2018 NFL Free Agency: 1 Move Every Team Should Still Make
The free-agency dominoes started falling in the NFL on Wednesday, reshaping the league hierarchy with every move.
Wednesday marked the beginning of the new league year, when all 32 teams could go official with trades, free-agent signings, cutting pesky salaries before guarantees kick in and more.
Ripple effects from the early moves are clear. There are teams yet to fill major holes, others with salary right at the brim and possible deals still awaiting conclusion.
Based on what's happened so far, we'll look for one move each front office still needs to make this offseason.
Arizona Cardinals: Sign a Veteran Guard
The Arizona Cardinals have had an interesting start to free agency.
In the wake of Carson Palmer's retirement, the Cardinals decided to double down on quarterback by signing Mike Glennon and Sam Bradford. Then the team also cut Tyrann Mathieu for financial reasons.
If the Cardinals are serious about getting the most out of this new-look quarterback room, they're going to need to keep adding to the line by looking at interior talent like Mike Pouncey and Matt Slauson. The former was released recently by Miami. And disclaimer time—they already signed Justin Pugh, according to NFL Network's Mike Garafolo.
But with both guard spots a need and tackle needing an upgrade, Pugh only hits one need, no matter how versatile he is.
After all, these Cardinals coughed up 52 total sacks last year, and Bradford's extensive injury history is scary enough as is. There isn't a limit to how many guys the Cardinals should add here, especially on cheap deals if possible.
Atlanta Falcons: Add a Receiving Weapon
Although the Atlanta Falcons lost receiver Taylor Gabriel, they hit a big offensive line need by signing Brandon Fusco.
Adding something to the passing attack is a good idea, to say the least. Either a wideout or a tight end will do. Maybe they'll go get a veteran like Mike Wallace in a cost-effective move or a gadget player similar to Tavon Austin.
Or they can go the tight-end route with a guy like Eric Ebron. He's a big risk, given his career trajectory so far, but he or Martellus Bennett would be an upgrade over Austin Hooper. They would better space the Matt Ryan-led offense.
Baltimore Ravens: Keep Adding Weapons
The Baltimore Ravens need to put a better supporting cast around Joe Flacco.
Baltimore chased this endeavor early in free agency by agreeing to sign wide receiver Ryan Grant to a four-year, $29 million contract with $14.5 million guaranteed, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL Network. Grant then failed his physical Thursday, which voided his contract and put him back on the market, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter.
The Ravens also added former Cardinals deep threat John Brown and cut Jeremy Maclin. But they didn't stop there, as they added Michael Crabtree—who the Oakland Raiders cut earlier this week—on a three-year, $21 million deal, per Rapoport.
With one deep threat established for Flacco, Baltimore would be wise to roll the dice on another weapon, or at least a bigger player like a Terrelle Pryor to give Flacco more leeway with his passes. Or since Maxx Williams hasn't panned out, pursuing Eric Ebron at tight end would make sense.
Buffalo Bills: Bring on Help at LB
It's hard to complain about what the Buffalo Bills have accomplished.
Entering the offseason with big needs along the defensive line and under center, the Bills came away with Star Lotulelei and Trent Murphy along the line and AJ McCarron at quarterback.
Not bad, right?
But they also let quality linebacker Preston Brown slip to free agency. Linebackers who aren't pass-rushers usually have a slow market, but Buffalo approached the danger zone here with losing a team leader and a guy with plenty of versatility after playing in multiple schemes. He wound up signing with the Cincinnati Bengals.
The Brown mold isn't hard to fill, though. With guys like Navorro Bowman and Brian Cushing on the market, bringing on a veteran to compete for playing time shouldn't prove too difficult.
Carolina Panthers: Add Guard Depth
Lotulelei was a big loss for the Caroline Panthers, but even bigger was that of elite guard Andrew Norwell.
They have to shore up the line in front of Cam Newton in as many ways possible. Luckily for the Panthers, proven guys like Slauson are still available, and they could always gamble on a rehab project like Luke Joeckel or Xavier Su'a-Filo.
