The 2017 NFL season is in full playoff swing, and while we can’t wait to see who will be battling it out for the coveted Super Bowl trophy, we are also excited about looking forward to next season (especially those of us who support teams that missed the playoffs), but there’s a lot that will happen in the meantime. The NFL draft is as exciting as any offseason event in sports, and it’s great to see the dreams of young men come true, but free agency is often the thing that allows teams to reap the most immediate rewards, so that’s what we’ll talk about today.
Obviously there are hundreds of NFL free agents heading into the 2018 offseason, but we don’t have time for that, so instead we are going to look at what we believe to be the top 15 NFL free agents, and we are going to try and predict which team will get their signature for the 2018/19 campaign.
15 Dion Lewis – New York Giants
The New York Giants struggled in 2017, and that was due to poor coaching and injuries, but if their skill position players can stay healthy in 2018, they could again be contending for the NFC East title again, but they also need to add some more pieces around Eli Manning, particularly in the backfield. They’ve got a talented group of receivers to surround Manning, but their run game has struggled, so picking up someone like Dion Lewis from the Patriots would be a huge pickup, especially considering he is one of the more versatile backs in the entire league. This itself isn’t going to get the Giants back to the playoffs, as they need to improve their coaching and stay healthy, but it would be one huge step in the right direction.
14 Lamarcus Joyner – LA Rams
The LA Rams have had one of the NFL’s best defenses for the past few years, and Lamarcus Joyner has lead the way time and time again, and even though he’s so good, he goes under many peoples radars, and that will likely work to the Rams advantage, as they’ll be able to bring him back without too much competition. Like all the people on this list, we don’t know how he feels about the team/city, but from a pure football perspective, this is the place he needs to be, as the team just tasted their first playoff success in 14 years, and he will be a key part of that going forward. This one will be smart on all sides, so expect it to happen early in free agency so the team can get back to work on increasing their playoff success in 2018.
13 Allen Robinson – Kansas City Chiefs
Allen Robinson is a part of the very talented Jaguars receiving corps, and although the team is having great success in 2017, it’s on the back of Leonard Fournette and their phenomenal defense, and with the team reportedly looking to bring in a big name QB, they might have to lose a player like Robinson to make that happen. They’ll still have a talented enough team to return to the playoffs without him, but it leaves him looking for a new home, so why not the Kansas City Chiefs who have always lacked genuine talent at the receiver position. Add this signing to young QB Patrick Mahomes, Kareem Hunt and Tyreek Hill, and it’s possible that the Chiefs can finally end their poor playoff record from the previous 10 years.
12 Sammy Watkins – LA Rams
The Los Angeles Rams finally got rid of Jeff Fisher heading into this season, and they became the surprise of the NFL, blowing away all the competition in the NFC West, and while it wasn’t a result of trading for Sammy Watkins, he did make a huge impact on the team. He proved during his time with the Bills that he was a big play threat, and he showed that time and time again this year, and if the Rams want to replicate their 2017 success, they NEED to bring him back in free agency. He’s going to draw huge amounts of attention because of the star that he is becoming, but the Rams are the perfect fit with a bright future ahead of them, and he’s going to be a big part of that.
11 Carlos Hyde – New England Patriots
Carlos Hyde is one of the most underrated backs in the NFL, and that’s because he plays behind such a poor line and often finds himself injured. But when he’s healthy behind a great line, he’s almost impossible, and slotting him in behind Tom Brady would give that team yet another weapon to help them with another Super Bowl run. Hyde can catch the ball out of the backfield or he can pound it inside time and time again, and he’d be a perfect fit with the Patriots, and as we know, Bill Belichick can get the best out of all his players. I predict that this will be a very under the radar signing, but come the playoffs in 2018/19, Hyde will step up huge as the Patriots look for potentially their sixth or seventh Super Bowl under Tom Brady (depending on this year's playoffs).
10 Austin Seferian-Jenkins – New York Jets
The New York Jets traded for Austin Seferian-Jenkins from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the 2016 season. Although he isn’t one of the biggest names in the game, he certainly has the talent, and we know the Jets will be going after a big name QB this year, so why not bring back a threat like ASJ too? He’s had a little bit of trouble off the field in the past too, so it’s unlikely that he’ll command a huge amount of attention in the free agent market, and with the Jets looking to build on their positive 2017 season, it just makes too much sense for both parties for it not to happen. This signing will definitely fly under the radar for most of the NFL, but if the Jets can bring back ASJ, and add a decent QB (we’ll get to that), this team could be a dark horse to return to the postseason in 2018.
9 NaVorro Bowman – Green Bay Packers
Due to injury and the rapid decline of the San Francisco 49ers, Navorro Bowman has flown under the radar in recent times, but he still was a fantastic player for the Raiders, and would be an asset to any NFL team. One that needs serious help on the Defensive side of the ball is the Green Bay Packers. Pairing him with Clay Matthews may finally turn this defense around, and could help them avoid continuing down the path of the biggest disappointments in professional sports, due to the brilliance of their QB. The team plays in a very tough division, so it’s not going to be easy to turn it around, but bringing in someone as experienced and talented as Bowman could get them on the right track.
