2020 Franchise and Transition Tag Candidates

The franchise/transition tag period for the 2020 off-season starts this Thursday February 27th and goes through March 12th. After the 12th, all non-tagged players with expiring contracts will hit the open market. Those dates were both moved forward by two days with the NFL and NFLPA still trying to negotiate a new CBA ahead of the new league year. Those negotiations complicate this situation in a couple ways. On one hand, if a new CBA is agreed to, the franchise tag and transition tag values could be drastically changed from their current projections. On the other hand, without a new deal, teams will have access to both the franchise tag and the transition tag this off-season, making life much easier for teams with multiple top free agents. There’s a much larger pool than usual of top free agents who could be tagged this off-season, even with top free agents Tom Brady, Drew Brees, and Jadeveon Clowney all ineligible for the tag for different reasons. Below is a list in order of descending likelihood of candidates to be tagged without a long-term deal. 

QB Dak Prescott (Dallas)

This seems like the most no brainer franchise tag candidate, assuming a long-term deal isn’t worked out beforehand. The Cowboys might not be quite willing to meet Prescott’s 40 million dollar annual salary ask, but they’re unlikely to let him hit the open market without any compensation and the projected 26.895 million dollar franchise tag is a much easier number for the Cowboys to keep him at. Prescott is also unlikely to sign the tag right away, meaning the Cowboys could still pursue other quarterback options like Tom Brady this off-season and eventually trade Prescott at some point. 

DE Yannick Ngakoue (Jacksonville)

Not much remains of the dominant defense the Jaguars had in 2017 that carried them to the AFC Championship game, but Ngakoue was still a bright spot in an otherwise disappointing season for the Jaguars in 2019. He had 8 sacks and another 10 hits on the quarterback, giving him 37.5 sacks and 55 hits in 63 games for his career, along with a 12.0% pressure rate. His play against the run leaves something to be desired, but guys who can get to the quarterback as consistently as he does are guys you can build your defense around and those guys get paid on the open market. 

The Jaguars’ cap is clogged with big contracts, but they can move on from underperforming veterans to clear space for Ngakoue, who was severely underpaid in the final year of his rookie deal in 2019, making 2.025 million. The 2016 3rd round pick is only going into his age 25 season and is someone the Jaguars should want around for a long time. If he does end up leaving the Jaguars, I imagine it would only be in a tag and trade situation, as the Jaguars are unlikely to let him walk for nothing.

The only complication here is that while the defensive end franchise tag is worth 19.316 million, Ngakoue would likely get upwards of 20+ million annually with 50+ million guaranteed on the open market and may not be happy about being tagged. The Jaguars could have to agree to a long-term deal with him or work out a trade quickly to prevent it from becoming a problem, but that certainly beats the alternative of losing him outright.

DE Shaq Barrett (Tampa Bay)

Shaq Barrett is a player who the franchise tag seems tailor made for. After just 14 sacks in 4 seasons with the Broncos, Barrett led the NFL with 19.5 sacks this season after signing a one-year deal with the Buccaneers last off-season. Barrett played better than his sack total suggested in Denver, as he was a strong run defender who always flashed in limited pass rush opportunities behind the likes of Von Miller, DeMarcus Ware, and Bradley Chubb, with a 12.1% pressure rate in the first 4 seasons of his career, but the Buccaneers only signed him for 4 million last off-season and might not want to commit to him on a big money deal long-term just yet. Likewise, Barrett might not mind the one-year, 16.266 million dollar payday with an opportunity to break the bank next off-season with another strong season in Todd Bowles’ system. For that reason, the franchise tag makes a lot more sense than the transition tag for both sides.

DT Chris Jones (Kansas City)

Pat Mahomes was obviously going to win Super Bowl MVP for his efforts in leading the team back, but he was also pretty underwhelming for the first three quarters of the game and threw a pair of interceptions, so some felt that Chris Jones should be MVP instead for his 4th quarter disruptions of Jimmy Garoppolo. Jones didn’t just have a strong Super Bowl either, as the 2016 2nd round pick has finished in the top-8 among interior defenders on PFF in each of the past 3 seasons, while totalling 31 sacks, 33 hits, and a 12.3% pressure rate over that time. His play against the run leaves something to be desired, but as a pass rusher he’s been more productive than any interior player other than Aaron Donald and more productive than most edge players for that matter. Those guys usually get paid and the Chiefs are unlikely to let him hit the open market.

Whether or not Jones ultimately gets paid by the Chiefs is the question though. The Chiefs already have 12 million or more annually committed to 5 players on their roster and 8 million or more annually committed to 9 players on their roster. Those 9 players currently occupy about 61% of their cap space and that’s before the inevitable Pat Mahomes megadeal. The Chiefs might not be able to afford the 9 figure deal Jones would likely command on the open market. They could franchise tag him and bring him back on a one-year deal, but this could also be a tag and trade situation like the Chiefs did with Dee Ford last off-season. The tag and trade scenario would not work as well with the transition tag, so I wouldn’t expect the Chiefs to go with the cheaper option.

S Justin Simmons (Denver)

Simmons seems like a likely franchise tag candidate. A 3rd round pick in 2016, Simmons was a solid starter prior to 2019 (32 starts in his first 3 seasons in the league), but broke out in a big way in the final year of his rookie deal last season, finishing 1st among safeties on PFF. The Broncos might not want to commit to a top of market deal based off of one dominant season, but he’s more than earned the 12.735 million dollar franchise tag and is not someone the Broncos would want to lose. The transition tag, which could force the Broncos to make a long-term commitment this off-season, probably isn’t an option.

QB Ryan Tannehill (Tennessee)

At first glance, Tannehill might seem like an obvious franchise tag candidate. He took over a 2-4 team last season and led them to 7 wins in their final 10 games to qualify for the post-season, where they won a pair of games on the road in big upsets and advanced to the AFC Championship game. In the process, he led the NFL with a 117.5 QB rating. He had a good situation around him with a strong running game and offensive line and a capable receiving corps, but he’s still not the kind of player the Titans would want to lose. However, his performance in 88 starts with the Dolphins in his first 7 seasons of his career (87.0 QB rating) suggest he’s unlikely to have suddenly become an elite quarterback, so committing to him on a big money, long-term deal is risky. 

The 26.895 million dollar franchise tag seems like a great middle ground option, but there are some complicating factors. For one, the Titans are rumored to be interested in trying to sign Tom Brady this off-season, but won’t be able to talk to him until they’ve made a decision on tagging Tannehill or not. The Titans could tag him and try to negotiate with Brady anyway, but Tannehill could end up opting to sign the tender to keep his job on a contending team. The 26.895 million dollar franchise tag is a steep increase for a quarterback who took home just 10.425 million last season. 

On top of that, the Titans also want to keep running back Derrick Henry off the open market and if a new CBA is ratified soon, the Titans wouldn’t have the option of both the franchise tag and the transition tag and would have to make a decision between Tannehill and Henry. I’d still expect Tannehill to be tagged as, even though this could be a big off-season for quarterback movement, the Titans still don’t want to be left without a chair at the end of it, but it’s not a given, especially if a new CBA is agreed to and/or the Titans get a sense they might get Brady.

OLB Matthew Judon (Baltimore)

Judon has never had a double digit sack season in his career, but he was still a dominant pass rusher in 2019, with 9.5 sacks, 24 hits, and a 14.1% pressure rate. He has his struggles against the run and his 38th ranked finish overall among edge defenders on PFF in 2019 was his career best, so he’s not an elite overall player, but he’s also not the kind of player the Ravens want to lose because of his pass rush productivity (12.2% pressure rate in his career). Working in the Ravens’ favor is the fact that Judon would be tagged as a linebacker (16.266 million) rather than a defensive end (19.316 million) because the Ravens run a 3-4 and the NFL uses archaic position titles for the franchise tag. 

