The NFL free-agency period is about to begin. While the 2019 class may lack the star power of last year’s group, it still features plenty of tantalizing names who could alter the landscape of the league. To get everyone set for the start of a spending frenzy, I’m breaking down the market for the top 20 available players. Today, I’m focusing on the best free-agent talent on offense.
Nick Foles, QB
Why He’s a Free Agent: This one isn’t complicated. Despite how well Foles played in stretches over the past two seasons, Carson Wentz is the Eagles’ QB of the future. Philly could have franchise-tagged Foles and tried to secure a high pick for him via trade, but with Wentz in place, the team didn’t have much leverage. The extension Foles signed last offseason gave him the option to pay the franchise $2 million and hit free agency in 2019, and now he’ll get his chance on the open market.
His Potential Market Value: Three years, $55 million ($37.5 million guaranteed)
Foles’s deal could wind up being similar in average annual value to the one Case Keenum got from the Broncos last season (two years, $36 million with $25 million guaranteed). Foles is hitting free agency at age 30, like Keenum, and he’s also hoping to cash in on a limited number of quality starts. A per-year number of $20 million for Foles has been thrown around lately, but one crucial factor could keep from him reaching that figure: After five QBs were selected in the first round of last year’s draft, most teams already have a long-term plan at the position. Foles may be the best free-agent QB on the market, but unlike in years past, there may not be many suitors who’ll drive up his price.
Possible Landing Spots: Jaguars, Dolphins
That leads us to the teams that might be interested in signing Foles. The Jaguars, with first-year offensive coordinator (and former Eagles QBs coach) John DeFilippo, are widely considered the favorites to land the Super Bowl LII hero. Jacksonville has less cap space than any team in the NFL, but with a few cost-saving cuts, it could easily free up enough room to land Foles. Miami could also be a destination if (or more likely, when) it moves on from quarterback Ryan Tannehill this spring, but all indications are that the Dolphins’ new head coach–GM pairing of Brian Flores and Chris Grier wants to tear the roster down to its screws and start over. That likely means finding a young, cheap QB through the draft. Paying close to $20 million for Foles to be a stopgap solution wouldn’t be a smart decision. The absence of other options—combined with the team’s level of desperation—is the reason Jacksonville has emerged as the clear front-runner.
Le’Veon Bell, RB
Why He’s a Free Agent: I mean, how much time do you have? Bell’s extended spat with the Steelers last season led to the most dramatic player-team contract standoff in recent memory. Rather than play a second consecutive year on the franchise tag in 2018, Bell sat out the entire season and forfeited more than $14 million in the process. Now, after a year away from football, the 27-year-old running back will finally hit free agency and seek a long-term deal.
His Potential Market Value: Three years, $30 million ($20 million guaranteed)
If Bell or his agent saw that number, I’m pretty sure they would throw something at my head. But the unfortunate reality is that Bell’s value has deteriorated over the last several months, for a variety of reasons. His original motivation to sit out the season was to ensure that he’d reach free agency healthy, but concerns have emerged about his current fitness level. It’s also been a brutal year for high-end running-back contracts around the league. The five highest annual salaries among running backs on non-rookie contracts belong to Todd Gurley, David Johnson, Devonta Freeman, LeSean McCoy, and Jerick McKinnon, respectively. Every player on that list underperformed in 2018, lost most (or all) of the season to injury, or disappeared during the two biggest games of his team’s playoff run. Bell is treading into the harshest possible environment for a running back trying to secure an eight-figure annual salary.
Even if the situation was tilted in Bell’s favor, it’d be hard to argue that he deserves more per season than either Gurley ($14.4 million) or Johnson ($13 million). Bell’s production is undeniable, but he’s also missed his share of games due to lower-body injuries and suspensions over the years. Both Gurley and Johnson had stronger cases to earn their market-setting deals last summer, and that was before the position’s value declined so dramatically. It seems like Bell is likely to get a deal closer to the one that McKinnon got from the Niners last season (four years, $30 million with $18 million guaranteed) than to Gurley’s record-setting contract.
Potential Landing Spots: Jets, Raiders, Buccaneers
Making matters even worse for Bell is that the list of teams willing to shell out more than $10 million a year to land him isn’t very long. The Jets have been tied to Bell for some time now, but reports have varied over the past week as to how aggressive they plan to pursue him. Still, the Jets have a general manager in Mike Maccagnan who’s up against the wall and may be motivated to make a splashy move. Plus, with over $100 million in cap space, they could outmuscle any other franchise in a bidding war.
