With NFL free agency set to start within a week, there’s a whole lot of rumors swirling about the football world. Where will Pro Bowl quarterback Kirk Cousins land? Will the San Francisco 49ers and Cleveland Browns be big-time players in free agency? Outside of Cousins, who is the next quarterback to land a Jimmy Garoppolo-type deal?
On the backburner here is a trade market that seems to be heating up. Richard Sherman is on the chopping block in Seattle. Michael Bennett was just traded to the defending champion Eagles. Meanwhile, the franchise tagged Jarvis Landry could soon be headed out of South Beach.
These are among the top storylines heading into NFL free agency.
The Jarvis Landry situation
By now it’s pretty clear that the Miami Dolphins are going to trade their No. 1 receiver. It’s either that or the team will have to rescind the franchise tag it placed on the pass catcher. Following the acquisition of Robert Quinn from the Los Angeles Rams, Miami currently finds itself $18.5 million over the cap. Landry’s tag tender is valued at $15.9 million after he signed it. Needless to say, other teams know that the Dolphins are in a pickle of a situation here.
This will limit the compensation Miami receives in a potential trade. As of right now, wide receiver-needy teams such as the Carolina Panthers, New Orleans Saints and San Francisco are not interested in acquiring Landry. Complicating things further, Landry would have to work out a deal with the team that trades for him. Despite all of this, we still expect Landry to be moved early during free agency. Pure conjecture here, but the Chicago Bears make a ton of sense. They also have nearly $80 million in cap room, making it a financially feasible landing spot.
Where will Kirk Cousins land?
The Minnesota Vikings. Okay, done. All joking aside, it’s looking more and more like Cousins will land with the defending NFC North champs. Two teams interested in his services, the New York Jets and Denver Broncos, believe this to be the case. Meanwhile, NFL insiders are all in on the idea of the Vikings signing Cousins. So it’s pretty much etched in stone, right?
That’s until we realize there’s definitely going to be a bidding war for Cousins’ services. The above-mentioned Jets are reportedly willing to give him a fully guaranteed deal worth $60 million in Year 1. Cousins himself is said to be asking for $90 million guaranteed over three seasons. Will the Vikings be willing to pay that? If not, will Cousins choose cold-hard cash over the real possibility of Super Bowl contention? Time will tell on that front. But we do know that Cousins will reset the market for other quarterbacks, both free agents and those looking to be extended.
Finding a market for the other quarterbacks
Assuming Cousins does in fact land in Minnesota, that leaves the likes of Case Keenum, Sam Bradford and A.J. McCarron as the best quarterbacks available on the market. Keenum himself has been linked to the Denver Broncos more than any other team. That includes his potentially soon-to-be former Vikings squad. The idea here would be for Denver to sign Keenum as a short-term option while drafting a quarterback No. 5 overall (more on them later).
The Bradford and McCarron situations are even more interesting in that both have a ton of question marks. Bradford missed all but two games last season with a bone bruise to the knee. His injury is seen as potentially degenerative, which could limit the veteran to a short-term deal. Pure conjecture here, but squads such as the Arizona Cardinals and New York Jets could make sense. Most linked to the Cleveland Browns since last season’s failed trade, it’s seemingly inevitable that McCarron will land with the long downtrodden franchise. Head coach Hue Jackson has noted he doesn’t want to start a rookie. He also has a relationship with McCarron.
But with all but three career starts under his belt, what will McCarron’s market look like? Can he expect $20-plus million guaranteed or are we looking at more of a Mike Glennon type deal with an out after Year 1? All of this will have a major impact on what happens at the top of the 2018 NFL Draft.
Does anyone want to go to Cleveland?
The Browns may have an NFL high $108.9 million in cap room. That’s great. But in no way does it mean that Cleveland will be a hot destination once free agency opens. Here’s a team that’s coming off just the second winless 16-game regular season in NFL history and has won a grand total of one of its past 32 games. That type of futility normally doesn’t register with free agents.
Does this mean free agents will avoid the Browns altogether? No. The team will definitely overpay for the services of solid veterans like we saw last March with the likes of Kevin Zeitler and J.C. Tretter. Even then, first-year GM John Dorsey and Co. are going to have to build up credibility for Cleveland to become a hot destination. Something akin to what we’re currently seeing with the 49ers. This process starts April in a draft that sees the Browns boast five picks in the first two rounds, including two of the top-four selections.