WR AJ Green (Cincinnati)

It’s clear that AJ Green would prefer not to be franchise tagged, but he wouldn’t have much of a say in the matter. His only option would be to hold out the season and try to force a trade by doing so, but I don’t think Green would risk missing the season now at age 32 after missing all of last season with injury. The Bengals have never committed to top market long-term deals with players at any position and Green, despite being arguably their best player in the past decade, is unlikely to be an exception given his age and injury history. 

The Bengals likely view Tyler Boyd, who they extended on a 4-year, 43 million dollar deal, as their long-term #1, but Green can still be a difference maker when he’s on the field, and the Bengals may want to bring him back to help with likely #1 pick Joe Burrow’s development. They may view the franchise tag as a bridge to a short-term team friendly deal as the best way to proceed with Green this off-season even if that doesn’t seem to be what Green himself wants, as he’d like to try to sign a guaranteed long-term deal with a legitimate contender this off-season. The transition tag, which would force the Bengals to match a long-term deal or lose Green for no compensation, is unlikely to be an option.

OT Anthony Castonzo (Indianapolis)

There are rumors Castonzo is considering retiring ahead of what would be his age 32 season, so this is obviously assuming he wants to continue playing. If he does, the Colts will likely want to retain a left tackle who has been rock solid for them since being drafted in the first round in 2011 and still played at a high level in 2019, even being on the older side. He’s started 132 games in 9 seasons in the league, finishing in the top-23 among offensive tackles in all but his rookie season, including 3 seasons in the top-8 and a 7th ranked finish in 2019. Castonzo likely wouldn’t command a 4+ year deal in free agency, so the Colts could use either tag on him and work on a short-term extension that pays him near the top of the left tackle market for another couple seasons. They have plenty of cap space and wouldn’t want to break up a strong offensive line.

DE Arik Armstead (San Francisco)

Armstead is a good fit for the franchise tag. A first round pick in 2015, Armstead was a good run stopping defensive end with solid peripheral pass rush stats through his first 4 seasons in the league (12.3% pressure rate), but missed 18 games with injury, averaged just 406 snaps per season, and totalled a combined 9 sacks. That all changed in the final year of his rookie deal, when he broke out with 10 sacks, while adding 9 hits, and a pressure rate of 12.5%, while continuing to play the run well and playing 776 snaps overall. Overall, he finished as PFF’s 4th ranked edge defender on the season. 

The 49ers don’t want to lose someone like that with their Super Bowl window still wide open, but it would be risky to give him a big long-term deal with a lot of guaranteed money because he’s only put it all together once. Armstead also hasn’t objected to questions about the franchise tag, likely understanding that the 19.316 million it would pay him next season is still a significant sum for one year for a player who had 9 career sacks a season ago and understanding that if he has another strong year he’d likely break the bank in free agency next off-season. The transition tag is less likely because he’d probably get an offer, forcing the 49ers to decide whether or not to commit to a long-term deal with him.

DE Leonard Williams (NY Giants)

Williams was the 6th overall pick by the Jets in 2015 and overall lived up to expectations. He never posted huge sack numbers, but he was consistently a strong run stuffer and had good peripheral pass rush stats as well, adding 70 hits and a 9.7% pressure rate to his 17 sacks in 71 games with the Jets. He maxed out as PFF’s 10th ranked interior defender in 2016 and has finished in the top-28 three times. Williams made it no secret about the kind of long-term deal he’s looking for this off-season though and, as a result, the Jets traded Williams in the middle of what was an overall down year for him to the Giants for a 3rd and 5th round draft pick to recoup something for a player they weren’t expecting to bring back. 

Even after he finished last season 42nd among interior defenders on PFF, the Giants still seem to value him highly and likely didn’t trade significant draft picks for him to see him walk in free agency. Still only going into his age 26 season, Williams has obvious bounce back potential for 2020 and beyond and is likely to be tagged by the Giants with the idea of working out a long-term agreement with him. They view him as a long-term building block. 

WR Amari Cooper (Dallas)

Cooper’s situation is complicated by Dak Prescott also being a pending free agent, but the Cowboys are unlikely to let Cooper walk for nothing, after using a first round pick to acquire him just a season and a half ago. Assuming the Cowboys get use of both tags, Cooper would be an obvious candidate for the transition tag, as the Cowboys would likely match any deal he’d get on the open market. He’s averaged a 84/1225/9 slash line per 16 games in 25 games with the team and could be looking at 18-20 million annually on a long-term deal, still only going into his age 26 season.

RB Derrick Henry (Tennessee)

Henry would be a no-brainer franchise tag candidate if Tannehill wasn’t also a pending free agency. Instead, the Titans will have to hope there isn’t a new CBA and that they’ll have use of both their franchise tag and transition tag. With Tannehill likely to be franchised, Henry would be an obvious candidate for the transition tag. The 10.189 million dollar transition tag is still a steep sum for a running back, but Henry is incredibly important to the Titans’ offense and it’s likely they value him higher than any other team would and, as a result, would match any long-term deal he gets on the open market. Even after his rushing title and dominant post-season performance last season, Henry still might not reach the Todd Gurley/Ezekiel Elliott tier of running back contracts because of his limitations on passing downs. 

G Brandon Scherff (Washington)

Not much has gone right for the Redskins over the past few seasons, but the selection of Brandon Scherff 5th overall in 2015 has been one of the bright spots and, as such, the Redskins are unlikely to let one of their few true building blocks leave this off-season. Injuries are a minor concern as he’s missed 15 games in the past 3 seasons, but he’s also finished in the top-27 among guards on PFF in all 5 seasons in the league, including top-7 finishes in 2017 and 2019. Expect the Redskins to give him one of the two tags with the idea of buying them more time to sign him to a long-term deal. 

CB James Bradberry (Carolina)

The Panthers’ top cornerback, Bradberry is rumored to be looking for offers of about 14-15 million annually in free agency this off-season. The Panthers have plenty of cap space and could keep him with the 16.471 million dollar franchise tag or the 14.57 million dollar transition tag. Bradberry regularly matches up with top wide receivers, but he has had trouble holding his own, finishing in the top-15 among cornerbacks in yards allowed in each of the past 3 seasons, including 2 seasons in the top-7. Still, he’s only going into his age 26 season and the Panthers may project him as a better player going forward than he’s been in the past.

S Anthony Harris (Minnesota)

Harris wasn’t even drafted back in 2015, but the former special teamer has been a revelation as a starter for the Vikings at safety over the past season and a half. After playing 621 career defensive snaps through week 7 of his 4th season in the league in 2018, Harris took over as the starter in week 8 and has been one of the best safeties in the league since, finishing 5th among safeties on PFF in 9 starts in 2018 and then 2nd as a 15-game starter in 2019. 

Harris has been a late bloomer, but he’s only going into his age 29 season and should command a top of the market deal in free agency. The Vikings don’t want to lose him, but will need to let other players go and get creative with the cap to tag him. With so much long-term money tied up in other places and another top level safety on the team in Harrison Smith, this could ultimately be a tag and trade scenario.

TE Hunter Henry (LA Chargers)

Henry has missed 23 games in 4 seasons in the league since the Chargers took him in the 2nd round in 2016, but he’s averaged a 53/667/7 slash line per 16 games, despite spending his first two seasons as a part-time player behind Antonio Gates on the depth chart. Last season was his first full season as a starter and, though he missed 4 games with injury, he ranked 9th in the NFL in receiving yards by a tight end and was on a 869-yard pace per 16 games. Throughout his career, he’s averaged an impressive 8.85 yards per target in his career and he is also an above average blocker to boot. 

Signing Henry to a big long-term deal may be a risk, but he doesn’t turn 26 until December and there is plenty of evidence that Henry could have a monster season if he can ever put it all together for a 16-game stretch and that’s probably not the kind of player the Chargers want to lose, especially with franchise star Philip Rivers likely on his way out this off-season. I’d say there’s a better chance than not that the Chargers tag him, with the franchise tag making more sense than the transition tag because the Chargers wouldn’t have to worry about making a decision on whether or not to match.

