With the 2017 NFL season now in the books, coaches and general managers league wide are now turning their collective attention to the list of upcoming Free Agents, who’s services will be available when the new league year and subsequent free agency period begins on the 14th of March.
Teams can change their fortunes quickly during this time, as the newly crowned champion Philadelphia Eagles showed everybody last offseason (wide receivers Alshon Jeffrey and Torrey Smith were both added in free agency last season along with eventual Superbowl MVP Nick Foles).
Keeping all of this in mind, The Sideline Report today looks at the 10 biggest names set to hit free agency in just over a months time, along with franchises that are gunning for the services and a prediction on where these players may eventually settle.
1. Kirk Cousins, QB
2017 team: Washington Redskins
Suitors: Denver, New York Jets, Cleveland, Minnesota, Arizona.
After trading for Alex Smith, the Redskins have all but guaranteed Cousins will head to free agency this offseason. While still not considered an “elite” quarterback by many in the NFL, top 10 quarterbacks such as Cousins don’t become available every day, and they certainly don’t grow on trees. After being franchise tagged for what feels like the last 30 years, Cousins is set to earn a killing in free agency from a quarterback desperate franchise willing to pay overs for a slightly better than average quarterback prospect. The battle for Cousins this offseason will be hotly contested by the teams listed above, and when he finally finds his destination, the rest of the quarterback dominoes will soon fall into place.
Prediction: Signs with Denver
2. Case Keenum, QB
2017 team: Minnesota
Suitors: Minnesota, Arizona, Buffalo, New York Jets
After being available for almost a month in free agency last season, Keenum is another quarterback who will earn big bucks come free agency next month. After the season of his life where Keenum lead a surprising Vikings team to the NFC Championship game, the 29 year old will be sure to get some big offers from teams around the league at the commencement of free agency. Some teams may be put off by an ordinary performance in the championship game, though there is still sure to be cashed-up teams out there willing to sign Keenum, even as a bridge quarterback.
Prediction: Franchise Tagged
3. Le’Veon Bell, RB
2017 team: Pittsburgh
Suitors: Cleveland, Indianapolis, Detroit, Tampa Bay, Seattle
Regarded by many as the best back in the league, it’s hard to imagine the Steelers letting such a talented player like Bell walk. However, with the Steelers facing a squeeze when it comes to salary cap space and Bell threatening to retire if he’s slapped with the franchise tag again (it will cost Pittsburgh $14.54 million to tag Bell for a second consecutive season in 2018) next season, this is a negotiation process to keep an eye on. Bell has carried a big load for the Steelers in his career to date, with 406 touches in 2017 clearly the most by a running back last season (Lesean McCoy was next with 346). Despite all this, if contract talks break down and Bell leaves in free agency, expect there to be no less then 10 teams fighting for his services next season and beyond.
Prediction: Signs long-term deal with Pittsburgh
4. Demarcus Lawrence, DE
2017 team: Dallas
Suitors: Dallas, Cleveland, Indianapolis, Detroit, Tampa Bay, Carolina
After a breakout season for the Cowboys in 2017, Lawrence finished equal second in the league with 14.5 sacks. Like quarterbacks, pass rushers are always at a premium when it comes to free agency, so expect there to be plenty of teams interested in signing Lawrence despite only 1 season of dominance. Expect the Cowboys to be at the front of that line. After free agency last season picked apart the defense on the back end, Jerry Jones and co. are almost certain to at least franchise tag Lawrence, with an eye on constructing a long term deal in the future.
Prediction: Franchise tagged
5. Jarvis Landry, Wide Reciever
2017 team: Miami
Suitors: Cleveland, Baltimore, Dallas, Chicago, San Francisco
Landry doesn’t posses the size or production to be considered a true number 1 receiver, though slot receivers who double as threats in the return game are always sought after. There are plenty of teams who will be in the market for a receiver of Landry’s skill set this offseason, which is sure to result in this above average player being paid like an elite slot receiver. Only Julio Jones and Antonio Brown have caught more passes since Landry came into the league in 2014.