Allen Robinson’s market
It’s going to be absolutely massive. Of the squads with north of $50 million in cap room, it looks like Cleveland, San Francisco, Chicago and the New York Jets are most in need of a No. 1 receiver of Robinson’s ilk. Of those teams, San Francisco has to be considered the likeliest destination. This squad may even be willing to offer Robinson top-three receiver money to team up with Jimmy Garoppolo.
In any event, the market will dictate what type of deal Robinson receives in free agency. Prior to missing all but one game to a torn ACL last season, this former Penn State standout recorded 153 receptions for 2,283 yards and 20 touchdowns in 2015 and 2016. He’s likely looking at a contract north of the four-year, $58 million deal Davante Adams inked with Green Bay back in late December.
Le’Veon Bell’s contract situation
Now that Bell has been given the exclusive franchise tag, it’s almost a foregone conclusion that he will return to the Pittsburgh Steelers next season. Of course, that’s dependent on Bell actually reporting to training camp and inking the tender. At this point, it’s not known whether that will be the case. And should this thing drag on up to April’s draft, there’s a remote chance Pittsburgh simply decides to trade Bell.
It’s not a secret that Bell is looking to completely reset the running back market with his new deal. He wants starting quarterback money, which will likely start out at north of $15 million annually. For the Steelers’ part, they face a July deadline to sign Bell to a long-term deal. Should that not happen, he’ll once again enter the 2018 campaign in a contract year. The time is now for the two sides to get something done. Period.
The Green Bay Packers’ new front office
First-year Packers GM Brian Gutekunst noted immediately after his promotion in January that this team would be much more proactive in free agency than we saw under former general manager Ted Thompson. Whether that actually comes to fruition remains to be seen. But the team is already pretty active. Just recently released by the New York Jets, defensive lineman Muhammad Wilkerson visited with the Packers this week. If something were to happen on that front, it would be Green Bay’s biggest free agent acquisition since Julius Peppers back in 2014.
With less than $17 million in cap room, the Packers themselves will have to make some roster moves to become viable players in free agency. That could include releasing both Randall Cobb and Clay Matthews, which would save a combined $21 million against the cap. How these situations play out will determine whether Green Bay is actually going to be active in free agency or if Gutekunst was just talk.
Bidding for Andrew Norwell
A recent report noted that the New York Giants might be willing to give this guard left tackle type of money. That would be north of $13 million annually for a player that’s coming off his first All-Pro appearance. But it would also be well worth the cash. Norwell more than proved himself to be among the best guards in the NFL for the Carolina Panthers last season. In fact, he didn’t allow a single sack or quarterback hit throughout the year. It’s also a position that has to be considered extremely important in today’s pass-first NFL.
New York won’t simply be bidding against itself here. The San Francisco 49ers have ample cap room and will assuredly be in the market for an upgrade over what was a weak interior of the offensive line last season. We can also expect teams such as the New York Jets and Chicago Bears to make a play for Norwell’s services. Much like Le’Veon Bell at running back and Kirk Cousins at quarterback, Norwell will reset the guard market this spring.
Nick Foles trade possibilities
Recent reports suggest that the defending champs have fielded calls, but are not actively looking to trade the reigning Super Bowl MVP. The asking price is said to be more than the first-and-fourth round picks Philadelphia received from Minnesota for Sam Bradford ahead of the 2016 season. If that is indeed the case, Foles will not be traded. It’s under this assumption that the Eagles are willing to keep Foles aboard as insurance for a quarterback in Carson Wentz who is not guaranteed to be ready in Week 1 after suffering a torn ACL late last season.
Even then, the Eagles seriously have to consider selling high on Foles. They are currently $16 million over the cap and don’t have a whole lot of wriggle room to become solvent in that regard. Moving Foles and his $7.6 million cap hit while receiving a couple much-needed picks makes a ton of sense. Teams such as the Arizona Cardinals and Buffalo Bills would surely be interested. It’s now up to Philadelphia to actually lower its currently sky-high asking price.
The Teddy Bridgewater dynamic
Having thrown two regular season passes since 2015, there’s definitely going to be some major questions about whether Bridgewater can be relied on as a starter moving forward. The Vikings were quick to move on from him, deciding against fighting his free agent status. But will other teams decide that Bridgewater can act as either a bridge starter or a long-term option at quarterback?
