1. DE Trey Flowers (New England)
Trey Flowers could have easily been franchise tagged by the Patriots, even at a one-year value of around 17 million dollars. The Patriots opted against committing that much of their cap to one player, which means they will likely be moving on from Flowers this off-season, as Flowers could command upwards of 17-18 million annually on the open market. Flowers’ sack totals don’t jump off the page (21 in 45 games in the past 3 seasons), but he added 39 hits and 97 hurries, to give him a 12.2% pressure rate, impressive for a player who frequently lines up on the interior in pass rush situations. Also a dominant run stuffer, Flowers was Pro Football Focus’ 3rd ranked edge defender in 2018 and, with all the other dominant defensive linemen getting franchise tagged, Flowers figures to command a big contract in free agency.
He should have plenty of suitors, but one team in particular that would make a lot of sense is New England’s division rival the New York Jets. Not only do the Jets have among the most cap space in the league (93 million), they also desperately need pass rushers for their new 4-3 defense. They could easily outbid the rest of the league for Flowers’ services. Flowers could play both defensive end and defensive tackle and, only going into his age 26 season, would give them a much needed young building block on defense.
Prediction: 4 year, 74 million dollar contract with NY Jets
2. RB Le’Veon Bell (Pittsburgh)
It’ll be interesting to see what kind of market Le’Veon Bell gets this off-season, after sitting out the season and turning down 14.5 million on the franchise tag, not wanting to risk injury before he could cash in as a free agent on a long-term deal. His willingness to sit out a season won’t sit well with a lot of teams, and his history of injury and drug suspension is concerning as well, for a player looking to be paid at the top of the running back market.
Bell is only going into his age 27 season and talentwise he’s just as good as Todd Gurley and David Johnson, who set the running back market last off-season with deals that pay them 13+ million annually, but Bell comes with a lot more risk and it’s worth wondering if either Gurley or Johnson is worth that kind of money either. Bell’s holdout was in large part a protest against running backs being seen as replaceable and not worth giving big contracts, but his backup James Conner largely disproved his point, as Bell was pretty easily replaced by the Steelers.
Someone will probably still give Bell a big contract, although he may be disappointed by the guarantees he’s offered, given his history. One team that would make a lot of sense is the Texans, who will likely be aggressive in free agency this off-season, as they seek to maximize their title window with Deshaun Watson under contract for about 4 million total over the next 2 seasons. Bell has averaged 138 yards from scrimmage per game in his past 49 games and would be a huge upgrade over Lamar Miller in Houston’s offense. Adding him to an offense with Deshaun Watson, DeAndre Hopkins, and Will Fuller could make the Texans a very dangerous offense and I have to think joining another AFC contender would be appealing to Bell.
Prediction: 3 year, 44 million dollar contract with Houston
3. QB Nick Foles (Philadelphia)
It’s a poorly kept secret that Nick Foles is expected to sign with the Jaguars, who have cleared cap space by cutting underperforming veterans. Jacksonville was one of the only starting jobs open to Foles and they gave him easily the best chance to get back to the post-season. Foles likely won’t come cheap, but the Jaguars paid 20 million to Blake Bortles last season and Foles should be a noticeable improvement under center.
Foles has been inconsistent throughout his career, but going to a run heavy, defense minded team like the Jaguars will be good for him, as will reuniting with John DeFilippo, his quarterbacks coach in 2017, now the Jaguars’ offensive coordinator. The Jaguars were better than their 5-11 record in 2018, going 2-6 in games decided by a touchdown or less, and an upgrade at quarterback could easily put the Jaguars right back into contention in the AFC.
Prediction: 3 year, 73 million dollar contract with Jacksonville
4. S Earl Thomas (Seattle)
Earl Thomas headlines a deep safety group in free agency. Thomas is one of the best safeties in the league when healthy, but his season has ended with a broken leg in 2 of the past 3 seasons and he’s going into his age 30 season, so he might not get quite the contract he’s looking for in his first trip to the open market. Thomas has been a top-13 safety on PFF in 6 straight seasons though and a top-2 safety in 3 of the past 4 seasons, so he will still command a lot of attention. He’s frequently tied to the Cowboys, his hometown team who happens to need a safety, but the 49ers have more financial flexibility and there’s been talk of him reuniting with Richard Sherman in San Francisco. The 49ers have 66 million in cap space and an obvious need at safety. They could pay Thomas close to the 13 million annually that Eric Berry, the highest paid safety in the league, makes.
Prediction: 4 year, 50 million dollar contract with San Francisco
5. S Adrian Amos (Chicago)
Adrian Amos isn’t as big of a name as Earl Thomas, but he’s still been one of the better safeties in the league over the past couple years. A mere 5th round pick in 2015, Amos has earned a positive grade on PFF in all 4 seasons in the league (56 starts) and has finished 3rd and 10th among safeties in the past 2 seasons respectively. The Bears don’t have a ton of cap space and probably won’t be able to re-sign both Amos and slot cornerback Bryce Callahan, but I have to think they’d pick Amos if it came down to the two. Not only is Amos the better player, but this is also a deeper free agency class at safety, so they may be able to keep Amos at a discount, while Callahan will likely have more of a bidding war.
Prediction: 5 year, 43 million dollar contract with Chicago
6. S Landon Collins (NY Giants)
A year ago, it seemed unlikely that the Giants would let Landon Collins leave, as the 2015 2nd round pick finished 10th among safeties on PFF in 2016 and 12th in 2017 and looked like one of the Giants’ few young building blocks. However, he had a bit of a disappointing year in 2018, finishing 44th at his position, and the cap strapped Giants decided they didn’t want to pay him at the top of the safety market, opting not even to try using the 11 million dollar franchise tag on him.
