NFL Free Agents: Spinning the wheel of fortune

By Sean Tyler (@SeanTylerUK)

With the franchise tag deadline and free agency looming, it’s time for the @Full10Yards top 10 free agents list (five on each side of the ball) and some thoughts on where they might land ahead of the 2020 season. Thanks to Instagram, we know the 41-year-old Drew Brees is returning to the Superdome for at least another year with the Saints. So while he’s technically still a free agent, he isn’t on this list. So who is? Let’s spin the wheel…


TOP OFFENSIVE FREE AGENTS


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Image Credit: Paul Sancya/AP

1. Dak Prescott (QB) – Dallas Cowboys


He began his time at Dallas by winning Offensive Rookie of the Year and most recently, he led one of the league’s top offenses, throwing for 4,902 yards and 30 touchdowns in his best campaign yet.

But the cheap deal has run out and someone has to pay the dude. Will it be the Cowboys? It seems they’ll have to go north of $30 million a year, which begs the question “Is he actually worth that?” That’s quite a pay-out but the Cowboys seem to want to build around him. Being the franchise poster-boy for the next few years comes at a price.

Safe bet: Dallas. To quote Jerry Jones, “He’s our quarterback of the future” so it looks increasingly likely that the Cowboys will retain Prescott. He’ll want to cash in on his potential and Jones will make him a happy camper.

Long shot: Dallas. Nope, it’s still the Cowboys. Al three of the team’s most valuable players have expiring contracts (that’s Amari Cooper and Byron Jones too) and it’ll be hard to keep all three. With contract talks back up and running again, Dak seems to be the one who’s going nowhere.


Image credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

2. Amari Cooper (WR) – Dallas Cowboys


Oh boy, do the ‘Boys have free agency headaches. The former Raider filled Dez Bryant’s cleats well but well enough to get top dollar? He’s not perfect but he’s the best receiver available and by that score, he won’t come cheap. If Dallas don’t think he’s worth $20 million a year, or think that paying Prescott, Cooper and corner Byron Jones will break the bank, he might walk.

Safe bet: Dallas. Theoretically, Jerry Jones could pay Dak and tag Cooper, keeping another star in the Lone Star State and giving Coach Mike McCarthy quite the toolkit in his first season.

Long shot: Washington. The Redskins have the cap space to pull the trigger. Imagine if their divisional rivals snaffled Cooper to go alongside rising stars Terry McLaurin and Dwayne Haskins.


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Image Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel

3. Ryan Tannehill (QB) – Tennessee Titans

I doubt any player boosted his reputation more in 2019 than Tannehill. His sensational second-half of the season, leading Tennessee well into the playoffs, suggests he may have more to offer than the waning old men, Brady and Rivers.

He resurrected his own career and the Titans’ season, and will probably get a tag of some sort. He obviously benefitted from Derrick Henry’s success, but he seemed pretty mobile in the pocket and kept making the throws asked of him.

Safe bet: Tennessee. The Titans shouldn’t overpay a guy who had three good months and who might not hit the same dizzy heights again but the franchise tag buys them a year’s grace.

Long shot: New England. Neither GM Jon Robinson nor HC Mike Vrabel seem that upbeat about him and the Brady-to-Nashville whispers just won’t go away. With a straight swap, could the reincarnated Tannehill continue his renaissance under Bill Belichick?

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Image Credit: Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

4. Derrick Henry (RB) – Tennessee Titans


Henry was the top rusher in the league last year, with 1,540 yards and 18 TDs. Going for over 180 yards in both his postseason games, there’s no hint of him easing up or slowing down.

Despite helping the Titans ride their late-season wave of glory, Henry is a running back. And these days, they don’t keep getting paid, especially if they’re a non-factor in the receiving game (Henry had just 28 targets all year). Like Dallas, the Titans have two big contracts to sort out. They could pay Tannehill first and then see what they can offer Henry, or vice versa.

Safe bet: Tennessee. He’s among the top RBs, on a resurgent team with a decent O-line, and in a system that clearly works for all concerned. Why leave Nashville?

Long shot: Houston. With Carlos Hyde unlikely to stay, adding a tank like Henry to the backfield could help the Texans take the next step in 2020.


