The Ideal Target for Every NFL Team in 2019 Free Agency

Gary Davenport@@IDPSharksNFL AnalystFebruary 20, 2019

The Ideal Target for Every NFL Team in 2019 Free Agency

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    The floodgates are about to open.

    After a two-day "legal tampering period," NFL free agency will officially get underway at 4 p.m. ET on Wednesday, March 13. Teams will spend hundreds of millions of dollars on dozens of players, from superstars on megadeals to reserves on one-year "prove-it" contracts.

    All teams are not created equal when it comes to free agency. The Oakland Raiders have more holes to fill than the Los Angeles Rams. The Indianapolis Colts have far more cap space than the Philadelphia Eagles.

    But whether a team has one hole or 20, $100 million in cap space or next to none, at least one player makes a great deal of sense for each franchise in free agency.


Arizona Cardinals: C Matt Paradis

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    The 2018 season didn't go so well for the Arizona Cardinals or rookie quarterback Josh Rosen. As for first-year head coach Steve Wilks, he's not in town anymore.

    The Redbirds have turned to a relatively unproven young coach with something of a track record for developing young quarterbacks in Kliff Kingsbury to lead the team out of the NFL's basement. But if Kingsbury and Rosen are to fare any better in 2019 than the latter did in 2018, the Cardinals have to get better at protecting their QB.

    Arizona ranked 25th or worse in both run blocking and pass protection last year, per Football Outsiders.

    Denver Broncos center Matt Paradis is not only considered the No. 1 available center in free agency this year; in the eyes of some, he's the top offensive lineman available in 2019 period, despite missing almost half of the 2018 season.

    That's just the sort of impact player the Cardinals need—badly.

    And with over $41 million in cap space, the Redbirds can afford to give Paradis a lot of green.

Atlanta Falcons: CB Darqueze Dennard

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    Jeff Haynes/Associated Press

    I originally had a different player listed here. But the release of veteran Robert Alford and reports that the Falcons aren't going to tender restricted free-agent cornerback Brian Poole have rocketed that position up the list of needs for Atlanta.

    More specifically, slot cornerback. Youngster Isaiah Oliver can theoretically take over for Alford, but there isn't an obvious replacement on hand for Brian Poole's nickelback role.

    Dennard hasn't been a statistical monster to this point in his career. In five seasons in Cincinnati, Dennard has managed just three career interceptions and 17 passes defensed.

    But the 27-year-old is capable both in coverage and run support—he's averaged over five total tackles a game over the past two seasons.

    Better yet, while Dennard's a decent player, he isn't going to command the sort of whopper contract that Bryce Callahan of the Chicago Bears (the top free-agent nickel corner) will likely get on the open market.

    That's a selling point for an Atlanta team with less than $27 million in cap space

Baltimore Ravens: EDGE Dante Fowler Jr.

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    When free agency opens in March, it's much more likely the Ravens will react than act. So much of what the team does in free agency is dependent on which of its own free agents it keeps. We've already seen the first domino fall with the reported trade involving quarterback Joe Flacco.

    With Flacco on his way out, a backup for Lamar Jackson will be necessary. A replacement for Eric Weddle might also be on the agenda. If free-agent wideout John Brown isn't brought back, a wide receiver spot that's already rather high on the list would ratchet up another spot or two. If the Ravens decide they can't afford inside linebacker C.J. Mosley, it will open up a large hole in the middle of the defense.

    However, with both Terrell Suggs and Za'Darius Smith also potentially about to hit the open market, then pass-rushers will be priority No. 1.

    The Ravens might not have the resources to go after the top-tier options, but Fowler wouldn't be a bad consolation prize—a former top-five overall pick who has shown flashes in his four NFL seasons.

Buffalo Bills: WR Golden Tate

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    As the Buffalo Bills enter an offseason in which they desperately need to upgrade the weapons around young quarterback Josh Allen, the team does so with the fourth-most cap space in the NFL—upward of $80 million.

    The bad news is that this year's crop of free-agent receivers doesn't exactly inspire cartwheels—unless Brandon Beane feels like playing Let's Make a Deal with the Pittsburgh Steelers to acquire Antonio Brown.

