Every Team's Realistic Dream Signing in 2020 NFL Free Agency
The beauty of NFL free agency is that teams have opportunities to handpick players suited to fill their needs. The odds of not getting the chance to address a need are lower than they are in the draft, in which a run on a position can leave a club out of luck.
While overpaying is sometimes required, Squads can often land the players they want by shelling out the most cash. This isn't always the case, as players can have other priorities. Generally, though, cap-rich team can fill needs quickly.
Teams with limited cap space have to be more frugal in free agency, but they can usually create enough room to address a need or two. They just have to be more realistic about the players they target.
The Pittsburgh Steelers, who are projected to be over the salary cap, aren't going to add Derrick Henry to their backfield this offseason.
Here, we'll examine the realistic dream signing for the Steelers and the other 31 teams based on factors such as availability (players expected to get franchise-tagged are out), fit, productivity, health and cap room. To keep things interesting, we'll stick to one team per pending free agent.
Here's a look at every team's projected cap situation as of Saturday, per Spotrac:
1. Miami Dolphins, $93.7 million
2. Indianapolis Colts, $86.1 million
3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers, $85.0 million
4. Buffalo Bills, $83.1 million
5. Dallas Cowboys, $74.0 million
6. New York Giants, $73.3 million
7. Houston Texans, $63.0 million
8. Washington Redskins, $61.9 million
9. Cleveland Browns, $58.3 million
10. New York Jets, $56.1 million
11. Los Angeles Chargers, $55.9 million
12. Denver Broncos, $53.4 million
13. Seattle Seahawks, $52.8 million
14. Las Vegas Raiders, $51.6 million
15. Tennessee Titans, $47.8 million
16. Cincinnati Bengals, $47.6 million
17. Detroit Lions, $46.8 million
18. Philadelphia Eagles, $45.6 million
19. New England Patriots, $44.0 million
20. Arizona Cardinals, $39.3 million
21. Jacksonville Jaguars, $33.8 million
22. Baltimore Ravens, $31.0 million
23. Carolina Panthers, $24.7 million
24. Chicago Bears, $24.7 million
25. Los Angeles Rams, $23.3 million
26. Kansas City Chiefs, $19.2 million
27. Green Bay Packers, $18.5 million
28. San Francisco 49ers, $17.9 million
29. New Orleans Saints, $12.3 million
30. Atlanta Falcons, $4.5 million
31. Minnesota Vikings, $0.7 million
32. Pittsburgh Steelers, minus-$2.2 million
Arizona Cardinals: RB Kenyan Drake
In the second half of last season, the Arizona Cardinals may have found a new franchise running back in Kenyan Drake. Drake racked up 643 yards and eight touchdowns in eight games, and re-signing him could make David Johnson expendable—eventually.
Johnson has $16.2 million in dead money on his contract this year. Next offseason, though, he could be released for just $3.0 million in dead money.
Drake is seeking a deal worth at least $8 million annually, according to CBS Sports' Jason La Canfora. Arizona has the cap space to pay him that, if necessary, giving Kyler Murray his backfieldmate of the future.
If Drake continues to thrive in Arizona, the Cardinals can then save $9 million by releasing Johnson next offseason.
Atlanta Falcons: EDGE Jason Pierre-Paul
Getting to the quarterback was a struggle for the Atlanta Falcons in 2019. Their defense produced a mere 28 sacks on the season while ranking 22nd against the pass. With the team having announced it won't work to retain edge-rusher Vic Beasley Jr., addressing the pass rush will be a big offseason priority.
The problem is that the Falcons have very little cap space with which to work.
One option might be veteran Jason Pierre-Paul, whose age (31) might make him affordable. Pierre-Paul played on a $3 million salary with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last year.
Pierre-Paul is still a productive edge-defender—he had 8.5 sacks in 2019—and his familiarity with the NFC South and its offensive linemen could be an added asset for the Falcons.
Baltimore Ravens: EDGE Vic Beasley Jr.
The Baltimore Ravens could use an influx of pass-rushing talent, and they're expected to pursue it this offseason, according to Bleacher Report draft analyst Matt Miller.
"The team also could look at pass-rushers early in this draft, according to sources within the organization," Miller wrote.