Image Credit: Ian Johnson/Icon Sportswire

5. AJ Green (WR) – Cincinnati Bengals


Valuing AJ Green is a toughie. He was an elite wideout when we last saw him but thanks to toe and ankle injuries, that was 18 months ago. Despite being 31 and without any tape from last season, Green should still have some juice in the tank. We just don’t know how much.

Green wants to stay if the price is right. If healthy, Green would be the ideal pro to help Joe Burrow ease into the NFL, having had 1,000-yard seasons in six of his eight years in the NFL. Cincy didn’t trade him during the season so it’s hard to see him going now.

Safe bet: Cincinnati. Just a few weeks ago, Green said he wanted to be a Bengal his whole career. The most likely scenario is that he stays for a prove-you’ve-still-got-it year.

Long shot: Las Vegas. If contract talks break down or Green is tagged-and-traded, the Raiders could do with a skill position upgrade. They are sorted for slot receiver, running back and tight end but a true outside track star would be the missing piece.


TOP DEFENSIVE FREE AGENTS


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Image Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

1. Chris Jones (DT) – Kansas City Chiefs

If Jones hits the open market, he is primed to get paid. $18 million a year is the going rate for a wrecking ball of a defensive tackle who’s notched 24.5 sacks in the last two seasons. Jones is a rare beast who can dominate games… even alongside Super Bowl MVP Patrick Mahomes.

An explosive pass rusher and Pro-Bowler who can stand shoulder to shoulder with Aaron Donald and JJ Watt, Jones could expect top whack. But can the Chiefs (available cap space: $13.7 million) afford him, having given something in that ballpark to Frank Clark already? A monster extension to Mahomes will also be needed when the time comes.

Safe bet: Kansas City: The Chiefs should keep Jones but may need to tag him for at least another year.

Long shot: Indianapolis. Maybe KC apply the tag but trade him for draft compensation. The Colts could be up for such a move, as they have draft picks to play with and need some pass-rush help.


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Image Credit: Michael Reaves/Getty Images

2. Shaquil Barrett (EDGE) – Tampa Bay Buccaneers


As mentioned in a recent season in review piece, Bruce Arians said of Barrett: “He ain’t going anywhere.” Given his league-leading 19.5 sacks in 2019, they can’t let him walk but there’s still a chance that Barrett is a one-hit wonder. His four seasons in Denver were decent enough but in that time, he only got 14 sacks. That muddies the water somewhat.

Safe bet: Tampa Bay. He’ll stay put, although it would be wise for the Bucs to use the franchise tag and check last year wasn’t a fluke. Then, he will seriously reap the rewards down the line if he continues on his current trajectory.

Long shot: Tampa Bay. He’s already talked of giving Tampa a “home-town discount” due to Florida’s income tax arrangements so that’s another tick in the “not going anywhere” column.


Image Credit: Chris Szagola/Associated Press

3. Jadeveon Clowney (EDGE) – Seattle Seahawks


Clowney is an enigma. His production doesn’t live up to the billing – he had just three sacks last year and is yet to hit double figures – and he’s had some niggly injuries. But he produces big, game-defining moments, and he’s got the time and potential to grow as a pass rusher.

For a change, I’m not predicting a franchise tag scenario here because the Seahawks agreed not to use it when they acquired him from Houston. And they got him for a song in the first place. So despite non-elite production, Clowney can expect to become one of the highest-paid defenders in the NFL. We’re talking something like $100 million over five years. Ouch.

Safe bet: Seattle. It’s no secret that Russell Wilson wants him to stay and Head Coach Pete Carroll won’t want to further weaken a defensive line that ranked 31st in pass rushing last year. We’ll see him at CenturyLink Field next season for sure.

Long shot: Houston: I know, I know, but bringing Clowney back might not be as dumb as it sounds. The Texans’ passing defence was porous and JJ Watt isn’t getting any younger, so a newer model could give their edge rushing a timely boost.


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Image Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

4. Yannick Ngakoue (Edge) – Jacksonville Jaguars


Think of him like those Velociraptors in the original Jurassic Park film, sneaking in – quickly and silently – hunting down quarterbacks and flaying them alive with their oversized talons… err, sorry, got a bit carried away there. It’s actually more like rushing the passer, getting sacks and forcing errors.