    Of the wide receivers set to hit the open market, the best of the bunch is probably ninth-year veteran Golden Tate. Tate will be 31 when the 2019 season begins and is coming off his worst season since 2012, but he started looking more like himself late in the season and topped 1,000 yards three times in four years from 2014-2017.

    Simply put, Allen needs a veteran pair of hands he can look to to move the chains and make the big catch.

    Tate is Buffalo's best bet in that regard among pending free agents.

Carolina Panthers: DE Trey Flowers

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    It didn't take long for the "ideal" portion of this piece to become a focus.

    Before fans of the Carolina Panthers start wondering what number defensive end Trey Flowers would wear in Charlotte, it's caveat time—this all but surely isn't going to happen.

    For starters, there's very little chance the New England Patriots will let Flowers hit free agency—he's arguably the team's biggest in-house target this offseason. And even if the Patriots go the frugal route and let Flowers walk, with less than $16 million in cap space, the Panthers aren't in good shape for the bidding war that would ensue. 

    But what a get Flowers would be. In recent years, the Panthers have done a good job at getting after the passer, including ranking third in the NFL in sacks two years ago. In 2018 the bottom fell out, the Panthers free-fell to 27th in the league in that regard, and Carolina missed the playoffs.

    Getting better in the trenches on both sides of the ball is easily Carolina's most pressing offensive need.

Chicago Bears: S Adrian Phillips

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    It ended in unceremonious fashion, but the 2018 season was a good one for the Chicago Bears, who went from worst to first in the NFC North.

    Now, however, things get interesting. Getting good changes to staying good. And with the fourth-least cap space in the NFL and no first-round pick this year or next, the Bears aren't exactly flush with resources to aid in that transition.

    The bill for Khalil Mack is coming due.

    Those limitations are going to force the Bears to make some difficult choices. Safety Adrian Amos was a key part of the Chicago defense in 2018, but a good contract year sets Amos up for a big raise—a raise the Bears can't afford.

    That puts Chicago in the market for a value play at safety, and one of the top ones in 2019 is Adrian Phillips. The 26-year-old saw his playing time increase down the stretch with the Los Angeles Chargers, and Phillips has the talent to start without a bank-breaking resume.

Cincinnati Bengals: OT Donovan Smith

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    Jeff Haynes/Associated Press

    We know a couple of things about the Cincinnati Bengals. The first is that the offensive line needs work again—the Bengals ranked in the bottom half of the NFL in both run blocking and pass protection last year, per Football Outsiders.

    The second is that you can just about bet the rent that even with over $50 million in wiggle room, the Bengals aren't likely to engage in any bidding wars for the big names available up front in free agency.

    Bengals owner Mike Brown is, um, let's go with frugal.

    Cheap is mean.

    If the Bengals are going to improve the offensive line in free agency, it's more likely than not that the team will look to a second-level free agent like Tampa Bay Buccaneers tackle Donovan Smith.

    Smith has underwhelmed since being taken in the second round back in 2015, but he's started every game of his professional career.

    Perhaps a change of scenery will help him get things back on track.

Cleveland Browns: LB K.J. Wright

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    The Cleveland Browns enter the 2019 season with more optimism at this point in the season than they've had in many, many years.

    However, if the Browns are going to keep their positive momentum going and challenge for a playoff spot next year, the team needs to shore up some weaknesses—chief among them the linebacker position.

    With high-priced veteran Jamie Collins a potential cap casualty and Christian Kirksey coming off an injury-marred season, it's at outside linebacker where the Browns need the most help.

    The 29-year-old Wright played in just five games last year thanks to a balky knee, but in each of the four seasons preceding it, Wright played in at least 15 games and posted over 100 tackles.

    Wright's a capable linebacker with experience playing both outside spots in a 4-3 set, and he's a veteran presence with a Pro Bowl nod on his resume.

    And with the fourth-most cap space in the NFL, Cleveland has plenty of wiggle room to take a run at him.

Dallas Cowboys: S Earl Thomas

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    This one almost makes too much sense to become a reality.

    After his one-finger salute to the Seattle bench after breaking his leg last year, it would certainly appear Earl Thomas is going to be the most recent stalwart from the "Legion of Boom" to leave the Pacific Northwest.

    It's hardly been a secret that the Cowboys and Thomas have a mutual interest in one another. Thomas was born in Texas and starred there for the Longhorns. The Dallas defense, formidable though it may be, could use an upgrade on the back end.

