Over the next couple of weeks I’m going to be tackling Free Agency, projecting NFL Free Agents to new destinations. Although there will be some element of dream scenario, these predictions are formed by team need and salary cap space. For ease, we will follow the NFL Draft order and some of my landing spots here may be an inclination as to what I expect to happen come Draft night.
Cleveland Browns – Malcolm Butler, CB, 28
In a division which features Antonio Brown and AJ Green you have to make sure your secondary is up to scratch. Butler didn’t have a fantastic 2017, you can put this down to either personal decline or early season issues with the Patriots defence, but bringing in Butler to play opposite Jason McCourty would be a significant upgrade for a Browns defence which flashed potential this season. Butler has one good contract left in his career, he’s already won two Super Bowl rings, and having been signed as an undrafted free agent to the Patriots he comparatively hasn’t earned that much money. The Browns have cap space to burn and expect them to overpay for a borderline CB1.
New York Giants – Nate Solder, OT, 29
The New York Giants deficiencies at offensive line are well documented. There isn’t a linemen you could take at #2 in the Draft without it being a reach, and the thought process approaching the Draft is that the Giants will take their QB of the future. If you want to protect Eli Manning and the future of your franchise then you need to make addressing left tackle a priority. Solder will be an instant upgrade for the Giants, but it could be tight to accommodate his expected salary.
Indianapolis Colts – EJ Gaines, CB, 26
The Colts are in desperate need of improving their secondary, and Gaines would go to Indianapolis and help them compete in a division with DeAndre Hopkins. Gaines had a strong 2017 season in Buffalo following his trade from the LA Rams, Pro Football Focus have him ranked as the 13th best corner on the season. Malik Hooker looks like an incredible talent but more leaks must be plugged on this Colts defence, and Gaines could go some way. The Colts have a lot of areas to fill through free agency and the draft, a CB1 signed early in the process will allow them to target a pass rusher in the draft.
Cleveland Browns – Alex Okafor, Edge, 27
Again, I have the Browns prioritising the defensive side of the ball in free agency. Picking twice in the first five in the NFL draft the expectation is that the Browns will pick their QB of the future and use their second pick on the best player available. Last year the Browns took the best player available when picking first overall, Myles Garrett, and he has already impressed immensely. The addition of Okafor to play opposite Garrett will improve the Browns pass rush. Although the Browns scored well against the run in 2017 they were still suspect through the air; upgrade your pass rush and your corners and the Browns could have a more complete defence in 2018.
Denver Broncos – Case Keenum, QB, 30
The Broncos add a veteran QB to mentor and bridge the gap between their young 1st round draft picks, Paxton Lynch and a ‘to be confirmed’ through the draft. The Broncos don’t have a ton of cap room, to make a play at Kirk Cousins there would have to be significant movements and cuts so I think they go for the cheaper option in Keenum. Keenum has proven this season that when partnered with a top defence he can steer his team towards the Super Bowl. Keenum has recently spoken on his admiration for John Elway and expect the GM to make a play for the veteran QB.
New York Jets – DeMarcus Lawrence, Edge, 25
The Jets are desperate, and have been for almost a decade now, for a dominant edge rusher. With plenty of cap space, they should make a move for the best edge rusher available in free agency. After a 14.5 sack campaign if Lawrence hits the open market he will be a hot commodity, and he would help a lot of the team on this list substantially. I’ve picked the Jets though because of their dire need for an edge rusher. If the Jets can add Lawrence and rotate him with Leonard Williams and a hopefully rejuvenated Muhammad Wilkerson then Jets fans will salivate at the thought of their defensive line.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Le’Veon Bell, RB, 26
Bell has spoken openly about not wanting to play on the franchise tag again, and wants to get paid like an RB1 and a WR2. The Buccaneers can absolutely afford Bell’s demands in free agency and are crying out for a running back of his talent. It is likely that Doug Martin will get cut this offseason. Although they could be in the mix for Saquon Barkley in the draft, they are probably best addressing their needs at pass rusher or trading down and gaining extra value later in the draft. Will Bell thrive outside of Pittsburgh? That remains to be seen, but it is very likely that Bell will get paid outside of Pittsburgh.
Chicago Bears – Allen Robinson, WR, 24
The Bears need to address wide receiver in free agency otherwise they will be stunting the development of their franchise QB Mitchell Trubisky. Although Robinson missed all but one quarter of the 2017 season his NFL stock has not declined. Robinson will be a coveted asset for wide receiver needy teams and the Bears should be at the front of the queue to secure his signature. From a practicality perspective, I would look to add Robinson on a 1-year Alshon Jeffery-esque contract. Get him inside the facility to check his health and see if he can develop a chemistry with Trubisky, and if he ticks both boxes then you can start negotiating a long-term deal.
Oakland Raiders – Trumaine Johnson, CB, 28
The Oakland Raiders deficiencies in the turnover department in 2017 are well documented, they became the first team in NFL history without an interception through the first seven weeks of a season and didn’t manage to break their duck until their eleventh game of the season. Johnson won’t come in and transform the Raiders into a turnover juggernaut, but he will upgrade a porous Raiders secondary. The Raiders don’t have a ton of cap space and getting this deal through may prove difficult, Johnson could demand a hefty price having got used to the financial benefits of successive franchise tags.
San Francisco 49ers – Jarvis Landry, WR, 25
The 49ers saw that in the back half of the season that in Jimmy Garoppolo they have a franchise QB for the foreseeable future. Although the introduction of Garoppolo transformed the seasons of Marquise Goodwin and Trent Taylor, the 49ers would still benefit from the acquisition of a true WR1. Landry is one of the more underrated wide receivers in the NFL on account of his role in the Miami offence, however he has consistently produced solid numbers – even when receiving targets from Jay Cutler. The 49ers are another team on this list with a substantial amount of cap space, and given Landry’s comments about wanting a Davante Adams type contract (4 years, $58m) they present a realistic landing spot for the 25 year old receiver.
This guest piece was written by Josh Callander a Chicago Bears fan who has followed the game since 2013. You can follow Josh on Twitter at @JoshCallan23.