The One Player Every NFL Team Should Sign This Offseason
Who's up for a little tampering?
Monday marks the unofficial start of free agency in the NFL. Teams can't officially sign players until the afternoon of March 13, but they are free to begin negotiating with the hundreds of free agents across the league.
In other words, all you-know-what is about to break loose.
It's a fascinating time of year. Every team is in a unique situation. Some have tons of cap space to throw around if they choose (looking at you, Indy). Others have next to none.
Some teams have holes all over the roster (hello, Oakland!). Others are just looking to smooth out the rough edges in a few places.
But whether the war chest is immense or minuscule, or the needs are innumerable or scarcely any, there's one player who fits each team like a glove. Maybe it's the position they play. Or their perceived asking price on the open market.
Every NFL team has one player it absolutely should sign this offseason.
And this article aims to highlight them.
Arizona Cardinals: C Matt Paradis
There's been more than a little speculation regarding who the starting quarterback for the Arizona Cardinals will be when Week 1 rolls around.
But whether it's Josh Rosen, Kyler Murray or someone else, one thing is certain—unless the Cardinals take major steps to address an offensive line that surrendered 52 sacks in 2018, it won't much matter who the victim, er, starter is.
The Cardinals have already started in that regard, trading for right tackle Marcus Gilbert last week. But with about $43 million in the war chest, the Cardinals are in a favorable enough spot to also make a run at one of the big free-agent linemen hitting the open market.
And while he's not a tackle, an argument can be made that center Matt Paradis is the best of the lot regardless of position. In his four NFL seasons, Paradis has developed into one of the NFL's better centers—a powerful blocker and sound technician.
To say that Paradis would be an upgrade over 32-year-old journeyman A.Q. Shipley is a bit like saying a nice porterhouse and baked potato are an upgrade over Hamburger Helper.
Atlanta Falcons: CB Bashaud Breeland
The Atlanta Falcons aren't in a position to be big players in free agency. As a matter of fact, after slapping the franchise tag on defensive tackle Grady Jarrett, only two teams in the NFL have less cap space than Atlanta's $6.1 million.
The Falcons will no doubt create some more wiggle room—just as they did by releasing veteran cornerback Robert Alford. But the additions the team makes will all but certainly be from the second and third tiers.
That doesn't mean the Falcons can't get some help, though.
Free agency in 2019 can't possibly go worse for veteran cornerback Bashaud Breeland than last year. The 27-year-old signed a lucrative deal with the Carolina Panthers in 2018, only to fail a physical and then languish on the market until after the season started.
The Green Bay Packers eventually rolled the dice on Breeland, and he acquitted himself reasonably well in seven games (five starts), tallying 20 tackles and picking off two passes.
Breeland's no world-beater, but he could step into Alford's role as the team's second corner and stabilize the Atlanta secondary—without breaking the bank.
Baltimore Ravens: QB Tyrod Taylor
The good news is the Baltimore Ravens have freed up over $19 million in cap space with some wrangling of late—wrangling that should help the team (hopefully) retain inside linebacker C.J. Mosley.
The bad news is that to do so, the Ravens had to cut veteran wideout Michael Crabtree and safety Eric Weddle, which opened up two more holes on the roster.
The Ravens might look to a deep free-agent class at safety for Weddle's replacement—and the draft for Crabtree's—but Baltimore's new problems don't change the old ones.
Problems like finding a backup for Lamar Jackson at quarterback.
Tyrod Taylor began his NFL career as the backup to Joe Flacco with the Ravens before bailing for a starting job in Buffalo. After a miserable stint in Cleveland last year, Taylor's days as a starter are likely over.
But he's a proven veteran with a similar skill set to Jackson who has made his NFL bones by limiting mistakes and turnovers.
It's a lesson that Jackson would be well-served to learn as soon as possible.
Buffalo Bills: WR Golden Tate
With the fourth-most cap space in the NFL (just under $76 million), the Bills are in great shape as far as cash on hand entering free agency.
What's not in great shape is the team's passing-game talent around second-year pro Josh Allen. As a matter of fact, a pretty good argument can be made that Buffalo has the weakest wideout corps in the NFL.
When Zay Jones is your No. 1 wide receiver, that's a problem.
However, the Bills can land a veteran—a player who can anchor Buffalo's pass-catchers, at least in the short term.
