Written by: Tyler Webb
Like always, I like to give a little breakdown on why my list is ranked as is. Of course, I love to give you the outlook from my viewpoint, and allow others to situations with an open mind. For example, I am a strong believer in playoff contenders, or even fringe playoff teams to break the bank for a Super Bowl. It worked for the L.A. Rams, it worked for the Eagles and we saw the Jaguars get extremely close to a Super Bowl birth in 2018 as well. Another few aspects I considered making this list were the depth of the position throughout the rest of the league, as well as inside the free agency class, their asking price, and obviously, age. For the sake of making the article interesting, I also am only including athletes with a good to great chance of leaving for a new team in 2019, in my opinion.
First off, let’s start off with some Honorable Mentions. These athletes are by no means not deserving to be in the Top 10 list, but are most likely going to stay with their franchise at least under the franchise tag, if not resigning long term. So when you get down the list and you don’t see names like Landon Collins, Jadeveon Clowney, or even someone like Frank Clark, don’t get upset. What fun would it be if I just listed 10 names, with 7 of them “resigning with their current franchise”, or “Will be franchise tagged if not resigned”. So quickly, lets run through some athletes that might be a little more willing of that hometown discount.
- Landon Collins, Strong Safety
I almost put him into the Top 10 list due to the fact that Collins will most likely command a pretty immense contract, but I simply don’t see the Giants letting Collins walk. I have read rumors that New York is willing to drop the franchise tag on the safety if they cannot come up with a long term deal this offseason. With that being said, though the Giants might not be able to break the bank on Landon Collins, I don’t see him being able to leave New York just yet
- Jadeveon Clowney, Defensive End
Even though we rare see elite pass rushers hit the open market, the Houston Texans are quickly running out of cap space to give around and will have to let someone walk sooner or later. That someone isn’t going to be your most recent #1 overall pick from 2015. Clowney is looking to cash in like Donald and Mack have recent, but I can guarantee at least one more season with Houston. Sorry Colts fans.
- Frank Clark, Defensive End
Frank Clark has one of the best life stories in the NFL currently, and I believe he really is become a household name in Seattle. They were willing to take a chance on him in the 2nd round even with his off the field issues at Michigan. I don’t see why the Seahawks would take a risk like that, just to allow him to resign somewhere else. Not to mention if they let Frank Clark walk, their defense will have no one to provide a pass rush.
- Tyrod Taylor, Quarterback
Yes Tyrod has proved to be a decent starting quarterback in the NFL, and yes, I believe Tyrod can even get you to the playoffs. Sadly enough for Taylor, I just don’t see any starting positions really left for Taylor to go to. The NFL just went through a revamp of young talented quarterbacks, and for the first time in a long time, I see less than 5 franchises that need help at the quarterback position in 2019. I’d be willing to bet money he lands on the Jaguars or Redskins for 2019 on another 2 year deal.
- Kareem Hunt, Running Back
I very rarely like get into off the field issues in my writing, and I will try my best to leave it out of this take, but I don’t think Kareem Hunt should ever be allowed to play in the NFL again after learning of what he did. Will he though? More than likely yes. This is a running back who already has a rushing title, a Pro Bowl, and nearly 3,000 total yards in just 1 ½ seasons, and there’s no way that he doesn’t get second chance in the NFL. This is a gross situation that could still end up completely altering a franchise like the Bucs, or the Dolphins for years to come. That is why he has to be in this list somewhere, and that is my very last honorable mention.
10. Ronald Darby, Cornerback
Starting off our list is an athlete that would probably be higher on the list if it weren’t for pretty major injury concerns. At 25 though, still offers plenty of years left to shake that injury prone tag, and when healthy was a huge reason why the Eagles defense was so threatening. The Eagles could easily bring back Darby, but might not see eye to eye on a price tag. Philadelphia had a very suspect secondary last season, and could either move on from those pieces and reload the position, or try to develop out players like Sidney Jones, and Cre’Von LeBlanc. When it’s all said and done, I think with two season ending injuries are just too much for the Eagles to pay out, and Darby will be on the move. Detroit is a team that checks off all the boxes to pursue Ronald Darby this off season, if you look at their cap space, need, and team fit. Darby can come into Detroit to provide that second corner to put opposite of Darius Slay, who the Lions have struggled finding over the past few seasons, and get paid while doing it. Nevin Lawson could potentially be cut for cap space, and Teez Tabor hasn’t lived up to his potential at all coming out of Florida, leaving Detroit with some major questions about their cornerback position. Matt Patricia is obviously a defensive minded coach, and I could see him loving Darby’s ability to find the ball, mixed with his toughness to finish tackles for a cornerback.
