The Best Player Every NFL Team Could Add in 2018
We've just about reached a fork in the road where the NFL season is concerned.
For some, it's on to the playoffs for a chance at glory and the opportunity to lift the Lombardi Trophy as champion of Super Bowl LII.
For many others, however, it's time to figure out where things went wrong before moving on to 2018.
Soon enough, though, those two paths will become one again. Once the confetti stops falling in Minneapolis, every team's focus will become the same.
Getting better for the season to come. Adding the best players possible for their particular situations and scheme.
We're going to jump the gun a bit on that, with a look at one player for each team that would be the best add in 2018, For some, it's a draft pick. For others it's a free agent. For others still, it's a trade target.
Each addition shares one thing in common.
All would be welcome.
Ohio State OL Billy Price
There's a great deal of uncertainty swirling around the Arizona Cardinals right now. By the time the dust settles, quarterback Carson Palmer, wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald and head coach Bruce Arians could all be gone.
And with $18.8 million in cap space, a mass exodus would thrust the Redbirds into a full-on rebuild.
However, for the sake of argument, we'll look at the glass as half-full and assume that the rebuild will be put off for one more year—that Palmer and Fitz will return for 2018.
If that's the case, one of Arizona's top priorities in the NFL draft (again) will be upgrading the protection in front of Palmer after a season in which the Cardinals allowed over 50 sacks.
Ohio State's Billy Price would accomplish that goal.
At 6'4" and 312 pounds, Price looks the part of an interior linemen built from a kit. He has extensive experience playing at both guard and center—no player in the history of the Buckeyes has started more games.
Whether it's at guard or at center, Price has the ability not only to start immediately but also to be a difference-maker at the professional level.
Florida State DT Derrick Nnadi
The good news is that the Atlanta Falcons don't have a lot of glaring offseason needs in 2018.
The bad news is that the team doesn't have much salary-cap space with which to attack the ones they do have.
One of Atlanta's bigger decisions in that regard is whether to re-up defensive tackle Dontari Poe, who will likely command a new deal that pays upward of $10 million a season.
That's a lot of cheddar for a big man who hasn't made a ton of "splash" plays in 2017—especially when there are much younger and cheaper alternatives available in this year's draft.
Options like Florida State defensive tackle Derrick Nnnadi.
Whereas Poe is a 346-pound mountain of a man best suited to playing the 1- or zero-technique and taking up space, Nnadi's a smaller, quicker "get up the field" type.
If, that is, 310 pounds qualifies as "smaller."
Like Poe, Nnadi has shown the ability to occupy multiple blockers at the point of attack. But Nnadi has also shown an aptitude for getting upfield after the quarterback, piling up 9.5 sacks combined in his last two seasons.
SMU WR Courtland Sutton
This piece isn't just going to be a glorified mock draft.
Really. It isn't. There will be more than a few veterans included, many of whom will fetch a pretty penny on the open market once free agency opens.
That's the problem for the Baltimore Ravens. With the fourth-least cap space in the NFL, the Ravens aren't in a position to be big players on the open market.
That leaves the 2018 NFL draft as Baltimore's best bet to upgrade a receiving corps that badly needs a boost.
At first glance, fans of the Ravens can be forgiven a bit for recoiling at the notion of using another Round 1 draft pick on a small-school wide receiver.
The plan didn't work so well with Breshad Perriman.
But SMU's Courtland Sutton is a different animal than Perriman. In addition to the sort of big-play speed that Perriman had coming out of Central Florida, Sutton also has a 6'4" frame and long arms built for hauling in 50/50 balls from Joe Flacco.
Sutton has also shown a knack for winning those battles—since 2015 he has an eye-popping 31 touchdown receptions for the Mustangs.
Kansas City Chiefs QB Alex Smith
Told you there were some veterans included here. This one is even under contract.
Yes, the Buffalo Bills are still in the hunt for a wild-card spot in the AFC. Tyrod Taylor is still technically under contract through the 2018 season. So is Alex Smith.
But Smith isn't the future in Kansas City. Patrick Mahomes is. Barring a run to the Super Bowl, the cap-strapped Chiefs will more than likely move on from Smith in the offseason—a move that would clear about $17 million off the salary cap.
