NFL Free-Agent Signings That Make Too Much Sense to Happen

Gary Davenport@@IDPSharksNFL AnalystFebruary 15, 2018

NFL Free-Agent Signings That Make Too Much Sense to Happen

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    Bill Kostroun/Associated Press

    In one month, the meat market opens. 

    On March 14 at 4 p.m. ET, NFL free agency begins. By the end of that first day, teams will have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in contracts.

    Andrew Norwell will probably become the highest-paid guard in NFL history. Several cornerbacks will likely see deals that pay in excess of $10 million a season.

    And Kirk Cousins will break the bank as something unique happens—an accomplished quarterback in his prime hits the open market.

    Over the next few weeks, millions of words will be written about who will get paid what. Who fits where. But things don't always happen the way we expect—no matter how well team and player appear to fit together.

    Some signings, for whatever reason, make too much sense to happen.

    Transactions just like these.

QB Kirk Cousins to Denver Broncos

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    Bill Kostroun/Associated Press

    Why It Makes Sense

    I've been beating this drum for some time—might as well keep banging.

    Kirk Cousins already has plenty of money. The guarantees alone on the megadeal he's about to sign will push his career earnings well over $100 million.

    But if Cousins wants a shot at playing in a Super Bowl soon, his best bet is in Denver.

    The Broncos have a pair of accomplished veteran receivers with 1,000-yard seasons on their resumes in Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders. A 1,000-yard running back in C.J. Anderson. And a defense that features one of the NFL's pre-eminent pass-rushers in Von Miller and arguably the NFL's best one-two punch at cornerback in Aqib Talib and Chris Harris.

    This team isn't that much different from the Broncos squad that won Super Bowl 50, with one glaring discrepancy.

    The Broncos need a quarterback.

    With Cousins under center, a decent argument can be made they'd be the AFC West favorites. And as reported, Miller knows it.

    "We need Kirk," Miller told The Dan Patrick Show in late January. "I would like to have Kirk. We have great quarterbacks now. Kirk could take us over the edge."


    Why It Won't Happen

    To make a long story short—money. Cash. Lettuce. Green.

    While the Cleveland Browns have the NFL's biggest war chest (over $110 million) and the New York Jets have over $73 million—both quarterback-needy teams—the Broncos have a hair under $27 million in cap space.

    If the five-year, $137.5 million deal Jimmy Garoppolo signed with the San Francisco 49ers is the benchmark for Cousins' contract, then the Broncos don't have enough scratch to even get into the talks.

    And while the Broncos can free up more coin with a couple of restructures or cuts, if the bidding for Cousins becomes a full-blown auction, Denver will be left in the dust.

    Never mind that if one of those cuts is Thomas and/or Sanders (as has been speculated), some of the shine could come off the Broncos in Cousins' eyes.

    John Elway better get his best sales pitch ready.     

QB Teddy Bridgewater to Arizona Cardinals

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    Bruce Kluckhohn/Associated Press

    Why It Makes Sense

    It's a time of great upheaval for the Arizona Cardinals. Head coach Bruce Arians is gone, replaced by Steve Wilks. Quarterback Carson Palmer is also gone, replaced by….

    Well, that's why we're here.

    With the 15th pick of the 2018 draft, the Cardinals are unlikely to have any of the "big four" quarterbacks—UCLA's Josh Rosen, USC's Sam Darnold, Wyoming's Josh Allen and Oklahoma's Baker Mayfield—fall to them. There are veteran free agents available, such as Sam Bradford and Josh McCown, but they are stopgaps at best.

    And then there's Teddy Bridgewater.

    Yes, the four-year veteran is recovering from a knee injury as severe as any in recent memory. With the exception of a few snaps of mop-up duty last year, Bridgewater hasn't seen the field in a meaningful game since a playoff loss at the back end of the 2015 campaign.

    But Bridgewater led the Vikings to the playoffs that season. He's still just 25 years old. And given his injury and long layoff, his next contract won't be a cap-crusher.

    That last one's especially big for a Cardinals team with $22.7 million in cap space.

    Arizona would offer one of the better supporting casts among Bridgewater's likely suitors. He's also the best chance the Redbirds have of landing a quarterback whose value doesn't come with a pressing expiration date.


    Why It Won't Happen

    There are a few potential hang-ups that could prevent Bridgewater from signing with the Cardinals.

    The first is the notion that Bridgewater's injury will depress his open-market value. On its face, that makes a lot of sense. But all it takes is one team that's flush with cap space and desperate for a quarterback. If the Jets or Browns become confident Bridgewater's knee will hold up, they can offer a deal that will leave Arizona in the dust.

