NFL training camp is underway, the preseason is in full swing, and the start of the 2017 season is just days away. Players and coaches are hoping that all of their hard work throughout the offseason will pay off on the field and fans are just hoping that their team is better than the Browns. Browns fans are hoping…wait, there aren’t any Browns fans.
While most of the NFL is focused on this year, there is a small segment that is already looking towards the future. They aren’t focused on this year, or even next year, and instead have their eyes set on the 2019 season. Why 2019? Because that year will have a loaded free agent class that can turn around a franchise with just a single signature on a new contract.
The first round picks from the 2014 NFL Draft will be free agents at this time and that draft featured such players as Odell Beckham Jr., Mike Evans, and Khalil Mack. Also, most players drafted in the second round or later from the 2015 NFL draft will also be free agents and that class features David Johnson, Landon Collins, and Jay Ajayi. Those are franchise-altering players and they’ll look to cash in once they hit the open market.
But who will they cash in with? Will they stay with the comforts of familiarity and stick with their current team or chase a big pay day and join a new team? There are always some surprising moves during free agency and 2019 will be no different. Here is where the top 15 NFL free agents of 2019 will sign.
15 Richard Sherman - Los Angeles Chargers
Sherman was nearly moved during the 2017 offseason and the Seahawks may try again to trade him during the 2018 offseason. But it’s all but certain that Sherman won’t be back in Seattle once his contract expires after the 2018 season. He will be a 31-year-old cornerback by then and as Darrelle Revis showed last year, CBs can fall off a cliff at that age. Sherman has too much pride and ego to make the move to safety so his options may be limited.
However, one team just makes too much sense and that is the Los Angeles Chargers. Sherman is a native of L.A., his former defensive coordinator, Gus Bradley, now runs the Chargers’ defense, and the team already has a shutdown corner in Jason Verrett so Sherman can cover the number two receiver. But perhaps the best thing about Sherman joining the Chargers is that he’ll get to renew his battles with Michael Crabtree of the divisional rival Raiders.
14 Adrian Peterson - Dallas Cowboys
According to Adrian Peterson, himself, he has five more years left in him. If Peterson is still in the NFL at the age of 36 then that would be a bigger accomplishment than Tom Brady, Drew Brees, or any quarterback playing at 45. But before ADAP reaches 36, he has to reach 34 and that’s how old he would be in 2019. If he’s still around then he would be a backup like how he currently is in New Orleans and the perfect backfield for the future Hall of Famer would be behind the Great Wall of Dallas. He can continue moving up the all-time rushing list behind the best offensive line in the game and spell Ezekiel Elliott (provided Zeke hasn’t gotten himself kicked out of the league by then). The marriage of the Texas-born Peterson and the Cowboys has been rumored for about a decade and it may finally happen come 2019.
13 Blake Bortles - Seattle Seahawks
The Jags shocked everyone by picking up Blake Bortles’ option for the 2018 season but Tom Coughlin has as good a chance at starting for QB in 2019 as Bortles does. Despite being from central Florida, playing for UCF, and now playing for Jacksonville; Bortles needs a change of scenery in the worst way and needs to get as far away from Florida as possible. Seattle fits that criteria and Bortles can learn behind a Super Bowl winning-QB in Russell Wilson. Bortles and Wilson are more similar than you would think as they are two of three QBs who have 10,000 passing yards and 1,000 rushing yards over the last three seasons (along with Cam Newton). He can spend a year or two holding a clipboard and playing in mop-up duty and then reenter free agency and push for a starting job.
12 Kelvin Benjamin - Chicago Bears
Benajmin has been inflicted with two issues since posting a 1,000 yard season as a rookie in 2014. While the torn ACL Benjamin suffered in 2015 wasn’t something he could control, him constantly being out shape is something he can control. He’s become the wide receiver version of Eddie Lacy in terms of weight problems and showed up to Panthers OTAs at 270 pounds in Apri! TWO-SEVENTY!! The club picked up his team option in 2018 but Carolina already seems to be moving away from Benjamin as its featured receiver. The team has drafted Devin Funchess, Curtis Samuel, and RB/WR hybrid Christian McCaffrey within the first two rounds in recent years.
The only “receiver” that Carolina is likely to give a new contract to in the near future is tight end Greg Olsen who will also be a free agent in 2019. Benjamin would be a good fit with a team like Chicago who lacks talent at receiver and should be competitive by 2019.