Signing a guard now doesn't rule out taking one during the draft, but when you have a player like Newton, you do whatever it takes to keep him upright and healthy.
Chicago Bears: Find an Inside Linebacker
After being spurned by top names a year ago, Chicago Bears general manager Ryan Pace doubled down on his rebuilding plan.
The result? The arrivals of wideouts Allen Robinson and Taylor Gabriel, a new tight end in Trey Burton, who will complement the promising Adam Shaheen and the return of solid boundary corner Prince Amukamara.
Pace now needs to keep his attention on inside linebackers. The Jerrell Freeman saga is long over and Christian Jones just signed elsewhere.
Whether it's a veteran like Brian Cushing or Preston Brown, the Bears have to fill holes in the middle of the defense. Yes, they're in Roquan Smith range on draft day, but flexibility would be nice.
Cincinnati Bengals: Extend Star Defensive Linemen
Known as a conservative franchise content to stick with guys they're familiar with, the Bengals stepped far out of their shell with the trade for offensive tackle Cordy Glenn. They also brought back tight end Tyler Eifert.
We can't expect much more from the timid Bengals here. They have 11 draft picks and already addressed two major needs on the roster.
That means it's extension time. Both Carlos Dunlap and Geno Atkins have one year left on their contracts, and the team's draft-and-groom approach to roster-building demands they keep both. The same could even apply to slot corner Darqueze Dennard, quietly one of last season's breakout performers.
Bengals fans figured another typical offseason was coming and instead got the Glenn trade. Keeping fan favorites in town beyond this upcoming season seems like the next step.
Cleveland Browns: Target Adam Jones
The Cleveland Browns have made a few noticeable signings already and need to keep the ball rolling.
Carlos Hyde doesn't have the hype of Saquon Barkley, and he shouldn't stop the team from drafting Barkley. But he's a nice committee piece. Chris Hubbard helps out an offensive line that suddenly needs a ton of it after Joe Thomas' retirement.
Then there is Chris Smith, the versatility veteran defensive end who broke out with the Bengals last year. The in-trading between the two Ohio teams has picked up recently in large part thanks to former Bengals assistant coach Hue Jackson serving as Browns head coach, so Smith wasn't a surprise.
Now Jackson needs to go and get cornerback Adam Jones, who had his option with the Bengals declined. While 34 years old, Pacman is still a quality inside presence and elite punt returner who could serve as quality rotational depth alongside new addition Damarious Randall.
Dallas Cowboys: Restructure Dez Bryant's Deal
The Dallas Cowboys don't have much in the way of wiggle room against the cap.
According to Spotrac, they are slightly over the cap as of this writing, which puts the spotlight on Dez Bryant's deal. NFL Network's Jane Slater reported the team restructured center Travis Frederick's contract, but the Cowboys shouldn't stop there.
Bryant has a cap hit of $16.5 million in 2018 before a built-in out in his contract. It's entirely too much for wideout who turns 30 in November and hasn't hit the 1,000-yard mark since 2014.
Granted, judging Bryant on yardage alone would be silly. So let's slice it up some more. He scored six times in 2017, his lowest mark since 2015. He averaged 12.1 yards per catch, the worst mark of his career. He did this while catching 69 passes, the third-best mark of his career—but on 132 targets.
There's a conversation worth having about Dak Prescott residing under center now. Maybe it isn't fair to hit Bryant in the checkbook due to worse play under center. According to Rapoport, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones didn't discuss a restructure with Bryant during their meeting ahead of the new year opening.
But he should.
Denver Broncos: Address Offensive Tackle
The Denver Broncos got their guy under center with Case Keenum—now they have to protect him.
It's a tall task, considering the Broncos allowed 52 sacks of their three-headed quarterback attack last year. The Broncos already tried to alleviate this issue, only to have the Miami Dolphins rebuff a trade offer for Ja'Wuan James, according to KUSA-TV's Mike Klis.
The free-agent market doesn't look too appetizing at this point, with guys like Nate Solder and Chris Hubbard off the board. But the Broncos aren't out of options.
John Elway's front office could roll the dice on 25-year-old Cameron Fleming or at add a veteran such as Austin Howard.
