2019 NFL Free Agency: Eight Moves That Still Need to Happen
The NFL has been turned upside down by one of the most eventful starts to free agency ever seen, and there's still more to come.
The Oakland Raiders seem to be competent again. The Cleveland Browns may very well be Super Bowl contenders. The Buffalo Bills look to have an exciting and emerging offense. The Pittsburgh Steelers appear vulnerable after decades of consistency.
What's going on?!
The NFL landscape changes quickly. Obviously, those teams deemed "winners" in free agency don't have a strong track record of success in the regular season. Even so, these moves are exciting and will have a profound impact throughout the league.
With the initial wave of moves complete after Wednesday's official start to free agency thanks to a drama-filled, two-day legal tampering period, multiple high-profile and quality options are still available.
Difference-makers will be acquired once the initial rush subsides. They are every year. For example, the Miami Dolphins released defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh at the start of free agency last year, and he signed with the Los Angeles Rams 12 days later. Coincidentally, Suh is a free agent once again and still available.
A few matches make too much sense not to happen.
Buffalo Bills Sign DE Ziggy Ansah
The Buffalo Bills agreed in principle with nine free agents before the start of the new league year. Eight came on the offensive side of the ball.
General manager Brandon Beane prioritized building around the team's 22-year-old quarterback, Josh Allen. He did so by fortifying one the league's worst offensive lines. Spencer Long, Jon Feliciano, Mitch Morse and Ty Nsekhe join Dion Dawkins and Wyatt Teller to form a much-improved front.
Beane also concentrated on receivers. John Brown, Cole Beasley and tight end Tyler Kroft join Robert Foster and Zay Jones to give the offense a necessary injection of options.
Now, the Bills' attention can turn to the opposite side of the ball. Jerry Hughes led the Bills with seven sacks last season and the NFL with a 10.9 percent pass-rush productivity, according to Pro Football Focus. He could be even better with a competent bookend.
Ziggy Ansah is a season removed from a 12-sack campaign and being franchise-tagged by the Detroit Lions. He's set to visit Buffalo this week, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter.
Cleveland Browns Sign S Eric Berry
The Cleveland Browns are all in to win now, and general manager John Dorsey wasn't afraid to pull the trigger on two significant trades for wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. and defensive end Olivier Vernon. Cleveland also signed defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson to a three-year, $39 million contract, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter.
As a whole, Dorsey has done a masterful job building a strong roster around the team's young core of talent featuring quarterback Baker Mayfield, running back Nick Chubb, defensive end Myles Garrett and cornerback Denzel Ward.
But a couple of positions, specifically safety and linebacker, still need to be addressed.
Once the team moved Jabrill Peppers as part of the Beckham trade, a hole opened in the secondary. The Browns still have Derrick Kindred, but Eric Berry, whom the Kansas City Chiefs released Wednesday, is a high-level performer when healthy. Unfortunately, he hasn't been healthy the last two seasons and played only three regular-season games during that span.
However, Berry has a history with Dorsey, who negotiated his previous contract extension.
Los Angeles Chargers Sign DT Ndamukong Suh
Ndamukong Suh has reached the point in his career where he doesn't need to be in a hurry to sign a deal and can be selective in free agency.
The 32-year-old defensive tackle isn't expected to return to the Los Angeles Rams next season, but he wants to stay on the West Coast, according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport (via Pro Football Talk's Charean Williams).
Thus, his options become limited based on teams with the available cap space coupled with a need along the defensive interior. Suh is still a powerful point-of-attack defender with the ability to take over games, albeit not as frequently as earlier in his career.
The Los Angeles Chargers re-signed veteran tackle Brandon Mebane to a two-year deal Wednesday, according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport. Darius Philon, Corey Liuget, Damion Square and Isaac Rochell are free agents, though.
Suh alongside Mebane and between Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram will provide the Chargers with an impressive front to complement one of the league's best secondaries.
Miami Dolphins Sign QB Teddy Bridgewater
The Miami Dolphins are the only team with a glaring hole at quarterback. Teddy Bridgewater is the only available free agent with the potential to grow into a franchise signal-caller.
The Dolphins are in the middle of a rebuild, though. A starting opportunity didn't seem too appealing to the 26-year-old at first, and he planned to re-sign with the Saints and serve as Drew Brees' heir apparent, according to NFL reporter Jane Slater.
Miami didn't stop its pursuit.
