NFL Free Agents 2020: Projecting Homes for Best Players on Post-Draft Market

Chris Roling@@Chris_RolingFeatured ColumnistApril 30, 2020

NFL Free Agents 2020: Projecting Homes for Best Players on Post-Draft Market

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    Mike McCarn/Associated Press

    With the 2020 draft concluded and a long summer stretch ahead in the NFL, front offices can once again turn back their attention to the free-agent market.

    There, teams in need will find plenty of worthwhile players available across a smattering of important positions. Whether it's a notable pass-rusher or former franchise quarterback, the market seems to hold a little more than it does in most years.

    The best free agents left offer a mix of proven production and projected upside. Their best fits are teams willing to put them in notable roles on agreeable terms given factors like age and ability to help fill a need.

    These are the best free agents left plus their ideal landing spots.

LT Jason Peters

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    Michael Perez/Associated Press

    Jason Peters always figured to have a long stay on the open market.

    Age is a big part of it. With a rare strong offensive tackle draft class inbound, most teams probably weren't going to take a risk on a 38-year-old.

    But now that the draft is over, teams in need might loop back. Age is but a number, and Peters missed only three games last year and none the year before that. In 2019, he was graded a strong 82.4 at Pro Football Focus with just three sacks allowed.

    Peters is in one-year deal territory until he hangs up his cleats. A team that didn't find a starting-caliber player but needs one—such as the Washington Redskins or Cincinnati Bengals—would be the best fit. Instead of hinging Dwayne Haskins Jr.'s development on a swing tackle such as Geron Christian Sr., the Redskins could use Peters as a stopgap before throwing a premium pick at the problem next year.

    Best Fit: Washington Redskins

CB Logan Ryan

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    Steven Senne/Associated Press

    Logan Ryan was another candidate for a long stay on the market thanks to a tandem of the contract he deserves and a strong draft class.

    Ryan, still just 29, remains one of the NFL's better slot corners and last year tallied 113 tackles over 16 games while permitting just 68 completions on 103 targets. He's presumably looking somewhere in the neighborhood of the $10 million the Tennessee Titans paid him last year.

    A getting-over-the-hump team that needs help in the secondary—such as the New York Jets or Dallas Cowboys—would fit. While the Jets used a third-round pick on defensive back Ashtyn Davis, Ryan would fill a more defined role with proven production to boost the Jamal Adams-led unit.

    Before the draft, Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News reported the Jets were interested in Ryan. It was a logical link before the report and remains so even after the draft.

    Best Fit: New York Jets

CB Darqueze Dennard

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    Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

    Darqueze Dennard has featured in one of the stranger free-agent stories of the last few years.

    An offseason ago, Dennard tested the market but rejoined the Cincinnati Bengals on a one-year deal before undergoing knee surgery, which delayed his season debut until Week 7. This offseason, he has had a deal fall through with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

    It's odd, as Dennard is only 28 years old and one of the NFL's better slot corners. He graded along typical terms last year with a 72.2 at PFF. A steady tackler, the 2014 first-round pick also permitted only 17 completions on 35 targets over nine games last season.

    While Dennard has durability issues (he's played 16 games just once), he would fit smartly on a team such as the rebuilding Carolina Panthers or Miami Dolphins. Carolina lost James Bradberry in free agency and didn't draft a corner until the fourth round (Troy Pride Jr.). Dennard could come in and offer steady, proven production while playing slot or boundary on a presumably short deal.

    Best Fit: Carolina Panthers

TE Delanie Walker

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    Delanie Walker could provide a cultural boon for a team as much as he is a reliable veteran tight end.

    Turning 36 in August, Walker played only eight games with Tennessee over the past two seasons. But if his body is right, the production will follow, as he had four straight seasons of 800-plus yards with 20 touchdowns over that span (2014-17).

    Even a situational role for Walker would help a team such as the New England Patriots or Washington Redskins. After dramatically overhauling the front office this offseason, the Redskins need a locker-room boost, and Walker would fit. So would his game, which could help the development of Dwayne Haskins Jr. behind center.