Detroit Lions: Address Tight End
The Detroit Lions have quietly gone about their business in free agency by signing Christian Jones and adding linebacker Devon Kennard.
Offensively speaking, though, the Lions are dragging their feet.
Detroit released tight end Eric Ebron for cap reasons, according to Schefter, despite his gradual improvement in 2017.
While running back is an issue, the Lions also lost tight end Darren Fells, so a mismatch-creating player at the position is key for the Matthew Stafford-led offense. The good news is the Lions have options, as they could roll the dice on a guy like Bennett and pair him with a rookie.
Green Bay Packers: Buy Low on an Upside WR
The Green Bay Packers have been on fire to start free agency, thanks to aggressive leadership from new general manager Brian Gutekunst.
But it could have been even better.
Green Bay added tight end Jimmy Graham then turned around and scooped up defensive lineman Muhammad Wilkerson. Not bad, though they were also in on Allen Robinson, according to Rapoport, via his colleague Marc Sessler.
Why stop now? The market has some interesting high-upside options like second-round picks Cody Latimer and Jordan Matthews, so buying low and seeing what Aaron Rodgers can with it do isn't a bad idea.
Houston Texans: Chase Tight Ends
Like any team, the Houston Texans wanted Tyrann Mathieu.
J.J. Watt made that clear. The front office heard him, too, because Mathieu agreed to a one-year deal, according to Schefter. And Zach Fulton and Seantrel Henderson reinforce the offensive trenches. They added cornerback Aaron Colvin, too.
So what now?
Why not difference-makers on offense? Much of the passing game in front of Deshaun Watson is set, though there is an obvious hole at tight end.
Tyler Eifert might be off the market, but Eric Ebron and Martellus Bennett aren't, to name a couple. At worst, adding someone who can compete with a rookie here is a way to continue upping what might be a league-best free-agency grade this offseason.
Indianapolis Colts: Sign a Back Similar to Dion Lewis
As expected, the Indianapolis Colts are having some problems in free agency.
The Colts are in that odd stage of a rebuild where they simply aren't an attractive destination after years of blunders and the question marks surrounding Andrew Luck.
Money can't solve everything here, which means it wasn't a surprise when running back Dion Lewis chose the Tennessee Titans in the AFC South despite interest from these Colts, according to NBC Boston’s Mike Giardi.
Ideally, Rex Burkhead would have been a nice consolation prize, but he's back in Foxborough. The market still boasts some versatile players, though. The Colts could buy low on a returning-from-injury Darren Sproles or try again with Christine Michael.
Either way, adding a versatile back now and starting to form a deep committee is key, because there are plenty of other roster holes to fill through the draft.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Address Inside Linebacker
Tthe Jacksonville Jaguars have once again been aggressive on the open market. They splurged in free agency a year ago and it resulted in a playoff run.
This year's adds include cornerback D.J. Hayden, wide receiver Donte Moncrief, Andrew Norwell and the return of wideout Marqise Lee.
It's impressive the Jaguars even keep finding cap space to use, honesty, though the next priority should probably be an inside linebacker after Paul Posluszny announced his retirement.
This could be a Navorro Bowman or Preston Brown, but the market for inside guys should develop soon and the price shouldn't be too high, especially for a guy who might have to compete with a rookie over the summer.
Kansas City Chiefs: Reinforce Line in Front of Patrick Mahomes II
The Kansas City Chiefs made one of this year's surprise splashes by landing Sammy Watkins.
Watkins is a great deep threat in an offense that needs some spacing, but quarterback Patrick Mahomes II will need protection to get him the ball.
The Chiefs lost Zach Fulton to the market, so at a minimum they need to go out and grab depth to compete with what could be a rookie addition.
There's plenty still available too, ranging from trustworthy veterans such as Matt Slauson to gambles such as Luke Joeckel. Anything goes at this point, provided the Chiefs are willing to spend a bit of cap space.
Los Angeles Chargers: Add a Defensive Tackle
It's been a quiet trip to the market for the Los Angeles Chargers. Their biggest signing as of this writing is tight end Virgil Green. They're laso bringing back offensive tackle Michael Schofield.
