NFL Free Agency: Most logical fits for Philip Rivers, Tom Brady, and more

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The NFL’s free agency is one of the more exciting periods on the offseason calendar. Known players change jerseys, teams improve and perhaps most fascinating, organizations tip their hand as to where they believe they stand.

The 2020 free agency crop brings layers of storylines. We’re going to get one of the most enthralling quarterback markets in recent memory. The Cowboys will have to let at least one elite player walk. More than one pass-catcher will change hands and shake up a team’s rotation.

Here, we’ll examine 20 of the most notable free agents who could hit the market, along with their most logical landing spots.

While it’s fun to wish-cast all of these players to spots that would make our fantasy hearts flutter, we’ll pair them with spots that could reasonably happen.

If Amari Cooper escapes the tag in Dallas, he will likely hit the open market and find himself on a new team soon. (Photo by Jorge Lemus/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
If Amari Cooper escapes the tag in Dallas, he will likely hit the open market and find himself on a new team soon. (Photo by Jorge Lemus/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Likely franchise tag recipients

Dak Prescott

Derrick Henry

A.J. Green

Brandon Scherff

Chris Jones

Justin Simmons

Shaquil Barrett

Yannick Ngakoue

Matthew Judon

Bud Dupree

Anthony Castonzo

Quarterbacks

Tom Brady

By all accounts, we’re at the end of the road for Tom Brady in New England. That is weird as hell to type. If he remains unsigned when the new league year arrives, all bets are off and he’s probably as good as gone. The Patriots supporting cast was hideous in 2019 and Brady showed noticeable signs of decline. Both things can be true. In a near-ideal setup with weapons and protection, Brady can be a one- to two-year solution for a team looking to turn the page at quarterback while still sporting a big-name player.

Logical fit: Las Vegas Raiders

Honestly, there aren’t many easy spots to slot one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game. Again, that’s weird as hell to type. However, the Raiders have always stood out. It helps that head coach Jon Gruden is a bonafide quarterback collector but consider how desperately Mike Mayock wanted to establish a culture with his draft picks last season. Brady would do that instantly. Additionally, he’d appeal to the newly relocated team trying to put cheeks in the seats. Brady is not the player he once was but he’s made chicken salad out of worse pass-catching corps than the Raiders crew of Tyrell Williams, Darren Waller, Hunter Renfrow and whoever else they add in April’s draft. 

Ryan Tannehill

The Titans’ truly feasible interest in coaxing Tom Brady down south should lead you to believe that if only one tag is available, they’ll slap it on Derrick Henry as the identity of their team over Ryan Tannehill. If a new CBA isn’t approved by the time the league year kicks off, expect them to hit Henry with the transition and Tannehill with the franchise. We should not view Tannehill as a flash-in-the-pan veteran revival. In 2019, he showed all the traits you want in an above-average modern-era NFL quarterback.

Logical fit: Tennessee Titans

By hook or by crook, these two need to stay together for the kids. The Titans have to figure out a way to retain the Comeback Player of the Year. He was simply too good and elevated the work of core youngsters like Henry and A.J. Brown. If they fail to run it back with Tannehill, the Titans are looking at Brady or bust. That is not an acceptable stance.

Philip Rivers

The long-time Chargers quarterback ended his illustrious career with the transient California team on a decidedly dull note. Hideous fourth-quarter performances and a noticeably declining arm put him in the crosshairs of the coaching staff. Nevertheless — and despite almost earning a benching at least once in the second half of 2019 — some team with a strong infrastructure will look at Philip Rivers and see just enough skills to slide him in as a bridge quarterback. 

Logical fit: Indianapolis Colts

It almost makes too much sense. Not only does Rivers have connections with Frank Reich and offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni, but the Colts also possess the type of supporting cast the veteran passer requires at this stage. The offensive line alone is a huge boost for the immobile passer, who sported an 8:12 touchdown-to-interception ratio last season.

