Which NFL Teams Should Top Free Agents Want to Land On?
NFL teams usually keep their top players on the books and off the open market with long-term deals or franchise tags. Then again, some front offices have to let top-notch talents walk because of financial restrictions.
Still, the top veterans will have plenty of options as front-office executives clear cap space via trades and cuts. With that said, where should high-level players sign in the new league year?
We profiled the five most accomplished and productive impending free agents and matched them with their ideal landing spots based on roster need, scheme fit and ability to secure a fair contract relative to the player's market value.
QB Dak Prescott
Dak Prescott was the 2016 Offensive Rookie of the Year, has been to two Pro Bowls and helped lead the Dallas Cowboys to two playoff appearances.
Despite multiple attempts over the last couple of years, Dallas has yet to hammer out a deal for the quarterback who has outperformed his 2016 fourth-round pick expectations, posted solid numbers with 106 touchdown passes and just 40 interceptions through 69 games and has the mobility to thrive with the evolution of his position.
According to NFL Network's Tom Pelissero and Ian Rapoport, the Cowboys aren't concerned about Prescott's recovery following two ankle surgeries. They'll "make a push" to sign him long-term, but the franchise tag remains an option.
Last offseason, Prescott heard the same story.
On the franchise tag in 2020, he played five games and landed on injured reserve because of a compound fracture and dislocated ankle. The 27-year-old should look for a team with the cap space to secure his future.
The Indianapolis Colts will go into the offseason with a projected $69.2 million. They have a need at quarterback following Philip Rivers' retirement and because Jacoby Brissett's contract will expire in March.
Prescott would leave one of the top wide receiver groups, which features Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup and CeeDee Lamb, but he would join a balanced roster.
Last season, the Colts fielded a top-10 offense and defense, while the Cowboys gave up the fifth-most points.
Prescott would also leave an offensive line that has had issues at center since Travis Frederick retired after the 2019 campaign and a minor problem at tackle because of Tyron Smith's injury history. He's missed at least three games every year since 2015.
The Colts have a solid five-man group in the trenches with one of the best guards in Quenton Nelson. Last year, the unit cleared the way for the league's third-leading rusher, Jonathan Taylor, who is three-and-a-half years younger than Cowboys tailback Ezekiel Elliott. General manager Chris Ballard can select an offensive tackle early in the draft to replace Anthony Castonzo, who retired.
Most importantly, the Colts have won at least 10 games in two of Frank Reich's three seasons. They're built to win, and Prescott can find financial security with a shot to compete for titles.
Landing Spot: Indianapolis Colts
RB Aaron Jones
After Aaron Jones took over the featured role in the Green Bay Packers backfield, he became one of the most productive running backs in the league, logging 3,017 scrimmage yards and 30 touchdowns since 2019.
However, the Packers selected AJ Dillon in the second round of last year's draft, which allows them to move forward with a high-potential playmaker on a rookie deal. Though Jones is clearly the better player, he is worth an eight-figure contract. And Green Bay is $28.2 million over the salary cap.
The San Francisco 49ers seem like the best destination for a top running back. Head coach Kyle Shanahan's outside zone running scheme has elevated undrafted tailbacks Raheem Mostert, Jeff Wilson Jr. and Matt Breida over the last three seasons.
Now, imagine what a Pro Bowler on the rise could do in Shanahan's system.
The 49ers don't have a running back under contract beyond the 2021 campaign, per Spotrac. Jones could take on the majority of carries with Mostert in a backup role. In the 2020 term, the latter suited up for only eight games because of knee and ankle injuries in his first shot to lead the position.
Jones has soft hands, having hauled in 131 passes for 1,057 yards and six touchdowns. That would be a major plus for the 49ers after injuries plagued the pass-catching group in 2020. Brandon Aiyuk, Deebo Samuel and George Kittle missed a combined 21 games.
Landing Spot: San Francisco 49ers
WR Allen Robinson II
Based on Allen Robinson II's tweets, he wants to sign with a club that has a chance to compete for a title.