The Chargers are closer to a playoff run than most might think. They have a solid pass rush and cornerback Casey Hayward shoring up the defense. It's clear, though, that the front office would like some more beef up front, hence their interest in tackle Beau Allen, per ESPN 97.3's John McMullen.
But Allen chose Tampa Bay, meaning the Chargers are left looking at a market headlined by the costly Ndamukong Suh, the intriguing Sheldon Richardson and a gambles like Dominique Easley.
So they do have options. They're not in a bad spot.
Los Angeles Rams: Make a Move at Wideout
The Los Angeles Rams thus far have sat on their hands in free agency.
Keeping Sammy Watkins would have been nice, but the market has a way of ripping players with upside away at big financial risk.
The Rams can't afford to take a step back offensively around Jared Goff, though, so looking to a deep wideout market is key as the offseason continues.
Then again, it's been an odd market, with guys like Paul Richardson and Ryan Grant getting big deals. But with options for free agents drying up, it wouldn't be a bad idea for the Rams to look to Terrelle Pryor or Jordan Matthews for help.
NFL teams are willing to cough up cash for even mildly well-developed receivers, so the Rams would be wise to get one of their own as opposed to banking on a rookie or two to do the heavy lifting next season.
Miami Dolphins: Seek RB Depth
The Miami Dolphins were another team interested in Dion Lewis before he decided to take his talents to the Titans, according to Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk.
Makes sense. The Dolphins swapped Jarvis Landry with free-agent adds like Danny Amendola and Albert Wilson, yet they might want to do a bit more than only lean on a Damien Williams-Kenyan Drake tandem in the backfield.
Like every other team, versatility at running back would be nice. That could be Thomas Rawls or Danny Woodhead, or the Dolphins could look to build a traditional committee and get a bruiser like Jeremy Hill to take pressure off Drake.
There are plenty of nice consolation prizes on the open market at running back, and the Dolphins don't want to find themselves empty-handed once the dominoes start falling in a big way.
Minnesota Vikings: Bring on OL Depth
Losing the trio of Case Keenum, Teddy Bridgewater and Sam Bradford wasn't a big deal, especially when the endgame was landing Kirk Cousins. The Vikings should feel just fine about their offense, as rookie breakout back Dalvin Cook will make his return and Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs will pace the passing attack.
More beef in the defensive trenches was a good idea, too. That explains why they brought Sheldon Richardson aboard on a one-year deal, according to Schefter.
Minnesota should now turn back to its offense and gobble up some talent in the offensive trenches.
Guys along the line are getting paid huge money this offseason, and good depth isn't something teams should put a price tag on at this point. Someone like Cameron Fleming or Matt Slauson could do the trick.
New England Patriots: Gamble at Safety
The Texans weren't alone in their pursuit of Tyrann Mathieu. Odd as it sounds, Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots need a win this offseason, too. They lost Malcolm Butler, Nate Solder, Dion Lewis and Danny Amendola, which is quite a bit to cough up in one offseason.
And while the team got an extension done for safety Nate Ebner, it shouldn't stop the Pats from grabbing a playmaker in the defensive secondary—though it can't be Mathieu after his deal in Houston.
As usual, the Patriots are an attractive destination for a free agent. If they are willing to pay the necessary cash, they'll add a player on a market that has yet to really develop while waiting on Mathieu.
Said market includes notables such as Kenny Vaccaro, Tre Boston and Ron Parker.
New Orleans Saints: Add Versatile Defensive Lineman
Priority No. 1 is out of the way with Drew Brees back.
Focusing on quarterback meant New Orleans ignored much the rest of the market for a few days, though. But they did reunite with cornerback Patrick Robinson, which is a good get, and the addition of safety Kurt Coleman plugs a hole.
Where the Saints missed, though, was in the trenches in front of those two guys. According to Rapoport, the team had a meeting set with Wilkerson, who never wound up leaving Green Bay.
But the market doesn't lack for options if the Saints want to seek out a consolation prize to help the Cameron Jordan-led front. Richardson is a solid option if the price is right. Or they could go all out and grab Suh, depending on how they view the entire scope of their offseason.
