In a world largely dominated by massive contracts, routine incentives, and rookie deals, it’s easy to get lost in the hearsay of free agency. The opportunities, whether beneficial or parasitic, are ultimately in the interest of the organization. Players are chess pieces, and they know it. The more valuable you are, the higher you’ll be paid. If you’re younger, there’s a vested interest in your long-term availability. If you’re older, perhaps there’s a smaller window with more to play for.
Regardless of your views on the matter, free agency is one of the most important things for the NFL. Players and coaches alike have seen their careers change in drastic ways due to game-changing additions.
Calais Campbell‘s signing to the Jags in the 2017 offseason led them to the AFC Championship in his first year with the team. Drew Brees‘ 2005 stint with the Chargers led to him signing with the Saints and allowed history to be written.
No matter the impact, whether for good or bad, these offensive free agents are some of the biggest names on the market right now. I’m going to break down each one and gloss over their accomplishments, their potential, and possible suitors.
Tom Brady, QB
New England Patriots
Tom Brady is possibly the biggest question mark in free agency at the moment. Unlike the Giants (with Eli Manning’s expected retirement), it’s unknown whether the Patriots have a vested interest in backup Jarrett Stidham. They felt comfortable enough shipping off veteran Brian Hoyer to another former Brady backup in Indy, sure. But the problem isn’t if Stidham is ready to start; it’s if Brady is ready to quit.
Brady’s accomplishments are legendary. They’re well documented, I don’t need to lay them all out here. The problem is the refracted news from inside the Patriots organization. Reports of Brady selling his house, acting non-committal to his potential future, and rumors of in-house beef with Belichick and Robert Kraft are all signs that a change of some kind may come.
Many outlets have Brady playing elsewhere, while a few say he may retire. While it’s hard for me to predict the future, I’m not going to sit here and pretend I know because, let’s be honest, no one does. Until an official word comes down about the next step, no one in the NFL will know a thing until after the draft.
If Brady were to sign somewhere else, the best bet would be that he would become a bridge quarterback. When it comes to speculation, there’s not a doubt in my mind that that’s the course a potential organization would take. Much like Ryan Fitzpatrick (not so much the journeyman status), Brady could be a potential sit-in starter while a member of the next generation of signal-callers incubates behind him. Potential landing spots include a Tampa Bay quarterback room that is in disarray, the constantly-maligned Chicago Bears, or even the sinking LA Chargers (who have a veteran quarterback issue of their own).
Regardless, it’s amazing that this is the first time in his career he’s an unrestricted free agent with the potential to sign elsewhere. For Patriots fan’s sake, it might be better if he does.
Amari Cooper, WR
Cooper’s love/hate relationship with fantasy consistency continued valiantly throughout the 2019 season. For stretches, the big wideout was a week-winner, putting up 4 touchdowns in the first three games of the season. After a while, however, the injury bug came back to nip him.
Cooper’s one constant throughout his career has been his injury-prone status. That’s sure to be brought into consideration, as Cooper isn’t the only big-name Cowboy entering free agency. Dak Prescott and Byron Jones will be looking for new contracts as well, but don’t be surprised if the Cowboys let one of these three walk.
Cooper still has high upside as a WR1, but I see that only if he stays in Dallas. If he signs somewhere else, it might be for a similar contract, but his fantasy upside could be capped. Cooper works well in the Kellen Moore system but might suffer from a lack of fantasy appeal if he signs to a different team. Teams that could potentially be in the market for another big receiver are the Jaguars, Raiders, and the Patriots.
Dak Prescott, QB
Prescott’s claim to the face of the franchise is almost set in stone. I’m not worried about him walking in free agency, as he’s so beloved by the same organization that took a grace week to fire Jason Garrett. The issue is how much the Cowboys are willing to pay for him.
Jerry Jones practically broke his back last season to avoid a hold-out from his All-Pro running back, so it’s not out of the question to see him sign Dak to a similarly large deal. What that means is letting other pieces of the offense (such as Amari Cooper) leave in free agency, assuming that they all want similarly large contracts.