The Colts were linked to Collins as soon as it was reported that he was likely done in New York and, unlike the Giants, the Colts have the financial flexibility to sign Collins to a top of the market deal at 12-13 million annually, as the Colts have the most cap space in the NFL and an obvious need at safety. Still only going into his age 25 season, Collins has obvious bounce back potential and would pair well with budding young safety Malik Hooker in Indianapolis. Hooker and Collins could easily be the top safety duo in the NFL for years to come.
Prediction: 5 year, 63 million dollar contract with Indianapolis
7. MLB Jordan Hicks (Philadelphia)
Jordan Hicks has been a dominant linebacker whenever healthy, finishing in the top-14 among non-rush linebackers on PFF in 3 of 4 seasons in the league, but he’s also missed at least 4 games with injury in 3 of 4 seasons in the league. Hicks showed his upside by making all 16 starts and finishing 3rd among middle linebackers on PFF in 2016 and the Eagles defense wasn’t nearly as good without him in 2018. The Eagles have freed up cap space with some releases, so I expect them to find a way to keep him. He should get around the 5-year, 50 million dollar extensions that Eric Kendricks and Benardrick McKinney got last off-season.
Prediction: 5 year, 52 million dollar contract with Philadelphia
8. OLB Justin Houston (Kansas City)
The first cap casualty on this list, Justin Houston was let go by the Chiefs ahead of a 17 million dollar non-guaranteed salary, with the Chiefs looking to lock up fellow edge defender Dee Ford on a long-term deal. Houston is going into his age 30 season and has missed 21 games with injury over the past 4 seasons, but should still be in high demand, especially among teams like the Rams that want to add talent without sacrificing their compensation picks. Houston has maintained a 15.1% pressure rate over the past 4 seasons, including a 2018 season in which he finished 12th among edge defenders overall on PFF and had 9 sacks and a 12.8% pressure rate in 12 games. He almost makes too much sense for a Rams team whose biggest need is on the edge of the defensive front.
Prediction: 2 year, 24 million dollar contract with LA Rams
9. C Matt Paradis (Denver)
Originally a mere 6th round pick by the Broncos in 2014, Matt Paradis is older than most first time free agents, going into his age 30 season, and he’s coming off of a broken leg that ended his 2018 season, but he hasn’t had any other major injuries and interior offensive linemen can play at a high level into their 30s, so Paradis could still challenge to be the highest paid center in the league, at upwards of 10.5 million annually. He’s finished in the top-8 among centers on PFF in 3 straight seasons, including 2nd place finishes in 2016 and 2018. The Broncos don’t have a ton of cap space, but can’t afford to lose their best offensive lineman and will likely prioritize keeping their most important free agent.
Prediction: 4 year, 42 million dollar contract with Denver
10. DT Sheldon Richardson (Minnesota)
If you just look at sack numbers, Sheldon Richardson has declined in recent years, with 7 sacks in the past 3 seasons, compared to 16.5 in his first 3 seasons. His pressure stats tell a different story however, as he pressured the quarterbacks at a 10.4% rate in his first 3 seasons, as opposed to 9.8% in the past 3 seasons, not a huge difference. Also a strong run stuffer, Richardson is an above average starting interior defensive lineman that can play in both a 3-4 and a 4-3 defense.
Character concerns limited him to a one-year deal worth 8 million with the Vikings in his first trip to free agency last off-season, but he could get a multi-year deal this time around. The Saints don’t have a ton of cap space, but have proven in the past that they are willing to be aggressive in free agency to maximize their Super Bowl window with Drew Brees at the end of his career. Defensive tackle is a need position for them with Tyeler Davison hitting free agency and Sheldon Rankins tearing his achilles in the playoffs. They may view Richardson as the missing piece.
Prediction: 3 year, 30 million dollar contract with New Orleans
11. CB Ronald Darby (Philadelphia)
Ronald Darby would probably be top-5 on this list if he didn’t have injury concerns, as he’s only going into his age 25 season and has shown #1 cornerback ability, but also has struggled to stay healthy in recent years, missing 15 of 32 games in 2017 and 2018, including the final 7 games of 2018 with a November torn ACL. He could still easily get paid a lot as the top available cornerback this off-season, as teams will expect him to keep getting better on his second contract, given his age.
His interception total (6 in 4 seasons) is underwhelming, but his 54 pass breakups are 10th in the league over the past 4 seasons, despite the missed time with injury. Those pass breakups have come in 46 games and all players ahead of him in pass breakups played at least 55 games over that stretch. The cap strapped Eagles are unlikely to be able to bring both him and Jordan Hicks back, but the Chiefs freed up cap space when they released Justin Houston and could look to make a splash move like this to upgrade their secondary.
Prediction: 4 year, 48 million dollar contract with Kansas City
12. OT Trent Brown (New England)
The Patriots acquired Trent Brown inexpensively last off-season, swapping picks 95 and 143 with the 49ers to acquire him during last year’s draft and paying him just 1.907 million in 2018, and he proved to be a diamond in the rough, starting all 19 games at left tackle en route to a Super Bowl victory. Brown isn’t a one-year wonder either, allowing just 9 total quarterback pressures in 10 games in 2017 with the 49ers before going down with a shoulder injury. Part of the reason the 49ers moved on from him is because they felt the 6-8 380 pounder was not fleet of foot enough to play left tackle long-term for them, but he showed with the Patriots that he can make up for his lack of foot speed with his incredibly long arms and huge frame.
The Patriots don’t have much financial flexibility and, with 2018 1st round pick Isaiah Wynn coming back from injury and likely able to replace Brown in the lineup, it’s unlikely Brown returns to New England. Much like the Patriots’ previous left tackle Nate Solder, Brown is a strong candidate to be overpaid elsewhere in once again a weak left tackle class in free agency. I would expect him to get at least the 13.75 million annually Tampa Bay’s Donovan Smith got on his recent new contract. The Texans struck out on Solder last off-season, but still badly need a left tackle and have plenty of cap space (74 million) to work with, so it wouldn’t be a surprise at all to see Brown join another former Patriot in Texans head coach Bill O’Brien.