    There's been so much chatter surrounding Thomas to the Cowboys that the NFL launched a tampering investigation. No wrongdoing was found, but it demonstrates just how much noise has surrounded this potential match for a year now.

    Re-signing Demarcus Lawrence this offseason is Dallas' No. 1 priority, but with more than $46 million in cap space, the Cowboys should (in theory) have the coin to both re-up their best pass-rusher and add a shiny new (old) safety.

Denver Broncos: LB C.J. Mosley

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    The Denver Broncos have a new defensive-minded head coach in Vic Fangio, who will attempt to get the team's defense back to the level that helped them win Super Bowl 50.

    If Fangio's going to accomplish that goal, the Broncos need some personnel upgrades—including a new inside linebacker to call the signals and keep things organized.

    Among this year's free agents, none would fit that bill better than Baltimore's C.J. Mosley.

    Mosley's numbers were down a bit in 2018 relative to the season before, and the 26-year-old isn't going to come cheaply. But the Ravens have already indicated they would prefer to keep Mosley around.

    That's probably because Mosley's been a Pro Bowler four times and has four seasons with 100-plus stops.

    With $37.5 million in salary-cap room, the Broncos have enough in the war chest to take a run at one "splash" signing.

    A leader for their new defense would be a fine one.

Detroit Lions: OLB Jadeveon Clowney

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    This one's more than likely a pipe dream. The Houston Texans already gave Jadeveon Clowney an extra million bucks to mollify a dispute over which position he should have been classified as during his option year.

    In all likelihood, if he and the Texans can't reach a long-term agreement, Clowney will play in 2019 under the franchise tag after logging nine sacks in 2018.

    But these are the ideal free-agent targets for each NFL team. And for the Lions, Clowney most assuredly fits that bill.

    For starters, the Lions desperately need to improve the pass rush. The Lions were 11th in the NFL in sacks last year with 43, but the team lacks a true anchor on the edge. The Lions thought they had one in Ziggy Ansah, but after another disappointing season, Ansah's probably a goner in free agency himself.

    There are potential options set to hit free agency who had bigger 2018 seasons, but none have the experience playing the sort of "hybrid" role that Clowney has over his career. It's a role that would fit in quite nicely in Matt Patricia's defense.

    Keep hope alive!

Green Bay Packers: G Rodger Saffold

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    As you may have heard, quarterback Aaron Rodgers is rather important to the fortunes of the Green Bay Packers.

    And after allowing 53 sacks in 2018 (third-most in the NFL) en route to missing the playoffs for a second straight year, improving the protection in front of No. 12 is a big priority for the Pack this offseason.

    Veteran guard Rodger Saffold would do just that.

    After nine seasons with the Rams, Saffold's about to hit the open market for the second time in his career. But the Rams are stacked with big contracts, possess middle-of-the-pack cap space and have several big names about to become free agents. It's possible L.A. won't have the coin to spend on a 30-year-old interior lineman.

    As Paul Brett pointed out for Lombardi Ave., Saffold was a top-10 guard per Pro Football Focus a year ago. As such, he's going to be a hot commodity in free agency.

    But should Saffold decide to move on (or the decision be made for him), Green Bay wouldn't be an unattractive destination.

Houston Texans: OT Trent Brown

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    With more than $77 million in cap space, the Houston Texans are well-positioned to be players this year in free agency. Only four teams in the NFL have more spare cash on hand.

    And after allowing a league-high 62 sacks in 2018, there's little question that quite a bit of that scratch needs to be invested in the offensive line.

    The weakest link on that line was tackle Julie'n Davenport. Whether it was on the right side or the left, Davenport was beaten like a drum with regularity last year. Per Avery Duncan of FanSided, Davenport led the team with a staggering 15 sacks allowed last year—including 11 on the left side.

    After making 16 starts on the left side for the Super Bowl champion Patriots in 2018 (and resurrecting his career in the process), New England will all but certainly make a concerted effort to bring back 6'8", 380-pound tackle Trent Brown.

    But if the 25-year-old hasn't re-upped by the beginning of the legal tampering period, Brown needs to be Houston's first call.

