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.
11) Miami Dolphins – Andrew Norwell, Guard, 26
The Dolphins need to address several key areas on the offensive side of the ball. Question marks remain over whether Ryan Tannehill is an elite quarterback and despite a strong close to the season there are still doubts over Kenyan Drake as a long-term feature back. Addressing the backfield though should fall second fiddle to strengthening the Dolphins offensive line. Norwell ranks #3 in PFF’s 2017 rankings at the position and would be an instant upgrade on journeyman Ted Larsen. The Dolphins are projected $8m in cap space going entering free agency and will have to invest their capital sensibly, the addition of Norwell would be extremely good business.
12) Cincinnati Bengals – Cameron Fleming, Tackle, 25
The Cincinnati Bengals follow the Miami Dolphins in adding an offensive lineman in free agency. The Bengals offensive line was poor in 2017, and have to address this area if they are to make the playoffs in 2018. The Bengals hired former former Dallas Cowboys line coach Frank Pollack, who oversaw one of the most dominating rushing attacks in football the last three seasons. Cameron Fleming is PFF’s 25th ranked tackle in 2017 and could be the long term successor to current RT Eric Winston, who is now aged 34. The Bengals need to make sure they can protect their franchise QB Andy Dalton and have to start seeing some investment on their 2nd round 2017 draft pick Joe Mixon – adding Fleming could be the beginning of that process which should continue into the draft.
13) Washington Redskins – Kirk Cousins, QB, 29
The Redskins have to tie Kirk Cousins down to a long-term contract. Over the last two seasons he has shown that he is QB1 in the NFL and those are at a premium. If you have one in your facility, you make sure he stays in your facility. Cousins has already openly spoken about not expecting any deal to get done before the March deadline for the franchise tag. The Redskins have $52m available in cap space and Cousins is looking for guaranteed money The quarterback has thrown for more than 4,000 yards and at least 25 touchdowns each of the last three seasons, the Redskins – in the highly contested NFC East – can’t afford to lose that level of production.
14) Green Bay Packers – Jimmy Graham, TE, 31
Green Bay and NFL Fantasy fans have been waiting for Aaron Rodgers to be partnered with a move tight-end – Martellus Bennett was brought in with the hope of him becoming the final piece of the jigsaw puzzle in Rodgers’ quest for a second Super Bowl ring. Bennett’s stay in Green Bay was short-lived and Lance Kendricks and Richard Rodgers are not sufficient quality pass-catchers. Graham’s numbers in 2017 flattered to deceive, although he recorded 10 touchdown receptions his yardage total was his lowest since his 2010 rookie season. Green Bay already have a redzone target monster in Jordy Nelson and the addition of Graham could overcrowd personnel in this dimension of the game, but if Graham can rediscover his production from his time at the Saints then the Packers will become that much more dangerous.
15) Arizona Cardinals – Sam Bradford, QB, 30
The Cardinals lost QB Carson Palmer to injury in 2017 and Palmer has subsequently retired this offseason, putting an end to his five year tenure as the Cardinals starting QB. Drew Stanton and Blaine Gabbert pitched in relief of the injured Palmer and despite only half a season of the duo I’m sure Cardinals fans will be relieved to see a new face at the QB position. Although Sam Bradford will arrive with his own injury concerns, he is a veteran QB on the market who will improve the Cardinals offence. The Cardinals have a foundation and playmakers on defence, the same can’t be said for their offence and bringing in Bradford, with a game-manager approach, will go some way to producing a competitive offence week to week. Cap space could be a major issue here if Bradford commands a QB1 salary, and he is likely to be fielding offers from around the league.
16) Baltimore Ravens – Paul Richardson, WR, 25
The Baltimore Ravens are another team limited by cap space entering free agency – thankfully their roster doesn’t have too many holes to fill. Their wide receiver production in 2017 was sporadic, often reliant on Mike Wallace’s big play potential. Jeremy Maclin was brought in following his surprise release from the Kansas City Chiefs – it was hoped Maclin would fulfil the role vacated by Steve Smith’s retirement but this didn’t transpire. If the Ravens bring in Paul Richardson he would fit the Steve Smith slot receiver mould and be a welcome addition for QB Joe Flacco. Richardson showed a penchant for catching contested balls or throws in tight coverage and this playmaking ability would be a huge upgrade to the Ravens’ offence.
