2019 NFL Free Agency: Moves the Colts, Jets, Browns, and other teams with $65M or more in cap space can make
Breaking down the teams with the most salary cap space heading into free agency
NFL free agency is but a few days away. The league is still focused on the repercussions of the NFL combine right now, but 100 percent of the attention will be focused on the veterans in short order. With that in mind, we figured that now is as good a time as any to take stock of what each of the league's 32 teams should have on their radar beginning next week.
To do this, we're going to break the whole league down by spending power, rather than by division or by conference. This will give us a better idea of who the big movers and shakers in the market are likely to be, and who will have to get better by making adjustments on the margins.
We'll begin today (Wednesday) with a few of the presumed big spenders: these are the teams which have $65 million in cap space or more. Note: All cap figures via Spotrac.com.
Cap Space: $105,818,186
Remember when former Colts GM Ryan Grigson complained for years that it was Andrew Luck because he makes so much money? Well, now the Colts have a far better roster than they ever had under Grigson and more cap space than anybody else in the league.to build a roster around
Indianapolis has a chance to dramatically reshape its roster this offseason, and the crop of available free agents fits nicely with the Colts' needs. Chris Ballard has been up front about the Colts not taking the type of risks that many people have them pegged for this offseason (i.e. Le'Veon Bell and/or Antonio Brown), but there are plenty of other players who would be tremendous fits and not necessarily come at as high a financial, draft-capital, or locker-room-cohesion cost.
The biggest splash the Colts could possibly make would be to steal Trey Flowers away from the Patriots. They have more than enough cap space to make Flowers a large enough offer such that nobody else could match, and his versatile skill set on the edge makes him an excellent fit for defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus' aggressive defense. He's young enough that you should be paying for his prime years with any deal, too, which only makes him a risk more worth taking. And if the price for Flowers proves too high, there's always Anthony Barr. Even after bringing Margus Hunt back to play on the defensive interior on a two-year deal, the Colts could also theoretically make a run at Sheldon Richardson or Darius Philon if they want to add more talent inside. Their run defense could use it.
Given the sheer volume of space they have, the Colts could sign an impact defender or two and still have more than enough left over to add a similarly impactful player on the other side of the ball. The best-case scenario would be a moderate length deal for Golden Tate, who is just about as perfect a fit across from T.Y. Hilton as there has ever been. The Colts cycled through a whole lot of That Guys across from Hilton last season but Tate would provide a consistency and upside at the position that nobody else they used could ever reach. Failing a deal with him, Cole Beasley would make an interesting target as an option for the slot.
New York Jets
Cap Space: $99,046,607
The Jets have probably been connected to more big-name players than any other team in the league. There has been so much smoke around them deciding to give Le'Veon Bell a huge deal that there has to be at least some fire, though it is worth noting that it was reported earlier this offseason that they were interested but not necessarily ready to break the bank. Given their incredible amount of cap space, though, they could easily afford to shower Bell with money in a front-loaded deal that ensures they get him but does not weigh down their books for years. They could also easily go after Bell's teammate, Antonio Brown, in a trade, though they are working with a relative paucity of draft capital after surrendering multiple second-round picks to move up for Sam Darnold in last year's draft.
That's really what this offseason should be all about, though: putting Darnold in the best possible position to succeed. The Jets decided to bring back the entire coaching infrastructure that led to Darnold's inconsistent rookie season, so they would do well to surround him with better talent both at the skill positions and along the offensive line. Donovan Smith is off the market after getting an extension from the Buccaneers, but guys like Rodger Saffold, Ja'Wuan James, Matt Paradis, and Daryl Williams could or should be on their radar to some degree or another.
Additionally, the Jets could use some more perimeter defensive talent in both the secondary (Ronald Darby? Bradley Roby? Bryce Callahan?) and on the edge (Preston or Za'Darius Smith?) to go with their strength up the middle.
Cap Space: $83,299,215
The Texans are going to eat up a decent portion of this cap room with the franchise tag and/or long-term extension for Jadeveon Clowney. That should prove well worth it, as he's an integral piece of one of the NFL's best defensive fronts along with J.J. Watt, Whitney Mercilus, and more. They'd also presumably like to bring back Tyrann Mathieu, who proved to be an excellent fit for them on the back end and emerged as a locker room favorite. The Honey Badger came on a discount last offseason, but could command a much more sizable contract this time around.
With whatever money they have left over, they absolutely have to pursue whatever talented players they can get along the offensive line. The kind of protection they have given Deshaun Watson during his first two seasons is downright criminal, and it has to be rectified before it ruins his career the same way the expansion Texans' offensive line ruined whatever chance David Carr had of becoming an NFL-caliber player. Watson appears to be far more talented than Carr ever was, and wasting his talent would be far more of a shame.
Saffold, James, Paradis, Williams, Trent Brown, Mitch Morse, and more should all be contacted by the Texans early in free agency so they can get a bid in there. They simply cannot go into next season without making huge upgrades up front.
