2019 NFL Free Agency: Here’s a look at eight teams with ambitions possibly limited by spending power
NFL free agency is but a few days away. The league is still focused on the repercussions of the NFL combine right now, but 100 percent of the attention will be focused on the veterans in short order. With that in mind, we figured that now is as good a time as any to take stock of what each of the league’s 32 teams should have on their radar beginning next week.
To do this, we’re going to break the whole league down by spending power, rather than by division or by conference. This will give us a better idea of who the big movers and shakers in the market are likely to be, and who will have to get better by making adjustments on the margins.
We began with a few of the presumed big spenders with more than $65 million in cap space or more, then continued with teams that have the if they want, but should not necessarily be expected to break the bank. Now we’ll keep going with a group of teams that have moderate cap space and potentially big ambitions, but could be less active than commonly assumed. These are the teams with $20-35 million in space as of this writing. Note: All cap figures via Spotrac.com.
Cap Space: $33,446,842
After years of being run by Ted Thompson, who famously avoided free agency like the plague, the Packers made their first real foray into the market in quite some time a year ago. New GM Brian Gutekunst splurged on big deals for Jimmy Graham and Muhammad Wilkerson to fill two positions of great need. Graham played banged up for most of the season and finished with only 55 catches for 636 yards and two scores. Wilkerson got injured less than three games into the year and made little impact while healthy. So, it didn’t work out so great.
They’ve got another shot to find some impact talent this time around, and with it, they should focus on finding someone who can bring pressure off the edge and someone who can patrol the back end of the defense behind the corners they drafted last year. Justin Houston seems like an obvious target (especially because he won’t affect the compensatory pick calculation the Packers value so much), but Derrick Morgan, Markus Golden, or one of the edge guys from the Broncos (Shane Ray and Shaq Barrett) or the Smiths (Preston and Za’Darius) could fit the bill as well.
The Packers will presumably not be in on HaHa Clinton-Dix after trading him to Washington last year, but the safety market this offseason is incredibly deep so there are numerous options they can pursue there. Adding some depth along the offensive line would also be a good idea, being that both of their starting tackles will hit free agency next offseason.
Cap Space: $33,309,909
Perhaps my favorite fake signing of the offseason involves the Seahawks splurging to plop Ndamukong Suh into the middle of their defense. They have just enough available money to make a real offer and not crush their cap for years to come. If they can work out a long-term deal with franchised defensive end Frank Clark, they can lower his cap number for 2019 and create a bit more room for some additional signings. They can do the same by restructuring the deals of Russell Wilson, Bobby Wagner, and/or Doug Baldwin, but those moves would come with future cap penalties and may not be so wise.
In the meantime, the Seahawks would do well to find an Earl Thomas replacement in the secondary. Their talent for finding defensive backs might mean they look to address the position in the draft, but as discussed above and below, this is an incredibly deep safety market and they could find someone at that spot fairly cheap. Adding some depth and talent and corner should also be a focus, with bigger corners (the recently-released Kevin Johnson, perhaps?) presumably getting priority over smaller ones, given the way the Seahawks like to construct their defense.
It seems like we should probably talk about how Seattle should spend some money on the offensive line so Russell Wilson doesn’t have to run for his life so often, but we say that every year and then he ends up running for his life the next season anyway.
Cap Space: $28,443,316
The Cowboys are one of this year’s most fascinating teams. Will they find a long-term deal with DeMarcus Lawrence? Will he play another year on the franchise tag? The former would allow the Boys to create some more cap room by spreading out the guaranteed money, but would also lock them in for several seasons. They also have almost all of their non-offensive line core players up for an extension this offseason. Dak Prescott, Amari Cooper, Byron Jones, and Ezekiel Elliott are all extension-eligible. Prescott and Cooper seem most likely to get paid now, but the Joneses have said they want to pay everybody.
Handing out all that cash to in-house options might take them out of the running for Earl Thomas, even though that union has been long-rumored. There was a report earlier this week that Dallas is out on Thomas, Eric Weddle, and Landon Collins due to the price tag; but if that’s the case, what’s their plan at safety next to Xavier Woods? They can’t roll with Jeff Heath again. It’s a crowded safety market so maybe they pursue someone like Tre Boston or Adrian Phillips at a slightly lower price tag than the top-of-the-market guys.
