Just like it was during this offseason, the 2018 free agency period is sure to have some high-profile moves to its credit. Some of the best players in the league will likely see their contract expire by the end of this season, and there’s a good chance that they’ll be hitting the open market in 2018. Some of them are obvious, even right now, and some of them will become more apparent as the season goes forward this year.
Ultimately, it shouldn’t disappoint, and many familiar faces will be switching teams, while others will elect to stay with their incumbent franchise. Whatever the case may be, the bidding wars will be intense, and there will be many teams vying for some of the best players in the league. Let’s take a look at the destinations for the league’s top-15 players in free agency next year. It should be one of the more noteworthy classes in recent history, with plenty of fanfare to go along with it. Never too early to look ahead, and project some of the major shakeups of next offseason.
Ranked below are 15 potential landing spots for the NFL’s top free agents of 2018.
15. Le’Veon Bell
The recent stalemate between Bell and the Steelers regarding a new contract have gleaned some insight as to where he stands for the 2018 free agent market. Pittsburgh already gave a huge contract to Antonio Brown, so they may not want to shell out the inevitably high price tag for Bell. Still having not signed his franchise tender for this season, there’s actually a chance that Bell could hold out, though it probably won’t be a substantial amount of time in the regular season.
But the point is that Bell could be on the chopping block. If he is, the Buccaneers are one team that could complete their offensive puzzle by getting such an elite running back. They have the cap space to do it, and it could signal the beginning of a long reign of dominance. If Bell hits the market, this could be a likely possibility.
14. Sammy Watkins
The Bills have a new coaching staff this year headed by Sean McDermott, who has no ties whatsoever to the often-injured Watkins. It seems that Watkins is going to have a massively productive, and most importantly healthy season in order for the Bills to pay up for him when he’s off his rookie deal. The talent is there, but the injury concerns are real.
The Jets are entering a complete rebuild on offense, and they have the cap space necessary to take the chance on a player like Watkins. He definitely won’t be their only offensive upgrade in the 2018 offseason, but if New York could get him at a bit of a discount, he could pay dividends in the future if he stays on the field. They need help on offense, and Watkins can be one of the best receivers in the league.
13. Terrelle Pryor
Pryor bet on himself this year, electing to take a 1-year deal with Washington in order to prove that he’s worth a long-term deal. Since it’s likely that Kirk Cousins will not receive a long-term deal from the Redskins (more on that later), the team should have enough cap space to ink-up Pryor for the future, provided that he has a good season this year.
And there’s really no reason that he shouldn’t. Pryor was able to put up a 1,000 yard season will very questionable quarterbacks in Cleveland last year, and the Redskins’ pass-first offense will suit him fully, especially with Cousins throwing the ball. There are questions about efficiency with Pryor, but overall he should play well enough to warrant a long-term deal in 2018.
12. Dontari Poe
One of the more intriguing interior defensive lineman in the league, Poe will be playing this season with the Falcons, after a long stint in Kansas City. At times, he can simply be dominating up front, which will make it all the more interesting when the cap-strapped Falcons will need to resign him in 2018. If Poe has a monster year, you can consider him a likely candidate to once again be changing teams.
The Titans would do well to add a force in the middle of their defensive line to pair with Jurrell Casey. Doing so would give them a near-unstoppable pair of defensive tackles, which would make their run defense something fearsome. Poe likely won’t demand top-dollar for his services, and this is a fit that makes sense for both sides, as the Titans continue to improve their defense.
11. Jimmy Graham
When Seattle brought Graham in several years ago, he was considered one of the best tight ends in the entire league. His prowess as a receiver was unbelievable, and it was considered one of the most high-profile acquisitions of the offseason. Since then, his stock has dipped every so slightly, although he remains a quality player. The Seahawks may want to resign him, but they have one of the lowest amounts of cap room in the league right now, which will make it difficult.
In the somewhat likely event that Graham hits the open market, consider the Patriots a strong contender to land him. Bill Belichick can never get enough of the tight end position, always looking for another one to pair with Rob Gronkowski in their offense. Graham fits the bill in every way imaginable, and the Patriots have shown that they aren’t afraid to make a big push for a free agent that they really want.
10. Sam Bradford
Who knows what’s going to happen with Teddy Bridgewater’s injury, as it pertains to him being the future franchise quarterback of the Vikings. It was a terrible stroke of luck for his career, and now Bradford will likely be entrenched as the team’s starter for another full season. Last year, he actually performed better than some expected, and the team seems to be relatively high on him. Barring a complete collapse, it’s likely that Bradford returns at the team’s starter.
Continuity is important at the quarterback position, and the Vikings desperately need it after losing Bridgewater. Whether or not Bridgewater makes a return of some kind, it seems to be Bradford’s job to lose, at least right now.
9. Trumaine Johnson
Having signed the franchise tag with the Rams this year, it looks like Johnson is on the outs with the franchise at the moment. He will now be playing under the franchise tag for the 2nd consecutive season; never a good look for a player wanting to return to any team. If he doesn’t get traded during the 2017 campaign, you can expect him to hit the open market in 2018 free agency.
If that’s the case, there’s going to be a bevy of teams interested in the productive cornerback. It’s really anyone’s guess on this one, but the Colts would be a prospective team that could make a big push. They have the cap space necessary, and are looking to rebuild their secondary (along with their entire defense). Johnson fits the mold in just about every way, and could earn a ton of money.