Teddy Bridgewater

Smart, accurate and by all accounts beloved by his teammates, Teddy Bridgewater looks like the perfect candidate for a squad searching for a temporary starter who’s more than a placeholder. Bridgewater flashed everything you want from an, at least, average starting quarterback in his run as the Saints replacement for Drew Brees. He won’t put up the same numbers outside of that ecosystem but he’s still young, which sets him apart from the other passers on the QB carousel.

Logical fit: New England Patriots

Should the Patriots indeed let Tom Brady slip from their grasp, Bridgewater stands out as a fine stopgap. He’s good enough to sell an accustomed-to-winning fanbase that the team is far from throwing in the towel in 2020. However, he’s not so threatening that Bill Belichick and co. can’t begin looking to craft a plan for the future behind center.

Jameis Winston

Jameis Winston is one of the hardest players to find a home for on this list. His big-play ability is proven, almost as much as his propensity for maddening turnovers. Unless his Lasik surgery from last month has truly altered the course of his career, how can any franchise possibly convince themselves this is their organization’s hope for the future? He feels like every team’s third or fourth choice.

Logical fit: Chicago Bears

It’s hard to sell Jameis as a clear upgrade for any of the teams searching for a quarterback this offseason. Perhaps if the quarterback market wasn’t set to be so flush in both the draft and free agency, he would be more of a desirable piece. Alas, he’s found himself in the wrong year. No matter where he goes, he’s going to have to compete for a job. The Bears cannot possibly sell their fanbase on Mitchell Trubisky as the lone option behind center. Winston won’t be their savior either but if Trubisky flops again, he’d at least bring a totally different vibe to the offense. 

Skill-Position players

Amari Cooper

It is far from a foregone conclusion that Amari Cooper returns to Dallas. Keep in mind, should the new CBA fail to pass before the start of this league year, the Cowboys can easily slap the second (transition) tag on Cooper and keep him in town. However, if he hits the open market, someone is likely to make him an offer he can't refuse and he’ll bolt. Such is the nature of free agency. In my view, despite his clear peaks, Cooper is still far too inconsistent on a game-by-game, or route-to-route, basis to pay top-five wideout money as a true No. 1 WR.

That doesn’t mean some team won’t do it anyway.  

Logical fit: Denver Broncos

Denver has cap flexibility and a promising quarterback on a rookie deal. Cooper functions best as a flanker receiver that can move around at the line and spend time in the slot. The Broncos already have the ideal complement in Courtland Sutton. Elway needs to win; this will help.

Hunter Henry

The Chargers are set for so much upheaval this offseason that they might elect to hold onto the talented tight end. Don’t be shocked if he gets franchised. However, Henry’s clear abilities will help lurking teams on the open market overlook his injury-haunted past and coax him out of LA with a big deal.

Logical fit: New England Patriots

The Patriots are used to sacrificing a clean bill of health for talent at the tight end position. Adding Henry would be a step in the right direction on the road to fixing what was a ghastly pass-catching group in 2019. Brady or not, they can’t throw anyone behind center in New England without upgraded weaponry. Maybe Henry would help entice Brady back to the only team he’s ever known.

Robby Anderson

A bit of a tease the last two seasons, Robby Anderson is best known for his deep game prowess but has skills to separate across the route tree. He isn’t a No. 1 but, from a pure tools perspective, would be a welcome addition to any receiver room. Of course, there’s plenty of off-field baggage in his past to consider. 

Logical fit: Arizona Cardinals

The Cardinals have the makings of an intriguing offense with Kyler Murray showing layers of promise as a rookie passer and a consistently strong running game. An outside receiver is a desperate need and Arizona should add more than one option this offseason. Anderson’s speed could help Murray’s arm talent truly sing in 2020. 

Emmanuel Sanders

The veteran receiver is coming off a campaign in which he not only made a stunning recovery from an Achilles injury but also showed he can still transform a passing game. Emmanuel Sanders instantly brought credibility to the 49ers’ receiver room. Not only did he offer his own big weeks, his route-running prowess helped create space for the other members of the pass-catching corps.

Logical fit: San Francisco 49ers

No need to disrupt this marriage. The 49ers can’t afford to lose a strong presence like Sanders at a position without much depth while they’re in a championship window.  