11 Randall Cobb - Seattle Seahawks
Randall Cobb was the youngest unrestricted free agent in NFL history in 2015 and he may very well become the youngest player ever to get a third contract in 2019. But Cobb’s production has declined in each of the past two seasons and he has just one 1000 yard season in his six year career. With DaVante Adams’ ascension, Cobb is nothing more than the third receiving option on the team and is limited to playing in the slot. If that is something Cobb is content with, then he could return to Green Bay but if he wants to put all of his skills on display; it’s best he looks at other options.
I would like to see Cobb in a Percy Harvin-like role and going to Seattle could make that a reality. The Seahawks’ offensive coordinator, Darrell Bevell, was the OC in Minnesota when Harvin had his best seasons and he could coax a career year out of Cobb.
10 David Johnson - Arizona Cardinals
Le’Veon Bell held out of Steelers’ training camp because he wants to be the highest paid RB in the league. He won’t get a new contract this year but he will become the league’s highest paid in 2018 and he’ll hold that title for all of one year. That’s because David Johnson becomes a free agent in 2019 and he should surpass whatever Bell gets. Johnson won’t have to leave Arizona to get paid as he will be the face of the franchise by then with Carson Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald expected to retire soon. Not every big-name free agent in 2019 will change teams and as long as the Cardinals field a competitive team, Johnson has no reason to leave the Valley of the Sun.
9 Jadeveon Clowney - Carolina Panthers
The number one pick in the 2014 draft, Clowney has yet to display the all-world athleticism that made him worthy of that draft selection. His “breakout” season in 2016 consisted of just 6 sacks and that was without J.J. Watt hoarding all of the Texans’ sacks. He seems to finally be healthy so this upcoming season will be a critical factor in determining if the Texans offer him an extension. But no matter how great Clowney plays over the next two years, he will always take a back seat to Watt and likely Deshaun Watson as well.
A move back to the Carolinas would look mighty appealing to the South Carolina native and the Panthers will have a need at defensive end. Charles Johnson and Julius Peppers, who Clowney was most often compared to, are on their last legs and Clowney would get the comforts of playing at home as well as playing defensive end instead of outside linebacker.
8 Tevin Coleman - New Orleans Saints
In 2008 Michael Turner went from a backup running back with the Chargers to an All-Pro back with the Falcons. Tevin Coleman has all of the tools to make a similar jump but this time it will come at the Falcons’ expense. The team recently signed Devonta Freeman through 2022 so Coleman will look for a bigger role once he reaches free agency. Coleman has shown the ability to be a three-down back and he’s arguably the best backup in the league. There’s a good chance that even though Coleman will leave Atlanta, the Falcons will still see lots of him as the divisional rival Saints seem like a perfect destination. Both Mark Ingram and Adrian Peterson will be free agents and Coleman is the perfect back for Sean Payton’s system. He’s essentially a bigger, faster version of Ingram and most importantly, he’s four years younger than the 2009 Heisman winner.
7 Deone Bucannon - Pittsburgh Steelers
The ultimate chess piece in the Cardinals defense, Bucannon is a converted safety who now plays inside linebacker. Playing linebacker is best for the team, but is it best for Bucannon? He was a strong safety all through college and maybe he wants to return to his natural position. It certainly makes since financially as safeties are seen as more valuable than inside linebackers. There are six safeties who will make at least $10 million this season while just three inside linebackers can make that claim. A move to safety would also extend Bucannon’s career as he’ll be involved in less action than playing in the front seven. Pittsburgh seems like a perfect destination as they have been searching for a strong safety ever since Troy Polamalu retired after the 2014 season.
6 Clay Matthews III - Baltimore Ravens
CM3 has been the defensive stalwart for the Packers since 2009 and has played both inside linebacker and outside linebacker. He admitted that playing inside will keep him healthier but with the Packers losing OLBs Julius Peppers and Datone Jones, the team plans on keeping him on the outside. By the 2019 season Matthews will have 10 years under his belt and if he wants to continue his career, a permanent move back inside may be necessary.