    It's also possible Bridgewater won't leave Minnesota. There are rumors circulating that the Vikings will offer him a short-term "prove it" deal, per NFL Update. He may accept that if it means remaining with a Super Bowl contender and the only NFL team he's known.    

RB Carlos Hyde to Detroit Lions

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    Why It Makes Sense

    It's no secret that the Detroit Lions' running attack needs a boost. In 2017, it averaged a league-low 76.3 yards per game.

    It's also no secret that Ameer Abdullah and Theo Riddick won't fix the problem. Over the last three seasons, Detroit has topped out at 30th in rushing.

    It's no wonder quarterback Matthew Stafford gets such a fat paycheck. He has to earn it.

    At first glance, Carlos Hyde might not appear to be the answer. In four seasons, he has yet to rush for 1,000 yards. Last year was the first time he played in 16 games, and even then, he averaged a career-low 3.9 yards per carry.

    But that was a result (at least in part) of his being miscast in Kyle Shanahan's zone-blocking scheme. The season before, Hyde rushed for 988 yards and posted a robust 4.6 yards per tote. He corralled a career-best 59 catches in 2017—more than in his first three seasons combined.

    And in each of the last two years, he's eclipsed 1,100 total yards—including 1,288 in 2017.

    With $44.7 million in cap space, the Lions have more than enough cash to bring in Hyde. And if he could get Detroit's languishing rushing attack going, fans in Michigan might even forget that Hyde went to college at Ohio State.


    Why It Won't Happen

    Though Detroit's running game has been stuck in the mud for some time, general manager Bob Quinn hasn't been aggressive about making it better. It's possible he'll follow the same track, pursuing lower-end free agents and/or addressing the position on the draft's second and third days.

    Also, Hyde, 27, and Cleveland's Isaiah Crowell, 25, represent the best of the free-agent running backs. Given the position's nature, those ball-carriers probably won't break the bank, but there will be multiple teams interested in them.

WR Terrelle Pryor to San Francisco 49ers

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    Alex Brandon/Associated Press

    Why It Makes Sense

    Let's get this out of the way: Terrelle Pryor's 2017 was a disaster. After catching 77 passes for over 1,000 yards despite Cleveland's terrible quarterback play in 2016, the former Browns receiver signed a one-year, $8 million contract with the Washington Redskins.

    He proceeded to catch 20 passes for 240 yards.

    However, that miserable season could wind up being a blessing for the San Francisco 49ers.

    They appear to be on the cusp of a major rebound. They have their franchise quarterback in Jimmy Garoppolo—who led them to five straight victories to close out 2017. The 49ers are flush with both draft picks and cap space.

    The team still has $74.5 million after giving Garoppolo all the money ever.

    But they don't have a No. 1 receiver.

    Pierre Garcon is 31 years old and coming off a season-ending neck injury. Marquise Goodwin showed encouraging flashes over San Francisco's late-season run, but he's better suited to a complementary role.

    Pryor's a 6'4" wideout built like a tight end who runs like a deer.

    And if you believe free-agent Allen Robinson is staying in Jacksonville, Pryor's got the highest ceiling of any wide receiver on the market.

    A ceiling that will be available at a discount.


    Why It Won't Happen

    The 49ers don't have to shop in the bargain bin. Whether it's Marqise Lee or even Sammy Watkins, San Francisco has the cap space to pursue whoever it wishes.

    And Pryor's 2017 season was quite the mess. In addition to the statistical free fall, Pryor injured his ankle in November. After Washington's Week 5 bye, he caught seven passes for 54 yards—total.

    It's worth pointing out that his percentage of catches relative to targets was almost identical in each of the past two years—55.0 percent in Cleveland two years ago versus 54.5 percent in 2017.

    Of course, it's also worth pointing out that 49ers general manager John Lynch kicked the tires on Pryor last year.

TE Jimmy Graham to New England Patriots

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    John Froschauer/Associated Press

    Why It Makes Sense

    Here's one that will get heads shaking and stomachs churning: The New England Patriots should sign Jimmy Graham.

    As they try to rinse off the stink from their Super Bowl LII loss, here are a few things we know about Darth Hoodie and the Bradytown Bombers.

    We know that the team's Super Bowl window isn't getting wider. When the 2018 season kicks off, Tom Brady will be 41 years old.

    We know that, per Joshua Schrock of NESN, tight end Rob Gronkowski said he needs time to ponder his future before committing football again in 2018. And even if Gronk does suit up, the Patriots have been trying (and failing) to pair him with another impact tight end for several years.

    We know that if tight end Martellus Bennett retires (as expected) and the Pats part ways with Dwayne Allen (also expected) that it will shave $11.2 million off the team's cap—more than enough cheese to bring in Graham.

    And we know the only thing the Patriots like more than offseason splashes are those that involve veterans.