Never mind the draft-pick compensation the Chiefs would add after they dealt their 2018 first-rounder for the chance to move up and draft Mahomes.
That pick was sent to the Bills.
Now, the Chiefs aren't getting that pick back—even with Smith coming off a career year. But Buffalo has a spare second-rounder too that might be enough to get a deal done.
As ESPN.com's Mike Sando pointed out, Smith would be a good scheme fit in Western New York, and the Bills and Chiefs have shown a willingness to talk turkey.
Buffalo has also shown a willingness to move on from Taylor—more than once.
Here's their best opportunity.
Washington Redskins WR Terrelle Pryor
I can see those eye-rolls.
Granted, Terrelle Pryor just suffered through a catastrophic 2017. In his lone season with the Washington Redskins, Pryor caught all of 20 passes for 240 yards and one touchdown.
Ugly doesn't do it justice.
But the 28-year-old is just one year removed from a season in which he topped 1,000 yards in Cleveland—playing with an assortment of bad quarterbacks.
There's no denying the upside and talent. And after his lost 2017 campaign, that upside and talent should be available at a pretty steep discount.
Pryor, combined with Devin Funchess, would afford the Panthers a pair of big-bodied wideouts and targets for Cam Newton. But they wouldn't be carbon copies—Pryor's speed would be a good compliment to Funchess' physicality.
The Panthers need an upgrade at wide receiver, but it's not a position the team needs to spend a lot of its free-agent resources on.
Especially if the Panthers can get one off the clearance rack.
Alabama WR Calvin Ridley
If the Bears want to develop young quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, then improving what might be the NFL's weakest wideout corps has to be a top priority for the team in 2018.
Unfortunately, the odds of the Bears upgrading the position in free agency aren't great. Alshon Jeffery signed an extension with the Philadelphia Eagles earlier this month. Davante Adams isn't leaving Green Bay. Terrelle Pryor is coming off a miserable 2017 season. And Allen Robinson lost his entire 2017 campaign to injury.
The notion of spending another first-round pick on a wideout may not appeal to fans of the team who are still trying to scrub Kevin White from their memory. But while White was an impressive physical specimen who lacked polish, Alabama's Calvin Ridley is an accomplished route-runner with the ability to make an immediate impact.
Back at the beginning of December, Bleacher Report's Matt Miller wrote that the Bears were "all about" taking a run at Ridley in April.
The new regime that's likely coming in Chicago may have different ideas, but the Bears' glaring need at receiver must be addressed regardless of who is in charge in the Windy City.
Texas OT Connor Williams
Some teams will enter the offseason with one glaring need that towers above all others. One area that has to be addressed before the 2018 campaign gets underway next fall.
And for the Cincinnati Bengals, that's the offensive tackle position.
The Bengals have now tried Cedric Ogbuehi at both tackle spots, and he was equally awful on both the left and right sides.
The Bengals have to get better on Andy Dalton's blind side. And since quality left tackles rarely sniff free agency (much less change teams), their best chance at doing so in a hurry lies with the (projected) 10th pick in the 2018 NFL draft.
And the hope that Connor Williams of Texas falls that far.
While Williams struggled with injuries last year with the Longhorns, he's widely regarded as the top tackle prospect in this class. And with good reason—the 6'6", 315-pounder appears to be the complete package.
The best part isn't his prototypical size and strength. It's his technique and footwork. Williams is easily the most NFL-ready tackle in the class of 2018.
And he'd be the best pass protector on Cincy's roster the first day he shows up.
USC QB Sam Darnold
In all likelihood, in a few days the Cleveland Browns are going to join the annals of NFL history as the second team to go an entire 16-game season without a win.
The Browns have needs all over the roster—especially on offense. With the most cap space in the AFC and a bevy of picks in April's draft, Cleveland has plenty of weapons to address all those needs in the offseason.
But it's not going to matter who the Browns sign and/or draft if the team doesn't fix the mess at quarterback.
At this early juncture in the predraft process, it doesn't appear that Cleveland will select Josh Rosen with the No. 1 pick. Per Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com, Rosen intimated he'd as soon not play in Cleveland. Tony Pauline of Draft Insider tweeted recently that the feeling's mutual—new Browns general manager John Dorsey isn't keen on the young signal-caller.