According to the Boston Globe's Ben Volin, the Miami native visited his hometown Wednesday. ESPN's Dianna Russini reported the Saints feel like a deal "will get done," but the Dolphins hold an advantage with him in their facilities.
This shouldn't be a difficult decision. The Dolphins are Bridgewater's only option to be a full-time starter this fall, and there's no guarantee Brees will retire after the 2019 campaign.
The 2014 first-round pick endured a difficult path after suffering a devastating knee injury prior to the 2016 campaign. He now has a chance to develop into the franchise quarterback many envisioned at the start of his career.
New England Patriots Sign LB Justin Houston
The New England Patriots continue to outwit everyone else in the NFL.
Bill Belichick and Co. allowed left tackle Trent Brown and defensive end Trey Flowers to leave in free agency. The Patriots will likely receive a pair of third-round compensatory picks for the 2020 draft in return.
Brown's replacement is already on the roster in last year's 23rd overall pick, Isaiah Wynn, but the defense's pass rush could use an extra boost.
The Patriots agreed to a trade with the Philadelphia Eagles to acquire Michael Bennett, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter. Deatrich Wise Jr., Adrian Clayborn and Derek Rivers are still on the roster, but the threesome combined for eight sacks last year. Justin Houston provided nine for the Kansas City Chiefs.
A massive cap hit didn't figure into the Chiefs' long-term plans, so Kansas City released the 30-year-old veteran.
Houston's flexibility as an outside linebacker, edge-setter and pass-rusher is an ideal fit for a scheme that changes weekly based on game plans.
New England Patriots Sign TE Jared Cook
Rob Gronkowski's status for the 2019 campaign remains up in the air. Since the New England Patriots lack a true outside threat, the tight end position is crucial in creating mismatches both down the seam and outside the numbers.
No one can replace Gronkowski if he retires or just takes some time away from the game. But Jared Cook is coming off a career season with 68 receptions for 896 yards and six touchdowns.
Apparently, the Patriots are "doing their homework" on the 31-year-old, according to the NFL Network (via the Providence Journal's Mark Daniels).
Even if Gronkowski decides to return for his 10th season, Cook's potential addition still makes sense. The 6'5", 254-pound target is more of a "move" tight end who can be used as a wing or detached from the line of scrimmage. He's not the same caliber player as an in-line option, but he creates mismatches in the passing game.
Gronk's status will have a rather large effect on the Patriots' offseason. Although, an offense featuring two Pro Bowl tight ends is an exciting proposition if it comes to fruition.
Kansas City Chiefs Sign CB Ronald Darby
Two years ago, the Kansas City Chiefs roster featured defensive backs Marcus Peters, Eric Berry, Steven Nelson, Terrance Mitchell and Darrelle Revis. None of them are still with the team.
Last season, the Chiefs finished 31st in pass defense. The unit already lost its best cornerback in Nelson to the Pittsburgh Steelers, according to Yahoo Sports' Terez Paylor. Orlando Scandrick is still testing the free-agent market as well.
Currently, Charvarius Ward and Kendall Fuller are the team's starting cornerbacks, but the defense lacks a true No. 1 corner. The organization must have come to the same realization, because Ronald Darby, who is generally considered the top free-agent corner, visited Kansas City on Wednesday, according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport.
Darby continues to recover from a season-ending torn ACL he suffered in Week 10. Once healthy, his speed will allow him to mirror top receivers. Thus, Darby may carry a steep price tag despite his circumstances. He's well worth the investment for a Chiefs team in need of a true cover corner.
Washington Redskins Sign WR Golden Tate
Jamison Crowder led the Washington Redskins last season with 43.1 receiving yards per game, but Crowder plans to sign with the New York Jets to become their slot receiver, per ESPN.com's Adam Schefter.
As a result, Washington is looking for a top target, particularly one that works out of the slot.
Golden Tate is considered an elite slot receiver with exceptional yards-after-catch ability. According to Pro Football Focus, Tate's 23 forced missed tackles led all receivers last year. In fact, Tate's 3,621 yards after catch ranks first since the start of the 2012 campaign, per The Athletic's Marcus Mosher.
A wide receiver upgrade is absolutely necessary after Washington traded for quarterback Case Keenum. The 31-year-old journeyman can't carry an offense; he's a cog in the machine. He can be very good with the right weapons around him, but Washington doesn't have those weapons at receiver.
Tate can immediately step in as a playmaker. More importantly, he previously served as the focal point of a passing game and thus has the potential to become Keenum's security blanket.