Golden Tate struggled a bit in 2018, largely because of a midseason trade from Detroit to Philly. But the 30-year-old topped 90 catches and 1,000 receiving yards three times in four seasons from 2014 to 2017.
He might not be a true No. 1 receiver, but Tate would be a sizable upgrade for a young quarterback who needs all the help he can get,
Carolina Panthers: S Tyrann Mathieu
The Carolina Panthers are toward the bottom of the NFL in available cap space—about $16 million. The organization's going to have to be smart about the additions it makes.
I originally had a different veteran safety listed here—but it didn't take long for Eric Weddle to find a new home. The 34-year-old inked a two-year deal Friday with the Los Angeles Rams.
That was fast.
The Panthers still need help at free safety, though, and while Carolina can't go hog-wild, it should have the funds to add an impact player at the position.
Six-year veteran Tyrann Mathieu is more than just a deep safety. As a matter of fact, there isn't much the 26-year-old hasn't done on the back end—whether it's playing both safety spots, slot corner or even rushing the passer.
Mathieu isn't going to come cheaply, but pairing the Honey Badger with the recently re-upped Eric Reid would give the Panthers an outstanding duo of safeties in a division filled with big-name quarterbacks.
Chicago Bears: RB TJ Yeldon
With just $17.5 million in cap space, the Chicago Bears are yet another team that will likely do much of its free-agent shopping at the discount rack. Even worse, the Bears don't have a first-round pick in either of the next two drafts because of the trade that brought Khalil Mack to town.
The Bears are going to have to be creative with player additions—and get a little lucky.
T.J. Yeldon didn't exactly live up to his draft status in Jacksonville, falling out of favor as a featured back after topping 1,000 total yards as a rookie. The 25-year-old's 4.0 yards per carry on 104 totes in 2018 isn't blowing anyway.
But Yeldon's 55 catches last year (and 171 over four years) show the sort of receiving chops Matt Nagy values in running backs—the type Jordan Howard doesn't have.
Yeldon could offer Nagy a back to pair with Tarik Cohen as the between-the-tackles option, and while the Bears can't offer Yeldon a ton of money, they can at least offer the opportunity to play for a winner.
Cincinnati Bengals: ILB Kwon Alexander
The Cincinnati Bengals had the NFL's worst defense in 2018, allowing a staggering 413.6 yards per game. With a new head coach in town in Zac Taylor and a new DC (finally) in Lou Anarumo, fixing that defense has to be the team's first priority of the offseason.
The first (and biggest) step in doing that is bolstering arguably the NFL's weakest cadre of linebackers.
Kwon Alexander's fourth season in the NFL was an injury-marred mess. The 24-year-old made it just six games into the season before tearing his ACL, missed at least four games for the third time and finished the year with a career-low 45 total tackles.
However, when healthy, Alexander has shown the ability to play inside linebacker as well as anyone in the league. Back in 2016, Alexander tied for third in the NFL with 145 total stops and led the league with 108 solos.
Alexander's durability concerns are real, but so is his upside.
Upside that the Bengals desperately need.
Cleveland Browns: WR Tyrell Williams
The Cleveland Browns are in uncharted waters of sorts. The team heads into free agency with hope for the future and without a ton of holes in the roster.
Strange days, indeed.
However, this isn't to say the Browns don't have needs. The team's in excellent position to address those needs—even after re-signing offensive tackle Greg Robinson and trading for edge-rusher Olivier Vernon, Cleveland still has over $79 million under the salary cap.
Fat wad of cash or not, general manager John Dorsey doesn't have a reputation for spending just to spend. If he's going to invest a substantial amount in a free agent, it's going to need to be a player with upside who fills one of those needs.
A player like Tyrell Williams.
The Browns aren't without talent at wide receiver, but the team doesn't have a physical presence on the outside—a big body who can win jump-balls and be a force in the red zone.
At 6'4", Williams is that kind of pass-catcher. And with 69 catches for 1,059 yards back in 2016, Williams has shown he's capable of handling a featured role in the passing game.
Dallas Cowboys: S Earl Thomas
The Dallas Cowboys have been linked to free-agent safety Earl Thomas for a long while now. The Cowboys tried to trade for the six-time Pro Bowler last year but couldn't get a deal done with the Seattle Seahawks.
Now, with Thomas about to hit the open market and reportedly seeking a huge payday, Calvin Watkins of The Athletic tweeted recently that Dallas isn't interested in the 29-year-old.