Prediction: 4 year, 56 million dollar contract with Houston
13. G Rodger Saffold (LA Rams)
Rodger Saffold had injury problems early in his career, but he’s played 46 of 48 games over the past 3 seasons and has played at a high level, allowing just 6 sacks combined and finishing in the top-8 among guards on PFF in both 2017 and 2018. His age (going into his age 31 season) could prevent him from getting 4+ years on a new contract, but guards tend to age better than other positions and Saffold could easily become one of the highest paid guards in the league in terms of average annual value, especially with a lack of good available guards this off-season. The Bills need offensive line help badly and have among the most cap space in the league. Saffold could fill a hole at either left or right guard for the Bills.
Prediction: 3 year, 34 million dollar contract with Buffalo
14. DE Ezekiel Ansah (Detroit)
Ezekiel Ansah made 17.143 million on the franchise tag in 2018, after a 12-sack 2017 season, but he and the Lions were far apart in contract negotiations last off-season due to the Lions’ concerns about his durability. Ansah dealt with ankle and knee injuries during the previous 2 seasons and managed just 2 sacks in 13 games in 2016 due to an ankle injury, though he did add 12 quarterback hits. The Lions’ concerns about his long-term durability proved to be wise, as Ansah was limited to 146 snaps by shoulder injuries in 2018.
He’s considered highly unlikely to return to Detroit, but he could still have a hot market. With most of the good edge defenders getting franchise tagged, someone will likely pay a high price for a player with the upside of Ansah, who has a career 13.1% pressure rate and 48 sacks in 80 games. His age (30 in May) could limit him to 2-3 year deals, but he should get a good annual average. The Raiders are desperate for an edge defender and have plenty of cap space to work with, even after acquiring Antonio Brown.
Prediction: 3 years, 45 million dollar contract with Oakland
15. WR Golden Tate (Philadelphia)
Golden Tate is going into his age 31 season, but should be able to take advantage of a weak wide receiver market to get a good annual value on a 2-3 year deal. He struggled to acclimate after being traded to the Eagles at last year’s trade deadline, but he topped 1000 yards in 3 of 4 seasons prior to last season and was on his way to another 1000-yard season in 2018 before the trade. Tate should have plenty of suitors, but the Colts could easily stand out as the best. Not only do they have among the most cap space in the league, but they also have a great offense led by quarterback Andrew Luck and need to add at least one, maybe two wide receivers this off-season. Tate could easily have a few more productive years with Luck and should get around the 3-year, 33.5 million dollar deal DeSean Jackson got at a similar age two off-seasons ago.
Prediction: 3 years, 36 million dollar contract with Indianapolis
16. MLB CJ Mosley (Baltimore)
This might seem a little low for CJ Mosley, who ranks 4th in the NFL with 579 tackles over the past 5 seasons, but he has his issues in coverage. That likely won’t stop him from becoming one of the highest paid middle linebackers in the league though. The Ravens did not franchise tag him, but that’s largely because the linebacker tag value is skewed by rush linebackers and would have paid Mosley 15.5 million, significantly more than the 12.35 million made annually by Luke Kuechly, the highest paid non-rush linebacker in the league. Mosley could come close to matching Kuechly in average annual value though. The Ravens freed up a lot of cap space by moving on from Joe Flacco and rarely let their defensive stars leave, so I would expect him to ultimately return to Baltimore.
Prediction: 4 year, 48 million dollar contract with Baltimore
17. DT Ndamukong Suh (LA Rams)
Ndamukong Suh is going into his age 32 season, but he’s remarkably never missed a game with injury in 9 seasons in the league and still played at a high level in 2018. He only had 4.5 sacks, but that was largely because of his role as the nose tackle in the Rams’ 3-4 defense. He finished 15th overall among interior defensive linemen on PFF. In the first 8 seasons of his career in a 4-3 defense, he averaged about 6.5 sacks per season and he has a career pressure rate of 9.4%, despite lining up almost solely on the interior in sub packages.
Suh signed a one-year deal with a contender last off-season, signing for 14 million with the Rams, after being released by the Dolphins, rather than being paid his 17 million dollar non-guaranteed salary. Now a free agent again, Suh may do something similar with another contender. The Patriots could lose both Malcom Brown and Danny Shelton in free agency this off-season and Suh would give them a good replacement.
Prediction: 1 year, 10 million dollar contract with New England
18. S LaMarcus Joyner (LA Rams)
A 2nd round pick in 2014, LaMarcus Joyner was a man without a position for the first three seasons of his career, bouncing between slot cornerback and safety, before breaking out as a full-time starting safety in his 4th season in the league in 2017, finishing 2nd among safeties on PFF. The Rams franchise tagged him, not wanting to lose one of their better defensive players, but were skeptical about giving him a long-term deal. Not only had Joyner only had one good year, but the Rams also had other significant long-term financial considerations.
Joyner disappointed a little bit in 2018, finishing 28th among safeties on PFF, and the Rams seem to have already moved on with a cheaper alternative in Eric Weddle. This is a deep safety class, but Joyner figures to be paid near the top of the safety market. The Redskins don’t have a ton of cap space, but they like to be aggressive in free agency and need to replace both of their safeties, with HaHa Clinton-Dix hitting free agency and DJ Swearinger getting cut for disciplinary reasons at the end of last season. They can sign Joyner to a 5-year deal with a big signing bonus to keep his cap hit down in 2019.
