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DET +255 vs. KC
Pick of the Week
High Confidence Picks
Medium Confidence Picks
Low Confidence Picks
No Confidence Picks
DET +255 vs. KC
Every year young players breakout and make the Pro-Bowl and even the All-Pro team for the first time. This list is the most likely player by position to do so in 2019. All players on this team are in their third year in the league or less and have never made a Pro-Bowl or All-Pro team.
Quarterback Baker Mayfield (Cleveland)
Drafted first overall in the 2018 NFL Draft by a previously winless Browns team, Baker Mayfield’s career got off to an underwhelming start. He led a week 3 comeback in relief of an injured Tyrod Taylor to give the Browns their first victory in almost two years, but then went 1-4 in his next 5 starts. Through week 8 he had completed just 58.3% of his passes for an average of 6.60 YPA, 8 touchdowns, and 6 interceptions.
That changed when head coach Hue Jackson and offensive coordinator Todd Haley were fired before week 9. Mayfield flourished in new play caller Freddie Kitchens’ offense. He completed 68.4% of his passes for an average of 8.57 YPA, 19 touchdowns, and 8 interceptions and led the Browns to a 5-3 finish in 8 games without Jackson and Haley. Now with new #1 wide receiver Odell Beckham in the mix, Mayfield has sky high expectations for his second season in the league. He’s still inexperienced and a sophomore slump is still a possibility, but Mayfield is clearly a potential Pro-Bowler in 2019.
Running Back Christian McCaffrey (Carolina)
It might seem strange to have Christian McCaffrey on a breakout players list, but he technically meets the requirements after getting snubbed for the Pro-Bowl in 2018, which knocks a very deserving Nick Chubb from this list. The 2017 8th overall pick, McCaffrey had a 219/1098/7 slash line as a runner and a 107/867/6 slash line as a receiver last season. His 5.01 YPC average was highest among running backs with at least 200 carries and he caught 86.3% of targets thrown his way without a single drop. Perhaps most impressively, McCaffrey played every single snap in 8 games and played 96.9% of the snaps through week 16, before resting in a meaningless week 17 game. If he has a similar season in 2019, hopefully he won’t be snubbed again.
Wide receiver Cooper Kupp (LA Rams)
A third round pick in 2017, Kupp looked on his way to making his first Pro-Bowl last season, with 30 catches for 438 yards and 5 touchdowns through 5 games (96/1402/16 extrapolated over 16 games), but he suffered a knee injury week 6 and then ended up tearing his ACL a few weeks later, ending his season. The injury complicates things, but if he can return close to full strength, Kupp could easily have Pro-Bowl level production.
One thing that may prevent him from that could be his own teammates, as Robert Woods and Brandin Cooks both topped 1000 yards in 2018. Kupp has been quarterback Jared Goff’s most reliable receiver over the past 2 seasons though, completing 68.0% of his 150 targets to Kupp for 1,435 yards, 11 touchdowns, and just 2 interceptions, a 117.5 QB rating. The Rams run three wide receiver sets so frequently that slot receiver is an every down position in this offense, so Kupp should get plenty of targets if he’s close to his old self.
Wide receiver Chris Godwin (Tampa Bay)
The second of three wide receivers selected in the third round in 2017 to make this team, Chris Godwin hasn’t had the opportunity yet to be an every down player in a deep receiving corps, but he’s still totalled 93 catches for 1,367 yards and 8 touchdowns in 32 career games, while averaging 1.91 yards per route run. Now with DeSean Jackson and Adam Humphries both gone, Godwin will have the opportunity to be an every down player, and will line up both outside and on the slot. He could easily top 1000+ yards receiving and make his first Pro-Bowl.
Wide receiver Kenny Golladay (Detroit)
Also a 3rd round pick in 2017, Golladay was only a part-time player as a rookie, but still managed a 28/477/3 slash line, while averaging 1.66 yards per route run and 9.94 yards per target. In his second season in the league in 2018, Golladay took on a larger role and took a step forward, putting up a 70/1063/5 slash line, while averaging 1.87 yards per route run and 8.93 yards per target. Golladay is the Lions’ #1 wide receiver with Golden Tate gone and he could easily take another step forward in his third season in the league.
Tight end OJ Howard (Tampa Bay)
OJ Howard easily could have made the Pro-Bowl last season if he hadn’t gotten hurt, as his 34/565/5 slash line in 10 games extrapolates to a 54/904/8 slash line across a full 16 game season. Also a strong run blocker, Howard was PFF’s 3rd ranked tight end when he went down for the season with an ankle injury week 11 and his 2.26 yards per route run average also ranked 3rd in the NFL among tight ends. Assuming he stays healthy, the 2017 19th overall pick could easily have a Pro-Bowl caliber season in 2019. Like his teammate Chris Godwin, Howard will benefit from the Buccaneers losing DeSean Jackson and Adam Humphries this off-season.
Left tackle Dion Dawkins (Buffalo)
Dion Dawkins looked like a future Pro-Bowler as a rookie in 2017, as the second round pick was forced into action at left tackle when long-time starter Cordy Glenn got hurt and allowed just 3 sacks and 3 hits, while committing just 4 penalties, in 11 rookie year starts. Dawkins played well enough for the Bills to trade Glenn in the off-season, but Dawkins was not nearly as good in his second season in the league, allowing 7 sacks and 2 hits, while committing 13 penalties in 16 starts. Dawkins has the potential to bounce back in his third season in the league though and could still develop into a Pro-Bowl caliber player long-term.
