It's been over two weeks since the Philadelphia Eagles defeated the New England Patriots to win Super Bowl 52. With the parade out of the way, the focus has now shifted towards free agency - which is less than a month away. And boy, is this year's market ever stacked with talent. The 2018 NFL free agent market consists of many starting quarterbacks, including Kirk Cousins, Case Keenum, Teddy Bridgewater, Sam Bradford, Josh McCown and others. There are also a boatload of top wide receivers available, such as Jarvis Landry, Allen Robinson and Sammy Watkins.
And oh, there are many defensive standouts available. Pass rushers? Shutdown cornerbacks? Linebackers? You name it. As the old saying goes, defense wins championships. This guarantees that any team looking to overthrow the Philadelphia Eagles and win a Super Bowl will have no shortage of options to make their teams better. There is no shortage of depth at any position in this year's free agent market, which is one of the best in recent memory. There was a lot of drama this year, from negotiations to rumours to locker room mutinies. It all adds up to create one of the most electric free-agent classes in recent memory.
So where will the 10 best offensive players go? How about the 10 best defensive? Hundreds of millions of dollars will be spent. Here are my predictions for where they'll land.
20 Offensive: Sammy Watkins (New York Jets)
The New York Jets are absolutely going to land a quarterback this off-season, either through the draft or in free agency. The goal will be to add to a very porous receiving core that has virtually nothing outside of breakout candidate Robby Anderson. Sammy Watkins - who hasn't lived up to expectations - seems like a nice fit for the Jets.
He can stretch the field with his slick game-breaking speed.
Watkins wasn't a fit for the Los Angeles Rams, catching just 39 passes for 593 yards and eight touchdowns. But we know what he's capable of, as Watkins did have 1,047 yards in 2015. The Jets should look to add Watkins, in order to ensure there are enough weapons for their new quarterback - whomever that may be. A four-year deal worth around $30-35 million for Watkins seems like a a fair price.
19 Defensive: Malcolm Butler (Kansas City Chiefs)
From Super Bowl 49 hero to Pro Bowler to Super Bowl 51 champion to being benched in Super Bowl 52. It's safe to say few NFL players have had such a unique first four years in the league. For reasons unknown, Bill Belichick sat Malcolm Butler for the entirety of Super Bowl 52 against the Philadelphia Eagles (minus one snap). The Hoodie then watched his defense get completely torched by Nick Foles, and the Patriots lost 41-33.
The good news for Butler is that he's still a top cornerback, and he will get paid handsomely on the market.
With the Kansas City Chiefs releasing Darrelle Revis and likely moving on from Marcus Peters, signing Butler would fill the void in their secondary. Jason La Canfora of CBS reported that the Chiefs are going to overhaul their defense. Signing a proven shutdown corner in Butler could be the final piece needed for Andy Reid's crew to reach the Super Bowl.
18 Offensive: Nate Solder (Denver Broncos)
The offensive tackle position features very few elite players, but Nate Solder of the New England Patriots is one of them. The 6-foot-8, 325 pound giant has been a force on the team's offensive line, doing a wonderful job in protecting Tom Brady's blindside. Solder has won two Super Bowl championships with the Patriots, but his time in Foxborough may be running out.
Because of his contract, the Pats cannot place the franchise tag on Solder.
Given his age (30 in April), and the Patriots minimal salary cap situation, Solder will likely price himself out of Bill Belichick's range. And the rival Denver Broncos should pounce on Solder. Only two teams allowed more sacks than the Broncos (52). It all starts with fixing their offensive line, and Solder is the guy to fix it. John Elway has to do what it takes to steal away a star from his rival team.
17 Defensive: Dontari Poe (Buffalo Bills)
The former Kansas City Chiefs Pro Bowler tried to reset his market by taking a one-year pact worth $8 million with the Atlanta Falcons. As it turns out, Poe remains one of the game's elite defensive tackles, and he'll most certainly get paid like one.
The Buffalo Bills may have ended their 18-year playoff drought, but their defensive line is one of the worst in the league. Only two teams had fewer defensive sacks than the Bills (27), and they ranked 29th against the rush by allowing 124.6 yards on the ground per game. Poe is a force at stopping the run, and he excels at bringing pressure up the middle. He's the perfect fit for the Bills defence, and they should willingly break the bank for his services. Poe could be that player that takes them from playoff team to Super Bowl hopeful.