This is something the Saints can hit in the draft, too, but the focus there might be surrounding Brees with as many athletes as possible for a final potential run.
New York Giants: Fix Alec Ogletree's Contract
New York Giants general manager Dave Gettleman made a solid trade for linebacker Alec Ogletree.
The Los Angeles Rams apparently didn't like Ogletree's fit with defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, though one could guess the team didn't like his $10 million cap hit in 2018 either.
There is an out in Ogletree's contract after this year, but a team with hardly $1 million in free space as of this writing is bound to need some relief.
New York hasn't had a bad free-agency run by any means, not after hitting a primary need in signing Nate Solder and attempting to fix the backfield with Jonathan Stewart. But the team is going to need some more flexibility financially, and Ogletree's mistake of a contract is the big red flag.
New York Jets: Target a Wideout Upgrade
It's been one wild ride for the teams in the Big Apple so far.
Not to be outdone by the Giants, the New York Jets have made splash after splash, starting at the quarterback position with both Josh McCown and Teddy Bridgewater. Inking a lockdown corner like Trumaine Johnson makes them one of the period's biggest winners.
But the Jets can take it further.
No need to delete—the Jets need offensive weapons to help the quarterbacks. Running back should be a priority too, but with Robby Anderson in hot water, a jolt to an already weak wideout depth chart is a must. It didn't turn out to be Nelson, but it could be Terrelle Pryor, Mike Wallace or an upside guy like Cody Latimer.
Oakland Raiders: Add a Starting-Caliber Wideout
Tired of hearing about how teams need wide receivers yet?
Well, the Oakland Raiders might be the poster boy for this predicament coming out of a season where tight end Jared Cook led the team in receiving. Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree combined to catch 15 touchdowns, which sounds great, but they also combined to only catch 106 of 197 targets.
That would explain why the Raiders signed Jordy Nelson.
Oakland already signed receiver Griff Whalen and has otherwise had a ho-hum trip to market, bringing back defensive tackle Justin Ellis and signing tight end Derek Carrier. But an influx of talent at wideout is a continued must, especially now that it gave the team the flexibility to shake free of Crabtree's $7.7 million cap hit, per Schefter.
Cooper-Nelson is a nice starting point, but Nelson is slowing down, so looping back to the market for a Terrelle Pryor or Jordan Matthews is a good idea and frees up draft picks to help craft Jon Gruden's nasty defense.
Philadelphia Eagles: Address Tight End
The Philadelphia Eagles can't seem to do any wrong in the eyes of many after hoisting a Lombardi Trophy with Nick Foles under center.
Looking at the roster, though, there is a problem brewing at tight end behind Zach Ertz. The team cut veteran Brent Celek and then lost up-and-coming talent Trey Burton to the Bears. Considering Ertz hasn't played a full 16-game season since 2014, this could be a problem down the road.
Even worse, Burton told Jon Marks and Ike Reese of 94 WIP he was disappointed the Eagles didn't make him an offer.
Limited cap space or not, the Eagles need to rectify this or Carson Wentz could have some problems next year. It's probably better to try a proven NFL talent like Eric Ebron than hope a rookie can come in and immediately help keep the Eagles in contention.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Refill at Safety
Thanks to cap trouble, the Pittsburgh Steelers lost O-lineman Chris Hubbard, cut safeties Robert Golden and Mike Mitchell, and released cornerback William Gay.
With a big chunk of salary going to Le'Veon Bell, the Steelers don't have a ton of wiggle room on the open market despite the apparent new need in the defensive secondary.
In other words, Tyrann Mathieu was a pipe dream.
Safety remains a concern, though, and asking a rookie to step in and play well right away isn't the best idea. The open market has interesting low-buy targets such as Eric Reid and Tre Boston. If they want to get a bit more expensive but not go wild, Kenny Vaccaro could be a fit.
Undergoing a transition in the secondary isn't easy, so one savvy signing could make things easier.
San Francisco 49ers: Get Jimmy G More Weapons
The San Francisco 49ers just keep winning.
