NFL Free-Agent Signings That We're Still Waiting to Happen in 2020

Maurice Moton@@MoeMotonFeatured ColumnistMay 7, 2020

NFL Free-Agent Signings That We're Still Waiting to Happen in 2020

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    Several notable free agents remain available after the 2020 NFL draft. Teams concerned with the development of rookies and inexperienced players during virtual offseason programs could add veteran insurance late in the spring and early summer.

    Two factors contributed to an extended wait for many veterans.

    In March, the league restricted teams from hosting player visits and in-house physicals because of the coronavirus pandemic. As a result, clubs may have taken a conservative approach with free agents on the mend.

    Second, this year's free-agent pool featured several quarterbacks, including Tom Brady, Teddy Bridgewater, Philip Rivers, Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota. The Carolina Panthers didn't officially release Cam Newton until March 24, which gave him a late start to his free-agency bid. He's also coming off Lisfranc surgery.

    Following the draft, players may have more clarity on where they would want to sign. Where do the big names like Newton and Jadeveon Clowney land? Here are eight free-agent fits that we are still waiting to happen.

QB Cam Newton to Buffalo Bills

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    The New England Patriots haven't shown interest in Cam Newton, per The Athletic's Jeff Howe.

    The Jaguars traded quarterback Nick Foles to the Chicago Bears, but general manager David Caldwell waited until the sixth round to draft a signal-caller (Jake Luton). For now, the club seems prepared to open the 2020 campaign with Gardner Minshew under center.

    The Patriots and Jaguars would've been the best fits for Newton, who wants a starting job, per ESPN's Jeremy Fowler

    If a starting spot is Newton's expectation, he'll have to wait for a call after an injury to a quarterback or sit out an entire year in search of a long-term commitment.

    If Newton accepts a backup role, he's best-suited to sign with the Buffalo Bills.

    His body type (6'5", 245 lbs) and play style are similar to Josh Allen's (6'5", 237 lbs). Both are big-bodied, mobile quarterbacks with strong arms. If Allen goes down with an injury, the nine-year veteran should be able to slide into the lineup seamlessly.

    Bills head coach and former Panthers defensive coordinator Sean McDermott is also familiar with Newton. The two spent six seasons together in Carolina.

    Many of the veterans on Buffalo's roster played on the 2015 Panthers team that went to Super Bowl 50, including right tackle Daryl Williams, defensive tackle Star Lotulelei, linebacker A.J. Klein, edge-rusher Mario Addison and cornerback Josh Norman. There are players on both sides of the ball who can trust the Auburn product if he needs to take over.

    Despite leading the Bills to a playoff berth last year, Allen has been an inconsistent passer, throwing for 30 touchdowns and 21 interceptions with a 56.3 percent completion rate over two seasons.

    If Allen struggles to progress with new top wideout Stefon Diggs, who came over in a trade with the Minnesota Vikings, Newton could push the team over the top with his invaluable experience.

RB Marshawn Lynch to Seattle Seahawks

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    Late in the 2019 campaign, the Seattle Seahawks had a cluster of injuries at the running back position. Chris Carson fractured his hip, Rashaad Penny tore his ACL and C.J. Prosise broke his arm. Marshawn Lynch came out of retirement and suited up for the season finale and team's two playoff matchups.

    Through three games, Lynch recorded 30 carries for 67 yards and four touchdowns. Appearing on ESPN's SportsCenter with Scott Van Pelt, the 34-year-old running back talked about a possible return.

    "Well, it's almost on that 'expect the unexpected,'" Lynch said. "... My agent [Doug Hendrickson] has been in talks with Seattle, so like I said, we'll see what happens. If it works out and I get back up there, it is what it is."

    With a full offseason of preparation, Lynch could be effective in a committee. He's still a threat to move the chains in short-yardage and goal-line situations because of his bruising running style.

    On 950 KJR (h/t Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times), Seahawks general manager John Schneider seemed to suggest Penny will open the season on the physically unable to perform list, which would sideline him for six weeks.

