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Adrian Kraus/Associated Press
NFL free agency is a slow burn. The rapid-fire signings seen at the start of the new league year are the result of weeks of preparation.
Rumors percolate at the NFL Scouting Combine. The foundation is laid in Indianapolis for future deals as parameters are (allegedly) discussed. Then, the legal tampering period occurs. Technically, starting March 16, teams can start discussing deals with free agents from other teams. This year, the franchise-tag deadline coincides with the start of the legal tampering period and could have a significant impact on free agency.
The new league year starts March 18 at 4 p.m. ET. At that point, a flurry of signings will occur within the opening few hours.
The countdown has already begun. Bleacher Report will provide the latest rumors, innuendo and possibilities as the signing period nears. Check regularly for the latest updates.
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Elise Amendola/Associated Press
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are desperate to put a winning football team on the field. What should they do? The obvious, of course. The organization will pursue the soon-to-be 43-year-old Tom Brady.
According to the Tampa Bay Times‘ Rick Stroud, the franchise “will do almost anything to land the quarterback who has been to the playoffs for 11 straight seasons and won six Super Bowls.”
Bruce Arians’ transparency regarding the Buccaneers’ quarterback situation shows the team is more than willing to move on from last year’s starter, Jameis Winston, and the NFL’s first 30 touchdown-30 interception campaign.
“Another quarterback? Oh, yeah. [If] we can win with this one, we can definitely win with another one too,” he said, per ESPN’s Jenna Laine.
Brady isn’t any quarterback; he’s the greatest of all time. Sure, the Buccaneers could take half-measures to address the position. Or, they can sign an established winner to elevate the entire organization.
As Stroud reported, “This is the plan.”
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David Richard/Associated Press
A quick clarification is necessary since a difference exists between recently released veterans and upcoming free agents.
Those whose contracts expired after last season can’t sign with another franchise until the start of the new league year. Whereas, those who had their contracts terminated can immediately sign with another team.
This is how tight end Greg Olsen and cornerback Josh Norman already signed with the Seattle Seahawks and Buffalo Bills, respectively.
Cornerback T.J. Carrie could be another. According to SiriusXM NFL Radio’s Adam Caplan, Carrie will visit the Seahawks later this week.
The 29-year-old defensive back signed a four-year, $31 million deal with the Cleveland Browns prior to the 2018 campaign. His level of play didn’t reflect his pay, though. The Browns released him and saved $6.35 million in salary-cap space.
Cleveland’s decision isn’t a complete indictment of Carrie’s career. He never developed into a full-time starter on the outside, yet he still performed well in the slot. That’s exactly where the Seahawks need help.
Seattle didn’t have a true nickel corner on the roster last season with safety Bradley McDougald doing most of the work. Carrie’s potential addition can help the Seahawks avoid overpaying for another free agent later in the process.
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Rick Scuteri/Associated Press
Olivier Vernon’s career with the Cleveland Browns hangs in the balance after only one year with the squad.
Vernon was part of last year’s mega-trade that included Odell Beckham Jr., Kevin Zeitler and Jabrill Peppers, as well as multiple draft picks.
The veteran defensive end played well last season when healthy. He wasn’t healthy for the entire season, though. Vernon dealt with a knee injury that cost him six games.
Normally, an injury isn’t a big deal as long as the player recovers for the following season. But Vernon is one of the NFL’s highest-paid defensive ends. The Browns can move on from this year’s $15.5 million salary-cap hit without incurring any further charges.
If there’s any question about Vernon’s ability to stay on the field, Cleveland very well might move on while looking at alternatives.
NBC Sports Bay Area’s Matt Maiocco mentioned Cleveland as a potential landing spot for defensive end Ronald Blair because of his familiarity with new Browns defensive coordinator Joe Woods.
Blair would be a good addition for the Browns even if the team doesn’t move on from Vernon, but the organization’s guardrails previously set forth by Paul DePodesta, Sashi Brown and Andrew Berry, who is now the team’s general manager, state: “Don’t pay for depth.”
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Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press
Are the Houston Texans serious about trading for Washington Redskins left tackle Trent Williams?
According to The Athletic’s Ben Standig, the Texans (along with the Arizona Cardinals) have “expressed interest” in Williams. ESPN’s John Keim added to last week’s report, “One source said it would be shocking if Houston doesn’t get involved again … but that would require moving [Laremy] Tunsil to right tackle while at the same time trying to extend him, paying him perhaps a comparable amount to Williams.”
Two problems face the Texans in any potential negotiations. First, the team has limited draft assets after trading for Tunsil, Kenny Stills, Duke Johnson and Gareon Conley. Second, Tunsil is looking to become the highest-paid offensive lineman in league history.
If Houston somehow manages to swing both, a significant ripple effect will occur along the Texans offensive front. As Keim stated, Williams will likely take over the blind side while Tunsil bumps to right tackle. Last year’s first-round pick, Tytus Howard, will kick inside to right guard. The Texans can then release veteran guard Zach Fulton and save $7 million.
