The 2018 NFL regular season has come and gone, and now attention turns to the playoffs, where a new team will hope to begin a dynasty before the New England Patriots inevitably win the Super Bowl. In all seriousness, there are numerous contenders for this year's championship; the Patriots were undefeated at home in the regular season (they went 3-5 on the road), but may have to win a road game in Kansas City to reach the Super Bowl. Meanwhile, the Chiefs, Rams, and Saints are all legitimate contenders. However, as intriguing as potential playoff scenarios are, it's only a matter of time before the discussion turns to the 2019 NFL free agent class.
Teams looking for a quarterback might want to instead look toward the 2019 NFL Draft (although the pickings there are much slimmer than in recent drafts) as the only free agent QBs of note available are Teddy Bridgewater, Tyrod Taylor, and Ryan Fitzpatrick. Similarly, there are few options at running back outside of Le'Veon Bell, but teams will certainly be interested in the likes of Larry Fitzgerald and Golden Tate, that is, if the former decides to return for another season. It's actually on defense where teams can improve the most via free agency. Attractive free agents like Demarcus Lawrence and Dee Ford will command massive contracts regardless of whether or not they stay with their current team. But where is the best spot for these players and, conversely, what team would be their worst option with which to sign?
20 Mark Ingram's Best Option: New York Jets
Coming off the final year of a four-year, $16 million contract, Mark Ingram will be looking to get paid this offseason after significantly outperforming his contract in three of the past four seasons. This year was a down season for the 29-year-old, but only because of the continued emergence of Alvin Kamara.
Still, Ingram finished the regular season with 645 rushing yards, 170 receiving yards, and seven touchdowns. If he's looking to maximize his value, he'll sign with a team like the New York Jets, who should have plenty of available money and certainly the available playing time; they finished 26th in the league with only 101.4 rushing yards per game this past season.
19 Worst Option: New Orleans Saints
If he were only worried about playing on a competitive team in 2019, Ingram would re-sign with the New Orleans Saints. However, it seems incredibly unlikely that he will do so given the team will have to sign Kamara to an expensive contract in 2020 and the fact that his touches would probably decrease once again. Moreover, the Saints can replace his production by committee or by signing someone like T.J. Yeldon or Mike Davis to a cheaper contract.
If it is his final season in New Orleans, Ingram will have concluded his eight-year career with the team with 6,007 rushing yards, 1,598 receiving yards, and 55 touchdowns.
18 Jadeveon's Clowney Best Option: Kansas City Chiefs
Jadeveon Clowney made more than $12 million in base salary this past season but earned only a shade over $10 combined in the previous four seasons. Now that his four-year, $22.3 million contract is over, he's in line to make significantly more per year based on his play and the fact that teams will be desperate to improve their defensive line.
While the Kansas City Chiefs could use help more so in the secondary than on the line, it would be a mistake for the team not to explore the option of adding Clowney. The 25-year-old is still in his prime and has registered 18.5 sacks over the past two seasons. Considering the team might also lose Dee Ford, Clowney would be more than a suitable replacement.
17 Worst Option: Buffalo Bills
The Buffalo Bills were middle of the pack in rushing yards allowed per game last season - and fourth-worst over the final three games with an average of 159 rushing yards allowed - and Clowney could certainly help in that regard. Yet, the Bills aren't exactly a haven for free agents and, when they do land a notable name he often fails to meet expectations.
Now, Buffalo could also spend more to land someone like Clowney, but that doesn't mean he would be wise to accept their offer. With apologies to people who live in Western New York, let's not forget that Patrik Berglund of the NHL's Buffalo Sabres recently forfeited $12.5 million to not have to live in Buffalo for another three years.
16 Earl Thomas' Best Option: Indianapolis Colts
Earl Thomas has been the heart of the Seattle Seahawks defense - and team, for that matter - for a few seasons now, which is why he was adamant about getting paid last offseason and early into this year. However, as fate would have it, he went down with a season-ending injury in Week 3 of this season during a 24-13 win over the Dallas Cowboys. (Ironically, the same team he has been so vocal about wanting to join.)
However, if he proves to be fully healthy this offseason, he will still receive a considerable amount of money from a team that expects to be contenders. Richard Sherman is on record as saying the San Francisco 49ers should target him, but the best landing spot for Thomas is Indianapolis, where he can take the team's pass defense to the next level; the Colts defense ranked 16th this season with 237.8 passing yards allowed.
15 Worst Option: Seattle Seahawks
While being carted off the field after his Week 3 injury, Thomas gestured toward what appeared to be the Seahawks sideline, knowing he had likely just hurt his value as a free agent. While it's not impossible to predict him returning to the Pacific Northwest, it seems incredibly unlikely given the apparently strained relationship between the two sides.
