For anyone who is interested in knowing who are the teams in the best position to pursue big-name free agents, I have looked at seven teams who enter the 2016 season with a lot of cap space. This does not mean these teams will land the biggest names, but it does give you an idea who is in the best position to land them.
In considering players they might sign, I have not brought up Von Miller, Eric Berry or Josh Norman, because we know Miller will get the franchise tag and Berry and Norman are almost certain to get it, too.
Jacksonville: With an estimated $74.8M in cap space available and the hopes that they can get into the playoffs in 2016, you can expect them to be aggressive in free agency. They need to find a left tackle given that Luke Joeckel hasn’t developed as expected. They also need safety help, an upgrade at cornerback and an edge rusher who can be paired with Dante Fowler when he returns from injury.
The Jaguars might be one of the favorites to land Eric Weddle, who isn’t expected to stay with San Diego. Other possibilities are George Iloka and Tashaun Gipson, if either becomes available. You would think they would be players for offensive linemen Kelechi Osemele and Cordy Glenn if both hit free agency, or they could consider Ryan Schraeder or Mitchell Schwartz. If they want a pass rusher, they are in position to pay for Oliver Vernon or Malik Jackson.
Oakland: The Raiders have mostly looked for value in free agency in past seasons, although they’ve had a couple of deals backfire on them (notably Nate Allen, who the Raiders just released). But expect them to jump into the fray for at least one top name, because they have $71.9M in estimated cap space.
The Raiders will take care of their own in some situations, but they will look elsewhere for additional help in hopes of making the playoffs in 2017. They need safety help, between the retirement of Charles Woodson and Nate Allen’s release, so there’s another team who could land Weddle, Iloka or Gipson. They really need help at linebacker, so they’ll be in the running for Danny Trevathan, or perhaps Derrick Johnson if the Chiefs don’t re-sign him. Justin Tuck’s retirement and Aldon Smith’s suspension mean they could be in play for Vernon or Jackson to get another pass rusher who can complement Khalil Mack.
San Francisco: With $52.5M in cap space and lots of needs to address, it would not be surprising to see the Niners make several free agency moves. They could be a player for any quarterbacks who hit the open market, but you have to wonder if they’ll consider Sam Bradford, given his familiarity with Chip Kelly’s offense, while putting Colin Kaepernick on the trading block.
They need help at wide receiver, inside linebacker and the interior of the offensive line, too. That makes the Niners a potential destination for Trevathan and Derrick Johnson. They could also consider Alshon Jeffery if the Bears don’t place the franchise tag on him, and they are likely to pursue Osemele, whose natural position is offensive guard. The Niners might also consider Evan Mathis if his preference is financial security now that he has a Super Bowl ring.
Chicago: The Bears have plenty of flexibility given that they have an estimated $51.6M in cap space. It would seem likely they will put the franchise tag on Alshon Jeffery, unless they are too concerned about his injuries or they believe Kevin White can develop into their top receiver. Either way, the Bears would have plenty of money to pursue the top names.
Here’s another team needing help at inside linebacker, so Trevathan makes sense. Derrick Johnson is worth consideration as well. They also need defensive ends who can play their 3-4 scheme, so Jackson and Vernon may be on their radar. They desperately need to upgrade their offensive tackles, so the likes of Glenn, Schraeder and Schwartz are options they could consider.
Tennessee: The Titans have $45M in estimated cap space but could be a tougher sell for players who aren’t convinced that they are close enough to contending for the playoffs. But with the cap space to pursue top names, it wouldn’t be surprising if at least one of those players joins the Titans.
The Titans need help at offensive tackle, but it sounds like they are more likely to use the draft. Instead, it’s safety and cornerback where the Titans are more likely to pursue free agents because they need so much help there. Weddle, Iloka and Gipson could all come into play to help at safety. At cornerback, Janoris Jenkins could hit the open market and Leon Hall would provide a reliable veteran option.
Tampa Bay: The Buccaneers have $44.8M in estimated cap space and they may believe that a few more acquisitions could put them into playoff contention next season. Some space may be committed to a franchise tag on Doug Martin, or perhaps an extension, but they would still have enough space to pursue somebody they like.
They need help at most defensive positions, most notably the secondary. Given their needs at cornerback and safety, you can expect some names already mentioned to come into play: Eric Weddle, George Iloka, Tashaun Gipson, Leon Hall and Janoris Jenkins. They could use a defensive end, so Malik Jackson would be an option, but the Bucs might opt for the draft instead.
New York Giants: The Giants aren’t normally a team that makes a splash in free agency, but considering they have $42.8M in estimated cap space and may see themselves as just a few players away from winning the NFC East, you never know what they might do. They need help on the offensive line, at linebacker and at defensive end.
The Giants already cut William Beatty, so you would think they would want to look at Cordy Glenn if he hits free agency. Their need at linebacker makes them another contender for the likes of Trevathan and Derrick Johnson. They can partly address their need for a defensive end by extending Robert Ayers, but they need someone to pair with him. Somebody like Jackson or Vernon could be that player.
A note on the Broncos: Given that so many teams who are flush with cap space need help at defensive end and linebacker, this is why I don’t expect the Broncos to keep either Jackson or Trevathan and why it makes sense to tender Brandon Marshall at the first-round level.