Given Cleveland's recent history at the position if the Browns pass on Rosen, he's just about assured of turning out to be the best quarterback in the class of 2018.
It would also more than likely lock in USC's Sam Darnold, a strong-armed 6'4" gunslinger in his own right, as the No. 1 overall pick in 2018.
Assuming, of course, that Darnold doesn't return to USC.
Jaguars WR Allen Robinson
The Dallas Cowboys enter the 2018 offseason in something of uncharted waters. With $23.5 million in cap space, the Cowboys have a little money to spend this offseason.
Of course, if Dallas hopes to re-sign defensive end Demarcus Lawrence, that will take up well over half that coin.
So, if the Cowboys want to make any other impact signings, they'll have to be smart about it.
And given the state of the receiving corps, the Cowboys are going to be looking to make an impact signing there.
After one of the worst seasons of his career in 2017, Dez Bryant could be asked to a pay cut or be released outright. Per ESPN.com's Todd Archer, Bryant isn't amenable to the former. The latter's possible but unlikely.
The more plausible scenario is that Dallas will look to add to the weapons at Dak Prescott's disposal—not subtract from them. Allen Robinson could fit the bill there and then some.
Robinson missed almost all of the 2017 season with a torn ACL and disappointed the year before. But back in 2015, Robinson exploded for 1,400 yards and 14 scores for the Jacksonville Jaguars.
A Robinson/Bryant one-two punch would give opposing defenses plenty to chew on, and Robinson might be open to a one-year "prove it" deal playing on the NFL's biggest stage.
Redskins QB Kirk Cousins
Time for some breaking news.
The Denver Broncos desperately need to improve at the quarterback position.
And after watching Cousins carve up the Denver defense for almost 300 yards and three scores in Week 16, Broncos linebacker Von Miller offered an interesting bit of potential foreshadowing while speaking to Mark Kiszla of the Denver Post.
"A lot of teams would literally kill to have a quarterback like that," Miller said.
Miller then shoved Brock Osweiler in front of a moving bus.
Cousins is most assuredly not going to be a cheap date. Assuming that he hits the open market, the 29-year-old will do so at a position for which average players land deals approaching $20 million a season.
Signing Cousins would take the overwhelming majority of the $29.4 million in cap space the Broncos have in 2018.
But this is also a team that has weapons in the passing game and a formidable defense. A team that would become an instant contender if it only had a quarterback and better offensive line.
The line help will probably need to come via the 2018 NFL draft.
But the quarterback could be there if John Elway is willing to write the check.
Steelers RB Le'Veon Bell
Yes, this presumes something of a bombshell—that the AFC's second-leading rusher entering Week 17 isn't re-signed by the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The thing is, this writer has believed from the jump that Pittsburgh didn't plan to re-sign Le'Veon Bell—if it did the team would have limited Bell's workload more.
Bell is already sitting on 406 total touches for the season—a number that doesn't bode especially well for his prospects next season.
Bell has surpassed 1,900 total yards for the third time in his career, and that accomplishment is going to generate plenty of interest in the 25-year-old's services in free agency.
Given that the Lions rank last in the NFL in rushing this year, it's not a stretch to imagine they'll be one of the first teams in line to take a run at the runner.
It's an interesting fit. The need is there, Bell has at least some connection to the area from his time at Michigan State, and with $53.7 million in cap space, the Lions have the wiggle room to offer Bell a fat new deal.
Green Bay Packers
Iowa CB Josh Jackson
If you've followed the Green Bay Packers at all during the Ted Thompson era, then you know that the odds of Thompson adding a big-name free agent from outside the organization are exceedingly slim.
That's not how Thompson does things.
If 2018 is at all like past seasons, the Packers will devote some of their $41.8 million in cap space to retaining their own free agents. Then Thompson will look to improve from the outside at the NFL draft.
Last year, one of the primary focuses for Thompson was improving Green Bay's leaky secondary. And with a ranking outside the top 20 in pass defense again this season, that same secondary could again be in Thompson's sights.
Enter Iowa cornerback Josh Jackson, who won the Jack Tatum Award as the nation's top defensive back in 2017.