Indianapolis Colts: RB Le'Veon Bell

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    In news that should surprise no one, this one's already been talked about ad nauseum. When you have more cap space than any team in the NFL (over $100 million), it's no shock that your team would be mentioned as a potential destination for that year's biggest names.

    Le'Veon Bell has already mentioned the possibility of joining Andrew Luck and the Colts in free agency. The idea was then poo-pooed by at least one local beat writer, who insisted the Colts would never make a substantial financial investment in such a selfish player.

    The Steelers may not have given up on Bell entirely, either. Recent reports indicate that Pittsburgh may slap the transition tag on the 26-year-old, which would allow the team to match any offers made for Bell.

    It would likely take a sales pitch more from the player than the team—Bell convincing Colts general manager Chris Ballard that he can be a good teammate after sitting out all of 2018 in a contract dispute with Pittsburgh.

    But there's no denying the Colts would be a significantly more dangerous and explosive offense with Bell in the fold—and heaven knows they can afford him.

Jacksonville Jaguars: QB Teddy Bridgewater

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    There has already been a lot written about the Jacksonville Jaguars making a play for Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Nick Foles.

    Per reports, the Eagles plan to tag-and-trade Foles, which means the Jaguars would be out both a draft pick and a salary well in excess of $20 million for 2019.

    It's that last part that could be especially problematic for the Jaguars, who are already presently about $4.4 million over the projected cap for 2019.

    However, it's not necessarily Foles or bust for the Jaguars.

    Among the other free agents available at quarterback, the best Plan B would probably be Teddy Bridgewater. Granted, it's been a long time since we saw Bridgewater in anything but mop-up duty—he has one meaningless Week 17 start over the past three seasons.

    But Bridgewater was a former first-round pick who led the Minnesota Vikings to the playoffs before shredding his knee the following training camp.

    He's also younger than Foles, would come significantly cheaper and would likely welcome the opportunity to start for a team that made the AFC Championship Game two years ago.

Kansas City Chiefs: EDGE Shane Ray

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    It's no secret the Kansas City Chiefs need defensive help just about everywhere. The team finished the 2018 season 31st in total defense, and it showed in overtime of the AFC Championship Game.

    However, overhauling that defense isn't going to be especially easy—the Chiefs have less than $27 million in cap space, and if Kansas City elects to bring back Dee Ford, his new deal will swallow up a large percentage of that coin.

    Even if Ford comes back, the Chiefs need edge-rushers—but they need them cheap. Say a young player coming off a disappointing contract year who might be willing to offer the Chiefs a discount of sorts.

    Enter Denver's Shane Ray.

    Ray hasn't come close to living up to his status as a first-round pick back in 2015. In fact, as Ray battled injuries the last two years, he managed only two sacks over that span.

    But back in 2016, Ray amassed 48 tackles and eight sacks, and he was both born in and played college in Missouri.

    Ray even has a Chiefs tattoo.

Los Angeles Chargers: OT Ja'Wuan James

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    The Los Angeles Chargers had a good year in 2018, winning 12 games—plus one in the playoffs. But the Bolts are also dealing with a limited window of opportunity here, as Philip Rivers isn't getting any younger.

    To say that the offensive line is an area where the Chargers need to get better isn't news—just about every team in the NFL could stand to improve the O-Line.

    It's especially true at right tackle. Starter Sam Tevi was a liability and then some last year, allowing eight sacks and 41 hurries in less than 500 pass-blocking snaps, per PFF (h/t USA Today).

    Among this year's free agents at tackle, most man the right side—including Miami's Ja'Wuan James. James has struggled at times to stay healthy, but when on the field, the fifth-year veteran has been a plus performer.

    The biggest stumbling block here is money; the Chargers have about $18.4 million in salary-cap room, and inking James would eat up well over half of it.

Los Angeles Rams: OLB Lorenzo Alexander

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    The Los Angeles Rams went all-in on making the Super Bowl, procuring a number of veteran players via free agency or trades. It's a strategy that very nearly paid off with a Super Bowl championship.

    However, it isn't going to take long before the tough decisions start kicking in. There are already a number of pending free agents who could command big money on the open market, including defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, edge-rusher Dante Fowler and safety Lamarcus Joyner.

    Of that trio, the most likely to leave is Fowler. He's a former top-five pick looking to cash in on the open market after his rookie deal, and he's likely to command a pretty hefty sum on the open market.