For starters, Pete Carroll has already hinted that Delano Hill will be the team's starting safety in 2019 and, beyond that, Thomas should have little problem receiving larger contract offers elsewhere. There's really no reason to consider Seattle, which is disappointing because he was definitely a fan favorite.
14 Demarcus Lawrence's Best Option: Dallas Cowboys
Sometimes the best option for a player, despite the opportunity to make more money elsewhere, is to stay with their current team - that's especially true when their current team is the Dallas Cowboys. Demarcus Lawrence isn't going to command the lofty $141 million the Chicago Bears gave Khalil Mack, but the defensive end's contract will certainly be nine figures.
The Cowboys have the money to sign Lawrence and, because he's still only 26-years-old, he should continue to anchor the team's defensive line for at least another five or six years. Lawrence registered 10.5 sacks this season and now has 34 through 47 starts with the Cowboys.
13 Worst Option: San Francisco 49ers
The San Francisco 49ers have already been creating buzz via the rumor mill. Since their season ended, there has already been rumors linking them to Antonio Brown - the Steelers wide receiver started following three 49ers on Instagram, so clearly he's going there (sarcasm noted) - and Richard Sherman has actively been petitioning for the team to sign Earl Thomas.
Adding Lawrence to the team, with a healthy Jimmy Garoppolo, could make them competitive in the tough NFC West, but it wouldn't be in the best interest of Lawrence, who would have to instead learn new defensive schemes and likely accept a smaller contract.
12 Devin Funchess' Best Option: Cleveland Browns
The fact that Devin Funchess is even on this list is an indication of how weak the 2019 wide receiver free agent class is, but don't let this season's statistics fool you. Funchess only had 549 receiving yards and four touchdowns in 14 games, but the year prior registered 840 receiving yards and eight touchdowns. Moreover, at 6-foot-4, 225-pounds, he is a dangerous red zone threat.
Funchess' current team, the Carolina Panthers, lack that threat outside of a healthy Greg Olsen, but he would be better served on the Cleveland Browns. Jarvis Landy is a reception machine but struggles in red zone situations. With Baker Mayfield as his quarterback, Funchess could easily reach eight touchdowns once again in 2019.
11 Worst Option: Arizona Cardinals
While Baker Mayfield would be a great choice to help revitalize the career of Devin Funchess, Arizona Cardinals' quarterback Josh Rosen likely wouldn't be able to get the most out of him. The rookie quarterback out of UCLA struggled in 2018 and, while his ceiling is still high given his draft position, there was several concerning signs.
The Cardinals would point to Jared Goff as a rookie quarterback who excelled in his second season, but it's hard to imagine Rosen rebounding in a similar way. He certainly needs more weapons on offense, but Funchess isn't that guy nor is he the guy to maximize the talent of the 24-year-old receiver.
10 Dee Ford's Best Option: Kansas City Chiefs
Regardless of whether or not they sign Jadeveon Clowney as suggested in this list, the Kansas City Chiefs should still do everything in their power to sign pending free agent linebacker. The Chiefs excelled this season not only because of second-year quarterback Patrick Mahomes but also because of its big-play defensive unit.
Ford was a major factor in that regard as he finished the season with a career-best 13 sacks, seven forced fumbles, and 13 tackles for a loss. The 27-year-old former first-round picks fits in perfectly in Kansas City's defensive system and, as evidenced by this season, is only now reaching his prime.
9 Worst Option: New York Giants
The New York Giants is a team that could definitely use the services of Dee Ford. The team finished 20th in the league with 118.6 rushing yards allowed per game this past season and was even worse the year prior. Stopping the run has been a problem for the Giants for a number of years now and Ford could help in that regard. Moreover, New York might be willing to offer more money to Ford than most other teams.
Yet, but all accounts the team intends to bring back Eli Manning for one more season and, despite his late-season resurgence combined with the talented Odell Beckham Jr., it seems unlikely the Giants will contend for a playoff spot in 2019.
8 Larry Fitzgerald's Best Option: New England Patriots
The traditionalist - and the Arizona Cardinals fan - might suggest that the only team Larry Fitzgerald should play for next season should he return is the Arizona Cardinals. After all, he has spent his entire 15-year career with the team; that's a total of 234 regular season games.
However, in that time, Fitzgerald has played in only nine playoff games and failed to win a Super Bowl despite registering at least 58 receptions and 734 receiving yards every season. Sure, it would be cool to see him retire as a Cardinal, but even haters of the New England Patriots have to concede it would be great to watch him catch passes from Tom Brady.