Jackson has everything NFL teams look for in cornerbacks. At 6'1", he has both size and long arms. His straight-line speed isn't in question. And Jackson was wildly productive for the Hawkeyes, intercepting eight passes in 2017.
In his most recent big board, Matt Miller has Jackson ranked as the No. 1 cornerback in this year's class.
The Packers would be fortunate to land such a prospect in the middle of Round 1.
Packers S Morgan Burnett
If the Houston Texans are going to make any major improvements in 2017, those improvements will have to come via free agency—the Texans' first two draft picks are now the property of the Cleveland Browns as part of the trades that brought Deshaun Watson to Texas and sent Brock Osweiler packing.
However, the Texans are sitting on $53.8 million in cap space—plenty to take a run at some help along the offensive line or in the secondary.
This isn't a great season in the former regard—the cupboard isn't totally bare, but it's hardly a bumper crop. But there's at least one veteran on the back end who should hit the open market.
The Green Bay Packers have long been a team that likes to keep their own free agents over acquiring outsiders. But Ted Thompson has limited resources, wideout Davante Adams will take up a big chunk of them, and the Packers have an in-house replacement for Morgan Burnett waiting in the wings in youngster Josh Jones.
This isn’t to say that Burnett can't play—he's a proven veteran with plenty left in the tank who has shown to be a movable chess piece for the Packers in 2017.
That sort of versatility would come in handy in Houston next year.
Penn State RB Saquon Barkley
Over the last couple of seasons, the idea of drafting a running back early has regained its cachet.
Two years ago, the Dallas Cowboys selected Ezekiel Elliott at No. 4 overall. In 2017, the Jacksonville Jaguars took Leonard Fournette of LSU in the same spot.
Neither team regretted the decision.
This year, we could see yet another tailback chosen inside the top five. This time it could be the Indianapolis Colts and Penn State's Saquon Barkley.
The Colts have suffered through a disastrous 2017 season, and the team has a number of holes on the roster. High up the list is the lack of any sort of dependable run game. The Colts have averaged just over 100 yards a game on the ground, and Frank Gore is a 34-year-old who is about to hit free agency.
In Barkley, the Colts would obtain an every-down back—a 230-pound bellcow who is averaging 5.7 yards a carry on the ground and has hauled in 47 passes for nearly 600 yards for Penn State.
If the Colts believe Andrew Luck will return in 2018, the team needs to get better around him.
Memphis WR Anthony Miller
If Allen Robinson leaves the Jacksonville Jaguars in free agency, the Jags could find themselves in the market for wide receiver help in 2018.
That goes double if Marqise Lee joins him—a possibility given that the Jaguars have only $18.1 million in cap space after pouring a fortune into the defense the past couple of years.
However, it's possible the Jaguars could land a young receiver this spring that might make them forget all about those players next season.
And they may be able to do it on Day 2 of the draft.
At just 5'11" and 190 pounds, Anthony Miller of Memphis doesn't have ideal size for an NFL prospect at his position. He doesn't have ideal speed, either.
What Miller does have is a history of ridiculous production and fantastic hands. Miller caught 92 passes for 1,407 yards in 2017, finding the end zone 17 times.
Miller is a smaller version of Cooper Kupp. For all the talk about the things he isn't and the competition he didn't face at Memphis, pop in the tape and all you see is "is."
As in he "is" open all day.
As in there he "is" making another catch.
And there he "is" scoring again.
Kansas City Chiefs
Titans ILB Avery Williamson
The Kansas City Chiefs won the AFC West for the second straight year. But what started out as a phenomenal season came off the rails a bit, due in large part to the team's defensive deficiencies—chief among them at inside linebacker.
See what I did there?
Simply put, Derrick Johnson looked old in 2017. Reggie Ragland had his moments, but at the very least Kansas City needs to find Ragland a running mate.
Unfortunately, the Chiefs also have (at present) one of the worst salary-cap situations in the NFL. Steps will no doubt be taken to free up cap space (looking at you, Alex Smith), but the Chiefs aren't likely to be able to afford big names like Zach Brown or NaVorro Bowman.
However, in Avery Williamson of the Tennessee Titans, the Chiefs could add a young and talented inside linebacker who is still just 25 but has 58 career starts under his belt.
