After speculating during the fallout of the 2017 free agency period as to what next year's free agent class may look like, we can now begin to get a sense of reality on the subject, given that these players are now on the field for the regular season. It's still early yet, but there's no doubt that some eligible players have either hurt or helped their free agency stock for next season already, and will continue to do so as the year progresses. It figures to be a competitive market next year as usual, and they will have to do everything they can to stand out to prospective teams.
Not to mention, the individual situations for some players is at a breaking point right now. The interpersonal relationship with their incumbent team has deteriorated beyond repair, and they're almost assured to have a new home for next season. Conversely, there are some players who are near-locks to return to their present situations in 2018, for a variety of reasons. Let's take a look at which free agents will have into each respective category.
Ranked below are 8 NFL 2018 free agents who will end up staying with their team, and 8 who won't.
16 Sam Bradford (Will Stay)
The Vikings have gone all-in on Bradford being at least a potential long-term option after Teddy Bridgewater's injury. They expended a 2017 1st-round draft pick (along with a 4th-rounder), and have made it clear that he is the starter going forward, if healthy. The health hasn't been there thus far in the 2017 season, but barring some kind of situation where he misses the majority of the season, it's hard to see Minnesota moving on from him.
Quarterback continuity is of paramount importance for a contending team, and Minnesota's window to make a run is open as long as their defense continues to perform at a high level. Bradford's not an elite quarterback, but in their mind he's probably good enough to get the job done. They'll ink him to a new contract this offseason.
15 Kirk Cousins (Won't Stay)
While Washington certainly seems to be rolling in the early going of the season, that doesn't mean that the offseason contract disputes with Cousins have been resolved yet. It has clearly been a contentious battle between Cousins and the front office to get anything done regarding a long-term deal, and it is bound to be an ongoing process as the season progresses.
If Washington misses out on the playoffs yet again, you can expect the team to not pony up the money. In all likelihood, Cousins has an open invitation to the 49ers franchise quarterback position, given his relationship with Kyle Shanahan, and you can bet that he won't hesitate to take it if the Redskins' brass are going to skimp on paying him top dollar.
14 Alfred Morris (Will Stay)
Ezekiel Elliott may be the top dog in the Cowboys' backfield right now, but Morris is a worthwhile backup, and it's in the team's best interest to keep him around. He may have peaked during his early years in Washington, but Morris is still a tough runner who can chew up clock at the end of a game, or simply give Elliott a rest when need be. He won't cost much, and is a safe bet to return to Dallas in 2018.
If Elliott ended up getting hurt, it would mean that the Cowboys have one of the best number two runners in the league to keep up a similar pace. For a team that relies so heavily on the run to win games, this is a n0-brainer. Morris should return next season.
13 Allen Robinson (Won't Stay)
For a player who once seemed to be on the brink of the league's elite at the wide receiver position, Robinson now sees his future very much up in the air. Unfortunately, he suffered a season-ending injury during week one of this season, and he's coming off a full year where his production saw a significant drop. The Jaguars may still have a lot of cap space, but it's fair to question whether it's worth spending it on a player who essentially has one very good season to his credit.
Robinson likely winds up playing for another team in 2018. His talent warrants another franchise taking a chance on him, and he has the potential to still have a great career in the right offensive system. Someone will end up paying him the money, but it won't be the Jaguars.
12 Terrelle Pryor (Will Stay)
Washington is counting on a big year from Pryor to help account for the losses of DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon. So far, he's been off to a good start, and giving the Redskins every reason to ink him to a new deal in 2018. He's still young enough where he has the chance to become the go-to target for the team over the long haul, and has a skill set that won't diminish over time.
There's no doubt that Washington figured they would have to make room for Pryor when they signed him to the initial one-year deal this offseason. Ultimately, giving him a prove-it year will just end up being a formality, and he should be the go-to guy for the Redskins in the proceeding seasons, when he gets a new contract after this season.
11 Taylor Gabriel (Won't Stay)
Gabriel has been impressive since the middle of last season as a true deep threat and occasional gadget piece for the Falcons' offense. He's got blazing speed, and you can bet that there are going to be teams interested if he hits the free agent market after this season. The wide receiver market is inflated right now, and Atlanta may not be willing to pay up when he gets any kind of a competing offer.
It's really a toss-up, but Gabriel likely will end up leaving. We've seen a ton of wide receivers switch teams over the past few years who we expected to stay, and it shows that the market isn't doing any favors for teams looking to resign that this position. All things considered, Gabriel will likely be on the way out.
10 Isaiah Crowell (Will Stay)
The Browns haven't had a reliable lead running back for a while, and it looks like Crowell is going to be able to fit the bill for a few years. With an improved offensive line, Cleveland would be smart to keep Crowell for the continuity in the running game. He's a true feature running back in a league that doesn't have as many as it once did. At the very least, his role will be consistent.
Staying in the same system can only serve to benefit Crowell as he tries to establish himself as one of the game's best runners. Expect him to take a well-priced multi-year deal to stay in Cleveland, and become their bell-cow running back for the long-term. The Browns easily have the cap space necessary to get it done.
9 Jimmy Graham (Won't Stay)
Graham's not the player he once was, now that he's in his early-30s, but he'll still have value for a contending team that wants to give him a shot. The Seahawks are no guarantee to resign him, and they may have hit their wall in terms of being able to contend for a Super Bowl. With only a few years left in the game, Graham will want to make sure he's on a winning team for the duration of his career.
