This year’s free agency is probably one of the most hectic in recent memory, and that includes 2020’s, which saw Tom Brady become a free agent.
The Patriots spent big money early, the Raiders sold off their offensive line, Trent Williams started up a huge bidding war, the Bears found their starting quarterback… in Andy Dalton? Drew Brees retired, Ryan Fitzpatrick is going to Washington where he will inevitably be sat for another underwhelming rookie, Juju Smith-Schuster chose to stay in Pittsburgh despite the Chiefs offering him more money and an opportunity to play on the best offense in football.
Quite a lot has happened, and thankfully for fans who want a bit more from their team this offseason, there is still a bit more to happen. There are some stars still available through free agency, so we wanted to organize them and pick our favorite players left on the market. Just as a fun exercise to go with it, we are also taking an educated guess as to what team they will end up signing for.
HM: Mitchell Schwartz, OT – Retiring
Everything that Mitchell Schwartz has said and done this offseason has made it fairly clear that he is retiring: He is building a very nice house in KC, he continues to tweet about his connections with the Chiefs and the players in KC, personally offering to take Kyle Long and Joe Thuney (The Chiefs free agent signings) out on the town whenever they make it to KC. Despite having never missed a start before, Schwartz missed ten regular-season games and every playoff game with a back injury, and at the age of 32, recovering from an injury of that caliber is a pretty daunting task. With a ring on his finger from Super Bowl 54 and an almost guaranteed spot on the Chiefs coaching staff shortly, Schwartz has likely played his last snap of the football.
For the record, if he were healthy and likely to return, he would have been number one on this list.
10: Jadeveon Clowney, EDGE – New York Giants
At the beginning of free agency, Clowney is not going anywhere near New York, a team that could not afford to pay him what he thinks he is worth. However, now that the initial wave of signings is done, and we are in the discount stage, Clowney’s value just plummeted. Clowney has a total of three sacks over the last two years, despite playing for the Seahawks’ great defense and the Titan’s nasty front seven. He has serious injury concerns, has failed to do anything with his multitude of opportunities, and that is going to cost him.
Another potential landing spot at this point would be the Chargers.
9: Malik Hooker, Safety – Dallas Cowboys
A Malik Hooker without injury problems is number one or two on this list because when healthy, Malik Hooker is a top-five safety in the league. The problem is that his injuries are a huge problem, keeping him from progressing and developing as an NFL player. The team that takes him has to either understand that he is still a project or not care. Enter Dallas, the team that notoriously does not care and has just desperately wanted safety for several seasons now. Do I think this is good for Hooker? No. However, his meeting with the team is scheduled for early this week, and I expect him to sign there for a decent contract.
8: Earl Thomas, Safety – Las Vegas Raiders
This is a name that you have not even thought about for several months. The last few years have not been good to the former star of the Legion of Boom: injured while on the franchise tag in Seattle, takes a discount deal to play for the Ravens (Agreeing to that deal a few hours before he was supposed to get on a private plane to KC and sign an even cheaper deal with them), Derrick Henry turns him into a meme, those TMZ stories, the fight with Chuck Clark, the domestic abuse allegations, the divorce. Not much has gone Thomas’ way, and despite heavy rumors and indications that the Cowboys were going to sign him during the 2020 season, he has remained unsigned.
Enter the Raiders, where Jon Gruden needs a safety after cutting Lamarcus Joyner and has brought in characters before (Antonio Brown). Earl Thomas will probably sign a discounted one-year “Prove it” deal, and then get by Tyreek Hill on two separate occasions in 2021.
7: T.Y. Hilton, Wide Receiver – New Orleans Saints
There is nothing the Saints love more than to sign older receivers and never use them because Drew Brees’ arm would fall off if he threw more than five yards down the field. TY Hilton is a smaller, more experienced Michael Thomas if Michael Thomas replaced his reliance on three-yard slant routes with ten-yard post routes. Who knows what the Saints are doing right now (giving Taysom Hill a pay raise on the same day Drew Brees retires, but also resigning Jameis Winston is very confusing) but they need receivers, and they will get Hilton on a discount.