16 Offensive: Dion Lewis (Detroit Lions)
After a nice three-year tenure with the Patriots, it's time for Dion Lewis to thank Belichick for believing in him. The 27-year-old has one chance to earn maximum cash on the free agent market, and it's not coming from the Patriots. Lewis is coming off a career year in which he rushed for 896 yards and six touchdowns. He also had 32 catches for 214 yards and three touchdowns.
Lewis is among the shiftiest and fastest running backs in the league.
A strong showing in the 2017 postseason should only add to his value. The Detroit Lions should be eyeing Lewis to fix up the league's worst rushing unit (76.3 yards per game). Given Lewis' familiarity with new head coach Matt Patricia (previously the defensive coordinator in New England), a fit with the Lions is perfect. Look for a three-year deal worth around $20 million.
15 Defensive: Star Lotulelei (Oakland Raiders)
The Oakland Raiders were willing to dish out $100 million to Jon Gruden, the former Monday Night Football announcer who hasn't coached since the 2008 season. Imagine how much owner Mark Davis will let GM Reggie McKenzie spend in free agency to repair one of the league's worst defensive units?
Carolina Panthers star defensive tackle Star Lotulelei would be an excellent fit for the Raiders, who already own the league's best defensive player in Khalil Mack. The Raiders still have weaknesses in the secondary, but Lotulelei and Mack are enough to mask the defence's other flaws. Lotulelei is an elite run-stopper and can generate solid pressure up the middle. Oakland needs this if they want to be among the AFC's elite again in 2018. A four-to-five year deal worth around $45 million sounds fair.
14 Offensive: Teddy Bridgewater (Minnesota Vikings)
Let's get the obvious out of the way. The Minnesota Vikings are not letting Teddy Bridgewater leave in free agency, even if he (essentially), hasn't played in two years. Head coach Mike Zimmer has already made it clear that the Vikings want to build their franchise around Bridgewater.
Yes, Case Keenum was great in 2017. But Bridgewater is younger and has more upside. Keenum will likely price himself out of Minnesota, so they'll find a team-friendly extension with Bridgewater. Bridgewater is only 25 years of age and led the Vikings to an NFC North crown in 2015, when he had 3,231 passing yards and 14 touchdowns. He's built to excel as a game manager in the team's rush-heavy and conservative offence. There's no way Minny lets him leave. He simply has way too much upside.
13 Defensive: Vontae Davis (San Francisco 49ers)
Vontae Davis emerged as one of the game's elite shutdown/cover cornerbacks in the NFL, but his time with the Indianapolis Colts is up. They're a team in need of a major rebuild, and Davis deserves the chance to play for a legitimate championship. Thanks to the rise of Jimmy Garoppolo, the San Francisco 49ers are set to be a competitor in 2018. Of course, they will need need to rebuild a passing defense that allowed 235 passing yards per game - especially with Jared Goff and Russell Wilson in the NFC West Division.
Davis can lock down virtually any No. 1 receiver in this league, and he's surely going to want to join a team that has the most money to offer.
The 49ers have over $74 million in cap space, so they should have no problem out-bidding other teams for Davis. A four-year deal worth about $60 million should get a deal done.
12 Offensive: Case Keenum (Buffalo Bills)
The Bills made the playoffs in 2017, but they won't be a contender until they realize Tyrod Taylor is not the answer at quarterback. He's limited as a passer, and the Bills won't be unseating the Patriots in the AFC East without a change. Though many believe the Bills may try to trade up and draft a quarterback this year, the team's best bet will be to sign a proven veteran.
Case Keenum fits the bill perfectly, and he should be on top of Buffalo's radar.
The Bills have a nice set of offensive weapons that includes Jordan Matthews, Kelvin Benjamin and running back LeSean McCoy. They just need the right guy to use them, and Keenum is that man. The Bills should see if he'll take a three year deal worth around $12-15 million a season. Signing Keenum could be the final piece in making Buffalo a championship contender once again.
