Comfortable Landing Spots for NFL Free Agents

Brad Shepard@@Brad_ShepardFeatured ColumnistFebruary 13, 2018

Comfortable Landing Spots for NFL Free Agents

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    Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

    Baseball's free-agent market has been molasses-slow this offseason, but it's almost a certainty that the NFL's won't follow suit.

    This is one of the best years for free agents in recent memory. While it's difficult to project just who will make it onto the market because of the possibilities of long-term deals or franchise tags, it's fun to project where some of the top players would fit in a perfect world. 

    Some teams need playmakers everywhere, and paying big bucks for top-tier talent can help them along in the rebuilding process. For others, it's all about finding that missing piece to get them into Super Bowl contention.

    This offseason, free agency is going to be even more intriguing with the available quarterbacks and a stud runner like Le'Veon Bell testing the waters, too.

    The top NFL free agents available this spring—minus top overall player, quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, who re-signed with San Francisco for a megacontract—according to NFL.com's Gregg Rosenthal, will watch the bidding wars begin soon.

    Factoring in need, a player's instant-impact ability and interest from the potential destination of each player, let's take a look at the most comfortable landing spots for the NFL's top (possible) free agents this offseason.

Jarvis Landry: Cleveland Browns (No. 10 Free Agent)

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    Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    2017 Stats: 112 catches for 987 yards (8.8 average) and nine touchdowns

           

    Why Cleveland is a Comfortable Landing Spot

    Jarvis Landry isn't the most famous former LSU receiver in the NFL; that would be Giants star Odell Beckham Jr., his former teammate with the Tigers. But that makes it even harder to believe that, since being drafted in 2014, only Julio Jones and Antonio Brown have caught more passes in the NFL.

    Last year, Landry grabbed 112 balls, and though he didn't make it to the 1,000-yard milestone, he was a vital part of the Dolphins offense. Perhaps it's his lack of big-play acumen that may make him a free agent if Miami goes in a different direction.

    That could mean somebody is getting an excellent offensive addition, and nobody needs that more than the lowly Browns. 

    Landry is far from the only missing puzzle piece to an 0-16 team. But with DeShone Kizer struggling to see the field and even if the Browns decide (again) to break in a new quarterback, Landry would be the perfect security blanket for a developing signal-caller in the slot.

    Of all Cleveland's needs, slot receiver is the biggest behind a surefire quarterback. That's why spending on Landry would be wise, and it's also why he should consider going there and helping head coach Hue Jackson rebuild that franchise.

Ezekiel Ansah: New York Giants (No. 9 Free Agent)

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    John Grieshop/Getty Images

    2017 Stats: 44 tackles, 12 sacks

          

    Why New York is a Comfortable Landing Spot

    Perhaps the biggest thing Matt Patricia needs to decide in his early tenure as Detroit's head coach is to figure out what to do with Ziggy Ansah. It's not out of the realm of possibility the Lions will look to re-sign him or franchise-tag him for 2018.

    Regardless, the pass-rushing machine will be a big splash if he hits the market. Teams such as Indianapolis, Dallas, San Francisco need guys who can get after the quarterback.

    But the Giants have a massive need at the position and the money it would take to get Ansah. The 6'5", 275-pound lineman has struggled to stay healthy in each of the past two seasons, but he's an every-down player when he's out there.

    The G-Men need versatile players as they adapt to new coordinator James Bettcher's scheme, and getting Ansah or a player like Arizona's Kareem Martin would be a huge coup, considering Jason Pierre-Paul and Olivier Vernon are having to play far too many snaps.

    This is a marriage that would work out for both sides if Ansah becomes available.

Sheldon Richardson: Atlanta Falcons (No. 8 Free Agent)

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    Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

    2017 Stats: 27 tackles, one sack, one forced fumble

          

    Why Atlanta is a Comfortable Landing Spot

    The former defensive rookie of the year found himself in Seattle last season after a tumultuous year left the New York Jets trying to rid themselves of the 2013 first-rounder. Now, it's up to Sheldon Richardson to turn the page on his career and see if he can return to his younger, more dominant ways.

    It's certainly possible he could stay in Seattle, despite not reaching his potential with the Seahawks in a down year. But he's a versatile tackle who is agile enough to give teams fits and can also fill gaps in the run game.

    If the Seahawks fail in making a run to keep him, Richardson could breathe new life into his career in Atlanta. He could be the missing piece that could help solidify the Falcons defensive line and make them Super Bowl contenders.