Of course, this time of year, lots of teams say lots of things. Statements don't need to be taken with a grain of salt; they need to be taken with a shaker of it.
The reality is the Cowboys could use help on the back end of an otherwise formidable defense—help that Thomas would most assuredly provide.
The nine-year veteran could also wind up available for less than many believe. There isn't a position in the NFL flusher with available talent than safety. Thomas. Landon Collins. Adrian Amos. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. Adrian Phillips. So on and so forth.
That brimming supply could easily drive down the asking price for some of those safeties. And if Thomas isn't getting his megadeal, he might as well try to win another Super Bowl.
Denver Broncos: ILB C.J. Mosley
The Denver Broncos have a new defensive-minded head coach in Vic Fangio who employs an attacking 3-4 scheme. And for much of his career in places like San Francisco, Fangio has had a high-end inside linebacker to anchor that defense.
There isn't one presently on Denver's roster—Todd Davis is a capable pro, but he's not a game-changer.
As it happens, though, there's one about to hit free agency.
In five NFL seasons with the Baltimore Ravens, Mosley has averaged over 119 total tackles a season—including 105 stops in 2018. Mosley pitched in his fair share of big plays, too—8.5 sacks, nine interceptions and six forced fumbles. The 17th overall pick in the 2014 draft, Mosley's been named to four Pro Bowls, including each of the last three years.
The 26-year-old isn't going to come cheaply, and while the Ravens chose not to franchise-tag Mosley, that doesn't preclude Baltimore from making a concerted effort to retain him.
But the Broncos need to make that same effort, because Mosley could be the glue the Broncos need inside.
Detroit Lions: DB Kareem Jackson
The Detroit Lions enter the second season of the Matt Patricia era with needs all over the defense. Edge-rushers, linebackers, help in the secondary—you name it, the Lions need it.
As a disciple of the school of Belichick, Patricia favors versatility. And when it comes to the defensive backs available this year, Detroit would be hard-pressed to find one who can do more than 10th-year pro Kareem Jackson.
The 30-year-old Jackson, who has compiled 16 career interceptions, began the season with a conversion to strong safety before moving back to corner later in the season. By year's end, Jackson had piled up a career-high 87 tackles, adding a sack, two picks and two forced fumbles.
Over nine seasons in Houston, Jackson's done just about everything a defensive back can do—whether it's play the boundary, the slot or man both safety slots. And he's done it all at relatively high level.
It's hard to tell where Jackson would plug into the Detroit defense, but the fact he'd fit in so many different places speaks to just how good a signing he could be.
Green Bay Packers: S Landon Collins
The days of the Packers standing on the sidelines of free agency under Ted Thompson are over. Per Mike Spofford of the team's website, GM Brian Gutekunst said the team plans to be active in free agency in Matt LaFleur's first year as head coach.
That's good because the Packers have the same needs in the secondary and on the edge that have seemingly dogged the team for years.
Edge-rushing help could be a priority if Clay Matthews departs (and even if he doesn't), but both safety spots are also in need of an upgrade.
A ferocious run defender, four-year veteran Landon Collins has averaged over 100 stops a season for his career, including 100 solos and five interceptions in a 2016 campaign that ended with the first of three straight trips to the Pro Bowl for the former Alabama standout.
Collins has also missed just five games in four seasons, although four of those came last year after a partially torn labrum required surgery.
His impressive NFL resume is going to command an equally impressive salary, but with $35 million and change under the cap, the Packers can afford to make one "splash" signing.
Might as well make that bad boy count.
Houston Texans: OT Trent Brown
Generally speaking, it's unwise for an NFL team to approach free agency from a position of desperation. That's the sort of thing that leads teams to make bad signings. Set money on fire.
There are also instances, however, when teams just flat-out don't have much choice.
That's the situation that faces the AFC South champion Houston Texans in 2019. The Texans won the division last season, but the offensive line was a hot mess. In the regular season, Houston allowed a staggering 62 sacks—the most in the NFL.
Throw in the $73 million and change the Texans have in cap space (fifth-most in the NFL) and you have a team with a massive need and the resources to address it.
The market for offensive tackles usually isn't robust—really good OTs don't get to the open market. But after a relatively solid fourth season (and first in Beantown), it appears Trent Brown will be allowed to test the waters.
If that's the case, it's time for Texans general manager Brian Gaine to channel his inner Marlon Brando and make Brown an offer he can't refuse.
