Predicting Landing Spots for Top 2020 NFL Free Agents 2 Weeks from Draft

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxFeatured ColumnistApril 6, 2020

Predicting Landing Spots for Top 2020 NFL Free Agents 2 Weeks from Draft

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    Mike McCarn/Associated Press

    The 2020 NFL draft is less than a month away, and free agency is three weeks old. For many teams, this means that it's time to turn their attention from available veterans to rookie prospects. However, there are still some quality free agents available.

    Only five players from Bleacher Report's Top 50 Free Agents remain unsigned, but other top veterans have entered the market since the start of free agency. Here, we'll examine the best of the bunch and identify realistic landing spots.

    Choices are based on factors like impact potential, scheme fit, team needs and salary-cap space.

          

CB Eli Apple: Carolina Panthers

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    Will Vragovic/Getty Images

    Top 50 Rank: N/A

    Cornerback Eli Apple didn't make the initial top 50 list, but he is worth mentioning as a 24-year-old starting-caliber cornerback—Apple did come in at No. 58 on NFL.com's list of the top 101 free agents.

    Apple had previously agreed to a deal with the Las Vegas Raiders, but that deal fell through, and the corner is back on the market. After starting for most of two seasons with the New Orleans Saints, Apple could return to the NFC South.

    The Carolina Panthers have a need at cornerback after losing James Bradberry in free agency. While Apple would not be a one-for-one replacement for the team's former No. 1 cover man, he would provide valuable depth at the position. With youth on his side, Apple could be a long-term building block for the defense as well.

    Additionally, Apple would bring divisional experience to the table. His two seasons playing with Drew Brees could give Carolina the slightest of edges the two times it plays the Saints per season.

Edge Clay Matthews III: Baltimore Ravens

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    Top 50 Rank: N/A

    Pass-rusher Clay Matthews III was released by the Los Angeles Rams after the start of free agency and remains unsigned more than a week later. Given his age—he'll turn 34 in May—this isn't entirely unsurprising. However, Matthews proved just last season that he can still be a productive sack-artist. 

    In 13 games in 2019, Matthews produced eight sacks to go with 37 tackles and two forced fumbles.

    As a situational edge-rusher, Matthews would be a solid addition for the Baltimore Ravens. The Ravens have already added Calais Campbell this offseason, but improving their pass rush is an offseason priority.

    "We're trying to find guys that can get after the quarterback," general manager Eric DeCosta said, per the team's official website.

    DeCosta was discussing Baltimore's draft plans, but it's hard to believe that he wouldn't welcome Matthews. As NFL Network's Michael Silver pointed out after Matthews was released, the Ravens offered him more money than the Rams did last offseason.

QB Cam Newton: Los Angeles Chargers

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    Mike McCarn/Associated Press

    Top 50 Rank: N/A

    The Panthers officially released quarterback Cam Newton last week, instantly making him one of the top veterans on the market. Though health is a concern for the dual-threat quarterback, he did pass an exit physical, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter.

    "Newton passed the physical and is healthy, with both his shoulder and foot 'checking out well,' a source told Schefter," ESPN's David Newton wrote.

    The Los Angeles Chargers have an opening at quarterback after parting with Philip Rivers. Though Tyrod Taylor has shown that he can be a decent starting option, he isn't a long-term answer or likely to push L.A. past the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC West.

    Newton, if back to pre-injury form, could. He was voted NFL MVP in 2015, and it's not silly to think that he can regain that level of greatness. The Chargers would have to gamble on the possibility that Newton is at pre-injury form, but with Taylor as insurance, that's a bet the team can afford to make.

    Taylor, it seems, wouldn't shy away from the competition. He recently posted an Instagram photo of the two quarterbacks taking snaps together on a football field (h/t Gilbert Manzano of the So Cal News Group).

CB Logan Ryan: Detroit Lions

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    James Kenney/Associated Press

    Top 50 Rank: 49

    One of the top cornerbacks on the market, Logan Ryan may still be available because of his contract demands. According to NFL Media's Ian Rapoport, Ryan won't take less than $10 million per year.

    That's too rich for many teams this late in free agency, as there are 21 teams with less than $20 million in cap room.