Prediction: 5 year, 55 million dollar contract with Washington
19. OT Daryl Williams (Carolina)
Daryl Williams was a 4th round pick in 2015 and made 26 starts from 2016-2017, including a breakout 2017 season in which he finished 14th among offensive tackles and 2nd among right tackles on PFF. Unfortunately, he missed all but one game due to knee injuries in 2018, but he’s still in the prime of his career in his age 27 season and should have many interested suitors. He’s unlikely to be back in Carolina, where Taylor Moton played well in his absence, but the Giants have a glaring hole at right tackle and their GM Dave Gettleman originally drafted Williams with the Panthers.
Prediction: 4 year, 42 million dollar contract with NY Giants
20. OLB KJ Wright (Seattle)
KJ Wright was one of the best 4-3 outside linebackers in the league from 2011-2017, an unheralded member of a dominant Seattle defense, but he was limited to 233 snaps by injury in 2018 and could have a bit of a depressed market in free agency. One destination that makes a lot of sense for him is the Chargers, who employ his former defensive coordinator Gus Bradley. If Wright bounces back even somewhat in 2019, he’ll be a big upgrade over the oft injured Jatavis Brown.
Prediction: 3 year, 27 million dollar contract with LA Chargers
21. QB Teddy Bridgewater (New Orleans)
By now, most know Teddy Bridgewater’s story. A solid starter who made 28 starts in his first 2 seasons in Minnesota, Bridgewater suffered a gruesome knee injury before the start of the 2016 season and missed close to two full seasons. As a free agent last off-season, he had to settle for a one-year dollar, 6 million deal with just 500k guaranteed at signing from the Jets and, while he impressed enough in the pre-season to warrant a 3rd round pick in a trade from the Saints, he struggled in his one start in New Orleans, completing just 14 of 23 attempts for 118 yards, a touchdown, and a pick in a home loss to the Panthers.
With Case Keenum likely going to Washington and Nick Foles likely going to Jacksonville, Bridgewater is left without a clear starting job opening in free agency and may have to settle for another backup job. His best option is probably to take an incentivized deal with Miami, who could be cutting loose Ryan Tannehill and his 18.75 million dollar non-guaranteed salary. At this point it’s really unclear what to expect from Bridgewater. Given that his start last year came in a meaningless week 17 game, Bridgewater hasn’t seen any meaningful action since 2015, but he’s still only going into his age 27 season. Now 3 years removed from the injury there could still be a comeback in his story.
Prediction: Incentivized 1 year contract with Miami
22. OLB Shaq Barrett (Denver)
Shaq Barrett’s sack numbers (14 in 61 career games) don’t jump off the page, but he hasn’t even played half of the snaps in his career, stuck in a deep edge rush rotation in Denver. Also a strong run defender, Barrett adds 22 quarterback hits and 65 quarterback hurries on 833 career pass rush snaps, giving him a solid 12.1% pressure rate for his career. Only going into his age 27 season, a pass rush needy team could easily give him a bigger deal than most expect, projecting Barrett to be a more productive player in a larger role. The Titans, who lost Brian Orakpo to retirement and Derrick Morgan to free agency, have a big need for an edge defender and have the cap space (about 43 million) to outbid teams.
Prediction: 4 year, 42 million dollar contract with Tennessee
23. TE Jared Cook (Oakland)
The 2018 Raiders season was a miserable one for most involved, but Jared Cook managed to have a career year, putting up career highs in catches (68), yards (896), and touchdowns (6). That was in part because he was Derek Carr’s only reliable receiver, as his 101 targets were also a career high, but he finished as PFF’s 7th ranked tight end overall and earned a career best 75.7 grade. Teams will have some concern that he had his best season in his 10th season in the league and soon-to-be-32-year-old tight ends usually aren’t in high demand, but he’s by far the best tight end option in free agency and should cash in from a tight end needy team like the Lions. The Lions had just 45 catches by a tight end in 2018 and enter the off-season with about 44 million in cap space to work with.
Prediction: 3 year, 25 million dollar contract with Detroit
24. S Tyrann Mathieu (Houston)
It’s hard to believe Tyrann Mathieu is only going into his age 27 season. Originally a 3rd round pick in 2013, Mathieu had a Defensive Rookie of the Year caliber year in 2013 and a Defensive Player of the Year caliber year in 2015, but both seasons ended with him tearing his ACL. Mathieu also missed time with a shoulder injury in 2016 and hasn’t been as good in his other 4 seasons as he was in 2013 and 2015. Signed to a big 5-year, 62.5 million dollar extension by the Cardinals in 2016, Mathieu was released just two off-seasons and 21.6 million dollars later and had to settle for a one-year prove it deal with the Texans that ended up paying him just 7 million last season.
Mathieu wasn’t dominant in his one season in Houston, but he’s played all 32 games over the past 2 seasons and should still be in the prime of his career. He should be able to get a pay increase on a multi-year deal this time around, even in a strong safety class. The Packers never used to get involved in free agency, but they are trying a new approach under their new GM. With about 35 million in available cap space, expect them to be players in free agency this off-season and they need an upgrade at both safety spots. Mathieu would fill one of those spots.
Prediction: 3 year, 30 million dollar contract with Green Bay
25. RB Jay Ajayi (Philadelphia)
A 5th round pick in 2015, Jay Ajayi has averaged 4.48 yards per carry on 562 career carries, but has had a lot of trouble staying healthy, missing 22 of 64 games, including the final 12 of last season with a torn ACL. Knee concerns are a big part of why he fell in the draft and they will hurt his free agency stock as well, but there’s no denying the talent. Ajayi showed what he can do if he stays healthy in 2016, rushing for 1272 yards and 8 scores on 260 carries, averaging 4.89 yards per carry and finishing 4th in the NFL in rushing yards, and he still has plenty of upside, only going into his age 26 season.
The Buccaneers were one of the worst rushing teams in the league last season, averaging 3.92 yards per carry, 31st in the NFL. Ronald Jones, who they drafted 38th overall last year, was a huge disappointment and the Buccaneers may prefer to add a veteran instead this off-season. A one-year incentivized deal would make sense for both sides. If Ajayi stays healthy and repeats his 2016 season, he could cash in on a bigger multi-year deal in free agency next off-season.
