- QB Drew Brees
Prediction: Re-signs with Saints – 2 years, 50 million
Brees is listed as #1 because he’s the best player with an expiring contract, but no one believes he’s going anywhere other than New Orleans. He’s even said he’s willing to take less money to stay in New Orleans if it means his team can add talent at other positions. Brees is going into his age 39 season, but shows no signs of slowing down and his return to New Orleans for a 13th season looks like a mere formality at this point.
- QB Kirk Cousins
Prediction: Signs with Vikings – 4 years, 120 million
Unlike Drew Brees, Kirk Cousins will not be returning and will hit the open market as a franchise quarterback in his prime with no injuries, a very uncommon occurrence in the modern NFL. The Redskins refused to meet his asking price on a long-term deal for 3 off-seasons, slapping the franchise tag on him twice, and eventually trading for Alex Smith as his replacement this off-season. Because of how rarely a quarterback like Cousins hits the open markets, he figures to have many interested suitors this off-season, including some that will offer him record shattering deals.
However, Cousins has said it’s not all about money for him and that he wants to win. Multiple reports have said that Cousins’ first preference is to go to Minnesota, as long as the money is competitive. The Vikings made the NFC Championship last season, but don’t have a quarterback under contract for 2018. They could play it safe and re-sign Case Keenum and Teddy Bridgewater, but Cousins is a surer thing than either of them and it’s looking increasingly likely that Minnesota is leaning that direction. They might not make him the biggest offer, but Cousins should still end up signing the richest contract in NFL history. The Vikings have to extend some young players on expiring contracts, but they should have the cap space to add Cousins to the mix.
- G Andrew Norwell
Prediction: Signs with Giants – 4 years, 50 million
Norwell was talented enough to be franchise tagged, but the Panthers have invested big contracts into left tackle Matt Kalil, right guard Trai Turner, and center Matt Kalil, so the Panthers let him walk. With right tackle Daryl Williams set to hit free agency next off-season and 2017 2nd 2nd round pick Taylor Moton ready to start in Norwell’s spot at left guard, it is an understandable decision. That being said, whichever team ends up signing him should be very happy, as he’s one of the best interior offensive linemen in the league. The Giants need him badly and multiple reports have already connected the dots between Norwell and new Giants GM Dave Gettleman, who signed Norwell as an undrafted free agent in 2014 as the GM of the Panthers.
- WR Allen Robinson
Prediction: Signs with Redskins – 4 years, 56 million
Allen Robinson also could have been franchise tagged, but he tore his ACL week 1 last season and the Jaguars got breakout play from rookies Dede Westbrook and Keelan Cole in his absence, so they’re letting him test the open market. The Redskins are known to be interested and they’ve never been shy about spending money in free agency under owner Dan Snyder. The Redskins missed DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon last season, as Terrelle Pryor and Ryan Grant were underwhelming in their absence. Pryor and Grant are free agents this off-season and the Redskins could definitely shop in the top of the wide receiver market to replace them. Robinson gives them a good wide receiver trio with Josh Doctson and Jamison Crowder.
- DT Sheldon Richardson
Prediction: Signs with Browns – 4 years, 48 million
Richardson was one of the better defensive linemen in the league in 2013 and 2014, but missed 6 games with suspension and injury in 2015 and 2016 combined and ultimately wore out his welcome with the Jets ahead of his contract year in 2017, getting traded to the Seahawks for a 2nd round pick and wide receiver Jermaine Kearse back in August. The Jets ended up being the winners of that trade, as Richardson was underwhelming in his one season with the Seahawks and Jermaine Kearse was arguably the Jets’ best receiver. Now Richardson looks likely to take the biggest offer on the open market, after not being franchised by the cap strapped Seahawks.
Richardson still is only 28 in November and has a dominant top level form, but he’s inconsistent and has clashed with coaching staffs. That will hurt his market, but it’s a weak off-season in terms of top level free agent talent and a lot of teams have money to spend, so he should still get a big payday. The Browns still have a ton of cap space after trades for Tyrod Taylor and Jarvis Landry and now have a need at defensive tackle after trading Danny Shelton to the Patriots for a draft pick. Richardson would pair well inside with Larry Ogunjobi, a 2017 3rd round pick who flashed in limited action as a rookie.