He’s clocked 37.5 sacks through his first four seasons but if he gets elite money now, he’s getting overpaid.

Safe bet: Jacksonville. He’s still young and even in an off-year like 2019, Ngakoue’s eight sacks and 50 total pressures last season – his lowest since he was a rookie – was quite a nice floor.

Long shot: Buffalo. The Jags are strapped and it’ll cost a cool $20 million to keep him. But the Bills have the dosh. They are also losing Lorenzo Alexander to retirement and Shaq Lawson is also hitting free agency, so could have a couple of major gaps to fill.


5. Justin Simmons (Safety) – Denver Broncos


Big, fast and springy, Simmons is a run-breaker and a ball hawk, with 94 tackles and four interceptions in 2019. Those stats made the 26-year-old Pro Football Focus’ top safety last season, signalling a massive step up this year. But the teams sniffing around will need to kick the tyres to make sure he’s not another one-year breakout player getting top dollar for one unrepresentative season.

Safe bet: Denver. Simmons has evolved from a third-round draft pick into an essential element of the Broncos D so I suspect keeping him in Mile High City is a priority for John Elway, even if it’s via the franchise tag for now.

Long shot: San Francisco. If the Niners can’t keep hold of Jimmie Ward, especially given his history with injuries, yer man Simmons could be a great fit in the Bay.


ALSO IN THE PICTURE


Tom Brady (QB), New England Patriots

I couldn’t not mention Brady, could I? Time is catching up with TB12 after 20 seasons but given his stature in the game, he will still turn heads, even though he’s on the wane – he was only the 11th-ranked quarterback in 2019. I doubt he’ll want to up-sticks and start again at the ripe old age of 43 so staying in New England for one last hurrah with Uncle Bill Belichick before he sails off into the sunset doesn’t seem unreasonable. But if you wanna gamble and put it all on red, the Las Vegas Raiders have a youthful core and the financial where-with-all to add weapons around him.

Philip Rivers (QB), Los Angeles Chargers

Although a relative spring chicken (a mere 38), Rivers’ arm isn’t what it was, what little mobility he had is long gone and he had 20 INTs last year. That said, he also threw for more than 4,600 yards and 23 touchdowns so all is not lost. Rivers won’t be back in LA so again, Indianapolis would make a lot of sense. Their offensive line works and Rivers would be reunited with former Chargers QB assistant Frank Reich. Thinking more out of the box, he’s just moved to his family to Florida. Tampa Bay anyone?

Jameis Winston (QB), Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Jameis is your guy if you want a bucketload of throws, thousands of yards, loads of touchdowns and a million interceptions. He’s high risk, high stakes, high reward. The Buccaneers are considering living dangerously again by bringing back the all-and-nothing QB, using the franchise tag for damage limitation. Failing that, the Indianapolis Colts GM said the jury’s still out on Jacoby Brissett.

Brandon Scherff (G), Washington Redskins

Scherff is a run-blocking guard who might have broken into the top 10 if he’d stayed healthy. Despite taking to the field only 19 times in two years, he’s arguably the best interior lineman in this year’s free agent class. The three-time Pro Bowler and former first round pick should stay with the Redskins under new HC Ron Rivera but if he doesn’t, let’s pretend for a moment the Cincinnati Bengals actually engaged in free agency. Scherff would help a terrible O-line protect some young whippersnapper called Burrow.

Byron Jones (CB), Dallas Cowboys

Despite hip surgery last offseason, Jones backed up his breakout 2018 campaign with another top year. Versatile enough to also play safety, Jones will be the top corner on the market which, according to the laws of supply and demand, means he’ll get paid above and beyond his ability. Minnesota could improve at corner, with Xavier Rhodes’ form falling away and Trae Waynes heading for free agency, while the Philadelphia Eagles could help their injury-ravaged secondary by poaching from a divisional rival.

F10Y – NFC and AFC Championships 19-20 Look ahead

by Lawrence Vos (@NFLFANINENGLAND and @F10YRetro)

This will be the 22nd time that the conference championship will be a regular season rematch. The advantage has gone to the home team winning 13 of 21 rematches. The last team to gain revenge for a regular season loss by winning a conference championship was the the 2013 Seahawks who beat the 49ers – a game that featured a touchdown from Marshawn ‘Beast Mode’ Lynch. 