8 Kirk Cousins – New York Jets
Kirk Cousins has been with the Washington Redskins since they drafted him in 2012, and despite the fact that he is one of the more consistent QBs in the NFL, the team has been hesitant to give him a long term deal. In 2018 that will come to an end, as another team will likely give him what he desires. One team in desperate need of a QB is the New York Jets, and they seemingly have good pieces all throughout their team, so if they can offer Cousins a deal he likes, he will likely join them and give them a great chance at returning to the post season once again. The team has a great WR corps with Robby Anderson, Quincy Enunwa, Jermaine Kearse, and Austin Seferian-Jenkins at TE, so he will have more weapons than he was ever afforded in Washington. It just makes sense for Kirk to head to The Big Apple.
7 Jimmy Graham – Houston Texans
Jimmy Graham was once the best Tight End in the NFL, but over the past few years in Seattle, he’s certainly flown under the radar. But if he makes a big splash and a great decision in this free agency period, he could again become one of the top tight ends in the league. Assuming that Deshaun Watson becomes healthy enough to play the entire 2018 season, this could be one of his best years yet, especially with a threat like DeAndre Hopkins on the outside to take attention/pressure away from him. The team was highly disappointing in 2017, but that was mainly due to injury, and if the team can bring in Graham and keep their top stars like Watson, Hopkins, Jadeveon Clowney and J.J. Watt healthy, they’ll no doubt be a Super Bowl favorite.
6 Teddy Bridgewater – Minnesota Vikings
Teddy Bridgewater was one of the brightest stars in the NFL before his unfortunate injury a season ago, and despite the fact that Minnesota now have three capable QBs on their roster, it’s very unlikely that they’ll give up on the Bridgewater project, as he is still the best QB they have for the future. This isn’t how either party saw his career panning out in the early stages, but they have an incredibly talented team all around, and while Case Keenum is doing a fantastic job leading them, they’d be silly to give up someone like Bridgewater. He won’t command as much attention as the likes of Jimmy G or Kirk Cousins, but Teddy could be lured away by the money, but if the Vikings do want a sustained run of success, #5 is the man they need to stick with.
5 Malcolm Butler – New England Patriots
Malcolm Butler was the surprise hero that saw the Patriots dethrone the defending Seattle Seahawks in the Super Bowl, but since that point he has developed into a fantastic CB, and there’s no point for the relationship with New England to come to an end. There will likely be a few teams after Butler, but the Patriots as usual manage to get the best out of him, and with the team on their way to another possible Super Bowl berth before Tom Brady retires (whenever that may be), it makes no sense for Butler to leave that. Sure, he, like any other players could go chasing the money to a lesser team, but he comes across as a team first player, and that’s a trait that is valued by the Patriots organization, and it will be what brings him back in 2018 and beyond.
4 Nate Solder – New York Jets
Heading into the 2017 season, many people predicted that the New York Jets would struggle to win a game, but they ended up with 5 wins and several close calls. They have quite a bright future, but they need to sure up a few areas, one being the offensive line. It may involve him going to the Patriots' biggest enemy, but they have made a habit out of not overpaying people, and Solder is looking for a huge payday, so the Jets may give him enough to walk away from the successful New England organization. The team has a bit of a way to go, but after dumping many salaries entering the 2017 season, they’ve got plenty of cap room. While finding a younger QB (as Josh McCown, for all his surprising success, is almost 40) and wrapping up some offensive players is very important, bringing in O-Line help is possibly most important, so this would be a huge get for the team.
3 Sheldon Richardson – Oakland Raiders
Sheldon Richardson is one of the most talented defensive players in the NFL, but he’s had problems with consistency over the course of his still young NFL career, so this decision will be crucial to his development and success in the long term, so why not put him with Coach Gruden and see how much of a star he can become? The team is built around Derek Carr, Marshawn Lynch and Amari Cooper, but the defense is very underrated, and adding a force to the D-line like Richardson could completely energize the whole team as they look to get back in the hunt in the AFC West. He might not be signed for the huge contract that he’d expect, but he hasn’t been the most consistent on or off the field, so he might have to settle for a smaller contract. Still, if he can live up to the hype, the Raiders will no doubt do big things in the future.
2 Jimmy Garoppolo – San Francisco 49ers
Much has been made in the media recently about Jimmy G and the situation involving the trade from his former team the Patriots, but it seems that the trade to San Francisco was one of the best things that ever happened to The Handsome One. In his five starts with the team, Garoppolo was undefeated and turned around a pretty lackluster team, and despite the fact that he’ll get many offers from most QB-needy teams in the league, it would be a great sign for San Fran if he returned to them and built on what they started in 2017. This one is quite a toss-up, as there are better QB situations around the league, but he tore it up in his few stars with the team in 2017, and if they can continue to build around him, this could be a dynasty waiting to happen.
1 Le'Veon Bell – Pittsburgh Steelers
Le'Veon Bell has been the most exciting and explosive back in the NFL for quite some time now, and despite constant rumors that he wants out of Pittsburgh, the fit is just too perfect, and it’s very unlikely that Bell would want to break up the "Killer Bs" that the Steelers have created alongside Antonio Brown and Ben Roethlisberger. It’s going to cost them a pretty penny, but with Big Ben in the twilight of his career, wrapping up a once in a generation talent like Bell would certainly help the eventual transition between QBs. There’s always a chance that Bell is tempted away by the enormous amounts of money he will be offered, but it seems he is loyal to the organization that has stuck behind him, and we don’t expect that to change during the 2018 FA period.