The NFL is expected to start free agency on Wednesday at 4 p.m. ET. Several high-profile quarterbacks and a number of defensive stars are on the verge of massive paydays, but it remains possible they will have to wait to sign those contracts.
The coronavirus pandemic continues to grow and is changing the way people work and live at a dizzying rate. Sports leagues are shutting down, and while the NFL is months out from the start of a new season, the business of getting there could become increasingly difficult. The league says it has no plans to delay free agency, but ProFootballTalk's Mike Florio reports a delay is still on the table.
Until such a decision is made, players and teams will be focused on making sure they are ready for Wednesday. There's plenty of chatter and speculation surrounding quarterbacks like Tom Brady and Philip Rivers, but defensive stars and a big-time running back are also creating a buzz.
Derrick Henry has emerged as one of the top running backs in the league over the past two seasons. In 2018, his third year in the league, he cracked 1,000 yards rushing and scored 12 touchdowns. In 2019, he led the NFL in rushing attempts (303), yards (1,540) and rushing touchdowns (16, tied with Green Bay's Aaron Jones). He also had a historic stretch that saw him rack up more than 180 yards on the ground in three straight games.
He has finished his contract and could become a free agent, and while many teams would love to have him bulldozing opposing defenses, there are signs he could remain with the Tennessee Titans.
On Thursday, NFL Media's Ian Rapoport tweeted that the Titans had released running back Dion Lewis and are prepared to make a big offer to Henry:
The Titans would be foolish to let Henry walk, and sticking with the team could be what's best for the Alabama alumnus. The Titans were on the verge of a Super Bowl appearance last year, and their offensive line does an excellent job of clearing space at the line of scrimmage so that Henry can reach the second level with a full head of steam.
Henry is 26, which means Tennessee can be fairly confident he has another three to four years before he slows down. He also does his best work in the latter half of the season, when defenses are wearing down and the games grow in importance. If Titans give this gridiron colossus a top-shelf offer, it would be the right move for both sides.
Cornerback Byron Jones seems likely to leave the Dallas Cowboys, and the bidding war for his services could be one of the most compelling storylines early on in free agency.
According to Yahoo Sports' Charles Robinson, Jones is going to cost a king's ransom:
Jones, a former first-round pick who made the Pro Bowl in 2018, is generating interest from several teams. On Friday, The Athletic's Connor Hughes (subscription required) wrote that sources told him the New York Jets had "done their homework" on Jones but that the Philadelphia Eagles are the front-runners to land him.
It would be a crushing blow to Cowboys fans if Jones went to their NFC East rival. The 27-year-old has been consistent over his four years in the league. His detractors like to point out that he has only two career interceptions. A few more game-changing plays would be nice, but it's hard to rack up picks when quarterbacks aren't throwing your way much.
Jones is capable of suffocating wide receivers and is a fine tackler, giving defensive coordinators plenty of peace of mind. He is going to make a healthy amount of money this offseason, and the team that signs his checks will likely be delighted they made that decision.
NFL Media's Tom Pelissero had an interesting piece Wednesday about which players are likely to vastly improve their financial situations in free agency, partly due to the uncertainty surrounding the negotiations over the league's collective bargaining agreement. One player who could end up making a big splash is Los Angeles Rams linebacker Cory Littleton.
Here's Pelissero's take: "The Rams could tag Cory Littleton. If not, teams believe his contract could be in line with the likes of Carolina's Shaq Thompson and Jacksonville's Myles Jack, meaning upwards of $13.5 million a year."
Like Jones and Henry, Littleton is set to hit the market after finishing his four-year rookie contract. While he is somewhat overshadowed by the likes of Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey, Littleton is a dynamic force. In 2018, his first full year as a starter, he had 125 total tackles, four sacks and three interceptions, earning his first Pro Bowl selection. Littleton didn't make the Pro Bowl last season, but he had similar numbers: 134 tackles, 3.5 sacks and two interceptions.
Pro Football Focus has crunched the numbers and found Littleton to be among the most efficient tacklers in the league (h/t Stu Jackson of the team's official site). He may not be the flashiest player, but it's possible we will soon find out his market value. It could be quite a bit more than what many people expect.