Prediction: Incentivized 1 year contract with Tampa Bay
26. OT Ja’Wuan James (Miami)
The Dolphins have had offensive line issues in recent years, but Ja’Wuan James has been a solid starting right tackle for them when healthy. His durability is a concern, as he missed 9 games in 2016 and 8 games in 2017, but he played at least 15 games in his other 3 seasons and has earned a positive grade from PFF in all 5 seasons in the league. The Dolphins can’t afford to lose him. They’ve freed up cap space by releasing several veteran players and the rebuilding Dolphins should use some of it to keep the soon-to-be-27-year-old James around long-term, even if it means paying him as one of the top right tackles in the league.
Prediction: 5 year, 45 million dollar contract with Miami
27. CB Bryce Callahan (Chicago)
I mentioned in Adrian Amos’ write up that the cap strapped Bears would likely have to choose between their free agent safety and their free agent slot cornerback Bryce Callahan. I think Amos is the more likely of the two to return, as the Bears can get Amos on a reasonable deal in a strong safety class, but would likely have to get into a bidding war for arguably the league’s best slot cornerback.
The 8.5 million annually Tavon Young got on his recent extension seems like a likely starting point for Callahan in free agency. In addition to having a big need at tight end, the Lions also have a big need at cornerback and will likely use some of their cap space to find help at that position in free agency. For a team like the Lions that uses a lot of sub packages, a good slot cornerback like Callahan is a necessity.
Prediction: 4 year, 34 million dollar contract with Detroit
28. DE Cameron Wake (Miami)
Cameron Wake isn’t the biggest name, but he’s been one of the best edge rushers of the past decade, pressuring the quarterback on 15.8% of pass rush snaps in 10 seasons in the league. Even in his age 36 season in 2018, he had a 17.3% pressure rate (2nd in the NFL) and finished with 6 sacks despite being a part-time player. Wake isn’t a long-term option at his age, but he should still have a good market in free agency.
The Seahawks have a good amount of cap space (33 million) and a need at the defensive end position, but are unlikely to spend big on a defensive end in free agency because they need to sign franchise tagged Frank Clark to a big long-term deal as well. A cheaper short-term option like Wake would make more sense and Wake could see joining the Seahawks as his chance to contend for a Super Bowl. While he made the post-season just once in 10 seasons in Miami, the Seahawks have qualified in 6 of 7 seasons in the Russell Wilson era.
Prediction: 1 year, 8 million dollar contract with Seattle
29. WR Tyrell Williams (LA Chargers)
Tyrell Williams has been stuck behind Keenan Allen for the past two seasons and split playing time with Mike Williams this past season, but he still topped 650 yards in both seasons. In 2016, when Keenan Allen missed all but one game with a torn ACL, Williams topped 1000 yards, putting up a 69/1059/7 slash line. Williams has averaged 1.51 yards per route run in his career and, while a lot of that is as a result of playing with Philip Rivers, Williams is still only going into his age 27 season and likely will be seen as a potential #1 receiver by several teams. He has great physical tools at 6-4 207 and should be able to take advantage of a shallow group of receivers in free agency to get paid. The Bills have a huge need for wide receivers and the cap space to be aggressive in free agency (75 million). Williams deep ball ability (16.3 yards per catch in his career) makes him a good fit with Josh Allen, who desperately needs a long-term #1 option.
Prediction: 4 year, 46 million dollar contract with Buffalo
30. QB Tyrod Taylor (Cleveland)
Tyrod Taylor capably led the Bills’ run heavy offense as the starting quarterback for 3 years (43 starts from 2015-2017), averaging 7.16 yards per attempt, adding 1,575 yards on the ground, and throwing just 16 interceptions on 1,236 pass attempts, but they decided they wanted to go with a younger, cheaper option with a higher upside and traded Taylor to the Browns for a 3rd round pick that they eventually used to help them move up and draft Josh Allen. Taylor started week 1 for the Browns, but was a poor fit for Todd Haley’s offense and never got his job back from Baker Mayfield after getting hurt week 3.
Unlikely to find a guaranteed starting job, a lot of dots have connected Taylor to the Ravens, where he would be an ideal fit in the same Greg Roman led run based offense that he had success in with the Bills, as a veteran backup behind 2nd year starter Lamar Jackson. Taylor may prefer somewhere where he has a better chance to make starts in 2019 though, so he can try to rehab his stock for another trip to free agency next off-season. Behind the oft injured Marcus Mariota seems like a better spot for him. The Titans have plenty of cap space and can afford to pay a premium for a much needed high end backup. With Taylor, the Titans won’t be doomed when Mariota suffers his annual injury.
Prediction: 1 year, 8 million dollar contract with Tennessee
31. DT Tim Jernigan (Philadelphia)
An above average starter that finished 39th among interior defensive lineman on PFF in 2017, the Eagles gave Tim Jernigan a 4-year 48 million extension ahead of free agency in December 2017 and promptly regretted it. Jernigan injured his back and missed most of the 2018 season after having off-season surgery. Needing to clear cap space, the Eagles declined the final 3 years of his contract this off-season, ultimately paying him 13 million for 100 mediocre snaps on his extension.
Jernigan likely won’t get that big of a contract on the open market, but he’s only going into his age 27 season and he’s a useful player when healthy, playing the run well, while adding a little bit of pass rush. The Eagles’ defense clearly missed him in 2018. The Bills need to replace the retiring Kyle Williams and have the cap space to be aggressive at the defensive tackle position for the 2nd straight off-season. Jernigan would rotate with 2018 3rd round pick Harrison Phillips and veteran Star Lotulelei, who signed in Buffalo for 50 million over 5 years last off-season.