Indianapolis Colts: S Adrian Amos
In some respects, it's hard to pin down just one free agent the Colts should absolutely go after. The team has multiple needs—especially on defense.
And with over $101 million in cap space (the most in the NFL), the Colts have the scratch to address several of them.
The Colts could stand to add a pass-rusher—and they may well do so. Indy could use help at corner—and will likely obtain some. But it's at safety where the Colts stand the best chance of adding a player capable of making a significant impact from day one.
Last year with the Chicago Bears, four-year veteran Adrian Amos posted the best season of his career: 73 total tackles, a sack and a pair of interceptions. Equally adept at coverage and against the run, Amos can play both safety spots—the sort of versatility that's all the rage in today's NFL.
With no fewer than five of Indy's safeties potentially hitting free agency in 2019, the Colts could be looking at a major overhaul on the back end.
Amos would be a heck of a start in that regard.
Jacksonville Jaguars: QB Nick Foles
There hasn't been a big-name free agent linked to a team more often than the Jacksonville Jaguars and quarterback Nick Foles.
It's not hard to see why the Jaguars went from the AFC title game in 2017 to the AFC South cellar in 2018—mostly because of woeful play by Blake Bortles and the team's other quarterbacks.
As Jonathan Jones wrote for the MMQB, that makes the edict clear for the Jags: Do whatever it takes to free up the cap space to sign the MVP of Super Bowl LII.
"Jacksonville has to find a way," he said. "Tom Coughlin should know he can’t win with Bortles and a defense with greatness potential is being wasted with every game he goes back under center. With Denver out of the running, Foles and Jacksonville should be a fait accompli."
The Jaguars have a defense loaded with talent, even after making some cap-savings cuts last week. A bruising young tailback in Leonard Fournette. Just about everything the franchise needs for a deep playoff run.
Except a quarterback.
Kansas City Chiefs: CB Pierre Desir
The Kansas City Chiefs made it to within a game of the Super Bowl last year, only to eventually be undone by a defense that ranked near the bottom of the NFL in a number of statistical categories.
Upgrading that defense isn't going to be easy—at least in free agency. The Chiefs have just $9.4 million in cap space—a position so precarious that the team has released outside linebacker Justin Houston and is reportedly shopping Dee Ford after franchise-tagging him.
As if that isn't enough, the Chiefs also could be losing their best cornerback. Steven Nelson is himself a free agent who could command a hefty payday on the open market.
That could leave Kansas City in the unenviable position of having to fill a hole at a premium position without a ton of resources with which to do so.
Pierre Desir's only had one big year with the Colts—last year, when he logged 79 total tackles in the most playing time of his five-year career.
His lack of resume could leave him available at something of a discount, though.
Los Angeles Chargers: DT Malik Jackson
The Los Angeles Chargers have a number of impending free agents who could depart the team and create holes in the lineup, including wide receiver Tyrell Williams and defensive tackle Corey Liuget.
With Mike Williams and Keenan Allen in town, the Bolts can absorb the loss of Williams.
So it's that tackle spot we're going to fill here, and we're doing so with a big-money, impact defensive tackle.
No, not Ndamukong Suh. Suh's going to be paid, to be sure, but it's not that hard to imagine him taking a little less money to stay with the Rams. He's got scratch. What he doesn't have is a ring.
Malik Jackson might not be quite the player Suh is, but the recently released 29-year-old isn't that far off. Pairing Jackson, who tallied 18 sacks in three seasons in Jacksonville, with Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram would give the Chargers one of the most formidable defensive fronts in the NFL.
Maybe the most formidable.
Agreeing to a two-year, $12 million extension with inside linebacker Denzel Perryman, per NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, was a smart, cap-friendly move.
Now it's time to get bold.
Los Angeles Rams: EDGE Terrell Suggs
What do you get for the team that has everything?
The Rams aren't a team with many holes after winning the NFC title in 2018. Running back could be an issue if Todd Gurley's balky knee continues to be a problem, but whether it's in free agency with a player like Spencer Ware or Carlos Hyde or in the draft, relatively inexpensive insurance for Gurley shouldn't be difficult to obtain—even if they don't retain C.J. Anderson.
Still, with about $36 million in cap space and several prominent free agents of their own, the Rams likely won't be looking to make any "splash" adds.
Bringing in Terrell Suggs wouldn't break the bank. After all, Suggs will turn 37 in October. But T-Sizzle is about as experienced as players get after 16 seasons of rushing the passer. He's seen it all. And done it all—including seven trips to the Pro Bowl and the 2011 Defensive Player of the Year.
