By David McDonnell
With the combine last week, all of the attention was centred around the college prospects coming out this year.
This week is all about free agency. Teams are allowed legally to approach out of contract players today and signings can become finalised from Wednesday.
Players, agents, general managers and teams will be under pressure to get players re-signed before they hit the open market, where they usually get more money to move to a different team who have a identified a position of need to upgrade on.
In recent seasons, we have seen both the Chiefs and Bengals pimp up their offensive lines to protect star quarterbacks Patrick Mahomes and Joe Burrow, which has helped solidify both as Super Bowl contenders.
However, there are way more examples of teams getting it wrong in free agency and overpaying for talent. Paying premium wages is a risk, but if you really want a player in demand it is a risk that many teams will continue to make in order to put themselves in position to reach the postseason and have a tilt at winning the Superbowl.
So, let’s have a look at the 25 offensive players that I believe most teams will be cajoling into joining their ranks this week.
- Lamar Jackson (QB)
If I was a Ravens fan I would be starting to get a little worried.
Reading between the lines, I expected Lamar to be looking for around $50 million a year on a long term contract. However, due to his playing style he takes a lot of physical punishment as he runs the ball into contact more than every other QB in the league. As Bill Parcells used to say: “ Big men stay big, fast guys slow down,” and although a terrific player at this point in time, it is more than likely that as Lamar loses his speed heading into his 30’s. It makes paying him guaranteed money at the back end of his contract more of a risk.
Contract negotiations between GM Eric DeCosta and the former MVP have been trying to get a deal signed for two years and if he is not signed by Wednesday, Lamar will be a free agent. That is unlikely to happen though as Baltimore will likely stick a franchise tag on him and give themselves a few more months to work out a long term deal.
What will be interesting will be what type of franchise tag they will likely add. If it is a restricted franchise tag then no team can enter discussions with Jackson and he will make $32.4 million next season, which is low for an NFL QB.
However, if they were to put an unrestricted tag on Lamar, any team will be able to offer him a deal and if the Ravens don’t match it, then he can leave for two first round picks or through a negotiated deal. If this were to happen, then I could see teams such as the Falcons and the Titans being interested and willing to offer acceptable terms.
I believe Lamar will wait to see what offer Daniel Jones will get from the Giants and the Ravens will have to trump this deal to keep the superstar QB in Baltimore.
- Derek Carr (QB)
Derek Carr is a wanted commodity, and he has taken visits with the Saints, Colts and Jets over the last few weeks.
Carr is a good QB but is coming off a poor season, where he struggled to adapt to Josh McDaniels scheme in Las Vegas. Of his suitors, New York seems like the team best primed to make the playoffs next year but reading between the lines, it seems that they along with the Raiders are waiting to see what happens with Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay.
The talk coming out of the Carr camp is that he will be patient and take his time over his decision, which I take to mean that he will also see what Rodgers does before making his decision.
Should Rodgers stay in Green Bay or retire, then Carr will find the Jets more welcoming in their approach. However, the team that seems to be most vying for his services right now is in New Orleans and ultimately I believe that is where Derek Carr will be playing ball next season.
Carr is heading to the Saints on a four-year deal $150 million contract with $70 million guaranteed.
- Saquon Barkley (Running Back)
There is no doubt that the star of the show for the New York Giants was their running-back last season. Saquon was absolutely sensational in helping the G-men into the playoffs, so what’s the problem?
The issue is paying a 26 year old running back the money he deserves on a long term contract. It is usually not in the best interest of most teams to splash money on running backs as they are most likely to get injured during a season due to their position. Barkley should be hoping to get similar to Christian McCaffery’s $12 million a year from the 49ers and if he doesn’t then he will hit the free agency market.
The Giants are in a tricky position as they have yet to come to a long term deal with their quarterback Daniel Jones, who is also about to hit free agency. They can only apply the franchise tag to one. The big question is would Jones have been as successful without Saquon last season? I don’t think anybody believes he would, so if Jones’ contract is not sorted by Wednesday, then it will more likely be him.
Should Saquon hit free agency, expect a contender like the Bills, Cowboys and Bengals all to be interested in the running back.