Destination: Indianapolis Colts
8. Vontaze Burfict
Consistently toeing the line between being one of the best linebackers in the league, and being one of the most destructive players in the league, there’s a good chance that Burfict isn’t resigned by the Bengals. With his injuries, combined with his overly-combative behavior on the field, it’s reasonable to assume that they will want to move on.
However, Burfict is still a very good player, and could thrive in the right situation. Going to a team with an established, winning culture is probably the best move for him. The Steelers always likely to carry a bevy of linebackers, and players like James Harrison are nearing the end of their careers. Burfict may have heat with Steelers fans, but the situation on paper actually makes a lot of sense. And after all, Steeler-great Harrison did play one season on the rival Bengals, so it seems to be fair game.
7. Ezekiel Ansah
He may have suffered a down year in 2016, but Ansah is still one of the league’s most talented pass-rushers, a skill that is a necessity on a good defense in today’s game. He’s going to command some kind of high price, and his 2017 campaign with the Lions is going to determine just how much it is. If he makes any kind of a return to form, you can bet that he’s going to price the Lions out of contention for his services.
It seems almost ridiculous to say, but the Browns have actually built a pretty talented defensive line for themselves over the past few years. They are investing heavily into it, and an Ansah signing could be the catalyst that makes them a truly elite unit. They have the cap space to do it, and there could be very little standing in their way. A Myles Garrett/Ansah pairing as edge rushers could prove to be devastating.
6. Drew Brees
Despite his age, you can expect Brees to ink another deal to finish out his career with the Saints. No two ways about it here, Brees is an all-time great quarterback, and probably has zero aspirations of playing for another team. If he isn’t in a Saints uniform for the 2018 season, it will mean that he’s retired.
But you can expect interest in the Saints bringing him back for at least one more season. They haven’t found any kind of long-term answer at the position, and until Brees sees some kind of statistical drop-off, there’s little reason to not keep him around in the interim. He’s still one of the most productive passers in the league. This is a no-brainer, and Brees will return.
5. Alshon Jeffery
In what was the biggest of wide receiver signings this offseason, Jeffery was inked by the Eagles to solve their ongoing problem with the receiving corps. He may have had his issues while in Chicago, injury-related or otherwise, but nobody can deny that Jeffery is one of the best receivers in the league if he’s on the field. Betting on himself, he’ll look to earn a long-term deal in Philly on the merits of his play in 2017.
The likelihood is that this turns out to be the case. Jeffery knows that Philly likely brought him in with the intention of giving him the long-term deal, barring some kind of massive drop-off in the quality of his play. The Eagles won’t have a ton of cap space in 2018, but they’ll have enough sign Jeffery.
4. Larry Fitzgerald
If we had to put money on it right now, I’d say that this is Fitzgerald’s last year in the league. Not only is it a make-or-break year for the Cardinals under the Bruce Arians regime, but Carson Palmer likely will retire as well following the conclusion of the season. Fitzgerald has had an all-time great career as a receiver, and been one of the marquee players of his generation.
So while there will be a handful of teams wanting to bring him in on a veteran cost, Fitzgerald likely doesn’t want to play for another franchise. It’s Super Bowl-or-bust for him this year and unfortunately, he’s probably going to end his career without one. Bank on Fitzgerald calling it quits after the season.
3. Malcolm Butler
The Patriots have shown that they aren’t afraid to throw money at players they really want, but by the same token they’ve also proven that they don’t care about letting good players walk in free agency. Chances are, they won’t offer Butler top-dollar compared to some other teams, and leave the decision up to him whether he wants to stay for less money.
If history is any indication, Butler will walk to another team. Everyone knows him as the player who essentially single-handedly won the Super Bowl in 2014, but he’s actually one of the most consistent cornerbacks in the game today. The market on him will be unpredictable, but the Packers need serious help at corner, and that would be a good early shot-in-the-dark guess as to where he may end up.
2. DeAndre Hopkins
The Texans still haven’t made a move on Hopkins, who is still one of the best receivers in the league, all things considered. On top of it, he hasn’t ever had a quarterback who has been a consistent starter on a perennial basis. He’s put up some phenomenal numbers, all without the advent of a franchise player under center. That’s impressive, and it’s going to command a big payday in 2018 if the Texans don’t ink him to a long-term deal.
There are lots of possibilities here, and chances are that it will come down to the highest bidder. One team that some would find unlikely, but actually makes some sense is the Steelers. Pittsburgh has shown that they aren’t afraid to get as many resources as possible at wide receiver, and a Hopkins/Brown combination of the outside of the field would be deadly. They probably aren’t putting the greatest confidence in Martavis Bryant right now, and Hopkins could essentially be the replacement.
1. Kirk Cousins
In what was undoubtedly the offseason drama of 2017, Cousins and the Redskins still haven’t come to terms on a new deal, and he’ll likely be playing his 2nd straight season on the franchise tag. As a quarterback, this is unprecedented, and it shows that the Washington front office truly is as much of a disaster as all the reports have indicated. These negotiations have clearly been botched from the beginning, and the Redskins are going to pay for it.
Cousins is the best quarterback they’ve had in decades, and the chances of immediately replacing him with someone of a similar caliber are slim. He’s worth the money, given that he plays the most important position on the field, but nothing seems to be able to sway the Redskins’ brass into ponying up for it. Barring a miracle, you can expect Cousins to reunite with offensive guru Kyle Shanahan in San Francisco, where he’ll be the franchise player for the Niners. They have the cap space to make it happen, and Cousins has lots of incentives to go there.
Destination: San Francisco 49ers
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