But even at this stage, he's still an effective pass-rusher; Suggs logged seven sacks last year and piled up 11 two seasons ago.
Miami Dolphins: DE Derrick Morgan
The Miami Dolphins are in a bit of a pickle.
The Dolphins have a glaring need for edge-rushing help. They have already released defensive end Andre Branch, and it's believed Miami will do the same if it can't find a trading partner for fellow end Robert Quinn.
However, as things stand today, the Dolphins aren't in the best spot financially to be big spenders at the position—Miami's sitting on almost 22 million in available cap space.
In a shallow market at the position after many of the top pass-rushers got franchise tags, that means Miami may have to do some digging to get help getting after the passer.
Veteran Derrick Morgan has never had a 10-sack season. The 30-year-old managed just half a sack last year with the Tennessee Titans—a career low.
But for most of his nine years in Nashville, Morgan was a solid two-way edge player who might well benefit at this point in his career from going back to playing with his hand in the dirt.
And that miserable 2018 season could bring with it a 2019 discount.
Minnesota Vikings: C Mitch Morse
The Minnesota Vikings were one of the NFL's biggest disappointments in 2018, and the biggest bummer of a unit on that drag of a team was an offensive line that struggled—especially in run blocking. The Vikings ranked 23rd in that regard last year, per Football Outsiders.
Upgrading that offensive line has to be a priority for the Vikings in the offseason, but with just $4 million and change in cap space, the big-name free agents appear to be outside the team's price range.
It will probably take some creative accounting just to bring in a guy like Kansas City's Mitch Morse, who started 11 games in 2018 for the Chiefs.
Morse has an injury history—including multiple concussions. The 26-year-old has missed 14 games over the past two seasons. But Morse also hasn't allowed a sack since 2015, and that performance could net Morse upward of $10 million a season, according to Tom Pelissero of NFL.com.
Were it not for that injury history (which makes Morse a bit of a gamble), he wouldn't be getting anywhere near the open market.
But a talented lineman entering his prime capable of playing center or guard is a gamble worth taking for the Vikes.
New England Patriots: DE Markus Golden
The next couple of weeks are going to be very interesting for the New England Patriots. The Super Bowl champs have a couple of free agents in edge-rusher Trey Flowers and offensive tackle Trent Brown who could command whopper contracts in free agency.
However, the Pats have long been a team that does things their way. That includes free agency—if those players aren't willing to accept what New England's willing to pay, the team will bid those players adieu and move on.
The Patriots have already begun preparing for Flowers' departure, acquiring veteran end Michael Bennett from the Eagles. But there's another option available on the defensive line with the potential to add pop to the pass rush at a lower cost.
This isn't to say Markus Golden is a sure bet; the 27-year-old has just 2.5 sacks over the past two seasons combined after tearing his ACL in October 2017.
But toward the end of last season, Golden started showing signs of finally getting his explosiveness back—explosiveness that equated to 12.5 sacks with the Arizona Cardinals in 2016.
New Orleans Saints: WR Jamison Crowder
The New Orleans Saints came this close to making Super Bowl LIII.
We won't get into what happened exactly. I don't need Who Dat Nation rage-tweeting at me for days.
Big Easy my backside.
The Saints are a very good team, but they aren't one without needs. And right at (or at least near) the top of the list is a wide receiver to complement Mike Thomas.
For a time, it appeared as though Jamison Crowder was well on his way to becoming one of the NFL's better slot receivers. After breaking out to the tune of 67 catches, 847 yards and seven touchdowns in his second season, Crowder backed that up with a 66/789/3 line in 2017.
Last year, however, that ascension was slowed by injury. Crowder actually posted a career high in yards per catch at 13.4, but he missed almost half the season with a bum ankle and finished his fourth NFL campaign with a career-low 388 yards.
That injury might actually be a blessing for the Saints, as it could allow them to land a dependable option to pair with Thomas at a discount.
New York Giants: OT Daryl Williams
The New York Giants have already taken steps to upgrade an offensive line that was, well, offensive in 2018. Just a few days ago, the team swapped outside linebacker Olivier Vernon and a fourth-round draft pick with the Cleveland Browns for a fifth-round pick and guard Kevin Zeitler.
Now it's time to do something about the tackle position.