The best part is that Williamson had something of a down season in 2017, losing sub-package playing time to Jayon Brown. That isn't to say Williamson wouldn't be the Chiefs' best ILB in coverage from the get-go.
Only that his asking price may be depressed by the loss of snaps.
Los Angeles Chargers
Georgia Linebacker Roquan Smith
The Los Angeles Chargers have talent at both ends of the defense. The team's defensive ends and cornerbacks are among the best in the NFL.
The Chargers also rank dead last in the NFL in run defense, because their inside linebackers have been marshmallow-soft most of the year.
The selection of Georgia linebacker Roquan Smith would go a long way toward solving that problem.
Smith didn't have the seven interceptions that Manti Te'o posted when he was a Heisman finalist back in 2012, but the 6'1", 225-pounder had a similar impact for the playoff-bound Bulldogs.
For the season, Smith has 113 total tackles, 5.5 sacks and 10.5 tackles for loss. He's the defensive cornerstone for the team that just won the SEC.
He's also a much more athletic linebacker in coverage than Te'o ever thought about being, which is a trait that's absolutely essential to playing in sub-packages as a pro.
The Chargers have spent much of this season getting gashed by run plays in the nickel precisely because their linebackers have been liabilities in coverage.
With Smith joining a (hopefully) healthy Denzel Perryman, that wouldn't be the case in 2018.
Los Angeles Rams
Patriots Cornerback Malcolm Butler
It's a good time to be the Los Angeles Rams. In their second season back in Los Angeles and first under head coach Sean McVay, the Rams won the NFC West. Regardless of how far they get in the postseason, the Rams will enter free agency with over $50 million in wiggle room to use on making sure that wasn't a one-shot deal.
Of course, the Rams have free agents of their own to worry about, including cornerbacks Trumaine Johnson and Nickell Robey-Coleman. Add in Kayvon Webster's ruptured Achilles, and the secondary could be a big question mark next season.
The Rams could decide not to bring Johnson back. They didn't lock him up long-term in the offseason in either of the last two years, and he was outplayed by Webster for much of 2017.
That vaults the secondary to the top of L.A.'s offseason wish list.
In free agency, the top target not named Trumaine has to be Malcolm Butler of the New England Patriots.
Butler will all but surely hit the open market this spring. While he's had an up-and-down 2017, Butler has demonstrated a ceiling that's higher than Johnson's.
He'd also add stability and experience (including in the postseason) to a Rams secondary potentially much younger in 2018.
LSU Defensive End Arden Key
The Miami Dolphins don't have the cabbage to be movers and shakers in free agency (around $15 million).
Thanks, Ndamukong Suh.
The team has also shown it isn't averse to taking risks on draft day by selecting players with character concerns.
See Tunsil, Laremy.
Add to that a cadre of defensive ends that isn't getting any younger, and the door is open for the Dolphins to potentially add another problem child from the SEC.
LSU's Arden Key is a 6'6", 265-pound terror whose athleticism and burst off the edge will probably test off the charts at the combine.
However, Key left the LSU program last spring only to return significantly heavier. As Matt Miller reported, some speculated Key's unexplained absence was for a stint in rehab. He also battled shoulder and knee injuries this season.
Key will have plenty to answer for when interviews with prospective teams roll around, and any concerns over his availability could knock Key out of the top 10.
If that's the case, the Dolphins could be set to hit the bargain-bin jackpot for a second time in three seasons.
NC State QB Ryan Finley
The Minnesota Vikings are in danger of going from three quarterbacks to none in the blink of an eye.
Case Keenum is having the season of his life (and then some), but before this miracle year he was a journeyman backup and nothing more.
Sam Bradford has shown the occasional flash since being drafted No. 1 overall back in 2010. But he's been injured as often as not and has exactly zero playoff starts to go with all those millions he's earned.
It was great to see Teddy Bridgewater back on the field in Week 15. The 2014 first-round pick led the Vikings to the playoffs in 2015, but there's no guarantee he will ever be the player he was before his horrific knee injury.
All three are set to hit free agency, and the Vikings will all but certainly only be able to afford to keep one.
Whoever that is, the Vikings will need a signal-caller to develop behind them. More than just a career backup, too—a player with the potential to start is required given all the question marks hovering around that group.
