Now that the offseason is officially upon us, it’s time to look ahead to NFL free agents who could be on the move in 2018. Where will they land? What’s the ideal fit? That’s what we’ll look into here.
Quarterbacks are going to be the talk of free agency. There are some darn good ones becoming available, and Kirk Cousins is likely to land a monster deal because there is plenty of money and a ton of interest. Other positions, such as on the edge defensively, also feature some outstanding talent that should break the bank.
Due to the fact we don’t see them going anywhere, Drew Brees (Mr. “I’m a New Orleans Saint for life“), and Le’Veon Bell, who has stated he won’t go anywhere else but Pittsburgh, are not featured on this list.
With that in mind, let’s dive into the NFL free agents ahead of the 2018 season. Here’s where we see them fitting in nicely.
Carlos Hyde, running back: Indianapolis Colts
Hyde could easily return to San Francisco, but given the way Kyle Shanahan fell in love with Matt Breida we’re assuming the Niners won’t offer him a big contract to do it. With that in mind, the Colts should make Hyde a top priority in free agency. He could follow in the footsteps of his former mentor, Frank Gore, to give Indy the ground game it so desperately needs.
Dion Lewis, running back: San Francisco 49ers
The combination of Breida and Lewis in San Francisco’s backfield (at a pretty darn good bargain rate, we might add) is tantalizing. Both are able to break off huge runs and make defenders miss in the open field on pass plays. Also, Lewis is familiar with Jimmy Garoppolo, having been his teammate in New England. This is a match made in heaven, and the 49ers have cash to spend.
Isaiah Crowell, running back: Denver Broncos
Denver has needed a reliable power back for some time now. Crowell and his teammate, Duke Johnson, have both been ill-utilized in Cleveland. It stands to reason Crowell would be eager to go somewhere he can become the featured back. Assuming Cousins lands in Denver, the Broncos will have a passing attack teams will be forced to respect. That, in turn, would open up running lanes for Crowell to exploit.
Jerick McKinnon, running back: Seattle Seahawks
Speaking of teams that need help at running back, Seattle is atop the list. Russell Wilson was, by far, the leading rusher for the Seahawks last year. McKinnon is looking for a chance to be a featured back, and he has the dual-threat abilities that Seattle needs from its backs. He’d thrive playing with Wilson, who won’t survive much longer without some more support.
Sammy Watkins, wide receiver: Los Angeles Rams
Why mess with a good thing? Sure, Watkins wasn’t a highly targeted receiver in Los Angeles, but he worked well with the talent around him and had one of his most productive seasons as a pro anyway. Jared Goff loves to take shots deep, and Watkins is great at tracking those shots down for huge gains. The Rams aren’t totally loaded with cash but should still make efforts at retaining Watkins, who’d be smart to stick around.
Jarvis Landry, wide receiver: Chicago Bears
Chicago is starved for talent at the receiver position but has a potential star in the making at quarterback in Mitch Trubisky. It also has a new head coach and some offensive weapons at the running back position that could really lead to some amazing results. But Trubisky needs a go-to receiver in the most desperate way. Adding a volume possession guy like Landry, who fights for every inch on every single play, would be a great way to boost the offense.
Allen Robinson, wide receiver: Washington Redskins
Perhaps letting DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon go and signing Terrelle Pryor to replace them was ill-advised. Washington’s offense sputtered badly without reliable receivers, and the jury is still out on young Josh Doctson. Robinson has been highly productive throughout his career and should be a bit on the cheap side after spending almost the entire 2017 season on injured reserve (ACL). He’d be a terrific weapon for Alex Smith.
Danny Amendola, wide receiver: New England Patriots
It’s hard to imagine Amendola going anywhere else. As a member of New England’s offense, he’s been highly productive when healthy. Julian Edelman will be back next year, but the two slot specialists have co-existed just fine in the past. Amendola knows Tom Brady, and Brady loves going to him in clutch moments. Likely, Amendola will take another team-friendly deal to stick around.
Jimmy Graham, tight end: San Francisco 49ers
George Kittle was tremendous as a rookie last year. But he isn’t a red-zone monster. The 49ers desperately need that added element to their offense, and Graham is still one of the best in the business inside the 20-yard line. Throw him into the lineup with Garoppolo and you’re looking at an unstoppable scoring machine. Also, did we mention the 49ers have a ton of cash to spend?