Seattle has a puncher's chance of resigning him, but Graham is going to be taking the highest offer available for the best possible team, and both of those things may not line up for the Seahawks. They'll want him back, but the cost may end up being too much to spare. Consider this a toss-up, but expect Graham to not hold any allegiance to Seattle.
8 Eric Decker (Will Stay)
At this point in his career, Decker is a bit short on options. He's coming off a season where he suffered major injury, and he seems to have acclimated to the Titans well enough to warrant coming back next season. He's not going to get premium wide receiver money, and Tennessee is a winning team right now, giving him ample opportunity to contend for a title as his career winds down.
While another team could give Decker a suitable contract, the injury risk, along with the natural regression of skills is a real concern. The Titans need consistent receivers to assist Marcus Mariota, and Decker is a veteran options who makes sense to keep around for a another year or two.
7 Martavis Bryant (Won't Stay)
So far in the 2017 campaign, Bryant is showing that the suspension he suffered the year prior was an anomaly, and that his issues with substance abuse have now been rectified. The Steelers will benefit from having him on the team right now, but how many resources are they willing to expend in the wide receiver position?
They're already paying Antonio Brown an arm and a leg, and they'll to give out another hefty contract to Bryant by next season. With several nice young receiver, including 1st-round pick JuJu Smith-Schuster waiting in the wings, it makes little sense to shell out for Bryant, when you could address other positions of need with that money. Bryant will likely be gone.
6 Alshon Jeffery (Will Stay)
The Eagles signed Jeffery in free agency to be the team's go-to wide receiver, and to help in the development of Carson Wentz. While Jeffery hasn't been otherworldly this year, he's been good, and that's exactly what Philly needed in their receiving corps. A consistent option that wasn't going to kill drives by dropping passes. It's a good bet that they'll be willing to pay him the money.
Jeffery is still a few years away from the age of 30, and a multi-year deal should be in the works. Barring a disaster, the Eagles didn't sign him to a one-year deal just to forego resigning him next year. Wentz needs quality receivers, and Jeffery is an option that is right in front of them.
5 Jeremy Hill (Won't Stay)
With the Bengals drafting Joe Mixon in the 2nd-round of the draft, Hill's departure next season is all but cemented. There's no way the team is going to justify paying him a new contract when Mixon will likely be taking the bulk of the carries anyway. Frankly, Hill may be traded by mid-season so that Cincinnati can actually get something back for him. He's still a pretty good player, and has produced in spades before.
Trades in the middle of the year aren't a guarantee however, and the more likely result is that he walks in free agency. They won't hesitate on making Mixon the usual starter as early as this season, and there's just no room for Hill in the Bengals' backfield.
4 Sammy Watkins (Will Stay)
You don't trade for a receiver like Watkins only to not re-sign him. With the Rams offense looking to be on the upswing, it has to be figured that he is a long-term piece to that equation. When he's healthy, there are few receivers in the game who are better than Watkins, and he still has a long career in front of him. Los Angeles got a steal, and a perfect receiving weapon to aid in Jared Goff's development.
He'll command big money in all likelihood, but it'll money worth spending. With Watkins on board, their receiving corps is dominant, and they could have one of the very best passing attacks league-wide, as soon as this season. It makes sense to make Watkins a priority going forward.
3 Jarvis Landry (Won't Stay)
The Dolphins and Landry weren't able to come together on a new contract this offseason, leaving his future with the team very much in doubt. Miami has a bevy of talented receivers that also include DeVante Parker, Kenny Stills and rookie Jakeem Grant all in the mix, so Landry could be the odd man out. He'll likely command big money, and the Dolphins may not be in a position to give it to him.
We'll have to see if anything changes during the season, but if he's not franchise tagged, there's a strong possibility that Landry could be the biggest name on the wide receiver free agent market next year. He's a great talent, but not seeing eye to eye with the Dolphins' brass at the moment.
2 Drew Brees (Will Stay)
It's coming near the end of the road for Brees, who has simply had one of the best quarterback careers in the history of the league. At the age of 38, there just isn't much left in the tank at this point, but he still could hang around New Orleans for another season. Sean Payton has to assume that his chances of winning big are directly attached to Brees, and the duo may give it one last effort in 2018.
Surely, there's no way Brees would go anywhere else. Hardly any other is as synonymous with a team the way he is with the Saints, and nobody would pony up the money for a quarterback at this age. He could retire just as well, but Brees will probably want to give it one final shot on a one-year contract, while the Saints draft a quarterback who figures to be his replacement.
1 Le'Veon Bell (Won't Stay)
In what was one of two notable holdouts during the offseason this year (Aaron Donald being the other), Bell only reported to the Steelers' facilities mere days before the first regular season game. It showed in the early going of the season, as Bell didn't look like the player he had been in the preceding seasons. There's clearly a disconnect going on in Pittsburgh right now, and Bell is in the spotlight of it.
Even though he's missed time due to injury and suspension during his career, he's going to command a huge contract. He's just the kind of player that is going to see the market value him at a premium. At Bell's age, he's probably just going to be concerned with getting top dollar first and foremost.
More than likely, it won't be from the Steelers, as they've already paid Antonio Brown as their top-dog skill player. Consider Bell to be on his way out, and for the situation in Pittsburgh to deteriorate even further.
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