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Dustin Bradford/Getty Images
Chris Harris Jr. is a Super Bowl champion, a four-time Pro Bowl selection and three-time All-Pro (first and second teams). At one point, an argument could have been made in his favor as the game’s best cornerback.
Now 30 (and he’ll turn 31 before the start of the 2020 campaign), Harris isn’t the player he once was, yet he’s still the top available free agent at his position.
According to Denver7 ABC’s Troy Renck, the Houston Texans are one of “several teams showing strong interest” in Harris.
The Texans announced Wednesday the organization and veteran defensive back Johnathan Joseph “mutually agreed that he will enter free agency.”
Also, Bradley Roby and Vernon Hargreaves III are impending free agents. Thus, three of Houston’s top four cornerbacks from last season might not be back this fall.
Harris is an ideal target since he can start outside or over the slot and upgrade either position on Houston’s roster.
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Joe Robbins/Getty Images
The Las Vegas Raiders brass knows the team fields arguably the league’s worst group of linebackers.
“We’ve got to get better,” Raiders general manager Mike Mayock said, per the Las Vegas Review-Journal‘s Vincent Bonsignore. “We’ve got linebacker issues. People know that.”
The organization sent a message when it released the team’s leading tackler from last season, Tahir Whitehead, on Monday. The 29-year-old Whitehead started all 32 games over the last two years and played all three linebacker spots.
But the Raiders must be better along the second line of their defense. So, they’re basically starting from scratch.
“The plan here, according to sources, is for them to spend relatively big on defense,” Inside the Birds’ Adam Caplan reported.
The Raiders are getting a jump on free agency by hosting former Cleveland Browns linebacker Christian Kirksey on Wednesday, according to NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo. The Browns released Kirksey on Tuesday after two injury-plagued seasons. The 27-year-old defender played in only nine games during that span because of hamstring and shoulder labrum issues. When healthy, Kirksey is comfortable working in space and a fantastic leader in the locker room.
Sources told Caplan that Nick Vigil is also on the Raiders’ radar. Vigil, who registered 111 total tackles last season, started his career by playing under current Raiders defensive coordinator Paul Guenther in Cincinnati. Familiarity between the two should help with the Raiders’ recruitment.
A pair of proven veterans could help turn Las Vegas’ linebacker corps from a black hole into a quality unit.
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Paul Sancya/Associated Press
The free-agent inside linebacker class has two significant names at the top in Cory Littleton and Joe Schobert. Once those two are signed, quality options will be limited.
Teams could pursue older veterans such as Danny Trevathan, Josh Bynes or Wesley Woodyard. Or, a franchise in need of linebacker help could look toward an ascending player who has yet to be a full-time starter.
A source told NJ.com’s Matt Lombardo that “several teams have expressed interest in signing [Nick] Kwiatkoski ahead of free agency.”
The 26-year-old defender started eight games last season for the Chicago Bears and excelled with 76 total tackles and three sacks.
“He’s like our little hidden gem, our utility guy, and whenever we need him, whenever his number is called, he’s always ready,” former teammate Prince Amukamara said last season, per the Chicago Tribune‘s Colleen Kane. “He’s one of the smartest guys on the defense.”
Kwiatkoski and Blake Martinez, who finished second overall with 155 total tackles, comprise free agency’s second tier of off-ball linebackers. Because of the scarcity of options at the position, both will likely see significant interest from other teams in the coming days.
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Jeff Haynes/Associated Press
The Miami Herald‘s Armando Salguero revealed multiple potential free-agent targets for the Miami Dolphins. The rebuilding franchise plans to look for pass-rush, defensive interior, offensive line and cornerback help. Miami has a projected $98.4 million in available salary-cap space to make all of this happen, per Spotrac.
Those familiar with the “Patriot Way” or anyone New England-adjacent will obviously draw interest with head coach Brian Flores, a former Patriots assistant, leading the franchise.
Logan Ryan is a name attached to the Dolphins, according to Salguero. The nickel defender led the Tennessee Titans and all cornerbacks with 113 total tackles last season. He can play outside, but he’s at his best when working over the slot.
The Dolphins won’t stop with one addition after they fielded the NFL’s 30th-ranked defense.
A versatile edge-defender with the ability to rush the passer would certainly help. The Dolphins “will have interest” in Kyle Van Noy, who served as Bill Belichick‘s Swiss Army knife in recent seasons. The 28-year-old defender finished second on the Patriots last season with 6.5 sacks.
The offensive interior could be upgraded with the addition of Graham Glasgow. The 27-year-old started 58 of 64 possible games during his four-year career with the Lions, including 31 starts under head coach Matt Patricia, who previously served as New England’s defensive coordinator.
But Glasgow expects to sign elsewhere at the start of free agency.
“I mean, yeah. That’s the way it seems,” he said, per the Detroit Free Press‘ Dave Birkett.
All three potential targets make sense. They can immediately start with a working familiarity of the Dolphins’ schemes.
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Bill Sikes/Associated Press
Tom Brady is the most significant free agent in NFL history. His status as a six-time Super Bowl champion and arguably the greatest quarterback of all time creates an unprecedented level of interest.
