pace for 1,182 yards on 100 through seven games with the Lions. His yards and catches per game averages with Detroit last year were his highest since 2014. One of the best slot receivers in the game who brings a physical edge in contested situations and with the ball in his hands, Tate will be coveted. He should easily fetch the $10 million-plus he’s reportedly seeking despite being in his 30’s.

Logical fit: Indianapolis Colts

The Colts will certainly be in the market for wide receiver help after Chester Rodgers, Ryan Grant, Zach Pascal and Dontrelle Inman all took turns as the No. 2 and 3 wideouts. Only Inman out of that cohort cleared 10 yards per catch. Tate would fill an immediate need and the Colts have the money to spend. Indianapolis likes to use Hilton out of the slot on occasion but this would only increase their offensive versatility.

Jamison Crowder, WR

After an extremely promising 2016 campaign as a big play option from the slot, Jamison Crowder’s stock has slipped. Injuries took a small toll in 2017 and a massive one last year. His down year with just 29 catches over nine games will make for a severely depressed market. However, in a weak wide receiver group, Crowder should get some interest as a proven asset at a slot position that’s becoming more important in today’s offenses.

Logical fit: Green Bay Packers

It looks like Randall Cobb’s time with the Packers has finally run out. Green Bay could see Crowder as a bargain replacement after carrying Cobb’s $12 million cap charges over the last two years. The Packers desperately need another veteran presence in their wide receiver rotation outside of Davante Adams.

Tyrell Williams, WR

Two years removed from what appeared to be a breakout season, Tyrell Williams watched his catches and yards dip in 2017 and 2018. His strongest supporters can easily write that off to more faces emerging as options in the Chargers passing game alongside him, such as Hunter Henry in 2017 and Mike Williams this past year. Yet, he’s a proven vertical threat who is dynamic with the ball in his hands on crossing patterns. He’s entering the market at the perfect time at age 27 on a market that isn’t rich with top-level receivers.

Logical fit: New Orleans Saints

The Saints have the fifth-fewest cap space ($10.8 million) in the NFL at this time but are no strangers to making a splash move even when money is tight. It was clear late last season that this offense needed steady playmakers in the passing game beyond just Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara. Williams speed after the catch on in-breaking routes would be deadly in a Drew Brees attack.

John Brown, WR

When viewed in context John Brown crushed his one-year audition with the Ravens. Not only did he stay healthy for 16 games, Brown was on pace for 1,068 yards before Baltimore took the air out of the ball with Lamar Jackson as the starter. He can clearly ball and was one of the best deep threats in the NFL last season. Brown will be coveted by a team looking to beef up its passing attack more than the Ravens appear to be at this time. Not just a vertical receiver, Brown gets open at the rate of NFL stars when healthy.

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Logical fit: Cleveland Browns

Cleveland has the fifth-most cap space in the NFL and should be looking to go all-in with surrounding Bake Mayfield with what he needs to be maximized. Chief among them: Another asset on the offensive line and a big play receiver. Brown fits the latter. Mayfield was sixth in the NFL in deep passing yards, per PFF, despite not playing a full season, and would make beautiful music with Smoke.

Jared Cook, TE

It went unnoticed because the team was such a mess but Jared Cook enjoyed career-high numbers across the board as the clear lead receiver for the Raiders. Cook will turn 32 in April but remains one of the more dynamic threats at the tight end position. He ranked second with seven deep catches and third in yardage, per Pro Football Focus. With plenty of teams in need of a starter at tight end, Cook should find a solid market despite being a bit of a mercurial player throughout the duration of his career.

Logical fit: Houston Texans

It makes little sense for the Raiders, who are flushed with cap space to work with, to let one of their few playmakers walk out the door. If Cook does leave in the pursuit of a contender, Houston is an easy fit. The Texans desperately need pass-catching help but could convince themselves they are fine at receiver with a healthy Keke Coutee and Will Fuller in 2019. Such a case cannot be made at tight end.

Notable offensive linemen

Daryl Williams, T

A contingent of Panthers fans will tell you that Daryl Williams’ 2017 All-Pro selection was fraudulent given how much help the team allocated to his side with extra blocker. They may well be right but in a league starved for tackle help, expect the 26-year old to have a good market. Even if he’s an average starter, Williams would upgrade several teams right tackle spot.

Logical fit: Buffalo Bills

The Panthers seem interested in bringing Williams back but the sizably cheaper Taylor Moton proved to be a plus asset at right tackle. The Bills could look to expand their Carolina pipeline by adding Williams to anchor one side of their line. 2018 starting right tackle Jordan Mills is a free agent, was a nightmare as a run blocker and allowed 34 hurries.

Rodger Saffold, G

One of the steadier members of the Rams offensive line, Rodger Saffold will walk into the market as one of the few clearly above average interior players. A great run blocker and capable pass protector, Saffold could strike big on this next contract despite turning 31 this summer. Right place, right time.