Prediction: 4 year, 40 million dollar contract with Buffalo
32. CB Pierre Desir (Indianapolis)
Originally a 4th round pick by the Browns in 2014, Pierre Desir never played more than 392 snaps in a season in his first 4 seasons in the league, 3 with the Browns and then 2017 with the Colts. However, Desir had a surprise breakout year in his 5th season in the league in 2018, making 12 starts and finishing as PFF’s 25th ranked cornerback. He’s a risky signing, a one-year wonder already going into his age 29 season, but the Colts have the most cap space in the league and can’t afford to lose their best cornerback. I would expect them to outbid other teams to keep Desir, who is obviously a great fit in defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus’ defensive scheme.
Prediction: 3 year, 30 million dollar contract with Indianapolis
33. C Mitch Morse (Kansas City)
A 2nd round pick in 2015, Mitch Morse has been unspectacular in 4 seasons in the league, but he’s been a solid starting center and should be in demand in free agency. With the Chiefs having limited cap space, it seems likely they’ll get outbid for Morse in free agency. Only going into his age 27 season, Morse could keep getting better, but injuries have become a concern for him in the past couple years, as foot and head injuries have limited him to 18 of 32 games in 2017 and 2018. That could limit his market and he may be better off taking a one-year prove it deal and trying free agency again in 2020, but this isn’t a deep center class in free agency, so Morse could cash in somewhere. The Jets have a big hole at center and among the most cap space in the league.
Prediction: 4 year, 30 million dollar contract with NY Jets
34. DE Muhammad Wilkerson (Green Bay)
At one point, Muhammad Wilkerson was one of the best defensive linemen in the league, finishing 3rd among interior defensive linemen on PFF in 2012, 5th in 2014, and earning a 5-year, 86 million dollar contract after the 2015 season. However, Wilkerson seemed to coast once getting paid and was released after 2 years and 37 million. He signed a 1-year prove it deal worth 4.5 million with the Packers last off-season as a free agent and was off to a great start, but had his season cut short after 3 games with a broken ankle. The Packers seemed pleased with his play though and could easily bring him back on a similar deal. Still only going into his age 30 season, Wilkerson could easily have a bounce back year if he stays healthy and motivated.
Prediction: Incentivized 1 year contract with Green Bay
35. DT Henry Anderson (NY Jets)
A strong run stuffer in his first 3 seasons in the league with the Colts, Henry Anderson struggled to stay healthy, missing 19 of 48 games, and was sent to the Jets for a mere 7th round pick last off-season when the new coaching staff decided he wasn’t a good fit for their scheme. With the Jets, not only did he play all 16 games for the first time, but he also broke out as a pass rusher with 7 sacks and a 10.5% pressure rate, as opposed to 3 sacks and a 8.1% pressure rate in his first 3 seasons in the league. Teams will be wary of the contract year breakout year and the Jets may not see him as a good scheme fit with Gregg Williams coming in as defensive coordinator, but he’ll still be in demand and he’ll be a better scheme fit in Seattle, where they need to reload on the defensive line. Anderson would allow them to do that without breaking the bank.
Prediction: 3 year, 24 million dollar contract with Seattle
36. CB Steven Nelson (Kansas City)
The Chiefs have had major issues on defense in recent years that have prevented them from taking that next step, but Steven Nelson has not been the problem. He did miss 7 games with injury in 2017, but he’s earned positive grades from PFF in 3 straight seasons, with his best season coming in 2018, when he finished 37th among cornerbacks. He’s also allowed fewer than 60% completion in 3 straight seasons. Only going into his age 26 season, Nelson could keep getting better and should draw a lot of attention on the open market. Cornerback is another position the Jets could address in free agency, as they look for an upgrade on free agent Morris Claiborne.
Prediction: 4 year, 36 million dollar contract with NY Jets
37. S HaHa Clinton-Dix (Washington)
A first round pick in 2014 and a solid starter in Green Bay for the first 4 and a half seasons of his career, HaHa Clinton-Dix was surprisingly sent to the Redskins for a 4th round pick at the trade deadline last year. The Packers were able to get something for a player they likely were not going to re-sign anyway, but Clinton-Dix was also their best safety at the time and their safety play was horrendous in the second half of the season after moving on from him. Considering they were in playoff contention at the time, getting a 4th round pick for a capable player didn’t seem worth it.
Clinton-Dix didn’t make much of an impact in his half season in Washington and he joins a deep safety class, so he probably won’t break the bank, but he should have several interested suitors. The Raiders are one team that figures to spend on defense in free agency, with plenty of remaining cap space even after the Antonio Brown trade and holes all over arguably the worst defense in the league. A deal similar to the one Eric Reid signed with the Panthers (22 million over 3 years) would make sense for Clinton-Dix, as it would allow him to test free agency again before he turns 30, in probably a thinner free agent group of safeties.
Prediction: 3 year, 21 million dollar contract with Oakland
38. WR Cole Beasley (Dallas)
Cole Beasley has never put up huge numbers, but he’s caught 176 passes for 1819 yards and 12 touchdowns from Dak Prescott the past 3 seasons, an average slash line of 59/606/4 per game and he’s been especially dependable on 3rd and 4th down, with a whopping 39.2% of his catches coming on 3rd or 4th down. His reliability in big spots and 76.5% catch rate (75 catches on 98 targets) earned him PFF’s 5th highest wide receiver grade in 2016. Beasley is unlikely to return to Dallas, however, after recent comments ripping the organization for pre-determining which receivers get the ball.
The diminutive 5-8 180 pounder won’t be a fit for every team and his age (going into his age 30 season) won’t do him any favors either, but this is a thin receiving class and receiver needy teams will be interested. He should at least top the 2-year, 12 million dollar deal that Danny Amendola got in free agency last year, but it also doesn’t seem like money is as important to him as a good fit. It’s hard to imagine a better fit than Green Bay, who needs a replacement for Randall Cobb on the slot and another pair of reliable hands. Playing with several rookies in the receiving corps, Aaron Rodgers struggled by his standards in 2018. Someone like Beasley that you can always trust to be in the right spot would be a big help for this team.