- S Morgan Burnett
Prediction: Signs with Browns – 5 years, 47 million
If trades for Tyrod Taylor and Jarvis Landry are any indication, the Browns have some intention of trying to compete in 2018, which is something that could not be said about them in 2016 and 2017. They may continue to be aggressive in free agency and safety is another position where they could use an upgrade. 2016 4th round pick Derrick Kindred was underwhelming in his first season as the starter and would fit best as a 3rd safety behind 2017 1st round pick Jabrill Peppers and big off-season addition. Morgan Burnett is the top available safety. His age (30 next January) will hurt his market a little bit, but his versatility and the lack of top level talent in this free agency class should have him in high demand and the Browns have the cap space to make an aggressive move for him.
- CB Malcolm Butler
Prediction: Signs with Buccaneers – 5 years, 62 million
We may never know why Malcolm Butler didn’t play in the Super Bowl, but he should still be in high demand as a free agent this off-season, based off of his entire track record in New England. The Buccaneers have a major need at cornerback and the cap space to shop at the top of the market, so they figure to be a major player for him.
- WR Sammy Watkins
Prediction: Signs with Bears – 4 years, 54 million
Sammy Watkins barely has 1000 yards total over the past 2 seasons, after posting a 60/1047/9 slash line in his 2nd season in the league in 2015, but that won’t stop him from getting a big contract in free agency. The former #4 overall pick is still only 25 and has top level ability. Foot injuries limited him mightily in 2016 and led to the Bills not picking up his 5th year injury-guaranteed option for 2018. The Bills then traded him ahead of his contract year to the Rams for a 2nd round pick.
Watkins stayed healthy with the Rams, but only posted a 39/593/8 slash line in 15 games, as he struggled to integrate into the new offense after arriving in August and lost out on targets to players Jared Goff was more comfortable throwing to. Watkins still showed his abilities from time to time and was a threat in the red zone, but the Rams decided to franchise tag safety LaMarcus Joyner instead of him. Now the Rams are at a strong risk of losing him to the highest bidder for nothing. The Bears could easily be that highest bidder, as they badly need a #1 wide receiver for young Mitch Trubisky and have the cap space to outbid the competition. They could also be competitive for Allen Robinson.
- CB Trumaine Johnson
Prediction: Signs with Jets – 4 years, 54 million
Trumaine Johnson has made 30.7 million over the past 2 seasons on two franchise tags. He may have to take a slight pay cut now that he’s actually hit the open market, but he should still be highly paid. A 2012 3rd round pick, Johnson broke out in the final year of his rookie deal in 2015 and was franchise tagged by the Rams instead of Janoris Jenkins. Unable to come to a long-term agreement, Johnson played on the franchise tag in 2016 and played well again, but again was tagged and not given a long-term deal because Wade Phillips was not sure how he’d fit his scheme. He ended up having a down season in 2017 and will likely not be brought back, as the Rams have already acquired Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib to replace him this off-season. The Jets have a big need at cornerback, the cap space to outbid teams for him, and are known to be interested.
- DE Muhammad Wilkerson
Prediction: Signs with Titans – 3 years, 30 million
In 2015, Muhammad Wilkerson was as good as any defensive linemen outside of JJ Watt and Aaron Donald, getting 12 sacks from the 3-4 defensive end position for a Jets defense that almost dragged the team into the playoffs. The Jets rewarded him with a 5-year, 86 million dollar deal, but he seemed to check out after signing, posting underwhelming seasons in 2016 and 2017 and having disciplinary issues. The Jets cut him after 2 years and 37 million, even though they didn’t need the cap space, so Wilkerson will have an opportunity to start fresh somewhere else.
Only 28, Wilkerson could have a bounce back season in 2018 if he’s motivated and has already drawn a lot of interest in free agency. The Titans haven’t been linked to him yet, but they have the cap space to make a competitive offer for him and could use an upgrade on pending free agent defensive end DaQuan Jones. Wilkerson could form a very dangerous duo with Jurrell Casey in the Titans’ 3-4 defense if he can get back to being the player he was.