Tampa Bay is in a similar position—just without the cap space. The Bucs have a need at running back, and Jason Licht, like Maccagnan, is a GM on the hot seat who may be looking for an offensive spark. Jon Gruden and the Raiders are always candidates to try something weird, and it wouldn’t hurt to have an established star like Bell to market to Las Vegas season-ticket holders. His face would look a lot better on a billboard than a list of draft picks and the cap space number the Raiders will have after they presumably cut Derek Carr next season.
Matt Paradis, C
Why He’s a Free Agent: This isn’t entirely clear! Paradis suffered a broken leg nine games into the 2018 season, but before that had made 48 straight starts for Denver at center. He dealt with a hip problem during parts of the 2016 season, but showed up on the injury report just once. He’s been a quality starter on the Broncos’ offensive line since moving into the role during his second NFL season. 2016 fifth-round pick Connor McGovern stepped in after Paradis went down with his injury last year, but the interior of the Broncos’ line is appreciably worse without Paradis in the fold. Denver isn’t flush with salary cap space (it has about $35 million), but has more than enough flexibility to keep Paradis if it so chooses.
His Potential Market Value: Three years, $33 million ($20 million guaranteed)
It’s possible that John Elway and the Broncos know Paradis will be in high demand this spring and simply aren’t willing to spend the type of money necessary to keep him. Top-tier centers don’t hit free agency often, but when they do, they’re often worth premium money (just look at the impact Alex Mack has had for Atlanta since arriving in 2016). Last spring, two sought-after centers—Weston Richburg and Ryan Jensen—signed long-term deals in free agency that earned them an average of $10 million per season. Paradis is arguably worth more than both. His new deal will rival Jason Kelce’s recent extension (three years, $33 million) as the highest per-year figure at the position.
Potential Landing Spots: Bills, Rams, Panthers
The notion of the Rams spending big at yet another position may sound surprising, but after declining starter John Sullivan’s option, Sean McVay’s team has a hole at center and more cap room to play with (around $40 million after releasing linebacker Mark Barron) than many people may think. Considering they could also lose guard Rodger Saffold in free agency, the Rams could use an influx of proven talent on the interior of their offensive line. The same goes for Carolina, which recently lost longtime center Ryan Kalil to retirement. And every big-money offensive lineman in free agency this year is going to get some interest from Buffalo—the team needs an upgrade at pretty much every spot up front.
Tyrell Williams, WR
Why He’s a Free Agent: Williams is a classic free-agency case. He entered the league as an undrafted free agent then vastly outperformed expectations as the Chargers made significant investments with other players at the position. After the franchise handed Keenan Allen a huge extension and drafted Mike Williams with the no. 7 overall pick in 2017, Tyrell Williams was expected to be on his way out the moment his contract expired. Players with this profile have occasionally been worthwhile investments in free agency (A.J. Bouye had a similar experience in Houston, and has found success in Jacksonville after joining the team in 2017), but there’s always a concern that players moving into an increased role will struggle. Williams will likely command a salary that makes him a team’s 1b receiver. That would be a significant promotion.
His Potential Market Value: Four years, $45 million ($25 million guaranteed)
Useful starting points for Williams’s deal are the extensions that Seattle gave Tyler Lockett last August (three years, $30.8 million) and that the Jets handed Quincy Enunwa in December (four years, $36 million). Williams enters free agency with a more established track record of production than either of those players. I expect he’ll receive a contract similar to the one Marvin Jones Jr. received from the Lions a few years ago, albeit inflated by a few million dollars per year due to the huge rise in the cap.
Potential Landing Spots: Ravens, Browns, Colts, Bills, Raiders, Cardinals
A ton of teams need outside receiving help, which makes Williams’s landing spot difficult to predict. With their mountain of salary cap space (just under $107 million), the Colts can sign whichever receiver they prefer. T.Y. Hilton and Williams would form a devastating downfield receiving duo for Andrew Luck to pair with the middle-of-the-field options already in place. The Bills also have plenty of space and the motivation to land a quality receiver for Josh Allen, especially after Antonio Brown trade talks fell apart. The same goes for Arizona and whichever young quarterback they have under center next season.
Ja’Wuan James, T
Why He’s a Free Agent: James missed eight games with a hamstring injury in 2017 and has played all 16 games in a season only twice in his career. Aside from the injuries, though, the 26-year-old is the type of player who rarely hits free agency. The 2014 first-round pick has been a solid pass protector from the moment he entered the NFL. In a league ravaged by poor offensive line play, you could do much worse at right tackle.