Left guard Will Hernandez (NY Giants)
The 34th overall pick in 2018, Will Hernandez’s rookie year was overshadowed by Quenton Nelson, who went 6th overall and made the All-Pro team as a rookie, but Hernandez looks to have a bright future as well, after finishing 22nd among guards on PFF as a rookie. At 6-2 340 pounds, Hernandez was known for his run blocking coming out of college, but he also held up in pass protection as a rookie, allowing just 5 sacks and 3 hits, while committing only 2 penalties total. With the Giants getting rid of Odell Beckham this off-season, they’ll likely try to run the ball more in 2019 and Hernandez fits the hard nosed style of football they want to play. He could easily take a step forward and earn Pro-Bowl consideration in his second season in the league.
Center James Daniels (Chicago)
Daniels primarily makes this list for lack of a better option, but the 2018 2nd round pick was considered by many to be the top center prospect in his draft class. Daniels’ 10 rookie year starts came out of position at left guard, where he held up well in pass protection (0 sacks, 3 hits), but predictably struggled to get push in the run game. His 6-3 295 frame made him one of the smallest starting guards in the league, but now he’s moving back to his natural position of center, where his lack of size will be less of an issue. A second year breakout year is certainly within the realm of possibilities.
Right guard Chris Lindstrom (Atlanta)
Lindstrom is the only rookie on this list and, like Daniels, largely makes this list of lack of a better option. Lindstrom was selected 14th overall by the Falcons and the former tackle was one of the best pass blocking guards in college football last season. Largely expected to be a week 1 starter, a Pro-Bowl appearance might be a little much to expect him as a rookie, but he could easily develop into that kind of player long-term.
Right tackle Ryan Ramczyk (New Orleans)
Ramczyk could have easily made the Pro-Bowl in either of his first 2 seasons in the league, as he’s been responsible for just 7 sacks, 7 hits, and 9 penalties in 31 career starts, while finishing 9th and 6th respectively among offensive tackles on PFF. Right tackles don’t always get the Pro-Bowl consideration they deserve, but Ramczyk is arguably the best right tackle in the league and could easily get stronger Pro-Bowl consideration in his 3rd season in the league.
Interior Defender Vita Vea (Tampa Bay)
The 12th overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, Vea’s career got off to a rough start when he suffered a calf strain early in training camp that kept him out through week 4. Despite that, Vea had a solid rookie year overall. The 6-4 347 pounder isn’t just a big run stuffer, with 3 sacks and a 10.2% pressure rate as a rookie. He was especially good down the stretch, after he was completely past his injury, with a 12.8% pressure rate in his final 6 games. Vea also saw his snaps per game go up to 46.8 in his final 6 games, after averaging 30.3 snaps per game in his first 7 games. If he can avoid further injury, he could easily have a breakout second season in the league.
Interior Defender Da’Shawn Hand (Detroit)
Hand was just a 4th round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, but he came with more upside than a typical fourth rounder. Once the top recruit in the country, Hand had an underwhelming collegiate career at the University of Alabama, but he showed off his athletic upside at the combine with a 4.83 40 at 6-4 297, which lead to the Lions taking a chance on him in the 4th round. So far, that chance seems to have paid off. Hand didn’t play a ton as a rookie, but he earned more playing time as the season went on, averaging 39.6 snaps per game in his final 9 games before suffering a season ending knee injury week 14, and he earned above average grades from PFF for both his run stuffing and pass rushing.
Overall, he was PFF’s 13th ranked interior defender and he had 3 sacks and a 9.5% pressure rate on 263 pass rush snaps. It could be tough for him to see a significantly bigger role with the Lions adding Mike Daniels and Trey Flowers to what looks like a loaded defensive line, but if Hand continues developing it’ll be hard to keep him off the field and 40 snaps per game is plenty of time for him to disrupt offenses. More talent around him could allow him to have more easy shots at the quarterback.
Edge Defender Bradley Chubb (Denver)
It’s a bit of a surprise that Chubb didn’t make the Pro-Bowl as a rookie. Chubb had name recognition as the 5th overall pick in the draft and his 12 sacks were 14th most in the NFL. Chubb wasn’t quite as great as those sack numbers suggest, as much of his pass rush production came from having Von Miller disrupting the passer on the other side, and he finished just 50th among edge defenders on PFF, but Chubb also had a 12.5% pressure rate on his own and could easily take a step forward in his second season in the league. With Miller still lining up opposite him, Chubb has a good chance to break double digit sacks again, which could easily send him to his first Pro-Bowl.
Edge Defender Carl Lawson (Cincinnati)
A 4th round pick in 2017, Lawson’s career got off to a promising start, when he had 8.5 sacks, 12 hits, and a 15.2% pressure rate as a rookie. Lawson only had 1 sack in 2018, but he added 7 hits and a 13.6% pressure rate in 7 games before going down for the season with a torn ACL. The injury definitely complicates his long-term progression, but Lawson looked like one of the best young edge rushers in the league before getting hurt and could easily pick up right where he left off. If he does, double digit sacks and a Pro-Bowl trip wouldn’t be a surprise from him in his third season in the league.
