Free agency is a vital part of every National Football League offseason. The idea behind this practice is that each team, regardless of how well or how poorly a particular squad performs during the previous season, can retool and become a championship side capable of winning a division title and making a run all the way to the Super Bowl. While free agency does result in fan favorites leaving teams because of salary restraints and other matters, the fact remains that this type of open market has helped create what is currently the most entertaining of the four main professional sports leagues in all of North America. The hope is that this type of parity gives every club an opportunity to win something of meaning each season.
Some of the most well-known players in the NFL will enter free agency at the start of the 2018 NFL calendar. Among them, multiple individuals will likely pursue massive contracts with different sides, while some will likely look to re-sign with their current employers. Don’t forget that at least a few of these big names will also enter retirement rather than choose to play a down of meaningful football during the 2018 campaign. While we are only into the early stages of the 2017 season as of the posting of this piece, it isn’t too early to look ahead and forecast how teams may change once the 2018 free agency period opens. Which of the following 15 free agency predictions do you agree or disagree with the most?
15 Drew Brees: New York Jets
Fans of the New Orleans Saints may feel that even the notion of Drew Brees playing for any other team is nothing short of blasphemy. The reality of the situation is that Brees turns 39-years-old in January 2018, and the Saints probably aren’t winning another Super Bowl before his tenure with the club ends in one way or another. Why, then, would the Saints offer him one final contract in free agency?
As far as we know, Brees is not interested in retiring before he turns 40, and he could earn millions upon millions of dollars signing one last one-year contract. The New York Jets are going to need a bridge quarterback to teach a rookie next fall. Who better than a Super Bowl champion and a future Hall-of Famer?
14 Jimmy Graham: Cleveland Browns
Tight end Jimmy Graham has no real emotional ties to the Seattle Seahawks, he probably realizes he only has one final opportunity to sign a big contract before he retires, and the Cleveland Browns need a proven play-maker at the position.
Graham may be convinced to avoid the Browns if the franchise has another horrible season, but all indications are that Cleveland isn’t the disaster the club was even a year ago. The Browns making Graham an offer he cannot refuse, financially speaking, could be enough to lead to the future Hall-of-Famer retiring as a member of a franchise searching for its first winning season since 2007.
13 Isaiah Crowell: New York Giants
Here’s an instance of a member of the Cleveland Browns abandoning the club rather than cashing-in on a contract with the team. For whatever reasons, current Cleveland head coach Hue Jackson is clearly not keen on relying on Isaiah Crowell as the top running back in his offense even though Crowell has shown sparks that he could be the feature back the Browns have needed for years. Crowell will be only 25-years-old in early 2018, and he’s going to want to show what he can achieve in an offense that trusts him.
The New York Giants need an upgrade at the position, and Crowell will likely come at a discount for Big Blue. This is a move that is logical for both entities involved.
12 Nate Solder: New York Giants
New England Patriots offensive tackle Nate Solder is going to be in line to make himself quite a bit of money once the 2018 NFL offseason opens. History suggests the Patriots probably won’t pay Solder what he's worth on the open market even if legendary quarterback Tom Brady remains with he club for at least another year.
All signs point to the New York Giants desperately needing help up front next season during the twilight of Eli Manning’s historic career, and the Giants should be able to free up the necessary funds to pay an available tackle. Solder heading to the Giants makes all kinds of sense unless current New York left tackle Ereck Flowers shocks the world and becomes a serviceable blocker between now and the holiday season.
11 Vontae Davis: Cleveland Browns
Passionate fans of the Cleveland Browns are holding out hope the club is finally moving in the right direction and becoming a respectable franchise capable of winning more than a couple of games every season. Part of that wishful thinking involves the Browns having a boatload of available salary cap space as of the fall of 2017 and as of the start of the 2018 NFL calendar.
Cornerback Vontae Davis may be struggling with remaining healthy as of September 2017, but he’s still a fine player who has plenty of years left in the tank. Davis may be looking to bolt from the Indianapolis Colts if the Colts again fail to meet expectations, and the Browns could make him even richer than he is today. This is deal both the Browns and Davis should look to complete.
10 Julius Peppers: Carolina Panthers
Defensive end Julius Peppers has enjoyed an amazing career, and he should be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame not too long after he hangs his cleats up for good. While nobody can accurately predict the long-term future with any certainty, it appears the 37-year-old is not yet ready to walk away from the game.
Peppers began a second stint with the Carolina Panthers ahead of the 2017 campaign, and he shouldn’t be fishing for any massive contract extension at this point of his career. Unless he ends up being downright miserable with the franchise that drafted him all the way back in 2002, we expect he'll sign a final contract to keep him with the Panthers up through the end of his career.
9 Terrelle Pryor: New York Jets
Wide receiver Terrelle Pryor seemingly believed he was going to be worth more on the free agency market in March 2017 than clubs were willing to spend on the former quarterback who make the switch to WR not all that long ago. Pryor ended up settling for a short-term deal with the Washington Redskins, and that team has multiple uncertainties hovering over it even before 2018 begins.
Pryor may still be a work in progress, but it isn’t all that crazy of a notion to suggest some team will be willing to give him one final payday to see if he can reach his high ceiling before his physical prime disappears. The New York Jets need the help on offense, so it is logical Pryor will wear a Gang Green jersey next fall.