- G Justin Pugh
Prediction: Signs with the Jaguars – 4 years, 40 million
This is just dot connecting, but the Jaguars make a ton of sense for Justin Pugh, who have some cap space and need to get better in front of Blake Bortles in 2018. Pugh would reunite with his college coach Doug Marrone and his former Giants coach Tom Coughlin in Jacksonville and would fill a big hole at left guard.
- QB Case Keenum
Prediction: Signs with Broncos – 2 years, 36 million
Case Keenum is going to be a very interesting free agency case. He signed for just 2 million on a one-year deal last off-season, but had a breakout year in the absence of an injured Sam Bradford in 2017, leading the Vikings to the NFC Championship game. He figures to get a major pay increase, but the Vikings seem to be leaning towards paying Kirk Cousins instead of bringing back Keenum and there are questions about how Keenum will perform outside of Pat Shurmur’s system.
Still, as we saw with Mike Glennon last off-season, quarterbacks get paid, even if there are major question marks about them. At $18 million, he’d still only be the 17th highest paid quarterback in the NFL and the Broncos aren’t taking a ton of risk with a two-year deal. The Broncos are expected to pursue Kirk Cousins, but, if he goes to Minnesota, Keenum could be a good backup option. The Broncos reportedly tried to trade for him during the 2016 season and Gary Kubiak, who has returned to the team in an advisory role, was the one who originally signed Keenum as an undrafted free agent, back in 2012 with the Texans.
- DT Dontari Poe
Prediction: Signs with Redskins – 3 years, 33 million
Concerns about his back led Dontari Poe to take a one-year prove it deal with the Falcons last off-season. Poe didn’t have his best season in 2017, but played all 16 games and is still only going into his age 28 season. The former first round pick has intriguing upside and could get good money on a multi-year deal this off-season. The Redskins were known to be interested in him last off-season and still have a massive need on the defensive line. Poe’s best years have come in the kind of 3-4 defense the Redskins run and, as I mentioned before, the Redskins love making splash signings in free agency, even if they have to overpay.
- OT Nate Solder
Prediction: Re-signs with Patriots – 2 years, 24 million
Nate Solder isn’t the best left tackle in the world, but he’s by far the best available free agent tackle and the Patriots don’t have another good option. Solder is going into his age 30 season and he’s been underwhelming over the past couple of seasons, but the Patriots need to keep Tom Brady’s blindside protector around, at least on a short-term deal. Solder has plenty of incentive to stay in New England with Tom Brady and company and would probably choose returning over leaving if the money is comparable.
- QB Teddy Bridgewater
Prediction: Signs with Dolphins – 1 year, 8 million (heavily incentivized)
Teddy Bridgewater might be the most interesting free agency case of all. Theoretically, he’s a franchise caliber quarterback hitting free agency at only 25 years old. The 2014 1st round pick made 28 starts for the Vikings in his first 2 seasons in the league and looked like one of the league’s promising young quarterbacks, but he’s attempted just 2 passes in 2 seasons since because of a brutal knee injury that wiped out his entire 2016 season and most of his 2017 season. Upon return, Bridgewater sat on the bench behind breakout star Case Keenum and now looks likely to leave Minnesota as a free agent, with the Vikings expected to go after Kirk Cousins.
If Bridgewater is healthy, he could prove to be a steal in free agency and he’ll be 25 months removed from the injury by week 1, so he’s a worthwhile flier. I think he makes a ton of sense for the Dolphins and not just because he’s from the Miami area. The Dolphins are not sold on quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who hasn’t played in a regular season game since December 2016 thanks to an ACL injury and who is due 17.5 million and 18.75 million in 2018 and 2019 respectively. However, the Dolphins don’t have the cap space or a high enough draft pick to find a legitimate upgrade this off-season.
Instead, they could take a flier on Bridgewater, give him an incentivized deal based on playing time, and have him compete with Tannehill for the job in training camp. They could also structure a deal with him where a 2nd year option at a starting quarterback salary (let’s say $16 million) triggers if Bridgewater makes a certain amount of starts this season. Worst case scenario, Bridgewater should be an adequate backup for Tannehill, which is something they need this off-season anyway. He’s a low risk flier and would be a smart signing.