    L.A.'s best bet given the team's current financial realities is to try to replace Fowler with an aging veteran who might be willing to sacrifice a little cash for a short-term deal with a Super Bowl contender.

    Alexander, 35, who had 6.5 sacks last year and 22 over the past three seasons, would qualify.

Miami Dolphins: QB Ryan Fitzpatrick

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    The Miami Dolphins are in a period of great upheaval. There's a new head coach in Brian Flores, and the team is about to embark on a ground-up rebuild that Flores admitted (per Josh Alper of Pro Football Talk) could be a painful one.

    Per Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald, the plan is to jettison Ryan Tannehill, look toward the future and try to put the Dolphins in position to select Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa in 2020.

    In other words, tank.

    If this really is how the Dolphins plan to begin the Flores era, then Miami is going to need a veteran stopgap under center—a signal-caller with some starting experience who might be willing to play on a reasonable deal if it means getting one more chance to start as a pro.

    There's no one available in free agency who fits that bill better than Ryan Fitzpatrick, who went 2-5 in seven starts for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2018.

    Don't want to make that tank too obvious, after all.

Minnesota Vikings: OT Jared Veldheer

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    The Minnesota Vikings are looking for answers as to why the 2018 season that began with such high expectations ended with the team watching the playoffs on TV.

    There's plenty of blame to go around, but at the heart of the team's offensive struggles in 2018 was a line that was, well, offensive.

    That line's going to be searching for multiple upgrades this offseason—especially with the team considering kicking left tackle Riley Reiff inside to guard after a miserable second season with the team.

    There's a problem, though, because of course there is. The Vikings possess only about $7 million in salary-cap space right now.

    That's not going to get it done with any of the big names on the offensive line.

    It might be enough, however, for an aging veteran who used to be a big name. That description fits Jared Veldheer, a 31-year-old nine-year veteran with 113 career starts who has played extensively at both left and right tackle.

New England Patriots: EDGE Derrick Morgan

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    There's an old saying that goes, "The more things change, the more they stay the same." That certainly holds true in New England. The names and faces around Tom Brady and Bill Belichick change, but the team keeps right on winning.

    The Patriots generally aren't a team that goes nuts in free agency, and with under $16 million in cap space this year, New England isn't in a position to do so even if they wanted to.

    However, the Pats are in position to do something they've done more than a few times in recent years—snatch up an aging veteran on the cheap in the hopes he has another year or two left in him.

    Derrick Morgan had just half a sack last year, but in the four seasons that preceded it, the 30-year-old piled up 27. It's been a while since the nine-year veteran played with his hand in the dirt, but his versatility will appeal to a Pats team that values defenders who can wear multiple hats.

New Orleans Saints: WR Randall Cobb

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    There won't be any Big Easy spending sprees in free agency this year. Only four teams in the NFL have less cap space than the Saints.

    However, while the Saints can't offer a massive contract, they can offer a veteran a run at a ring after coming up just short of a berth in Super Bowl LIII last year.

    Among the biggest holes the Saints need to fill this offseason is at wide receiver. Yes, the team has one of the best in the game in Michael Thomas. But outside of him, it's a fat bag of blah.

    Randall Cobb isn't exactly coming off one of his better seasons, either—Cobb missed seven games and managed just 383 receiving yards and two scores.

    However, Cobb's a proven receiver who can play both inside and outside who has topped 75 catches three times. He might be amenable to a short-term, prove-it deal if one of the secondary benefits includes the real possibility of a trip to Miami.

New York Giants: S Tre Boston

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    It's no secret the quarterback situation for the New York Giants is the biggest question mark looming over the team this offseason. But that question's not going to be answered in free agency.

    It's also not the only one facing the team. Even if the Giants are able to retain free agent-to-be Landon Collins at strong safety, the free safety spot needs to be addressed. With around $28 million in cap space (before addressing Collins and the team's other free agents), it's the second-tier free agents who could be Big Blue's best bet.

    It's possible that even Tre Boston will be a bit outside the Giants' price range after the 26-year-old tied a career high with 79 tackles and picked off three passes in his lone year with the Arizona Cardinals. But Boston's part of a deep crop of free-agent safeties, and the number of players available might depress asking prices.

