NFL free agency is often fool’s gold with the worst teams chasing what’s left of the “best” players and vastly overpaying in some instances. When I spoke to agents about which teams were showing interest in their pending free agents and seemed primed to spend the most, the teams I almost universally heard were the Browns and 49ers.
Makes sense -- as they have the two worst rosters in the NFL and have the most cap space to burn and need to send some sort of hopeful message to the fans as they hold the top two picks in the draft for a reason. Both franchises are actively exploring quarterback options and also need linebackers and pass rushers and corners and I could do on and on. Expect them to set the market at multiple positions, knowing they have to sweeten the pot to get players to come to teams that have struggled this much and have endured constant turnover of the roster and front office.
The Browns would love to land top safety Tony Jefferson and others, while I continue to hear a persistent buzz about the 49ers and receiver Alshon Jeffery. Among others.
The Bears won’t stop at Mike Glennon should they indeed land him as many expect. They are going hard for cornerbacks and could land Buffalo’s Stephon Gilmore, who sources say is seeking to at least match Janoris Jenkins’ deal with the Giants a year ago that pays near $13M a year with $29M guaranteed. Gilmore is likely to be the highest-paid corner on this market, with A.J. Bouye and Logan Ryan the next guys up. They’ll do well also.
Agents have mentioned the Lions and Jags as potential big spenders as well, and Jacksonville seems intent on upgrading its offensive line. Bengals guard Kevin Zeitler is the top target and he could command $12M a year. He’s a great player who is young and clean. And the Jets will be seeking best-of-breed players as well, but if they can’t get their primary guy I doubt they chase around lesser players at the same position group. Guys like Tony Jefferson -- who played for Todd Bowles in Arizona -- and Rams speedster RB/returner Bennie Cunningham and Ravens fullback Kyle Juszczyk all make sense for them.
As for Jefferson, I’ve been saying for weeks he is going to be one of the real winners in this free agent class and break the bank, and here at the combine teams didn’t scoff at him reaching $10M per year. In fact, at this point, anything else would surprise me. The Cardinals won’t be able to keep pace with that spending, but could Baltimore? Juszczyk is going to do very well also, as teams see him as not just a fullback but a latter-day Mike Alstott type who can also catch over 50 balls a season. His price point seems destined to shatter what the Ravens would likely want to pay. It also looks bleak for the Ravens to keep defensive tackle Brandon Williams and right tackle Ricky Wagner right now as well.
And the Buccaneers are inclined to keep pushing to get in the postseason. Cardinals defensive lineman Calais Campbell and Redskins receiver DeSean Jackson are just two of the players they are interested in.
More NFL news and notes
Top free agents will be gone fast
Despite the NFL Combine being moved back a week, and thus now bumping right into the start of free agency, agents and teams said they were leaving town without deals in tow. Plenty of talking and plenty of setting parameters, but the consensus was that by noon Tuesday the offers will be flying and that by midnight on Wednesday the first wave of free agency will essentially be over, with agreements in place for the top free agents. One suggestion for the future -- allow players to make free-agent visits anywhere they like right after the combine. Had a few execs mention that might help the process as well moving forward.
Raiders to Vegas not dead … yet
While the Raiders chances of getting a vote to move to Las Vegas appear bleak as they have no stadium deal, league sources say Cowboys owner Jerry Jones hasn’t given up hope. He is very much trying to help Mark Davis fulfill that dream and is trying to help broker something in Vegas in the aftermath of Sheldon Adelson pulling out.
Gruden’s new deal
The Redskins extension with Jay Gruden came together very quickly. A fairly impromptu meeting between team president Bruce Allen and Gruden’s agent, Bob LaMonte, occurred in Indy, as it is wont to do, and within a short period of time a two-year extension was hatched. Gruden had two years remaining on his already very lucrative rookie head coach deal. Given all the turmoil and tumult in the Redskins front office right now -- with some wondering if Scot McCloughan will still be the GM after the draft -- I’m not surprised they did something with their coach to signify continuity, in so much as there is ever continuity in Washington.