The Ravens have enough cap space to also pursue an edge-defender in free agency. This could be necessary if Baltimore franchise-tags Matthew Judon—something that is "on the table," according to general manager Eric DeCosta—and then trades him.
However, the Ravens don't have enough cap space to throw money at the position. A budget option may be necessary, and Vic Beasley Jr., who recorded 8.0 sacks in 2019, could be an ideal choice. An opportunity to revive his career could be appealing enough for Beasley to take a lesser deal.
Buffalo Bills: WR Amari Cooper
Though the Buffalo Bills have several fine complementary receivers—including John Brown and Cole Beasley—they don't have a No. 1 target for quarterback Josh Allen. Buffalo could add one by signing Beasley's former teammate, Amari Cooper.
Cooper is the best receiver scheduled to hit the open market this offseason. He's coming off a 1,189-yard campaign and continually commands the respect of opposing secondaries.
Cooper would give Allen a top player who can also help to open up the running game and underneath routes for Beasley and Co.
While Cooper won't come cheaply, Buffalo is projected to have the fourth-most cap space and can outbid most teams for him.
Carolina Panthers: LB Joe Schobert
The Carolina Panthers need to find a replacement for recently retired linebacker Luke Kuechly. Finding an equal for the five-time All-Pro will be next to impossible, but the Panthers can find an adequate replacement in linebacker Joe Schobert.
While not as physical as Kuechly, Schobert is an instinctive sideline-to-sideline defender. He amassed 133 tackles, two sacks and four interceptions in 2019 and recorded at least 100 tackles in each of the last three seasons.
The Cleveland Browns plan to allow Schobert to test the market, according to Nate Ulrich of the Akron Beacon Journal. This could allow the Panthers to swoop in to snag him.
Schobert would likely command a large chunk of Carolina's nearly $25 million in cap space, but he would fill a big need tremendously well.
Chicago Bears: TE Hunter Henry
Assuming the Chicago Bears stick with Mitchell Trubisky at quarterback, they would be wise to address the tight end spot. Trey Burton has been a disappointment, and Trubisky—who is still developing—could use a reliable outlet receiver.
Los Angeles Chargers tight end Hunter Henry could fill that role perfectly. Injuries have been an issue for the Arkansas product—he missed all of 2018 and four games last season—but Henry is an elite tight end.
In 12 games in 2019, he caught 55 passes for 652 yards and five touchdowns.
With just under $25 million in cap space, the Bears could afford Henry if he's priority No. 1 this offseason.
Cincinnati Bengals: WR Emmanuel Sanders
The Cincinnati Bengals are widely expected to select former LSU quarterback Joe Burrow with the No. 1 pick in April's draft. This means their goal in free agency should be preparing to field an offense talented enough for him to win with.
The Bengals already plan to franchise-tag wideout A.J. Green, according to ESPN's Jeremy Fowler and Dan Graziano. A dynamic and reliable No. 2 receiver would help flesh out the receiving corps. The sure-handed Emmanuel Sanders could be the perfect free-agent addition.
Sanders caught 68 percent of the balls thrown his way in 2019, according to Pro Football Reference. That's the sort of catch rate that can make a rookie quarterback comfortable.
A starting trio of Green, Sanders and Tyler Boyd—John Ross III is fast but unreliable—should allow Burrow to thrive during his inaugural campaign.
Cleveland Browns: RT Jack Conklin
If Cleveland ever hopes to get the most out of quarterback Baker Mayfield, it needs to upgrade the tackles blocking in front of him.
The Browns announced they had no plans to re-sign Greg Robinson even before his arrest. Cleveland should also look to move on from right tackle Chris Hubbard, who allowed six sacks and was whistled for eight penalties in 2019, per Pro Football Focus.
With a limited number of young left tackles set to be available in free agency, right tackle should be Cleveland's priority, leaving the left side for the draft.
If the Browns choose to go this route, there isn't a better option than Jack Conklin. Just 25 years old, Conklin was an All-Pro as a rookie in 2016 and has fully recovered from the torn ACL he suffered in the 2017 playoffs.
Dallas Cowboys: TE Tyler Eifert
The Dallas Cowboys have a challenge on their hands in trying to lock up both quarterback Dak Prescott and wideout Amari Cooper in the same offseason. At the same time, they need to address the tight end position, which was merely average with Jason Witten in 2019.