OLB Dante Fowler (LA Rams)

Fowler has had an interesting career. Drafted 3rd overall in 2015 by the Jaguars, Fowler tore his ACL at his first practice as a professional, missed his whole rookie season, and had lost his starting job by his return, playing just 30.7 snaps per game in 39 games for the Jaguars before they traded him to the Rams for a 3rd and 5th round pick in the middle of the 2018 season. Fowler had shown promise as a pass rusher in limited action with the Jaguars, with a 10.6% pressure rate, but was underwhelming in his half season with the Rams, with 2 sacks, 5 hits, and 16 hurries on 256 pass rush snaps. Fowler hit free agency last off-season because the Jaguars had declined his 5th year option, but the Rams were willing to bring him back on a one-year, 12 million dollar deal and were rewarded with Fowler breaking out with a 11.5-sack season. 

With Fowler still only going into his age 26 season, he figures to secure a big deal in free agency this off-season. Fowler’s peripheral pass rush stats, 6 hits and a 13.2% pressure rate, weren’t as good as his sack total and he finished just 35th overall among edge defenders on PFF, so the cap strapped Rams might not see bringing him back as a necessity, but they could still tag him to keep him off the open market because the 16.266 million dollar franchise tag and the 14.08 million dollar transition tag are likely both less than he’d get annually in free agency.

DT DJ Reader (Houston)

The 6-3 346 pound Reader isn’t just a big run stuffer, although he is one of the better run stuffing base package nose tackles in the league. What could make him worth the 12.321 million dollar transition tag or even the 15.5 million dollar franchise tag is his ability to stay on the field for all 3 downs, playing 60.6% of the snaps over the past 2 seasons. He had just 2.5 sacks last season, but added 11 hits and a 9.9% pressure rate and he has a 8.4% pressure rate for his career. The 2016 5th round pick has gotten better every season in the league and finished last year as PFF’s 5th ranked interior defender overall. Big run stuffers like him that also contribute on passing downs are rare.

OLB Bud Dupree (Pittsburgh)

Dupree’s 11.5 sacks in 2019 suggest he’s someone the Steelers wouldn’t want to lose, but they are tight on cap space and Dupree has some obvious downsides. The former first round pick never topped 6 sacks in a season before his contract year in 2019 and even in 2019 he had just a 9.5% pressure rate and several of his sacks were the result of playing on an overall strong defense with a dominant edge rusher in TJ Watt on the opposite side. He was just PFF’s 25th ranked edge defender, still a career best, and has just a 9.3% pressure rate for his career, so he could be an overpay on a big long-term deal.

Tagging Dupree and making him repeat his big sack total to get a long-term deal would make a lot more sense than committing to him long-term this off-season, but the 16.266 million dollar linebacker tag could be too big of a cap hold for a #2 edge defender for a Steelers team that is short on cap space already and needs to figure out a long-term deal for TJ Watt sometime soon. The most likely scenario in which he returns to the Steelers in 2020 may be one where he returns on a team friendly deal long-term deal after not finding the market he expects in free agency. On a long-term deal, the Steelers could lower his cap hit for 2020 and keep kicking the can on their cap problems. For that reason, the transition tag might make the most sense of all. 

OT Jack Conklin (Tennessee)

Conklin’s situation is complicated by the Titans also having Ryan Tannehill and Derrick Henry, as well as to a lesser extent cornerback Logan Ryan, set to hit the open market without a tag. The Titans can use both tags if a new CBA isn’t agreed to before free agency, but the Titans wouldn’t be able to keep all of their top free agents off the open market without signing some long-term deals. Unless Tannehill or Henry sign a long-term deal before free agency, they’re likely to take precedence over Conklin for the tags.

That being said, if either of those two players does re-sign long-term before free agency and the Titans have the transition tag available, Conklin would become an obvious choice, even above the 29-year old Ryan. The 26-year old Conklin is very much in the prime of his career and is only hitting free agency because the Titans Jon Robinson led front office made a rare mistake last off-season in declining Conklin’s 5th year option over concerns about the health of his knee. 

That 5th year option would have had Conklin under contract for 12.86 million in 2020. The transition tag instead would cost the Titans 14.666 million. After Conklin finished last season as PFF’s 12th ranked offensive tackle, the long-term deal the Titans are likely to have to match will probably exceed both of those totals annually with significant upfront guarantees. Injury concerns appear to be a non-factor with Conklin having never missed a game aside from the 7 he missed in 2018 while recovering from his January 2018 torn ACL. 

CB Byron Jones (Dallas)

Jones is a distant 3rd on the Cowboys’ free agent priority list behind Prescott and Cooper, but if one of those two gets signed long-term and both the franchise tag and transition tag are available to the Cowboys this off-season, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Jones get the transition tag. Even then, the Cowboys might not match a long-term deal he gets elsewhere as he’s likely to get paid at the top of the cornerback market and the Cowboys have other financial obligations and promising young cornerbacks behind Jones on the depth chart, but the Cowboys will likely at least try to keep a cornerback who has finished 7th and 15th among cornerbacks on PFF in the past 2 seasons respectively.

S Devin McCourty (New England)

I don’t know if McCourty would get the 12.735 million dollar franchise tag for his age 33 season in 2020, but the 10.801 million dollar transition tag could be an option. McCourty was still PFF’s 11th ranked safety last season for one of the best defenses in the league, so that wouldn’t be an unreasonable amount for him to get on a one-year deal and it would give the Patriots the right to match if McCourty were to try to sign elsewhere. McCourty probably would prefer to stay in New England, so he may give the Patriots the right to match regardless, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see the Patriots keep such an important player off the open market entirely.

CB Chris Harris (Denver)

Harris is a veteran who is likely to want to test the open market over being tagged, given that he’s running out of chances to sign big money deals with legitimate contenders, now going into his age 31 off-season. Harris definitely took a step back last season, finishing 35th among cornerbacks on PFF, after finishing in the top-18 in 8 straight seasons prior to last season, but there’s still an argument to be made for bringing Harris back on the 14.57 million dollar transition tag and seeing what his market is. Harris is still the Broncos’ best cornerback and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him bounce back in 2020. A long-term deal with significant guarantees might not be the best idea, but he could easily have another couple strong seasons left in the tank. As of right now, it looks like the Broncos are willing to let Harris test the market without a tag, but that could change.

TE Austin Hooper (Atlanta)

Hooper is much less likely to be tagged than fellow top free agent tight end Hunter Henry, but that’s primarily because the Falcons don’t have much cap flexibility and already have made significant investments on offense. Still, Hooper is the safer choice between the two tight ends, as his receiving totals in the past 2 seasons have both topped Henry’s career best mark and he’s also only missed 5 games in 4 seasons in the league, while Henry has missed 23, though Henry is the better blocker and more efficient pass catcher on a per target basis. Hooper is still a solid blocker though, making him one of the few tight ends in the league who can be mismatches in the passing game and hold their own in the run game. He’ll get paid by someone this off-season and the Falcons attempting a tag and trade wouldn’t be a shock.

S Jimmie Ward (San Francisco)

Much like fellow former 49ers first round pick Arik Armstead, Ward has had injury issues throughout much of his career and finally put it all together in 2019. A first round pick in 2014, Ward missed 29 games in the first 5 seasons of his career and had to settle for a 1-year, 4.5 million dollar deal to return to the 49ers last off-season. That contract started out with more of the same, with Ward missing the first 3 games of the season, but he returned to play the rest of the way and finished 8th among safeties on PFF. His previous best finish was 28th, so he’s the definition of a one-year wonder and his injury history is obviously concerning, but I would expect the 49ers to at least consider tagging him, even though it’s likely unrealistic given their cap situation to keep both Armstead and Ward on big contracts long-term.

MLB Cory Littleton (LA Rams)

Originally undrafted in 2016, Littleton has worked his way up from a special teamer in his first two seasons to a starter in 2018 and, after a solid first season as a starter, Littleton took his game to another level in 2019, finishing 6th among off ball linebackers on PFF. He has a few things working against his chances of getting tagged though. For one, the Rams are tight on cap space. Two, the linebacker tag value is inflated because of 3-4 edge rushing linebackers, so Littleton would cost 16.266 million on the franchise tag and 14.08 million on the transition tag, which would rank 3rd and 5th annually among non-rush linebackers. Three, the Rams also have rush linebacker Dante Fowler set to hit free agency and may prefer to tag him instead, if they end up keeping either one.