    During the last term, Carson struggled with ball security. He fumbled six times and lost three possessions. Seattle may want to limit his carries next season. Lynch has lost one fumble in his last 45 regular-season outings.

    Although the Seahawks took Travis Homer in the sixth round last year and selected DeeJay Dallas in the fourth round in April, Lynch could contribute right away if the rookie isn't ready to handle a significant role as a complement to Carson.

RB Carlos Hyde to Philadelphia Eagles

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    Carlos Hyde recorded a career-high 1,070 rushing yards with the Houston Texans in 2019. According to Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle, he turned down an offer from the team before the new league year began March 13.

    The Texans later acquired running back David Johnson from the Arizona Cardinals in the DeAndre Hopkins trade, which probably closes the door on Hyde's return to Houston. The incoming tailback will pair with Duke Johnson in the backfield.

    The Philadelphia Eagles don't have a clear-cut No. 2 running back behind Miles Sanders.

    Jordan Howard, who ranked second on the team in rushing yards (525) last year, signed with the Miami Dolphins during free agency. Boston Scott recorded 61 carries for 245 yards and five touchdowns. Corey Clement only played three offensive snaps and landed on injured reserve with a shoulder injury in October.

    Hyde could spell Sanders and take on early-down duties as a downhill ball-carrier between the tackles. Another veteran running back could also help preserve oft-injured quarterback Carson Wentz, who ranked third on the team in carries (62) in 2019. The 27-year-old signal-caller has suffered a torn ACL and LCL, a hairline rib fracture, a broken vertebra and a concussion over four terms.

TE Jordan Reed to Green Bay Packers

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    Despite a long history of concussions, Jordan Reed wants to continue his playing career. At 6'2", 242 pounds, he has the body of a tight end with the hands of a wide receiver and has hauled in 329 receptions for 3,371 yards and 24 touchdowns through 65 outings. 

    According to ESPN's Jeremy Fowler, Reed had contact with the Los Angeles Rams in February. He also visited the Seattle Seahawks in March, per ESPN's Adam Schefter. But both teams selected tight ends in the fourth round of April's draft. The Seahawks took Colby Parkinson (133rd overall), and the Rams chose Brycen Hopkins (136th overall).

    Reed may have to find new suitors who are willing to take a chance on him despite his durability concerns. The Green Bay Packers could use the 29-year-old in two-tight end sets with Jace Sternberger or third-rounder Josiah Deguara when the rookie is not lined up as a fullback

    Before the start of free agency, the Packers released tight end Jimmy Graham. Rather than lean on an unknown commodity in Sternberger or Deguara, the coaching staff can use Reed as a playmaker in an offense that ranked 17th in passing yards per game in 2019.

    Other than wideout Devin Funchess, the Packers didn't invest in proven pass-catchers during the offseason. Reed could easily become quarterback Aaron Rodgers' safety blanket and go-to option in the red zone.

DE Jadeveon Clowney to Indianapolis Colts

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    The Indianapolis Colts should consider another splashy move for their defensive line.

    In March, they traded the 13th overall pick to the San Francisco 49ers for tackle DeForest Buckner. With him and Justin Houston on the edge, Indianapolis has a strong inside-out presence. Now, imagine Jadeveon Clowney joining the group in the trenches.

    Clowney and Houston could collapse the pocket on the outside with Buckner pressing the interior gaps. On the second level of the defense, Darius Leonard, who's logged 12 sacks in two seasons, can supplement a top-level pass rush.

    In February, ESPN's Josina Anderson reported the Colts "could potentially have some interest in" Clowney. General manager Chris Ballard didn't sign a high-priced edge-rusher during free agency or select a defensive end in April's draft.

    According to ESPN's Jeremy Fowler, Clowney is open to a one- or two-year deal. The Colts have $24.2 million to spend, per Over the Cap, which is more than enough to sign the three-time Pro Bowler on a lucrative short-term pact.