North Carolina State's Ryan Finley doesn't have a cannon for an arm. But he has the size NFL scouts covet under center and the accuracy college quarterbacks need to succeed in the NFL.
The Vikings' aggressiveness on Plan B at football's most important position has served them well in recent years.
They should continue that trend.
New England Patriots
Raiders LB NaVorro Bowman
This is a tale as old as the Bill Belichick/Tom Brady era in Beantown.
As free agency dawns, the Patriots sign an aging veteran whose best days appear to be behind him. That free agent then goes on to have one of the better years of his career, because Bill Belichick is a sorcerer capable of bending dark and mystical energies to his will.
What? It's true.
The Patriots have rolled their way to the top of the AFC once again in 2017, but the defense has had its ups and downs. Many of the downs have coincided with injuries to linebackers like Dont'a Hightower and Kyle Van Noy.
The Patriots aren't going to pay retail for Bowman. If another team is willing to offer up a big contract to the four-time All-Pro, that will likely be that.
But despite Bowman's 114 tackles split between San Francisco and Oakland in 2017, the 29-year-old isn't the superstar he once was. A pair of major lower-body injuries appear to have robbed Bowman of some speed.
If Bowman's market is soft (a real possibility at a position where soft markets are a rule as much as an exception), though, the Pats could come calling.
And the chance to win the Super Bowl that has eluded him to this point in his career may just put the spring back in his step.
New Orleans Saints
Georgia OT Isaiah Wynn
Technically, the New Orleans Saints have close to $35 million in cap space.
In reality, the Saints have been 11 bucks, assuming that the team re-ups that Brees fella who plays quarterback for the team.
I'm going to go out on a limb and assume that happens.
With the Saints' window to win a second (or even third, depending on what happens over the next few weeks) championship in the Brees era open again, the team's focus in the draft has likely shifted from the future to the present.
So, getting both Brees and the now-formidable Saints ground game some help would be welcome.
Make no mistake, Isaiah Wynn is capable of helping right away. Wynn has been the driving force up front behind the Bulldogs' run to the CFB Playoff in 2017, playing much bigger than his listed size of 6'2" and 302 pounds. A powerful and punishing run-blocker, Wynn lacks the length that NFL teams like to see in a tackle.
But given his penchant for blocking like defenders just said something untoward about his mother, it isn't hard at all to see Wynn making a seamless transition to guard in the NFL.
New York Giants
UCLA QB Josh Rosen
Back in 2004, Eli Manning made it clear that he had no interest in playing for the San Diego Chargers. When the Chargers drafted Manning at No. 1 anyway, Manning held firm, and the Bolts wound up dealing Manning to the New York Giants.
History may be about to repeat itself...sort of.
Per ESPN's Josh Weinfuss, UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen is openly hinting that playing for the Cleveland Browns is not something that appeals to him.
"I'd rather be a lower pick at the right team," Rosen said, "than a higher at the wrong team."
The inference is that Cleveland is that "wrong team," while the New York Giants (who pick second and have a much better history developing quarterbacks) are the "right team."
Granted, there are surely potential free agents out there who could help the Giants more in the short term. This is a team that was expected to contend for an NFC East title in 2017 before the wheels fell off the season.
But if you believe that Rosen is the best quarterback in the Class of 2018 (as I do), this opportunity represents a unique gift: a chance to turn a lost season into a relatively seamless transition at the NFL's most important position.
Some days it's better to be lucky than good.
New York Jets
Oklahoma QB Baker Mayfield
There isn't a more polarizing quarterback in the 2018 NFL draft than Oklahoma's Baker Mayfield. In fact, there may not be a more polarizing prospect at any position.
Mayfield's accomplishments both individually and with Oklahoma are proof to his supporters that he play. The 4,340 passing yards, 41 touchdowns and just five interceptions. The Heisman Trophy. The spot in the College Football Playoff.
Mayfield's detractors point to his size (or lack thereof), his sometimes-shaky mechanics and off-field incidents as warning signs that Mayfield's is the latest wildly productive college quarterback who is just that—and only that.
Which group is correct will remain a topic of heated debate right up until April 26. However, there are a couple of things we do know.
We know that the Jets need a franchise quarterback in the worst way. Josh McCown played well in 2017, but he's 38 and saw his season ended by injury...again.