Prescott is obviously priority No. 1, but the Cowboys are expected to franchise-tag him if a deal isn't reached. As for tight end, Dallas might be smart to look at another longtime NFL starter. In this case, they should target the Bengals' Tyler Eifert.
While injuries have been an issue for Eifert, a lack of use in Zac Taylor's offense was a bigger problem in 2019. Eifert made just four starts but finished with 436 yards and three touchdowns.
The 29-year-old should have plenty of strong years ahead of him. He has tremendous upside and with the injury risk should fit into Dallas' long-term financial plans.
Denver Broncos: WR Randall Cobb
The Denver Broncos appear ready to move forward with Drew Lock as their starting quarterback. Fleshing out his receiving corps should be a priority this offseason. Aside from Courtland Sutton and Emmanuel Sanders—who was traded midseason—no wideout topped 300 yards.
Bringing Sanders back could be an option, but the Broncos should look instead at 29-year-old slot man Randall Cobb.
Cobb is still on the right side of 30 and extremely productive. He caught 55 passes for 828 yards and three touchdowns for Dallas last season. He would provide Lock with a reliable underneath target and help ensure that Sutton doesn't have to carry the passing game alone.
Detroit Lions: CB Chris Harris Jr.
The Broncos have agreed to trade for cornerback A.J. Bouye, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter. Though not yet official, this deal likely means Denver also plans to move on from cornerback Chris Harris Jr. in free agency.
If Harris is available, he would be an ideal fit for the Detroit Lions. Matt Patricia has traditionally utilized versatile defenders, and Harris is capable of playing on the outside and in the nickel. Harris would also fill a massive need for the Lions, who finished dead-last in pass defense.
According to Mike Klis of 9News, the Lions tried to trade for Harris before the 2019 deadline. With Harris now set for the open market, they can finish their pursuit.
Green Bay Packers: WR Phillip Dorsett
The Green Bay Packers have an elite wide receiver in Davante Adams. What they lack is a reliable No. 2 who can threaten defenses and make them pay for overshadowing Adams. Bringing back Randall Cobb could be an option, but if that doesn't happen, Phillip Dorsett might be a prime target.
The issue for the Packers is that they aren't loaded with cap space. They're projected to have $18.5 million, which means signing one of the top wideouts in free agency may be impossible.
Dorsett, who was merely a complementary receiver with the New England Patriots over the past three seasons, should be affordable. He also carries plenty of upside. He has speed that Aaron Rodgers could utilize on the outside, and he's still just 27 years old.
With Dorsett playing opposite Adams, opponents who cheat their safety toward Adams could end up paying in big ways.
Houston Texans: CB James Bradberry
If the Houston Texans hope to be more than a postseason afterthought in 2020, they need to upgrade their secondary. That was a major liability in 2019, as the Texans finished 29th against the pass.
Cornerback must be at the top of Houston's free-agency wish list, and Carolina's James Bradberry should be target No. 1. He is regarded as one of the top corners—if not the top corner—available on the market this year.
The 26-year-old is also looking for a hefty payday.
According to ESPN's Jeremy Fowler, Bradberry is hoping to get $15 million or more per year. While this could be a major problem for some teams, it isn't for the Texans, who are slated to have the seventh-most cap space.
Indianapolis Colts: QB Philip Rivers
The Indianapolis Colts remain unsold on Jacoby Brissett as their long-term starter, which could pave the way for a quarterback shake-up this offseason. According NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, that shake-up could involve Philip Rivers.
"There are many, many people who think Philip Rivers is going to ultimately end up as a member of the Colts," Rapoport said on NFL Now.
Rivers could indeed be an ideal fit for the short-term. He's an eight-time Pro Bowler with the sort of veteran savvy opposing defenses have to respect. Indianapolis will likely still utilize a run-first offense, but with such a stellar line, Rivers could also return to form as a passer.
Of course, this would only work in the short-term, and the Colts will have to set up a succession plan.
"I can say for certain that if I'm playing, it's a two-year maximum," Rivers said, per Sam Farmer of the Los Angeles Times.
