I don’t really have a lot more to write about NFL free agency, but thought it might be a fun exercise to predict where some of the top free agents could be headed.
I pulled Walter Football’s list of top 90 free agents, sorted out the players who will or are likely getting a franchise tag, removed the restricted free agents (because most likely will get high tenders from their current teams) then looked at a few other names and projected where I think they will be headed.
Walter Football’s rankings, of course, are just one site’s opinion, so I stuck with the players I imagine most everyone would agree are the best of the free agents out there. Either way, this is just something I’m doing for kicks. This is by no means a complete list of free agents and those I list as getting the franchise tag isn’t the full list of that, either
The Franchise Tag Will Arrive
Von Miller, OLB, Broncos
Eric Berry, S, Chiefs
Josh Norman, CB, Panthers
Muhammad Wilkerson, DE/DT, Jets
Alshon Jeffery, WR, Bears
The Franchise Tag Is Likely Coming
Cordy Glenn, OT, Bills (depends on how much cap space the Bills get freed)
George Iloka, S, Bengals (it would make sense, although it hasn’t been talked about much)
Other Notable Names
Janoris Jenkins, CB: With Norman staying put in Carolina, Jenkins becomes the top name among free agent corners. I’m betting he’s headed to the Jaguars, who have the cap space and need all the help they can get at defensive back.
Kelechi Osemele, G/OT: The Ravens already committed to an extension for Marshal Yanda, so they are likely no longer in play for Osemele’s services. Given that Osemele has shown he can play either guard or tackle, he sounds like a good fit for the Bears, who have the cap space and need to do some shuffling on the offensive line.
Eric Weddle, S: The talk is that Weddle wants to play for a team that could make a playoff run. That makes him an excellent candidate to join the Raiders, who have the cap space and might convince Weddle to take less money than he could get elsewhere.
Olivier Vernon, DE: If it’s true the Dolphins are more interested in extending Cameron Wake than keeping Vernon, that’s a mistake. And it would mean the perfect opportunity for the Jaguars to bring him on board.
Malik Jackson, DE/DT: The Broncos sound like they are making a push to retain him, but who knows if he’ll take their offers or want to test the market. If the latter, he’ll find no shortage of suitors. The Bears make the most sense, because they need help on the defensive line and Jackson is familiar with head coach John Fox.
Damon Harrison, NT: With the Jets likely to focus on retaining Wilkerson, that allows Harrison to test the market. The Chargers need help on the defensive line and have the cap space to bring Harrison on board.
Leon Hall, CB: The Bengals will generally bring back players who test the market and don’t find any offers to their liking. It remains to be seen if that will happen with Hall. If not, he could wind up with the Buccaneers, who have the cap space available and could use a reliable veteran.
Evan Mathis, OG: It sounds like Mathis isn’t ruling out a possible return to the Denver Broncos, though he could consider a return to the Philadelphia Eagles, who have the cap space available despite their flurry of free agent retentions. I’d love for Mathis to stay, but I’m thinking he may want to return to Philly.
Tashaun Gipson, S: The Browns safety was bothered by an ankle injury but there is hope he could bounce back. He may have to take a one-year “prove it” deal. That sounds like the type of player the Cardinals would want to sign.
Reggie Nelson, S: Nelson has shown no signs of slowing down, but I suspect the Bengals would prefer to keep Iloka, who has more upside. If Nelson leaves Cincinnati, it wouldn’t be surprising if he signed with the Vikings and reunites with Mike Zimmer. (Note: If the Bengals decide to re-sign Nelson, that means Iloka may be available and he could go to the Vikings, too.)
Alex Boone, OG: He’s coming off a down year, but given how well he’s played in past seasons, he may not be a candidate for a one-year deal. I would think the Chargers would have interest.
Russell Okung, OT: His injury history makes him a risky signing, but he might be worth a short-term deal. The Titans could take a chance on him for a year or two, while letting whoever they draft play on the right side until he gets acclimated to the NFL.
Trumaine Johnson, CB: Here’s another player that sounds more likely to stick with his current team, the Rams, although he’s not really worth the franchise tag.
Bruce Irvin, DE/OLB: It’s tough to judge what the market will be for Irvin, who wasn’t terrible by any means, but wasn’t spectacular, either. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Colts sign him, allowing them to part ways with other players who didn’t pan out.
Danny Trevathan, ILB: The other notable name among Broncos free agents, we’ve heard about his name being linked to the Bears. But it wouldn’t surprise if the Raiders signed him, given how much they need an upgrade over Curtis Lofton.
Robert Ayers, DE: An old friend is set to hit the open market, but it makes the most sense for him to stay with his current team, the Giants, where he is a good fit for their defensive scheme.
Casey Hayward, CB: The Packers generally shy away from extending players who are about to hit the open market, preferring to lock them up midway through a season. The Raiders definitely need a cornerback and I could certainly see Heyward joining them.
Adam Jones, CB: He’s coming off his best season, but he turns 33 in September, so he’s not worth a large contract. Given that, it sounds like he’ll test the market before returning to the Bengals.
Richie Incognito, OG: Every indicator is that the Bills want him to stay and they can retain him once they release Mario Williams. I’m betting Incognitio stays put. Obviously, you aren’t putting the franchise tag on a 33-year-old offensive guard.
Other Names To Briefly Mention
Doug Martin, RB: Stays with Buccaneers
Lamar Miller, RB: Signs with Titans
Matt Forte, RB: Signs with Texans
Sean Smith, CB: Signs with Titans
Jason Pierre-Paul, DE: Stays with Giants
Derrick Johnson, ILB: Signs with 49ers
Tamba Hali, DE/OLB: Signs with Jets
Kirk Cousins, QB: Stays with Crimson Potatoes
Sam Bradford, QB: Signs with Texans
(UPDATE 2/25/16: I removed Ryan Schrader from the list because he is actually a restricted free agent. Walter Football sometimes gets FAs incorrectly listed as unrestricted.)