Notable NFL Free Agents Who Should Re-Sign with Their Teams
NFL free agency opens up several possibilities for the top players set to hit the open market. Veterans can head to new destinations, but that may not be the best move for many.
Even if there's more money on the table, some players should stay with their teams.
Every player has his own set of factors to consider during free agency—money, winning, supporting cast and coaching staff all come to mind. Interestingly, some veterans have everything they could possibly want or need without having to go elsewhere to find it.
We'll take a look at eight players who should think twice about suiting up for new teams or pushing their way out of town because of hardline contract negotiations.
All the selections below have the production to draw widespread interest as unrestricted free agents. Yet they're better off re-signing with their 2019 clubs because of familiarity with the system, ability to contend for a title or position status and stability.
QB Tom Brady, New England Patriots
We have to connect the dots to figure out what's best for Tom Brady.
First, according to NFL Network's Mike Giardi, salary won't be the most significant factor in Brady's free-agency decision.
"Just talked to someone I trust. He doesn't believe that Brady is demanding $30 million or more a year. The weapons add is a priority, however," Giardi tweeted.
Brady may have dropped a subtle hint on his Instagram story. He posted a text overlay that read, "I'm not wearing a blazer to the Super Bowl next year."
Based on Brady's message, he probably wants to play for a solid playoff contender. He'll be 43 years old, so don't expect him to shoulder the load on a rebuilding squad.
The Silver and Black just finished Year 2 of a rebuild under head coach Jon Gruden. The offense doesn't feature a dynamic No. 1 wide receiver.
The Chargers could have plenty of offensive playmakers if they re-sign tight end Hunter Henry and match any offers for restricted free-agent running back Austin Ekeler. They'd join wideouts Keenan Allen and Mike Williams.
However, Los Angeles has some questions on its offensive line. At 32 years old, left tackle Russell Okung struggled to stay healthy last season, missing 10 games because of blood clots and a groin injury. Right tackle Sam Tevi has allowed 11.5 sacks over the last two campaigns, per STATs (via the Washington Post). Right guard Michael Schofield III will hit free agency.
Brady should go back to a 12-4 Patriots team that fielded the No. 1 scoring defense and gave up the fewest yards. He won't have to learn a new system with offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels on the sideline for another season.
New England could add a wide receiver in this year's deep draft class. The front office could pursue Austin Hooper or Eric Ebron to fill the void at tight end.
If Brady seeks weapons on a contending squad, the Patriots certainly check the latter box under head coach Bill Belichick. Last year, team brass took a proactive approach in adding wide receiver talent. New England signed Antonio Brown, which didn't work out, and acquired Mohamed Sanu Sr. from the Atlanta Falcons before the 2019 trade deadline.
QB Dak Prescott, Dallas Cowboys
In 2019, the Dallas Cowboys racked up a lot of points (sixth) and yards (first) but not enough wins (they finished 8-8). As a result, the team fired 10-year head coach Jason Garrett and hired Mike McCarthy.
With a significant fourth-year leap, Dak Prescott logged career highs in passing yards (4,902) and touchdowns (30). In 2020, he could play under a Super Bowl-winning head coach who's worked with Hall of Famer Brett Favre and one of the top active quarterbacks in Aaron Rodgers. He knows how to optimize talent at the position.
Unlike Garrett, who had the same number of .500 seasons as winning campaigns, McCarthy may be able to elevate the Cowboys beyond mediocrity. He led the Green Bay Packers to the playoffs in nine out of 13 terms with a postseason victory in six of those years.
According to David Moore of the Dallas Morning News, Prescott is disappointed in the progress of negotiations with the Cowboys, but he shouldn't feel discouraged about re-signing.
When it comes to putting his chips behind a quarterback, team owner Jerry Jones and executive vice president Stephen Jones seem eager to retain their ascending signal-caller. The latter said contract talks are "fixing to heat up," per Clarence E. Hill Jr. of the Forth Worth Star-Telegram.
Last year, Prescott benefitted from a strong supporting cast with Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, Randall Cobb and Jason Witten as contributors to the passing attack along with the league's fourth-best rusher in Ezekiel Elliott behind him.
If the Cowboys keep Cooper, Prescott won't find many offensive groups more talented than the unit in Dallas. He should be eager to return with all the weapons around him.
QB Ryan Tannehill, Tennessee Titans
Last season, the Tennessee Titans advanced to the AFC Championship Game for the first time since the 2002 campaign. Ryan Tannehill made his playoff debut after sparking the team's improbable run. The two parties made significant strides together.