    Boston also has a relationship with Giants GM Dave Gettleman, who drafted Boston in Carolina back in 2014.

New York Jets: DE Ezekiel Ansah

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    The New York Jets have more than enough cap space to be major players in free agency in 2019. Gang Green is over $95 million under the salary cap. Only the Indianapolis Colts have more cap space.

    The Jets also have a lot of work to do, especially defensively. After running a 3-4 base for many, many years, the arrival of new defensive coordinator Gregg Williams means the Jets will be moving to a four-man front.

    That, in turn, means holes to fill all over the place—and defensive end tops that list.

    It would be great to say the Jets have a realistic shot at landing Demarcus Lawrence or Frank Clark. But the odds of either leaving their respective team aren't even a little good. Trey Flowers of the Patriots might be a possibility, but he's already made an appearance in this piece.

    That leaves players like Brandon Graham and Ezekiel Ansah. Ansah struggled to stay healthy this year, but as recently as 2017, he piled up 12 sacks. He had 14.5 in 2015 and has averaged eight sacks a season over his career.

    Graham's only hit the eight-sack benchmark once—back in 2017.

Oakland Raiders: DE Demarcus Lawrence

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    Defensive End Demarcus Lawrence

    Before any fans of the Silver and Black get too excited about Demarcus Lawrence joining the Raiders, it has to be said that the chances of Oakland acquiring the two-time Pro Bowler are remote.

    It's not that the Raiders don't have the cap space to take a run at the 26-year-old. The team has well over $70 million in room, the sixth-most in the league.

    It's also certainly not a matter of need. The Raiders are more desperate for pass-rush help than any team in the league, and it isn't close. The Raiders were dead last in the league in sacks last year with 13.

    By weight of comparison, Lawrence had 10.5 by himself.

    The problem is that the chances of Lawrence ever hitting the open market are remote at best. Whether it's with a long-term deal or a second-straight franchise tag, Lawrence's value to the team is too great for the Cowboys to consider letting him leave.

Philadelphia Eagles: CB Bashaud Breeland

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    To say the Philadelphia Eagles aren't in the best of positions relative to the salary cap is an understatement. 

    The Eagles need to shed just over $16 million to get into the black. Whatever work the Eagles are going to do in free agency will have to be off the discount rack.

    If the Indianapolis Colts will be shopping at Macy's with their $100 million-plus in cap space, then the Eagles will be perusing the aisles at Big Lots.

    It sets up a tricky offseason. The Eagles have free agents of their own to worry about. Quite a lot of them, in fact. Defensive end Brandon Graham. Cornerback Ronald Darby. Tailback Jay Ajayi. Wide receiver Golden Tate.

    Even if Darby's retained, the Eagles need help on the back end—a veteran or two to help shore up a young secondary that struggled at times in 2018.

    After an up-and-down season that included missing out on a lucrative contract thanks to a failed physical and a solid showing in seven games with the Green Bay Packers, Bashaud Breeland could be just such an addition.

Pittsburgh Steelers: ILB Kwon Alexander

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    That the Pittsburgh Steelers need help on defense isn't a secret. Outside of Joe Haden, the team's cornerback play wasn't good. The inside linebackers were worse.

    However, the Steelers are also jammed up against the salary cap with about $19.5 million in space. If Pittsburgh trades wide receiver Antonio Brown, a huge chunk of that will be wiped out. 

    After Brown met with team owner Art Rooney, it appears that's exactly what's going to happen.

    It leaves the Steelers in a position where adding veteran help is problematic at best and all but impossible at worst.

    However, this article is about ideal free-agent targets, best-case scenarios.

    Kwon Alexander's coming off a torn ACL that cost him 10 games in 2018, and the 24-year-old has missed at least four games in three of four NFL seasons.

    But when he's been healthy, Alexander has shined. In his lone full season in 2016, he led the NFL with 108 solo tackles. The following year, he made the Pro Bowl.

    A team can dream, can't it?

San Francisco 49ers: DE Frank Clark

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    If at first you don't succeed, try, try again.

    That's been the mantra of the San Francisco 49ers on the defensive line in recent years.

    In three straight NFL drafts from 2015-2017, the 49ers spent their first pick on a defensive lineman. In the case of DeForest Buckner in 2016, that pick appears to have been well-spent. In the case of Arik Armstead in 2015, not so much.