RB Kenyan Drake (Arizona)

The idea of Drake being tagged would have seemed ridiculous a few months ago when the Cardinals acquired him from the Dolphins at the trade deadline for just a 6th round pick, but Drake turned what was supposed to be a temporary stint as the starter with David Johnson and Chase Edmonds hurt into a full-time gig, rushing for 643 yards and 8 touchdowns on 123 carries (5.23 YPC) in 8 games, while adding 28 catches for 171 yards through the air. 

Johnson still has 5.1 million guaranteed on his contract for 2020 and the Cardinals would lose cap space if they cut him, but they could trade him, though they’d likely have to get creative with the deal structure and eat salary in that scenario. Reportedly, they’d be doing that with the idea of tagging Drake and keeping him long-term. It might not be likely, but Drake is a perfect fit for the Cardinals’ wide open offense with his ability to make plays in space and run over defenses that are lined up to defend the pass. 

Drake never posted big numbers in Miami, but he averaged 4.60 yards per carry on 333 carries running behind an awful offensive line, while breaking 67 tackles and averaging 3.29 yards per carry after contact. The one downside is he’s never had more than 170 carries in a season even dating back to high school, so he hasn’t proven he can hold up as a feature back for a full season yet, but he also has fresh legs going into his age 26 season with 456 career carries. Drake could be a candidate for the transition tag as well as the Cardinals likely value him more than any other team would and would match any long-term deal he signs. Johnson’s presence on a big salary obviously complicates things though.

Top-10 Most Likely Destinations if Brady Were to Leave New England

Free agency is always a big time of year for the NFL, but this year’s free agency has a potential free agent case unlikely any other, with 6-time Super Bowl winning quarterback Tom Brady set to hit free agency for the first time in two decades in the league ahead of his age 43 season. Unlike when Peyton Manning hit free agency in 2012, Brady is not coming off of a significant injury and, though his age is unprecedented for a top level quarterback, he still played at a relatively high level all things considered in 2019. 

Brady originally was set to enter the 2019 season with two years left on his deal, but he and the Patriots re-negotiated a “3-year” deal with automatically voiding years in 2020 and 2021, making him a free agent this off-season, without allowing the Patriots the option of the franchise tag to keep him off the open market. The move was originally seen as a way for the Patriots to free up cap space, as they got an additional 5.5 million in space for 2019 because of the structure of the deal, but they also gave Brady a 8 million dollar raise in 2019 and would incur a 13.5 million dollar cap hit on the first day of free agency if Brady is not re-signed by them, so it doesn’t make a lot of sense that they would give up a controlled year of Brady just for financial reasons.

More likely, the Patriots just wanted to do right by Brady and allow him the opportunity to choose where he wants to play in 2020 and beyond. Under the original structure of his deal, Brady’s future would be completely controlled by the Patriots. If they wanted to find another option in free agency and trade Brady or cut him late in free agency, Brady would have had no control over that. Brady likely did not like that arrangement, especially given the Patriots’ history of doing that kind of thing with veteran players, and asked for a restructured deal that allowed him to hit free agency in 2020 if he wished and the Patriots were willing oblige as an act of good faith towards their long-time franchise quarterback.

Throughout the season, rumors started coming out that Brady would look to leave after the season, even putting his house up for sale, and those rumors didn’t slow down when the Patriots were surprisingly bounced in the wild card round after a 8-0 start. Now about a month before free agency, Brady hitting the open market seems inevitable. The Patriots should still be considered the favorite to keep him, as they offer a competitive football situation with stability and familiarity that no one else can offer, but Brady will at least listen to other options. 

Money will be part of it, but Brady likely values a Super Bowl contending situation and long-term stability more than anything. Ultimately, I think the one thing that would entice Brady to leave New England is a Kirk Cousins style fully guaranteed 3-year deal, something the Patriots would be highly unlikely to give to him. Guaranteeing that kind of money to a quarterback for his age 43-45 seasons would be an obvious risk, but it wouldn’t surprise me if a competitive team were willing to give him that kind of stability. Behind the Patriots, I’ve assembled a list of the top-10 teams Brady could be playing for next season.

I’ve eliminated destinations that wouldn’t make sense based on a few factors: any team with a locked in financial commitment to their current quarterback in 2020 (Pittsburgh, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Green Bay, Seattle, LA Rams, Minnesota), any team with a young quarterback who wouldn’t want to give a fully guaranteed 3-year deal to a quarterback over 40 (NY Giants, Buffalo, NY Jets, Houston, Kansas City, Baltimore, Cleveland, Arizona), and any team that is not close to competing for a Super Bowl (Washington, Miami, Cincinnati, Jacksonville, Carolina, and Detroit). That leaves 10 options, which make varying levels of sense. Below is the list in reverse order of likelihood.

10. Chicago Bears

I thought about eliminating the Bears because they have a young quarterback, but the jury is very much still out on former #2 overall pick Mitch Trubisky and it’s not hard to see how the Bears could be interested in upgrading with Brady, even if it means giving up on Trubisky long-term. The bigger issue here is financial, as the Bears have among the least cap space in the league going into this off-season, even before re-signing their own free agents. They don’t seem to have the long-term financial flexibility to make the kind of offer Brady is looking for.

9. Denver Broncos

The Broncos also could have been eliminated because of their young quarterback Drew Lock, a 2019 2nd round pick who went 4-1 in 5 rookie year starts, but the Broncos aren’t as tied to him long-term as they would have been had he gone in the first round. On top of that, John Elway’s propensity to go after older Super Bowl winning quarterbacks is well known, bringing in Peyton Manning back in 2012 and then in a less successful move Joe Flacco last off-season. The Broncos could use more skill position talent, but they have the defense to be a competitive team with good quarterback play and are coming off of a 4-1 stretch to end the season with an up and down rookie under center. 

8. New Orleans Saints

The Saints might shoot to the top of the list in the unlikely scenario that Brees decides to hang them up this off-season, but the low likelihood of that scenario keeps the Saints near the bottom of the list. If Brees does decide to retire, Brady would likely give the Saints their best chance of continuing to compete in 2020 and the Saints would give Brady an obvious Super Bowl contending roster around him. With Brees at least considering retirement, file Brady to the Saints under crazy but not completely impossible.

7. Dallas Cowboys

By all indications, the Cowboys view Dak Prescott as a franchise quarterback, but with Prescott set to hit free agency this off-season and reportedly seeking $35-$40 million annually and Brady available as a short-term replacement, it wouldn’t be the craziest thing to see the Cowboys get in the mix for Brady. Jerry Jones loves the star power Brady would bring to the organization and the Cowboys are one of the more talented teams Brady could go to. Ultimately they may just not want to part ways with a quarterback in the prime of his career for one at the tailend of his. Brady may also have concerns about the coaching staff and the structure of the Cowboys’ organization. For those reasons, the Cowboys are relatively low on the list.

6. San Francisco 49ers

The 49ers just made the Super Bowl with Jimmy Garoppolo, but Garoppolo is in the non-guaranteed portion of his contract and can be let go without any money owed in 2020 and with only 4.2 million in deap cap and he may be a bit of a weak link on an otherwise dominant roster. With Brady going into his age 43 season, it would be risky for the 49ers to cut ties with Garoppolo, who is certainly a capable starter in the prime of his career, but they may view that as a worthwhile risk to make while their championship window is open.

5. Indianapolis Colts

The Colts do have some guaranteed money owed to current starter Jacoby Brissett in 2020, but just 8.875 million out of 15.875 million total, so they have the leverage to ask him to take a pay cut, either as part of a trade to compete for a job elsewhere or to stay in Indianapolis and reclaim his old role as Tom Brady’s backup. As crazy as it would be to see Brady in a Colts uniform after all his memorable matchups against them, the Colts do have a solid roster on both sides of the ball, one that was considered a pre-season Super Bowl contender before Andrew Luck’s surprise retirement, and they have the cap space to sign Brady to a top of the market deal and still have money leftover to make other additions in free agency.