6: Eric Wilson, Linebacker – Kansas City Chiefs
This is the best free-agent you probably have not heard of. Eric Wilson played linebackers for the Vikings most of the season after star LB Anthony Barr was injured. He put it all out there, racking up three interceptions and 122 tackles, and that should make him a huge target for any team in need of a linebacker. The Kansas City Chiefs are in a situation, after missing out on Trent Williams and Juju Smith Schuster, where they have excess money and can outbid most teams looking at a target they want. They can snag Eric Wilson, put him right next to Willie Gay Jr., and maybe, finally, have an answer to what has been the weakest part of their team for three seasons now.
5: Richard Sherman, Cornerback – New York Jets
Most analysts will have Sherman going to the Saints, due to how heavily the Saints are pursuing Sherman. However, they have their own issues at the corner they need to deal with (Marshon Lattimore still needs an extension), and I will guarantee that Sherman sees that and is going to be looking for a better option. His defensive coordinator in San Francisco, Robert Saleh, is definitely in his ear right now, encouraging him to come north and help transform the Jet’s defense. For a player that represents himself and gets to largely make his own decisions, personal relationships will likely win out.
4: Sammy Watkins, Wide Receiver – Baltimore Ravens
The Buffalo Bills should have been calling Sammy Watkins every hour on the hour since the legal tampering period began, trying to get him back in the door. However, since they likely have not been, and Watkins has deemed the return unlikely, he is going to have to go to his second-best future home, Baltimore. Lamar Jackson needs some offensive weapons because he can not do the entire thing himself, and Sammy Watkins would offer not only a great option but an option that raises all the other players around him. This move alone could finally be what it takes to get the Ravens to the AFC Championship game.
3: Melvin Ingram, EDGE – Kansas City Chiefs
Melvin Ingram is scheduled to visit KC on Tuesday, and barring some complications, will likely sign with the team that he has seen dominate his division for five straight seasons. Many wills, and already have overlooked Ingram due to his age, but he was a vital part of that Chargers’ defensive line that gave the Chiefs such fits the last few seasons. He can sign a one, maybe two-year deal at a decent price put in the bare minimum, and still probably be doing much more than any other member of the Chiefs’ defensive line did last season.
If he does not sign with KC, Tennessee and Seattle are interesting landing spots for him.
2: Trai Turner, Guard – Seattle Seahawks
The Seahawks do not look likely to trade Russel Wilson, and realistically, if they spend this offseason investing in the offensive line, they will not have to. Trai Turner is a nice guard, who will probably come at a nice discount after having two teams abandon him in that last year and a half. It would be a decent signing to start to heal the relationship between Russ and the Seattle front office, and could potentially put the five-time pro bowler in a comfortable situation, where he could get back to the player he was in his early years in the league.
Bengals are heavily pursuing Turner, so they are the most likely landing spot, but it would be the most interesting landing spot for him in Seattle.
1: Eric Fisher, Tackle – Cincinnati Bengals
Eric Fisher is currently recovering from a torn achilles tendon, meaning he is likely going to be the last person on this list to get signed. A team is going to have to be extremely confident in his ability in order to sign a player that may not take the field until a few weeks into the regular season. This team is also going to have to pay out the nose for a left tackle that has been beyond elite for the Chiefs the last seven season, although that Achilles injury will hurt his value.
The Cincinnati Bengals attempted to kill Joe Burrow in 2020, allowing for him to be sacked 32 times and ending his season early via injury. They have to fix that immediately, before Burrow potentially has to end his career, and that should include bringing in the man who protected Patrick Mahomes previously. They currently have a young player, Fred Johnson, at left tackle, and it may serve him to sit behind Fisher for as many years as Fisher is willing to play for.
This decision is the choice between Burrow being a potential Hall of Famer, and Burrow retiring at 26.
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