    The Detroit Lions, who have roughly $30 million, are one of the teams that can afford Ryan. Adding him would make a lot of sense, too, as Detroit had the one of the league's worst pass defenses in 2019 and traded away No. 1 cornerback Darius Slay.

    While the Lions did sign Desmond Trufant, that one move isn't going to revitalize the cornerback position. Ryan would also be a fit for Matt Patricia's dense. Patricia was Ryan's defensive coordinator with the New England Patriots for four seasons.

OT Jason Peters: Cleveland Browns

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    Michael Perez/Associated Press

    Top 50 Rank: 43

    The Philadelphia Eagles allowed nine-time Pro Bowler Jason Peters to test the open market this offseason, and the 38-year-old tackle remains available. This is largely due to age and health concerns, as Peters has missed 12 games over the last three seasons. 

    However, when Peters is healthy, he is one of the best offensive linemen in the game. For a team seeking a short-term answer at left tackle, he is an ideal target. The Cleveland Browns are just such a team. They have a need at the position and are likely to target a left tackle with the 10th overall pick in the draft.

    Peters would be the perfect veteran mentor and insurance policy if the Browns do go that route.

    It's worth noting that Browns general manager Andrew Berry was with the Eagles in 2019 and has gotten a firsthand look at how much Peters still has in the tank. Spoiler alert: He's still very good. 

DE Everson Griffen: Cleveland Browns

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    Brett Duke/Associated Press

    Top 50 Rank: 42

    Defensive end Everson Griffen is another fit for the Browns, with a bit of a caveat. Cleveland has defensive end Olivier Vernon under contract for 2020 and would likely need to release him to open a role for Griffen opposite Myles Garrett.

    Parting with Vernon, though, would save the Browns $15.5 million.

    Griffen—who had eight sacks in 2019 and 26.5 over the last three seasons—would arguably be an upgrade over Vernon, who disappointed in his first year with the Browns. Vernon appeared in only 10 games this past season, amassing just 3.5 sacks and 26 tackles.

    As is the case with Peters, he also has a connection with the new Cleveland regime. Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski spent his entire 14-year NFL career with the Vikings before taking his current job in Cleveland. Defensive coordinator Joe Woods was Minnesota's defensive backs coach during Griffen's first four seasons.

QB Jameis Winston: Jacksonville Jaguars

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    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    Top 50 Rank: 13

    Quarterback Jameis Winston is not likely to find a starting job this offseason. Tom Brady took his with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Panthers signed Teddy Bridgewater to replace Newton, the Colts signed Philip Rivers, and the Chicago Bears traded for Nick Foles.

    That last move might have opened up a backup job for Winston, though. With Foles gone, the Jacksonville Jaguars only have Joshua Dobbs behind presumed starter Gardner Minshew II. Should Minshew falter—or perhaps outright show that his promising rookie season was a fluke—Winston could seize a starting opportunity.

    If Winston plays well in this theoretical scenario, he might just become Jacksonville's new quarterback of the future. At just 26 years old, Winston should have the bulk of his NFL career ahead of him.

    At worst, Winston would provide a veteran presence behind Minshew as the second-year signal-caller adjusts to new offensive coordinator Jay Gruden's system.

    Interestingly, Jacksonville is the betting favorite to be Winston's new home, according to FanDuel Sportsbook.

Edge Jadeveon Clowney: Seattle Seahawks

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    Chris Szagola/Associated Press

    Top 50 Rank: 6

    Edge-rusher Jadeveon Clowney's asking price has kept him on the market. According to ESPN's Dianna Russini, teams are not biting at his $20 million-per-year desires.

    The Seattle Seahawks have just $14.6 million in cap space, so they cannot meet his asking price either. However, a return to Seattle could provide a fair deal, a familiar home, a shot at the postseason and a chance for Clowney to reestablish his value in 2021.

    However, Clowney is not going to rush to a decision.

    "One growing thought around the league is that Clowney could take a while to find a new team, with some wondering if he could even wait into training camp," Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times wrote.

    If Clowney does remain unsigned near training camp, that could make a Seattle return more likely. The learning curve would be virtually nonexistent, and Clowney could essentially pick up where he left off at the end of 2019.

       

    Salary information via Spotrac unless otherwise noted.