4. Las Vegas Raiders

Derek Carr isn’t a bad quarterback, but his 19 million dollar salary for 2020 is non-guaranteed and the Raiders can move on from him with just 7.9 million in dead cap, so they’re widely expected to pursue Brady as a short-term upgrade over Carr this off-season, as they look to make a splash in their first season in Las Vegas. The Raiders have a strong offensive line and running game and you can imagine Brady making heavy use of a shifty slot receiver in Hunter Renfrow and a pass catching tight end in Darren Waller, but their defense still has a lot of problems, so adding Brady wouldn’t make them instant contenders. Brady would have a better chance to win with any of the three teams above the Raiders on this list.

3. Los Angeles Chargers

The Chargers were the first team linked to Brady when it was rumored that he might leave the Patriots. The Chargers went just 5-11 last season, but they were in most of their games despite serious injury absences and they’re looking to upgrade on likely departing quarterback Philip Rivers, who is coming off of a down year and heading into free agency ahead of his age 39 season. Brady also grew up in California, albeit 400 miles north, and owns property in Los Angeles where he has spent long stretches of previous off-seasons, so many have been connecting dots between Brady and the Chargers for months.

The Chargers have obvious talent on both sides of the ball, but they would need to significantly improve their offensive line this off-season for Brady not to suffer the same fate as Philip Rivers did last season and the Chargers organizational dysfunction can’t be ignored when evaluating the Chargers as an option either. Dean Spanos is widely viewed as one of the worst owners in football and, while Brady’s addition would undoubtedly draw more fans to the stadium, Brady would still be dealing with the possibility of playing in front of crowds that favor the opposite team every week if he were to go to the Chargers. After two decades with the most stable organization in the league, that might not be something Brady wants to deal with.

2. Tennessee Titans

The Titans ended Brady’s season and possibly his career with the Patriots with their upset victory over them in the post-season earlier this year and they would make sense as a destination for Brady if he were to leave New England. The Titans won 9 of 13 games including playoffs with journeyman Ryan Tannehill under center last season, en route to a surprise AFC Championship appearance, but Tannehill is a free agent this off-season and the Titans, who have plenty of New England connections already, including head coach Mike Vrabel and GM Jon Robinson, may see Brady as a higher upside option than Tannehill, even in his age 43 season. 

The Titans have the cap space to sign Brady and keep both running back Derrick Henry and right tackle Jack Conklin, to ensure Brady is supported by the same offensive line and running game as Tannehill was. The Titans might give Brady his best chance to win a Super Bowl. The only reason they’re 2nd on this list is because, even with all of their New England connections, they may prefer to bring back Ryan Tannehill instead given how well he played down the stretch and Brady’s age. The Titans were widely expected to retain Tannehill on the franchise tag according to reports a couple months ago and it’s unclear if that’s changed even with the possibility of acquiring Brady seemingly on the table.

1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

While the Titans may prefer to bring back Tannehill rather than sign Brady, the Buccaneers are highly unlikely to prefer their incumbent quarterback to Brady. They’ve been linked to basically every available quarterback this off-season as they look for an upgrade over Jameis Winston, who led the NFL with 5,109 passing yards and finished 2nd with 33 passing touchdowns last season, but also threw 30 interceptions, most by a quarterback in a season since 1988. Winston was widely considered to be a great fit for Arians’ downfield scheme, but he cost them at least a couple wins with costly interceptions and, even only going into his age 26 season, Arians may feel he’s gotten the most he can get out of Winston.

Given that the Buccaneers are obviously in the market for an upgrade, Brady going to Tampa Bay would make a lot of sense. He’d get to work with a respected head coach and offensive mind in Bruce Arians, he’d get to throw to arguably the top wide receiver duo in the NFL in Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, and he’d be supported by an up and coming young defense. The Buccaneers could have been a playoff team with competent quarterback play in 2019. In 2020, they could be Super Bowl contenders if they can find the right signal caller and, even going into his age 43 season, Brady should be at the top of their list.

If Brady does leave, the question then becomes who would replace him in New England. The Patriots like backup Jarrett Stidham, but there are no indications they believe the 2019 4th round pick could start in 2020. On top of that, the Patriots would have many more veteran options available to them this off-season than they would in a normal off-season, as this is shaping up to be a big off-season for quarterback movement, so they’re likely to go that route. Below are the top-3 most likely replacements if Brady were to sign elsewhere this off-season.

3. Andy Dalton

Dalton is unlikely to be back in Cincinnati unless he’s willing to take a significantly reduced rate to be a veteran backup for likely #1 overall pick Joe Burrow, but he hasn’t been a bad quarterback throughout 133 starts in 9 seasons with the Bengals and could have at least some trade value on essentially a one-year, 17.7 million dollar deal, which makes him just the 17th highest paid quarterback in the NFL in average annual salary. He may also be willing to take a pay cut for the right situation. Dalton has never been one to carry a weak roster, but he’d have a strong defense supporting him in New England and the Patriots could bring along his long-time #1 option AJ Green with the savings from replacing Brady with Dalton. 

2. Philip Rivers

Rivers is all but out with the Chargers, even if they don’t sign Brady, as their plan B seems to be veteran incumbent backup Tyrod Taylor and a rookie. Rivers is strongly rumored to be interested in signing with the Buccaneers and he just relocated his family to Florida, but if Brady goes there instead, Rivers could be very intrigued by the opportunity to go north and compete for a Super Bowl in New England. A Super Bowl win is the one thing missing from an otherwise Hall-of-Fame career and the Patriots would provide the kind of organizational stability he rarely had with the Chargers. He’s coming off of a down year and going into his age 39 season, but he had a strong season in 2018 and has as much upside as any quarterback available this off-season.

1. Teddy Bridgewater

Bridgewater could potentially be Drew Brees’ eventual replacement in New Orleans, but if Brady leaves New England, don’t be surprised if Bridgewater ends up as Brady’s replacement instead. Unlike Dalton and Rivers, who would be one or two year stop gaps, Bridgewater is still only going into his age 28 season and could be a long-term franchise quarterback. The 2014 first round pick looked on his way towards doing so in the first 2 seasons of his career, but he suffered a horrific knee injury before the 2016 season that put his career on hold. It’s been a long road back for Bridgewater, but he showed a lot of promise in a 5 and a half game stretch in place of an injured Brees last season and is reportedly willing to leave the Saints for a guaranteed starting job elsewhere. Bridgewater, who excels in the short to intermediate part of the field where the Patriots love to attack, could be a great fit in Foxborough.

Not so honorable mentions: Marcus Mariota, Jameis Winston

Neither one would make sense as a reclamation project for a team that would have Super Bowl ambitions even without Brady. Winston is the most turnover prone quarterback in the league, which wouldn’t fly with coach Bill Belichick, while Mariota has shown few signs of being an above average starting quarterback in 61 career starts. The Patriots figure to have better options available even in a worst case scenario. They could also look at quarterbacks early in the draft depending on what happens.

On top of that, the Patriots list of options could change in a fluid quarterback market. With some of the aforementioned possible destinations, Brady’s arrival would make the incumbent starter available. Brady going to Tennessee would make Ryan Tannehill an option. Derek Carr would be an option if Brady were to go to Oakland. Former Brady backups Jimmy Garroppolo and Jacoby Brissett could become available if Brady were to replace either of them. 

Dak Prescott would be an unrestricted free agent if Jerry Jones went with Brady instead, though the Patriots are unlikely to be his highest bidder on the open market. Veterans like Cam Newton and Nick Foles could also become available depending on what their current teams want to do long-term, as crazy as it would be to see either of those guys in a Patriots uniform. While Brady is likely to stay put, this is shaping up to be an exciting off-season at the quarterback position around the league.