Now I’m not going to be popular if you like to do the tomahawk or if you support a team with a red helmet, but I am going for a Titans v 49ers Super Bowl. Below I have provided some narrative on the two teams I think are going to make it to the 54th annual festival of football.

AFC Championship – Tennessee Titans @ Kansas City Chiefs

Photo caption: Andrew Nelles / Tennessean.com

H2H – Chiefs lead all time series 29-24. Both are 1-1 in Super Bowl playoffs, and one win for the Titans in 1962 in double overtime when they were known as the Dallas Texans. Titans have won last four matchups by a combined 22. 

Titans 2019 record to date – 11-7 

  • Could become the first team in NFL history to beat their same conference division winners in a single season having dispensed the Texans Week 17, then the Patriots and the Ravens. 
  • If we include the Houston Oilers records, along with the Titans then this is the franchises 6th conference championship game – three for the Oilers – one from being in the AFL in 1967, two consecutive between 1978 and 1979, both as Wild Card entries, and both ending in defeats to the eventual Super Bowl winning Pittsburgh Steelers. 
  • As the Titans they reached two AFC title games in 1999 and 2002, beating the Jags in 99 and losing to the Raiders in 02. This will be the Titans 3rd AFC Championship in their 21 year existence as the Tennessee Titans.
  • They have of course played in one Super Bowl – 34 suffering one of three of the most heartbreaking losses in the finals history as Mike Jones the St Louis Rams LB tackled WR Keyin Dyson at the one yard line as the Titans looked to tie up the game in the dying seconds. 

Last decade – In the past 10 seasons the Titans haven’t won their division, and including this season are 3-1 in the playoffs. 

Outside of this season the Titans only playoff win in the past 17 seasons was in 2017 against none other than the Kansas City Chiefs. 

So what are the top 5 strengths of the Titans

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  • The running game and namely the hottest running back in the NFL Derek Henry. Henry became the first back in NFL history to record three consecutive 180+ rushing games. something that Emmitt Smith, Walter Payton and even Jim Brown never managed.
  • Ryan Tannehill’s efficiency. From the point he replaced the ineffective Marcus Mariota this season Tannehill ended the 17 game slate with the highest rating in the league. Tannehill is an accurate passer 62.5% lifetime and 70.3% this season.
  • Jurrell Casey – You gotta love this defensive tackle who has started 137 of 139 games for the Titans. the four time pro bowler has recored 5 or more sacks for the last 7 seasons, and registered his first two playoff QB takedowns against Lamar Jackson last week. Casey has been twice voted the Titans Walter Payton Man of the year and he coaches a women’s flag football team made up of Titans WAGs. 
  • Head coach Mike Vrabel (pictured above) – This might be Vrabel’s first post season as a head coach but he won three rings as a player for the new england patriots in just a four year stretch. He has to be the only NFL player to have caught 12 touchdown passes on 12 career catches. 

Titans weaknesses 

  • Their field goal kicking.The team is 8-18 on field goal attempts
  • Pass rush – No player has more than 9 sacks and 1st round rookie dl Jeffrey Simmons had only two regular season sacks. 
  • Playoff experience – This is Tannehill’s third career playoff game and his only post season in his career. 

Keys for a Titans win 

  • Goes without saying feeding Derek henry the ball often – 25-30 carries and the Titans can dominate time of possesion and keep Mahomes off the field
  • Special teams tackling – The spark the Chiefs had last week was caused by a big Mecole Hardman kick return. If Haardman or Tyreek hill can find creases it means longer drives needed. 
  • Get the ball to the biggest playmaker. AJ Brown electrified as a rookie WR in the regular season, but he has been used as a decoy for two consecutive games to get a safety or corner to stay away from the line of scrimmage. Now is the time to unleash AJ in all his glory. 

NFC Championship – Green Bay Packers @ San Francisco 49ers

Photo credit: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

H2H – Packers lead the series 36-31-1. They have met 7 times in the playoffs the 49ers winning 3. The last time the 49ers recorded a shutout against the Packers was in 1954. The teams did meet in the 1997 NFC Championship – the Brett Favre and Reggie White led Packers beating the Steve Young led 49ers 23-10 in the shadow of the Golden Gate Bridge. 

