The Worst Possible Landing Spot for Every Top NFL Free Agent
The start of NFL free agency is less than a week away. With the "legal tampering" period kicking off two days prior on March 16, there is likely to be a flurry of spending the moment the market officially opens.
With the salary cap expected to reach roughly $200 million, per NFL Network's Tom Pelissero, the spending will be fast, furious and monumental. Star players like Jadeveon Clowney, Amari Cooper and Brandon Scherff could be in line for market-setting deals.
However, going to the highest bidder isn't the same thing as going to the right team. The league's best pending free agents could be heavily compensated and still be miserable in their new homes if they land in a bad situation. How bad might those situations be? That's what we're going to examine here.
We'll take a look at the worst possible landing spots for the top-ranked free agents, according to Bleacher Report's Top 50—minus Dak Prescott and Drew Brees. Prescott will almost certainly be given the franchise tag if not re-signed by the Dallas Cowboys, while Brees has made it clear that he's not leaving the New Orleans Saints.
We're only looking at realistic landing spots here. So teams without adequate cap room or who parted with a player last offseason—like the Miami Dolphins and Ryan Tannehill—won't be considered.
10. TE Hunter Henry: Cincinnati Bengals
Los Angeles Chargers tight end Hunter Henry is a terrific pass-catcher who could fit in most offenses. However, the Cincinnati Bengals have a system that could fail to get the most out of him.
Cincinnati's offense was a major disappointment in its first year under head coach Zac Taylor, especially when it came to tight end Tyler Eifert. Despite playing in all 16 games for the first time in his career, Eifert finished with just 436 yards and three touchdowns.
Additionally, the Bengals have serious questions at the quarterback position. Andy Dalton is in the final year of his contract, and while presumed No. 1 pick Joe Burrow is expected to be an upgrade, he's completely unproven as a pro.
Cincinnati is coming off a season that featured two wins and the 30th-ranked scoring offense. None of that should scream "good fit" to Henry.
9. OG Brandon Scherff: New York Jets
It's worth noting that the Washington Redskins are eager to retain Pro Bowl guard Brandon Scherff.
"We're going to try to bring both guards back," new head coach Ron Rivera told Larry Michael on Redskins Nation (h/t JP Finlay of NBC Sports Washington).
Scherff will have options in free agency, though, and the New York Jets could be one of them. New York has a need at guard—The Athletic's Connor Hughes believes they'll be "all-in" on Joe Thuney and Graham Glasgow—and is armed with nearly $57 million in cap space.
However, the Jets haven't had a winning season since 2015, and Scherff may not enjoy going from one losing franchise to another. They also have had very little consistency on offense. Sam Darnold is still learning to play quarterback in the NFL, and Le'Veon Bell was a disappointment last year.
After being mired in offensive mediocrity in Washington, more of it could be downright demoralizing for Scherff.
9. S Anthony Harris: Miami Dolphins
Minnesota Vikings safety Anthony Harris was a star in 2019, amassing 60 tackles, 11 passes defended and six interceptions. However, 2019 was the only year in which Harris had elite production, and it's fair to wonder how much was a result of his surrounding talent.
Minnesota's pass rush produced 48 sacks, fifth-most in the league, and its offense averaged 25.4 points per game, eighth-most. That means opposing quarterbacks were regularly under pressure in the pocket and on the scoreboard. Harris capitalized on that pressure.
Should Harris wind up with the Miami Dolphins, he won't benefit from the same opportunity-creating scenarios. Miami had a league-low 23 sacks in 2019, and its offense averaged just 19.1 points per game.
Harris would have to play the center-fielder role for longer lengths of play clock in Miami—which could lead to a sharp decline in impact production.
8. OG Joe Thuney: Detroit Lions
Interior offensive line isn't a major need for the Detroit Lions right now. However, if Graham Glasgow leaves in free agency, it could become one. Given the New England Patriots connection, it wouldn't be a shock to see head coach Matt Patricia take a shot at Thuney in that scenario.
However, that Patriots connection could actually work against Thuney in his new home. The additions of former Patriots Trey Flowers and Justin Coleman have not paid huge dividends and could create undue pressure on the 27-year-old guard. If he struggles in the least, Thuney could be viewed as just another ex-New England mistake.
Additionally, Thuney could be looking at a pending regime change, as another poor campaign could mean the end of Patricia's tenure. He would also face slipping into obscurity with a downtrodden franchise and an underwhelming rushing attack (21st in 2019). Going to that from perennial contention could make for a difficult transition.
6. QB Tom Brady: Miami Dolphins
If Tom Brady doesn't re-sign with the Patriots, might he have interest in playing for a former New England coach while getting the chance to stick it to his former team? Perhaps, but he should still steer clear of the rival Dolphins.