Linebacker Jayon Brown (Tennessee)
Just a 5th round pick in 2017, Brown struggled when forced into action as a rookie, finishing as PFF’s 76th ranked linebacker out of 99 eligible on 487 snaps. He made a big leap from year one to year two though and finished the 2018 season as PFF’s 9th ranked linebacker on 852 snaps. The undersized 6-0 226 pounder wasn’t great against the run, but he was one of the best coverage linebackers in the league, allowing just 5.09 yards per attempt and no touchdowns on 56 targets. He’s also an adept blitzer, totalling 6 sacks last season and pressuring the quarterback on 18.1% of his 144 career blitzes. He’s a perfect fit as a linebacker in the modern NFL and could easily make his first Pro-Bowl in 2019.
Linebacker Matt Milano (Buffalo)
Milano is similar to Jayon Brown, as an undersized (6-0 223) linebacker who went in the 5th round in 2017. Milano flashed on 450 rookie year snaps and then took a step forward as an every down player in his second season in the league in 2018, ranking 16th among linebackers on PFF before going down for the season with a broken leg in week 14. Like Brown, he isn’t great against the run, but he was one of the best coverage linebackers in the league last season, allowing the 2nd lowest QB rating into his coverage of any linebacker in the league, picking off 3 passes and only allowing a reception every 13.2 coverage snaps (8th in the NFL among linebackers). If he can rebound from his broken leg and make it through the season healthy, he has Pro-Bowl potential.
Cornerback Marlon Humphrey (Baltimore)
The 16th overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, Humphrey has allowed just 49.7% completion and 5.87 yards per attempt in two seasons in the league, but he has only started 13 of 30 games, as part of arguably the deepest cornerback group in the NFL. The Ravens still have three other cornerbacks set to make more than 6 million dollars in 2019 (Tavon Young, Jimmy Smith, and Brandon Carr), but Humphrey has shown he deserves an every down role. He looks like a future #1 cornerback and could easily have a breakout third season in the league.
Cornerback Tre’Davious White (Buffalo)
Tre’Davious White easily could have made the Pro-Bowl as a rookie in 2017, when he allowed 50.0% completion, deflected 12 passes, and committed just 3 penalties, but he ended up getting snubbed. In 2018, he wasn’t nearly as good, allowing 57.5% completion, deflecting 5 passes, and committing 10 penalties. Despite the sophomore slump, the 2017 27th overall pick still has a bright future and could easily bounce back to being one of the top cornerbacks in the league in his third season in the league in 2019. If he does that and a couple of those deflections turn into interceptions (just 4 picks as a rookie), he’ll definitely draw Pro-Bowl attention.
Cornerback Adoree Jackson (Tennessee)
Selected 18th overall in 2017, Adoree Jackson hasn’t quite played at a Pro-Bowl level yet, but his career is off to a solid start, as he’s finished 36th and 31st respectively among cornerbacks on PFF in his 2 seasons in the league. Now going into his 3rd season in the league, he could easily take another step forward. One big thing that would help him make his first Pro Bowl appearance is coming down with more interceptions. He had just 2 in his career so far, but he’s deflected another 23 passes, so it’s not as if he’s not making plays on the ball.
Safety John Johnson (LA Rams)
Despite playing for a high profile Rams team, John Johnson doesn’t get a lot of national attention, but he looks like a budding young star at the safety position. Drafted in the 3rd round in 2017, Johnson barely played in his first 5 games, but he’s started all 27 games since and has finished 11th and 8th respectively among safeties on PFF. Not even 24 until December, Johnson could easily take another step forward in his 3rd season in the league and earn Pro-Bowl recognition for the first time.
Safety Malik Hooker (Indianapolis)
Malik Hooker went 15th overall in 2017 and was considered a top-10 talent by most, falling because of durability concerns. The scouting report has proven to be accurate with Hooker, as he’s played well when on the field, but he’s missed 11 games with injury in 2 seasons in the league, including a torn ACL that ended his rookie season after 7 games. Hooker was PFF’s 13th ranked safety in 14 games in his first season back after the ACL tear in 2018 and, only going into his age 23 season, he still has a high ceiling if he can avoid injury.
Last year, I made my own version of Bill Barnwell’s “Perfect Roster.” The idea is, following certain criteria, to build the best team you can fit under the NFL’s 188.2 million dollar cap. This year, I’m bringing it back. This is my version of the team. Below are the criteria in Barnwell’s own words (last year’s version, so all years get moved forward, and the salary cap has increased).
|Patrick Mahomes||KC||QB||2017 1st||$4,479,776|
|Dak Prescott||DAL||QB||2016 4th||$2,120,849|
|Taysom Hill||NO||QB||2017 UND||$735,000|
Last year, there was more debate about the quarterbacks, with Carson Wentz, Jared Goff, Deshaun Watson, and Dak Prescott all on rookie contracts. This year, it would be hard to take anyone but Pat Mahomes. Not only is Mahomes the reigning league MVP, but with a cap hit under 4.5 million for 2019, he’s also easily the league’s best value. Dak Prescott remains on the team as a backup because he gives them a franchise caliber quarterback that can step in if needed at a very reasonable price. Taysom Hill is listed as a quarterback, but he’s mostly on the team for special teams purposes. Hill could see a few snaps as a gadget player, but I wouldn’t want to take Mahomes or any of my other offensive starters off the field regularly for a gadget player, so Hill won’t have much of an offensive role in any capacity.
