Buying or Selling Latest NFL Free-Agency Buzz, Rumors as March Nears

Chris Roling@@Chris_RolingFeatured ColumnistFebruary 24, 2021

Buying or Selling Latest NFL Free-Agency Buzz, Rumors as March Nears

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    Ron Jenkins/Associated Press

    The NFL's rumor mill seems more active than ever ahead of the new league year beginning March 17. 

    It's not hard to see why. Stars like J.J. Watt are already on the market, and quarterback Dak Prescott is one of the headliners of the 2021 free-agent class.

    Perhaps most importantly, a reduced salary cap will create intrigue with 11 teams still in the red. Superstar players could emulate the NBA and settle for short deals on contenders. 

    Add in the usual suspects—teams thinking about franchise tags, the quarterback carousel and offensive line help—and this offseason is only just getting started. 

    Below, we'll be buying or selling the top free-agency buzz and rumors making the rounds.       

Eagles Cutting Alshon Jeffery

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    Michael Ainsworth/Associated Press

    No matter what they did at quarterback with Carson Wentz, the Philadelphia Eagles appeared to be ready to move on from wideout Alshon Jeffery

    And according to Ian Rapoport of NFL Network, that's what will happen at the start of the new league year. 

    Jeffery, 31, has spent the last four seasons with the Eagles but played all 16 contests just once. Over seven games in 2020, he caught just six passes for 115 yards with one score. It was a far cry from 2017, when he scored nine times on a prove-it deal and earned a four-year extension worth $52 million. 

    With the offensive rebuild in full effect even before the Wentz trade, with young players like tight end Dallas Goedert and wide receiver Jalen Reagor, cutting Jeffery with a post-June 1 designation would save the team $2 million. Philly sits at 31st in projected cap space at $37.3 million in the red. 

    Verdict: Buying       

Brandon Scherff Could Get Another Franchise Tag from WFT

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    Mark Tenally/Associated Press

    Washington Football Team franchise-tagged elite guard Brandon Scherff last offseason, paying him $15 million to stay in town. 

    And head coach Ron Rivera and Co. might want to do the same thing again. 

    According to the Washington Post's Nicki Jhabvala, Washington could use another tag on Scherff if the two sides can't agree to an extension. 

    But that would give him a huge cap hit of $18 million (120 percent of 2020 salary), which would make Scherff at least the team's second-highest cap hit. Washington has plenty of cap space at $42.4 million, yet it's important to keep in mind that the team could still bring in another quarterback and have its eye on other big names.

    Scherff, who's going into his age-30 season, is still an elite player who posted an 84.1 Pro Football Focus grade last year. But it seems most realistic for Washington to extend him or let him hit free agency. The team needs to play it safe for long-term roster-building and a potential quarterback investment. 

    Verdict: Selling   

Matt Milano Gets a Shot at Free Agency

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    Brett Carlsen/Associated Press

    Matt Milano is one of those underrated free agents who's capable of boosting a new team in a big way. 

    And it sounds like he will get that chance. According to the Associated Press' John Wawrow, the 26-year-old linebacker will be free to test the open market because of the Buffalo Bills' poor cap outlook.

    It's an interesting bit of rumbling from the mill, though, because the Bills are projected to have $4.5 million in cap space and could probably free up more room via restructures or cuts. 

    That said, Milano did play just 10 games last year and posted a 55.8 PFF grade in the process. The Bills might be earmarking as much space as possible for an extension for quarterback Josh Allen.

    Still, Milano has been a key piece, starting 38 of his 54 games played. Buffalo may believe that a slow market due to a reduced league salary cap will bring him back to town anyway. 

    Verdict: Buying      

Bears to Tag Allen Robinson Again?

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    The Chicago Bears don't appear to have a lot of freedom with the franchise tag this offseason.

    They are already in the red by nearly $2 million, and a tag for wideout Allen Robinson would check in at $17.9 million. But according to Rapoport, that's on the table if the two sides can't work out a long-term deal. 

    Context is important, though. Bears general manager Ryan Pace is on the hot seat after a second consecutive 8-8 season and won't have the luxury of playing it conservatively at quarterback after failures with Mitchell Trubisky and Nick Foles. That could mean overpaying for a signal-caller, either via a trade or on the open market. 

    Ideally, the Bears would love to keep Robinson, who is only turning 28 this August and has recorded 1,100-yard seasons along with 13 total touchdowns over the past two years. But his tag number looks like it'll be too high, meaning it's likely extension-or-bust if Robinson is to stay in Chicago. 