    "Overall, Richardson is someone who can comfortably play all three downs and is familiar with Dan Quinn’s defensive scheme, having played in Seattle this past season," The Falcoholic's Adnan Ikic wrote.

    That makes him worthy of Atlanta taking a multimillion-dollar gamble that he can return to form. If it does, he can be a force next to Grady Jarrett on the interior and help open up pass-rushing lanes for Vic Beasley and Co.

Teddy Bridgewater: Minnesota Vikings (No. 7 Free Agent)

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    Stacy Revere/Getty Images

    2017 Stats: 0-of-2, one interception. (Last full season in 2015: 65 percent, 3,231 passing yards, 14 touchdowns and nine interceptions)

            

    Why Minnesota is a Comfortable Landing Spot

    There's no way the Vikings can keep their entire embarrassment of riches at the quarterback position, where they boasted Teddy Bridgewater before a nasty injury cost him essentially the past two seasons. They signed Sam Bradford, who fared well. When he got hurt this past year, Case Keenum enjoyed a career rejuvenation in leading Minnesota to the NFC Championship Game.

    With Bridgewater ready to return, something has to give. Keenum is far from a sure thing, so look for Minnesota to give the nod to the 25-year-old former Louisville standout who appeared on his way to being an NFL star before a gruesome knee injury.

    Is it a gamble to keep Bridgewater over Keenum, who thrived in Pat Shurmur's scheme in 2017? Sure it is. But it would also be risky to believe Keenum could duplicate his magical season. It might not be a bad idea for him to follow Shurmur to New York, where he's the new Giants head coach.

    Perhaps Keenum, 29, won't be too old to replace Eli Manning, who doesn't look like he has too many good years left at 37.

    As for Bridgewater, he should excel now that Mike Zimmer pegged Philly quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo to be his next offensive coordinator. The upside of keeping a player with Bridgewater's youth and skill set is too high to pass up.

Allen Robinson: Jacksonville Jaguars (No. 6 Free Agent)

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    Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

    2017 Stats: one catch for one yard. (Last full season in 2016: 73 catches, 883 yards, 12.1 average, six touchdowns)

            

    Why Jacksonville is a Comfortable Landing Spot

    Back in 2015, Allen Robinson looked like one of the NFL's next big receiving stars with a 1,400-yard campaign. But after a slight dip in '16, he suffered a serious knee injury in his 2017 season opener, and now there is a big question mark surrounding his career.

    The smart thing for Jacksonville to do would be to hit him with a franchise tag to give him the ability to prove he can bounce back. If he doesn't, he can walk when he's a free agent again next year. Still, the Jaguars have to be careful since a ton of teams would take the gamble on his potential.

    Robinson is one of the few players on the market who has a true No. 1 receiver skill set when healthy. After the Jags' amazing run that ended in the AFC Championship Game with a narrow loss to New England, the last thing Jacksonville should do is shrug off a potential offensive centerpiece like Robinson.

    If quarterback Blake Bortles develops and running back Leonard Fournette keeps producing like he did during his rookie year, a healthy, dynamic Robinson may be just what Jacksonville needs to get to the Super Bowl. 

    The defense is young and set, and the most logical thing would be for coach Doug Marrone and the front office to franchise-tag Robinson, let him showcase his skills and then work on a long-term deal if he proves he's still got the chops to be a stud in the pros. 

Demarcus Lawrence: Indianapolis Colts (No. 5 Free Agent)

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    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    2017 Stats: 58 tackles, 14.5 sacks, four forced fumbles

           

    Why Indianapolis is a Comfortable Landing Spot

    Dallas owner Jerry Jones will make it difficult for a star like Lawrence to leave Big D, but big bucks are available on the market, especially in a year when there aren't a lot of elite pass-rushers on the market.

    As is the case with Ansah, a lot of teams need an instant-impact playmaker on the edge. Lawrence is the best available, and the 25-year-old former Boise State product nicknamed "Tank" could be valuable for a lot of teams.

    While Dallas is expected to prioritize signing Lawrence, according to ESPN.com's Jenna Laine, it would be tough for Lawrence not to explore his options. He loves playing for rush-happy defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli, but a lot of teams have needs on the edge.

    One of those is in Indy, where the Colts look primed to spend big bucks on somebody who can help them shore up a pass rush that has been lacking since the days of Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis lined up together.