Cap Space: $77,339,877
The Bills, like the Jets, badly need to figure out a way to surround their young quarterback with better talent. No passer in the league was supported by a worse group of offensive talent last season than Josh Allen, and that absolutely has to change if they want him to find his way to success in the future.
The Bills make a ton of sense as a fit for a lot of the top available offensive linemen, whether that's Daryl Williams or Trent Brown or Rodger Saffold or Matt Paradis. Allen was hit far too often last season, and with his strength being his ability to push the ball downfield, they need to give him better protection. Similarly, wide receivers who can make plays downfield should be targets, and on that front someone like Tyrell Williams could make a decent amount of sense. He's not a high-level talent but he has shown an ability to make plays in the deep passing game, which would be a fit with Allen. They have the ability to offer Golden Tate a big deal if they want, but he makes less sense for the Bills than almost any other team given his skill set.
With the retirement of Kyle Williams, the Bills could also stand to add some talent up the middle on defense. They could be targeting that spot early in the draft, though, so it's not necessarily something you could see them looking for in free agency. If they can add a linebacker who does not struggle in pass coverage, that would also be nice.
Cap Space: $77,201,965
The Browns seem like a strong candidate to be this year's version of the Rams, who aggressively went after multiple top-flight players last offseason in order to take advantage of the window provided to them by Jared Goff's rookie contract. But the Browns might be even better-positioned to do this because (a) Baker Mayfield looks like he's got even more upside than Goff; (b) Mayfield's got an additional year left on his rookie contract; and (c) the Browns' long-term cap position is far better than the Rams' was this time last year.
Accordingly, they can afford to go high-end shopping in free agency to surround their elite young players (Mayfield, Nick Chubb, Myles Garrett, Denzel Ward, Larry Ogunjobi) with elite veteran talent without having to pay a huge price for it down the line. My favorite possible fit for them is a guy who was on the Rams last year: Ndamukong Suh. Putting him on the same defensive line as Garrett and Ogunjobi would be a nightmare for opposing offenses. The Browns can offer Suh something like two or three years at $15 million a year and still have more than enough money left over to do whatever else they want. Similarly, they could go after talented defensive backfield pieces like Roby, Callahan, or even the oft-injured Jason Verrett.
On offense, they need to give Mayfield more targets than just Chubb, David Njoku, and Jarvis Landry -- especially if they decide to trade Duke Johnson, as has been rumored this week. Golden Tate would make an excellent fit, but as the top receiver available on the market he may prove too rich for their blood. Taking a flier on someone like Phillip Dorsett seems worth it, but he's not necessarily reliable enough to be their full-time No. 2 wideout. They need another high-end option, and pickings are slim on the free-agent market. They have the draft capital to go after Antonio Brown and/or Odell Beckham Jr., though, and if they're able to land one, watch out.
Cap Space: $69,459,698
The Raiders have a metric ton of cap space and arguably the worst overall roster in the league. They should be interested in anybody and everybody who will take their money.
San Francisco 49ers
Cap Space: $68,982,230
The 49ers were a hot sleeper team last offseason after making a couple splashy signings, but things didn't exactly work out for them. Jerick McKinnon tore his ACL during the preseason, Jimmy Garoppolo tore his a few weeks into the regular season, the wide receiver corps could not stay healthy, and the defense made only moderate strides rather than major ones.
This year, they have another chance to make a similar splash. Richard Sherman, one of last year's big signings, is already recruiting his former Legion of Boom-mate Earl Thomas to the Bay Area, and it's difficult to think of a player who could make a bigger impact for the 49ers than Thomas. Even if he ultimately decides to take his talents to Dallas as is expected, however, the 49ers have plenty of money available to add impact players. They could decide to pursue HaHa Clinton-Dix or Adrian Amos at safety, as well as any of the corners we've discussed earlier in this piece like Callahan or Roby.
Additionally, the 49ers may be in position to add an edge rusher like Flowers or Barr if they decide that's their biggest need. They could also shoot a bit lower by targeting Dante Fowler or Ezekiel Ansah, or they could take a shot on a veteran like Vinny Curry or Cameron Wake if they think Nick Bosa might slip to them at No. 2 in the draft. That way they can flood the market at the position without double-dipping on incredibly high-priced options.
They also absolutely have to add more high-level talent on the perimeter offensively. They've been bandied about as an Antonio Brown or Odell Beckham suitor, and it's thrilling to think about what Kyle Shanahan could do if he added one of those guys to his offense alongside George Kittle, Marquise Goodwin, and Dante Pettis. If neither of those high-end options come to fruition, I think it'd be interesting for them to see if Dez Bryant has anything left in the tank. He is the kind of receiver with whom Shanahan has had a lot of success, and he'd presumably come at a low cost after his year away from football and major injury. They shouldn't count on Bryant to necessarily provide much of anything, but he could be a low-cost flier that pays big dividends if all goes well.
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