NFL Free Agents 2018: Predictions for Top Players Expected to Hit Open Market

Alec Nathan@@AlecBNathanFeatured ColumnistDecember 26, 2017

CINCINNATI, OH - DECEMBER 04:  Le'Veon Bell #26 of the Pittsburgh Steelers runs into the endzone for a touchdown against the Cincinnati Bengals during the second half at Paul Brown Stadium on December 4, 2017 in Cincinnati, Ohio.  (Photo by John Grieshop/Getty Images)
John Grieshop/Getty Images

The start of NFL free agency is still months away, but it's already clear the 2018 signing period could be engulfed by a frenzy of activity when players are officially allowed to put pen to paper at 4 p.m. ET on March 14. 

That's because this year, perhaps more than any other in recent memory, the crop of skill-position players likely to hit the open market is loaded with game-changers. 

Below, we'll break down a few of the most interesting names slated for big paydays and examine which teams could represent the best fits for their dynamic skill sets. 


Le'Veon Bell, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers

PITTSBURGH, PA - DECEMBER 10: Le'Veon Bell #26 of the Pittsburgh Steelers carries the ball against Michael Pierce #97 of the Baltimore Ravens in the second half during the game at Heinz Field on December 10, 2017 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Joe
Joe Sargent/Getty Images

Le'Veon Bell and the Pittsburgh Steelers are not strangers to financial drama. 

Just think back to July, when NFL Network's Tom Pelissero reported Bell turned down a lucrative offer that would have paid out $30 million over the first two seasons and $42 million over the first three seasons with an average annual salary of $12 million.  

Instead, Bell opted to play on the $12.1 million franchise tag and put himself in a position to hit free agency. 

That decision, although controversial at the time, could be paying off in a big way. 

While he started the season in uncharacteristically sluggish fashion, Bell has been his usual, electric self during Pittsburgh's playoff push. 

Now, the Steelers could look at that production one of two ways. 

First, they could view it as indispensable and make Bell the kind of offer he's craved ever since he stated that he wanted to reset the running back market with his next payday. 

"The running back market definitely took a hit, and I can't be the guy who continues to let it take a hit," Bell told ESPN.com's Jeremy Fowler in July. "We do everything: We block, we run, we catch the ball. Our value isn't where it needs to be. I'm taking it upon myself to open up some eyes and show the position is more valuable."

The opposing viewpoint, though, could see Bell bolt for a new locale if the Steelers believe his numbers are due to drop off after they reaped the rewards of what could be his five most productive seasons as a pro. 

There's also a third option, although it's one both sides are likely hoping to avoid. 

According to ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert, the Steelers could once again prevent Bell from hitting free agency by slapping him with a franchise tag in the range of $15 million. But as Seifert noted, "that figure is nearly twice the highest average salary for a running back other than Bell," which could make it a tough pill to swallow. 

Ultimately, though, that just seems like delaying the inevitable. 

With Bell clearly a cut above the rest of the NFL's backfield playmakers, the Steelers should be determined to find common ground in negotiations and lock up their stud running back long-term.  

Prediction: Bell, Steelers agree to richest contract for a running back in league history


Allen Robinson, WR, Jacksonville Jaguars

FOXBORO, MA - AUGUST 10: Allen Robinson #15 of the Jacksonville Jaguars gestures in the first half during a preseason game with New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium on August 10, 2017 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
Jim Rogash/Getty Images

Allen Robinson tore his ACL in the first quarter of the Jacksonville Jaguars' season-opening win over the Houston Texans, but he still stands to get paid come March. 

For starters, there figures to be a robust market for perimeter wideouts in free agency, with teams like the Baltimore Ravens, Buffalo Bills, Chicago Bears, New York Giants and San Francisco 49ers all in need of playmaking reinforcements, just to name a few. 

There's also the matter of Robinson's tantalizing potential. 

Although he's recovering from a serious injury, Robinson will be just 25 years old when the 2018 season opens and is two years removed from a campaign that saw him catch 80 passes for 1,400 yards and a league-leading 14 touchdowns. 

And that was with Blake Bortles as his quarterback. 

Imagine, then, a world in which Robinson is paired with an ascendant young talent under center and an innovative play-caller known for his schematic excellence. 

Sounds like San Francisco. 

Not only do the 49ers finally have a long-term solution at quarterback with Jimmy Garoppolo, but they tout stability on the sidelines with head coach Kyle Shanahan calling the shots in an offense that turned Marquise Goodwin into a consistent downfield threat throughout his first season in the Bay Area. 

Plug Robinson into the No. 1 role there, and the 49ers could have the foundation of a dynamic passing attack in place. 

Prediction: Robinson commits to the 49ers on a three-year deal 


Jarvis Landry, WR, Miami Dolphins

MIAMI GARDENS, FL - DECEMBER 11:  Jarvis Landry #14 of the Miami Dolphins tries to avoid the tackle of  Jonathan Jones #31 of the New England Patriots in the first quarter at Hard Rock Stadium on December 11, 2017 in Miami Gardens, Florida.  (Photo by Mik
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Between Robinson, Sammy Watkins and Davante Adams, the 2018 free-agent class is loaded with intriguing talent at wide receiver. 

However, there may not be a more compelling name on the open market than Jarvis Landry. 

A quick-twitch maven who has topped 112 targets every year since he debuted in 2014, Landry has established himself as one of the NFL's premier route runners, slot specialists and run-after-catch weapons over the past four seasons with the Miami Dolphins. 

To date, the 25-year-old has racked up 391 catches for 3,946 yards and 21 touchdowns as a professional. 

And according to Pro-Football-Reference, Landry resides in elite statistical company even though he's not a vertical field-stretcher like so many of his high-priced peers. Specifically, Landry is one of seven players—along with Antonio Brown, Larry Fitzgerald, DeAndre Hopkins, Julio Jones, Golden Tate and Demaryius Thomas—who has recorded at least 500 targets, 350 receptions and 3,500 receiving yards since 2014. 

Needless to say, those are numbers deserving of a major raise. 

The question at this point is which teams will be on the prowl for Landry's services. 

While there are several receiver-needy teams throughout the league, the New England Patriots unquestionably represent the best fit for Landry's skill set from a tactical standpoint since they tend to pepper opponents with quick-hitting option routes. 

And even though New England already boasts Julian Edelman as a slot complement to speedster Brandin Cooks, Landry would be a natural long-term addition—especially with Danny Amendola slated to become a free agent at season's end.  

Prediction: Landry signs a four-year deal with the Patriots