    Washington didn't address tight end during the draft over eight selections after losing Vernon Davis and Jordan Reed. Walker could be a starter, which would be quite the value get in late April.

    Best Fit: Washington Redskins

EDGE Everson Griffen

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    Bruce Kluckhohn/Associated Press

    Everson Griffen remains one of the most intriguing names on the open market.

    Griffen is 32, but his pass-rushing production hasn't ever stopped. He has recorded eight or more sacks in five of the last six seasons. He hit that mark a year ago, when he was graded at a 77.6 at PFF and added 13 hurries and 35 pressures while playing 78 percent of snaps.

    Before the draft, Griffen would've made sense for a team such as the Seattle Seahawks. But they added a pass-rusher in the second round (Darrell Taylor), and the Minnesota Vikings didn't.

    Fittingly, Griffen dropped a "never say never" about a Vikings return, according to NFL Network's Tom Pelissero. A reunion on team-friendly terms that lets the veteran prove himself before hitting the market again could make sense for all parties.

    Best Fit: Minnesota Vikings

EDGE Cameron Wake

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    Phelan Ebenhack/Associated Press

    Notice a trend with the age-value tandem?

    Cameron Wake is another great example. He's 38, but that didn't stop him from registering an 83.5 grade at PFF last year. Injuries restricted him to nine games during his first season with Tennessee, but that marked only the second time since his rookie season of 2009 that he failed to play at least 14 games.

    Wake was nothing short of wildly productive. He played just 18 percent of snaps yet tallied 2.5 sacks, five knockdowns and 13 pressures.

    That's the sort of rotational production a contender such as the San Francisco 49ers or Baltimore Ravens would love to have in certain situations. Presumably, at this stage of his career, Wake would want a shot at a title, and he'd get it in San Francisco given the cap space, scheme fit and potential for a noteworthy rotational role.

    He should receive such a chance once teams are able to get him in-house for a medical check.

    Best Fit: San Francisco 49ers

EDGE Jadeveon Clowney

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    Chris Szagola/Associated Press

    Jadeveon Clowney would be the biggest name on the free-agent market were it not for a certain quarterback.

    And for good reason. The 2014 No. 1 overall pick is still just 27 years old and one of the league's premier defenders. But Clowney's production has seemed to clash with his monetary wants.

    According to ESPN's Jeremy Fowler, Clowney is willing to sign a short-term deal. That might have to happen, as Clowney recorded only three sacks last season. That shouldn't overshadow his elite 87.3 grade at PFF, nor his 31 tackles with just four missed, four forced fumbles and one interception.

    But Clowney isn't going to get paid like a guy who puts up double-digit sacks. And he may return for Year 2 with the Seahawks. Even after the draft, Seattle coach Pete Carroll said the team remains in touch with Clowney. It seems like a matter of coming to terms, and Clowney could maximize his value and production and then hit the market again.

    Best Fit: Seattle Seahawks

QB Cam Newton

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    Ben Margot/Associated Press

    In another strange saga, Cam Newton remains a free agent.

    The 2011 No. 1 pick was ousted from a rebuild in Carolina and has had a muted market for presumably various reasons. Most prominently, injury concerns have chased him for the last couple of years. He played just two games last season, and coronavirus restrictions have perhaps limited teams' abilities to get as much info as they'd like.

    But Newton is still just 30 and was the 2015 MVP. He's the archetypal modern quarterback. When he played 14 games in 2018, he completed 67.9 percent of his passes with 24 touchdowns against 13 interceptions. He added 488 yards and four scores on the ground—all for a downward-spiraling team that was often criticized for its inability to get weapons around the quarterback.

    Newton to the New England Patriots seems like an inevitability. The Patriots didn't address quarterback after losing Tom Brady despite historically good classes in free agency and the draft. New England can't reasonably go into the season with Jarrett Stidham behind center while an MVP likely settles for a prove-it deal elsewhere.

    A Newton-Bill Belichick tandem storming to the playoffs and beyond would just feel—to the chagrin of 31 other fanbases—right.

    Best Fit: New England Patriots

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