Free Agency is right around the corner for the NFL, providing teams the opportunity to add valuable players as they try to make a run for a Super Bowl Championship. Multiple teams like the Cleveland Browns, New York Jets, San Francisco 49ers, and Indianapolis Colts have upwards of $100 million to play with in free agency. Is there anybody who can make a splash in free agency like the Jacksonville Jaguars did just one year ago? Here we will take a look at where we think the top NFL free agents will be heading.
Kirk Cousins; QB- New York Jets
Cousins is the first legitimate franchise quarterback to hit the open market in a long time. And with multiple teams in dire need of one, Cousins will have a large list of suitors looking to sign him. This will most likely lead to an all-out bidding war that will most definitely make Cousins the richest player in NFL history (at least until another franchise quarterback needs a new deal). All factors included, this leaves the New York Jets, Cleveland Browns, and Denver Broncos as finalists for Cousins services. I see the Browns taking the draft approach to find their next QB and the Broncos likely won’t have enough money to sign him to the deal he will be seeking, making him a New York Jet. They will have the money needed to sign him and they have a solid core moving forward consisting of their dynamic safety pairing of Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye, a solid WR core that consists of breakout man Robby Anderson (assuming he takes care of his legal troubles) and Quincy Enunwa who played outstanding before a neck injury sidelined him last year, and a quality front seven which includes star DL Leonard Williams. Plus, newly appointed offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates worked under Cousins former head coach Mike Shanahan, so there is familiarity in the system that the Jets will run. It’s really a match made in heaven.
Le’veon Bell; RB- Pittsburgh Steelers
Bell has been a workhorse for the Steelers ever since he was drafted by them in the 2nd round back in 2013 draft. He’s arguably the best RB in the NFL right now and is an integral part of what the Steelers do on offense. There is no way the Steelers are going to let him walk, at least for the season coming up. Although there is some concern about his long term health, he’s been healthy long enough where that shouldn’t be an issue when deciding on a salary for Bell. His elite level talent and skill make it almost impossible to replace, he ranks second in the NFL in total yards and yards per game in 2017 and he handled the ball 406 times throughout last year. And most importantly, he’s made it awfully clear that he wants to remain in Pittsburgh on multiple occasions. They should be able to get salary through restructuring other contracts, but they should be able to get it done.
Trumaine Johnson; CB- Houston Texans
After being franchise tagged in back-to-back seasons by the Rams, it’s difficult seeing Los Angeles retaining the 28-year old CB. Especially with their addition of all-pro Marcus Peters in a trade with the Kansas City Chiefs. That leaves Johnson on the open market, and the Texans seem to be the best fit. They have the cap space, $58 million to be exact, and the ability to get back in the playoff picture with a stud young QB. They also have an excellent defensive coaching staff that will be able to get a lot out of Johnson. The Texans have a gigantic hole in their secondary, since A.J Bouye left for the Jaguars last offseason. Plus, we should expect Houston to prioritize free agency since their first rounder will be property of the Cleveland Browns. Johnson makes the most sense in Houston.
Andrew Norwell; G- San Francisco 49ers
After finally solving the puzzle that was the franchise quarterback, the 49ers enter this offseason with the mission of bringing in as many pieces to fit around star QB Jimmy Garoppolo. Norwell fits the bill, bringing protection on the offensive line. Norwell will get paid, probably the highest amount for a guard in NFL history, and the 49ers have the money to give Norwell. Also, playing for a team on the rise should be very appealing to the 26-year old guard. The 49ers, who went 1-9 before the acquisition of Garoppolo, eventually finished the season at 6-10 after rattling off 5 straight wins in which Garoppolo started. We saw immediate payoff from starting the 26-year old QB, leading many to think that the 49ers might be dangerous this coming season. Why wouldn’t Norwell want to be here for an up-and-coming young offense that could push for a playoff berth within one year of signing?
Malcolm Butler; CB- New York Jets
Butler’s ties with New England were essentially cut when he did not play one snap during Super Bowl 52. Why did this happen? We may never know but a team with dire need at cornerback will give him top-10 CB money. The Jets have the dire need at corner, especially if they allow in-house free agent Morris Claiborne to hit the open market where he most definitely will be moving elsewhere. The only other corner options on the team are slot-corner Buster Skrine and a trio of underperforming young players in Juston Burris, Rashard Robinson, and Jeremy Clark. They also will have the money to pick up multiple impact players. Both the need and the money line up here. What’s even better is there’s mutual hate towards the Patriots. I can’t wait to see the headlines for the first Jets-Patriots matchup next season.
Sammy Watkins; WR- Los Angeles Rams
Ever since Watkins was acquired by the Rams, he hasn’t exactly been the brightest spot in the receiving corps, but he is by far the most talented. Not only that, but he is probably the most talented receiver available in free agency this offseason (assuming Jarvis Landry’s franchise tag doesn’t allow him to move anywhere). But issues with consistency on the field with quarterback Jared Goff and a laundry list of injuries, should prohibit any team from committing big dollars towards him. Because of this, I see the Rams using the franchise tag on him this year, giving him another year to essentially “prove-it” before they give him a long-term extension later on this year.
DeMarcus Lawrence; DE- Dallas Cowboys
The value of the pass rush in the NFL has skyrocketed in recent years as teams realize to beat legendary QB’s like Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, etc.… Should he hit the open market, I could see him netting a contract that would make him the highest paid pass rusher in the league. But, multiple insiders have stated on numerous occasions that the Cowboys will put at least one form of franchise tag on Lawrence. It makes sense, his production his first four years in the league were abysmal, with injuries possibly playing a significant role. He’s only 26, and should reach an agreement to keep him a Cowboy for at least the next four years.
Allen Robinson; WR- Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jaguars are coming off a season where they made it all the way to the AFC Championship, before floundering against the New England Patriots. They exceeded expectations greatly, all while not having their top receiver from 2016-2017. The Jaguars have an excellent team, and they are only on the rise due to the majority of their stars being in their early-mid 20s. It doesn’t make sense for Robinson to leave, he was their number 1 receiver the year before last and who would’ve known what would’ve happened in New England if Robinson was healthy. At least give it one year to see whether or not it will work out. Also, he’s established himself in Jacksonville, and no one likes leaving somewhere they’ve established themselves. We think he signs a one year “prove-it” deal similar to what Alshon Jeffrey got from the Eagles last offseason.