NFL Free-Agent Signings That Make So Much Sense They Feel Bound to Happen

Maurice Moton@@MoeMotonFeatured ColumnistFebruary 13, 2020

NFL Free-Agent Signings That Make So Much Sense They Feel Bound to Happen

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    As we look ahead to NFL free agency, which begins March 18, some signings seem to fit like a glove. Oftentimes, a player will choose to reunite with a coach or has the skill set to fill a need. That type of pairing is easier to spot before it materializes into a done deal. 

    Last year, the Detroit Lions signed defensive end Trey Flowers, which made sense because of his ties to head coach Matt Patricia from New England and the void at defensive end as Ezekiel Ansah tested the free-agent market.

    Usually, it's not that easy to connect the dots, but there are logical reasons for certain teams to target specific veterans.

    Let's take a look at eight players likely to sign with new clubs and why their landing spots seem most probable. Like Flowers last offseason, many of them have been connected with possible suitors based on familiarity with a coach.

    In all cases, the player addresses a question mark on the depth chart. We'll also take into account projected salary-cap space, per Spotrac.


QB Philip Rivers Signs with the Indianapolis Colts

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    The Los Angeles Chargers will start a new chapter at quarterback, moving on from Philip Rivers, who spent 16 seasons with the organization. 

    Days before the Chargers' announcement, ESPN's Jenna Laine confirmed the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' rumored interest in Rivers. The team will also pursue other veteran signal-callers.

    "League sources also say the Bucs have interest in Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Teddy Bridgewater and Ryan Tannehill, but the first two seem unrealistic," Laine wrote.

    Although Rivers "permanently" moved his family to Florida, per ESPN's Chris Mortensen and Adam Schefter, he may think twice about signing with a Buccaneers team that ranked 22nd in pass protection, per Football Outsiders. One destination makes more sense.

    The Indianapolis Colts, who aren't sold on Jacoby Brissett under center, can uplift their 30th-ranked passing attack with a more experienced starter. Rivers had a rough 2019 campaign, throwing for 23 touchdowns and 20 interceptions, but he recorded 4,615 passing yards while completing 66 percent of his attempts.

    Rivers would have a stable offensive line if the Colts re-sign left tackle Anthony Castonzo. Indy's unit ranked seventh in pass protection last season, per Football Outsiders. He'd also play alongside the No. 7 ground attack.

    Finally, Rivers has familiarity with head coach Frank Reich, who served as the offensive coordinator for two seasons under former Chargers head coach Mike McCoy. In those campaigns, the team fielded top-10 aerial attacks.

    The Colts have a projected $86.1 million in cap space, which would allow them to meet Rivers' contract demands and pursue more playmakers at wide receiver. NFL Network's Ian Rapoport also pointed to the Colts as "the most logical spot" for the 38-year-old signal-caller.

WR Demarcus Robinson Signs with the Philadelphia Eagles

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    This past season, wide receiver DeSean Jackson missed 13 games because of a core muscle injury. In three games, he hauled in nine out of 10 targets for 159 yards and two touchdowns. Apparently, the 33-year-old took that offensive spark with him to the sidelines. 

    According to Team Rankings, the Philadelphia Eagles averaged 9.7 yards per completion, 27th leaguewide. The passing attack didn't have a viable deep threat or a speedy receiver to extend plays after the catch, and quarterback Carson Wentz had to methodically move the ball downfield. 

    Per Jeff McLane of the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Eagles will look to add wide receiver help.

    "The Eagles will be looking to address the receiver position this offseason," McLane wrote. "While it's unclear if either Alshon Jeffery or DeSean Jackson will return, or in Jeffery’s case, even play because of a Lisfranc foot injury, Nelson Agholor, at the least, is unlikely to return."

    J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, a 2019 second-rounder, is the only certainty at wideout going into the 2020 campaign, though he's not a speedy threat on the perimeter. McLane highlighted Demarcus Robinson as a potential free-agent target. 

    "... The Eagles could have another opportunity to snag Robinson," he wrote. "He is slated to become an unrestricted free agent next month, and per NFL sources, [general manager Howie] Roseman and company have the 25-year-old receiver in their sights."

    Aside from Amari Cooper and A.J. Green, the free-agent wide receiver crop won't feature star names. Robinson makes sense because of the Eagles' financial capital tied to Jeffery ($15.7 million) and Jackson ($8.6 million) next season. 

    The Eagles can keep their top two wide receivers (Jeffery and Jackson) and acquire Robinson, who's not going to command a high salary after playing in a backup role for the majority of his four seasons in Kansas City. 

    Keep in mind the Chiefs have looming contract decisions on defensive tackle Chris Jones, cornerbacks Kendall Fuller and Bashaud Breeland and quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who will be eligible for an extension. Robinson, though he averaged 14 yards per catch in 2019, may be squeezed out of Kansas City for cap reasons. If so, the Eagles can swipe him off the market at a reasonable price.

