7 NFL Teams That Could Benefit Most from Late Free-Agent AdditionsAugust 6, 2020
7 NFL Teams That Could Benefit Most from Late Free-Agent Additions
Training camps are underway around the NFL as teams go about the annual task of whittling rosters down to 53. For many teams, this means diving back into the free-agency pool is low on the list of options. For others, however, late free agency could provide the solution for a successful 2020 campaign.
Several quality players remain unsigned as we creep further into August, and many of them could undoubtedly earn starting roles in the right situations and/or address a need that otherwise could go unfulfilled.
Here, we'll examine the seven teams that could benefit most from late free-agent additions. We'll be focusing primarily on potential contenders in need of a win-now move, as rebuilding franchises typically take more of a long-term approach to roster construction.
We'll examine each team, the needs that must be addressed and the best options for doing so based on factors like scheme fit, proven production, talent level and salary-cap space.
The Seattle Seahawks already made one significant late-offseason move when they traded for Pro Bowl safety Jamal Adams. That addition will help improve Seattle's second-level defense, but it isn't likely to have a significant impact on the Seahawks' sagging pass rush.
Adams did have 6.5 sacks in 2019, but the Seahawks need an edge-rushing presence who can consistently pressure opposing quarterbacks. They lacked one last season, finishing with just 28 sacks as a team.
Seattle brought in Bruce Irvin and second-round rookie Darrell Taylor, but those two are, at most, replacements for 2019 contributors Jadeveon Clowney and Ezekiel Ansah. The Seahawks should do more to bolster their pass rush—and as ESPN's Jeremy Fowler pointed out, re-signing Clowney probably isn't an option in the wake of the Adams trade.
Seattle has just over $10 million in cap space, likely less than Clowney is willing to take.
However, there are options that Seattle could fit into its budget, including Clay Matthews III, who amassed 8.0 sacks in 13 games with the Los Angeles Rams last season. Former Minnesota Vikings Pro Bowler Everson Griffen would be another top option, though he currently has interest in joining the Green Bay Packers, according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport.
Unsurprisingly, the Seahawks are not the only ones who could use a free-agent pass-rusher.
The Tennessee Titans, who reached the AFC title game this past season, produced a respectable 43 sacks in 2019. However, 12 of those came from the trio of Cameron Wake, Jurrell Casey and cornerback Logan Ryan. Casey was traded in the offseason, while Wake and Ryan remain free agents. Tennessee added edge defender Vic Beasley in free agency, but he has yet to report to training camp.
"He's not here. Everybody else is," head coach Mike Vrabel said, per Kevin Patra of NFL.com.
While Tennessee may be inclined to wait on Beasley, it should also strongly consider adding a free-agent pass-rusher like Griffen, Matthews or Ansah. Bringing in Clowney could also be an option, given the team's cap space.
ESPN's Dianna Russini reported in March that Clowney was seeking a deal worth around $20 million per year. While his desired amount may be lower this late in the offseason, the Titans just so happen to have roughly $21 million in cap space.
Financially, the Titans could have their choice of remaining edge-rushers, and they would benefit greatly from adding one.
While the Titans made it within a game of reaching Super Bowl LIV, the Houston Texans were the winners of the AFC South. However, they were ousted in the divisional round largely because of a pass defense that couldn't contain the Kansas City Chiefs.
Plenty of defenses have struggled to match up with the Chiefs, of course, but the Houston pass defense was downright putrid in 2019. Houston produced just 31 sacks as a team and allowed the fourth-most passing yards in the league during the regular season.
While having a healthy J.J. Watt in 2020 should help the pass rush improve, the Texans did virtually nothing to address their secondary, aside from re-signing Phillip Gaines and Vernon Hargreaves III.
With nearly $19 million in cap space, the Texans could make a run at a veteran cornerback like Ryan, Dre Kirkpatrick or Trumaine Johnson. Ryan could be a particularly nice fit, given his experience matching up against AFC South receivers.
Houston could also take a crack at bolstering its pass rush. A reunion with Clowney might not be realistic, seeing as the team wasn't interested in extending him last offseason. However, a player like Griffen or Wake could potentially work wonders opposite Watt in the defensive front.
Do the Philadelphia Eagles absolutely need to add a veteran running back to the mix? Not really. Miles Sanders proved perfectly capable of handling a heavy workload as a rookie when Jordan Howard was out. However, head coach Doug Pederson does like to utilize a committee backfield, Howard is now with the Miami Dolphins, and Philadelphia has been kicking the tires on veteran backs throughout the offseason.
