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.
23) Los Angeles Rams – Kyle Fuller, CB, 26
The Los Angeles Rams surprised everyone with their upturn in fortunes and performance in 2017. Although much of that can be placed on HC Sean McVay and their rejuvenation on offence, DC Wade Phillips was an important offseason addition. The Rams in this scenario have lost twice franchise tagged CB Trumaine Johnson and need to address quality and depth at the position. Although much maligned during his time in Chicago, Kyle Fuller excelled in his contract year and should attract plenty of attention in the open market. Fuller would represent a replacement on Johnson, but the Rams should still address the position through the draft.
24) Carolina Panthers – Terrelle Pryor, WR, 28
The Carolina Panthers traded WR Kelvin Benjamin before the midseason deadline in an effort to rejuvenate their running game and get quicker on offence. As much as this worked in the second half of the season, the Panthers couldn’t rely on Devin Funchess, an aging Greg Olsen and running back Christian McCaffrey to be their only pass-catching options. 2017 2nd round pick Curtis Samuel flashed enough in limited opportunities and could stake the WR2 position as his own, but the Panthers should address this need in free agency. Terrelle Pryor had a disastrous 2017 in Washington and his 1 year “prove it” deal backfired, meaning that Pryor will not command as high a fee as hoped on the open market in 2018. Pryor showed enough in 2016 for the Cleveland Browns to keep teams interested, and if we think back to his 4.38 second 40 yard dash at his pro day, then the Panthers may have seen enough for Pryor to add some much needed speed to their offence.
25) Tennessee Titans – Jerick Mckinnon, RB, 25
The Tennessee Titans need to start catering to the needs and skills of QB Marcus Mariota. That means more college-style spread, up-tempo offences. Veteran RB Demarco Murray doesn’t fit that mould and can be cut this offseason, saving $6.5m in cap space and incurring no penalty. Derrick Henry should assume RB1 touches, but the Titans still need to add a more dynamic playmaker to their offence. Mckinnon has spoken about becoming a feature back for an NFL team, but his best role is as a 3rd down option. Mckinnon would compliment Henry in this backfield, whilst still receiving volume should the Titans run more college style offence.
26) Atlanta Falcons – Dontari Poe, DT, 27
The Atlanta Falcons have one of the most talented rosters in the NFL – projecting an impending free agent here is very difficult. So I’ve settled on them re-signing a defensive tackle who has only been in the facility for one year. Dontari Poe had a good 2017 season in Atlanta, he probably didn’t have the same impact as his final season as a Kansas City Chief, but he will have done enough to impress the organisation. The Falcons are up against the cap – they are projected to have $11m available – so Poe would have to take a team friendly deal if he wants to remain a Falcon.
27) New Orleans Saints – Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, 25
The New Orleans Saints are another team with few holes to plug on their roster, so in free agency they add a luxury item to help QB Drew Brees make another Super Bowl run. Coby Fleener hasn’t panned out the way many had hoped in New Orleans, so the Saints take another gamble on a TE with massive upside. Seferian-Jenkins has not just a likeable story you want to support, but also the raw ability to elevate your red zone offence. This isn’t to say the Saints’ offence needs elevating, but Seferian-Jenkins would add a new dimension to an already lethal attack. The Saints will have to use their cap space, $31m, on renewing Drew Brees, so they could look to land Seferian-Jenkins on a short term “prove it” deal.
28) Pittsburgh Steelers – Navorro Bowman, LB, 29
The Pittsburgh Steelers defence collapsed after losing inside linebacker Ryan Shazier to a career-threatening spinal injury. They lost a playmaker and a leader and have to address the linebacker position in free agency. The Steelers are in their Super Bowl window and have to capitalise on their Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell triple threat. The Steelers free agency activated will be dominated by renewing Bell and their cap salary stands around $4m so veterans will have to be cut in order to improve this roster. Navorro Bowman improved Oakland’s inside linebacker play late last season and his addition in Pittsburgh would bring much needed leadership to the defence. Cap space could be a major issue though with Bowman likely wanting to get one last pay cheque, now aged 29.
29) Jacksonville Jaguars – Sammy Watkins, WR, 24
The Jacksonville Jaguars are in the somewhat unfortunate position in this exercise of being restricted by the moves made before them. Although quarterback is their most pressing need Kirk Cousins has already signed elsewhere and I’m not sure they take a punt on one of the Minnesota QBs as there is no guarantee their play is better than incumbent Blake Bortles. WR Allen Robinson has also left and the Jaguars could rely on Marqise Lee, Allen Hurns, Dede Westbrook, and Keelan Cole to support their QB. Bringing in Sammy Watkins would certainly bolster this group, he would also add a different dimension to the skillset of the group. Watkins has struggled for health and consistency since the 2015 season; if he can get a full offseason under his belt then Watkins could be a shrewd addition to Duval county.
30) Minnesota Vikings – Teddy Bridgewater, QB, 25
The Minnesota Vikings will enter free agency without a quarterback on their roster. I’ve already written extensively on how the Vikings should approach the quarterback conundrum (http://www.nflgirluk.com/2018/01/26/what-happens-next-to-the-minnesota-vikings/), and I stil believe that the Vikings number one priority in free agency should be re-signing QB Teddy Bridgewater to a long term deal. The Vikings invested a first round draft pick in Bridgwater and have spent the last 18 months assisting in his rehab from a career-threatening knee injury. Bridgewater is said to have a very good relationship with Vikings HC Mike Zimmer and Zimmer could prioritise his signing over Sam Bradford and Case Keenum. Bridgewater’s contract is difficult to project, but the Vikings have the 5th most projected cap space in the league and can afford to sign their QB of the future.
31) New England Patriots – Dion Lewis, RB, 27
The New England Patriots are notorious for employing a running back by committee policy, with each back prescribed a specific role in the offence. Mike Gillislee was signed with the intention of being the goal-line back, James White is the pass-catching specialist, and Rex Burkhead is a great special teams option who can run between the tackles and catch balls out the backfield. The Patriots could rely on this trio in 2018, but re-signing Dion Lewis allows them to run different game plans on offence. Lewis is their best between the tackles runner and from Week 6 of the 2017 regular season received 10 or more carries in all but one game. If the Patriots are worried about Brady in his 40s or their offence without Josh McDaniels, then re-signing Dion Lewis will allow them to play possession football in tight games or down the stretch of the regular season.
32) Philadelphia Eagles – Rex Burkhead, RB, 27
The Philadelphia Eagles are losing both LeGarrette Blount and Darren Sproles to free agency in March and will need to add depth to their running back room. Jay Ajayi, a midseason acquisition from the Miami Dolphins, has RB1 potential but is an injury concern. Corey Clement looks like he will be a very good rotational back, but the Eagles still need depth options should Ajayi miss time in 2018. Rex Burkhead really impressed in limited opportunities as a Cincinnati Bengal in 2016 and earned himself a move to New England. Burkhead struggled for health as a Patriot but again flashed his upside when he did receive snaps, excelling sporadically as a between the tackles runner and pass-catching option. Burkhead might look for a move outside of a committee backfield, but if he wants another shot at the Super Bowl then the Eagles would be an ideal landing spot for the 27 year old.
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