    Add it all together, and a signing that looks fantastical at first glance suddenly isn't such a reach.


    Why It Won't Happen

    For starters, let's dispense with the notion that Gronkowski will walk away at 28. It's possible, given his injury history. Perhaps it would have been even more so had the Patriots won the Super Bowl. But the loss to the Philadelphia Eagles would be a rotten last chapter to his NFL story.

    The biggest issue with a Graham move to New England is probably the same as with most potential free-agent signings—money.

    Spotrac estimates Graham will receive a three-year deal worth $20.2 million. But unless most of that is guaranteed, it's hard to imagine he'd play for that sum a year after making $10 million. This is the last bite at the apple for the 31-year-old.

    There are also a number of teams with more cap space who'll be interested in Graham. Houston Texans wideout DeAndre Hopkins has already made a sales pitch for his services.

    Never mind the Seahawks, who have indicated, per Michael-Shawn Dugar of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, they'd like to bring the 6'7" tight end back in 2018.

OG Andrew Norwell to Seattle Seahawks

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    Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

    Why It Makes Sense

    It's time for some breaking news: The Seattle Seahawks offensive line is awful.

    And that may be an understatement. According to Football Outsiders, the Seahawks ranked 31st in run blocking and 26th in pass protection in 2017. Two years ago, Seattle was 26th and 25th in those areas, respectively. The Seahawks were a top-five run-blocking unit in 2015 but ranked 30th in pass protection.

    It's a good thing Russell Wilson can scramble.

    The Seahawks have a new offensive line coach in Mike Solari, but if he's going to have any more success than Tom Cable, Seattle needs to upgrade its personnel. That's especially true at left guard, where Luke Joeckel's lone year in Seattle was a mess.

    Carolina's Andrew Norwell isn't just the No. 1 free-agent guard after becoming a first-team All-Pro in 2017. He's also the top offensive lineman—and it isn't close. The 26-year-old excels in all facets and has started every contest in each of the last two seasons.

    Norwell would be Seattle's best offensive lineman and a godsend for a Seahawks team that couldn't run the ball or keep Wilson upright a year ago.


    Why It Won't Happen

    The Panthers would no doubt love to keep Norwell and still might. But were they to do so, they'd have well over $100 million committed to the guard position after extending Trai Turner last July.

    That reality highlights the biggest thing standing between the Seahawks and Norwell.

    Stacks and stacks of cash.

    The Panthers gave Turner $45 million over four years. The Cleveland Browns topped that, making Kevin Zeitler the highest-paid guard in NFL history with a five-year, $60 million pact that included $31.5 million in guarantees.

    The general expectation is teams will be lining up to offer Norwell even more, and that all but knocks Seattle out of the running.

    The Seahawks have $14.1 million in cap space and several free agents of their own to worry about, including tight end Jimmy Graham and defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson. Even if Seattle lets those players walk and creates additional wiggle room with restructures and/or cuts, signing Norwell would eat up a huge chunk of cap space.

    Maybe they can get Wilson to pitch in.

OT Nate Solder to Houston Texans

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    Winslow Townson/Associated Press

    Why It Makes Sense

    The Houston Texans offensive line was a hot mess in 2017.

    Only the Indianapolis Colts surrendered more sacks last year (56) than Houston's 54. As scintillating as Deshaun Watson was as a rookie, it's important the Texans improve the quarterback's 2018 protection.

    And with no first- or second-round pick in this year's draft, the Texans' best chance of doing that is in free agency.

    The cream of this year's left tackle crop is New England's Nate Solder.

    The Patriots have a history of letting go of aging free agents—Solder will be 30 in April—and per the terms of his most recent contract, they can't use the franchise tag on him.

    The seven-year veteran could be set for a monster payday, even if his play slipped in 2017. Spotrac estimates he'll command $13.2 million a season on the open market.

    And the Texans can afford to pay him, as they have $56.6 million in 2018 cap space


    Why It Won't Happen

    The biggest thing standing between Solder and a trip to Houston weighs about 325 pounds.

    Solder himself.

    It's no knock on the Texans, and Solder (so far as I know) likes piles of money as much as anyone. But after suffering from testicular cancer, Solder is going through that same fight with his two-year-old son, who was diagnosed with a rare form of kidney cancer just after being born.

    As Eric Edholm reported last year for Pro Football Weekly, there's been rumblings for some time that Solder could retire to be with his child. Or that he could return to his home state of Colorado to play with the Denver Broncos—another team in need of tackle help.

ILB Preston Brown to Indianapolis Colts

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    Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

    Why It Makes Sense

    Only the Cleveland Browns have more cap space than the $77.3 million the Indianapolis Colts are sitting on.

    There also aren't many teams with more holes to fill than the Colts.