And say what you will about Mayfield, but there isn't a signal-caller in this class who seems better suited for the pressure of playing in New York. The higher the stakes were raised in Norman, the more Mayfield thrived.
If Mayfield not only made it in the NFL but did so with the Jets?
What a tale that would be.
Texans CB Johnathan Joseph
As things stand right now, the Oakland Raiders are sitting on a 2018 war chest of about $21 million. The team would be well-served to spend some of that coin on re-signing young cornerback Travis Carrie. Oakland can save about $15 million more by cutting loose David Amerson and Sean Smith—moves that would be addition by subtraction in the secondary.
The Raiders have a young corner waiting in the wings in 2017 first-rounder Gareon Conley. Oakland may well attack the position again in this year's draft. But all that youth on the back end will need a veteran presence to hold the back end together.
That's where Johnathan Joseph comes in.
At 33 (34 in April), Joseph is much closer to the end than the beginning after a 12-year career spent with the Cincinnati Bengals and Houston Texans.
Joseph isn't the shutdown corner he once was, but he's still a consistently effective cover man who compensates for the loss of a step with wile and technique.
In the short term, the Raiders can use the help at cornerback. In the long term, their youth at the position would benefit from learning from a pro's pro like Joseph.
And while Joseph has indicated a desire to remain in Houston, according to ESPN's Sarah Barshop, much can change in the span of a few months in the NFL.
Oklahoma OT Orlando Brown
The Philadelphia Eagles aren't going to be big players in free agency in 2018. As a matter of fact, with the least cap space in the National Football League, Philly will be fortunate just to keep the band together.
That means any improvements are going to come through the NFL draft. And while Jason Peters remains a more-than-capable left tackle when on the field, the 35-year-old's season-ending injury (and what's happened since) made clear that one of those improvements must be at offensive tackle.
Oklahoma's Orlando Brown is a mountain of a man at 6'8" and 339 pounds. But he's also very agile for his size and projects at tackle at the NFL level.
Brown is not a can't-miss tackle prospect—if he was, he'd never last into the 20s. But he's a 39-game starter and the Big 12 Offensive Linemen of the Year, and he is a player with the potential to be dominant on the edge in the pros.
And there isn't a team in the league that isn't always on the lookout for one of those.
Alabama LB Rashaan Evans
The Pittsburgh Steelers, with only about $3 million to spend, probably won't be big players in free agency.
The team usually isn't.
The Steelers will also likely be picking at or near the bottom five in the first round.
They usually are.
This is a team that has made finding value at the back end of the first round into a science, though.
Rashaan Evans would be an excellent choice as the its next experiment.
His talent isn't in question. Evans is a rush-end who has converted to inside linebacker with All-American results. His 57 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss and five sacks aren't eye-popping numbers, but the 6'3", 234-pounder missed two games this season.
The fit isn't an issue either. While everyone hopes Ryan Shazier makes a complete recovery from his spinal injury and plays in 2018, the reality is that's no sure bet. And while Vince Williams is a capable pro, he's not nearly as quick as Shazier—or Evans, for that matter.
Add in that Alabama linebackers tend to convert well to the NFL, and you have the makings of another successful experiment.
San Francisco 49ers
Dolphins WR Jarvis Landry
It's a misnomer to say the San Francisco 49ers have almost $116 million in cap space. A fat chunk of that coin is about to belong to quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, an impending free agent who has taken the Bay Area by storm since becoming the team's starting quarterback in Week 13.
But the Niners still have quite a war chest to work with—and adding weapons for Garoppolo in 2018 is a priority.
Yes, the 49ers would likely prefer to lure away Green Bay's Davante Adams. But the chances the Packers would let Adams walk fall somewhere between slim and none.
Miami's Jarvis Landry isn't a bad consolation prize.
Landry isn't the vertical threat Adams is, and the 25-year-old averaged a career-low 8.7 yards a catch in 2017. But Landry topped 100 receptions for the second time in his career and came up just short of a third straight 1,000-yard season.
And that was with, um, suspect quarterback play.
Add Landry to a wideout corps that already includes veteran Pierre Garcon and emerging 27-year-old Marquise Goodwin, and Garoppolo would have plenty of ways to earn his robust 2018 paycheck.