    The jury's still out on Solomon Thomas in 2017, although early returns haven't been promising.

    San Francisco's well-positioned to attack the defensive line in free agency if it chooses, as the team's sitting on a war chest of more than $65 million.

    Signing Seattle's Frank Clark would take up a sizable portion of that cash, and after leading the Seahawks with 13 sacks last year, Seattle's not likely to let Clark get anywhere near the open market.

    But landing one of the marquee free agents at a premium position would be a coup for the Niners—made all the greater by stealing him away from the team's biggest rival.

Seattle Seahawks: CB Kareem Jackson

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    At first glance, the Seattle Seahawks appear to be in good shape relative to the salary cap heading into free agency. The Seahawks possess just under $52 million in wiggle room.

    But if the Seahawks are intent on bringing back the aforementioned Frank Clark (and given his importance to the defense you can bet the rent they are), a big chunk of that cap space is already accounted for.

    That leaves Seattle looking for value at one of the team's other positions of need, cornerback and safety. And Kareem Jackson could be their guy. 

    The 31-year-old Jackson's ninth season was among his best, notching a career-high 87 tackles and 17 passes defensed along with a pair of interceptions and two forced fumbles.

    Jackson can also play all over the secondary, whether it's boundary corner, in the slot or even at safety.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: CB Rashaan Melvin

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    In recent years, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have struggled mightily to stop the pass. Last season was no different, with the Bucs ranking 26th against the pass, surrendering 259.4 yards per game. That was actually an improvement over 2017, when Tampa was dead last against the pass. The Buccaneers were 22nd in pass defense in 2016.

    That is, as they say in technical terms, ungood.

    Tampa's need at cornerback is amplified by the pending free agency of veteran Brent Grimes, who looked every bit of 36 years old for the team last year. Unfortunately, as things stand, the Buccaneers aren't in position for a spending spree, with less than $16 million in cap space.

    In other words, the Buccaneers are going to need to hit the half-off rack and look at a player like Oakland's Rashaan Melvin. The 29-year-old actually spent his first two seasons in Tampa, and while he's played for four teams since and has never played in all 16 games in a season, Melvin's a steady vet presence when healthy.

Tennessee Titans: OLB Dee Ford

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    Like a handful of other entries in this piece, this is, admittedly, an unlikely acquisition. It's the biggest problem with forecasting early landing spots for top free agents. Many of them won't get anywhere near the open market.

    That's especially true for offensive tackles and edge-rushers—especially an edge-rusher coming off a career year in which he tallied 13 sacks.

    His offsides gaffe in the AFC title game is what everyone remembers now, but prior to that mistake, that's exactly what Dee Ford did—pile up a baker's dozen of sacks in his fifth season.

    That option-year explosion is going to make Ford a rich man—he's probably the top 3-4 outside linebacker potentially available in 2019. But with more than $41 million in cap space, the Titans can afford to take a run at the 27-year-old.  

    Tennessee also badly needs help on the edge after Brian Orakpo's retirement and with veteran Derrick Morgan set to hit free agency himself and seemingly on his way out.

Washington Redskins: QB Tyrod Taylor

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    Jason Miller/Getty Images

    The Washington Redskins most assuredly did not expect to be back in the market for a quarterback again in 2019.

    But with Alex Smith looking iffy at best to play at all in 2019 after breaking his leg, undergoing numerous surgeries and spending a month in the hospital, here Washington sits—with journeyman Colt McCoy as the only other quarterback under contract this year.

    Oh, and McCoy broke his leg last year, too.

    Were Nick Foles of the Eagles to hit the open market, you can bet the rent and the kids' college fund the Redskins would call him two seconds into the legal tampering period. But much of the reason the Eagles are contemplating a tag-and-trade with Foles is likely keeping him out of the NFC East.

    That leaves free agents like Teddy Bridgewater, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Taylor, who was awful in Cleveland last year but led the Buffalo Bills to the playoffs two years ago.

    Over three years from 2015-2017, Taylor tossed 51 touchdowns against just 16 interceptions. Given that history of taking care of the ball, he's a good option for a Washington team that's going to have to win games old-school in 2018.


    All cap-space figures via Over the Cap