    It's probable Dallas signs Lawrence or puts the franchise tag on him, but if the Cowboys don't, the Colts could swoop in and be a perfect suitor.

Le'Veon Bell: Oakland Raiders (No. 4 Free Agent)

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    2017 Stats: 1,291 rushing yards (4.0 average) and nine rushing touchdowns; 85 catches, 655 yards and two receiving touchdowns

            

    Why Oakland is a Comfortable Landing Spot

    Another team that'd love nothing more than to re-sign its star is Pittsburgh, which faces life without Le'Veon Bell if the 25-year-old offensive weapon chooses to see what's out there.

    Bell will be open to remaining with Mike Tomlin and the Steelers, but with Ben Roethlisberger in the final stages of his career and the shelf life of an NFL running back not that long, it will be interesting to see if Bell looks somewhere that is more ready to win now.

    An intriguing spot would be Oakland, where Bell could thrive under new coach Jon Gruden and with Derek Carr looking like he's ready to break out. There are also offensive weapons abound, such as receiver Amari Cooper.

    With the enigmatic Marshawn Lynch's career up in the air, it would make sense for Oakland to throw a bunch of money in Bell's direction to be yet another big name on a team that looks like it could become one of the most exciting franchises in the NFL.

    There's also that intriguing future in Las Vegas, too. What NFL player wouldn't want to play in Sin City? While that may be a risky proposition for some, it will lure some of the top players. That could start with Bell, who is one of the most complete backs in all of football.

    If he doesn't decide to stay in Pittsburgh, the Raiders are an interesting choice.

Drew Brees: New Orleans Saints (No. 3 Free Agent)

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    Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

    2017 Stats: 72 completion percentage, 4,334 passing yards, 23 touchdowns and eight interceptions

           

    Why New Orleans is a Comfortable Landing Spot

    Yes, he started his career in San Diego, but Drew Brees will end it in New Orleans. There are few iconic players in the NFL more synonymous with a franchise and a city than Brees is with the Saints and the Big Easy.

    So, the 39-year-old will almost certainly re-sign. It seems only proper that he will probably ride off into the sunset with head coach Sean Payton. Plus, there's the fact that Brees returned to form in 2017, playing at a high level in leading a team that was close to being good enough to play in the Super Bowl.

    With the stud running back duo of Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram, Brees no longer has to do it all. But he can still make things happen with his arm. He's earned the right to go out on his own terms in the Big Easy, so the only real question is how long will the contract be?

    If the Saints are smart, they'll sign Brees to a two-year deal and then draft his heir apparent either this year or next. Still, Brees is in great shape and still looks like one of the league's best players.

    He and Tom Brady are ageless wonders who make their teams better and aren't at all a hindrance to what their respective teams are trying to do or how they're building. So, it makes total sense for New Orleans to give Brees some big bucks yet again.

    Then he should retire and get a spot in the front office if he wants one.

Kirk Cousins: Denver Broncos (No. 2 Free Agent)

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    Paul Bereswill/Getty Images

    Stats: 64 completion percentage, 4,093 passing yards, 27 touchdowns, 13 interceptions

           

    Why Denver is a Comfortable Landing Spot

    Washington owner Dan Snyder has done some bizarre things in the past several years, but it's going to be interesting to see if he ultimately made the right call going with veteran Alex Smith to lead the Redskins rather than Kirk Cousins.

    Cousins told USA Today's Nina Mandell that he found out about the 'Skins getting Smith via Twitter. That's a heck of a way to realize the team is moving in another direction.

    The Broncos need a quarterback. With John Elway in the front office, he's not going to let his team sit in neutral after the Peyton Manning era; 2017 was a forgettable year under center for the Broncos. That's why they'll likely go after Cousins, Super Bowl hero Nick Foles or draft somebody.

    With other needs on the team, it makes sense for Denver to use its draft pick on another position and go get a sure thing like Cousins. Yes, he'll cost plenty of money, but he'll turn 30 in August and has plenty of good years left. He performed well a season ago in Washington.

    The best-case scenario for Denver would be signing Cousins, trading down from its No. 5 spot in the draft and loading up on picks to flesh out a team that isn't that far removed from playing in the Super Bowl. Cousins could get them back there quickly, especially if Elway is shrewd about how he handles the situation.

    Then Washington's loss can be Denver's gain.

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