|Alvin Kamara||NO||RB||2017 3rd||$1,050,693|
|Chris Carson||SEA||RB||2017 7th||$661,282|
|Phillip Lindsay||DEN||RB||2018 UND||$575,000|
Alvin Kamara is one of the top running backs in the league and a clear choice out of the 2017 3rd round picks. Phillip Lindsay is a bit of a redundant talent, but he’s the obvious choice out of 2018 undrafted free agents, after becoming the first offensive undrafted free agent in NFL history to make the Pro Bowl as a rookie. He provides strong insurance for Kamara. Chris Carson is a power back who can compliment Lindsay and Kamara and is an easy choice among 2017 7th round picks. James Develin is a do everything veteran fullback who comes at a very reasonable price.
|Michael Thomas||NO||WR||2016 2nd||$1,628,763|
|JuJu Smith-Schuster||PIT||WR||2017 2nd||$1,144,302|
|Jakeem Grant||MIA||WR||2016 6th||$755,096|
|Hakeem Butler||ARZ||WR||2019 4th||$696,126|
|Kelvin Harmon||WAS||WR||2019 6th||$526,960|
Michael Thomas and JuJu Smith-Schuster are arguably the two best rookie contract wide receivers in the league and, while Adam Thielen is on a 4-year, 64.2 million dollar veteran extension, because of how the deal is structured, his cap number is just 8.105 million for 2019, which makes him a bargain. Thielen, Thomas, and Smith-Schuster make a dominant top trio, so depth isn’t a huge concern, but Jakeem Grant gives me a situational deep threat who can also contribute as a return man (and fills the need for a 2016 6th round pick) and Hakeem Butler and Kelvin Harmon are developmental prospects who I thought were the best players selected in their respective rounds in this past draft.
|Jordan Thomas||HOU||TE||2018 6th||$599,602|
Travis Kelce is arguably the top overall tight end in the league, so he was worth splurging for at a 10.718 million dollar cap hit. He’s one of just 5 players on this roster with an 8 figure cap hit. Nick Boyle won’t win any foot races, but he’s arguably the best run blocking tight end in the league and he also provides a reliable set of hands as an underneath receiver at a very reasonable cap number. Tyler Eifert is another inexpensive veteran. He’s an injury risk, but has the talent to be one of the top tight ends in the league when healthy, so he’s worth a shot. Jordan Thomas is a developmental prospect who fills the requirement for a 2018 6th round pick.
|Austin Blythe||LAR||OL||2016 7th||$2,025,000|
|Chase Rouiller||WAS||OL||2017 6th||$681,792|
Like last year, the offensive line is where I spent the bulk of my cap space on veteran players. David Bakhtiari and Zack Martin are arguably the best offensive tackle and guard respectively in the league and are worth their large cap hits. Joel Bitonio and Jason Kelce are also among the best in the league at their position and have below market cap hits. Same with Mitchell Schwartz and Rob Havenstein at right tackle, though those two will have to compete with each other for the starting job. Autsin Blythe has developed into an above average starting right guard for the Rams, after being a mere 7th round pick in 2016. He provides versatile depth and a spot starter in case injuries strike on the interior and he fills a draft requirement. Chase Rouiller fills my requirement for a 2017 6th round pick and also provides versatile depth, though the Redskins’ starting center is only about an average starter.
|Kenny Clark||GB||ID||2016 1st||$2,978,707|
|DJ Reader||HOU||ID||2016 5th||$2,078,845|
|Da’Shawn Hand||DET||ID||2018 4th||$740,491|
|Terry Beckner||TB||ID||2019 7th||$523,079|
Even at a cap hit of over 17 million, I had to have Aaron Donald, the most dominant player in the NFL, on this team. He’ll start next to Kenny Clark, who has quietly developed into one of the best interior defenders in the league and has just a 2.979 million dollar cap hit, despite going in the first round in 2016. DJ Reader is a situational run stuffer from the 2016 5th round, Da’Shawn Hand is a situational pass rusher from the 2018 4th round, while Terry Beckner is a developmental prospect who was the first pick in the 7th round in 2019 and fills my requirement for a Buccaneer.
|Josh Allen||JAX||ED||2019 1st||$4,135,025|
|Chase Winovich||NE||ED||2019 3rd||$744,328|
Khalil Mack has signed a 6-year, 141 million dollar extension, but his cap number is just 11.9 million, so I can sneak him on to my team. Good luck trying to block him and Donald at the same time. Brandon Graham also got a big long-term deal, re-signing for 40 million over 3 years this off-season, but the cap strapped Eagles structured his deal in a way that keeps his cap hit at 3.5 million for 2019. He’s going into his 30s, but is still one of the better pass rushers in the league on a per snap basis. Lorenzo Alexander gives me a versatile player who can rush the passer, play standup linebacker, and play special teams at a very reasonable price. Josh Allen could end up being the top player from the 2019 NFL Draft and he comes at the price of the 7th overall pick (cap hit 2.2 million dollars less than the 1st overall pick). Allen woukd have a situational role as a pass rusher as a rookie, even on a loaded team. Chase Winovich is another developmental prospect and was a strong value pick in the 3rd round.