2015 NFL Draft Redo

1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – DE Danielle Hunter (LSU)

After 5 seasons, the jury is still out on the quarterback the Buccaneers took here, Jameis Winston, which is not what you want from a quarterback you select first overall. With Winston set to hit free agency, the Buccaneers are exploring all other quarterback options and seem to view Winston as a last resort. Unfortunately, there isn’t a sure fire franchise quarterback in this draft worth taking #1 overall, so the Buccaneers address another need, by adding arguably the best overall player from this draft class. 

Hunter was just a third round selection, but he has 54.5 sacks and a 13.4% pressure rate in 78 career games and has been as good as any pass rusher in the league over the past 2 seasons, with 29 sacks, 3rd in the NFL. Also a good run defender, Hunter is coming off the best overall season of his career in 2019, finishing 8th among edge defenders on Pro Football Focus, and he doesn’t even turn 26 until October. 

2. Tennessee Titans – OT Trent Brown (Florida)

Like the Buccaneers, the jury is still out on the quarterback the Titans selected here, Marcus Mariota, who the Titans are fully expected to let hit free agency this off-season. Without a good quarterback option here, the Titans address a big need at right tackle with Trent Brown. They eventually fixed their right tackle problem with the 8th overall pick in 2016 Jack Conklin, but taking Brown a year earlier would have allowed the Titans to use that pick elsewhere. Brown was just a 7th round pick originally due to weight concerns, but he’s stayed in shape and has developed into one of the best right tackles in the league. In a draft class that lacks many elite players, he’d make sense even as high as #2 overall. 

3. Jacksonville Jaguars – DT Grady Jarrett (Clemson)

The Jaguars’ original pick Dante Fowler eventually developed into a solid player with the Rams, but he was never worth this pick for the Jaguars and only returned a 3rd and 5th round pick via trade. With Hunter off the board, there isn’t a top flight edge rusher available here for the Jaguars, but with Yannick Ngakoue and Calais Campbell coming in subsequent off-seasons, defensive end hasn’t been a need for the Jaguars in recent years, which is part of why they let Fowler go.

Instead, they fill a need at defensive tackle with Grady Jarrett, who is one of the best all-around defensive tackles in the NFL, despite only being a 5th round pick originally. He’s finished 16th, 6th, and 3rd respectively on Pro Football Focus among interior defenders on PFF in the past 3 seasons, dominating as a run stuffer, ranking 3rd in the NFL among defensive tackles with 35 tackles for a loss, and totalling 17.5 sacks, 30 hits, and a 9.4% pressure rate in 46 games.  

4. Oakland Raiders – CB Marcus Peters (Washington)

The way Peters plays sometimes, he could arguably go off the board #1 in this re-draft, but he’s been inconsistent enough to already be on his 3rd team in 5 seasons in the league. He struggled so much with the Rams that they got rid of him in what amounted to a salary dump, only to watch him be one of the top cornerbacks in the league for a dominant Ravens defense the rest of the year. He’s finished 16th, 14th, and 4th among cornerbacks on Pro Football Focus in 2016, 2017, and 2019 respectively, but also 99th in 2018.

The Raiders are the kind of team willing to take the good with the bad with a player like Peters, who is originally from the Oakland area and would be a big help for a team that has had significant cornerback problems for years. Amari Cooper wasn’t a bad choice by the Raiders here originally, but considering they ended up trading him 3 and a half years later, albeit for a future first round pick, it’s likely they’d go another direction in a re-draft.

5. Washington Redskins – G Brandon Scherff (Iowa)

The Redskins have been pretty happy with their original selection of Scherff here, aside from a few injuries (15 games missed over the past 3 seasons). He’s finished in the top-27 among guards on Pro Football Focus in all 5 seasons in the league, including top-7 finishes in 2017 and 2019. He made 12.525 million on his 5th year option last season and could set a new high for the position with 14+ million annually with a new deal in free agency this off-season. He’s a candidate for the 14.915 million dollar franchise tag for a Redskins team that doesn’t want to lose one of their few building blocks on offense. 

6. New York Jets – RB Todd Gurley (Georgia)

Todd Gurley was a tough one to place. He’s played like an MVP at times, but he plays a position with a short shelf life and just five years into his career he already has significant injury and durability concerns and is signed to an increasingly bad looking 4-year, 57.5 million dollar deal that has already paid him 15 million in new money even though it technically hasn’t even started yet. There are also concerns about how he would perform without all of the talent around him on the Rams’ offense. Without an obvious other option, the Jets take a chance at 6, hope to get a few great years from him, and maybe would be wise enough with full hindsight to let him walk at the end of his rookie deal. 

7. Chicago Bears – WR Amari Cooper (Alabama)

It’s crazy to think the debate for top wide receiver in this draft class was between Amari Cooper and Kevin White, who originally went 7th overall to the Bears after Cooper went 4th to the Raiders. White suffered a series of career disrupting injuries and ended up with 25 catches in 14 games with the Bears, while Cooper, though he hasn’t always played at 100% through injuries of his own, has averaged a 71/1019/7 slash line in 5 seasons in the league and is coming off of a career best at 79/1189/8, putting him 8th in the NFL in receiving yards last season. The Cowboys are unlikely to let him hit free agency this off-season, but he figures to get a massive payday either way. He would be a dream selection for a Bears team that has still had issues at the wide receiver position to this day. 

8. Atlanta Falcons – DE Trey Flowers (Arkansas)

The Falcons originally used this draft pick on Vic Beasley, who had 15.5 sacks in 2016, but otherwise had a very disappointing tenure in Atlanta. Even in that 2016 season, he struggled mightily against the run and his peripheral pass rush stats (4 hits, 11.9% pressure rate) were not as good as his sack total. Overall, Beasley had just 37.5 sacks, 18 hits, and a 9.6% pressure rate in 78 games with the Falcons, while offering little in run support, and he’s not expected to be brought back as a free agent this off-season. 

Flowers, on the other hand, has never had a big sack total, with his career high being 7.5, but he has strong peripheral pass rush numbers and is stout against the run. Over the past 3 seasons, he has 21 sacks, 46 hits, and a 13.5% pressure rate and was rewarded last off-season by the Lions with a 5-year, 90 million dollar deal in free agency. The Lions struggled defensively in Flowers’ first season in town, but he was Pro Football Focus’ 21st ranked edge defender, so he wasn’t to blame for their struggles. 

9. New York Giants – S Landon Collins (Alabama)

Collins had an unceremonious exit from the Giants last off-season with new GM Dave Gettleman in town, but he had a good 4 years with the team and is one of the better safeties in the league. The Giants originally got him in the second round, but take him 9th overall in this re-draft, rather than wasting this pick on mega-bust Ereck Flowers. Collins maxed out as Pro Football Focus’ 10th ranked safety in 2016 for the Giants.

10. St. Louis Rams – WR Stefon Diggs (Maryland)

It’s hard to imagine given the receiving corps the Rams have now, but back in their St. Louis days, the Rams annually had among the worst receiving corps in the league for years. Stefon Diggs was just a 5th round pick in this draft originally, but he had an impressive 52/720/4 slash line as a rookie and has averaged a 78/976/7 slash line in 4 seasons since, despite sharing targets with top receiver Adam Theilen. If the Rams had taken him here, he could have given them a #1 receiver sooner and would have saved them from spending a first round pick to acquire Brandin Cooks. 

11. Minnesota Vikings – S Adrian Amos (Penn State)

The Vikings had two of their later picks already go in the top-10 in this re-draft (Danielle Hunter, Stefon Diggs), but they can at least upgrade on their original pick Trae Waynes. Waynes hasn’t been a bad cornerback, but the Vikings used a second round pick on a cornerback in 2016 (Mackenzie Alexander) and a first round pick on a cornerback in 2018 (Mike Highes) after taking Waynes in the first in 2015, so he certainly didn’t solve their cornerback problem, and, now a free agent, he’s not expected to return and could be replaced by yet another highly drafted cornerback this off-season.