7 Worst Option: Arizona Cardinals
Again, while it would make for a heartwarming story to see Fitzgerald return for one more season and retire in Arizona, it's also his worst option, both for his legacy and wallet. Fitzgerald has absolutely nothing left to gain in Arizona as he holds a whole host of franchise records. He is also coming off of the worst season of his career with little reason to believe things will be better in 2019.
His loyalty to the franchise has been commendable, but football fans would love to see Fitzgerald win a Super Bowl, even if it's as a team's fourth or fifth wide receiver. Coincidentally, Arizona is his worst bet to make that happen.
6 Golden Tate's Best Option: Detroit Lions
Selected in the second round of the 2010 NFL Draft, Golden Tate has already played with three different teams. He spent the first half of his career with the Seattle Seahawks before being dealt to the Detroit Lions and spent the last eight games of this season with the Philadelphia Eagles following a trade. He was severely under-utilized in eight games with the Eagles compared to how he was used in Detroit, so a return to the Lions in free agency isn't out of the question.
Tate has been a favorite target of Matthew Stafford since 2014 (he averaged 66.8 yards per game compared to only 37.8 in Seattle and 34.8 in Philadelphia) and their chemistry could lead to Tate to return to the Motor City.
5 Worst Option: Los Angeles Rams
In Detroit, Tate could again be a top receiver, but that certainly won't be the case if he opts to sign with the Los Angeles Rams. Moreover, it would be poor roster management for the Rams to go after another wide receiver when the team has more pressing needs in the secondary.
Tate might have been a nice pickup this season in place of the injured Cooper Kupp, but with a healthy Kupp joining the likes of Brandin Cooks and Robert Woods next season, there wouldn't be many targets for Tate, who would likely be relegated to the team's fourth or fifth receiver depending on the progression of Josh Reynolds.
4 Tevin Coleman's Best Option: Atlanta Falcons
Atlanta Falcons running back Tevin Coleman might have been one of the most underrated running backs in the league last season. Finishing off the final year of a four-year, $3.2 million contract, Coleman took advantage of an early season-ending injury to Devonta Freeman and finished the season with a career-best 800 receiving yards and nine touchdowns.
Coleman is an unrestricted free agent and will almost certainly earn a significant pay increase from the $791,628 he earned this past season, but it would be best for him to return to Atlanta, even if it means taking slightly less. Freeman is signed through the 2022 season, but the Falcons have a potential out after next year. There's no assurance that he will be healthy all season so it makes sense for both the Falcons and Coleman to reach an agreement.
3 Worst Option: Miami Dolphins
The Miami Dolphins aren't only the worst option for Tevin Coleman because they play in the same division as the New England Patriots, but also because the franchise has a history of underperforming and unlucky running backs, at least in recent years. Frank Gore suffered a season-ending injury late in 2018, Kenyan Drake has been average at best, and Jay Ajayi was inconsistent at best before rounding into form in Philadelphia.
The Dolphins finished 18th in the league in rushing yards per game in 2018 and, while a better runner like Coleman could help the team improve in that regard, it wouldn't make much of a difference without an improved offensive line.
2 Le'Veon Bell's Best Option: Philadelphia Eagles
Despite not playing a single game in the 2018 season, Pittsburgh Steelers running back dominated headlines throughout the year, or at least until the deadline passed for him to report to the team. As we know, Bell didn't report, the Steelers missed the playoffs, and now he is a free agent.
While it's hard to understand why someone would give up millions of dollars and a chance at winning the Super Bowl, you have to commend Bell for sticking to his principles. He's going to earn a massive contract this offseason regardless, but the best scenario would be him signing with the Philadelphia Eagles. Joining an in-state rival would be the ultimate slap in the face to Steelers fans, players, and management, but it's about more than that. The Eagles will have question marks at running back after Jay Ajayi missed most of the 2018 season and quarterback Carson Wentz is similar to Ben Roethlisberger in a lot of ways.
1 Worst Option: Pittsburgh Steelers
Not only is this the worst option, but it's also the one option on this list that we can say with 100 percent certainty won't come to fruition. Bell severed a lot of relationships with Steelers' management, coaching staff, and players by not reporting to the team this season and voiding his contract, and there's absolutely no way either party would even consider a reunion.
Although, you have to wonder. The NFL can be a crazy league at times and, given the uncertain future of both Mike Tomlin and Antonio Brown in Pittsburgh, perhaps there's a minuscule chance that Bell returns to the Steel City. Never mind, even we aren't buying that.