Predicting Landing Spots for the NFL's Top Free Agents
The NFL world moves quickly. Super Bowl LIII took place just a few days ago, but it's time to turn our attention to the 2019 offseason. The scouting combine is right around the corner, and free agency—which kicks off March 13—isn't far behind.
While the combine is an important event for draftniks, free agency is the event of the early offseason for casual fans. It's when your favorite team can buy a slice of hope on the open market.
There are numerous quality players set for free agency in 2019. Listed here are the 10 biggest names, based on recent production, star power, positional importance and health, along with predictions for where each will land.
These are the guys most likely to receive headline-grabbing contracts.
DE Demarcus Lawrence
Premier pass-rushers don't hit the open market often. It would be a big surprise if the Dallas Cowboys allowed Demarcus Lawrence to reach free agency. Even if he can only be acquired via a franchise-tag offer sheet, though, Lawrence is perhaps the biggest headliner of the offseason.
That's what happens when you're 26 years old and have 25 sacks over the last two seasons.
Still, it feels unlikely that Lawrence plays for a different team next season. Dallas would be stupid to let him go, and he wants to stay.
"I'm trying to do that long-term deal too," Lawrence said in January, per Herbie Teope of NFL.com.
This may be a boring prediction, but it's the one that makes the most sense.
Prediction: Cowboys sign Lawrence to a multiyear deal.
LB Jadeveon Clowney
High-end pass-rushers rarely hit free agency, and unless they're total busts, the same is true for former No. 1 overall picks. Houston Texans linebacker Jadeveon Clowney is far from a bust, and it's difficult to imagine the Texans let him get away.
Clowney had a slow start to his pro career, but he's developed into one of the top all-around defenders in the game. He can get to the quarterback—he had at least nine sacks each of the last two seasons—but he's also a force against the run and adequate in coverage.
Like Lawrence, the three-time Pro Bowler wants to remain in Texas. "I want to be here for the rest of my career," Clowney said in January, per Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle.
Prediction: Texans give Clowney the franchise tag.
DT Grady Jarrett
Atlanta Falcons defensive tackle Grady Jarrett isn't a pass-rusher. He isn't a recognizable name for casual fans. However, he is one of the most underrated defenders in the league. Jarrett can control the line of scrimmage, create interior pressure and occupy multiple blockers.
Once again, this isn't a player who should be allowed to hit the market.
However, it seems unlikely that Atlanta will use the franchise tag on Jarrett or try to outbid another team for him. The Falcons aren't flush with cap space like some other teams.
One such squad is the Cleveland Browns, who are projected to have the third-most cap space in the league. Cleveland happens to have a need at defensive tackle, and defensive coordinator Steve Wilks should be familiar with Jarrett from his time as a defensive coach with the Carolina Panthers.
Prediction: Browns sign Jarrett to a four-year deal.
RB Le'Veon Bell
Will running back Le'Veon Bell regret holding out for the entire 2018 season? Probably not. Will he make up the money he lost by not playing? Again, probably not. However, Bell is still a premier running back who will garner plenty of attention in free agency.
Bell is going to chase the money, which is why both the Indianapolis Colts and New York Jets will be in the conversation. They're projected to have the most cap space in the league ahead of Cleveland.
Of the two, the Jets make the most sense. The Colts appear to have a quality backfield duo in Marlon Mack and Nyheim Hines. New York doesn't have the same backfield support for second-year quarterback Sam Darnold.
The Jets could offer Bell a hefty contract, a chance to play with a promising young quarterback and the bright lights of New York. It's the last factor that could seal the deal, as Bell has a bit of a music career on the side and could be drawn to a larger market.
Prediction: Jets sign Bell to a four-year deal.
LB Dee Ford
Guess what—there's another pass-rusher on this list. (We're not even done yet.) This time it's Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Dee Ford, fresh off his first Pro Bowl campaign and a 13-sack season. As is the case with most of the players on this list, the Chiefs should do their best to retain Ford.