In this re-draft, the Vikings take a safety instead, adding another talented safety to play alongside Harrison Smith. Drafting Amos, who originally fell to the Bears in the 5th round, would keep him from one divisional rival and potentially from another, the Packers, if the Vikings were able to sign him long-term after his rookie deal. An underrated player, Amos has been a top-32 safety on Pro Football Focus in all 5 seasons in the league, including 3 seasons in the top-17 and a career best 3rd ranked finish in 2017.

12. Cleveland Browns – DE Frank Clark (Michigan)

The Browns went with a defensive tackle here originally, taking Danny Shelton, but I thought defensive end was a more pressing need. Shelton never panned out any way, nor did Nate Orchard, the defensive end they selected in the 2nd round, who had just 5 sacks in 34 games with the Browns. The Browns didn’t have a single pass rusher with more than 6 sacks in either 2015 or 2016 and, while the addition of Myles Garrett #1 overall in 2017 certainly helped, they could have used another talented defensive end opposite him. Adding Clark here saves them from having to trade their top offensive lineman Kevin Zeitler to acquire Olivier Vernon before the 2019 season.

Originally a second round selection, Clark has 41 sacks, 37 hits, and a 12.2% pressure rate over the past 4 seasons, while playing also playing the run well. He could have gone in the top-10, but I dropped him a little because of off-the-field concerns. He’s stayed out of trouble as a professional and earned a 5-year, 104 million dollar deal from the Chiefs last off-season, but his troubling history in college was why he fell out of the first round originally and some teams might still not view him as an option for that reason.

13. New Orleans Saints – MLB Eric Kendricks (UCLA)

The Saints blew chances to get Drew Brees another shot at a ring in 2014, 2015, 2016 when they supported when with arguably the worst defense in the league every season. They eventually made some significant upgrades on their defense, but they needed help in all three levels in 2015 and instead used this pick on offensive lineman Andrus Peat, who turned out to be an inconsistent and injury prone starter in 5 seasons with the team. 

In this re-draft, they take the top defensive player available, Eric Kendricks. Kendricks has made 70 starts in 5 seasons in the league and, while he was a solid if unspectacular starter for the first 4 seasons, he is coming off of a dominant 2019 campaign in which he finished as Pro Football Focus’ 1st ranked linebacker. He’s an obvious upgrade over Stephone Anthony, a megabust linebacker that the Saints drafted 31st overall in 2015 later in the first round.

14. Miami Dolphins – G Shaq Mason (Georgia Tech)

The Dolphins have seemingly needed upgrades across their offensive line for years and 2015 was no exception. Miami’s division rival New England found a steal in the 4th round in 2015 with Shaq Mason and locked him up on a very reasonable 5-year, 45 million dollar extension in 2018. At his best, Mason is one of the best guards in the league, topping out as Pro Football Focus’ 1st ranked guard in 2018 and finishing in the top-12 at his position in each of the past 4 seasons.

15. San Diego Chargers – C David Andrews (Georgia)

Here is another diamond in the rough that the Patriots found on their offensive line in 2015, although Andrews wasn’t even drafted. Andrews developed into Pro Football Focus’ 4th ranked center in 2017 and their 11th ranked center in 2018 and his absence in 2019 with blood clots was as big of a reason as any for the Patriots’ offensive struggles. He’s expected back at full strength in 2020 and would be a welcome return. In this re-draft, he’d be a welcome addition for a Chargers team that much like Miami has needed help across their offensive line for years. He’d replace the recently retired Nick Hardwick at center.

16. Houston Texans – CB Byron Jones (Connecticut)

The Texans originally used this pick on Kevin Johnson, but he was often injured throughout his tenure with the Texans and ended up playing just 35 games in 4 seasons with the team. In this re-draft, they take a different cornerback. Not only has Jones stayed relatively healthy (1 game missed in 5 seasons), but he also maxed out as Pro Football Focus’ 7th ranked cornerback in 2018 and has the versatility to play safety as well, which has also been a problem position for the Texans over the years. He’s been a bit inconsistent, but he’d be a welcome addition for the Texans and figures to get a sizable deal from someone as a free agent this off-season.

17. San Francisco 49ers – DE Za’Darius Smith (Kentucky)

The 49ers originally used this pick on Arik Armstead, who broke out as a pass rusher during the 49ers run to the Super Bowl in 2019, but in this re-draft they use this pick on a player who broke out earlier. Smith may seem like a one-year wonder because he wasn’t a household name until his dominant 2019 season in the first year of a 4-year, 66 million dollar deal with the Packers, but there’s a reason he got that big contract in the first place.

In his final 2 seasons in Baltimore, the former 4th round pick had 12 sacks, 32 hits, and a 12.4% pressure rate as a part-time player. As an every down player in Green Bay, Smith flourished with 13.5 sacks, 24 hits, and a league best 17.1% pressure rate. Smith isn’t the best run defender, but he took a big step forward in that area this season and finished as Pro Football Focus’ 3rd ranked edge defender overall. He didn’t do much for the first couple years of his career, but he’s worth the wait and could have broken out as a high level player sooner if he had more opportunity early in his career.

18. Kansas City Chiefs – MLB Benardrick McKinney (Mississippi)

The Chiefs lacked linebacker depth behind a then-33-year-old Derrick Johnson during the 2015 season and linebacker has been even more of a problem since Johnson left following the 2017 season. The Chiefs managed to win the Super Bowl without good linebackers, but that doesn’t mean they couldn’t use a talented every down linebacker like McKinney. McKinney has finished in the top-30 among linebackers on Pro Football Focus in all 5 seasons in the league (73 starts), maxing out at 9th in 2018. He’s a capable edge rusher in addition to being above average against the run and in coverage as a traditional linebacker.

19. Cleveland Browns – OT Rob Havenstein (Wisconsin)

The Browns originally used this pick on offensive lineman Cameron Erving, with the idea that he would replace either center Alex Mack and right tackle Mitchell Schwartz, who were going into the final year of their contracts. The Browns wound up losing both Mack and Schwartz and Erving struggled wherever the Browns tried him, including guard. They eventually sent him to the Chiefs for a 5th round pick after just 2 seasons with the team. 

Instead, they take right tackle Rob Havenstein to replace Schwartz at right tackle in this re-draft. Havenstein had a down year due to injuries in 2019, but he made 59 starts in his first 4 seasons in the league, was an above average starter in all 4 seasons, and ranked 3rd among offensive tackles on Pro Football Focus as recently as 2018. He has obvious bounce back potential in 2020 and would be a welcome addition to the Browns who have struggled to replace Schwartz to this day. The 5-year, 36.5 million dollar deal they gave to ex-Steeler Chris Hubbard two off-seasons ago has not worked out.

20. Philadelphia Eagles – DT Leonard Williams (USC)

The Eagles love having a deep defensive line and have lacked a true counterpart for Fletcher Cox for years so Leonard Williams is too good for them to pass on at this point. He’s never posted the big sack numbers, with just 17.5 in his career and only a half sack last season, but his peripheral pass rush stats are much better, 86 hits and a 10.0% pressure rate, and he’s a strong run stuffer as well. He’s maxed out as Pro Football Focus’ 10th ranked interior defender in 2016 and has finished in the top-28 three times.

Williams had a down year last year and was traded by the Jets to the Giants at the deadline for a 3rd and 5th round pick, with the Jets unwilling to meet his asking price in long-term negotiations, but the Giants reportedly value him highly enough to keep him on the franchise tag if needed. He’d be a good addition for the Eagles if they could get their hands on him, as defensive tackle remains a need for them to this day.

21. Cincinnati Bengals – OT La’El Collins (LSU)

The Bengals used their first two draft picks in 2015 on offensive tackles Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher, but somehow both were complete busts and offensive tackle remains a need to this day. Maybe if La’el Collins weren’t unfortunately under investigation for murder (he was cleared a few days later) at the time of the draft, the Bengals would have taken him with one of those two picks, but instead he fell out of the draft completely and then signed with the Cowboys when his name was cleared. Collins took a few years to develop, in part because he played out of position at guard early in his career, but he’s seemingly gotten better every season and has turned into one of the top right tackles in the league. Last season was his best, as he finished as Pro Football Focus’ 4th ranked offensive tackle overall.