With the Packers unwilling to go in that direction, Matthews should be looking at teams who will allow him to stay inside and the Ravens seem like the perfect destination. He gets to go to a winning organization that has a strong defensive reputation and he gets to play alongside a perennial Pro Bowler in C.J. Mosley. Matthews would also get to stay in a 3-4 defense which is critical as it may be a tough ask for him to switch to a 4-3 after playing in a 3-4 his entire career.
5 Duke Johnson - New England Patriots
Perhaps the most damning analogy ever made about the Browns is when a former player compared playing for them as to going to college. He said that once you get drafted by Cleveland, you do your four years (the average contract length) and then you graduate to the real world/a real team. Duke Johnson will be a Browns graduate of the Class of 2019 and he won’t look back as he seeks a full-time job with another team.
However, he’ll likely have to settle for a part-time role as a third down back with a team as he lacks the size to be an every down back. He is a Danny Woodhead-type back and actually has more receiving yards than rushing yards in his career. He’ll be a perfect fit in New England’s backfield as they always seem to get the most out of these types of players. Also, it would be apropos for Johnson to get a reward and join the Patriots organization after his four years of indentured servitude in Cleveland.
4 Khalil Mack - Green Bay Packers
While Khalil Mack may be on the move during the 2019 season, the Oakland Raiders will be on the move as they will be relocating to Las Vegas. Mack could very well be a three-time Defensive Player of the Year by then and he will be eyeing the biggest contract in NFL history. However, with the Raiders emptying their pockets with the relocation to Vegas (and Derek Carr’s monstrous contract), the team may not have enough to satisfy Mack’s demands.
The Packers will be able to pay Mack whatever he wants as Clay Matthews’ contract will come off the books. Mack is a perfect replacement for Matthews at outside linebacker and he could be to Aaron Rodgers what Reggie White was to Brett Favre: that defensive presence that gets the team back to the Super Bowl. While Wisconsin may not be seen as the ideal destination for a Florida-born player like Mack, remember he spent four years in Buffalo, which is where he went to college.
3 Matt Ryan - Atlanta Falcons
Assuming he doesn’t agree to an extension beforehand, the highest-profile QB to hit free agency in 2019 is Matt Ryan. The reigning MVP has been with the Falcons since 2008 and don’t expect that to change anytime soon. Ryan will likely become the highest paid player in NFL history until Russell Wilson, Jameis Winston, or whomever the next QB in line is surpasses him. There is really no reason for Ryan to leave Atlanta unless Julio Jones pulls a Calvin Johnson and retires unexpectedly. He plays for an organization with a great front office and plays in a new stadium which is conducive for him putting up big numbers. Ryan can also do something in Atlanta that he can’t do in most of the other NFL cities and that is become the greatest player in franchise history. There’s a lot less competition for that honor with the Falcons than there would be with other franchises and, trust me, that means something to athletes.
2 Joe Thomas - Green Bay Packers
Through 2016 Thomas has started 160 of a possible 160 games, made the Pro Bowl in all 10 of his seasons, and never appeared in the postseason. Based on recent seasons, the Browns won’t be making the playoffs anytime soon so Thomas could very well pass Takeo Spikes’ record of 217 games played without a postseason appearance…unless he leaves. It’s honorable that Thomas wants to stick it through in Cleveland until they become winners again but Thomas already has every honor imaginable except for a bust in the Hall of Fame which is inevitable.
Why not finish your football career where it started and that’s in the state of Wisconsin which is where Thomas was born and attended college. Thomas joining the Packers would kill two birds with one stone as he would get to play for a perennial contender and Aaron Rodgers will get his wish of the team going “all in” by splurging in free agency.
1 Odell Beckham Jr. - Los Angeles Rams
Why would someone who may be the most popular non-QB in the league and someone who wants to be a global icon want to leave the media capital of the world? Because it takes two to tangle and the Giants may be unwilling to dance with OBJ two years from now. Despite the Hall of Fame trajectory Beckham is on, his antics both on and off the field don’t exactly fit in with the buttoned-up image of the New York Football Giants.
So where would Beckham go? Why not leave the media capital of the world for the entertainment capital of the world and Los Angeles? He could do pretty much everything he does now in New York in L.A. but he won’t have as intense media scrutiny as on the East Coast. Also, Eli Manning is getting up there in age and he’ll be 38 come 2019. Manning may not even be around by then and Beckham should seek out a younger team and quarterback that can properly feed his ego.