"It get harder to watch this game every year," Robinson tweeted before Super LV.
Several hours later, Robinson made it clear he wants to win a ring.
In other words, if the 27-year-old hits the open market, playoff-caliber teams with enough money have the shot to sign him.
The Chicago Bears clinched a playoff berth last season, but they have an unclear quarterback situation. According to NFL Network's Mike Garafolo, the club is in on the pursuit of Philadelphia Eagles signal-caller Carson Wentz. Mitchell Trubisky's contract will expire in March, and Nick Foles hasn't played 16 games in any of his nine seasons.
Days after a divisional-round playoff loss to the Buffalo Bills, Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh expressed the need for another pass-catcher. He mentioned specific traits such as "big, physical" and "speed."
At 6'2", 220 pounds, Robinson has the stature to catch Harbaugh's attention. He's eclipsed 1,100 receiving yards in three of his seven seasons. The 2015 Pro Bowler could consider the Ravens, who have a stable quarterback situation with Lamar Jackson.
Baltimore has won at least 10 games and qualified for the playoffs in three consecutive terms. The Ravens have $18.2 million in projected cap space. They can make a competitive offer to Robinson, who would likely become Jackson's go-to target over tight end Mark Andrews and wideout Marquise Brown.
Landing Spot: Baltimore Ravens
DL Leonard Williams
Leonard Williams just had his best season as a pass-rusher, recording 11.5 sacks and 42 quarterback pressures, which tied for sixth-most across the league.
With $1.3 million in cap space, the New York Giants may franchise-tag Williams and work up until the July deadline on a long-term contract unless they cut multiple players for short-term relief.
Williams could sign a bigger contract with the Los Angeles Chargers, who have much more salary-cap flexibility with a projected $24.2 million.
Furthermore, at 26 years old, Williams may have room for growth with some consistency between seasons. With Los Angeles, he would develop under head coach Brandon Staley, who, as the defensive coordinator for the Los Angeles Rams in 2020, fielded a unit that allowed the fewest points and yards.
Staley didn't just optimize All-Pro talents in defensive tackle Aaron Donald and cornerback Jalen Ramsey. He elevated edge-rusher Leonard Floyd, who logged a career-high 10.5 sacks. Under his tutelage, cornerback Darious Williams, rookie sixth-round safety Jordan Fuller and defensive lineman Morgan Fox developed into key playmakers.
As an interior tackle, Williams isn't going to mirror Donald and his uncanny ability to routinely beat double-teams, but he could make significant progress while working with a brilliant defensive-minded head coach.
Landing Spot: Los Angeles Chargers
Edge Shaquil Barrett
This would be an easy choice for Shaquil Barrett if he could pick his destination. Why would he leave the reigning champions?
Barrett has already said he wants to stay with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to help defend their title, per Greg Auman of The Athletic.
"I know there isn't another place I'd rather be," Barrett said after the Super Bowl. "I'm pretty sure my agent is going to talk to them. We're going to talk and we're going to find a quick solution to this because I know I found a home here."
In December, head coach Bruce Arians said: "We don't plan on Shaq getting going anywhere. I don't think he wants to go anywhere."
After leading the NFL in sacks (19.5) for the 2019 term, Barrett recorded eight more and 11 tackles for loss in 2020. He logged four sacks between the NFC Championship Game and Super Bowl LV.
Barrett's impressive playoff performance should solidify his future with the team.
The Buccaneers have $24.1 million in projected cap space, but linebacker Lavonte David, defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh and wideouts Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown have expiring contracts.
With that said, the Buccaneers will likely have Barrett atop their priority list. At 28 years old, he is still in his prime. Though David, Suh and Brown can still perform at a high level, they're all 31 years or older—not players who would command lucrative long-term contracts.
Tampa Bay should offer Barrett a rewarding multiyear deal to keep a key cog in its top-10 defense. On his end, he would have long-term financial security with a team built to compete for another Lombardi Trophy.
Landing Spot: Tampa Bay Buccaneers