22. Pittsburgh Steelers – OLB Bud Dupree (Kentucky)

Here is a rare case of a team sticking with their original pick. Dupree was a bit of a disappointment through his first 4 seasons as he was an average starting outside linebacker who never topped 6 sacks in a season, but he broke out in the final year of his rookie deal in 2019, with 11.5 sacks, 9 hits, and a 9.4% pressure rate, while finishing as Pro Football Focus’ 25th ranked edge defender overall. The Steelers are understandably wary about locking him up long-term on a big extension with significant guaranteed money based on one big year, but they don’t want to let him go either, so he’ll almost definitely be franchise tagged this off-season. If he showed his top form more consistently, he would go higher in this re-draft, but I think the Steelers would still take him again at 22 if they had these choices and full hindsight.

23. Denver Broncos – QB Jameis Winston (Florida State)

Jameis Winston was arguably the toughest player to slot in this re-draft. He’s made 70 starts in 5 seasons with the Buccaneers, but seemed to never progress as a decision maker and the Buccaneers are reportedly exploring all other quarterback options this off-season, with Winston returning seemingly a last resort option. Most teams have had at least one quarterback better than Winston in the 5 years since this draft and he’s unlikely to have a significant market as a free agent if the Buccaneers don’t bring him back, so he wouldn’t be a high pick this time around, but he could still go in the first round in a draft without another good quarterback option and the Broncos would make a lot of sense, as they are one of the few teams that hasn’t had a better quarterback than Winston over the past 5 seasons. 

At the time of this draft, the Broncos had a washed up Peyton Manning and Brock Osweiler under contract and both left the following off-season, leading to the Broncos wasting a first round pick in 2016 on Paxton Lynch and starting players like Trevor Siemian, Case Keenum, Joe Flacco, and Brandon Allen before eventually potentially finding something with 2019 2nd round pick Drew Lock, who went 4-1 in rookie year starts. Perhaps the Broncos will think they could get more out of Winston than the Buccaneers did and even if they don’t he’d still be arguably the best quarterback they’ve had in 5 years. They could be an option to sign him in free agency this off-season if they’re looking for competition for Lock.

24. Arizona Cardinals – OLB Dante Fowler (Florida)

The 2015 Cardinals made it to the NFC Championship, but their team leader in sacks was 35-year-old passing down specialist Dwight Freeney with 8 and no one else had more than 5. They acquired Chandler Jones the following off-season, but have lacked a consistent complement opposite him. Dante Fowler was originally the 3rd overall pick in this draft, but missed his rookie year with a torn ACL and was buried on the depth chart when he returned, playing just 1,198 snaps total in 39 games for the Jaguars before they traded him to the Rams for a 3rd and 5th round pick. 

Fowler’s first half season with the Rams was underwhelming, but he took his play to another level in 2019, totaling 11.5 sacks, 6 hits, and a 13.2% pressure rate while finishing as Pro Football Focus’ 35th ranked edge defender. Still only going into his age 26 season, Fowler’s best may still be yet to come now that he’s past his early career injuries. His slow start to his career drops him into the late first round in this re-draft, but he’d be valuable for the Cardinals. 

25. Carolina Panthers – CB Steven Nelson (Oregon State)

The Panthers originally used this pick on linebacker Shaq Thompson, who has been a solid player, but he was stuck as a part-time 3rd linebacker behind Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis in his first four seasons in the league, so the Panthers address another position. Cornerback was their biggest need going into the 2015 off-season and it was one they never addressed. They were able to make it to the Super Bowl the following season as a cornerback group led by breakout player Josh Norman overperformed, but Norman left the following off-season and cornerback has been a position of need in the years since he left. 

Originally a 3rd round pick, Nelson has made 53 starts over the past 4 seasons for the Chiefs and Steelers and has seemingly gotten better every year. His best year with the Chiefs was his final one in 2018 when he finished 27th among cornerbacks on Pro Football Focus and he was even better in 2019 in the first year of a 3-year, 25.5 million dollar deal with the Steelers, finishing 6th among cornerbacks. 

26. Baltimore Ravens – WR Tyler Lockett (Kansas State)

Lockett’s first three seasons in the league were underwhelming as he never topped 664 yards receiving, but he’s emerged as the Seahawks’ top wide receiver over the past 2 seasons, posting 57/965/10 and 82/1057/8 slash lines despite playing on a run heavy offense. He’s averaged 1.97 yards per route run and 11.2 yards per target over the past 2 seasons as Russell Wilson’s top option and it’s not hard to imagine how he could have a similar impact playing with Lamar Jackson or even catching deep bombs from Joe Flacco like Torrey Smith and Mike Wallace.

27. Dallas Cowboys – MLB Shaq Thompson (Washington)

The Cowboys now have an impressive linebacker duo of Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Brown, but for years they lacked depth behind the oft injured Sean Lee. Shaq Thompson didn’t get a lot of playing time early in his career behind Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis, but he could have shined in a bigger role in Dallas. He had always flashed in limited action playing about 38.1 snaps per game in his first 4 seasons in the league and finished last season as Pro Football Focus’ 16th ranked linebacker in his first season as an every down player.

28. Detroit Lions – DT Eddie Goldman (Florida State)

Defensive tackle was a need in 2015 for a Lions team that had just lost Ndamukong Suh to the Dolphins. Goldman isn’t quite on Suh’s level, but he’s a talented defensive tackle that the Lions would be taking away from their division rival Chicago Bears. Not just a big run stuffer at 6-4 320, Goldman also has 12.5 sacks, 8 hits, and a 7.0% pressure rate in 5 seasons in the league and his best could still be yet to come, only going into his age 26 season.

29. Indianapolis Colts – G Ali Marpet (Hobart)

Offensive line was an obvious need for the Colts for years, but they didn’t figure out the unit until late in Andrew Luck’s career and by then he had already suffered enough injuries to want to retire. If they had protected him better, perhaps he would still be playing. Even if he wouldn’t be, he certainly would have benefited from better play in front of him throughout his career. Marpet has made 72 starts for the Buccaneers in 5 seasons and has been an above average starter at all three interior offensive line spots at different points in his career. He’d be a great addition for the Colts.

30. Green Bay Packers – MLB Jordan Hicks (Texas)

The Packers’ linebacker problems were obvious in their loss to the 49ers in the 2019 NFC Championship, but their issues at that position go back much further. Adding someone like Jordan Hicks in 2015 would have been a big boost. Hicks plays like one of the best linebackers in the league at times, finishing 3rd among linebackers on Pro Football Focus in 2016 and 12th in 2018, but he’s inconsistent and injury prone (missing 21 of a possible 80 games in 5 seasons in the league), which makes him available at the end of the first round. The Packers did well in free agency last off-season, but would have benefited from outbidding the 4-year, 34 million dollar deal the ex-Eagle Hicks got from the Cardinals last off-season.

31. New Orleans Saints – DE Preston Smith (Mississippi State)

The Saints continue to add to what was probably the worst defense in the league at the time. Preston is the lesser known of the two Smith “brothers” on the Packers, but he got a big-money deal as well, coming over from the Redskins on a 4-year, 52 million dollar contract. While Smith is a dominant edge rusher, Smith is a more complete player. He has just 36.5 sacks in 80 career games (66 starts), but he has a 10.9% pressure rate and plays great run defense as well. 

32. New England Patriots – DE Arik Armstead (Oregon)

Originally the 17th overall pick by the 49ers, Armstead had just 9 sacks in his first 4 seasons in the league and missed 18 of 64 games with injury, but he was always a strong run stuffer and he broke out as a pass rusher in 2019, with 10 sacks, 9 hits, and a 12.5% pressure rate. Overall, he finished last season as Pro Football Focus’ 4th ranked edge defender. The 49ers pass on him in this re-draft for someone who broke out faster, but the Patriots will take a shot that they can get it out of him earlier. Both defensive end and defensive tackle were needs for the Patriots back in 2015 and Armstead can play both spots, much like Trey Flowers, who was originally a 4th round pick of the Patriots.