The Dolphins may be moving on because their woeful salary-cap management is finally catching up to them. Miami has more than $13.5 million in dead money on its 2019 cap, and that figure is set to rise after Andre Branch’s release becomes official. If the team elects to either trade or release QB Ryan Tannehill, it’s possible that more than $30 million of the Dolphins’ salary cap this season could be tied up in players who aren’t on the roster. There are a few straightforward moves the front office can make (such as cutting receiver DeVante Parker, whose fifth-year option has no guaranteed money), but it’s likely that the Dolphins won’t feel that they can afford James’s eight-figure salary.
His Potential Market Value: Four years, $40 million ($24 million guaranteed)
Because there’s still an inexplicable gap between the salaries of right and left tackles in the NFL, James’s future contract will probably fall short of the deal Nate Solder received from the Giants last offseason (four years, $62 million). But James could get the highest average annual value of any right tackle in the league other than Lane Johnson. A good point of reference is the contract that Washington right tackle Morgan Moses signed in 2017 (five years, $38.5 million). Moses and James were drafted the same year, and their production has been similar. Yet Moses signed his contract just before the final year of his deal in Washington, and leverage is king in these scenarios. James should have several teams vying for his services.
Potential Landing Spots: Bills, Texans, Cardinals, Giants, Broncos
The same collection of teams will likely be interested in all of the tackles hitting the market next week. The Bills, Texans, Cardinals, and Giants all need help at more than one spot up front. Don’t rule out the Broncos either. Denver has proved willing to shell out significant money for offensive linemen in the past, and it enters this spring with a huge need at right tackle.
Daryl Williams, T
Why He’s a Free Agent: Recent injury history is the biggest reason. Williams went down with a gruesome knee injury in training camp last season, resulting in a dislocated patella and a torn right MCL. He elected not to have surgery and was then carted off with an injury to same knee during the Panthers’ Week 1 win over the Cowboys. Carolina has more insight into the health of Williams’s knee than anyone, and it’s possible the franchise has some reservations.
The team also has a ton of money tied up in its offensive line already. Left tackle Matt Kalil and right guard Trai Turner are set to count almost $21 million against the cap in 2019, and GM Marty Hurney may not want to tie up more than $30 million in a single position group. Signing Williams and finding a center to replace the retired Ryan Kalil would give Carolina one of the most expensive offensive lines in the league.
His Potential Market Value: Four years, $44 million ($24 million guaranteed)
Williams should have a market similar to that of James. After playing a reserve role during much of his first two NFL seasons, the 2015 fourth-round pick broke out and was named second-team All-Pro in 2017. Yet while his best season was better than any of James’s career, Williams’s limited track record and the doubt about the status of his knee might give teams pause. Don’t rule out one franchise paying a premium in the hopes of getting the 2017 version of Williams.
Potential Landing Spots: Bills, Texans, Cardinals, Giants, Broncos
The same group of teams likely to go after James could be in the mix for Williams too. Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports reported that the Bills and Giants plan to pursue him.
Trent Brown, T
Why He’s a Free Agent: After selecting Notre Dame product Mike McGlinchey no. 9 overall in last year’s draft, the 49ers shipped Brown to New England for the equivalent of a fourth-round pick. Brown was expected to provide depth up front for the Patriots, but took over as the starting left tackle once Isaiah Wynn went down with an injury and played well enough to price himself out of New England. Brown spent his San Francisco tenure on the right side of the line, and teams might want to put him back at his natural spot. This season was proof that Brown can survive at left tackle in a pinch, though, even if blocking for Tom Brady tends to work wonders for a lineman’s pass-protection numbers.
His Potential Market Value: Four years, $48 million ($27 million guaranteed)
Brown’s figure will likely depend on whether teams view him as a legitimate option at left tackle. If they do, he could command more than Williams or James.
Potential Landing Spots: Cardinals, Bills, Texans, Giants
Considering that Arizona needs help at both tackle spots, it seems likely to have significant interest in Brown. If the other tackle-needy teams see him as a fit on the right side, he could land with a franchise in the mix for James and Williams.
Teddy Bridgewater, QB
Why He’s a Free Agent: It’s hard to know where to begin. Bridgewater famously went down with a brutal knee injury just days before the 2016 season, prompting the Vikings to trade two draft picks for quarterback Sam Bradford. With Bridgewater’s knee still recovering, Bradford opened the 2017 season as Minnesota’s starter before his own knee injury forced him out of the lineup in favor of Case Keenum. All three QBs hit free agency last offseason; Minnesota elected to keep … none of them. As Kirk Cousins took over for the Vikings, the Jets gave Bridgewater an incentive-laden deal with a likely cap hit of only $6 million, even if he never saw the field.
