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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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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.