9. Anthony Barr, Outside Linebacker
Anthony Barr seems like he will end up being the odd man out of the Vikings big extensions, but ones mans trash is another man’s treasure as they say. Minnesota is currently sitting with roughly $5 millions dollars in cap space, and Barr will be commanding close to $12 million. You don’t have to be too smart to know those won’t add up unless Anthony Barr takes one for the team in a major way. Multiple teams will be bidding for his talents this off-season if he becomes available, but the biggest question will probably be if he wants to be a 3-4 or a 4-3 OLB. If he decides to stick with what he knows in the NFL and go 4-3, I could see the Seahawks giving Barr $12 million or more to sure up their once elite defense. Seattle has took major steps in recreating their elite defense by drafting well, once again, through out their secondary. Barr could slide in next to Wagner to fill the black hole Bruce Irvin left when he signed to Oakland in 2016. Frank Clark is already a menace by himself, and if you pair him with someone with the speed of Anthony Barr on the edge, Seattle will cause a lot of problems defensively. The curve ball would be if he wants to move to a 3-4 scheme, and line up as an edge rusher more often. If so, I could see the Titans swooping him in as a replacement/upgrade to the retiring Brian Orakpo.
8. Nick Foles, Quarterback
Nick Foles has earned the right to be a starting quarterback, but I don’t think Doug Pederson will allow that on the Eagles. Philadelphia has put too much into Wentz to push him to the side already for system quarterback at best. With that being said, teams like the Redskins and Jaguars, could be willing to offer big money to try and push their team closer to the Super Bowl. As appealing Jacksonville will probably look at first glance, Nick Foles would probably produce better in Washington in my opinion. The Redskins are coming off a rollercoaster year that was overflowing with season ending injuries, and sadly, one possible career ending injury to quarterback Alex Smith. Before he went down, Washington was actually pushing for the NFC East title, showing the potential of the team Foles would take over for. The Redskins would be killing two birds with one stone, bringing in a quarterback from a rival NFC East team, and bring in a quarterback that is already familiar against most the opponents you will face this year.
7. Teddy Bridgewater, Quarterback
I have never really been a fan of my 7th best free agent of 2019, but if the Saints were willing to give up a 3rd round pick for him I am willing to admit I might be missing something. He might not be as proven as Nick Foles, but he has a higher ceiling, and most importantly, he has more years on his tires even with his flukey knee injury. There are very few NFL teams in need of a quarterback, and with Foles already going to Washington at number 8, there’s even less. The Jaguars are in dire need of a starting level quarterback, but with that being said, I don’t know if Tom Coughlin has seen enough of Bridgewater to make him the “last piece of the puzzle”. With names like Eli Manning, Jameis Winston and now Joe Flacco, being thrown around in the NFL trade world, Jacksonville will probably look for a trade package before signing their quarterback. A dark horse team that has been linked to Bridgewater before; the Miami Dolphins now are in need of a quarterback after finally admitting to trying to move on from Tannehill. At first, the Dolphins look like they could be in a sticky situation, and they could very well be if they aren’t careful. If Miami can part ways with Tannehill, most likely by releasing him, they can save upwards of $13 million dollars just from contract alone. That alone could give them space to sign Bridgewater, as he looked very rusty in relief of Brees in Week 17, and Not to mention contract casualties like Robert Quinn and DeVante Parker whose names have both be pushed around the trading block. In my mind, Miami should finish clearing their roster, and start a new with a hometown prospect like Bridgewater in order to set up for a wide open AFC East soon to come.
6. Trey Flowers, Defensive End
Regarded as the Kawhi Leonard of the NFL, Trey Flowers has silently been the best player on the Patriots front 7 for the past 3 seasons. The former 4th round pick out of Arkansas has bull rushed his way onto the top of free agency, and leaves the Pats in a rough spot. Even with the draft being loaded in EDGE talent, I could still see a team bringing back a BRINKS truck for Flowers talents, which is something New England is very foreign to. In his two and half seasons as a starter, Flowers has averaged 7 sacks a season and totaled nearly 60 quarterback hits. The Patriots are going to have to pick between Trent Brown and Flowers, and when your job is to protect 42 year old Tom Brady, you will probably be the biggest priority to the Patriots. My favorite scenario would be him going to the 49ers, thus allowing the team to finally use their 2nd overall pick on a different position than the defensive line. Why take another chance on a rookie, when you could just pay for someone you know will produce for you. The same could be said with the New York Jets though, which does seem more likely where he would land this off season. The Jets will have the 2nd most cap room this off season, and have major needs along the defensive line after losing Muhammad Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson. I believe pairing Flowers along side with Leonard Williams would finally give quarterbacks the pressure that the Jets secondary needs, and could take advantage of.
5. Brandon Graham, Defensive End
Here is the 2nd Eagle on this list, and the one most likely to be on a new team next season as well. With him entering the 2019 season at age 31, Graham will most likely be looking for his last big contract, and there will be plenty of suitors for his talents. The Eagles have more than enough talent along their defensive line to pass on the lineman, and this years draft will have more than enough players that could possibly fill a hole left if they really feel the need to. The 49ers, and Jets have both been mocked all year with selecting a defensive lineman, but both teams also have more than enough money to pay for proven talent instead. The 49ers draft Solomon Thomas to fill a role that Graham does similarly in Philadelphia already, and with growing questions on his progression as an NFL talent, San Francisco seems like the perfect pairing. While I’d like to see him go to either of those teams, both of those franchises are in the state of rebuilding, where as the next franchise is a Super Bowl contender. The best scenario would have to be the Colts, as they can provide just as much money as the first two franchises, with a higher chance of pushing for a ring. Andrew Luck came back like he never left, and lifted their team to a 10-6 record with the help of an upgraded offensive line and a man named Darius Leonard. Now that Indy has revamped their roster with some young talent throughout, Brandon Graham looks like the perfect acquisition to bring a championship culture into the locker room.