Notre Dame OT Mike McGlinchey
Yes, the majority of mock drafts have Notre Dame All-American tackle Mike McGlinchey coming off the board before Seattle will be on the clock at No. 12 (as of now).
Here's the thing, though. The draft is at the end of April. We don't even know most of the draft order yet. There's still the college all-star games. The NFL Scouting Combine. Pro days. And weeks upon weeks of the rampant speculation that is "silly season."
There is one thing, however, that we already know beyond a shadow of a doubt.
The offensive line in Seattle is a hot mess.
McGlinchey could have left Notre Dame early a year ago. Had he done so, he may well have been the first player at the position taken. An invitee to the draft festivities. All that good stuff.
Instead, the 6'8", 315-pounder returned to South Bend, Indiana. Refined his technique. Hit the weight room that much more.
All that good stuff.
There's approximately zero doubt McGlinchey would start from day one in Seattle.
Or that Russell Wilson would be grateful for the Golden Domer's arrival.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Notre Dame OG Quenton Nelson
I'll be the first to admit this isn't a likely call. Guards are rarely drafted inside the top five, which is where the 4-11 Tampa Bay Buccaneers sit heading into the final week of the regular season. It's been over 15 years since an interior lineman (Leonard Davis in 2001) was selected that high.
But it would be one of the smartest picks of the first round.
Nelson (and teammate Mike McGlinchey, for that that matter) are that good.
Per Albert Breer of Sports Illustrated, the 6'5", 330-pound Nelson is already a darling of the scouting community.
"Nelson is probably the most agreed-upon prospect that I've discussed with scouts," Breer wrote. "When I told an exec last week that I'd probably write that Nelson was 'maybe a better guard prospect than ex-teammate Zack Martin,' he told me to take the 'maybe' out of there."
Back in 2014, Martin became the first rookie lineman in 57 years to make first-team All-NFL. He's been a perennial Pro Bowler ever since—the linchpin of the league's best line.
Oh, and Tampa needs help at both guard spots.
Filed under, "makes too much sense to happen."
UTSA OLB Marcus Davenport
With almost $55 million in their war chest, the Tennessee Titans are well-equipped to be aggressive in free agency.
But this isn't about the biggest names a team might sign. Or draft. It's about the best player each team might add—matching fit and talent like hand and glove.
And a couple of years from now we might look back on a young edge-rusher many folks have never heard of as that guy for a Titans team that could use an infusion of youth at outside linebacker.
Marcus Davenport isn't even a household name in the Davenport household. I should know—I live there.
But as Chris Trapasso wrote for CBSSports.com, the 6'7" pass-rusher from tiny Texas-San Antonio has caught the scouting community's eye with his tantalizing mixture of athleticism and potential.
According to Trapasso, Davenport has received Pro Football Focus' third-highest grade among 4-3 ends in 2017, trailing only NC State's Bradley Chubb and Ohio State's Nick Bosa. He has the highest pass-rushing score and third-best grade against the run.
And last year he ranked 15th—among all 3-4 outside linebackers.
Davenport may not be garnering much first-round buzz, but by the time April rolls around he may come off the board before the Titans even have a chance to snatch him up.
Browns RB Isaiah Crowell
It's possible the Washington Redskins could be players in the Le'Veon Bell sweepstakes this spring. They possess almost $54 million in cap space. A large portion of that will go to whoever the team installs at quarterback (a free agent will be added if Kirk Cousins walks), but there would be plenty left for Bell.
The Redskins badly need a boost in the backfield, and owner Daniel Snyder loves him a splash signing.
There's another talented young back hitting the market in 2017 who would come quite a bit cheaper, though.
It's been lost in another Lake Erie nightmare, but Isaiah Crowell has quietly topped 1,000 total yards and averaged 4.4 yards per carry for a miserable Cleveland Browns team in 2017. If the last few years are any indication, Crowell will use free agency as his "Get Out of Jail Free" card and bolt.
If that's the case, Washington's offense would be a good fit for Crowell, who doesn't waste a ton of time running laterally.
Paired with Chris Thompson, the 24-year-old would offer the Redskins a run game that's a fair bit better than 26th overall.
Salary-cap figures provided by Over the Cap unless otherwise noted.