DE Everson Griffen to Cleveland Browns

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    The Minnesota Vikings haven't dismissed the possibility of Everson Griffen returning on a new deal. General manager Rick Spielman spoke about his talks with the defensive end in a conference call with the media prior to the draft.

    "I don't think things broke down," Spielman said. "I've had some great conversations with Everson."

    Nonetheless, according to Chris Tomasson of the Pioneer Press, Griffen "probably won't" be back in Minnesota. The four-time Pro Bowler could join former Vikings offensive coordinator and current Cleveland Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski.

    In March, Scott Petrak of the Chronicle-Telegram suggested the Browns had Griffen on their free-agent watch list as a cheaper alternative to defensive end Olivier Vernon, who has a $15.5 million cap hit and no dead money on the last year of his deal, per Spotrac:

    "If the Browns could sign him to a one- or two-year deal worth $10 million a year (it might not take this much), they could cut defensive end Olivier Vernon and save $5 million. But without a suitable replacement like Griffen, the Browns can’t afford to dump Vernon. They just don’t have anyone to pair with Myles Garrett in the starting lineup." 

    At times, familiarity plays a key factor in a player's decision to sign with a club. In 2006, Stefanski joined the Vikings organization as an assistant. The Browns' lead skipper had a front-row seat to Griffen's 10-year career.

    Griffen has 74.5 career sacks, registering eight in 2019. He has enough in the tank to strengthen Cleveland's four-man front.

CB Logan Ryan to Carolina Panthers

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    The Carolina Panthers have two cornerback spots up for grabs: opposite Donte Jackson on the perimeter and in the slot.

    Logan Ryan can fill either position.

    Early in his career, with the New England Patriots, Ryan lined up on the outside. As a free agent in 2017, he joined the Tennessee Titans and moved inside for the majority of the defensive snaps.

    All three of the Panthers' NFC South rivals ranked within the top seven in passing yards last year. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers reached that feat with quarterback Jameis Winston and just welcomed Tom Brady on a two-year deal.

    Carolina will struggle to stop its divisional opponents without an upgrade at cornerback to replace James Bradberry on the boundary or Javien Elliott in the slot.

    In 2019, Ryan gave up big plays on the back end, allowing 781 passing yards and five touchdowns, but he made stops in coverage, against the run and as a pass-rusher, recording 73 solo tackles, 4.5 sacks, 18 pass breakups and four interceptions.

    Unless the Panthers are comfortable with Corn Elder and rookie fourth-rounder Troy Pride Jr. as first-year full-time starters, Ryan seems like a much-needed upgrade in a division with a lot of offensive firepower.

CB Eli Apple to New York Jets

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    Eli Apple agreed to a one-year deal with the Las Vegas Raiders, but the two sides couldn't finalize the specifics of the contract, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter. Going into his age-25 term, he is still a young commodity with room to grow, and he has starting experience with two teams: the New York Giants and New Orleans Saints.

    Through four seasons, Apple has shown signs of promise yet inconsistencies in coverage. After the Giants traded him to the Saints before the 2018 deadline, he flashed solid play on the boundary, logging nine pass breakups and two interceptions through 10 outings.

    The New York Jets don't have much to lose by rolling the dice on the 2016 first-round pick. Gang Green released Trumaine Johnson and Darryl Roberts, opening up the perimeter spots in the secondary.

    Other than Brian Poole in the slot, the Jets don't have a cornerback locked into a position.

    Pierre Desir's solid experience with the Indianapolis Colts may push him to the top spot on the depth chart. And before rookie fifth-rounder Bryce Hall underwent ankle surgery, he performed at a high level, logging 21 pass breakups and two interceptions during his junior term at Virginia.

    If Hall has an offseason setback or isn't ready to take on a first-string role, Apple could play the position on a one-year deal. At 6'1", 203 pounds, he has the ideal size and some length to defend receivers on the outside.

    With Desir and Apple, the Jets could open the season with a veteran duo to shore up a pass defense that ranked 17th in 2019.