Posted in: NFL
As we get ready for what looks like an epic Super Bowl LIII, it’s natural to start looking ahead to the offseason and ponder what kind of moves the league’s 32 teams will be making to replenish the cupboards. The NFL Draft gets underway on Thursday, April 25, and preparations are in full swing on that front.
Prior to that, the new league year begins in March, and the usual free agency frenzy will get underway. A number of intriguing names could hit the market, especially on the defensive side of the ball. Before we get to that point, teams will have the opportunity to slap on franchise and transition tags for the key players they hope to keep in the fold.
Contract options and restricted free agents need to be tended to as well, but the bottom line is this: there will be plenty of talent on the open market. Teams with the salary cap space available to do plenty of shopping will be very active, while those with tight budgets will pick their spots and pounce. In the end, we will have a lot of faces in new places, and some squads will be able to position themselves to improve in a hurry.
So who are the best of the best players out there who could be in the market for new homes come March? Let’s take a look at the biggest names that may hit the open market, as well as a number of other players to keep an eye on.
One of the more fascinating developments in the second half of the regular season was the evolution of the Dallas Cowboys defense into one of the top units in the league. The highlight was a 13-10 shutdown of the high-powered New Orleans Saints on Thursday Night Football, a game which sent a clear message to the rest of the league.
DeMarcus Lawrence was a huge piece of the puzzle, and he’ll be highly sought after if he actually hits the market. It’s tough to see the Cowboys letting a 26-year-old top pass rusher walk away, and Lawrence has indicated that he would like to stay in the fold.
Another elite defender from deep in the heart of Texas could hit the open market as well. The top pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, Clowney was viewed as somewhat of a disappointment in the early years of his career. That chatter has gone by the wayside. The 25-year-old is coming off of perhaps the finest season of his young career, and the arrow is pointing up.
Similar to Lawrence, it’s pretty hard to see the Texans encouraging him to take his talents elsewhere. Stranger things have happened, but it looks like Clowney will serve as one of the anchors of the Texans defense in the coming years.
The Le’Veon Bell saga was one of the stories that just would not die during the 2018 season. One of the top offensive players in the entire league decided to sit out as opposed to playing under the terms of his current deal. Bell feels he’s worth more, but he also cost himself about $14.5 million in salary.
Whether that gamble will pay off or not remains to be seen, but there’s little doubt Bell will have his fair share of suitors. He’s just 26-years-old, so there should be plenty of tread left on his tires. That said, a year away opens up questions on what to expect when he finally gets back on the field.
Grady Jarrett is among the defensive linemen who are going to be compensated handsomely this offseason. The Falcons could very well slap the franchise tag on him if a deal can’t be reached. It’s not a stretch to call him the best player on the defensive side of the ball in Atlanta.
That means there will be attempts to reach a long-term deal. If the Falcons hit the right notes, then we would assume Jarrett will stay put. If no deal is reached, then the franchise tag is probably coming. Whether Jarrett will be happy with that or not remains to be seen.
Dee Ford is not the most popular person in Kansas City these days. His offsides penalty in the AFC Championship Game versus the New England Patriots cost the Chiefs a crucial interception. The frustration over that play will pass as reality sets in for Chiefs fans: there were plenty of other reasons why the game turned out the way it did.
On the field, Ford is a difference maker for the Chiefs, and we would imagine the club will attempt to lock him up or apply a tag to retain his services. Ford is just 27 and a solid defender. He will score a nice payday in the offseason one way or the other.
This was supposed to be a transition year for the Seattle Seahawks, but it certainly didn’t wind up as one. The team evolved into one of the better ones in the NFC and snagged a Wild Card berth. The defensive side of the ball was a big part of the team’s success.
That being the case, we would expect the Seahawks to do what they can to keep the band together. A top priority will be locking up Frank Clark, a player who hit a career high with 13 sacks. A franchise tag could be in the 25-year-old’s future if a deal can’t be reached.