Tyler Eifert, tight end: Houston Texans
The big issue here is whether Eifert can stay healthy. He’s missed significant time in each of the last two seasons and really has a lot to prove on this front. Still, if he is healthy and can stay healthy, he’d be a huge addition to Houston’s offense. The Texans already have some crazy-good talent on the perimeter but need help in the middle of the field, and in the red zone. That’s where Eifert roams, and he’d quickly become a top target for young Deshaun Watson.
Austin Seferian-Jenkins, tight end: New York Jets
The re-emergence of Seferian-Jenkins as a productive player this past season was one of the more heartwarming redemption stories the NFL had to offer in 2017. He got clean and sober (recently celebrated one year of sobriety) and became a go-to receiver for Josh McCown. He could go anywhere he wants in 2018 as a free agent, but it seems like the best fit might be fore Sefarian-Jenkins to remain in New York with the people who helped him through this past year.
Nate Solder, offensive tackle: Indianapolis Colts
The Colts are awful on the edge protecting the passer. They gave up a league-worst 56 sacks this past year. If Andrew Luck is going to have any hope of returning and staying healthy, he needs more help. Bringing in Solder, who is solid against the pass rush and a downright force in the run game, would go a long way toward fixing this issue. Anthony Castonzo could shift over to the right side, giving Indy a nice set of bookends to keep Luck clean.
Justin Pugh, offensive guard: New York Giants
Pugh started his career at right tackle and was awful. He spent a bit of time on the outside again this past year out of necessity but really got into a groove once he was shifted inside to left guard. If the Giants are going to develop any continuity on their offensive line, then retaining Pugh to play left guard for the foreseeable future is a must.
Cameron Fleming, offensive tackle: New England Patriots
This young Stanford product is just starting to come into his own. He’s already played four years in the league and is still just 25 years old. With a ton of postseason experience under his belt, he could be in high demand unless the Patriots lock him up before free agency. Given the fact New England could also lose Solder, the Patriots better make it happen, or Tom Brady could be dealing with some uncertainty on the edge.
Andrew Norwell, offensive guard: San Francisco 49ers
This is a perfect match. Norwell hails from Ohio State, where they ran a zone blocking scheme. The 49ers under Kyle Shanahan are a zone-stretch team now, and Norwell is one of the best offensive guards in the entire league. He’d be able to come in from Day 1 to give San Francisco a huge boost, both in the run and pass game, and get paid a hefty amount to do it, too.
Weston Richburg, center: Los Angeles Rams
Veteran John Sullivan did a solid job this past year at center to help shore up Los Angeles’ offensive line. But he’ll be 33 when the 2018 season begins. It stands to reason that the Rams will look to get younger up front, which is where Richburg fits in. He was about on par with Sullivan in terms of performance this past year with the New York Giants and stands to improve even more playing for Sean McVay while blocking for Jared Goff and Todd Gurley.
Jack Mewhort, offensive guard: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Tampa Bay was one of the worst running teams in the NFL last year, in part because the team’s offensive line was awful up front. Mewhort had a rough 2017 season, playing in just five games and struggling (like the rest of Indy’s line) when he did play. However, he was an up-and-coming star in 2016 and should be somewhat of a bargain due to his injury-shortened 2017 campaign.
DeMarcus Lawrence, defensive end: Dallas Cowboys
Dallas absolutely has to find a way to hang onto Lawrence, who will cost a ton of money after finishing the 2017 season ranked No. 2 in sacks with 14.5. He was the most disruptive defensive lineman the Cowboys had on their roster, and they would be up a creek without a paddle if he ends up bolting in free agency. It’s not out of the question that could happen, but Jerry Jones knows what kind of talent he has and will do everything in his power to keep him.
Ezekiel Ansah, defensive end: San Francisco 49ers
Still just 28 years old, Ansah is entering the prime of his career and is coming off a resurgent 2017 campaign that saw him register 12 sacks. He’s exactly what the San Francisco defense needs — a dynamic pass rusher with both strength and speed. Think Michael Bennett from a couple years back. That’s the role Ansah will play in Robert Saleh’s defensive front, and he’s exactly the kind of long-term option John Lynch is hoping to build around going forward.