- CB Prince Amukamara
Prediction: Signs with Patriots – 3 years, 24 million
A 2011 1st round pick, Amukamara has always been a solid cornerback, but he’s missed 29 games in 7 seasons in the league and had to settle for 7.5 million on 1-year prove it deal from the Bears in his first attempt at free agency last off-season. Amukamara played 14 games last season, which could ease the concerns of some teams about his injury proneness, but he also played in 14 games in 2016 before settling for a one-year deal, so it might not make much of a difference. The Patriots need a replacement for Malcolm Butler and should be able to get Amukamara on a short-term deal without much money guaranteed beyond 2018.
- G Jack Mewhort
Prediction: Re-signs with Colts – 4 years, 30 million
Free agency comes at a bad time for Jack Mewhort. A 2014 2nd round pick, Mewhort looked like one of the best young interior offensive linemen in the league in his first season at left guard in 2015. He continued playing well into 2016, but then missed time with a triceps injury and a knee injury. He played in just 10 games in 2016 and then had his 2017 season ended after 5 games when he re-aggravated that knee injury. He could still get a good contract offer from the Colts, who have a ton of money to play with and a massive need on the offensive line. They could give him his best offer.
- OLB Nigel Bradham
Prediction: Signs with Saints – 4 years, 26 million
Bradham greatly outperformed a 2-year, 7 million dollar deal with the Eagles and figures to get a bigger deal his 2nd time in free agency. The Eagles don’t have the cap space to outbid teams for him, so he’ll likely sign elsewhere. The Saints won’t have a ton of cap space left after re-signing Brees, but Brees is expected to take a team friendly deal so the team can sign other players. Expect them to be aggressive in free agency and go all in on 2018. Bradham would become their best linebacker.
- QB Sam Bradford
Prediction: Signs with Bills – 1 year, 8 million (incentivized)
The Bills traded Tyrod Taylor without an obvious replacement on the roster or a high drive pick, so expect them to add a quarterback in free agency. They have the ammunition to move up in the draft, but I doubt they’ll go into draft day with Nathan Peterman as the only quarterback under contract. Whoever they draft may not be ready to start week 1 anyway.
Bradford is the 3rd starting caliber quarterback that would need a new home if the Vikings sign Kirk Cousins, though Bradford is likely gone from Minnesota regardless, as the Vikings reportedly prefer Case Keenum and Teddy Bridgewater and believe Sam Bradford’s knee is degenerative, after two ACL tears and a 3rd cleanup surgery last season. It’s a shame because Bradford is only going into his age 31 season and has played like a top-15 quarterback when healthy in recent years. He’ll likely have to settle for an incentivized short-term deal with a team like the Bills that wants him to keep the seat warm for a rookie.
- G Josh Sitton
Prediction: Signs with Texans – 3 years, 21 million
Josh Sitton is still an above average starting guard, but he will be looking for a new team for the 2nd time in 3 off-seasons. The Packers made Sitton a cap casualty before the 2016 season and then he spent two seasons with the Bears, before the Bears declined his 3rd year option this off-season, which would have been worth 8 million. Going into his age 32 season, Sitton will likely have to take a paycut, but can still be a big help upfront for some team. The Texans have one of the worst offensive line situations in the league and the cap space to make big free agent signings.
- TE Jimmy Graham
Prediction: Signs with Packers – 4 years, 36 million
The Packers let go of GM Ted Thompson in part because of his unwillingness to be aggressive in free agency, so the Packers could be much bigger players in free agency this off-season than normal. They signed Martellus Bennett to a sizeable contract last off-season, but that didn’t work out. They could try again with Jimmy Graham, the top available free agent tight end. Graham is going into his age 32 season in 2018 and had a terrible knee injury a couple years back, but much of his lack of production in Seattle came because he was the 3rd or 4th option on a team that didn’t throw the ball that often. He could have huge numbers in Green Bay and will likely still be paid as a top of the market tight end. This 9 million dollar annual salary would be 3rd highest in the league by a tight end.