Titans head coach Mike Vrabel showed faith in Tannehill, inserting him into the starting lineup over Marcus Mariota in Week 7, which jump-started a career rebirth for the 31-year-old signal-caller.
Tannehill injected life into a sluggish passing attack that averaged 187.7 yards per game with only seven touchdowns through the first six weeks under Mariota. After the switch, the Titans averaged 245.6 yards with 22 touchdowns.
Tannehill also built a strong rapport with one of the Titans' premium investments, rookie second-rounder A.J. Brown. The first-year wideout ranked seventh leaguewide in receiving yards (778) with 20.5 yards per catch from Week 7 to 17.
While Tannehill could command $30.6 million on the open market, per Spotrac, he should keep his sights set on the Titans to build upon that strong second half. The two sides can rejoin forces, and Tennessee will remain a contender in the AFC.
If the Titans re-sign running back Derrick Henry, Tannehill would have a top ball-carrier, a big-play wideout and a top-12 scoring defense that could improve under Vrabel, whose coaching background is on that side of the ball. (Tennessee ranked third in his first year in 2018.)
Though he may see dollar signs, Tannehill should focus on the wins he could pile up with a balanced Titans roster.
RB Derrick Henry, Tennessee Titans
Derrick Henry may have the most value with the Titans, which explains why he should sign a long-term deal to stay in Tennessee.
Henry doesn't have the skill set of more modern-day running backs Christian McCaffrey, Alvin Kamara and Saquon Barkley. All three of those players have multiple 50-catch seasons with at least one term of 80 or more receptions. Henry doesn't have 19 grabs in a single campaign.
At 6'3", 247 pounds, Henry fits the mold of a powerful downhill tailback with one dimension. If the Titans offer a multiyear contract worth $40-50 million, the four-year veteran should take the opportunity.
In today's league, teams simply expect more from running backs. Unless Henry develops his pass-catching skills, he should remain with the Titans as the engine to the ground attack.
As the 2019 rushing champion with 303 carries for 1,540 yards and 16 touchdowns, Henry does have tremendous worth. However, there are few other places where he could land and become the focal point of the offense without catching more passes.
Henry's role has grown every year. Clearly, the Titans trust him with the ball. Despite his limitations, he has provided the offense with an identity.
Assuming Tennessee keeps a pass-catching back on the roster, whether it's Dion Lewis or someone else, Henry will still be a great fit. He can continue to realize that, though he may have to accept less contract value than the top three highest-paid dual-threat running backs: Ezekiel Elliott, Todd Gurley II and Le'Veon Bell.
WR Emmanuel Sanders, San Francisco 49ers
Emmanuel Sanders doesn't have to go elsewhere to play for a contender. He landed in a good spot before the trade deadline.
In October, the Broncos granted Sanders' request for a trade, sending him to the San Francisco 49ers, who advanced to Super Bowl LIV. He played under a creative play-caller in head coach Kyle Shanahan. The 32-year-old wideout hauled in three touchdown passes and threw one in 10 games.
One of the most innovative offensive minds in the game, Shanahan can make good use of Sanders' precise route-running ability and reliable hands. The 10-year veteran logged a 68 percent catch rate last season. He also recorded two 110-plus-yard performances with the 49ers.
Even after the emergence of rookie wideout Deebo Samuel late in the season, Sanders could still serve as the No. 1 option in the passing game. San Francisco would have a proven player to keep the chains moving in case the South Carolina product takes a step back or struggles in his sophomore campaign.
On most other teams, Sanders, who will turn 33 years old in March, would probably list as the No. 2 or No. 3 pass-catching option. Because the 49ers have a young group at wide receiver, the two-time Pro Bowler has an inside track to piling up targets, which could lead to another highly productive season.
According to ESPN's Nick Wagoner, the impending free agent seems open to an extended stay in San Francisco.
"At the end of the day, I enjoyed this season," Sanders said. "I love the Niners organization, so we're going to see what's to happen."
If Sanders re-signs with the 49ers, he'd likely have a sizeable offensive role on a potential perennial contender. That sounds like an ideal situation as opposed to starting over elsewhere and having to establish chemistry with another quarterback.
EDGE Shaquil Barrett, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Some players put together breakout seasons and want to capitalize on their production. That's a logical strategy—one that could apply to Shaquil Barrett.
Barrett earned the 2019 sack title, logging 19.5 through 16 contests with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. After serving as a backup for five seasons in Denver, he is in the spotlight with the numbers to command a lucrative contract.