Adrian Clayborn, defensive end: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
We envision a Tampa Bay reunion for Clayborn, who was once a promising young star for the Bucs. He’s coming off a career year in which he racked up 9.5 sacks (though, six of those came against the Cowboys in one game). The Buccaneers have one of the least talented pass-rushing squads in the league and desperately need help on the edge. Atlanta is going to look younger and likely won’t be interested in investing much more on a veteran.
Trent Murphy, EDGE: Indianapolis Colts
In addition to desperately needing help on the offensive line, Indianapolis is starving for help on the edge defensively. Only one team in the league was worse at sacking opposing quarterbacks, and the leader on Indy’s roster last year (Jabaal Sheard) managed just 5.5. Trent Murphy is one of the more underrated players in the NFL, and he’s a nightmare on the edge. Provided he’s fully healthy after suffering a season-ending knee injury, he’d immediately impact the Colts in a positive way.
Julius Peppers, defensive end: Carolina Panthers
At this point, it’s not yet known if Peppers, the great pass rusher, will return for his age-38 season. He recently underwent shoulder surgery but clearly has plenty left in the tank, as his 11 sacks this past season illustrate to perfection. If Peppers does choose to return for his 17th career campaign, then it would almost certainly be with the Panthers.
Aaron Lynch, EDGE: New England Patriots
A calf injury derailed Lynch’s 2017 campaign. He ended up being a healthy scratch late in the season as the 49ers were more focused on developing their other young players. Still, this is a young man who has flashed some excellent potential when healthy. And now that he’s without a contract we’re pretty sure Lynch won’t be ballooning in weight this offseason. He’ll be hungry to prove he’s worth a long-term deal. The Patriots need a ton of help on the edge, and Lynch would be a low-risk, high-reward signing.
Sheldon Richardson, defensive tackle: Oakland Raiders
The Raiders have a couple of dynamic pass rushers on the edge, but thanks to very little push from inside they finished the season with one of the worst pass-rushing defenses in the league. Adding a disruptive defensive tackle of Richardsdon’s ilk would go a long way toward rectifying this. He had a very strong season after being traded to the Seattle Seahawks, and though there have been rumors the New York Jets might want him back we see him saying on the West Coast.
Dontari Poe, defensive tackle: Detroit Lions
Last year, Poe bet on himself with a one-year contract in Atlanta and more than lived up to the deal. He had an outstanding 2017 campaign, boosting his value in a big way. He’ll be expensive this spring, but Detroit has both the money and need to bring him on board. He’s an impact player up front who’d instantly make the Lions more formidable inside.
Bennie Logan, defensive tackle: New York Jets
The Jets weren’t exactly stout against the run last year, ranking 24th and allowing nearly 118 yards per game. Logan isn’t an explosive pass rusher but is an immovable object in the run game. He’d be a great fit for a defense that has speed at linebacker and safety but lacks a lot of depth up front.
Star Lotulelei, defensive tackle: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
It’s safe to say Lotulelei didn’t have the kind of impact he wanted in a contract year. He started all 16 games for Carolina but wasn’t nearly as productive as we’ve seen in the past. Vernon Butler is a guy the Panthers are hoping can develop more in the future, and it’s highly unlikely they keep Lotulelei. With that in mind, it makes a ton of sense for the big Tongan to move south and fill the void the Bucs have at defensive tackle, especially with Gerald McCoy’s health being a major question mark going forward.
NaVorro Bowman, inside linebacker: New Orleans Saints
Drew Brees isn’t going to be around a lot longer in New Orleans. As such, this team’s championship window isn’t going to stay open very long. With that in mind, we envision a savvy veteran like Bowman emerging as a short-term fix for the team’s issues at linebacker. Manti Te’o did a pretty good job last season, but even after injuries Bowman is still a tier above in terms of production, especially against the run.
Zach Brown, inside linebacker: Washington Redskins
A knee injury derailed what was a phenomenal season for Brown in Washington. Appearing in just 13 games, he still finished ninth in the NFL with 127 tackles and was a veritable demon in the middle of Washington’s defense. There are reports that Brown wants to play for Washington again next year, and the two sides need to hammer out a deal that works because he’s a perfect fit there.