- QB AJ McCarron
Prediction: Signs with Cardinals – 4 years, 62 million
AJ McCarron only has 5 career starts, but could still be a hot commodity on the open market, much like Mike Glennon was last off-season. I don’t buy the hype because the success he had in 2015 came on a really good Bengals team that was significantly better when Andy Dalton was out there. Dalton is at best an average starter quarterback, so McCarron might not be much more than a high end backup, but that won’t stop some team from giving him starter money. The Cardinals don’t have a single quarterback on their roster right now and don’t pick until #15, so they could make McCarron a lucrative offer. Even if McCarron gets a 3 or 4 year deal, it’s unlikely to have much money guaranteed beyond 2018.
- C Weston Richburg
Prediction: Signs with Bears – 4 years, 30 million
When the Bears cut Josh Sitton, it wasn’t for cap reasons, as they have among the most cap space in the league. Sitton was cut because the Bears want to get younger upfront. Weston Richburg is going into his age 27 season and is one of the best free agent interior offensive linemen. He can play either guard or center, with most of his experience coming as a center. If he played center, the Bears could shift incumbent center Cody Whitehair to guard, where he might be a better fit.
- QB Josh McCown
Prediction: Re-signs with Jets – 1 year, 10 million
The Jets will also be in the running for Kirk Cousins and can offer him the most money, but Minnesota and Denver both give him much better chances to win right now. If they can’t sign him, they are expected to target Teddy Bridgewater, with Josh McCown as their third option. McCown wasn’t bad in 13 starts for them last season before getting hurt. Though he’s going into his age 39 season and lacks durability, he can still be a bridge quarterback that the Jets can bring a rookie along behind and he fits their system well. He should get an increase on the 1-year, 6 million dollar deal he got from the Jets last off-season.
- CB EJ Gaines
Prediction: Signs with Packers – 4 years, 32 million
The Packers make another big free agent signing and address a big need at cornerback. The Packers were thin at cornerback even before trading Damarious Randall and now it is their biggest need heading into the off-season. Gaines is a risky signing because he’s missed 27 games with injury in 4 seasons in the league and struggled mightily in 2016, leading to him being a throw-in in the Sammy Watkins trade. However, he was an above average starter in 2014 and 2017 and probably earned himself a big contract with his strong play in 2017, even if he did only play 11 games.
- DT DaQuan Jones
Prediction: Signs with Falcons – 1 year, 5 million
- S Tre Boston
Prediction: Re-signs with Chargers – 3 years, 18 million
- DT Kyle Williams
Prediction: Re-signs with Bills – 1 year, 6 million
- DE Adrian Clayborn
Prediction: Signs with Colts – 3 years, 24 million
- CB Rashaan Melvin
Prediction: Signs with Panthers – 3 years, 25 million
- C Spencer Long
Prediction: Signs with Buccaneers – 5 years, 32 million
- DT Bennie Logan
Prediction: Signs with Buccaneers – 3 years, 19 million
- OLB Zach Brown
Prediction: Signs with Raiders – 4 years, 28 million
- RB Dion Lewis
Prediction: Signs with 49ers – 3 years, 19 million
- WR Donte Moncrief
Prediction: Signs with Ravens – 1 year, 5 million
- G Josh Kline
Prediction: Signs with Texans – 3 years, 18 million
- TE Trey Burton
Prediction: Signs with Bears – 4 years, 28 million
- CB Johnathan Joseph
Prediction: Re-signs with Texans – 3 years, 18 million
- S Eric Reid
Prediction: Signs with Buccaneers – 4 years, 24 million
- OLB Dee Ford
Prediction: Signs with Jets – 3 years, 24 million
- MLB Avery Williamson
Prediction: Re-signs with Titans – 4 years, 24 million
- CB Patrick Robinson
Prediction: Signs with Titans – 2 years, 14 million
- S Marcus Gilchrist
Prediction: Re-signs with Texans – 3 years, 24 million
- OLB Kony Ealy
Prediction: Signs with Rams – 2 years, 10 million
- C Ryan Jensen
Prediction: Signs with Redskins – 4 years, 24 million
- MLB NaVorro Bowman
Prediction: Signs with Chargers – 2 years, 12 million
- DE Julius Peppers
Prediction: Re-signs with Panthers – 2 years, 12 million
- WR Paul Richardson
Prediction: Signs with Colts – 4 years, 28 million
- CB Bashaud Breeland
Prediction: Signs with Colts – 4 years, 32 million
- CB Aaron Colvin
Prediction: Signs with Bills – 4 years, 26 million