We are not yet done with the 2018 NFL campaign, as of the typing of this sentence, but pockets of fans around the country are already counting down the days until the start of the 2019 NFL year, which brings with it a new free agency period and new possibilities for franchises that are essentially going through the motions in November and December. The New York Giants and Oakland Raiders are two teams that are clearly planning for a future that doesn’t start until the upcoming Super Bowl comes to an end. Clubs such as the Arizona Cardinals and Buffalo Bills are already in the middle of rebuilds.
Not all free agents are created equal, and that has to be remembered. As of the middle of fall and months before, teams will be able to sign players. Some players will become available after their contracts expire at a time when they believe they can cash-in on deals with new organizations. Others, however, will be either cap casualties of their current franchises or will simply be released because their employers want to go in different directions. As is the case each offseason, NFL free agency will be fascinating to behold up through the spring and maybe even the summer of 2019 if certain players are willing to wait for what they believe are proper offers.
20 Damon Harrison: New York Jets
Defensive tackle Damon Harrison was one of the casualties of the New York Giants' fire sale in October when Big Blue traded him to the Detroit Lions. While nobody can say, for sure, what will happen following this season, Harrison could be a rental because the Lions could save money moving on from him and also because "Snacks" turns 30-years-old in November. A reunion with the New York Jets could be what’s best for Harrison, and not just because he’s familiar with the region. Gang Green is going to have a lot of money to spend next offseason. Remember that for later in this piece.
19 Sam Bradford: Philadelphia Eagles
There are many things that make little sense to we outsiders who don’t work behind the scenes. Franchises continuing to give money and opportunities to Sam Bradford even though everybody who watches the NFL knows what he is, when he is actually healthy, definitely makes the list. That trend is probably going to continue in 2019, as teams will be looking for proven commodities who shouldn’t be too expensive as backups. Bradford, who was recently released by the Arizona Cardinals after three poor games behind center, has been with the Philadelphia Eagles before, and he would realize, in this instance, that he would not be expected to do much as long as Carson Wentz was available and in the lineup.
18 Giovani Bernard: Indianapolis Colts
Cincinnati Bengals running back Giovani Bernard turns 27-years-old in November, and he is set to be signed through the 2019 campaign. The Bengals already have Joe Mixon on the roster and fixed atop the depth chart, when he isn’t injured, so the club could look to move Bernard ahead of the draft. Cincinnati could also save money against the cap by allowing Bernard to enter free agency, especially if the Bengals want to move cash around and spend on other positions. The Indianapolis Colts will probably have a different back in mind even before March. If the Colts can’t get him, Bernard would be a nice consolation prize.
17 Golden Tate: New York Jets
Veteran wide receiver Golden Tate had been with the Detroit Lions since before the start of the 2014 season, but despite hinting that he wants to remain with the franchise past 2018, he was just recently traded to the Philadelphia Eagles. Though he's now catching passes from a younger, similarly talented quarterback in Carson Wentz and playing alongside a more talented receiver corps, he probably realizes that at 30, this is his final chance to make real money as an active player. The Jets could use a talented and experienced target to work with quarterback Sam Darnold, and Gang Green could make moving to the Big Apple worth it.
16 Cordarrelle Patterson: Cleveland Browns
Much like the New York Jets, the Cleveland Browns will have money to spend in 2019 and also a need at the wide receiver position. Think whatever you want about the Browns trading Josh Gordon to the New England Patriots for a fifth-round pick. What’s done is done. Cleveland fans should also probably stop dreaming about the New York Giants trading Odell Beckham Jr. to the Browns unless that franchise wants to give Big Blue a boatload of assets. The Browns giving Cordarrelle Patterson, who is set to become a free agent after a stint with the New England Patriots, a fair and reasonable contract is more likely, and it’s a smart business move for a franchise that’s still trying to build off the ashes of a 0-16 season.
