Games may still be months away but from a business standpoint, the 2020 NFL season is scheduled to officially kick off on Tuesday with the start of free agency. March 18 marks the official start of the 2020 league year and with that comes the beginning of free agency (4 p.m. ET). (This could change if the NFL decides to delay the start of the new league year.)
The possibility of a new CBA being approved has already impacted some of the timing of events leading up to free agency. The deadline for teams to apply the franchise or transition tag to players has been moved from Thursday afternoon to Monday night, but otherwise, free agency will proceed as normal.
And this could be a landscape-altering offseason given the players who could be changing teams. Some of these will be tagged by their current teams while others are expected to re-sign but there will still be plenty of player movement across the league with more than 700 players set to become free agents.
So which players are at the top of teams' shopping lists and where might they end up signing? Here's a ranking of the top 25 players that are pending free agents (depending on whether they are tagged), possible landing spots and a somewhat educated guess about which uniform they will be wearing this season.
1. Dak Prescott, QB, Dallas Cowboys
You can quibble with the order of the quarterbacks if you want, but Prescott leads this list primarily because of his age. Set to turn 27 in late July, Prescott is 16 years younger than Tom Brady (and 15 years younger than Drew Brees). He's also coming off of a breakthrough season as a passer while remaining a viable threat with his legs, something neither Brady nor Brees can claim.
Possible Landing Spots: Dallas, Indianapolis, Los Angeles Chargers, Tampa Bay, Las Vegas
Prediction: It seems kind of foolish to even mention any other team but the Cowboys. Dallas has by and large mismanaged contract negotiations with Prescott, but this just means Jerry Jones will have to write a bigger check than he may prefer to keep his quarterback. Whether Dallas signs him to a long-term contract or tags him first, Prescott isn't going anywhere.
2. Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots
As hard as it may be to imagine Brady in a different uniform, it's entirely possible that his tenure in New England ended with a home loss to the Tennessee Titans in the Wild Card Round. Brady may be nearing the end of his career but the number of teams that would dump their current starting quarterback even for a couple of seasons with him at the helm still vastly outnumber those who wouldn't.
Possible Landing Spots: New England, Tennessee, Los Angeles Chargers, Las Vegas, Indianapolis, Tampa Bay
Prediction: Not ruling out a return to New England, but the odds of that happening seem less than 50/50 at this point. And that's what makes Brady the ultimate domino in this entire free-agent class. Brady's best bet would be to go to a team that has the pieces ready to win and one where he's not asked to carry the entire offense on his shoulders. Some familiarity wouldn't hurt either, which is why it's hard to not like Tennessee's chances of winning the Brady sweepstakes. His friendship with Titans head coach Mike Vrabel is well documented and more importantly, the Titans have an offense that's built around Derrick Henry (see below) running the ball. Not saying Brady is the missing piece to Tennessee getting to the Super Bowl but this is definitely a move Titans fans would love to see happen.
3. Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans Saints
Brees has already said he's coming back for another season, his 20th. All that's left for him to do on his way to Canton is to pad his stats and win another Super Bowl ring. A thumb injury cost him five games last season but not his title as the NFL's most accurate passer. A 27:4 TD-to-INT ratio is pretty impressive too, especially for a 40-year-old quarterback.
Possible Landing Spots: New Orleans (were you expecting to see another team here?)
Prediction: Brees is a free agent in name only. He'll be back for his 15th season with the Saints. It's just a matter of the number of years he signs for and the amount of money he'll make. It's Super Bowl-or-bust for the Saints.
4. Chris Jones, DT, Kansas City Chiefs
Difference-making defensive tackles are not plentiful in the league, so there's a reason Jones appears so early on this list. He's collected 24.5 sacks in his last 29 regular-season games. He also turns 26 in July so it's safe to say he's entering his prime.
Possible Landing Spots: Kansas City, Indianapolis, Arizona, Buffalo, Seattle, Dallas, Jacksonville
Prediction: The Chiefs have already said he's not going anywhere, but their salary cap situation and the desire to lock up Super Bowl MVP Patrick Mahomes could make signing Jones to a contract extension this offseason difficult. The franchise tag (estimated $15.5 million) is definitely in play here, but don’t rule out a trade, similar to how Frank Clark wound up in Kansas City last offseason.
5. Jadeveon Clowney, Edge, Seattle Seahawks
Injuries limited his impact on the field and his 2019 stats may not necessarily show it, but when healthy, Clowney was a difference-maker for the Seahawks. And at just 27 years old, there figures to be a robust market for the three-time Pro Bowler capable of making a big play anytime he's on the field.
Possible Landing Spots: Seattle, Philadelphia, Dallas, Las Vegas, Indianapolis
Prediction: Seattle already paid for Clowney once when the Seahawks acquired him prior to last season in a trade with Houston for a third-round pick in this year's draft and two other players. Clowney prefers playing in a 4-3 for a contender and all indications are that both he and the team are interested in working out a new contract. If not Seattle, Philadelphia's blitz-heavy scheme could be the situation Clowney is looking for.