11 Defensive: DeMarcus Lawrence (Dallas Cowboys)
2017 was a year of bad luck for the Dallas Cowboys, who just couldn't get by without Ezekiel Elliott. On top of that, their defence didn't do a whole lot to bail out the offence - though pass-rushing star DeMarcus Lawrence broke out with 14.5 sacks and four forced fumbles. Now, the Cowboys have to do whatever it takes to ensure Lawrence stays here long-term. He turns 26 in April, and Lawrence will just be entering his prime. It's widely expected that Dallas will place the franchise tag on Lawrence, as they should. That just about eliminates any hope that another team will come in and swoop up Lawrence.
He's bound to stay in Dallas for at least 2018, but look for the Cowboys to work out a long-term extension for Lawrence. This contract could very easily exceed $70 million in total, and should be for at least five years.
10 Offensive: Jarvis Landry (Miami Dolphins)
Early indications were that the Miami Dolphins were prepared to let star wide receiver Jarvis Landry walk in the off-season. But the team is ready to place the franchise tag on him, which should make 31 teams very unhappy: Yes, the Dolphins could still place the tag on Landry and trade him, but they sure aren't going to get equal value. Landry is arguably a top-five receiver in the NFL. He has a pair of 1,000-yard seasons under his belt, and would have done so for a third straight year if Matt Moore and Jay Cutler weren't his quarterbacks.
Landry is also a dangerous special teams returner, and can be used occasionally as a rusher on sweep plays.
The Dolphins own one of the league's craftiest offensive playmakers, and not extending him long-term would be completely foolish. They have no choice but to give him a major contract. It may take time, but it should get done.
9 Defensive: Bashaud Breeland (Green Bay Packers)
There are two ways the Green Bay Packers can improve in 2018, after missing the playoffs for the first time in nine years. For starters, they could make sure Aaron Rodgers stays healthy, or at least find a suitable backup should he go down to injury again. For another, they could finally provide the game's best quarterback with an average defense that can help. The Packers bid ado to defensive coordinator Dom Capers, but now they need some playmakers to fix a woeful secondary.
Green Bay ranked 23rd against the pass in 2017. They should look to sign Washington Redskins star corner Bashaud Breeland, who broke out as one of the game's elite defensive players in 2017. Breeland knocked away 19 passes in 2017, and the Packers could use him in a division that featurs top receivers like Stefon Diggs and Golden Tate. A five-year deal worth around $40-50 million seems reasonable.
8 Offensive: Jimmy Graham (Jacksonville Jaguars)
The Jaguars came oh-so-close to winning their very first AFC Championship this year. But the lack of weapons and inconsistent play from Blake Bortles in Foxborough cost the Jaguars the chance of making their first Super Bowl. Jacksonville already has a powerful rushing game, powered by Leonard Fournette. They have a a top receiver in Allen Hurns - but Allen Robinson looks destined to sign elsewhere this off-season. The Jaguars need a tight end to help out Fournette and Hurns on offense. Jimmy Graham makes sense.
The five-time Pro Bowler had a frustrating three-year tenure with the Seattle Seahawks, and their lack of cap space likely means Graham will have to find a new home. At 31 years of age, Graham still has plenty of football left in him. The Jaguars should offer him a three-to-five year pact worth around $7-8.5 million a season. That seems like a fair price for the veteran tight end.
7 Defensive: Patrick Robinson (Philadelphia Eagles)
After playing for three different teams through the 2014-16 seasons, Patrick Robinson finally found a comfortable home with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2017. The veteran corner turned Philly's secondary into one of the NFL's best, and it propelled the franchise to its first Super Bowl championship.
Robinson is 30 years of age, and only has one strong season under his belt. As such, it's hard to envision other teams offering Robinson a boatload of money that he won't be able to refuse. So staying in the City of Brotherly Love makes the most sense for Robinson, given how great of a fit he was in Jim Schwartz's defense. Philadelphia is up against the cap, but they should be able to convince Robinson to agree to a team-friendly deal. Perhaps a three-year deal will get close a deal.
6 Offensive: Allen Robinson (Green Bay Packers)
Robinson broke out in 2015 with 80 catches for 1,400 yards and 14 touchdowns. He saw his numbers dip drastically in 2016, then missed almost all of last season after tearing his ACL in Week 1. But Robinson is still the best wide receiver on the market after Jarvis Landry, and he will get paid.