After securing a Jimmy Garoppolo extension, the front office in the Bay went all-in on free agency, bringing aboard the following names as of this writing:
- Jerick McKinnon
- Weston Richburg
- Richard Sherman
For those counting, that's a quality running back, a center perfect for the current system and an elite cornerback.
So what else?
More targets for Garoppolo wouldn't be a bad idea, and the 49ers have been linked to wide receiver Terrelle Pryor, according to NFL Media's Michael Silver.
Pryor isn't the only option, but a motivated wideout on a prove-it deal working toward an extension with a rising organization should lead to good things.
Seattle Seahawks: Get Russell Wilson a Protector
The plus-minus for the Seattle Seahawks doesn't look great so far.
Pete Carroll and company lost pass-catchers Jimmy Graham and Paul Richardson on top of the departures of cornerbacks Richard Sherman, Jeremy Lane and DeShawn Shead. Defensive lineman Michael Bennett wound up shipped to Philadelphia. The only additions so far are defensive end Barkevious Mingo and tight end Ed Dickson.
That's a problem.
We could go a few different ways, but most important is making sure Russell Wilson stays healthy. The man took 43 sacks, attempted 553 passes and led the team in rushing with 95 carries for 586 yards last year.
To that end, seeking out an upgrade on the interior of the offensive line is a good idea. Justin Pugh would make sense, as would Matt Slauson or Jack Mewhort. Ryan Jensen figures to incite a bidding war, but let's toss him in as well.
Seattle has a ton of skill-position work to do in the draft and can't afford to risk that a rookie lineman will work out right away.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Get Jameis Winston a Protector, Too
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have been one of the NFL's more active teams since the market opened.
Head coach Dirk Koetter and the front office signed defensive tackle Mitch Unrein, and they worked out deals to retain cornerback Brent Grimes and tight end Cameron Brate. Ditto for quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. New defensive tackle Beau Allen should provide a boost, too.
Like Seattle, though, Tampa Bay needs to do a better job of protecting Jameis Winston. The third-year signal-caller was sacked 33 times over 13 games last year.
To that end, Tampa Bay flew Ryan Jensen in on the first night of the new league year, according to ESPN's Jenna Laine. That paid off, as Jensen inked a four-year deal with the team, according to NFL Network's Tom Pelissero.
The Buccaneers shouldn't stop there. Low-cost linemen with big upside should be the name of the game, which comes down to a matter of tying scheme fit to the right guy.
These sorts of low-investment gambles could range from a Cameron Fleming (who is for some reason still on the market) to a Mike Pouncey (who is still 28 years old and could perhaps use a change of scenery to have a bounce-back year).
Tennessee Titans: Address Linebacker
The Tennessee Titans are on fire, using the apparent Patriots-Mike Vrabel connection to reel in major upgrades at running back and cornerback with Dion Lewis and Malcolm Butler, respectively.
With linebacker Avery Williamson gone, though, the middle of the defense becomes a problem.
That isn't a bad thing on the current market—guys like Zach Brown and NaVorro Bowman are still available to patch the hole.
Granted, the Titans hold the 25th pick in the first round and could grab an intriguing prospect. But they could use free agency to pad the depth chart and create flexibility, provided the price and pairing make sense.
Washington Redskins: Grab a RB Committee Member
With Kirk Cousins out and Alex Smith in, one of Washington's first developments on the open market was adding a wideout like Paul Richardson.
Otherwise, the Redskins have bled talent, losing edge-rusher Trent Murphy, center Spencer Long and wideout Ryan Grant.
Washington can go a few different ways in free agency. Defensive line would be nice, though Jonathan Allen's strong rookie year and another rookie this year could create a force.
These Redskins might be better off grabbing a running back or two on the open market as buy-low options. Samaje Perine flashed upside last year, but he isn't enough—especially with guys like Adrian Peterson, LeGarrette Blount and Jeremy Hill on the market.
Getting a downhill runner or two to complement a pass-catching back like Chris Thompson will help squeeze more out of the Smith investment, especially if receivers like Josh Doctson keep coming along to help round out the attack.