17) LA Chargers – Sheldon Richardson, DT, 27
The LA Chargers are in a similar predicament to the Baltimore Ravens in that assigning a free agent to the franchise is made difficult by their talent and depth across their roster. An area which could be upgraded by the Chargers through free agency or the draft is defensive tackle. The Chargers are a force to be reckoned with when it comes to rushing the passer but were more susceptible to the run in 2017. A run-stuffing DT in Sheldon Richardson would make the Chargers one of the most frightening defensive fronts in football. Richardson didn’t reach his expected heights in Seattle following his trade from the New York Jet;, given the Seahawks gave up a 2018 2nd round draft pick for Richardson I’d be surprised if they don’t re-sign the DT. If Richardson does sign with the Chargers he should have an advantage in acclimatising to his new surroundings. DC Gus Bradley comes from the Seahawks coaching tree.
18) Seattle Seahawks – Josh Kline, Guard, 28
The Seattle Seahawks offensive line woes in 2017 are well documented. The organisation has invested heavily in the position through the draft and although players like Ethan Pocic and Rees Odhiambo have the capacity to develop, the Seahawks need an instant fix across the line. Addressing the offensive line through free agency is always difficult and although the addition of Josh Kline might not fill Seahawks with excitement, the addition is a practical one. The Seahawks can’t continue to rely on the scrambling abilities of Russell Wilson and have to rediscover their rushing offence in 2018. The Seahawks are another team with limited cap space ($14m) and have contracts to negotiate on the defensive side of the ball, nonetheless the needs on this offensive line can’t go unaddressed.
19) Dallas Cowboys – Donte Moncrief, WR, 24
The 2017 season showed the Dallas Cowboys that WR Dez Bryant is in the back-nine of his career, at least as a game-changing WR1. Bryant could follow in the footsteps of Larry Fitzgerald who redefined his role in the Arizona Cardinals offence, if he wants to remain a Dallas Cowboy then Bryant should seriously be considering this during the offseason. If Bryant does make the switch then the Cowboys will need to add a more traditional ‘X’ receiver and Donte Moncrief would fit that bill. The 2014 3rd round draft pick has always flashed potential as an Indianapolis Colt but has never consistently produced, in 2017 Moncrief only managed 26 receptions and 391 yards (from 12 games played and 8 games started). A change of scenery could benefit Moncrief, and at age 24 he still has plenty of years left in the NFL. If he were to become a Dallas Cowboy then Moncrief has to do all he can to build chemistry and rapport with Dak Prescott in the offseason.
20) Detroit Lions – Ezekiel Ansah, Edge, 28
The Detroit Lions simply can’t let a pass rusher leave in free agency, and should re-sign Ezekiel Ansah. The edge defender tallied 12.0 sacks in 2017 which initially seems very impressive, looking into these numbers though we see that 6.0 sacks came in Week 16 and 17, and another 3.0 sacks in the Lions Week 2 matchup with the New York Giants. Pro Football Focus have Ansah ranked as an above average edge defender, and although when building a defence you would like to aspire for more than above average, the Lions can’t let somebody with Ansah’s skill set out the building. Interest in Ansah is difficult to determine, there is an NFL-wide need for edge defenders and pass rushers which could inflate his price on the open market, but I think it best for Ansah and the Lions that he re-signs in Detroit.
21) Buffalo Bills – Star Lotulelei, DT, 28 & Jordan Matthews, WR, 25
Two names here as the Buffalo Bills will be picking at #21 and #22 in the NFL Draft. Whoever is at the QB position in 2018, whether it be Tyrod Taylor, Nathan Peterman, or a new signal-caller selected in the draft, they will need offensive weapons to get the ball to. Matthews had an injury stunted first year in Buffalo, but if he can recapture his form from his first two seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles then the Bills will have a good WR2 on their books. Bills HC Sean McDermott goes back to his old stomping ground, the Carolina Panthers, and acquires DT Star Lotulelei. The Bills defensive front dismantled following the trade of Marcel Dareus to the Jacksonville Jaguars and they will seek to replace his production through free agency or the draft. Lotulelei didn’t have a fantastic 2017 by any means and won’t be able to command as much as he would have hoped on the open market, reuniting with old DC Sean McDermott could help him recapture his best form.
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.