- Daniel Jones (QB)
I don’t expect Daniel Jones to hit free agency coming off his best season for the Big Blue. He has taken huge strides in quarterback play under Brian Daboll but doubts remain about whether he will ever be good enough to bring a Superbowl to NYC.
Jones will most likely get a long term contract with an allowance for the Giants to be able to pull the plug if things are not working out in the Big Apple after two or three years.
There is a high possibility Jones will be placed on the franchise tag, where he will be given around $32.4 million to prove that his form this season wasn’t a flash in the pan. The question here is does Brian Daboll want to be tied to this QB for a handful of years?
- Orlando Brown Jr (Tackle)
The left tackle from the Super Bowl Champion Kansas City has two Lombardi trophies to his name and wants to become the best paid tackle in football.
It is a great time for Orlando to hit free agency after the Chiefs O-line allowed zero sacks in the Superbowl against the Eagles and he proudly wore a t-shirt emblazoned with ‘0 Sacks’ during their victory parade.
Kansas City would like to bring him back but they won’t have the money he is expecting to make as they have to pay Patrick Mahomes the highest salary in the NFL. There is a possibility that Brown will end up being franchise tagged again for another season at £20 million.
Although he is not among the best five left tackles in the NFL in my opinion, should he hit free agency then he will likely be the best paid. The Chicago Bears certainly have the resources to pay the big man big money on a front loaded contract as they also have their QB Justin Fields on a rookie contract.
- Geno Smith (QB)
Although Geno is about to hit free agency, I don’t see it happening and I will be shocked if he is not tied down with a long term contract in Seattle.
Last season he threw for 4,282 yards and 30 touchdowns with just 11 interceptions while leading the NFL in completion percentage. More importantly he brought the Seahawks to the playoffs. The fairytale looks to continue and he will get a long term deal somewhere around $40m a year.
Should he hit free agency, then all the teams engaging with Carr and Jimmy Garoppolo will be interested, but I just don’t see him going anywhere.
- Mike McGlinchey (Tackle)
I have always rated McGlinchey as a good NFL tackle and although he lines up on the right side in San Francisco, he is good enough to play on the blind side. He has performed well in a zone-running scheme employed by Kyle Shanahan in San Francisco and they have one of the top O-Lines in the NFL over the past three seasons.
With a significant increase in the cap space, McGlinchey will likely make upwards of $18 million and the two teams with the most cap space are the Bears and Falcons. The Bears are most in need of an O-Line upgrade, while the Falcons could be losing Caleb McGary at right-tackle, and the addition of the former Notre Dame tackle could make their offensive line close to elite. It is also a position the Commanders and the Titans will be looking to strengthen this offseason.
- Odell Beckham Jr (Wide Receiver)
The wide receivers made big bucks in free agency last season and there is no one that has the ability of Odell available this year.
Coming off an ACL injury that he suffered in the Superbowl win for the Rams in 2022, he will be in demand. However, it will be a financial risk for a player coming off a major injury at the age of 30.
For me, Beckham is too big of a risk to make elite money at this stage of his career. I could see him wanting to return to the Giants, where he is still remembered as a star and I could also see Jerry Jones wanting another top receiver for Dak Prescott to put the Cowboys offence over the top.
If I was Beckham, I would want to go to a team with an elite QB and an offensive head coach who knows how to get him the ball. If he can prove his fitness and sharpness, would the Bills be interested in teaming him up opposite Stefon Diggs? It is very difficult to know how this will play out but it will be worth watching all the same.
- Josh Jacobs (Running Back)
Jacobs will be a free agent after coming off the best season of his career and earning All-Pro honours as the best running back in football last season.
Jacobs also has age on his side as he is only 25, which is young for a RB with four years of NFL experience in his locker. This is the optimum time for him to come out and get paid and I expect he will go to the team that will pay him the most. As I mentioned earlier, it is difficult for running backs to make significant money in the NFL.
Jacobs would be a running threat, an excellent blocker and overall safety blanket for Justin Fields in the Windy City and immediately improve their offence. Also the teams that put their faith in rookie QBs this year as well as those on rookie contracts, will have a bit more room to manoeuvre to bring in help in free agency.