The Green Bay Packers are the team that must pay for Robinson. Aaron Rodgers (34), isn't getting any younger. Randall Cobb or Jordy Nelson have been mentioned as possible cuts, so the Packers will need another top receiver. Robinson could transform the Packers offense with his superb hands, speed and sharp route-running skills. He's only 24 years of age and should return to Pro Bowl form. He's a worthy long-term investment for the Packers, who have to start making some big signings here.
5 Defensive: Sheldon Richardson (New England Patriots)
Sheldon Richardson was among the league's top defensive players with the New York Jets. He was traded to the Seattle Seahawks before the start of the 2017 season, and Richardson fit nicely into their defense. But Seattle simply cannot afford to pay Richardson, unless he's willing to accept a massive hometown discount. Don't count on that, though.
The New England Patriots are a perfect fit for Richardson, though. They couldn't sack Nick Foles nor stop the Eagles ground game in Super Bowl 52. New England simply needs a guy who can stop the run and bring pressure up the middle. Richardson could cost a lot of money, but he'd be well worth it for the Patriots. Bill Belichick has to find a way to quickly fix their defensive line, and Richardson fits the bill. Pun intended.
4 Offensive: Sam Bradford (Arizona Cardinals)
There are only a handful of teams that really need a quarterback, and many of them (like the Cleveland Browns, New York Giants and Denver Broncos), will likely select one with their early first-round picks. As such, Sam Bradford will have a limited amount of suitors, but the Arizona Cardinals seem like the perfect match. With Larry Fitzgerald, David Johnson, Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu, Arizona has plenty of talent to be a Super Bowl contender. They just need a suitable quarterback to help this team get back to form.
Bradford won't be much of an upgrade over pre-2016 and '17 Carson Palmer, but he will be good enough to get them into the playoff picture. He can excel as a game manager in their system, which leans heavily on the ground game and its defense. Don't be surprised if it's a short-term deal that lands Bradford in Arizona.
3 Defensive: Trumaine Johnson (Dallas Cowboys)
Johnson has been one of the NFL's most underrated cornerbacks since breaking into the league back in 2012. Johnson chose the right time (a contract year),to have a career year that saw him post two interceptions and 14 passes defended. He's sure to get paid a lot of money on the open market this off-season, just don't expect it to come from the Los Angeles Rams.
The Dallas Cowboys desperately need a shutdown cornerback, as their secondary has been this team's weakness for a few years now. Johnson can match up against top wide receivers, like NFC East rivals Alshon Jeffery, Odell Beckham Jr. and others. He's the ideal solution to the problem's in Dallas' secondary. The Cowboys will have to pay him a good amount of cash (probably around $50 million), but it could be worth it. A top-flight corner is the one thing holding back Dallas from being a championship contender, and Johnson is the guy.
2 Offensive: Kirk Cousins (New York Jets)
Kirk Cousins will be the most sought-after free agent quarterback on the market since Peyton Manning - when he signed with the Denver Broncos in 2012. Cousins is sure to earn a contract north of $40 million, and he'll have at least a half dozen teams that seriously bid for his services.
According to Rich Cimini of ESPN.com, the New York Jets are "willing to pay whatever it takes" to land Cousins.
Let's go ahead and assume Gang Green truly is willing to pay whatever it takes to land a superstar quarterback. The Jets have plenty of cap space to make it work. They're a quarterback away from being a serious playoff contender again. Nobody should be surprised if and when they offer him a contract comparable to that of Jimmy Garoppolo's. When all is said and done, expect Cousins to land with the Jets.
1 Defensive: Ezekiel Ansah (Tampa Bay Buccaneers)
One of the league's elite pass-rushers will hit the open market, and Ezekiel Ansah is going to get paid a lot of money this spring. It may not come from the Detroit Lions, who look prepared to move in another direction under new head coach Matt Patricia.
Ansah registered 12 sacks for the Lions in 2017 - it was the second time in his career where he brought down a quarterback double-digit times. Ansah will probably have at least a dozen teams lining up for him. So who wins the sweepstakes? Go with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. They registered just 22 sacks in 2017 - fewest in the NFL. They have the cap space to make Ansah a very rich man, and they need him more than any other squad. An $80 million deal isn't out of the question for Ansah, who is a must-have player for a struggling Tampa squad.
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