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2020 NFL Free Agents: Rumors, Predictions for Jameis Winston, Amari Cooper, More

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxFeatured ColumnistDecember 27, 2019

Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston (3) before an NFL football game against the Houston Texans Saturday, Dec. 21, 2019, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

The 2015 NFL draft was an intriguing one. It produced standouts like Todd Gurley, Marcus Peters and Brandon Scherff, as well as flops, like Kevin White, Shane Ray and Cedric Ogbuehi.

As we head toward the 2020 offseason, many of the 2015 first-round picks are scheduled to hit free agency. This means that tough decisions are looming for several teams. Let's run down some of the most notable.

             

Jameis Winston

While the Tennessee Titans appear ready to move on from 2015 No. 2 pick Marcus Mariota, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are still figuring out what to do with first overall selection Jameis Winston. The former Florida State star has flashed an immense amount of talent but has also struggled with his decision-making and with ball security.

This year, he has passed for 4,908 yards and 31 touchdowns. He's also two interceptions away from becoming the first player in league history to have 30 touchdowns and 30 interceptions in the same season.

The Buccaneers have to determine whether Winston can be their franchise quarterback, is worth letting go or deserves another evaluation year under head coach Bruce Arians. According to NFL Media's Ian Rapoport, Tampa Bay is likely to take the latter option.

"The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are expected to bring back quarterback Jameis Winston for the 2020 season, sources say," Rapoport wrote. "But the mechanism they will use to do it remains undecided. Either way, Winston is slated to get tagged in some form."

Using the franchise tag or the transition tag would afford the Buccaneers another season with which to evaluate Winston. However, it would also carry the risk of losing him to another team. Because of this, the non-exclusive franchise tag is the most likely option, as the Buccaneers would receive a pair of first-round picks in return if Winston signs an offer sheet.

Of course, the franchise tag carries a hefty price tag—$24.8 million for a quarterback this past season, per Over the Cap—so tagging Winston is far from a windmill-slam decision. And while it appears likely that Tampa Bay will retain its quarterback, Arians has disputed the idea that a decision has been made.

JennaLaineESPN @JennaLaineESPN

Bruce Arians on the NFL Network report that Jameis Winston is returning next season: "There's been no decision on any player. We don't make those decisions until the end of the season."

The Buccaneers have until March 10 to make a decision regarding the tag. This gives them time to consider other options, such as free-agent-to-be Teddy Bridgewater. It seems likely, though, that Tampa Bay will give Winston one more chance to prove himself.

Prediction: Winston receives the non-exclusive franchise tag.

              

Amari Cooper and Byron Jones

PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA - DECEMBER 22: Dak Prescott #4 of the Dallas Cowboys warms up before the game against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field on December 22, 2019 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
Patrick Smith/Getty Images

The Dallas Cowboys have several tough decisions to make regarding pending free agents. Two of them involve 2015 first-round selections—wideout Amari Cooper and cornerback Byron Jones. Cooper, who was acquired from the Oakland Raiders last season, was the fourth overall pick. Jones was Dallas' pick at No. 27.

The big issue for Dallas is that quarterback Dak Prescott is also up for free agency. Given the importance of the quarterback position and Prescott's level of play—he is a two-time Pro Bowler—he should take precedence.

According to CBSSports.com's Jason La Canfora, Prescott is the priority, while Cooper could be allowed to walk—especially if Dallas is forced to use the franchise tag to keep its quarterback:

"Sources said the only way that Cooper will not hit the market is if the tag is placed on him, but there is obviously only one tag to go around per team. With the receiver market limited by so many top players already signing extensions, and with Prescott set to go from earning less than $5 million in four years to over $33 million a year, the odds of keeping him and Cooper -- without Cooper on the tag -- are slim."

Dallas is expected to have more than $80 million in cap space, according to Over the Cap. However, that number will be significantly diminished if Prescott is signed to an extension or handed the franchise tag.

Regardless of how much the Cowboys have to spend, they are unlikely to give Cooper a hefty long-term deal. Cooper has been a fine No. 1 receiver for Dallas, but with 1,097 yards and eight touchdowns this season, he hasn't been elite.

According to La Canfora, the Cowboys may also eschew a new deal for Jones: "There has been no communication between the Cowboys and Jones, either, sources said, and no talks are expected."

A Pro Bowler in 2018, Jones is likely to garner considerable interest in free agency. This means he will likely carry a high price tag, one the Cowboys aren't interested in paying.

Prediction: Dallas tags Prescott, allows Cooper and Jones to Walk.