15 Mark Ingram: Houston Texans
If the New Orleans Saints want to go all-in on trying to win one more Super Bowl with Drew Brees on the roster and not think too much of the future beyond that, the team could work to bring Mark Ingram back if he would accept an organizational-friendly contract. Ingram, set to become a free agent after this season, and will be 29-years-old before the end of the current year. Logic suggests that running backs don’t get paid after the age of 30 unless they are Frank Gore or Adrian Peterson. The Houston Texans could be interested in such a back if he and the Saints don’t come to an agreement.
14 Tyler Eifert: Buffalo Bills
Injuries have been downright brutal for Cincinnati Bengals tight end Tyler Eifert, who is going to end his time with that club as a spectator after he suffered a broken ankle in October that prematurely ended his season. The 28-year-old has proven that he can be a Pro Bowl talent, but the last time that occurred was back in 2015. Both he and Cincinnati need fresh starts. In the Buffalo Bills, Eifert would find a team that would love to have him as a target for young quarterback Josh Allen, and also a franchise that can risk investing money on him despite his well-known injury history.
13 Clay Matthews: New England Patriots
It was reported earlier this fall that the Green Bay Packers are not likely to offer linebacker Clay Matthews a contract extension before the end of the season. That wasn’t breaking news, as Matthews will be 33-years-old next spring, and the Packers haven’t always been keen on bringing older veterans back unless such a player is able to show he is still at his best. Matthews may no longer be what he was in 2014, but he's the type of accomplished talent and asset Bill Belichick would love to bring to the New England Patriots. The rich get richer as the Pats look to keep Tom Brady a Super Bowl contender up through the end of the decade.
12 Tyrod Taylor: Arizona Cardinals
Those of us who weren’t inside of the locker room or on the field with Tyrod Taylor during his time with the Cleveland Browns in September can only guess what went wrong. Taylor was supposed to be a bridge QB who started ahead of Baker Mayfield, but he underperformed until a concussion sidelined him and gifted Mayfield with a chance to steal the starting job he hasn’t relinquished. The 29-year-old may still feel that he can start and win in the NFL, but the future free agent needs to be realistic about his options. With the Arizona Cardinals, Taylor could earn a paycheck from a club that will need a solid backup to sit behind Josh Rosen just in case trouble strikes.
11 Tyrann Mathieu: Houston Texans
Safety Tyrann Mathieu bet on himself this past offseason when he signed a one-year contract with the Houston Texans after the Arizona Cardinals released him. The 26-year-old has done well by his standards and for the Texans as of the end of October, and he should be a hot commodity once again when 2019 free agency opens. Houston will have a lot of money invested in the defense if the team signs Mathieu. He’s worth every dollar, even if this transaction means the Texans having to think long and hard about the futures of some others on that side of the football. Remember that quarterback Deshaun Watson will still be relatively cheap up through at least 2020.
10 Kelvin Benjamin: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Back before he suffered a torn ACL in 2015, lengthy wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin appeared to be on the verge of evolving into an All-Pro while playing alongside Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton. In October 2017, the Panthers surprisingly shipped Benjamin to the Buffalo Bills, and that relationship hasn’t gone as either party would have hoped. The 27-year-old is set to become an unrestricted free agent, and it would probably be best for both if they separated. We now know that Benjamin and Newton aren’t the best of friends. Signing with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers would give Benjamin a chance to torch his former team twice per season.
9 Tevin Coleman: Atlanta Falcons
An injury plague has infected the Atlanta Falcons this season, and talented running back Devonta Freeman was one of its victims when a groin injury sent the talented ball-carrier to the injured reserve list. The best thing that could happen to the Falcons would be for Freeman to return before the end of the season and show that he is healthy so that the franchise could trade him en route to signing Tevin Coleman to a long-term deal. Coleman has shown that he can be a feature back in this particular offense, and he is also younger than Freeman. Then again, Coleman’s stock may only rise if he excels in place of the injured Freeman in November and December.
8 Demarcus Lawrence: Cleveland Browns
Those who paid attention to the situation over the summer months are aware that Dallas Cowboys defensive end Demarcus Lawrence is not interested in spending another season with the Cowboys on the franchise tag. These situations can get ugly — looking at you, Pittsburgh Steelers and Seattle Seahawks — and the Cowboys may feel that the wisest course of action is to let the pass-rusher who turns 27 years old next spring take up salary cap with a different team. Cleveland’s defense is already pretty good, but the Browns could always use more help to join Myles Garrett. Besides, Baker Mayfield should continue to get better while on his team-friendly contract.