Prediction: 2 year, 14 million dollar contract with Green Bay
39. RB Mark Ingram (New Orleans)
Mark Ingram has been half of the most dangerous running back duo in the NFL over the past 2 seasons, rushing for 1,769 yards and 18 touchdowns on 368 carries (4.81 YPC) and adding another 79 catches for 586 yards and another score while working in tandem with Alvin Kamara. It seems likely that duo will be split up this off-season, with Ingram likely to find a bigger role and more money as a free agent on the open market this off-season. Injury prone early in his career, Ingram hasn’t missed a game due to injury in 3 seasons, while averaging 4.91 yards per carry on 573 carries over those 3 seasons. His age (30 in December), position, and previous injury history will concern teams, but he should be able to get a good annual average on a short-term deal.
The Jets are considered one of the favorites for Le’Veon Bell, as they have a glaring need at running back and among the most cap space in the league, but if Bell decides he’d rather play for a team that’s more in contention, the Jets could look to Ingram as their backup plan. He’d give them a obvious upgrade on Isaiah Crowell and Bilal Powell without breaking the bank. He could push for 300 touches in New York.
Prediction: 3 year, 20 million dollar contract with NY Jets
40. OLB Preston Smith (Washington)
Looking purely at sack totals, Preston Smith seemed to struggle in 2018, with just 4 sacks, after 20.5 in his first 3 seasons in the league, but he actually had the best year of his career. Not only did he play a career high 834 snaps and play the run well, but he also had a career high 53 total pressures, despite the underwhelming sack total, giving him a pressure rate of 11.3%, compared to 9.8% in his first 3 seasons in the league. Overall, he finished 20th among edge defenders on PFF.
Turning 27 in November and a former 2nd round pick, Smith is the type of edge defender teams assume will get better on his next contract. With most of the top edge defenders getting franchise tagged, Smith could get easily an above market deal, which probably means he won’t be back in Washington. The Redskins have limited cap space, other more pressing needs, and an in house replacement in 2017 2nd round pick Ryan Anderson.
The Packers, on the other hand, could let go of both Clay Matthews (free agency) and Nick Perry (cap casualty) this off-season, as they shoot higher at the edge defender position. They could give Smith a similar deal to the one they gave Perry two off-seasons ago (59 million over 5 years with 28 million guaranteed in the first two years). Unlike the injury prone Perry, Smith hasn’t missed a game in 4 seasons in the league.
Prediction: 5 year, 55 million dollar contract with Green Bay
41. CB Bradley Roby (Denver)
A first round pick in 2014, Bradley Roby earned positive grades from PFF in each of the first 4 seasons of his career, playing about two thirds of the snaps as the 3rd cornerback behind the talented duo of Chris Harris and Aqib Talib. With Talib traded to the Rams last off-season, Roby became an every down cornerback and matched up with opponents’ top outside receivers more often than not, but he got exposed in that role, allowing a 117.3 QB rating into his coverage and finishing 102nd among 131 eligible cornerbacks on PFF.
Despite that, Roby could benefit from a thin cornerback class in free agency. Only going into his age 27 season, teams may see the first round pedigree and the flashes he showed early in his career and think he’ll be better on his second contract. The 49ers are a cornerback needy team with money to spend. With Richard Sherman on one side, Roby won’t have to match up against #1 receivers as much. He’d be a big upgrade over Ahkello Witherspoon, who was one of the worst starting cornerbacks in the league in 2018.
Prediction: 3 year, 30 million dollar contract with San Francisco
42. DT Malik Jackson (Jacksonville)
Malik Jackson signed a massive 6-year, 85.5 million dollar deal with the Jacksonville Jaguars three off-seasons ago and through the first two seasons of the contract he continued the high level of play he showed in Denver. However, Jackson struggled by his standards in 2018 and played just 61 snaps in the final 3 games of the season, with first round pick Taven Bryan playing a larger role down the stretch. Owed 13 million non-guaranteed in 2019, Jackson was an obvious release for a cap strapped Jaguars team.
He’s still only going into his age 29 season though and was PFF’s 26th ranked interior defensive lineman as recently as 2017, so should still be able to get good money on the open market. He makes a ton of sense for the Eagles, who have freed up cap space with some releases. Not only would he fill a huge need at defensive tackle, he’d do it without costing them the compensation picks they will likely get for losing Ronald Darby and Nick Foles.
Prediction: 3 year, 27 million dollar contract with Philadelphia
43. WR Jamison Crowder (Washington)
Jamison Crowder has been seen as a breakout candidate for a few seasons, but it’s very possible the diminutive 5-9 177 receiver maxes out as an above average slot receiver. He’ll still be in high demand this off-season though, especially with a thin group of receivers. His 29/388/2 slash line in 2018 is pretty bad, but he missed 7 games with injury and when he returned he had to play with Colt McCoy, Mark Sanchez, and Josh Johnson under center. Prior to last season, he averaged a 64/747/4 slash line in the first 3 seasons of his career. Only going into his age 26 season, it’s very possible he gets an above market deal from a team that thinks he’ll be better on his 2nd contract. The Titans are a receiver needy team with cap space, so they make sense as a destination for him.