8 Frank Gore: Retire
Father Time is undefeated and untied, something that every professional athlete eventually learns one way or another. Current Indianapolis Colts running back Frank Gore turned 34-years-old this past spring, and the ageless wonder probably won’t receive a plethora of offers from teams once he enters free agency in 2018.
It’s a shame Gore never had an opportunity to feature for the New England Patriots, New York Giants or Pittsburgh Steelers while those teams were enjoying championship runs, as he has been a classy player who probably deserved a little better during his time. It is what it is, so goes the saying, and Gore will probably retire without a ring on his Super Bowl resume following the 2017 campaign and ahead of his 35th birthday.
7 Tyvon Branch: Cleveland Browns
The Arizona Cardinals and the Cleveland Browns will likely be going in different directions as it pertains to the 2018 free agency class. Safety Tyvon Branch may not be close to retirement, but he will be 31-years-old before the current season comes to an end. With the Cardinals eying getting younger, it’s understandable the club wouldn’t extend an extension to a player who, on paper, could be replaced by a younger product.
The Browns, meanwhile, could use an additional veteran in the team’s secondary as the franchise attempts to overtake the likes of the Cincinnati Bengals and Baltimore Ravens in the division standings. Cleveland needs to give Branch a call next March if the Cardinals allow him to enter free agency.
6 Sam Bradford: Minnesota Vikings
There is bound to be plenty of speculation about what the Minnesota Vikings are going to do regarding the quarterback position once the 2018 offseason arrives. Sam Bradford is currently entrenched as the team’s starter, but Teddy Bridgewater will eventually make his return from the horrific knee injury that cost him the 2016 season and that could prematurely end his career.
Bradford will have an opportunity to enter free agency if he desires, but the Vikings cannot possibly trust Bridgewater to be what he was before his knee betrayed him during a practice. That, above anything else, is why we are predicting Bradford will re-up with the Vikings on at least a one-year contract and avoid free agency even before the 2018 NFL calendar opens.
5 Justin Bethel: Philadelphia Eagles
Those thinking the Arizona Cardinals won’t allow every proven player on the squad to leave the club should remember that the franchise asked cornerback Justin Bethel to take a pay cut ahead of the 2017 season. Time may heal wounds, but Bethel has no reason to make negotiations easy for his current employer once 2018 stats.
The Philadelphia Eagles may have several cornerstones for what could become a top-flight roster, but the squad could use some help in the secondary to deal with the offenses of the Dallas Cowboys and the New York Giants. Even if a healthy Bethel isn’t seen as a shutdown cornerback in today’s NFL, he could help bolster a unit that has already struggled in the early parts of the 2017 season.
4 Tyler Eifert: New England Patriots
The Cincinnati Bengals have a long history of allowing players who aren’t quarterbacks to enter free agency. Tight end Tyler Eifert isn’t always the most reliable target for the Bengals, but he could make for a dynamite weapon for an offense that knows how to use him. Name a better team to get the most out of a tight end than the New England Patriots, especially with Tom Brady looking to win at least one more title before he chooses to retire.
It’s entirely possible beloved figure Rob Gronkowski could become a salary cap casualty in 2018 if he is unable to remain healthy for another season. If nothing else, we’ve learned the Patriots have convinced players such as Eifert to take less pay and chase a ring.
3 Larry Fitzgerald: Retire
By all accounts, Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald is a loyal team player who has no desire to start for a different club and who doesn’t need to chase a ring with any other side. Assuming that is the case, the 34-year-old may have to make a difficult decision come 2018.
The Cardinals are about to enter a rebuilding phase that will include the team trusting a young and unproven quarterback, and the club will likely look to unload some contracts in the process. Keeping Fitzgerald as a member of the roster doesn’t make a lot of sense for Arizona, and we’d like to see him be able to hold his head high and retire as a member of the only NFL franchise he’s ever played for during his tremendous career.
2 Le’Veon Bell: Indianapolis Colts
The Pittsburgh Steelers understandably won’t be fond of losing running back Le’Veon Bell in 2018, but the relationship between the two sides is likely damaged following Bell’s public holdout that lasted throughout the summer of 2017. While the Steelers could hold onto Bell by using the franchise tag, he likely wouldn’t sign that tag with a smile on his face and a song in his heart.
The Indianapolis Colts have to do whatever possible to make life easier for quarterback Andrew Luck in order to not waste Luck’s best years. A great way to do so would be to acquire who may, all things considered, be the best running back in the league today. Bell could thrive playing in an offense that revolves around a quarterback such as Luck.
1 Kirk Cousins: San Francisco 49ers
Unless you accidentally stumbled upon this post while surfing the Internet, you're probably aware of the murky relationship between quarterback Kirk Cousins and the Washington Redskins. The Redskins would be silly to allow Cousins to enter free agency, which means the team will probably let that happen when you consider the franchise’s history and the individual tasked with running the club.
Cousins will receive multiple lucrative offers in March 2018 if the Redskins let him test the market. The San Francisco 49ers have the funds to pay him more than any other team unless the Cleveland Browns give up on the team’s current project, and San Francisco has the need at the position. Give Cousins a blank check, 49ers, and happily start him at QB in September 2018.