    Verdict: Selling      

Ravens Unable to Keep Either of Their Big-Name Pass-Rushers?

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    Rich Schultz/Associated Press

    The Baltimore Ravens have two key pass-rushers ready to hit the open market: Matthew Judon and Yannick Ngakoue. 

    They might not be able to keep either one. 

    The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec reported he's "yet to hear much optimism" about the Ravens' ability to keep either player.

    From a franchise-tag perspective, that makes sense. Judon would command around $20 million, and Ngakoue would be due $15 million. 

    The Ravens only have $29.9 million to work with, so the tags are unrealistic. And both players likely want to test the open market, where they should have options. Judon has six or more sacks in each of his last four seasons, and Ngakoue is still just 25 years old and had eight sacks in each of the last two campaigns, putting him at 45.5 over 78 career games. 

    Given the need for pass-rushers in today's NFL, both guys figure to find lucrative markets, and the Ravens will likely miss out on keeping them in town like they did with Za'Darius Smith in 2019. 

    Verdict: Buying     

WFT Exploring Options at QB

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    Chris Szagola/Associated Press

    The Washington Football Team didn't get much from the quarterback position last year. 

    Before getting cut, Dwayne Haskins threw five touchdowns and seven interceptions in seven appearances (six starts), while Alex Smith helped get the team to the postseason in a weak NFC East but threw six scores to eight interceptions over eight games (six starts). 

    According to ESPN's John Keim, Washington has kept its eye on quarterbacks like Sam Darnold and Marcus Mariota, but it has five signal-callers it is interested in. The team could also bring back Smith, who carries a $24.4 million cap hit if he wants to play in 2021.   

    Washington is projected to have the sixth-most cap space even with Smith on the books, so it could dramatically escalate the values of quarterbacks like Cam Newton and Jameis Winston on the free-agent market.

    Verdict: Buying         

Patriots 'Aggressively' Calling About QBs

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    Elise Amendola/Associated Press

    Here's one that could have a major impact on free agency. 

    According to The Athletic's Jeff Howe, head coach Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots "have been aggressively perusing the quarterback trade market" and "have had conversations regarding every potential trade target in the league."

    The asking price on Matthew Stafford was reportedly too rich for the Patriots, and it's safe to assume the same could be said of any potential deal for Houston Texans signal-caller Deshaun Watson. But the team clearly has a need after going just 7-9 in 2020 despite having 2015 NFL MVP Cam Newton on the roster.

    Free agency could be the next step for the Patriots. Dak Prescott probably won't make it to the open market, but Jacoby Brissett, Andy Dalton, Jameis Winston and even Newton again could make sense.

    According to Howe, "The Patriots haven't ruled out the possibility of re-signing Cam Newton, but they have indeed explored the rest of the market before Newton becomes a free agent."

    Last year, Newton started 15 games and completed 65.8 percent of his passes for 2,657 yards with eight touchdowns and 10 interceptions along with 592 rushing yards and 12 more scores. 

    But after the Patriots' first losing season since 2000, it makes sense they would be exploring any and all options. It wouldn't be surprising, though, if Newton returns in the hopes a second year in the system will yield better results.

    Verdict: Buying     

Cowboys Have a Dak Prescott Date in Mind

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    Ron Jenkins/Associated Press

    The clock is ticking for the Dallas Cowboys. 

    According to ESPN's Todd Archer, Dallas hopes to work out a long-term extension with Dak Prescott before March 9, when the window to apply the franchise tag closes. 

    Letting a quarterback of Prescott's talent reach the open market would be disastrous. He played just five games last year but was on an eye-popping pace, completing 68 percent of his passes for 1,856 yards and nine touchdowns to four interceptions. After Prescott suffered a season-ending ankle injury, bad quarterback play and an even worse defense resulted in the Cowboys limping to a 6-10 record. 

    Jerry Jones and Co., of course, have misplayed the situation from the start. Prescott now has the leverage, as other quarterbacks have received market-resetting deals. Dallas will now have to negotiate with its franchise signal-caller with that in mind.

    It's either that, or, as Rapoport reported, the Cowboys will have to give him a second franchise tag, which means he'd receive $37.7 million in 2021. Considering Dallas only has $27.9 million in projected cap space, figuring out an extension before the deadline would be best for the team. 

    Verdict: Buying