It shouldn't come as any surprise that Daryl Williams is the kind of big, physical tackle that Giants GM Dave Gettleman prefers. It was Gettleman, after all, who drafted the 6'6", 330-pound Williams back in 2015 while running the Carolina Panthers.
When we last saw Williams, he was one of the more effective strong-side tackles in the game—a second-team All Pro. But that was back in 2017—Williams missed all but one game last season after injuring his knee in the opener.
With Williams joining Zeitler in the Big Apple, that quarterback everyone expects the G-Men to draft in the first round this year might actually have a chance.
Never mind all the yardage that Saquon Barkley could gain if anyone actually blocked for him.
New York Jets: RB Le'Veon Bell
The New York Jets know two things as the dawn of free agency nears.
The first is they are in position to be a major player in free agency. Only the Indianapolis Colts have more space under the salary cap than the $92 million and change the Jets possess.
The second is they need playmakers on offense as badly as any team in the NFL. In 2018, the Jets ranked 29th in total offense, 25th in passing offense and 26th in rushing.
Sam Darnold may well be the franchise quarterback the Jets have coveted for so many years. But Darnold needs help.
Signing Le'Veon Bell would be arguably the league's biggest offensive splash of 2019. It won't be cheap. And given Bell's year away from the game, it's a risky play.
But Bell's also a 27-year-old do-it-all tailback who topped 1,800 total yards three times in four years from 2014 to 2017. Over that span, there wasn't a better running back in the league.
That sounds a lot like help.
Oakland Raiders: DE Trey Flowers
Saying the Oakland Raiders need pass-rush help is the understatement of the year. There were six players in the NFL who had more sacks individually in 2018 than Oakland did as a team.
That's just sad.
However, productive free-agent pass-rushers are like Bigfoot—you hear stories and see the occasional grainy photo, but concrete evidence of their existence is hard to come by.
There was never any real chance that Jadeveon Clowney, Demarcus Lawrence or Frank Clark were going to hit the open market. Even Brandon Graham, who has never reached 10 sacks in a season, got over $13 million a season to stay in Philadelphia.
Trey Flowers has never had more than 7.5 sacks in a season. But of the defensive ends who are going to be available when the market opens, the 25-year-old is the best of the lot—a stout run-defender who can collapse the pocket and is just entering the prime of his career.
He's not going to come cheaply, but with upward of $64 million in cap space, the Raiders can afford him.
What they can't afford is to leave the pass rush in its presently sad state.
Philadelphia Eagles: RB Tevin Coleman
The Philadelphia Eagles have already been hard at work freeing up cap space. They've re-upped defensive end Brandon Graham and center Jason Kelce, declined the option on defensive tackle Tim Jernigan and restructured the contract of offensive tackle Lane Johnson—again.
Thanks to all those moves, the Eagles have wriggled out (at least a bit) from under one of the NFL's worst cap situations. But the team still has less than $24 million to spend on player additions.
This isn't to say the Eagles can't make an impact signing or two. Just that the Eagles need to be smart about it.
Tevin Coleman isn't the No. 1 running back in this free-agent class. But he is a versatile tailback who topped 1,000 total yards in 2018 and averaged a career-best 4.8 yards a carry.
Coleman's not a 25-carry-a-game type of back. But he's a good fit for what Doug Pederson does offensively. And with a projected contract value of just over $5 million a season, per Spotrac, Coleman could be equal parts affordable and impactful.
Pittsburgh Steelers: ILB Mark Barron
It's been a drama-filled offseason for the Pittsburgh Steelers, dominated by stories about the impending departure of offensive stars Le'Veon Bell and Antonio Brown. But developments thousands of miles away may give the Steelers an opportunity to address a need that has dogged them dating back to the latter half of the 2017 season.
Eighth-year pro Mark Barron fell out of favor with Wade Phillips and the Los Angeles Rams last year before being released at the beginning of March. But as recently as 2015 and 2016, the 29-year-old topped 100 total tackles in consecutive seasons.
Most importantly, the 2012 first-round pick of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers is a converted safety who possesses the sort of sideline-to-sideline range that's been sorely lacking inside in the Steel City since Ryan Shazier got hurt.
Barron also isn't going to command a big contract, which is almost as important as his skill set to a Steelers team that's well south of $15 million in available cap space.
San Francisco 49ers: OLB Anthony Barr
The San Francisco 49ers have been as aggressive as any team in football adding talent over the past couple of seasons. With the sixth-most cap space in the NFL (almost $70 million), the Niners can afford to be again.
