2019 NFL Free Agency: Biggest Questions That Remain After Early Action

Maurice Moton@@MoeMotonFeatured ColumnistMarch 13, 2019

2019 NFL Free Agency: Biggest Questions That Remain After Early Action

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    Don Juan Moore/Getty Images

    The legal tampering period, which opened Monday, answered some questions for NFL teams looking to fill roster holes, but we're still waiting for notable veterans to pick their destinations. 

    Among the biggest names left in the free-agent pool, safety Earl Thomas has yet to agree in principle to a contract. Despite coming off an injury-shortened 2018 campaign, he's not going to give discounts for his services. Will he land a massive deal in the coming days? 

    Le'Veon Bell finally picked a new destination. How does his intended signing affect another versatile running back who's prepared to capitalize on a free-agent bid?

    The cornerback market isn't buzzing with playmakers. Ronald Darby should have several options to consider in the coming days, but is the 25-year-old corner open to returning to the Philadelphia Eagles? 

    We'll dive into the biggest free-agency questions following two days of negotiations between players and teams.

         

Does Earl Thomas Have a Shot at Top Safety Money?

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    Elaine Thompson/Associated Press

    Editor's note: Earl Thomas will reportedly sign a four-year, $55 million deal with the Baltimore Ravens, per ESPN's Adam Schefter

            

    Safety Earl Thomas wants to eclipse the Kansas City Chiefs' Eric Berry for the top average salary at the position, according to NFL Network's Jane Slater.

    "I said 'rumored to be' but can now confirm, at least in the market of 14M or more a year, per source. He wants to beat S Eric Berry's number which is roughly 13M a year," she tweeted. 

    Ironically, the Chiefs came to a three-year, $42 million agreement with safety Tyrann Mathieu on Monday, per Rapoport. Kansas City's front office may have set a new financial bar for Thomas, who turns 30 in May. Also coming off a second broken leg, the three-time All-Pro may find it difficult to lead his position in annual earnings. 

    According to CBS Sports' Jason La Canfora, the Cleveland Browns have Thomas on their radar. As he tweeted, "Browns feeling good about the chances to land Earl Thomas. Not sitting back at all."

    The Browns came to an agreement with the New York Giants on a trade for wideout Odell Beckham Jr. in exchange for safety Jabrill Peppers, a first- and third-round picks, per NFL Network's Mike Garafolo

    Cleveland's interest in Thomas would revamp the secondary, pairing him with Damarious Randall between the cornerbacks. General manager John Dorsey would need an aggressive offer to land the ninth-year veteran. It's worth noting Garafolo (h/t NFL.com's Marc Sessler) reported the Browns aren't currently engaged in talks with him about a deal.

How Much Will Running Back Tevin Coleman Cost?

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    According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, Le'Veon Bell intends to sign a four-year, $52.5 million deal with the New York Jets. As the top running back on the open market, he sets the stage for comparable talents in the pool.

    In addition to Bell's $13.1 million average annual salary, running back Latavius Murray plans to ink a four-year pact worth $3.6 million per season, as reported by Schefter. A wide gap exists between the two ball-carriers, but Tevin Coleman should slot somewhere in the middle. 

    Coleman isn't as talented as Bell, but he also offers versatility as a ball-carrier and pass-catcher out of the backfield. The 25-year-old has recorded 2,340 rushing yards and 1,010 receiving yards in four seasons with the Atlanta Falcons.

    For the most part, Coleman served in a reserve role behind Devonta Freeman. But as the primary option for much of the 2018 term, he averaged 4.8 yards per carry and finished with a career-high 1,076 yards from scrimmage.

    He can potentially lead a backfield as the featured asset, but we can't be certain how much teams will be willing to pay for a running back who has averaged 9.4 carries per contest throughout his career. 

    Coleman presents tremendous upside because of his age and skill set. He's projected to be worth $5.3 million annually, per Spotrac.com. However, if a team offers an expanded role in the backfield, the fourth-year veteran could land a deal worth around $7 million per year. That figure would land between Leonard Fournette ($6.8 million on a rookie deal) and Jerick McKinnon ($7.5 million).

Will the Philadelphia Eagles Re-Sign Ronald Darby?

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    Michael Reaves/Getty Images

    This year's free-agent market doesn't present many high-end options at cornerback. Darby could emerge as a big winner with a lucrative deal.

    According to Garafolo, the Eagles are interested in re-signing Darby. The front office has just $15.4 million to spend, per Over the Cap. Assuming multiple clubs have offers on the table for the 25-year-old cover man, he could chase the cash, which would likely lead him elsewhere.

    Over the last two seasons, Darby missed 15 games because of a torn ACL and a dislocated ankle. The four-year veteran's injury history may concern his suitors, but the shortage of veteran talent at the position will likely cause teams to overpay for him.

    When healthy, Darby serves a solid boundary defender who's a reliable tackler in traffic or in the open field. He's recorded 69 solo tackles, 21 pass breakups and four interceptions as a strong presence in the Eagles secondary. If general managers don't mind rolling the dice on his availability, he's primed for a big payday.