4. Earl Thomas, Free Safety
Earl Thomas is probably the most wide open free agent on this list, so I had to use my imagination a little more with this pick. Seattle and Thomas have had major public issues last season before his season ending injury, whether it was Thomas telling Jason Garrett to “Come get him”, or the flip of the Seahawk to Pete Carroll and Co. after his broken leg. Even coming off a 2nd broken legs, Earl Thomas is still one of the best safeties in the NFL, and is the highest safety on our list of free agents. The obvious pick would be for him to go to the Cowboys, but Oakland and San Francisco could possibly offer more money as the safety could command $13.5 million or more a year. Earl Thomas and Jon Gruden also seem like they would be great for each other, and the Raiders have a defense in need of an identity. Thomas could team up with his buddy Richard Sherman in San Francisco and bring even more leadership to a very young defense. The 49er’s could use an upgrade at the free safety position, as they currently have a 5th round rookie set to be the starter in 2019. D.J. Moore was a prospect that got overlooked last year coming out of K-State, but in no ways is he what Earl Thomas currently brings to a defense. This would also match up the free safety twice year against his former head coach, something that Richard Sherman said was important to him in his free agency. All these puzzle pieces add up to make a interesting picture for the 49ers defense in 2019.
San Francisco 49ers
3. Grady Jarrett, Defensive Tackle
With Aaron Donald gaining the kind of hype he has towards having an elite defensive tackle, I expect Grady Jarrett to command maximum interest this off season. Based off his production, franchises should be watering at the mouth if they have the cap space to sign the former 5th round pick out of Clemson. In 2017, Jarrett was able to rack up the same amount of tackles for loss as Aaron Donald did, and had 16 quarterback hits. He might have only gotten 6 sacks compared to Donalds recording tying 20.5 sacks this season, but still was able to tally 52 total tackles compared to Donalds 59. Atlanta has nearly $29 million in cap space, and realistically could bring Jarrett back if he signs to a $15-$16 million per year deal but could leave Dion Jones, Vic Beasley or Tevin Coleman as the odd man out. The franchise tag could come into play here, but would the Falcon’s be willing to pay him $13 million, let Coleman walk (assuming with their current cap space), and then still risk Jarrett walking in 2020 as well? That is a very big question for the Falcons that could change the state of the franchise going forward. Every team could use a defensive tackle with the skill set Jarrett carries, but the Buffalo Bills makes the most sense to me overall. Buffalo is a 4-3 defense that has seen their once dominant defensive line turn into a rotating list of lackluster performances. With Kyle Williams retired, Marcell Dareus traded, and Star Lotulelei showing major flares of a lifeless contract, the Bills could look to pay out whatever is needed for some real defensive tackle talent.
2. Le’Veon Bell, Running Back
Even with one of my most recent notifications on my phone being “NYJ “Won’t Break Bank “ for Bell”, I believe someone will. With teams like the Colts, the Seahawks, and even the Packers being one Bell away from becoming a Super Bowl contending team, Le’Veon will be paid. My two strongest teams to land Bell have been, and still are, the Colts and the Jets. Pairing Bell with a resurged Andrew Luck could set up for an offensive power house in Indianapolis, and they do have the money to do so, but Indy doesn’t have bright lights. I have said this since the beginning of 2017, that it makes too much sense for Le’Veon to go to New York and be paid as much as he wants by the Jets. He is asking for record numbers, and New York is the city of busy nights, beautiful people, and most importantly, big spenders. Bell would take pressure off of Sam Darnold, who led the league in turnovers last season, and give Adam Gase a new toy coming into New York.
New York Jets
1. DeMarcus Lawrence, Defensive End
Demarcus Lawrence is tied for the 3rd most sacks , and has the 3rd most pressures by a defensive end since 2017, only being Khalil Mack and Von Miller. The Cowboys gave Lawrence a make it or break it year by applying the franchise tag, and even injured, Tank proved he is more than worth a hefty payday. With Von Miller making a smidge over $19 million a year, and Khalil Mack making a whopping $23 million a year, I believe Lawrence’s price tag will fall along the lines of $20 million per year. Oddly enough, I believe the biggest team in the hunt for Lawrence would be the Oakland Raiders. I believe I will go down to my grave saying the Cowboys should have traded Lawrence, not their first round pick, for Amari Cooper. By no means did I think Tank wasn’t an elite talent, I just don’t see the Cowboys signing Dak, Amari, Zeke, and Lawrence while still managing to put enough talent around them. Not to mention Jaylon Smith, Byron Jones, and Randy Gregory who will all be free agents after the 2019 season. Gruden has been considered a joke for trading Khalil Mack away, and is in desperate need for a pass rusher. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Raiders do whatever they can to take Tank with them to Las Vegas in 2020.