TE Greg Olsen Signs with the Buffalo Bills

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    Tight end Greg Olsen thought the wording of "mutually" parting ways with the Carolina Panthers didn't quite fit the situation. Despite his desire to return, he discussed the team's decision to not bring him back during an appearance on the Wilson & Parcell show.

    Olsen later told ESPN 1000 he hopes to hear from the Chicago Bears—the team that selected him in the first round of the 2007 draft.

    The Bears could pursue Olsen, but the Buffalo Bills seem like a better fit because they need a more proven tight end in the passing game. The 34-year-old has already visited Buffalo and Washington, per ESPN's Adam SchefterFurthermore, he has a connection with head coach Sean McDermott.

    In 2011, former Panthers head coach Ron Rivera hired McDermott, while Olsen arrived via trade from Chicago. 

    While McDermott was the defensive coordinator, he's familiar with what the every-down contributor brings as a pass-catcher and blocker. The consummate tight end played 1,000-plus offensive snaps in each season from 2012-16 (Pro Football Reference's snap-count totals begin in 2012).

    The Bills have third-rounder Dawson Knox, who flashed as a rookie, but he's far from a polished playmaker, registering 28 catches for 388 yards and two touchdowns this past season. In May, Tyler Kroft broke his foot, which factored into a slow start to the 2019 campaign. He's only logged more than 11 receptions in one (2017) out of five seasons. 

    Olsen would be an immediate upgrade at tight end. In a conversation with Joseph Person of The Athletic, the 13-year veteran talked about avoiding rebuild situations, which makes Buffalo a more logical landing spot than Washington.

RG Brandon Scherff Signs with the Cleveland Browns

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    The Washington Redskins should make a concerted effort to re-sign three-time Pro Bowl right guard Brandon Scherff, but if he goes elsewhere, the Cleveland Browns need him on the offensive line. 

    Under former general manager John Dorsey, the Browns traded right guard Kevin Zeitler and a fifth-round pick to the New York Giants for defensive end Olivier Vernon and a fourth-rounder. 

    Between the 2017 and 2018 terms, Zeitler had been a stable component in the Browns' pass protection. He suited up for all 16 games and allowed just three sacks, per the Washington Post's STATs.

    In 2019, Cleveland ranked 17th in pass protection, per Football Outsiders, and shuffled the personnel at right guard under head coach Freddie Kitchens. Eric Kush opened the year at the position. Wyatt Teller took over for the majority of games in the second half of the season.

    The Browns can solidify the spot with a proven starter who has the accolades to suggest he's one of the top players leaguewide at his position.

    Under new head coach Kevin Stefanski, Cleveland hired Bill Callahan as its offensive line coach. He spent five seasons in the same position with the Redskins, directly aiding Scherff's development from 2015-19. 

    The Browns can use Callahan's connection with Scherff to replace Zeitler and bolster their offensive line for the long term.

DL Leonard Williams Signs with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    After the New York Jets fired Todd Bowles as head coach and hired Adam Gase, defensive lineman Leonard Williams experienced a drop-off in productivity.

    In seven games with the Jets this past season, Williams logged 20 tackles and zero tackles for loss. Gang Green traded him to the New York Giants for a 2020 third-round pick and a conditional 2021 fifth-rounder before the October deadline.

    According to ESPN's Rich Cimini, Bowles wanted to offer Williams a new contract before his dismissal, and Williams publicly defended Bowles during the Jets' struggles in 2018.

    "Todd Bowles is definitely the right guy," Williams said. "... I think people are too quick to give up on coaches or give up on our organization instead of allowing them to build when it takes time."

    Clearly, Bowles and Williams had mutual respect for each other, and the two could reunite in Tampa Bay.

    According to SNY's Ralph Vacchiano, Williams wants $15 million annually on his next deal, which may be a steep price for a rebuilding Giants squad. The Bucs are projected to have the third-most cap space at roughly $85 million, and Bowles may encourage them to pursue the 25-year-old.

    Interior defender Ndamukong Suh has an expiring contract, and he's going into his age-33 term. Tampa Bay can add a younger asset who's familiar with Bowles' system on the front line. 

    Under Bowles' tutelage, Williams put together a Pro Bowl 2016 season, logging 68 tackles, 11 tackles for loss and seven sacks. If the Buccaneers play-caller can bring out the best in the 6'5", 302-pounder, Tampa Bay could maintain a solid front that ranked first in run defense in 2019 and generate more pocket pressure on the interior.

DE Robert Quinn Signs with the Las Vegas Raiders

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    To the chagrin of many within the Las Vegas Raiders fanbase, the team fired well-respected defensive line coach Brentson Buckner and hired Rod Marinelli. 

    Marinelli worked in the same position under head coach Jon Gruden in Tampa Bay from 2002-05. 