|Darius Leonard||IND||LB||2018 2nd||$1,647,228|
|Leon Jacobs||JAX||LB||2018 7th||$592,670|
|Blake Cashman||NYJ||LB||2019 5th||$570,773|
|Te’Von Coney||OAK||LB||2019 UND||$498,000|
Luke Kuechly is arguably the top linebacker in the league and he comes at a significant discount compared to his top competition for that role, Bobby Wagner, who has a 14.0375 million dollar cap hit. Darius Leonard is the reigning Defensive Player of the Year and was obviously a smart choice in the second round in 2018, while Zach Brown is a veteran run stuffer who comes at a reasonable price and can play as a 3rd linebacker in base packages. Leon Jacobs, Blake Cashman, and Te’Von Coney fill draft and team requirements and can play special teams.
|Byron Jones||DAL||CB||2015 1st||$6,266,000|
|Byron Murphy||ARZ||CB||2019 2nd||$1,452,636|
|Desmond King||LAC||CB||2017 5th||$714,998|
Stephon Gilmore is arguably the top cornerback in the league and his cap hit is reasonable, despite a 5-year, 65 million dollar deal. Byron Jones is also one of the top cornerbacks in the league and he fills my requirement for a 2015 1st round pick on a 5th year option without breaking the bank (like top-10 picks Leonard Williams, Brandon Scherff, and Amari Cooper would have at cap hits of over 12.5 million). Desmond King went in the same round as George Kittle, so he wasn’t a no brainer addition to this team, but he’s already arguably the top slot cornerback in the league and adds value as a return man as well, which gives him the edge over Kittle. Jason Verrett is an inexpensive injury flyer who has the talent to contribute if healthy and he fills the requirement for a 49er. Byron Murphy probably wouldn’t play much, but he was a strong pick in this year’s second round and has a lot of long-term potential.
|Derwin James||LAC||S||2018 1st||$2,815,671|
|Kevin Byard||TEN||S||2016 3rd||$2,249,265|
|Justin Reid||HOU||S||2018 3rd||$924,893|
|Eddie Jackson||CHI||S||2017 4th||$811,449|
Derwin James, Kevin Byard, and Eddie Jackson are all among the top safeties in the league and all are on rookie deals. More and more teams and using 3 safeties at the same time with regularity, so I think we’d figure out how to use Byard, James, and Jackson at the same time. Justin Reid wouldn’t play much on defense behind those three, but he was a solid starter as a rookie for the Texans and is one of the most impressive players from the 2018 3rd round. What gives him the edge is his ability to play special teams in addition to defense.
|Michael Dickson||SEA||P||2018 5th||$642,537|
|Aldrick Rosas||NYG||K||2016 UND||$645,000|
Michael Dickson and Aldrick Rosas are among the best in the league at their position and are inexpensive in terms of draft compensation and salary. I don’t know much about Josh Harris, but I needed a long snapper and someone from the Falcons and he fits perfectly into the remaining cap space I have. He’s been long snapping for the Falcons since 2012, so he has to be doing something right.
Cody Ford was expected to go off the board on day 1. He would make sense for the Cardinals, who need to protect Kyler Murray better than they protected Josh Rosen. Teams that take a quarterback in the first round unsurprisingly usually use their next pick on another offensive player.
I had the Colts taking AJ Brown at 26 in my mock yesterday. They moved out of that pick, but could still target Brown at 34. He’ll fill a big need for them as a long-term complement to TY Hilton.
The Raiders have next to nothing at the tight end position. I thought they might address this position with one of their three first rounders, but they can still do so at 35 with Irv Smith, who many expected to go in the first.
The 49ers need cornerback help and could have their pick of three cornerbacks (Byron Murphy, Greedy Williams, and Rock Ya-Sin) who many expected to go in the first round. DeAndre Baker was the only first round cornerback this year, but some preferred Murphy as the top cornerback in the draft.
The Seahawks are another team with a cornerback need that could address it in the early second round. I had the Seahawks taking Greedy Williams at 21 in my mock draft yesterday and he continues to make sense for them.
The Jaguars were linked to Jawaan Taylor with the 7th pick, but Josh Allen fell to them and Taylor ended up falling out of the first round entirely, due to injury concerns. He may not last long on day 2 though and the Jaguars fill a big need by drafting him.
The Buccaneers could use more edge rush depth, with both Carl Nassib and Shaq Barrett set to hit free agency next off-season. Jaylon Ferguson is a player the Buccaneers have shown a lot of interest in and he should come off the board sometime in the 2nd round.
Rock Ya-Sin is another cornerback who easily could have gone in the first round. The Bills took fliers on Kevin Johnson and EJ Gaines in free agency as potential starters opposite Tre’Davious White at cornerback, but both players are injury prone and on one-year deals. Rock Ya-Sin can be a long-term starter.