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Austin Hooper

Despite not playing a full season, Austin Hooper finished 2019 as the sixth-best tight end in fantasy football. He was on a true tear before a midseason knee injury, cementing the reality that he’d taken the next step as a player. Expect Hooper to cash in as good young tight ends don’t often find their way onto the market.

Logical fit: Green Bay Packers

Brian Gutekunst already proved he will buck the ways of his predecessor when he swung big to fix the team’s pass rush woes in last year’s free agency period. As we enter the twilight of Aaron Rodgers’ career, the franchise’s focus must be about going all-in to surround the future Hall of Famer with an embarrassment of riches on offense. Swapping the ghost of Jimmy Graham for Hooper would be a massive upgrade.

Melvin Gordon

Melvin Gordon admitted that missing time in training camp and eventually game days sunk his 2019 season prospects. He’s probably looking at a prove-it deal in free agency now. There is no denying he’s had some fantastic career peaks while offering a power element with a flare of receiving ability. 

Logical fit: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

When he wasn’t annoyed with his quarterback, Bruce Arians was clearly frustrated by the lack of a clear leader in his backfield. The need is there. Given his pedigree, Gordon will likely come cheap for a coach who wants to win before officially ending his NFL career for good. He’d be a hit for fantasy in this landing spot while getting another shot to cash in at the end of what will likely be a short-term contract. 

Kenyan Drake

Kenyan Drake hit the ground running as soon as he arrived in Arizona midseason. He went on to keep an iron grip on the featured back gig in Kliff Kingsbury’s offense, averaging 80 yards per game over eight contests. While not a proven workhorse over the long haul, Drake has shown the pure rushing ability of a top-flight back in spurts.

Logical fit: Arizona Cardinals

The universe can’t really rob the fantasy community of the opportunity to hype Drake into a fringe Round 1 selection by taking him out of Arizona, right? In all seriousness, this union should stay bonded. Drake spent too many years toiling in ugly committees in Miami to want a divorce from a coach who immediately trusted him as a lead back. 

The fantasy community needs Kenyan Drake on the Cardinals. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
The fantasy community needs Kenyan Drake on the Cardinals. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Breshad Perriman

It’s wild to say, but when given opportunity, Breshad Perriman has played good football the last two seasons. The one-time Ravens draft bust notably crushed it this past December when injuries struck the Buccaneers receiver corps, averaging over 20 yards per catch and totaling 506 yards with five scores. He’s a gamble worth making this offseason.

Logical fit: Philadelphia Eagles

The Eagles look like they’ll be making a needed full-on reboot of their wide receiver room. Still just 26 years old, Perriman can bring size and more importantly, the speed this squad desperately lacked each of the last two seasons. He would just be one piece of the puzzle but an affordable one.

Notable offensive linemen

Jack Conklin

Coming off a strong season, Jack Conklin finds himself as the third wheel in the Titans free agency conundrum behind Ryan Tannehill and Derrick Henry. He’ll likely hit the open market and as a 25-year-old tackle with an All-Pro season on his resume, he’ll be highly coveted. 

Logical fit: Los Angeles Chargers

So many teams in the NFL could use a capable right tackle like Conklin and have the cash to burn in attracting him. Squads like the Browns and Jets could get wild to bring him in. However, after the Russell Okung trade, the Chargers currently sport one of the most ghastly tackle situations in the entire league. Considering they’re looking to insert either a stopgap veteran or rookie passer to replace Philip Rivers, that is an untenable situation. Conklin would also help blast open holes for Austin Ekeler, who will take on an even bigger role this coming season.

Joe Thuney

The Patriots offensive line was a mess last season — just ask Tom Brady as he prepares to walk out the door. Joe Thuney was their best player in the starting five throughout the 2019 season but looks likely to walk in free agency. The linemen market in free agency is, as usual, shallow. Expect Thuney to cash-in while providing a sensible upgrade for his next team. 

Logical fit: Miami Dolphins

Obviously, a coaching staff pipeline exists between these two AFC East teams. It would make all the sense in the world for Miami to pluck a capable starting offensive lineman from the Patriots. Despite getting some enthralling play from Ryan Fitzpatrick, the Dolphins dealt with some of the worst passing blocking in the NFL last year. That happens to be Thuney’s strength. 