The Panthers could be once such a team that would appreciate a talent such as Jacobs as a bell cow back next season. If Jacobs would take less money to go to a contender, then Buffalo would be a team that could do with his ability. I wouldn’t rule out him getting a franchise tag, but he might refuse to sign it in order to force a move elsewhere.
- Tony Pollard (Running Back)
I can’t see Pollard getting a long term deal in Dallas or anywhere else while he is recovering from a broken leg suffered against the 49er in the playoffs in January. It was an untimely blow for the running back as he was about to have been offered a long term deal from Jerry Jones.
He will end up on a franchise tag of around $10 million a year with the hope that he will come back into contention for a starting place during the season.
- Jimmy Garoppolo (QB)
Jimmy G is coming off arguably his best NFL season and he will get one of the starting QB jobs once a few of the musical chairs of the QB merry-go-round start to get filled.
Last season, there wasn’t much interest for Garoppolo in the trade market but as a free agent he will land somewhere. I can see the Jets being an option along with the Bucs who are needing a replacement for Tom Brady. He also has played under Josh McDaniels when they were at the Patriots, so the Raiders will be an option.
Last season, Garoppolo was the last man standing as he was recovering from a shoulder injury and this season he needs to return from a broken foot. Expect him to get signed later rather than sooner and possibly after the draft in April by a team in need of a starting QB.
12. Dalton Schultz (Tight End)
There is a lack of quality tight ends in the NFL and Schultz has been one of the best at catching the football in the NFL over the past few seasons. He was franchised tagged last season in Dallas and is likely to become one of the best paid at his position this time around.
He would improve most teams as a day one starter and Green Bay is a place in dire need of an upgrade at the position but with a number of tight ends coming out in the draft this year, it is difficult to see where Schultz will end up. As he is only 26 with five years of NFL experience in the bag, his next team will sign a player heading into his prime.
13. Isaac Seumalo (Guard)
Seumalo is coming off a terrific season where he was the right guard on the dominant Eagles O-Line this season. He started all 17 games and impressed as a run blocker and in pass protection. Whichever team signs him, will get a player in the prime of his career at his position.
There are a lot of teams looking for help at O-Line and I wouldn’t be surprised if he ended up at the Steelers, who had difficulty running the ball last season despite having an excellent RB in Najee Harris.
Jason Kelce is another Eagles O-linemen heading towards free agency but I feel they will not let his leadership leave the locker room. That’s why he is not on this list.
14. Garrett Bradbury (Centre)
Bradbury is one of the most underrated O-Linemen coming into free agency this year and is someone who will lock down the position for the team that signs him to a contract for the foreseeable future.
With the Vikings projected to be $20 million over the cap, they won’t be able to pay him what he will earn in the open market. He would be an excellent signing, especially for a team with a young quarterback and again the Bears, Commanders, Giants and Raiders are all looking to upgrade at the position.
Bradbury will likely have a great choice of destination and he will be one player I will be very interested to see where he ends up. From a personal point of view, I hope it’s in Washington.
15. Evan Engram (Tight End)
Evan Engram struck up a good partnership with Trevor Laurence especially at the end of the season. The Jags want him back and the player expressed a desire to return to Duval County.
However, with plenty of teams looking for an upgrade at tight-end he could follow the stability of a long term contract elsewhere but not every team looking for a tight end has a Trevor Lawrence throwing the ball.
In my opinion, a franchise tag of 11.3 million is the likeliest outcome this off season as the Jags are a projected 18 million over the cap.
16. JuJu Smith-Schuster (Wide Receiver)
Coming off a winning Super Bowl season, the big mouthed wide receiver has certainly shut a few of his detractors up.
Now he will feel, it is high time he got paid on a long term deal. He was Mahomes second favourite target this season behind Travis Kelce and you could see in the second half of the Super Bowl that Mahomes would go to him on key third downs when Kelce was double teamed.
If he wants to win more Super Bowls then he should do his best to stay in Kansas City with the current MVP but he will get more money to move elsewhere in what has become an inflated market for wide receivers.
