Long-time New England Patriots’ signal-caller Tom Brady remains a free agent with NFL free agency looming, as the new league year begins March 18 at 4 p.m. Though the tenured Patriot has never seen a jersey other than the red, white and blue boasted by New England, Brady has indicated to the public that he’s not opposed to switching teams so long as he gets to continue to start in this league. Many veterans share this sentiment with their own teams, as the league is a revolving door, and as players past and present have said NFL stands for “not for long” and Brady’s extended stay in New England is one of few careers of such longevity.
Though the league has rules in place against tampering with free agents prior to the new league year, teams work their way around this policy by communicating with agents to try and sell their team to the agent, that way when free agency begins, agents can direct their players to the best fit or the highest bidder, whichever the player prefers. Multiple teams across the league appear just a few pieces short of the recipe for success, be it a young quarterback in Los Angeles or a top wide receiving option in New England, free agency looks to bolster those rosters with experience prior to an influx of young talent through the NFL Draft.
Getting the right man under center is one of the most important and difficult tasks in all of sports. Teams have been cursed with mediocrity for years, such as the Chicago Bears and the Cincinnati Bengals, while other teams, such as the San Francisco 49ers, have successfully drafted several Hall of Fame quarterback talents. With Brady, Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers and New Orleans Saints quarterbacks Drew Brees, Taysom Hill and Teddy Bridgewater all on the market, many teams will be looking to shop their signal-caller for the sake of the future of the franchise.
Lesser names, like the Tennessee Titans’ two quarterbacks in Ryan Tannehill and Marcus Mariota, in addition to Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston, could find themselves as either backups or even in the XFL if they can’t prove to a team that they’re worth a cheap deal. For the elder statesmen of the group, Brady, Brees and Rivers need the right situation for their talents to really shine. In a logical sense, after assessing their past seasons, Rivers just outright needs to retire. His body, arm and mobility have all rapidly been decaying, and this past season showed his shortcomings as he threw 23 touchdowns to 20 interceptions, taking his team out of multiple contests despite their efforts.
Brees and Brady both still have enough in the tank, between their mobility and pre-snap abilities, to make one or two more title runs with the right squad. For Brees, staying put in New Orleans seems to be the best option, as he has the league’s best wide receiver in Michael Thomas and one of the best pass-blocking offensive lines in the league. If he were to go anywhere, the Colts’ offensive line would be the only one worthy of protecting the long-time Saint. As for Brady, if he doesn’t return to New England to make another title run with the league’s best secondary, the Titan’s impressive ground game with running back Derrick Henry and bullying offensive line could set Brady up for an easy, play-action filled season where he only has to carry the team a few times, which is feasible for the greatest quarterback to ever lace them up, even at 43 years old.
Arguably one of the most difficult positions to define in football, the linebacker position has become quite multifaceted; some linebackers drop into coverage and play mostly against the pass, some sit in the box and read either the running back or the quarterback and some are responsible for setting the edge and pass-rushing. Regardless of their exact purpose, good linebackers are hard to come by and even harder to retain. Case in point, the league leader in sacks this past season was Tampa Bay Buccaneers outside linebacker Shaquille Barrett, who managed 19.5 quarterback takedowns over the 16 game season. Barrett, at 27 years old, enters free agency after having the best season of his career, providing him the prime opportunity to push his career season into a massive deal with another organization. Per league sources, the Buccaneers intend to franchise tag Barrett if they can’t figure out a long term deal, as many teams will be in contact with the linebacker’s agent if he refuses to resign in Tampa.
Cleveland Browns inside linebacker Joe Schobert may be available, as the former Pro Bowler is currently more interested in testing the free market than returning to Cleveland, per his agent. Green Bay Packers inside linebacker Blake Martinez may make a similar jump to Schobert, as both are coming off of seasons where they were among the league’s top tacklers. Many teams balk at the thought of letting a stat monster walk, but when your linebacker is the top tackler on your team eight yards down the field, there’s no point in overpaying him to do the job of a safety.
Then there’s Seattle’s pass-rushing behemoth in Jadaveon Clowney, who has stated that he intends to play for a team contending for the Super Bowl next season, with that meaning a return to Seattle or traveling elsewhere. Indianapolis has emerged as a top bidder outside of the Seahawks, aiming to pair up Clowney with pass-rusher Justin Houston for a Super Bowl push. Though Clowney had record low sack production on the season, only amounting 3.5, his forced fumbles and ability to set the edge against the run makes him a valuable asset to any team that feels they’re only one defensive piece away from Super Bowl contention.
With an incredibly deep receiving class in the draft this year, as Alabama’s wide receiver Jerry Jeudy has been tearing up the NFL combine, the league’s high flying speedsters on the outside may face a limited market due to the flooding of talent. Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Amari Cooper appears to be the top available target, having put up some ridiculous games in a Cowboys uniform over the past two seasons, though he’s been quite streaky in some of his production. Cooper is likely looking for a five-year deal, north of the $90 million total offered to Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Brandin Cooks a few years ago. Many teams with weakened receiving cores and ample cap space will at least look at Cooper’s tape, with many speculating he’ll end up in a Patriots uniform.
Other big names in the free-agent wide receiver market include New York Jets speedster Robby Anderson and Cincinnati Bengals veteran wideout A.J Green. Anderson was a highlight for an otherwise sad Jets squad this season, and his ability to stretch the field will have many teams calling for his services. Green is an older option, still displaying his athleticism that gave comparisons to Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones and Detroit Lions legend Calvin Johnson, but he’s likely not the primary weapon for any offense moving forward. Pairing him with Davantae Adams in Green Bay to give quarterback Aaron Rodgers another veteran option could be the key for a Packers team that seemed lost at portions of the season whenever teams double-covered Adams.
One of the most abused positions in the league, cornerbacks can destroy their careers by simply having a bad game or bad stretch of games. Thus, those considered elite rarely have the opportunity to hit the market, sans one Darrelle Revis from the early portions of the 2010s. This year, the 15th ranked cover corner is available on the market, with a reminder that there are 32 starting cornerbacks across the league. Dallas Cowboys cornerback Byron Jones, the world record holder in the broad jump, sits as the most proven cornerback in this free-agent class. Given Dallas’ plethora of free agents to resign, including Cooper and quarterback Dak Prescott, Jones could potentially walk to greener pastures and a massive contract from any team in the league with a leaky defense.
Additionally, Carolina Panther cornerback James Bradberry and Denver Broncos top cornerback Chris Harris will also be available, with the latter being past his prime and more of a strong veteran presence. Bradberry played admirably in Ron Rivera’s defensive system in Carolina, but with Rivera now coaching the Washington Redskins, don’t be surprised if Bradberry follows.