Jacksonville Jaguars: DT Gerald McCoy
The Jacksonville Jaguars declined their 2020 option on defensive tackle Marcell Dareus, which opened up $20 million in valuable cap space. Of course, this also leaves a hole on the defensive line—unless the Jaguars can bring back Dareus at a cheaper price.
"He would still be a guy that we'd have interest in bringing back at some point in time," general manager David Caldwell said, per ESPN's Michael DiRocco.
If the Jaguars are looking for an actual upgrade, though, they should target Panthers defensive tackle Gerald McCoy. Even at 32 years old, McCoy is a disruptive interior lineman—he finished 2019 with 37 tackles, five sacks and two passes defended.
Ideally, the Jaguars could afford McCoy even if they franchise-tag Yannick Ngakoue—which is the plan, according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport (via NFL.com's Kevin Patra). McCoy played on a one-year, $8 million deal last season.
Kansas Ciy Chiefs: LB Danny Trevathan
Though it didn't prevent the Kansas City Chiefs from winning the Super Bowl, run defense was an issue in 2019. Kansas City ranked just 26th against the run and, at times was dominated by opposing ground attacks—specifically during the regular season.
Adding a quality run-stopping linebacker should be a priority, and Danny Trevathan could fit the bill. the eight-year veteran is still extremely productive—he had 70 tackles in nine games last season—and should be ready for the 2020 season after an elbow injury.
Injuries are a concern for Trevathan, who has played just three 16-game seasons. However, they should also keep his price down, fortuitous for a team with just over $19 million in projected cap space.
Las Vegas Raiders: LB Cory Littleton
The Las Vegas Raiders finished the 2019 season ranked 25th in pass defense. The Raiders could improve that ranking by adding one of the league's premier pass-defending linebackers in Cory Littleton.
Littleton recorded nine passes defended to go with two interceptions and 134 tackles with the Los Angeles Rams in 2019. Naturally, he would also be an asset for Las Vegas' run defense.
If the Raiders do pursue Littleton, they'll have plenty of competition for his services. The Packers, for example, are expected to have interest, according to Bill Huber of PackerCentral. Of course, Las Vegas has something to offer that teams such as Green Bay do not.
The Raiders are projected to have almost $52 million in cap space.
Los Angeles Chargers: LT Jason Peters
The Chargers recently agreed to trade Russell Okung to the Panthers for Trai Turner. While the move will land Los Angeles a talented up-and-coming interior offensive lineman, it will also leave the club looking for a new left tackle.
This is where longtime Philadelphia Eagles starter Jason Peters enters the equation. Though Peters is 38 years old and nearing the end of his career, he is still an above-average player.
The Eagles plan to let him test the open market.
While Peters would not be a long-term solution, he would ensure that whomever starts at quarterback in 2020 has a functional left tackle in front of him.
Los Angees Rams: RG Brandon Scherff
Last offseason, the Rams parted with center John Sullivan and guard Rodger Saffold III. That proved to be a mistake, as the line took a major step back in 2019.
"Those were really good football players, and it's not fair for these young guys to even have the expectation that they're going to play like that yet," left tackle Andrew Whitworth said on The Herd with Colin Cowherd.
The Rams can solidify one of their interior positions by adding three-time Pro Bowl guard Brandon Scherff.
Scherff would have to be Los Angeles' lone big-time target, as the team has just over $24 million in projected cap space. However, he would provide a major boost to the line, as the Iowa product is one of the top interior linemen in the league.
Miami Dolphins: EDGE Jadeveon Clowney
The Miami Dolphins are projected to have more than $96 million in cap space, the most in the NFL. They can essentially outbid any team for the player they want, and a pass-rusher should be atop the list. Miami produced just 23 sacks in 2019.
Jadeveon Clowney is expected to be the top edge-rusher in free agency this year—though it's worth noting money isn't his first priority.
"I ain't looking to get on no sorry team for no money," Clowney said, per ESPN's Brady Henderson. "That ain't going to fly."
While the Dolphins won just five games in 2019, this could be a quick turnaround for them. In addition to having so much cap room, they have a league-high three first-round draft picks. They're arguably closer to contention than the New York Giants, and New York is on Clowney's wish list, according to SNY's Ralph Vacchiano.