While Ford only has two seasons of double-digit sacks on his resume, he was one of the cornerstones of Kansas City's league-leading pass rush in 2018. Locking Ford up for his prime playing seasons with a long-term deal would ensure he remains a centerpiece for the foreseeable future.
The problem with that course of action is that Kansas City will have a new defensive coordinator in Steve Spagnuolo next season. The Chiefs will likely want to see if Ford can replicate his success in Spagnuolo's system before doling out a hefty chunk of cash on an extension.
Prediction: Chiefs give Ford the franchise tag.
S Earl Thomas
We can assume two things when it comes to safety Earl Thomas: He isn't happy with the way things ended with the Seattle Seahawks, and he isn't going to re-sign with Seattle in the offseason.
Thomas likely wants to stick it to Seattle for watching him suffer two broken legs in three seasons without the financial security of a long-term deal.
That's one reason why the San Francisco 49ers make a ton of sense for Thomas, who would get to face Seattle at least twice a season. He would also get to play alongside former teammate Richard Sherman.
"I'd love to have him back in the locker room," Sherman told reporters in December.
Prediction: 49ers sign Thomas to a three-year deal.
DE Frank Clark
Seahawks defensive end Frank Clark might not be a household name like teammate Earl Thomas, but he's a quality pass-rusher who can help transform a defense. He's coming off a 13-sack campaign and has produced 32 sacks over the last three seasons.
Seattle would be smart to bring Clark back in 2019.
If the Seahawks don't lock Clark down, the Falcons would make a ton of sense. Head coach Dan Quinn runs a similar defensive scheme, and Atlanta may be looking to move on from 2015 first-round pick Vic Beasley.
Beasley's fifth-year option will pay him $12.8 million in 2019, but the Falcons can cut him before the start of the new league year without paying out any of that. Considering Clark has had 12 more sacks than Beasley over the last two seasons, it may make sense to cut Beasley and use the cap space to sign Clark.
Prediction: Falcons sign Clark to a four-year deal.
DT Ndamukong Suh
Defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh spent the early part of his career chasing the money. Now that he's had a taste of playoff success, though, he may be interested in giving the Los Angeles Rams a discount to help finish what they started in 2018.
"We didn't get our job done," Suh told reporters after the Rams lost Super Bowl LIII.
Suh will be in demand. He's an elite defensive tackle fresh off an appearance in the league's biggest game. Might a team loaded with cap space lure him? Sure. However, the Rams have enough cap space—they're projected to have more than $32 million—and Suh knows they can give him a chance at a Super Bowl ring.
Prediction: Rams sign Suh to a two-year deal.
LB C.J. Mosley
Inside linebackers like C.J. Mosley haven't gotten the attention of edge-rushers or top defensive backs in recent years. However, players like Mosley, Ryan Shazier and Luke Kuechly have started to change that trend.
Mosley, a four-time Pro Bowler who is still just 26 years old, is going to generate a lot of buzz in free agency. Teams with cap space and a need at the position—the Oakland Raiders make a particular amount of sense—could throw cash at him.
However, the Baltimore Ravens appear determined to see him return.
"I certainly hope that C.J. is back. I believe in my heart that he will be," Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta said in a press conference in January.
Prediction: Ravens sign Mosley to a five-year deal.
QB Nick Foles
Technically, quarterback Nick Foles isn't a free agent. However, the Philadelphia Eagles have exercised his 2019 option, and Foles plans to pay back $2 million in order to void it, according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport. This means Foles will be a free agent at the start of the new league year unless the Eagles franchise-tag him.
Giving Foles the franchise tag does make a lot of sense. Philadelphia would like to have some control over where Foles ends up; essentially, it wants to prevent him from signing with an NFC team like the Washington Redskins.
What also makes sense is for Foles to reunite with John DeFilippo. DeFilippo was previously Philadelphia's quarterbacks coach and is now offensive coordinator of the Jacksonville Jaguars. Jacksonville is looking to move on from Blake Bortles, and Foles could be the right quarterback to get it back into the playoff mix.
Prediction: Eagles give Foles the franchise tag and trade him to Jacksonville.
All contract and cap information via Spotrac.