17. Jaawan Taylor (Tackle)
The Jags would like to keep tackle Jaawan Taylor, who is coming off a much improved season from a disappointing first three years in Jacksonville. Realistically the Jags won’t be able to afford him especially as they are likely to prioritise keeping Engam.
With the Chiefs likely to lose one or both their starting tackles in free agency, there might be a position open for protecting Patrick Mahomes at right tackle. Getting well paid for protecting the best player in the game and having the possibility of winning a Superbowl every year might be an offer that Taylor won’t refuse.
If such a move doesn’t work out, there will be numerous teams vying for a right tackle and he will make a lot of money in the open market.
18. Caleb McGary (Tackle)
Another right tackle in an eerily similar position to Jaawan Taylor is Caleb McGary. He also is coming off his best season in a contract year and the Falcons have enough cap space to keep McGary should they choose to.
I think it’s the likeliest scenario that he returns to Atlanta. There are many teams looking to upgrade their O-Line and would pay and perhaps overpay McGary to start next season so he could end up cashing in over the next few days.
19. Miles Sanders (Running Back)
He is coming off an outstanding season with over 1200 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns behind that dominant Eagles offensive line.
He is a good player but do I think he would be as successful outside of Philley? Truthfully, I don’t but I could see the Raiders going for a veteran if they are not able to re-sign Jacobs at the running back position. I also expect the Bengals to upgrade at running back if they part ways with Joe Mixon.
20. Jacobi Myers (Wide Receiver)
Myers was the best receiver for the Patriots last season but they have a habit of letting free agents walk rather than offering them long term deals once they are off their rookie contracts.
He lined up primarily as a slot receiver but also has speed for the outside. He is best remembered last season for throwing a last gasp touchdown pass to the Raiders Chandler Jones in a gaffe of epic proportions. A decent route runner who is able to win contested catches, it will be interesting to see where Myers ends up and how much he will go for in this year’s market.
21. Jacoby Brissett (QB)
Brissett showed he was a starting calibre QB for the Browns last season and he will sign with a team in need of a QB who can compete for a starting position but is unlikely to get a long term contract at the position.
That will most likely be behind a young rookie and possibly for a team that drafts a rookie QB in this year’s draft. I could also see a team like the Commanders or Falcons signing him as a backup to QBs entering the sophomore seasons in the NFL. The Bucs are a team who made the postseason so do not have a high enough position to draft high this year and might target Brissett on a lucrative deal where they can jump ship after one or two years.
22. Kareem Hunt (Running back)
Kareem Hunt is a starting calibre running back who has been underused in Cleveland. Last season his conditioning was poor and he seemed slower than the dynamic player he had been in the first few years in the NFL. He is a running back that seems to enjoy contact and is the type of player who can will himself to make a first down when it is most needed. Certainly an underrated player in my book with a lot of tread left on the tyres.
23. Andrew Wylie (Tackle)
Another Super Bowl winning tackle is hitting free agency and he will improve most of the teams in the NFL
He should have a lot of teams interested in his services with possibly the 49ers a viable option if he decides to try and go to another contender. Especially as they have two QBs on rookie deals. The Jags could also be a realistic option.
24. Allen Lazard (Wide Receiver)
Lazard proved his worth to Aaron Rodgers last season and he was the primary target on third downs. I would guess his time at Green Bay will be influenced by what happens with Rodgers, with him possibly following the future Hall of Fame QB to a new destination.
Should Rodgers stay at the Packers then expect Lazard to follow suit.
25. Rashad Penny (Running Back)
Penny was having an excellent season in Seattle until injury took away his season. It has been a familiar fate for the athletic running back who has had trouble keeping available throughout his rookie contract.
When he is fit he is a dynamic player and I could see him coming into a team to work in tandem with an established running back.
Averaging 5.7 yards a carry over his career in the NFL, he could be a diamond of a signing if he can stay healthy. He will also cost less due to his injury history. I could see the Giants taking a punt on a player who could spell Saquon at times during games or the Rams who need all the help they can get at the position.