The Broncos clearly weren’t eager to address the quarterback position in the first round, but if they really like Drew Lock as has been rumored they might still be able to him in the 2nd round. The Broncos have talked up Joe Flacco since acquiring him, but they didn’t give much up to get him and it’ll be hard to justify paying him 44.5 million between 2020-2021 when the Broncos could take a development quarterback to start long-term instead.
Everyone knew the Bengals wanted to take Devin Bush at 11 in the first round, which is why the Steelers moved up to 10 to take him instead. The Bengals can address their linebacker need on day 2 with a lesser prospect.
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
The franchise tag period begins February 19th, when teams can officially start placing the tag on players they don’t want to lose in free agency. Each team is allowed one franchise tag, which locks a player in on a one-year deal worth the average of the top-5 cap hits at that players’ position, assuming that player doesn’t choose to sit out the season like Le’Veon Bell did in 2018. Not including players who would only be tagged to be traded (Bell, Earl Thomas, and Nick Foles) and kickers (Stephen Gostkowski and Robbie Gould), there are 9 serious candidates for the franchise tag this season.
DE Trey Flowers (New England)
In addition to Gostkowski, the Patriots also have left tackle Trent Brown set to hit free agency, but with 2018 1st round pick Isaiah Wynn expected to return from injury and compete for the left tackle job, Brown seems unlikely to be tagged at a one-year rate of 15.3 million. Instead, it would either be Gostkowski or Flowers if the Patriots decide to use the franchise tag. They may not choose either, but there’s a case to be made that Flowers is worth about 18.7 million annually, which is around where the defensive end franchise tag number is expected to be.
Flowers’ sack total doesn’t jump off the page (21 in 45 career games), but he’s added another 39 hits and 97 hurries on the quarterback and Bill Belichick knows the value of guys who can consistently disrupt the quarterback, even if they aren’t always getting the sack, and he knows the value of guys who can line up in different spots on the defensive line, which Flowers does. Flowers is also really their only consistent pass rusher and he plays at a high level against the run as well. The transition tag (projected at 15.7 million) is another option, but Flowers’ pass rush productivity isn’t a secret around the league and he’d probably get offers ranging in the 16-18 million annual range that they’d have to match. Either way, he’s going to get paid this off-season.
MLB CJ Mosley (Baltimore)
Mosley seems likely to end up back in Baltimore one way or another, but the franchise tag doesn’t seem like a great option for him. Because the linebacker tag value includes pass rush linebackers in its calculation, the projected franchise tag value for linebackers is 15.8 million, which would put Mosley far above the top non-rush linebacker in the league in terms of average annual salary, which is Luke Kuechly at 12.4 million. Mosley could still top that number on a long-term deal, even if issues in coverage suggest he’s not that caliber of a player, but the Ravens might not want to risk that much of their cap being tied up in a player who isn’t a huge factor in coverage or rushing the quarterback. Perhaps the transition tag (projected 13.6 million) is a better option.
OT Donovan Smith (Tampa Bay)
A 2nd round pick in 2015, Smith made all 64 starts at left tackle for the Buccaneers in 4 seasons on his rookie deal, but he was one of the worst left tackles in the league for the first 3 seasons, before improving in 2018. From 2015-2017, he allowed 34 quarterback hits, most among offensive tackles, and committed 33 penalties, second most among offensive tackles. Those numbers dropped to 9 and 7 in 2018 and evidently the Buccaneers expect him to continue improving, as they are reportedly considering the franchise tag to keep him for 2019. That be a smarter move than giving Smith a big long-term contract, but 15.3 million is a big cap number for a player of Smith’s caliber and it wouldn’t be that hard to find a comparable player for less. Perhaps the transition tag (projected 13.7 million) is a better option here as well.
DT Grady Jarrett (Atlanta)
The Falcons’ defense should be better when healthier in 2019, but they can’t afford to lose Grady Jarrett. Their defense was horrible in 2018, but they were even worse in the 2 games Jarrett missed. First and foremost a strong run stuffer on the interior, Jarrett also has 13 sacks and 28 quarterback hits from the defensive tackle spot over the past 3 seasons. The 15.6 million dollar franchise tag is around what he’d get annually on a long-term extension, so I’d expect this to happen in the absence of a long-term deal.
S Landon Collins (NY Giants)
Safeties have one of the cheaper franchise tags at around 12 million annually. While the Giants don’t have a ton of cap space and have other needs, they can’t afford to lose one of their few truly good players. Injuries have ended his last two seasons, but he’s missed just 5 games in 4 seasons in the league and has been one of the best safeties in the league for each of the past 3 seasons, so he’s fairly low risk and could keep getting better, only going into his age 25 season. Given that, it probably makes more sense for the Giants to extend Collins long-term and lower his 2019 cap hit. He could push to be the highest paid safety in the league, upwards of 13 million annually, but the Giants could still structure that in a way that allows them to still address their many other needs.
DE DeMarcus Lawrence (Dallas)
Lawrence was already franchise tagged by the Cowboys once, playing the 2018 season on a one-year, 17.143 million dollar deal. It was a smart decision by the Cowboys at the time, as Lawrence was a one-year wonder with an early career history of back problems, but now that Lawrence is coming off of another strong season, the Cowboys are in a tough position. They obviously don’t want to lose him, but tagging a player for the 2nd year in a row requires a 20% increase in salary, meaning the franchise tag would cost them about 20.57 million this time around.