49ers record to date – 14-3 

  • Back in the NFC Championship for the 16th time – with 6 wins and 10 losses. Made three consecutive NFC Championships 2011-2013 with Alex Smith and then Colin Kaepernick. They lost Super Bowl 47 in 2013 to the Ravens. Weird fact on this game the last scoring play was a safety by the 49ers – Ravens  punter Sam Koch running out the back of the endzone. The 49ers team then featured Frank Gore who ran for 110 yards on the day. 
  • The Niners are 5-1 in Super bowls, having won 4 with Joe Montana who didn’t throw an interception in any of the three games, Super Bowl 24 in fact remains the biggest blowout game when they beat the Broncos 55-10. 
  • In the past 10 seasons the 49ers have won their division three times and are 6-3 in the playoffs. The last time they won their division before this season they mad it to the Superbowl. 
  • 49ers are the surviving 1 seed and only home team to host two playoff games this season. 

Top 5 strengths of the 49ers

Photo credit: Kyle Terada – USA TODAY Sports
  • Adaptability to their surroundings – they had a better road record than home record – going 7-1 on their travels. Wins ranged from a 9-0 grinder in a quagmire in Washington to outlasting the Saints 48-46 in the game of the season in New Orleans. 
  • The surprise of the running game. the team finished 2nd in rushing yards per game behind a combo of Tevin Coleman, Raheem Mostert, Matt Breida and even jeff bison, just don’t ask jimmy Garoppolo to run – his 1.3 yards a carry is Dan Marino Esque. Don’t forget about Kyle Juzchck who is arguably the best FB in football
  • Grab a teabag and put the Kittle on. All Pro TE George Kittle led the team in targets, receptions, and was the only Niners to go over 1000 yards in the air. His 5 tds paced the team. Kittle’s catch against the Saints was easily a top10 highlight of the season. 
  • Pass rush – the 49ers registered 48 regular season sacks and followed up with six lashes of Kirk Cousins last week. The biggest name is rookie Nick Bosa, but the leading regular season sacker was Arik Armstead with 10 and two forced fumbles. in their regular season matchup the 49ers had 5 sacks of Aaron rodgers on his 33 attempts. 
  • The offensive line – Veteran LT Joe staley and mauling 2nd year right tackle Mike McGlinchey (pictured above) are not getting the headlines, neither made the first or second all pro rosters but they are solid bookends and RG Mike Person is one to look out for as a late bloomer. The team averaged 4.6 yards a carry in the regular season and paved the way for 47 rushes last week. 

Weaknesses 

  • Kicking game has become a bit of a risk. Robbie Gould who was injured for three weeks has missed 8 of his 31 attempts after foil 33 of 34 last season. Fortunately for the 49ers Gould has never missed a field goal in 8 post season games. 
  • Penalties by the defense – The team committed the 7th most penalties in the regular season and need to cut down on giving up cheap yardage. 
  • Wide receivers – Its a grab bag of talent with the 49ers ball catchers – no one is a dominant number one. Trade aqusition Emmanuel Sanders has registered 36 catches and 3 tds in red and gold – good but not great. This can be a 49ers advantage as Jimmy G will likely look for Deebo Samuel early and often but there is no guarantee he has a gig receiving game. 

Keys for a 49ers win 

  • Keep bringing the heat all game long. Joey Bosa looked as fresh in the final two minutes against the Vikes as he did in the opening 2. Aaron Rodgers is 36 and uses more of his smarts than he does his feet to move the ball. 
  • Run the ball and wear down the packers defensive line. It might be Mostert or even Breida that gets the lions share of carries whoever carries the ball they need to keep hold of the rock
  • Game planning – Kyle Shanahan lives every day with the numbers 28-3 etched in his mind after taking a 25 point lead in the Super Bowl as the Falcons offensive coordinator before being Bill and Tommed. Lesson learnt Shanahan will take no lead for granted and will want to showcase his play calling in front of a fired up home crowd. 

Enjoy the games tonight, for some this week is better than Super Bowl Sunday. We have a top seed, a bottom seed and two teams that are #2 in their conferences.

Photo credit: Albert Dickson/Sporting News

Sit back, grab your popcorn, and have a blast.