If we’re playing make-believe, I like the Bears, the Bengals, and the Buccaneers as potential landing spots for Dak. He’s a starting-caliber quarterback that could easily usurp another starter if he’s signed to a mega0-deal somewhere that isn’t Dallas.
A.J. Green, WR
Green is another talented wideout who’s had a history of injury woes. Most of Green’s injuries have come late in his career, however, but they’ve become a mainstay. In the past 4 seasons, Green has only played in 35 of 64 possible games, having only missed 4 games before that in his entire career. He enjoyed fantasy success when he was in, but a lingering toe and ankle injury cost him his 2019 season.
The Bengals (and notably, 2nd-year head coach Zac Taylor) have expressed their desire to re-sign Green. It would make the most sense, especially with an organization that wants him back. Green is a valuable player that could prove beneficial in the learning curve to a much-anticipated Joe Burrow draft pick. Green’s fantasy value cannot be understated, but the injuries are a glaring factor.
He could sign elsewhere on a cheaper deal, but it all comes down to how his rehab is coming along. Should Green suffer another setback, he might be lucky to get any kind of deal at all.
Derrick Henry, RB
I don’t really see Henry going anywhere. It’s not a surprise that the Titans rode Henry through to the playoffs. He is a talented back, a monster out of the backfield and is tough to bring down. The matter of the fact is that the Titans aren’t willing to let Henry walk in free agency, so don’t be surprised when he signs a monster contract sometime in the next few months.
Ryan Tannehill, QB
Derrick Henry is the most likely to see a huge contract. I would be remiss if Tannehill didn’t also secure a contract with the team. After leading the previously-lost Titans to the AFC championship, Tannehill earned himself his first Pro Bowl and Comeback Player of the Year consideration, all while leading the league in passer rating.
Tannehill appears to the future of the Titans (alongside Derrick Henry). There could be other teams that are considering bridge quarterbacks including the Bengals, Buccaneers, and Lions. It’s fun to play ‘what-if’ sometimes.
Kenyan Drake, RB
I fully expect the Cardinals to re-sign Drake to a multi-year deal. It was evident that Drake fit extremely well in Kliff Kingsbury‘s system, and that David Johnson is most likely on the way out. It’s safe to assume that the Cardinals might be alright biting the dead cap hit they’ll take from cutting DJ ($16,200,000).
The Cardinals focused on a sole running back whenever the starter (or best fit to play) was available, so seeing that Kenyan Drake might be the top back (with Chase Edmonds backing him up) means that the running back is likely to see work-horse money if David Johnson is released.
Drake’s threat as a dual-back makes him an intriguing free agent. Unless a running back needy team signs him to a monster deal, he’ll most likely stay in the desert.
Melvin Gordon, RB
Los Angeles Chargers
Gordon’s holdout hurt him more than it helped his chances. Depending on the direction the Chargers are wanting to go, it’s tough to say what the Chargers will do after parting ways with Philip Rivers. What is evident is that whether or not Gordon remains in LA, he won’t get the kind of contract he was holding out for.
Gordon’s profile is that of a downhill runner. His ability to break tackles and get his hands on the ball was tested this past season as he played like a shadow of his former self. Whether it was due to rust or unfamiliarity with the offense, Gordon’s options are limited this season.
Hunter Henry, TE
Los Angeles Chargers
Henry’s resurgence post-injury helped somewhat salvage his fantasy season, despite a lackluster final quarter of the season. With Philip Rivers walking this offseason, it’s hard to predict the volume for Henry moving forward. He’s proven to be a big-body threat in the red zone. His utilization moving forward (if the Chargers keep him) is anyone’s guess.
Henry could see a nice contract somewhere else, especially in Carolina. With Greg Olsen departing from the Panthers, they have a need at the position that I don’t think Ian Thomas can quite fill. Henry is an intriguing tight end option regardless of where he is. You just have to hope he stays healthy to see work somewhere.
Zach Hargis is a writer for Dynasty Football Digest. He enjoys playing the drums, doing voice impressions, and quoting The Office. If any of those things interest you, he welcomes you to follow him on Twitter @ZachFFDrummer and to check out his personal interests on Instagram @zakktastic.