Avery Williamson, inside linebacker: Indianapolis Colts
No doubt, Tennessee would love to retain Williamson, who had a phenomenal 2017 campaign. But the Colts are downright desperate to bolster their front seven and could out-bid the Titans come March. They’d be smart to go hard after this Kentucky product, who showed himself to be durable, consistent and rock solid in his first four years as a pro.
Demario Davis, inside linebacker: New York Jets
Approaching the age of 30, Davis is still a highly effective inside linebacker. He was Mr. Do-it-All for New York last season after spending a year in Cleveland, racking up 135 tackles and five sacks. The Jets have been pushing for a youth movement of late but would be smart to retain Davis, who is a leader for the young, up-and-coming stars on the team.
Todd Davis, inside linebacker: Chicago Bears
Davis has emerged as a very solid inside backer for the Broncos the past two seasons, starting 29 games while tallying 179 tackles and 1.5 sacks. Teaming him up with his old teammate, Danny Trevethan, to man the inside of Vic Fangio’s 3-4 defense, would go a long way toward helping Chicago’s defense continue its ascendance to the upper echelon.
Nigel Bradham, outside linebacker: Philadelphia Eagles
This former Florida State product has really become a key part of Jim Schwartz’s defense in Philadelphia. His ability to fly to the ball, both in the run and pass game, has been a big part of why Philly’s front seven was so dominant this past season. It just makes too much sense that he’d stick around, and that the Eagles would do what it takes to keep him in Philadelphia for the foreseeable future.
Tahir Whitehead, outside linebacker: Buffalo Bills
There’s a good chance Buffalo will look to move on from Lorenzo Alexander, whose production and usage both dropped this past season. While we fully expect Detroit to try and retain Whitehead, the linebacker has upped his value in a big way the past two seasons and will almost certainly test the open market. With that in mind, we see Buffalo as the perfect landing spot for Whitehead in 2018.
Trumaine Johnson, cornerback: Indianapolis Colts
It’s no secret that Johnson is going to be after a huge contract. And the Colts have the money to give him what he wants, along with a dire need for help in the secondary. He’d instantly step in to give Indy the No. 1 corner it’s been lacking ever since Vontae Davis started having injury troubles. And given how much Aaron Donald is going to demand after winning Defensive Player of the Year honors, we don’t see Los Angeles keeping Johnson in 2018.
E.J. Gaines, cornerback: Baltimore Ravens
It was a huge bummer when a knee injury took Gaines out of the lineup for a while this past season in Buffalo. Even missing five games, he had a very nice season and proved himself to be a valuable player. Buffalo could convince him to stay, but he’d also be a fantastic fit in Baltimore, where the Ravens have need of another talented cornerback heading into 2018.
Malcolm Butler, cornerback: Green Bay Packers
Spurned by New England at the 11th hour, Butler is a very intriguing player heading into free agency. He racked up over 1,150 snaps combined during the regular season and playoffs, proving once again to be durable and tough. Butler will have a huge chip on his shoulder after being undervalued by New England last offseason and then done dirty in Super Bowl LII. The Packers need a guy (or three) like this to get back to being a legitimate contender.
Bashaud Breeland, cornerback: Chicago Bears
One could argue that Breeland has been the best cornerback in Washington ever since Josh Norman came over. Now that he’s a free agent, I fully expect Breeland to seek greener pastures, and he’d be a perfect fit in Chicago playing opposite fellow free agent Kyle Fuller (more on him in a bit). Breeland is excellent in man coverage but can also play zone. He’s physical, long and technically sound. He’d thrive in Fangio’s system.
Vontae Davis, cornerback: New England Patriots
What to do with an aging cornerback who isn’t a full-time starter but who is still very good and can make a big impact given the right circumstances? Have him sign in New England, of course. And make no mistake about it, the Patriots are going to need help at cornerback, with Butler leaving in free agency. Davis may not ever be a dominant cornerback again, but he will be very effective as a role player in New England.