The New York Jets are reportedly interested in the former Pro Bowler. The idea there would be for him to start out of the gate and the team to add a potential franchise signal caller in the first round of April’s draft. We’re pretty sure the Cleveland Browns and Arizona Cardinals will also look at this as a possibility. Remember, Bridgewater has thrown just 28 touchdowns compared to 22 interceptions in 28 career NFL starts. Any team looking to add him would be relying as much on upside as sample size. That makes Bridgewater a very interesting player heading into free agency.
How active will the suddenly up-and-coming 49ers be?
Despite signing Jimmy Garoppolo to the richest contract in NFL history and retaining multiple depth options prior to the start of free agency, San Francisco remains nearly $70 million under the cap. Not only has Garoppolo noted impending free agents are interested in joining the 49ers, the team’s brass has said as much. It’s pretty much all about the quarterback’s presence on the team and San Francisco’s late-season success in 2017.
Now, does this mean the 49ers are going to go out there and add a couple top-end free agents? They have been linked to wide receivers Allen Robinson as well as Sammy Watkins. One report even suggests San Francisco is favored to land soon-to-be former Los Angeles Rams cornerback Trumaine Johnson. With an up-and-coming roster, a franchise quarterback, a great young coach and a ton of cap space to work with, the 49ers are quickly becoming an attractive destination. It’s now all about head coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch taking advantage of this.
Lesion of doom?
The Seattle Seahawks just traded Pro Bowl defensive end Michael Bennett for pennies on the dollar. Seattle is uncertain about the futures of former Pro Bowlers Kam Chancellor and Cliff Avril after both players suffered neck injuries last season. Richard Sherman is squarely on the trade block. And there’s some question as to whether Earl Thomas wants to remain in the Pacific Northwest. This is the heart and soul of a defense that has dominated the NFL’s landscape over the past several seasons. It could also lead to a changing of the tide for Pete Carroll’s squad.
Moving on from several important defensive players would be Seattle’s way of handing over its team to Russell Wilson and the offense. The idea would be to get younger on defense while exhausting more of its cap room and free agent capital on the other side of the ball. Whether that comes to fruition is going to be the biggest storyline in Seattle this spring.
Other trade targets
We covered both Nick Foles and Jarvis Landry a bit before, but there promises to be other players on the trade block once free agency opens up next week. That list obviously includes Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas of the aforementioned Seahawks. Denver Broncos corner Aqib Talib, Philadelphia Eagles pass rusher Vinny Curry, Buffalo Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor and Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Martavis Bryant have been the names bandied about recently (more on that here).
Though, we can expect surprise names to surface over the next several days. The Dolphins are currently over the cap. Does that mean former Pro Bowl defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh will be moved? What about the cash-strapped Dallas Cowboys and embattled wide receiver Dez Bryant? He could very well be moved here shortly. As it is, league insiders are expecting a booming trade market. That will start in a widespread fashion once the new NFL year opens up on Wednesday.
Huge quarterback contracts
The $27.5 million Jimmy Garoppolo received on his new deal with San Francisco completely shattered the market for quarterbacks in today’s NFL. That came on the heels of Washington handing Alex Smith $23.5 million annually following a trade from Kansas City. We’ve already focused on what this means for Kirk Cousins, who is set to receive north of $30 million annually. But there’s quarterbacks currently under contract set to cash in big time.
Drew Brees will likely take a less-than-market contract with New Orleans to help that team remain competitive in the NFC. The same likely can’t be said for Matt Ryan, Ben Roethlisberger, Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers, all of whom are set to sign extensions this spring. All four will likely wait until Cousins signs his deal, meaning a new market high of well over $30 million could be the norm once the dust settles.
The Vikings and Broncos quarterback situations
Assuming Kirk Cousins does in fact land with Minnesota, this leaves the Broncos out in the cold. They’re most linked to Case Keenum. And that makes perfect sense. He’d act as a bridge until a unnamed rookie takes over under center in the Mile High city. Whether this comes to fruition depends heavily on the Cousins’ situation and whether Minnesota can pound out a contract with the NFL’s top free agent of 2018. If that doesn’t happen, the Vikings are said to prefer Cincinnati Bengals backup A.J. McCarron over bringing Keenum back.
In a vacuum, both Denver and Minnesota have the talent to compete for a Super Bowl. With the Vikings, that could even come in the form of an average quarterback under center. The Broncos and GM John Elway are in a completely different situation. Their quarterback play last season led to a last-place finish in the AFC West. Simply put, the time is now for Denver to upgrade at quarterback. That’s where free agency and the trade block are going to be absolutely huge for this team.