What's Next for Ndamukong Suh?

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    Interior defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh seems like a one-and-done player for the Los Angeles Rams. The nine-year veteran isn't an All-Pro talent at this stage of his career, but he helped clear the pass-rushing lanes for defensive tackle Aaron Donald, who led the league with 20.5 sacks in 2018.

    In L.A., Suh recorded 36 solo tackles and 4.5 sacks as stout nose tackle tasked with eating up blocks. The 32-year-old hasn't missed a game since the 2011 campaign. He's still a durable run-stopper with the ability to reach the quarterback a handful of times in a season. The five-time Pro Bowler could draw interest from a club that needs a veteran with a mean streak. 

    Suh signed a one-year, $14 million contract with the Rams last year; that price will likely drop as he goes into his age-32 campaign. Similar to his time in Los Angeles, he could free up space for a high-end pass-rusher. In a one-on-one matchup, the 6'4" 313-pounder can win his battles at the line of scrimmage.

Will Mark Ingram Have a New Home?

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    Chris Graythen/Getty Images

    In terms of long-term deals, running backs had a quiet start Monday. Mike Davis agreed to terms with the Chicago Bears, per NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, and at the time, he was the only ball-carrier to agree to a multiyear deal. Mark Ingram, who's going into his age-30 campaign, may have to accept a short-term pact.

    According to ESPN's Dianna Russini (h/t Ryan Mink of the Ravens' website), Baltimore has an offer on the table for Ingram. The Green Bay Packers and Bears have also shown interest, per Rapoport (h/t Rotoworld). Chicago will probably withdraw their interest with Davis onboard. 

    Ingram has said he wants to stay in New Orleans.

    "It's kind of like a thing where they say they want me back, I say, 'I want to be back'; it's just can we compromise on the value?" he said on the Rich Eisen Show in February (h/t Luke Johnson of the New Orleans Times-Picayune).

    The Saints came to a four-year, $14.4 million agreement with running back Latavius Murray Tuesday, per Adam Schefter. The move likely dashes Ingram's hopes of returning to New Orleans. 

    At this stage in his career, Ingram may accept more money elsewhere if he feels lowballed at the negotiating table. Despite serving a four-game suspension to start the 2018 term, he averaged 4.7 yards per carry and racked up 815 yards from scrimmage as a key component in the Saints' eighth-ranked offense. 

    Ingram's market interest suggests teams think he has more to offer headed into his ninth season.

What's Next for Justin Houston?

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    The Kansas City Chiefs attempted to trade edge-rusher Justin Houston before his release Sunday, per Schefter

    In addition to his huge cap hit, Houston didn't have the versatility to transition to a 4-3 base scheme under new Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo. Lastly, he's missed 21 contests over the last four seasons because of injuries—most notably an ACL surgery that cost him several games between the 2015-16 terms. 

    Five years ago, Houston led the league with 22 sacks. Although he couldn't produce at a level commensurate to his six-year, $101 million extension signed in 2015, the eight-year veteran won't remain a free agent for long. Now, slightly past his prime, the one-time All-Pro edge-rusher can still take down the quarterback. 

    At this stage in Houston's career, his new coaching staff may consider less as more. The 30-year-old has notched 18.5 sacks since the 2017 term and could secure a role playing more than 50 percent of a team's defensive snaps as a designated pass-rusher. Fewer reps could preserve his conditioning through a full season.

Will the Oakland Raiders Sign a Veteran Defensive End?

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    Oakland Raiders defensive end Arden Key
    Oakland Raiders defensive end Arden KeyThearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

    The Oakland Raiders have one defensive end, Arden Key, on the books for the 2019 season. Most assumed general manager Mike Mayock and head coach Jon Gruden would have a deal in place with a pass-rusher at noon ET Monday.

    Instead, the Raiders came to an agreement with Trent Brown, per Schefter. The Silver and Black desperately needed an offensive tackle to protect quarterback Derek Carr, who took 51 sacks last year. Brandon Parker won't retain his starting job; he'll likely serve in a reserve role through his sophomore campaign.

    Oakland made a late splash Monday, coming to terms with defensive back Lamarcus Joyner, per NFL Network's Ian Rapoport. He can't rush the passer, but the 28-year-old could line up in the slot and deep safety spots to strengthen a pass defense that allowed the most touchdowns (36) in 2018. 

    Mayock and Gruden should have plans to acquire a veteran pass-rusher, but Brown and Joyner do address pressing roster needs. Oakland can target defensive end Ezekiel Ansah. He'd bring a strong veteran presence who's effective when healthy. He's logged 48 sacks in six seasons with the Lions.

    Andre Branch remains available as a potential bargain-bin option; the 29-year-old has 25.5 sacks in seven seasons. Although he's well past his prime, Michael Johnson knows defensive coordinator Paul Guenther's system, having played his entire career with the Cincinnati Bengals. He's a third-tier talent at the position but may have something to offer in a reduced role. 

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