But the musical chairs didn’t end there. After the Jets took Sam Darnold with the no. 3 overall pick last April, Bridgewater became expendable in New York. He was then dealt to the Saints for a third-round pick. Considering that New Orleans has $33.5 million tied up in Drew Brees this season, it won’t be able to compete with any team that’s looking to give Bridgewater starting quarterback money.
His Potential Market Value: Your guess is as good as mine.
Bridgewater’s value is tied up in the small number of teams looking for help at quarterback. Washington looked like it might be a potential destination, but the Redskins just swapped late-round 2020 draft picks to acquire Case Keenum from Denver. The Jaguars might be interested if the price for Foles gets too high, but if Jacksonville wanted Bridgewater it could have traded for him last summer. The logical destination is probably Miami, if and when the Dolphins choose to move on from Tannehill. If Miami does want a short-term answer at QB to give whichever young passer it’ll likely draft this year time to develop, Bridgewater could be looking at the type of deal Keenum got from the Broncos last spring (two years, $36 million).
Potential Landing Spots: Miami, New Orleans
If Miami isn’t interested, Bridgewater could hear crickets. At that point, a return to New Orleans wouldn’t be out of the question. Brees is 40, and there’s no telling how many more years he will play. Bridgewater could elect to let things play out.
Rodger Saffold, G
Why He’s a Free Agent: The megadeals for Aaron Donald and Todd Gurley have kicked in for the Rams. With less than $30 million in cap space and several holes that need to be addressed, GM Les Snead may think it’s unwise to spend upward of $10 million per year on a soon-to-be 31-year-old guard. But Saffold’s age and the Rams’ significant financial investments elsewhere are the only two reasons they’d let him walk. He’s been excellent in Sean McVay’s offense over the past two seasons, and he’ll provide any team that lands him with a standout up front.
His Potential Market Value: Three years, $33 million ($20 million guaranteed)
At his age, Saffold probably won’t command a deal with much guaranteed money after Year 2. Yet the going price for top guards in free agency is trending north of $11 million per season. His production fits that bill.
Potential Landing Spots: Giants, Jets, Texans, Broncos, Bills, Vikings
Several of the teams looking for tackle help could also use a boost at guard. Houston is better off at its interior line spots than it is at tackle, but Saffold would represent a significant upgrade. Another team that could give him a long look is the Vikings, who struggled inside last season. Minnesota has a limited amount of cap space, but teams have done more with less in the past. Trading cornerback Trae Waynes would free up more than $9 million and provide Minnesota with some wiggle room to make a move.
Golden Tate, WR
Why He’s a Free Agent: Tate is the rare player who wound up being worth every penny in free agency. After leaving Seattle in 2014, he received a five-year, $31 million deal from the Lions. During his first four seasons in Detroit, Tate finished with at least 90 receptions and eclipsed 1,000 yards three times. With Marvin Jones Jr. and Kenny Golladay in the fold, the Lions didn’t believe they’d be able to afford Tate when he became a free agent this offseason, and he was dealt to the Eagles before last fall’s trade deadline. Tate’s production during his short time in Philadelphia failed to match what he’d done in Detroit, but the 30-year-old remains a useful receiver who should provide a team with an ultrareliable option in the slot.
His Potential Market Value: Three years, $36 million ($24 million guaranteed)
Yahoo’s Charles Robinson reported last year that Tate could seek a payday in the range of $15 to $16 million annually this offseason, but the wideout might be disappointed when he sees how the market unfolds. While Jarvis Landry got a five-year, $75 million deal from the Browns last March, he was also 25 when he signed the deal. It’s likely that Tate will land a shorter contract with an average salary comparable to what Doug Baldwin received from the Seahawks in 2016 (four years, $46 million).
Potential Landing Spots: Patriots, Colts, Bills, Ravens, Redskins
It may seem unfair to let the Patriots land Tate, but New England has plenty of cap space and tried to swing a trade for him last season. Tate and Julian Edelman have somewhat comparable skill sets, but Bill Belichick and Co. wouldn’t have much trouble making it work. Armed with more than $100 million in cap space, the Colts also have money to burn and a glaring need outside of T.Y. Hilton at receiver. And Baltimore could use an influx of talent in its receiving corps, though the Ravens may conclude that spending big on Tate is too much of an investment in middle-of-the-field pass catchers after drafting two tight ends last season.
As mentioned above, Buffalo is desperate for quality pass catchers, and the team’s reported interest in Antonio Brown shows it’s willing to spend to get one. The same goes for Washington, whose minimal financial investment in Keenum leaves it with more flexibility than it would’ve had if it’d been forced to pay top dollar for a starting QB.