Given that wad of cash, the 49ers should take a hard look at filling the hole created by last year's Reuben Foster fiasco.
Anthony Barr of the Minnesota Vikings has never even had 80 tackles in a season. But as Conor Orr wrote for the MMQB, Barr's varied skill set is going to make him a sought-after commodity:
"The former first-round pick came out of UCLA into the NFL already a versatile linebacker, but he earned a masters degree in Mike Zimmer’s defense. He can play every down, and deftly switch between coverage and rushing the passer. This is the way defenses are heading, but the nice thing about Barr is that he isn’t on the small side either (listed at 6' 5", 255 pounds). While teams may desire a little bit more speed, he is capable enough in coverage and bulky enough to take on lead blockers. His role as a pass rusher was also highlighted a bit more this season."
Barr's also not quite 27 years old and already has four Pro Bowls to his name—just entering his prime.
Seattle Seahawks: OT Ja'Wuan James
The Seattle Seahawks got a big increase in the level of play from the offensive line in 2018—an increase that helped propel the team into the postseason. But the Seahawks still allowed 51 sacks in 2018, in no small part because of inconsistent play from right tackle Germain Ifedi.
With a hair over $32 million in cap space, the Seahawks have room to make a run at a free-agent lineman if they choose. And of the strong-side tackles available in 2019, the best of the bunch is Miami's Ja'Wuan James, who has started all 62 of his career games for the Dolphins.
Back in January, James told ESPN.com's Cameron Wolfe that he was looking forward to testing the open market.
"I'm looking forward to free agency," James said. "We'll see how they feel about me."
Given the opportunity to not only make $10 million a season (if not more) and play for a contender while he does it, my guess is James is going to like free agency just fine.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: ILB Deone Bucannon
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are undergoing some major changes in 2019 under new head coach Bruce Arians, including a change in defensive scheme under also-new defensive coordinator Todd Bowles.
That transition's going to have to be done on the cheap, though. After first franchise-tagging and then re-signing offensive tackle Donovan Smith, no team in the NFL has less cap space than the Buccaneers.
However, there's at least one linebacker in the bargain bin who could be just what the team's looking for—inexpensive production.
After breaking out with 109 total tackles as a hybrid safety/linebacker in 2015 with the Arizona Cardinals, Bucannon's seen his production dip in three straight seasons. Miscast as a weak-side linebacker in a 4-3 front in 2018, he was an afterthought.
So what could possibly lead the Buccaneers to think Bucannon could recapture that past form and contribute in 2019?
That breakout in 2015 and the 89-tackle season that followed both came with Arians as his head coach.
Tennessee Titans: OLB Za'Darius Smith
The Tennessee Titans are in pretty good shape relative to the salary cap, with a war chest of just under $43 million. But the Titans are also in a position where they may have to spend a chunk of that to address a particular need.
Specifically, the pass rush. Veteran Brian Orakpo has called it a career (that cupcake), and Derrick Morgan is headed into free agency. That leaves the team with youngster Harold Landry...and that's about it.
Among this year's free-agent crop of 3-4 rush linebackers, the best is likely Za'Darius Smith of the Baltimore Ravens. After recording just 10 sacks over his first three seasons combined with the Baltimore Ravens, the 26-year-old exploded for 8.5 sacks and 10 tackles for loss in 2018.
In a relatively shallow free-agent market for edge-rushers, there's not going to be any shortage of suitors for Smith's services. He'll probably command a big payday from his new team.
But the Titans are in a situation in which they don't have much choice.
Washington Redskins: ILB Jordan Hicks
The Washington Redskins don't have a ton of cap space to play with—well under $20 million. But Last week's trade with the Denver Broncos for quarterback Case Keenum at least takes care of the team's need at quarterback in the short term.
Now, the team can shift its focus to patching other holes, although given its relatively limited resources, it needs to be done thriftily.
Jordan Hicks has had more than a few issues staying healthy over his four seasons in the NFL. He's missed at least four games in three of four seasons and 21 overall. Those durability concerns may depress his asking price enough for the Redskins to get in on the action.
But when he has been healthy, Hicks has proved to be a rangy inside linebacker who excels in coverage, an area in which Washington's inside linebackers struggled in a big way last year.
The notion of poaching a starter from a division rival (the Eagles) would just be a bonus.