That’s a huge number to commit to a non-quarterback, especially with players like Dak Prescott, Amari Cooper, and Ezekiel Elliott also due pay raises soon, but Lawrence has 25 sacks and 23 quarterback hits over the past two seasons, while playing at a high level against the run, so he could command close to 20 million annually on a long-term deal anyway. At the very least, he’ll be looking to top the 5-year, 85 million dollar deal Olivier Vernon got two off-seasons ago.
DE Frank Clark (Seattle)
For many players, the franchise tag amount is more than they’d likely get on the open market in average annual salary. Teams pay a premium for the benefit of being able to go year-to-year without big signing bonuses and large chunks of guaranteed money. That’s not the case with Frank Clark, even at the 18.7 million dollar defensive end rate. Players with 33 sacks and 27 quarterback hits in 3-year stretch before their 26 season tend to get paid. He figures to get around 20 million annually on a long-term extension and the Seahawks have the cap space to make sure he doesn’t go anywhere.
OLB Jadeveon Clowney (Houston)
Clowney seems like a perfect fit for the franchise tag. Not only do the Texans get a slight discount because he’s listed as a linebacker in the Texans 3-4, rather than a defensive end (18.7 million vs. 15.8 million), but it also perfectly fits where he is in his development. Clowney hasn’t quite lived up to expectations as the #1 pick in the 2014 NFL Draft and the Texans may be hesitant to give him a huge long-term contract, but he’s also shown flashes of dominance and could keep getting better, still only going into his age 26 season, so they don’t want to lose him either. I wouldn’t expect him to sign a long-term deal this off-season, but I don’t expect him to go anywhere else.
OLB Dee Ford (Kansas City)
The franchise tag is also a perfect fit for Dee Ford and the Chiefs, who will also benefit from Ford being classified as a linebacker in their 3-4 system. Ford’s 13 sacks and 17 quarterback hits in 2018 suggest a player worth big money, but the 2 sacks he had in 6 games in 2017 before back surgery suggest maybe he’s someone you should make prove it again before giving him a big long-term contract.
After years of drama in Pittsburgh, perennial All-Pro wide receiver Antonio Brown has formally demanded a trade from the Steelers. Brown has been one of the best overall players in the league in recent years, averaging 114 catches for 1524 yards and 11 touchdowns per season since 2013, all best in the NFL over that 6-year stretch. However, he might not draw as much in a trade as you’d think. Not only do the Steelers have no leverage now that he’s publicly demanded a trade, but he’s also going into his age 31 season and could be on the downside of his career. His contract (39 million over 3 years remaining) isn’t a bad value at all, as the Steelers paid out 19 million of his 4-year, 68 million dollar extension in a signing bonus two years ago, but that raises another concern. Brown is quitting on his team less than 2 years after they gave him a 19 million dollar signing bonus and an additional 10 million in new money in the first year of the deal. That won’t be looked upon favorably around the league.
It’s tough to guess what the Steelers could get for Brown as there really isn’t a good recent comparison. Randy Moss was traded for just a 4th rounder in 2007 at around the same age, but he also was coming off of a 42/553/3 slash line in a season in which he didn’t try hard on a hapless Raiders team. Brown might not be the best teammate, but he always gives effort on gameday and is coming off of another strong season, leading the league with 15 receiving touchdowns. I’d imagine they can get more than a 4th rounder, but it may not be by much, given the circumstances. The Steelers probably won’t like the offers they get, but ultimately don’t seem to have much of a choice, as it’s hard to see this relationship getting repaired.
Given that Brown being traded is seemingly inevitable at this point, the question now becomes where will be play in 2019. While most teams might like to add Antonio Brown to their roster, that list gets much smaller when you remove teams that don’t have pressing needs at wide receiver, teams that don’t have the cap space to add him, and teams that the Steelers wouldn’t trade him to. It’s already been reported that the Steelers don’t want to trade him in the division or to the Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots, for obvious reasons, and I would imagine they wouldn’t want to trade him to any of the teams that are coming off strong years, as they still view themselves as contenders and wouldn’t want to give a fellow contender their missing piece. I excluded all teams that won at least 12 games in 2018, which eliminates the Rams, Saints, Chargers, Chiefs, and Bears.
I also excluded bad teams who are rebuilding and likely wouldn’t want to trade for a soon-to-be-31-year-old wide receiver, which eliminates the Cardinals, Raiders, and Dolphins, teams that currently have negative cap space, which eliminates the Jaguars and Eagles, and teams with limited cap space and more pressing needs elsewhere, which eliminates the Vikings, Buccaneers, Falcons, Lions, and Giants. The Seahawks and the Cowboys are also excluded because the former already has 2 wide receivers making 8 figures annually and the latter already made a big splash move for a receiver and won’t have much cap space left after extending Amari Cooper, Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, Byron Jones, and DeMarcus Lawrence. That leaves 10 teams with a realistic shot of trading for Brown, with varying degrees of likelihood.