Minnesota Vikings: S Anthony Harris
This isn't a surprising choice, but for the Minnesota Vikings, re-signing safety Anthony Harris could be the right one. The Vikings are slated to lose defensive backs Trae Waynes, Andrew Sendejo and Mackensie Alexander in free agency. Of the three, Harris could be the toughest to replace internally.
Sendejo is a rotational player, and 2018 first-round pick Mike Hughes is waiting to take over at cornerback.
Re-signing Harris won't be easy. According to Dan Graziano and Jeremy Fowler of ESPN, the 2019 co-leader in interceptions (six) is expected to command more than $10 million per year, and the Vikings are "bracing for life without him."
Ideally, though, Minnesota will find a way to retain its standout safety.
New England Patriots: TE Austin Hooper
Quarterback Tom Brady is the most important free agent for the Patriots this offseason. However, to bring him back, New England may first have to show it is committed to surrounding him with talent.
This is where two-time Pro Bowl tight end Austin Hooper comes in. The 25-year-old is the sort of dynamic receiving tight end Brady is missing. In 2019, he finished with 75 receptions, 787 yards and six touchdowns. Hooper would also be a terrific fit for the Patriots scheme.
"While I don't view Hooper as a dynamic route-runner, he has a really good feel for finding open voids in zone coverage and creating leverage," ESPN's Matt Bowen wrote. "That meshes with the play-action game in New England."
If the Patriots kick off free agency by signing Hooper, it could help convince Brady to come back.
New Orleans Saints: QB Drew Brees
For the New Orleans Saints, re-signing quarterback Drew Brees is the most important goal of the offseason, and not just because they need him under center.
It's critical New Orleans gets a new deal done with Brees before the start of the new league year. If it does not, the phantom 2020 and 2021 years on his contract will void and the Saints will be out $21.3 million in cap space.
In a dream scenario, the Saints will get that deal done and push some of that cap money back once more to give themselves breathing room in free agency. With just over $12 million in projected space, New Orleans will have a difficult time adding to the roster in any capacity.
Paying out that cap hit and then not getting Brees would be a disaster.
New York Giants: EDGE Markus Golden
The Giants don't have many pending free agents who should be priorities. Edge-rusher Markus Golden is one, however, following a 10-sack campaign in 2019. It was a return to form for Golden, who hadn't had double-digit sacks since 2016.
Golden is interested in returning but isn't likely to sign at a discount.
"My understanding is Giants LB Markus Golden has interest in returning to the Giants but will also endeavor to test free agency," ESPN's Josina Anderson tweeted.
At 28, Golden is still in his prime and could be a key defensive piece for New York as it rebuilds.
New York Jets: LT Anthony Castonzo
The New York Jets' primary goal in 2020 should be to protect and develop quarterback Sam Darnold. Their offensive line was a disaster in 2019, allowing 52 sacks.
Left tackle Kelvin Beachum was responsible for four of those, along with nine penalties, according to Pro Football Focus. Beachum played 13 games and is scheduled to enter free agency.
The Jets should make a play for veteran left tackle Anthony Castonzo. The 31-year-old was responsible for just two penalties and three sacks in 1,076 snaps, according to Pro Football Focus. Perhaps more importantly, Castonzo has experience blocking for young quarterbacks such as Andrew Luck and Jacoby Brissett.
In New York, Castonzo could protect and help mentor Darnold.
Philadelphia Eagles: CB Byron Jones
According to SNY's Ralph Vacchiano, the Eagles are expected to land Cowboys cornerback Byron Jones in free agency. This would be a solid move in terms of fit—Jones was a Pro Bowler in 2018 and has experience in the NFC East—and need.
The Eagles finished the 2019 season ranked 19th in pass defense. They're also set to lose defensive backs Malcolm Jenkins, Rodney McLeod and Ronald Darby in free agency.
Jones would ensure that the Eagles have at least one top-end cornerback heading into 2020. It would also weaken the rival Cowboys in the process, which would be an obvious bonus for Philadelphia.
The Eagles are projected to have $46.5 million in cap space, so while Jones will be an expensive option, he isn't an unobtainable one.
Pittsburgh Steelers: TE Eric Ebron
The Steelers have one solid tight end in Vance McDonald, but they could use some additional talent at the position. Between McDonald, Nick Vannett, Zach Gentry and Xavier Grimble, Pittsburgh got just 53 receptions, 408 yards and three touchdowns out of its tight ends in 2019.
