While this year’s free-agent class might not be as deep or star-heavy as some previous years, all 32 teams still have some needs to fill. And money to spend.
While drafting and developing will always be the best path to winning a Super Bowl championship, every recent title winner had some important help through free agency. In 2017 the New England Patriots gave $40 million guaranteed to cornerback Stephon Gilmore, the most guaranteed money to a defensive player in team history, and Gilmore was New England’s best defensive player in a Super Bowl LIII win. He would have been a fine choice as the game’s MVP, which went to Julian Edelman instead.
So free agency is a key component to roster building, whether it’s an earth-shaking addition like Drew Brees or Peyton Manning, a star at a key position like Gilmore or filling in key parts of the roster that need a little bit of veteran help.
Here is the ranking of the most interesting teams heading into free agency, with last year’s record, projected cap space as of Thursday morning according to Spotrac and each team’s biggest need:
The most interesting teams to watch in NFL free agency
The most interesting teams to watch in NFL free agency
After Cody Parkey’s big playoff miss, the Bears’ next kicker will have a spotlight on him. You’d assume they want a reliable veteran, maybe a bigger name than the guys off the street they’ve signed already. This is a roster that is pretty solid from top to bottom.
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The Eagles won’t have as many cornerback injuries as they did last year, but getting depth won’t hurt. Running back is also a need, though there’s likely not enough cap space to make a major move, especially after re-signing defensive end Brandon Graham and extending center Jason Kelce.
The Bengals have plenty of needs. An aging linebacker corps is a good place to start, though the defense as a whole (and offensive line ... and tight end) are issues too. A potential problem is that Cincinnati rarely spends much in free agency.
You’d figure a team that is obviously making a change at quarterback would be higher on the list, but Nick Foles to Jacksonville has been a poorly kept secret. It will be a surprise if that doesn’t happen, once they clear the cap space for it. They still need someone to catch the ball from Foles.
Larry Fitzgerald can’t play forever, and the Cardinals need pass catchers for Kliff Kingsbury’s offense. Offensive line is a priority as well. Whether all the rumors are true and they draft Kyler Murray, or they just run it back with Josh Rosen, the Cardinals need to improve their offensive infrastructure surrounding a young QB.
Alex Smith’s injury changes the entire outlook. Can Washington invest a big contract in another veteran QB? Or will they just roll with Colt McCoy if Smith can’t play? They have other needs too, like their secondary.
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Much will be made about Lamar Jackson’s passing, but who’s he throwing to? If John Brown leaves in free agency, the receiver position is perilously thin. Though it seems like re-signing linebacker C.J. Mosley is actually their biggest priority.
Fred Warner was a nice draft find, but it’s thin after him following Reuben Foster’s release. Getting an edge rusher would be a good idea too, and they’ll be in the mix for the many talented safeties on the market too.
(Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images)
Trey Flowers will be one of the NFL’s biggest free agents, and defensive tackles Malcom Brown and Danny Shelton are free agents too. The Patriots have some important decisions to make on their own free agents (including kicker Stephen Gostkowski and offensive tackle Trent Brown) before signing outside help.
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The Bills need to give Josh Allen help if he’s going to develop. The Bills’ leader in yards from scrimmage was 30-year-old LeSean McCoy, with only 752. The Bills should look into adding multiple skill-position players in free agency and the draft.
Amari Cooper helped tremendously. But Dak Prescott was given little to work with at tight end or receiver. And if the Cowboys can’t make DeMarcus Lawrence happy with a long-term deal, defensive line becomes a big problem too.
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If midseason acquisition Dante Fowler leaves, the Rams have the same issue they had to start last season — nobody to rush the quarterback from the outside. They also have some big free agents of their own that can test the market. We know the Rams are capable of being aggressive, but there are a lot of moving parts to manage in free agency.
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Cornerback needs to be addressed, as does safety with Eric Berry’s health a constant issue. There are many impact safeties on the free-agent market, and the Chiefs should land one. Fixing the secondary could push the Chiefs to a Super Bowl.
Yes, the Raiders traded a pass rusher last year; no need to pile on again. The Raiders’ 13 sacks were 17 fewer than any other NFL team last season. Yikes. But since they are so poor on the roster, there aren’t many contacts on the books keeping them from spending big. Jon Gruden could use a good offseason. The Raiders aren’t very good, but they’re certainly interesting.
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A playoff team with the most available cap space in the NFL? This might get interesting. Mostly the Colts will be making luxury signings — Le’Veon Bell? A couple pass rushers? Impact strong safety? — and adding to a roster that improved fast in 2018. If the Colts play it right, they could come out of free agency as a very popular Super Bowl pick.