10. Green Bay Packers
I almost eliminated the Packers before this. They went just 6-9-1 last year, but that’s unlikely to fool the Steelers into sending Brown to Green Bay to team up with Aaron Rodgers and Davante Adams. The Packers have plenty of incentive to trade for Brown and could easily be the highest bidder, as Rodgers struggled by his standards last year while playing with inexperienced receivers, but that’s precisely the reason why the Steelers wouldn’t want to see Brown in Packer green. He could easily be their missing piece, especially if they stay healthier on defense. This is still a possibility, but I’d consider this unlikely, especially since Rodgers and the Packers beat the Steelers in their most recent Super Bowl appearance. I doubt they’ve forgotten that.
9. Indianapolis Colts
At 10-6, the Colts weren’t good enough to be eliminated prior to this, but they were arguably the best team in the NFL in the second half of last season and adding Brown, who would fill a big need at wide receiver, would make them all that much better. While that gives them plenty of incentive to try to trade for him, it also would probably give the Steelers a lot of pause about trading him to them. Especially since the Colts will still have plenty of cap space to work with in free agency even after acquiring Brown, the Steelers could easily regret sending Brown to Indianapolis.
8. Houston Texans
The Texans are in a similar boat as the Colts in that adding Brown would help them immensely and they have the cap space to add him easily, but the Steelers might not want to send Brown to a team that looks like an annual playoff contender in the AFC with Deshaun Watson under center. If the Texans got Brown, they’d be able to play him, DeAndre Hopkins, and Will Fuller at the same time, which would be a nightmare for opposing defenses, including the Steelers.
7. Tennessee Titans
The Titans aren’t as good as the previous 2 AFC South teams, but they could become a contender in a hurry if they acquired Brown and Marcus Mariota stayed healthy for a full season. Corey Davis could be a budding #1 receiver, but he’s still young and they don’t have anyone proven opposite him, with both Tajae Sharpe and Taywan Taylor underwhelming last season. This is more likely than the Steelers sending him to the Packers, Colts, or Texans, but I still don’t see this as a strong possibility.
6. Denver Broncos
The Broncos have some promising young receivers, but their only proven veteran is Emmanuel Sanders, who tore his achilles in December, putting his status for the start of the 2019 season in doubt. Sanders’ 10.25 million dollar salary for 2019 is not guaranteed and the Broncos could save that entire amount against the cap if they were to let him go. They could release him and replace him with Brown via trade. Likely not true contenders in the AFC even with Brown, the only reason they aren’t higher on this list is they’ve been a thorn in the Steelers’ side in recent years, winning 4 of the past 5 matchups, including a pair of playoff games and an upset win in 2018 that ultimately caused the Steelers to miss the post-season, so the Steelers may not want to see Brown in Bronco orange.
5. Carolina Panthers
The Panthers rank relatively high because they are an NFC team and you have to believe the Steelers would prefer to send Brown to the NFC. They aren’t an obvious fit for him though because they have minimal cap space (about 19 million as of this writing) and a pair of talented young receivers in DJ Moore and Curtis Samuel who played well down the stretch in 2018. That’s not to say they couldn’t use a player of Brown’s caliber, but they might prefer to commit their remaining cap space to other parts of the roster.
4. New York Jets
The Jets were a bad team last year, but I think they are officially no longer in rebuild/teardown mode. Now that they have a quarterback of the future locked in, it’s time for them to start building around him and they have the second most cap space in the league to build with. With an underwhelming free agency class, the Jets may see acquiring Brown as a better use of their money than paying a similar amount to someone like Golden Tate, even if it means parting with a draft pick. The Jets don’t have a second round pick because of their trade up for Darnold last year, but they do have a pair of 3rds thanks to their trade of Teddy Bridgewater to the Saints, which could be intriguing to the Steelers. The Steelers also probably wouldn’t have to worry about the Jets becoming a contender purely from the addition of Brown.
3. Buffalo Bills
The Bills are similar to the Jets in that they have a young quarterback who needs a #1 receiver, while simultaneously not being good enough to scare the Steelers off from sending him there. They also have a ton of cap space, 4th most in the NFL. The only reason they are higher than the Jets is because they currently have 9 draft picks in 2019, while the Jets have just 6.
2. Washington Redskins
You could argue that the Redskins, who currently don’t have a quarterback, should have been eliminated with the other bad teams that are rebuilding, but owner Dan Snyder doesn’t know the meaning of the word rebuilding and trading for Antonio Brown when he probably wouldn’t even make them a playoff team is the exact kind of splash move he loves making. Given their history of acquiring expensive veterans, the Redskins could be the highest bidder for Brown and the Steelers would have no worries about seeing Brown in the Super Bowl if they sent him to Washington.
1. San Francisco 49ers
I thought about putting the Redskins first because of their history, but the 49ers are too good of a fit, as they check every box. They’re an NFC team that’s unlikely to make the Super Bowl in the next couple of years. They have plenty of cap space and a need at wide receiver. They’re also a team on the rise that has incentive to add a player of Brown’s caliber and free agency is an underwhelming option this year. Brown is also reportedly very interested in going to San Francisco and any team that acquires him will want to make sure he’s committed to them long-term, given how he quit on the Steelers just two years after receiving a huge extension and signing bonus.