7 Earl Thomas: Dallas Cowboys
Anybody who wonders why top-tier players should do whatever possible to earn as much money as they can during their careers should only look at Seattle Seahawks safety Earl Thomas, who ended a holdout to return to the club at the start of a contract year only to then suffer a fracture in his left leg. The 29-year-old clearly wants to be a member of the Dallas Cowboys, and the Cowboys will still likely have a hole on that portion of the roster in March 2019. This will be one of the more popular free-agency predictions well before January 1, 2019, let alone before next March.
6 Ndamukong Suh: Los Angeles Rams
Back at the start of the regular season, The Los Angeles Rams signing defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh to a one-year contract largely felt like a short-term rental and not much more. Suh has not only been on his best behavior, as far as those not working for the franchise can tell, up through the final week of October. The 31-year-old is part of what is currently the most talented team in football. Regardless of whether or not the Rams win the Super Bowl in February 2019, Suh and the franchise could come together on a new agreement, even if it is another short-term deal so that both sides can chase a ring before others on the roster need to be paid.
5 Nick Foles: New York Giants
The Philadelphia Eagles probably should have sold backup quarterback Nick Foles to the highest bidder earlier this year, but that's in the past. Foles, the reigning Super Bowl MVP, will be the most popular available QB on the market in March, and the New York Giants are going to need a starter even if Big Blue drafts a signal-caller. From what we know about the team’s front office, those individuals will likely want a veteran to play alongside Odell Beckham Jr. and Saquon Barkley. Foles, who is quite familiar with the NFC East, would be a perfect fit for the 2019 Giants. He could also allow a rookie to develop while second on the depth chart.
4 Le’Veon Bell: New York Jets
Unless something changes and soon, the relationship between running back Le’Veon Bell and the Pittsburgh Steelers is damaged beyond repair even if Bell eventually shows up for some games this season. The Steelers have already found a starting back in James Conner, so letting Bell leave via free agency doesn’t carry the same impact it would have before Conner proved he could fill the void. Meanwhile, the New York Jets should happily pay Bell so that the back can make life for quarterback Sam Darnold easier. With Bell, the Jets could legitimately compete for a playoff spot as soon as 2019.
3 Ezekiel Ansah: San Francisco 49ers
Unlike the previously mentioned Le’Veon Bell, Detroit Lions defensive end Ezekiel Ansah never threatened a holdout after he learned he was going to play the 2018 season on the franchise tag. There are indications as of the fall that the Lions are regretting spending so much money on Ziggy and that the franchise could let him go and look to completely rebuild the defensive line in 2019. The San Francisco 49ers already paid quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, and the Niners will still have enough available cap space to make Ansah happy. Injury woes sunk the 2018 49ers before October, but the team should be able to compete, with or without Ansah, in 2019 if Jimmy G and running back Jerick McKinnon return good as new.
2 Teddy Bridgewater: Miami Dolphins
While the New Orleans Saints re-worked the contract attached to Teddy Bridgewater after trading with the New York Jets for his services, the deal automatically voids next March. Unless Drew Brees is going to change his mind about wanting to continue starting for the Saints, Bridgewater should look elsewhere for a chance to compete for the starting gig. Unlike during many offseasons, there shouldn’t be a myriad of clubs shopping for signal-callers next March. Those in charge of the Miami Dolphins could look to Bridgewater to push Ryan Tannehill, who could be off the roster following 2019, or even to win the job during the summer months.
1 Eli Manning: Jacksonville Jaguars
Eli Manning and the New York Giants are all-but guaranteed to part ways following this season. In the past, Manning has, in interviews, suggested that he wants to continue playing even if that means he would not retire having only started for the team that drafted him during his career. Even though the Jaguars may be stuck with Blake Bortles for one more season, as explained by ESPN’s Michael DiRocco, Manning and Jacksonville could work something out so that the two-time Super Bowl MVP could link back up with former head coach Tom Coughlin down south.