Miami is in position to make a quick turnaround, owning three first-round draft picks and the second-most cap space in the NFL. However, the Dolphins are not equipped to become Super Bowl contenders immediately, which would be a huge problem for the soon-to-be 43-year-old.
Facing Bill Belichick twice a year could also be detrimental to Brady. After spending two decades getting the most out of the Michigan product, Belichick will know exactly how to attack him.
Losing to the Patriots twice a season would create the perception that Brady's success was a product of Belichick and not vice versa—perhaps the last thing Brady wants to see at this point in his career.
5. CB Byron Jones: New York Jets
There's a very real chance Dallas Cowboys cornerback Byron Jones does end up with the Jets this offseason. According to ESPN's Rich Cimini, New York is interested in Jones, along with Carolina Panthers corner James Bradberry.
However, New York would not be an ideal home for Jones.
The Jets have swung and missed on big-money cornerbacks before, most recently Trumaine Johnson, who was just released. Jones would come in with some very heavy expectations and would face immediate criticism should he struggle.
Jones, who is more of an off-coverage cornerback, wouldn't be a great fit for Gregg Williams' defense either. Williams has traditionally preferred press-man cornerbacks on the outside, which could lead to Jones being seen as merely average. Given his potential payday, that would make for plenty of backlash from the New York media.
4. EDGE Jadeveon Clowney: Cincinnati Bengals
Seattle Seahawks edge-rusher Jadeveon Clowney has made it clear he's more interested in winning a ring than getting a hefty payday.
"I'm trying to get to the Super Bowl by any means. That's what I'm looking for: Who's going to get me there? 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."
The Bengals, who won just two games in 2019, are not going to get Clowney to the Super Bowl in the immediate future. Yes, they could be on the upswing if Burrow is as good as advertised. However, the Bengals are not a quarterback away from contention.
Cincinnati's turnaround is likely to take two to three years at minimum, which could make the Bengals a horrible fit for the 27-year-old who is looking to win now.
3. QB Ryan Tannehill: Chicago Bears
The Tennessee Titans are trying to re-sign Ryan Tannehill, according to NFL Media's Ian Rapoport, so there's a chance the quarterback never makes it to market. If he does, though, several teams should be interested in the Texas A&M product who revived his career in 2019.
The Chicago Bears could be one of those teams. Though Chicago has been publicly supportive of Mitchell Trubisky, bringing in an experienced insurance policy—and some potential competition—would be far from the worst idea.
Here's the problem for Tannehill, though. He only recently got his NFL career back on track, and only after Titans starter Marcus Mariota was benched. Going back to a nearly identical situation a year later would be disappointing, especially with no guarantee of repeated results.
Chicago has struggled to put Trubisky in a position to succeed. Those struggles may not disappear with a different signal-caller under center.
2. EDGE Shaquil Barrett: Cleveland Browns
The Cleveland Browns could part with edge-rusher Olivier Vernon, who is due to earn $15.5 million in 2020. If they do, they'll have an opening opposite Myles Garrett, one that could intrigue 2019 sack leader Shaquil Barrett.
However, if Barrett isn't re-signed by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers before March 18, he should steer clear of the Browns in free agency. Last season, Cleveland carried a reputation as a group of high-profile, high-priced personalities, rather than as a team. Barrett would do well to avoid that after finally breaking out as an elite sack artist.
Reuniting with Browns defensive coordinator Joe Woods may seem tempting at first blush—Woods was Denver's defensive coordinator in 2017 and 2018. However, it's worth noting that Barrett was a part-time player with just 7.0 total sacks in those two seasons. Could Barrett really trust Woods to utilize him properly given a second chance? Probably not.
1. WR Amari Cooper: Washington Redskins
The Cowboys could be closing in on a contract extension with Cooper, according to ESPN's Ed Werder. If they don't, the division rival Redskins could try to pounce.
"Whoever the quarterback is, I'd expect the Redskins to look hard at the receiver market," Albert Breer of Sports Illustrated wrote. "Amari Cooper is one player to watch."
The former Alabama star may want to look elsewhere.
Washington's offensive situation is very much unsettled. The new regime is still getting to know Dwayne Haskins, who was mostly underwhelming as a rookie. There is little consistency to the running game, and second-year wideout Terry McLaurin is the only high-end pass-catcher on the roster.
In other words, Cooper would be in a situation similar to the one he had with the Oakland (now Las Vegas) Raiders in 2017 and 2018—facing plenty of double coverage and few eight-man boxes. Cooper largely disappeared from the stat sheet before reemerging as a star with Dallas. He should have no desire to go back.
All cap information via Spotrac.