Kyle Fuller, cornerback: Chicago Bears
The Bears would be crazy to let Fuller out of their grasp. He’s a rock-solid cover man who has excelled in Fangio’s defense. He knows what’s expected of him and rarely gets burned. He’s also hauled in eight interceptions in three seasons. Pair him with Breeland and you’ve got yourself a tremendous duo capable of battling against any two receiver the league has to offer.
Lamarcus Joyner, safety: Los Angeles Rams
Assuming the Rams can’t afford to keep Johnson, they better hone in on keeping Joyner in Los Angeles. He really came into his own as the center fielder in Wade Phillips’ defense (three interceptions, nine passes defended) and still has plenty of room to grow at the age of 27. Even after having a very strong season, Joyner shouldn’t be overly expensive, which is good news for the Rams.
Morgan Burnett, safety: Green Bay Packers
One of the few who didn’t hurt the Packers on the back end very often, Burnett is a player Green Bay has to find a way to keep in 2018. He’s started 102 games for the Packers since being drafted in the third round back in 2010 and has been a reliable playmaker ever since.
Eric Reid, safety: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Politics aside (Reid is a player who’s protested during the anthem since 2016, while the Glazer family has donated to President Donald Trump), this pairing makes a ton of sense. Chris Conte isn’t reliable, and T.J. Ward is going to be a free agent. Reid has been a full-time starter since he entered the league back in 2013 and is excellent in the box. He’d help out in a big way against the run and isn’t exactly a liability in the passing game. He’d also likely be a pretty realistic financial option.
Tre Boston, safety: Los Angeles Chargers
It’s imperative for general manager Tom Telesco to keep his young defensive core intact. Boston is a key player in this group, having come on very strong the past two seasons to become one of the more underrated safeties in the league. After racking up seven interceptions during that span (including five in 2017), Boston isn’t going to be cheap, but he’s a player worth paying.
Kenny Vaccaro, safety: Tennessee Titans
The Titans need an upgrade at strong safety. Johnathan Cyprien isn’t going to cut it going forward. Vaccaro isn’t the best cover man, but he’s dynamic in the box and isn’t a slouch at getting his hands on the ball in the passing game (three interceptions last year, eight in his career). Pairing him with Kevin Byard would give Tennessee a very strong duo at the safety position.
T.J. Ward, safety: Cleveland Browns
Ward began his career in Cleveland back in 2010, and there’s a chance he could finish it there as well. The Browns have a very strong front seven but need help on the back end. The way they used Jabrill Peppers last season was a complete disaster, trying to make him a traditional safety. They need a more natural, more experienced man for that position so that Peppers can play in the box as a rover. Ward would be a great fit here.
Kirk Cousins, quarterback: Denver Broncos
This makes too much sense not to happen. Though the Broncos don’t have an overwhelming amount of cap space, they can make some moves to clear up plenty. And the bottom line is that this team is still just a quarterback away from being a legitimate Super Bowl contender in the AFC. Von Miller has already done everything in his power to make his opinion known that Cousins needs to come to Denver. Now it’s up to John Elway to make it happen.
Sam Bradford, quarterback: Arizona Cardinals
The Cardinals need to bring in a free agent and draft a quarterback in Round 1. They really just need a stopgap so they can develop the quarterback of the future. That’s the perfect fit for Sam Bradford, who won’t ever be a great long-term option but who has plenty of short-term appeal. He came back healthy late this past year and should be raring to go for the 2018 season. He’d instantly make the Cardinals competitive offensively.
Case Keenum, quarterback: Minnesota Vikings
There’s no need to rock the boat. Keenum clearly has some excellent chemistry with Stefon Diggs, Adam Thielen and tight end Kyle Rudolph. While he had a rough outing against Philadelphia in the NFC Championship Game he was very solid all year long. The Vikings have some huge decisions to make, but they could do a lot worse than sticking with what worked in 2017.
Teddy Bridgewater, quarterback: Cleveland Browns
Before Alex Smith was traded to Washington, it was reported that the Browns would make a play for him and would use a top pick on a quarterback. Let’s assume for a second that the quarterback they are enamored with is a guy like Josh Allen, who needs a ton of seasoning before he’s ready. That’s a perfect situation for a guy like Bridgewater, who could start for a year or two. Bridgewater has something to prove now after missing two seasons with his knee injury, and he’d be in a great spot working with Hue Jackson.