At the same time, he’ll be 43 before the 2020 campaign begins. He might be the biggest name, but he’s not the best available free agent.
As such, his handling will be intriguing. Brady has never tasted free agency during his illustrious 20-year career, and he’s keeping all of his options open and close to the vest.
“Nobody knows anything,” Brady wrote in a text to former Patriots offensive coordinator Charlie Weis, according to SiriusXM NFL Radio (h/t ESPN’s Mike Reiss). “So anyone who is telling you they know, they don’t know.'”
Reiss speculated the Patriots could offer the franchise’s greatest player a long-term deal worth $25 million annually. However, the asking price seems much closer to $30 million per season, per NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport.
Brady will be the one driving the contract negotiations, as according to ESPN’s Field Yates, the three-time league MVP will dictate the terms of his next deal. A recent conversation between the quarterback and Patriots head honcho Bill Belichick “didn’t go well,” per the Boston Herald’s Karen Guregian.
The door is wide open for other teams—be it the Los Angeles Chargers, Las Vegas Raiders, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Indianapolis Colts, Tennessee Titans or San Francisco 49ers—to put their best foot forward and give Brady what he wants.
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Tony Avelar/Associated Press
The San Francisco 49ers acquired wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders before last season’s trade deadline. In doing so, San Francisco nabbed a true No. 1 wide receiver. But the organization isn’t making a pre-free-agency push to retain Sanders.
According to the San Francisco Chronicle‘s Eric Branch, the sides have yet to engage in contract negotiations.
Sanders caught 36 passes for 502 yards and three touchdowns during 10 regular-season games with the 49ers. His production faded in the postseason, though. The 32-year-old caught only five passes for 71 yards during the 49ers’ run to Super Bowl LIV. Granted, San Francisco’s dominant ground game played its part in Sanders’ lack of production, but the team showed it doesn’t need a true No. 1 for the offense to be successful.
Also, the organization has limited financial flexibility with a projected $17.4 million in available salary-cap space, according to Spotrac. With George Kittle’s upcoming contract extension and a possible new deal with Arik Armstead, the 49ers have little negotiating room to strike a deal with the 10-year veteran target.
Sanders will join A.J. Green, Amari Cooper and Robby Anderson as the most sought-after free-agent receivers.
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Seth Wenig/Associated Press
The free-agent wide receiver crop might thin itself out before the market opens.
The Cincinnati Bengals plan to place the franchise tag on Green if a long-term agreement isn’t reached, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer‘s Tyler Dragon. Cooper, meanwhile, said during an interview on 105.3 The Fan that he wants to be “a Dallas Cowboy for life.”
Anderson, 26, has a chance to be the top free-agent wide receiver, unless he prefers to stay with the New York Jets.
“l think they definitely want me back,” he said during an interview with ESPN’s NFL Live (h/t ESPN’s Rich Cimini). “I truly do want to be back with the Jets. I love Sam (Darnold). I love my teammates, Jamal (Adams) and all those guys. I feel like there’s unfinished business there that I’ve been trying to get done since I got there. I would hope to finish out the mission, all in all, but it’s a business.”
A weak free-agent class will drive up Anderson’s value if he remains patient. The Jets may be the best fit for the vertical threat, but the organization better offer a significant deal to get something done before other suitors drive up the price.
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Al Bello/Getty Images
The value of the offensive line market completely changed recently.
A much greater emphasis is now placed on veteran blockers with previous NFL experience instead of drafting and developing offensive linemen. The reason why is simple: Due to practice and schematic limitations, offensive linemen come into the league less prepared than ever.
As a result, teams are investing heavily in proven commodities. The league’s highest-paid center (Rodney Hudson), guard (Brandon Brooks) and tackle (Lane Johnson) on an annual basis signed their deals within the last year.
So, any time a significant name potentially becomes available, NFL teams should be all over the opportunity to add a quality piece to their front five.
According to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, Las Vegas Raiders guard Gabe Jackson has been brought up in trade talks. Jackson is a massive people-mover, who started 83 games over his six-year career, though his 2019 campaign ended on injured reserve due to an elbow injury.
Jackson carries a hefty $9.3 million base salary over the next three seasons—none of which is guaranteed. To place the number into context, eight different guards have a higher salary-cap hit this fall, according to Over The Cap.
A weak free-agent offensive tackle will likely cause more teams to look inward to improve their offensive fronts.
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Winslow Townson/Associated Press
The Green Bay Packers appear to be bucking trends by letting a capable and consistent offensive lineman leave in free agency.
Right tackle Bryan Bulaga will be one of the top available free-agent offensive tackles since the Packers organization have yet to pursue another contract with the nine-year veteran.
Packers News’ Jim Owczarski reported, “…Bulaga’s representatives had not had any formal discussions with the Green Bay Packers about a new deal.”
Green Bay’s decision is perplexing. Bulaga played in all but one game last season after being injured during the 2017 and ‘18 campaigns. He’s one of the league’s better pure pass-blockers. And the team doesn’t have an immediate replacement on the roster.
Instead, another franchise will likely land one of the game’s better right tackles to address a problem area, while the Packers created another issue within their roster.