    Inside linebacker is among them. It was already a weakness, and that's all the more pronounced after Edwin Jackson's tragic death and Jon Bostic's free-agent journey.

    The position doesn't feature many options, unfortunately. NaVorro Bowman will be 30 in May and a couple of steps slower than he once was. Zach Brown will probably re-up with the Washington Redskins. Demario Davis was solid for the New York Jets in 2017 but awful for the Cleveland Browns the year before.

    Preston Brown of the Buffalo Bills might not be a Pro Bowl-caliber talent, but the 25-year-old has started 62 of a possible 64 games over his four seasons, averaging over 125 tackles per year.

    Signing Brown won't fix all that ails the Colts. But he would provide a steadying inside influence.


    Why It Won't Happen

    Brown has been the subject of some criticism or another in Buffalo from the moment he took the field as a rookie in 2014. Each offseason has brought questions about both his starting role and future with the team.

    But each year, there Brown is, starting all 16 games—and in 2017 he tied for the NFL lead with 144 total tackles.

    It's possible the Bills will decide the devil they know is better than the devil they don't. Even if they let Brown hit the open market, the number of teams with a need inside may drive up his price.

    After paying retail for second-tier free agents Jabaal Sheard and John Simon last year (and getting precious little return) the Colts may be leery of going down that path a second consecutive season.

CB Trumaine Johnson to Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

    Why It Makes Sense

    To say the Tampa Bay Buccaneers could use secondary help is an understatement. They allowed 260.6 passing yards per game in 2017—the most in the NFL.

    And with veteran Brent Grimes set to hit free agency, cornerback has to be near the top of Tampa's to-do list.

    There are a pair of high-end free agents who could hit the open market. After being benched for Super Bowl LII, Malcolm Butler is likely headed out of New England. And after two straight years playing under the franchise tag and an injury-marred 2017 season with the Los Angeles Rams, Trumaine Johnson could be headed for a monster payday.

    Of the two, Johnson appears the preferable option after the mystery surrounding Butler's Super Bowl disappearance. He's a big-bodied (6'2", 213 lbs) cover man capable of locking down top receivers. And if healthy, he's the better bet to rebound in 2018.

    It won't be cheap—Spotrac estimates Johnson's deal at $11 million annually—but that's not terrible money for a No. 1 corner.

    And with $60.5 million in cap space, the Buccaneers can afford to add him.


    Why It Won't Happen

    The problem is, with $40.8 million in wiggle room, the Rams can afford to bring back Johnson—especially if they don't want to make unnecessary changes after an NFC West title and feel they can kick Aaron Donald's megadeal down the road one more year.

    That might not be wise, but it's conceivable.

    If Johnson makes it to market, that market will be off the hook. It's not possible to count on one hand the number of teams with the room to sign Johnson and a need in the secondary. Maybe both hands.

    Depending on whether factors such as situation mean more to Johnson than salary, the Buccaneers might not be especially high on his list.

S Morgan Burnett to Cleveland Browns

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    Mike Roemer/Associated Press

    Why It Makes Sense

    The Cleveland Browns' quarterback need gets plenty of attention. With Isaiah Crowell about to hit free agency, the Browns may be in the tailback market. And Cleveland could use a wide receiver to line up opposite Josh Gordon.

    It also has a massive hole at the back of the defense, as its 2017 safety play was atrocious. The first-round pick the Browns spent on Jabrill Peppers appears to have been a waste after a rookie season in which he played miles off the line of scrimmage and kept getting lost as he made his way toward the action.

    The Browns need a safety…badly. And with the most salary-cap space in the NFL (over $110 million), they have plenty of cash to go get one.

    And as it happens, there's one about to hit the market who would be an excellent fit.

    For many of the past eight seasons, Morgan Burnett has been a mainstay on the Green Bay Packers defense. The 29-year-old has topped 100 tackles in a season three times, including a career-high 130 stops and 94 solos in 2014.

    Burnett has also been a man of many hats. In 2017, he played in the box, in centerfield, as a slot corner and even as a nickel "nitro" linebacker.


    Why It Won't Happen

    From the Browns' perspective, there's every reason to do this deal. Burnett would be a massive upgrade, and they can afford him.

    That's good, too. Because the Browns might have to overpay by a fair amount to land Burnett. And even then, there's no guarantee that money would be enough to lure him to a team that has all of one win over the last two seasons.

    There's also a chance Green Bay will bring him back. It's far from a slam dunk given its cap situation ($16.9 million in room) and the presence of a replacement in second-year pro Josh Jones, but it's not easy to say goodbye to a defensive cornerstone.

    And that's exactly what Burnett has been in Titletown.


    Salary-cap information courtesy of Over the Cap