According to new Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back LeSean McCoy, Philadelphia had an interest in reuniting with the former Eagle.
"Philly was another big one that I really wanted to explore that option," McCoy said, per John Clark of NBC Sports Philadelphia. "They reached out."
The Eagles shouldn't be financially limited in their pursuit of a veteran back, as they have more than $22 million in cap space. Their needs are more about fit, and in Pederson's offense, a dual-threat back would be ideal.
Devonta Freeman tops the list of dual-threat backs still available, though Lamar Miller could be an option if healthy, as could top-end receiving back Theo Riddick. Both Riddick and Miller missed the 2019 season due to injuries: a torn ACL for Miller and a shoulder injury for Riddick.
Green Bay Packers
The Green Bay Packers fell short of reaching the Super Bowl largely because they couldn't stop the San Francisco 49ers on the ground in the NFC title game. However, their lack of a reliable No. 2 receiver also hurt them along the playoff road, as the Packers offense often stalled when Davante Adams was unable to get going.
Allen Lazard finished second to Adams among Green Bay receivers with a mere 477 yards last season, while Marquez Valdes-Scantling was second in starts with 10. The Packers added possession receiver Devin Funchess to the mix in free agency, but he recently decided to opt out of the 2020 season.
It would behoove the Packers to add to their receiver room before the start of the regular season. While Green Bay isn't loaded with cap space—it currently has $10.2 million—affording a complementary pass-catcher would be feasible.
If the Packers are looking to replace Funchess with another lengthy receiver, the 6'3" Jaron Brown could fit the bill. If they'd rather add a speedy wideout who can take the top off a defense, Taylor Gabriel might be the perfect target. According to Chicago Bears receiver Anthony Miller, Gabriel was clocked at 24 miles per hour in practice in 2018.
The Pittsburgh Steelers are hoping to reach the playoffs after missing the postseason in each of the past two years. However, doing so will be unlikely if quarterback Ben Roethlisberger cannot bounce back from last year's elbow injury and regain his Pro Bowl form.
Roethlisberger was lost after two games in 2019, and the Steelers stumbled to an 8-8 record. The tandem of Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges proved incapable of getting Pittsburgh into contention, and right now, those two, along with former Denver Broncos draft bust Paxton Lynch, are the Steelers' best hope if Big Ben goes down with another injury.
Though the Steelers have just under $3 million in cap space, they would be smart to replace one of their three current backup options with an experienced veteran.
As odd as it may sound, former Jacksonville Jaguars backup Blake Bortles might be an ideal fit for Pittsburgh. He has a strong if inconsistent arm that could help the offense stretch the field. He also has a tremendous amount of athleticism and running ability, and he has 73 starts and more than 17,000 passing yards under his belt.
Though Bortles could represent a step down from a healthy Roethlisberger, he could be a Josh Allen-style dual threat and a much more dynamic option than Hodges, Rudolph or Lynch.
New England Patriots
If Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots hope to remain competitive in 2020, they can and should dig into the free-agent pool for players at multiple positions.
While replacing Tom Brady at quarterback is the biggest challenge for the Patriots this season, New England appears ready to attack that problem with the tandem of Cam Newton and Jarrett Stidham. Unfortunately, that isn't the only need here.
The Patriots could use a pass-catcher like Taylor Gabriel, Jaron Brown or utility man Tavon Austin after struggling to field reliable targets in 2019. They could also use several pieces on defense after players like safety Patrick Chung and linebacker Dont'a Hightower decided to opt out of the 2020 season.
Free agents like safety Morgan Burnett, safety Tony Jefferson, linebacker Mark Barron and linebacker Alec Ogletree could potentially help the Patriots fill in holes on the defensive side of the ball. They also need help along the offensive line with right tackle Marcus Cannon joining the list of players opting out in New England. Guard Joe Thuney recently stated his willingness to move to tackle if necessary.
"Whatever can help the team," he said, per Josh Alper of Pro Football Talk.
If New England does kick Thuney over to guard, adding Pro Bowler and free-agent guard Larry Warford would make a ton of sense. The good news is that with more than $34 million in cap space due to the opt-outs, the Patriots could afford to add him and other players before the end of camp.
All cap information via Spotrac.