Prediction: 4 year, 32 million dollar contract with Tennessee
44. WR Adam Humphries (Tampa Bay)
Adam Humphries is kind of the opposite of Jamison Crowder. He entered the season with little expectations buried on the depth chart as the 4th wide receiver on a team with a couple good pass catching tight ends as well, but he carved out a role as the team’s primary slot receiver end wound up with a 76/816/5 slash line on 105 targets. Humphries also had 622 yards in 2016 and 631 yards in 2017, and, only going into his age 26 season, teams will expect he can continue improving. He may outearn Crowder just because of recency bias, even though Crowder has overall had the more productive career, but they should be in the same ballpark. The Cardinals need to build around their young quarterback, whether that ends up being Josh Rosen or Kyler Murray. They have about 42 million in cap space to work with.
Prediction: 4 year, 36 million dollar contract with Arizona
45. CB Darqueze Dennard (Cincinnati)
The Bengals typically do a pretty good job of keeping their own free agents, especially ones they’ve invested a first round pick into like they did with Darqueze Dennard in 2014, but Dennard is a 3rd cornerback in Cincinnati behind Dre Kirkpatrick, who they kept on a 5-year, 52.5 million dollar deal last off-season, and William Jackson, who will soon need a big extension. Even as a 3rd cornerback with just 19 career starts, Dennard has shown his first round talent, finishing above average on PFF in 4 of 5 seasons in Cincinnati, including on 675 snaps in 2018. Given his first round pedigree, some teams will likely project him to a larger role and pay him accordingly, so he’ll probably take more money elsewhere. The Browns need a long-term cornerback opposite Denzel Ward. With a ton of cap space and few needs, I expect them to target cornerbacks in free agency.
Prediction: 4 year, 36 million dollar contract with Cleveland
46. OLB Anthony Barr (Minnesota)
Anthony Barr will be an interesting case in free agency. He was a dynamic player early in his career, finishing 2nd among linebackers on PFF in his 2nd season in the league in 2015, but he hasn’t been nearly as good since. The 9th overall pick in 2014, Barr made 12.306 million on his 5th year rookie option in 2018, but likely won’t get that annually on the open market. He may take a short-term deal and try free agency again in a couple years, rather than locking himself in at a lower rate.
The Vikings don’t have much cap flexibility after locking up several other young building blocks instead of Barr, so a return to Minnesota seems unlikely, but he should have several interested suitors in free agency. The 49ers have the cap space to be aggressive in pursuing him on a short-term deal and they need a veteran linebacker with the overpaid Malcolm Smith likely to be let go this off-season. Barr can also give the 49ers some edge rush in sub packages.
Prediction: 2 year, 22 million dollar contract with San Francisco
47. OLB Jamie Collins (Cleveland)
Jamie Collins has a similar skill set to Anthony Barr, but he’s a few years older, going into his age 30 season. Collins was one of the better linebackers in the league in New England a few years ago, but was traded away for just a 3rd round pick and did not life up to his 4-year, 50 million dollar extension in Cleveland, which is why they cut him rather than paying him 10.5 million non-guaranteed in 2019. The one benefit Collins will have over Barr is that he won’t mess up compensation picks for the team that signs him, which is important to a team like the Steelers that stands to gain a 3rd rounder when Le’Veon Bell signs elsewhere. He’d make sense for them as a short-term stopgap at middle linebacker, which has been a weakness of the Steelers’ defense since Ryan Shazier got hurt.
Prediction: 1 year, 6 million dollar contract with Pittsburgh
48. OLB Dante Fowler (LA Rams)
The 3rd overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, Dante Fowler’s career got off to as bad of a start as possible, as he tore his ACL in one of the first practices of rookie camp. Fowler didn’t play badly when he returned, but he fell behind Yannick Ngakoue and Calais Campbell on the depth chart. The Jaguars declined his 5th year option and traded him to the Rams midway through the 2018 season for 3rd and 5th round picks.
In 11 games with the Rams, including the post-season, Fowler averaged 54.5 snaps per game, a steep increase from the 31.3 snaps per game he averaged the first 42 games of his career, but he failed to stand out and had just 30 total pressures on 363 pass rush snaps (8.3% pressure rate). Not even 25 until August, he’ll draw interest on upside alone in a thin edge defender class, but he comes with a lot of risk. The Lions could take a chance on him as a younger, cheaper alternative to Ezekiel Ansah.
Prediction: 4 year, 34 million dollar contract with Detroit
49. G TJ Lang (Detroit)
A cap casualty who was not worth the 8.25 million dollar non-guaranteed salary he would have been owed if the Lions kept him, TJ Lang is going into his age 32 season and missed 10 games with a neck injury in 2018. He may ultimately end up retiring and hasn’t played more than 13 games in a season since 2015, but if he can get cleared medically he could be a useful addition to his new team.
Guards can play at a high level into their mid 30s and, while Lang hasn’t been as dominant in recent years as he was in his prime, he’s still earned a positive grade from PFF in 8 straight seasons and ranked 6th among guards in pass protection as recently as 2017. If he does keep playing, one team that would make a lot of sense to sign him on a one-year incentivized deal is the Rams, who need to replace left guard Rodger Saffold. If healthy, Lang could give them a cheap replacement without costing them any compensation picks.
Prediction: Incentivized 1 year contract with LA Rams
50. OLB Za’Darius Smith (Baltimore)
Largely a rotational player his first 3 seasons in the league, Za’Darius Smith broke out in his 4th season in the league in 2018, playing a career high 691 snaps and totaling 8.5 sacks, 18 hits, and 33 quarterback pressures on 458 pass rush snaps (13.1% rate). The one year of production will concern teams, as will his struggles in the run game, but he’s also only going into his age 27 season and teams will likely pay him on the expectation that he continues improving, given how thin the edge rush market is.
With the Ravens having other free agent concerns, they could easily get outbid. The Cardinals have needs all over the field and plenty of cap space, so expect them to add at least a couple free agents on significant contracts. They’ve been tied to Joey Bosa with the #1 overall pick, but if they end up going with Kyler Murray as many expect, they’ll have to look elsewhere for edge rush help.
Prediction: 4 year, 40 million dollar contract with Arizona