    Fast-forward to 2020, and Marinelli has 24 years of experience on the pro level. Along the way, he's likely developed relationships with players who can help elevate the Raiders pass rush. The Silver and Black ranked 29th in quarterback pressures (117) this past season.

    As a defensive line coach in Dallas last year, Marinelli had a hand in Robert Quinn's best performance since his 2014 Pro Bowl campaign. In 14 contests, the 29-year-old logged 34 tackles, 13 tackles for loss and a team-leading 11.5 sacks.

    Now entering free agency, Quinn can follow the coach who heaped high praise on him this summer. According to USA Today's Jori Epstein, Marinelli drew similarities between Quinn and a Super Bowl-winning defensive end. 

    "Marinelli compared Quinn's work ethic to one of his former pupils, Simeon Rice, who amassed 122 [career] sacks and 28 forced fumbles," Epstein wrote. 

    The Raiders struck pass-rushing gold with rookie fourth-rounder Maxx Crosby (10 sacks), but No. 4 overall pick Clelin Ferrell only had 4.5 sacks. The latter shifted inside at the beginning of the 2019 campaign.

    With Las Vegas set to lose its second-best pass-rusher—Benson Mayowa (seven sacks)—to free agency, Marinelli may be able to lure a familiar face to produce pressure and become an example for Crosby and Ferrell.

DE/OLB Dante Fowler Jr. Signs with the Miami Dolphins

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    Unlike several players on this list, Dante Fowler Jr. isn't projected to follow a former coach. He's a good fit for the Miami Dolphins based on need.

    The Los Angeles Rams are unlikely to pull off enough cap-space saving tricks to pay Fowler after the 25-year-old recorded a career-high 11.5 sacks in 2019. Because of the high demand for edge-rushers, Fowler doesn't have a reason to accept a hometown discount when he could earn $16-18 million annually on the open market.

    Los Angeles is projected to have $23.3 million in cap space going into the 2020 offseason. General manager Les Snead will likely pay star cornerback Jalen Ramsey, whom the team acquired from the Jacksonville Jaguars for two first-round picks and a fourth-rounder.

    As an unrestricted free agent, expect Fowler to cash in on his production. He could land a lucrative deal with the Dolphins—a team that has a projected $93.7 million to spend and is in desperate need of a pass-rusher.

    This past campaign, the Dolphins ranked last in sacks (23) and quarterback pressures (95). Edge-rusher Taco Charlton led the team in the former category with five and only has nine in three seasons, including two disappointing campaigns in Dallas. 

    Miami attempted to land Jadeveon Clowney before the Houston Texans traded him to the Seattle Seahawks. He balked at the idea of signing the franchise tag, which would have enabled a trade to the Dolphins. The three-time Pro Bowler didn't want to play for a non-contender.

    Fowler can pressure the pocket with his hand in the dirt or standing up on the edge, which fits with head coach Brian Flores' tendency to mix even- and odd-man fronts.

    For two-and-half seasons in Jacksonville, Fowler lined up as a 4-3 defensive end. He transitioned to a 3-4 outside linebacker in Los Angeles under former play-caller Wade Phillips. As an effective pass-rusher in both alignments, the 2015 first-rounder should rank high on Miami's free-agent target list.

CB Logan Ryan Signs with the Detroit Lions

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    Logan Ryan's start with the Patriots may lead him to a Bill Belichick disciple in Detroit.

    The Patriots selected Ryan in the third round of the 2013 draft. He spent four seasons with the team, playing under former defensive coordinator (and current Lions coach) Matt Patricia.

    During the 2017 offseason, Ryan signed with the Tennessee Titans and played under then-head coach Mike Mularkey and former defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau.

    Former Patriots linebacker Mike Vrabel took over the Titans' lead skipper position in 2018, and Ryan put together his best statistical season this past year, logging 113 tackles, 4.5 sacks, 18 pass breakups and four interceptions.

    Unless Tennessee cuts Malcolm Butler and eats $6 million in dead cap, general manager Jon Robinson may be hesitant to keep two high-priced cornerbacks. Ryan would have to sign elsewhere for a big deal.

    The Lions will have a decent amount of cap space with a projected $45.1 million, and they have a need at cornerback, especially with the uncertainty surrounding Darius Slay, who's entering a contract year. According to ESPN's Jeremy Fowler, the Lions have engaged with Slay on an extension, but he could land on the trade market if talks stall or break off.

    If Detroit trades Slay, the secondary will need a quality veteran on the perimeter. Even with him on the field for 14 games in 2019, the Lions struggled, allowing the most yards through the air.

    General manager Bob Quinn can select top cornerback prospect Jeffrey Okudah in April's draft, or he could sign Ryan, who has a proven track record with Patricia overseeing a defense. 

    Because of the Lions' need at cornerback and the fact that the coaching staff is going into the 2020 season under some pressure, Ryan would be a great fit in Detroit.