Barrett can cash in on the open market. He's going to weigh his options. The six-year veteran appeared on Sirius XM Mad Dog Sports Radio and discussed free agency (h/t JoeBucsFan.com):
"If [other teams] offer me more than Tampa, I'm going to look at the places; if they offer me more than Tampa, I'm going to look at what their taxes is compared to Tampa's. Because I ain't going to live in L.A. and get taxed crazy.
"I'm not going to take drastically less but I am open to doing what I think is best for my career, and I think that would be staying in Tampa."
Barrett deserves credit for a stellar season, but he also benefitted from playing off a stout defensive line featuring 660 pounds of size between defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh and Vita Vea. He may not have the same massive front to occupy blocks at his next destination if he follows the money.
The Buccaneers can re-sign Suh or replace him with a top prospect in the 2020 draft to maintain a sturdy front line. With head coach Bruce Arians adamant about retaining Barrett, the 27-year-old edge-rusher should be eager to return.
EDGE Bud Dupree, Pittsburgh Steelers
The Pittsburgh Steelers have an abundance of pass-rushing talent within their front seven.
T.J. Watt has emerged as an All-Pro edge-rusher. Defensive end Cameron Heyward provides consistent pressure on the interior, logging at least eight sacks in each of the last three seasons. Linebacker Vince Williams had an eight-sack 2017 campaign.
A first-round pick in the 2015 draft, Bud Dupree had an underwhelming stretch, logging 20 sacks in four terms. He exploded in his contract year, registering 11.5.
Perhaps Dupree needed a little motivation. Free agency can have that effect on players seeking significant pay raises on the open market. Then again, he may have been aided by an improved secondary that forced quarterbacks to hold on to the ball a little longer.
Along with Heyward and Watt, Dupree would team up with a stingy pass defense that allowed the third-fewest yards last term.
Last offseason, the Steelers signed cornerback Steven Nelson. During the 2019 campaign, general manager Kevin Colbert acquired safety Minkah Fitzpatrick from the Miami Dolphins. The two defensive backs combined for 17 pass breakups and six interceptions. Joe Haden had an exceptional year, registering five picks and 17 pass breakups.
Because of Dupree's modest production through his first four years, it's hard to believe he could spearhead a pass rush without a strong supporting cast around him.
The Steelers will make Dupree a priority this offseason. He should feel enthused to re-sign with a team that features a defense with multiple All-Pros (Heyward, Watt and Fitzpatrick).
In a wider scope, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's return should propel Pittsburgh back into playoff contention, giving the veteran edge-rusher a chance to shine on a bigger stage.
S Justin Simmons, Denver Broncos
This agreement isn't likely to come with bumps on the offseason road. Though contract talks between Justin Simmons' agent and the Broncos haven't materialized into anything serious, per 9News' Mike Klis, the safety doesn't seem inclined to play hardball.
"My whole idea is I can't control it if it happens or not," Simmons said concerning the franchise tag. "But if it does happen, I don't know if I'm the type of guy who would sit out. Playing is my passion, and if it happens, it happens."
Despite coming off his best season, Simmons wouldn't balk at a one-year deal, likely because of the Broncos' system, which has shined a light on his talent. In Klis' report, the 26-year-old spoke about the team's decision-makers and head coach Vic Fangio defense.
"Obviously, we'd like to get a long-term deal done, and speaking with [general manager John] Elway and all the guys there, they're great and I love the system," he said. "I think the system fits for both parties—for myself and for Vic."
Simmons has the right mindset, and the four-year veteran will probably continue to perform at a high level. Assuming that's the case, the ball-hawking free safety should eventually earn a top-dollar contract.
As a defensive coordinator or head coach, Fangio has put together nine top-10 scoring defenses. In Chicago, safety Eddie Jackson, a 2017 fourth-rounder, broke out under the play-caller during the 2018 campaign, logging six interceptions and 15 pass breakups.
Not to take anything away from the playmakers, but Fangio has a proven system that's fared well with multiple teams, dating back to the Carolina Panthers in the mid-1990s.
With coverage safeties such as Jackson, Eric Reid and Dashon Goldson flourishing under Fangio in recent years, Simmons should feel confident he can show his abilities within the Broncos scheme.
Furthermore, Simmons will have edge-rushers Von Miller and Bradley Chubb forcing errant throws via pocket pressure, which makes the defensive backs' jobs a little easier.
If he's patient in Denver, Simmons could become a well-paid perennial Pro Bowler.