Top defenders

Byron Jones

Byron Jones is a supremely talented athlete who is coming off back-to-back strong seasons. Never one to produce a ton of takeaways, Jones specializes in squaring up with No. 1 receivers and, more often than not, lessening their impact. He let up just 21.9 yards per game in coverage last season, per Sports Info Solutions. A victim of circumstance, Jones is only going to hit the open market thanks to Dallas’ poor contract management with other assets.

Logical fit: Houston Texans

Jones can stay in the state of Texas and prove a huge help for another team looking to make a push to the Super Bowl. Houston Front Office Emperor Bill O’Brien is hellbent on his all-in strategy to get this team over the hump. His secondary became the debilitating weak spot in 2019 that the offensive line occupied in previous years. Adding a proven No. 1 corner shouldn’t be an issue for an organization sitting on $61 million in cap room.

Anthony Harris

In a secondary overflowing with pedigreed players, Anthony Harris emerged at the safety position to become the top dog. He’s going to get loose simply because of the plentiful, fat contracts on the Vikings roster. Harris has the takeaways-chops and stifling coverage skills to be a welcome addition to any defense.

Logical fit: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Perennially sporting a problematic defense, the Bucs have the cap space to finally start to get a handle on the issue. Tampa Bay allowed the most yards to wide receivers and sixth-most to tight ends. As a deep coverage safety, Harris can step in and assist in plugging both leaks. 

Chris Harris

Despite playing a bit out of position as an outside corner for Denver last year, Harris should be coveted on the open market for a team looking to win now. Harris has long been regarded as one of the game’s premier slot coverage players and a return to that position could help prolong his career as he advances into his 30’s. 

Logical fit: Indianapolis Colts

Despite boasting a hefty cap space figure, we should never expect Chris Ballard to go on a spending spree in free agency. That said, an economical veteran signing like Harris makes wonderful sense for where this team currently resides on their arc. Indianapolis gave up the fourth-highest passer rating (110.9) to players lined up in the slot last year.

Jadeveon Clowney

Lauded far more by advanced metrics than traditional counting stats, Jadeveon Clowney is going to find a big payday this March. Despite injuries and a low sack total, Clowney made his presence felt in big moments for Seattle. Pete Carroll and co. may well go hard to retain him but if he gets to the open market, someone will wave off the negatives with Clowney and fork over the cash.

Logical fit: Buffalo Bills

After making it to the playoffs in Josh Allen’s second season, the typically conservative Bills now have all the incentive in the world to get aggressive this offseason and try to make it over the hump. Buffalo has the makings of a fine platoon in their edge defender ranks but Clowney would immediately give them a cornerstone presence. With the third-most cap space in the NFL and with Allen on a rookie deal, they have the money to burn. 

Cory Littleton

After starting 16 games in each of the last two seasons, Cory Littleton has risen up the ranks to become an established linebacker. He’s the epitome of what you want from the position in the modern NFL. Not only does he have the speed to run sideline to sideline in pursuit of spread offenses, but he was also one of the best coverage linebackers in the game last season. 

Logical fit: Kansas City Chiefs

The Chiefs have in-house extensions to be concerned with this offseason but smart contenders always find a way to add at least one crucial contributor each year. Littleton would not only improve Kansas City’s woeful run defense, he’d be a key asset in covering the middle of the field. Their linebackers were a huge weakness last season — part of the reason they allowed the fourth-most catches to tight ends. 

Arik Armstead

Coming off what was easily the best season of his career, Arik Armstead flashed outright dominance in stretches for the NFC Champions. With Nick Bosa pushing the entire front seven’s talent over the top, Armstead flashed as a deadly interior pass rusher. 

Logical fit: San Francisco 49ers

It sounds like a deal to make this return official is already in the works. He’d find a bevy of suitors should he shake free but a reunion with the 49ers as the team tries to run it back would be best for all parties involved.

Follow Matt @MattHarmon_BYB

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