Trey Flowers was drafted in the fourth round in 2015, and he has developed into one of the most important pieces of the puzzle for the Patriots. His contract is up, and Flowers could hit the market with a Super bowl ring. That would naturally boost his bargaining power, but there’s no guarantee it’ll get that far.
The Patriots are not shy about shuffling the decks as needed, but a 25-year-old with both room to grow and familiarity with their complex system doesn’t exactly grow on trees. We would expect Flowers to stay put in New England.
A shoulder injury brought an abrupt end to the 2018 season for Landon Collins. While there’s a chance that could impact his value, it’s unlikely that Collins wouldn’t see plenty of interest were he to hit the market.
The 25-year-old has been a top defender for the Giants, so we would presume the team will do what they can to keep him in house. That could mean a long-term contract or a tag, but we’re not expecting Collins to be able to test the waters.
The 17th pick of the 2014 NFL Draft, C.J. Mosley has developed into one of the top players on the tough Ravens defense. While that points to the team looking to extend their union, recent comments suggest they won’t be opening the vaults up for him either.
That could be mere posturing of course, but there’s no telling where things will go once negotiations start hitting the press. This is a situation that bears watching, as Mosley will attract plenty of interest if talks break down.
Lamarcus Joyner signed a franchise tag with the Rams last year. Will he be apt to do so again if he has a Super Bowl in his back pocket? Time will tell on that, but it’s clear that the Rams hold him in high regard. Perhaps that will lead to a long-term deal this time around.
While unlikely as of right now, the 28-year-old would be a hot commodity in free agency if he gets that far. He’s a versatile defensive back who has more than paid off the second round investment the team made in him back in 2014.
Sheldon Richardson, DT, Minnesota Vikings: Richardson could be in the market for a new destination. After beginning his career with the Jets, he spent a year with the Seahawks and last year with the Vikings. The 28-year-old could hold out for a long-term deal this time around.
Tyrann Mathieu, S, Houston Texans: He signed a one-year deal with the Texans last offseason. Is the team ready to commit long-term or will Mathieu be on the hunt for a new team that will do the same? Stay tuned.
Anthony Barr, LB, Minnesota Vikings: The Vikings as a whole were a disappointment this season, but Barr had a solid season for a unit which more was expected of. Does the team want to give it another shot with key pieces or mix things up in the offseason?
Preston Smith, LB, Washington Redskins: A 2015 second-rounder, Smith was one of the better players on defense for a Redskins team which was decimated by injury. The Redskins can be unpredictable, so we’ll wait and see what that means for Smith.
Za’Darius Smith, LB, Baltimore Ravens: Another key piece of the Ravens defense is set to hit free agency if no deal is reached. Smith contributed 8.5 sacks last year and has been consistently improving since being selected in Round 4 in 2015.
Mark Ingram, RB, New Orleans Saints: It’s unclear if the 2011 first-rounder will return to the Saints or hit the market. With Alvin Kamara in the fold, the team can probably replace Ingram on the cheap and allow him to move on to find more of a lead back role.
Tevin Coleman, RB, Atlanta Falcons: Coleman would also be on of the top running backs on the market if he gets that far. He has been in a committee role while with the Falcons, but he has shown moments of explosiveness during his four-year career.
Bradley Roby, CB, Denver Broncos: A first-rounder in 2014, Roby is due to get paid. Whether that’s by the Broncos or somebody else remains to be seen, but he would be one of the top DBs available this offseason and attract plenty of interest as a result.
Daryl Williams, OT, Carolina Panthers: This one comes with an asterisk, as Williams missed a lot of time with a knee injury this season. Assuming all is well, a solid offensive lineman such as Williams would attract plenty of interest on the open market
Teddy Bridgewater, QB, New Orleans Saints: There could be more names available at QB, but Bridgewater is the top available for the time being. He spent last year on the sidelines for the Saints, but he could attract interest from those on the hunt for a bridgegap starter or solid backup.