Logical fit: Arizona Cardinals

The Cardinals get to ding their top division-rival and improve their own offense all in one move. Arizona’s offensive line ranked 25th in Football Outsiders adjusted line yards metric and let Josh Rosen get pummeled with sacks. It does not matter what other transformation takes place on this unit if the line doesn’t improve. The Cardinals just shelled out money to Justin Pugh at one guard spot but Saffold would solidify their gaping left guard hole.

Trent Brown, T

Trent Brown was a bargain deal for the Patriots, playing for less than $2 million after the team acquired him for the 95th overall pick in the 2018 draft. While he was meant to be an option at right tackle, he moved to the left side and was an excellent player for all 16 games. He might be a risky signing with such a short resume as a blindside blocker but the league is in dire need for fresh tackle starters. Some team will view him as a solution, whether it’s on the right or left side.

Logical fit: Houston Texans

Even if Brown is a classic post Patriots hype overpay, the Texans don’t really have much of a choice. Some teams have one tackle spot held down by a literal nightmare. Houston has two. If he sticks at left tackle, he would replace Julie’n Davenport, who allowed a league-high 67 pressure, per PFF. He would be a massive upgrade.

Top defenders

Sheldon Richardson, DT

Sheldon Richardson took a one-year stint with the Seahawks in 2017 and may only end up a rental for the Vikings too. He looks like he’s heading into the man for hire phase of his career. Richardson was still a good player in 2018, ranking top-15 in interior defensive linemen pressures with the Vikings. Given how coveted inside pressure is these days, it’s not out of the question some team overlooks his off-field concerns and forks over a multi-year deal.

Logical fit: New England Patriots

The Patriots look likely to lose a good young player on the defensive line in Trey Flowers. While Richardson doesn’t play the same position, he would bring teeth to a pass rush that wasn’t consistent in 2018. New England is never shy about taking risks and would be a sensible addition if Richardson has to settle for a rental agreement again.

Ndamukong Suh, DT

The NFL’s top defensive mercenary, Ndamukong Suh could look to sign another short-term deal with a new contender if the Rams don’t bring him back for an encore. Suh had a quiet regular season but kicked things into high gear when the post season arrived. Still a strong run defender who can collapse the pocket, someone will match Suh’s asking price.

Logical fit: Kansas City Chiefs

The Chiefs badly need an enforcer. For as much flack as their secondary caught, Kansas City was laughably bad against the run. A stronger front would prevent situations where a team like New England can build an early lead on them. Suh would also complement ascending pass rushers Chris Jones and Dee Ford with Justin Houston looking on his way out.

Ezekiel Ansah, EDGE

A pass rusher who has shown dominant flashes at times in his career, Ezekiel Ansah should still make a splash on the open market. After all the franchise tag decisions come in, Ansah could well be the top edge defender on the market. Injuries were an issue last season but he’s just two years removed from a 12-sack season and enjoyed a dominant 14.5-sack season in 2015 with 34 quarterback hits.

Logical fit: Oakland Raiders

Even Jon Gruden spent weeks publicly decrying his defense’s lack of a pass rush, a strange move considering he traded away their star edge defender. It feels like a lock the Raiders will pursue one of the top rushers in free agency, as well as take some swings in the draft.

Trey Flowers, EDGE

Almost certain to make big money, Trey Flowers is hitting the market at the right time coming off a strong postseason run. The Patriots have not shown much urgency to pay edge rushers of late and Flowers is likely the latest player they’ll let walk. Whether he can thrive as top pass rusher outside of New England’s twist and stunt-heavy scheme is another question.

Logical fit: Detroit Lions

Ezekiel Ansah will likely walk in free agency and the Lions will need an edge rusher to replace and even upgrade on his efforts. Trey Flowers has familiarity with now Lions head coach Matt Patricia and would make for a natural fit here.

Earl Thomas, S

The 2018 season was a star-crossed one of Earl Thomas. When he finally ended his holdout with the Seahawks after they declined to trade him, he returned to play just four games before breaking his leg. Thomas’ play in that brief glimpse confirmed he has not yet lost a step. He’s a virtual lock to find a new team and would be a game-changer for any number of secondaries.

Logical fit: San Francisco 49ers

The division-rival 49ers have the cap space to satisfy Thomas’ sure-to-be hefty contract demands. San Francisco already pried one former Seahawks’ great last offseason and could make it two this year. The entire secondary outside of Richard Sherman was an utter liability in 2018.

Tyrann Mathieu, S

Tyrann Mathieu was an excellent safety as a one-year option for the Texans. While it’s more than conceivable that Houston brings him back after such a strong effort Mathieu could find bigger money on the open market. The safety position is a tough one to fill and Mathieu was close to a return to peak form in 2018.

Logical fit: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Bruce Arians and Tyrann Mathieu could find a reunion mutually agreeable. The Buccaneers have been broken in the secondary for multiple years now. An anchor at safety would be exactly what the team sporting the 30th ranked pass defense by DVOA needs.