After a down year last season—375 yards and three touchdowns—Eric Ebron could be an affordable option for the Steelers, and a good one. The 6'4", 253-pound tight end can be a deadly mismatch in the red zone, as evidenced by his 13 touchdowns in 2018.
As is the case with any free agent the Steelers might sign this offseason, Pittsburgh will have to free up some cap space to land Ebron. If it does, Ebron could add even more potency to the offense during Ben Roethlisberger's return campaign.
San Francisco 49ers: FS Damarious Randall
The San Francisco 49ers could lose starting safety Jimmie Ward in free agency this offseason. While Ward is a solid player, injuries have to be a major concern for the 49ers. He has missed 32 games in six seasons.
If the 49ers allow Ward to walk, Damarious Randall would be a good replacement. He's just 27 years old and has 47 passes defended and 14 interceptions in five seasons. His ball-hawking ability and versatility—he played cornerback for three seasons with the Packers—would mesh nicely with Robert Saleh's defense.
With Randall soon to be on his third NFL team, the 49ers may be able to get him at a bargain price. That would be ideal, as San Francisco is expected to have less than $18 million in cap space.
Seattle Seahawks: RT Bryan Bulaga
Right tackle Germain Ifedi is scheduled to be a free agent, and the Seattle Seahawks would be wise to let him walk. While the 2016 first-round pick has shown flashes of promise, he has more often been a liability.
Ifedi was responsible for 13 penalties and six sacks last season, according to Pro Football Focus.
Seattle should replace Ifedi with steady veteran Bryan Bulaga. The longtime Packers starter has 10 years of experience and a playoff pedigree and hasn't had contract discussions with Green Bay.
"There's been no talk," Bulaga told ESPN Wisconsin's Wilde and Tausch (h/t The Athletic's Jason Wilde).
With Duane Brown anchoring one side and Bulaga anchoring the other, Russell Wilson might finally have the sort of reliable pass protection he's lacked for most of his career.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: QB Teddy Bridgewater
It continues to feel like quarterback Jameis Winston won't return to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2020. At the very least, the Bucs have not committed to bringing him back. Therefore, Tampa Bay needs to find a new starter, and that could be Teddy Bridgewater.
"This is actually the team that came up most in speculation among people I talked to at the combine," ESPN's Mike Triplett wrote. "Although Bridgewater seems to go against coach Bruce Arians' 'no risk it, no biscuit' approach, Arians has made no secret that Winston's 30 interceptions in 2019 were unacceptable."
At just 27 years old, Bridgewater is young enough to be a long-term option. The former Louisville star's 2016 knee injury is long behind him, as Bridgewater proved during a 5-0 starting stretch with the Saints last season.
While Bridgewater might not be the sort of gunslinger Arians prefers, he would give the Buccaneers a starter who isn't consistently throwing it to the opposition.
Tennessee Titans: QB Tom Brady
If the Patriots don't bring back Tom Brady, the six-time champion could be an ideal choice for the Tennessee Titans. Their championship window is wide-open, and Brady could spend the final years of his career chasing another title.
"This is the best realistic fit for Tom Brady," ESPN's Dan Orlovsky said on Get Up.
With A.J. Brown, Corey Davis, Delanie Walker and Derrick Henry—assuming the Titans re-sign Henry—on the roster, Brady would have the sort of weapons he lacked with the Patriots last season.
While this isn't a long-term solution for Tennessee, it would allow the Titans to contend over the next couple of seasons.
Washington Redskins: WR Robby Anderson
The Washington Redskins need to find a complement to receiver Terry McLaurin. The former Ohio State standout should be Washington's No. 1 receiver moving forward, but quarterback Dwayne Haskins Jr. doesn't have a high-end second option.
Former Jets receiver Robby Anderson could be that guy. He isn't suited to be a No. 1 pass-catcher, but he is a burner who could stretch the field and take a lot of attention away from McLaurin. Anderson has averaged 14.8 yards per catch for his career.
The Jets are making a push to retain Anderson, according to ESPN's Jeremy Fowler. However, Washington can afford to outbid New York if necessary.
With McLaurin and Anderson on the perimeter, Washington would have an exciting duo with which to kick off the Ron Rivera era.
Contract information via Spotrac.