Prediction: Signs with San Francisco
6. Ezekiel Ansah, DE
2017 team: Detroit
Suitors: Detroit, Indianapolis, Tampa Bay, Carolina
Ansah showed flashes in 2017, though after being hampered by injuries the previous two seasons, there may be some teams who are reluctant to fork out the big bucks to one of the leagues most underachieving pass rushers. The most likely situation here is the Lions franchise tag Ansah to stop their already weak stock of pass rushers from being further depleted, while hoping “Ziggy” can overcome his injury concerns and return to the 2015 version who finished third in the league with 14.5 sacks.
Prediction: Franchise Tagged
7. Allen Robinson, Wide Reciever
2017 team: Jacksonville
Suitors: Baltimore, Kansas City, Dallas, Chicago, Arizona, San Francisco, Carolina
Despite tearing his ACL in week 1 of the 2017 season, Robinson is still regarded by many as one of the elite young receivers in the NFL. There will be trepidation from some teams, as is usually the case with players returning from serious knee injuries, although 6 foot 3 receivers who can run like the wind such as Robinson are generally the type of player GM’s gamble on. Jacksonville have quite a list of players set to hit free agency this offseason (linebacker Paul Posluszny, backup quarterback Chad Henne, guard Patrick Omameh, cornerback Aaron Colvin and fellow wideout Marquise Lee), as well as the Blake Bortles saga, though one would think re-signing Robinson would have to sit at the top of their priorities this coming offseason.
Prediction: Signs with Jacksonville
8. Lamarcus Joyner and Trumaine Johnson, DB’s
2017 team: LA Rams
Suitors for Joyner: LA Rams, Cleveland, Houston, Dallas, Green Bay, Tampa Bay
Suitors for Johnson: LA Rams, New England, New York Jets, Cleveland, Houston, Oakland, Chicago, San Francisco
Johnson was the best cornerback on perhaps the best defense in the league in 2017, whilst Joyner is a criminally underrated do-it-all defensive back who is sure to fetch big dollars on the open market. The Rams have a long to do list this offseason, and with $40 million in cap space and a draft on the horizon featuring plenty of intriguing defensive back prospects, it’s highly unlikely the Rams will be able to retain the services of both.
Prediction for Joyner: Signs with Tampa Bay
Prediction for Johnson: Signs with the Jets
9. Andrew Norwell, OG
2017 team: Carolina
Suitors: Indianapolis, San Francisco, New York Jets, Cincinnati, New York Giants, Denver
General Managers and Coaches are starting to clue on to how important it is to have a solid offensive line to build an offense around. With all-pro level lineman scarce in free agency this offseason, expect Norwell to go for big money a la Keven Zeitler’s 5 year, $60 million deal last offseason. After going undrafted in 2014, teams now what what they’re getting in Norwell, and that is one of the preeminent, rock solid interior offensive lineman in all of football. Andrew Norwell is as safe a free agent pickup as you’ll ever find.
Prediction: Signs with Indianapolis
10. Malcolm Butler, CB
2017 team: New England
Suitors: New York Jets, Cleveland, Houston, Oakland, Chicago, Tampa Bay, San Francisco
After playing the most defensive snaps of any player for the Patriots in 2017, and producing the most jaw-dropping play in Superbowl history, it looks as though Butler is out the door after being shunned in the Superbowl by coach Bill Belichick. By his own admission, 2017 was an up and down season for Butler, though with his position being highly sort after, he is sure to get a second chance in the league somewhere. Butler, if nothing else, is seen around the league as a solid number 2 cornerback who can slot into almost any system and produce right away, so he shouldn’t last long when free agency opens next month.
Prediction: Signs with San Francisco
And here’s a list of other free agent bound players who could be coming to a city near you:
Minnesota QB’s Teddy Bridgewater and Sam Bradford, Seattle DT Sheldon Richardson, Rams WR Sammy Watkins, Falcons DT Dontari Poe, Patriots LT Nate Solder, Packers S Morgan Burnett, Seattle TE Jimmy Graham, Patriots RB Dion Lewis and San Francisco RB Carlos Hyde.