Dallas also has some intriguing decisions to make in terms of cuts. There’s just no way Sean Lee, Tyrone Crawford, and Allen Hurns are worth the $26,425,000 for which they’ll count against the cap. The Cowboys can save $7 million by cutting Lee, nearly $6 million by cutting Crawford, and $5 million by cutting Hurns, and use the savings to add talent along the defensive line (a sudden need after suspensions to Randy Gregory and David Irving) or replace Cole Beasley in the slot, if his price tag proves too high.
Cap Space: $24,908,403
The Chargers are working to bring back Denzel Perryman, without whom the middle of their run defense fell apart last season. Perryman has shown a tendency to get injured fairly often, though, so they could definitely use some better depth behind him. And fortifying the front ahead of Perryman, where both Corey Liuget and Darius Philon are free agents, would also be a good idea. If they can get away with a cheaper option there, that might be beneficial, because they do have some other holes to fill elsewhere.
The Colts are reportedly hot after Tyrell Williams in free agency, and while the Chargers have Keenan Allen and Mike Williams outside, Tyrell brings a kind of deep speed they don’t have much of elsewhere on the roster outside of Travis Benjamin, who is not consistent enough to just take over the vacated snaps. Adding a deep burner to their roster makes sense, as does adding more depth at corner after the regression of Trevor Williams last year. They presumably won’t fall victim to the annual Jason Verrett injury next season because he’s likely to find a new home, but that doesn’t mean he shouldn’t be replaced on the roster.
Cap Space: $23,510,469
I have no idea what the Broncos are doing and speculating on what John Elway’s plan may or may not be feels pointless. This is a team with a mismatched roster that doesn’t make much sense, being run by an executive who has shown little ability to evaluate players at the game’s most important position and who seems to think his team is in a far different position in the league hierarchy than it actually is.
They need help on the offensive line, at receiver, on the edge behind Von Miller and Bradley Chubb, in the secondary after releasing Darian Stewart (and trading Aqib Talib last year), and at quarterback — even after their inexplicable trade for Joe Flacco. And all with just $23.5 million in space, not including their draft pool. The Broncos reportedly agreed to trade Case Keenum to the Redskins, . They could create additional room by releasing Ronald Leary (approx. $7.5 million) and/or Emmanuel Sanders ($10.2 million) but either of those moves would deplete Denver’s talent at positions where they are already quite thin.
Cap Space: $23,066,444
Who can explain what the Giants are doing? They appear ready to let Landon Collins walk and they’re shopping Odell Beckham and but they’re fully prepared to bring Eli Manning back because that’s worked out so well the past few years. I’m not even going to try to project what they will or won’t do because they do not make sense on any level.
Cap Space: $20,463,221
The Patriots appear ready to let their best free agent — edge rusher Trey Flowers — leave in free agency and find a way to replace him. The Pats have not necessarily valued the edge in the same way as other teams in the past, and so it’s not all that surprising that the trend would continue this year. Similarly, it seems rather likely that if either or both of Malcom Brown and Danny Shelton get a sizable offer in free agency, the Patriots elect to look elsewhere on the defensive interior. The only guy they’ve been willing to pony up for at that spot in the past is Vince Wilfork, and neither of those guys is Vince Wilfork.
Instead, the Patriots will sign backups and third stringers from other teams and turn them into valuable contributors who get paid by other teams in a few years, just like they always do. They’ll sign guys like Christian Covington and Brent Urban and Matt Longacre and Andre Branch and they’ll all be good. And then they’ll find a wide receiver who never did anything anywhere else and he’ll catch 50 balls next year. It’ll probably be Bruce Ellington or something. Everyone will pretend to be shocked before we remember that this is just what they do.
Cap Space: $20,365,685
Philadelphia has already made its biggest decision of the offseason in electing to let Nick Foles hit unrestricted free agency rather than committing to him with the franchise tag. Given the way the rest of the quarterback market has developed, that makes a good deal of sense as it seems unlikely they would have found a take for Foles at that high a number. They’ll need to bring in a strong veteran backup for Carson Wentz now that he’s gone, though. Tyrod Taylor or maybe Ryan Fitzpatrick might make sense but the smart bet is someone with ties to the Andy Reid coaching tree in some way.
Philly has been rumored to be dangling Nelson Agholor in trade talks, and that would both open up around $9 million in space and create an opening in the slot. The Eagles should also be in the market for a big back that fits the LeGarrette Blount mold, and if the money is right, Mark Ingram would make a heck of a lot of sense for them there. And of course, the Eagles love to rotate their defensive linemen so you can never rule out them pursuing more bodies on the edge or the interior.
The secondary was a mess for much of last season and Ronald Darby may prove too expensive to bring back, so they’ll also likely have to once again go bargain shopping for corners.