6. Byron Jones, CB, Dallas Cowboys
Jones may have a total of two interceptions in five seasons but there's no disputing his status as one of the top shutdown corners in the league. After bouncing around the Cowboys' secondary in his first three seasons, Jones has found a home on the outside and has learned to use his size (6-0, 205) to his advantage.
Possible Landing Spots: Dallas, Houston, Philadelphia, New York Giants, Washington, Las Vegas
Prediction: Jones won't lack for suitors, which could make it difficult for Dallas to re-sign him with Dak Prescott and Amari Cooper high on the team's priority list. If it's about money, Houston might be the most motivated to land Jones but the more intriguing storyline to follow could be the possibility of a bidding war emerging among the four NFC East teams. If that were to happen, don't be surprised if Jones ends up in the City of Brotherly Love, unless he would rather be reunited with former head Jason Garrett in the Big Apple.
7. Amari Cooper, WR, Dallas Cowboys
Cooper gave the Cowboys the No. 1 wide receiver they desperately needed, justifying the first-round pick he cost to acquire from Oakland. It will cost more to keep him around but it's pretty clear that he and Dak Prescott work well together. If not Dallas, there are plenty of other teams that could use a reliable target that averaged 15.1 yards per catch last season.
Possible Landing Spots: Dallas, Buffalo, Arizona, Philadelphia, Denver, Indianapolis, Las Vegas
Prediction: Cooper is probably next on the Cowboys' priority list after Dak Prescott, but whether they have to use the franchise tag on their quarterback could impact their chances of re-signing the wideout. I think Dallas is plenty motivated to keep the current triplets (along with Ezekiel Elliott) together but a bigger payday elsewhere could be enough incentive for Cooper to leave. Giving Kyler Murray a new weapon to throw to is intriguing and would make it easier for Arizona to transition from Larry Fitzgerald as the No. 1 target. But unless the Cowboys try and low-ball Cooper and dare him to take a more lucrative deal elsewhere, he stays in Big D.
8. Yannick Ngakoue, Edge, Jacksonville Jaguars
Ngakoyue's age (turns 25 on March 31) and production (37.5 career sacks in 63 games) certainly make him appealing but he's also made it clear he wants to be paid. The Jaguars have said they intend to use the franchise tag, although that doesn't mean he'll re-sign. In fact, he's already made it clear he wants a change of scenery.
Possible Landing Spots: New York Giants, Buffalo, Miami, Indianapolis, Las Vegas, Seattle, Jacksonville
Prediction: The Jags are likely to tag Ngakoue but a parting of ways seems like a foregone conclusion at this point. Ngakoue said he wants to be the highest-paid defensive end in the league, which means around $22 million annually. If he's intent on meeting that demand, then the focus shifts to teams flush with cap space and a glaring need for an edge rusher. The Giants certainly meet both requirements.
9. Shaquil Barrett, Edge, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Barrett picked the right year to break through, leading the league with 19.5 sacks and he also was credited with 37 quarterback hits. There are plenty of pass rushers in this year's free-agent class, but Barrett is well-positioned to cash in after a monster 2019 season.
Possible Landing Spots: Tampa Bay, Baltimore, Tennessee, New York Giants, Cleveland, Houston, Las Vegas, Washington
Prediction: Both Barrett and the Buccaneers seem to like their chances of getting a deal done, so it doesn't appear he will be a free agent for long. However, if the two sides can't come to an agreement, I think the Titans will be very aggressive in trying to add Barrett's pass-rushing prowess to their defense.
10. Hunter Henry, TE, Los Angeles Chargers
Henry missed all of 2018 with a torn ACL and a fractured knee cost him four games last season but there's still plenty of potential in the 25-year-old tight end. Look no further than last year's Super Bowl participants (and how much New England missed Rob Gronkowski) to see the type of impact an athletic, explosive tight end can have in the right offense.
Possible Landing Spots: Los Angeles Chargers, New England, Arizona, Chicago, Jacksonville, Washington, Buffalo, Green Bay
Prediction: Chargers figure to make every effort to try and re-sign Henry but the uncertain quarterback situation could be a factor in their discussions. Same goes for New England, but regardless of what happens with Tom Brady, the Patriots are pretty much guaranteed of doing something to address the tight end position this offseason. Arizona, Chicago, and Washington also make for intriguing possibilities, but in the end, familiarity wins out and Henry stays in L.A.
11. Derrick Henry, RB, Tennessee Titans
Henry practically carried the Titans on his back down the stretch and in the playoffs. He may not be a dynamic pass catcher, but he's capable of making big plays whenever he touches the ball and piled up nearly 2,000 rushing yards between the regular season and playoffs (18 total games). Just 26, he should have plenty of tread left on the tires too.
Possible Landing Spots: Tennessee, Houston, Miami
Prediction: There just don't seem to be many teams with a glaring need for a running back, even one as physical and productive as Henry. However, the best fit for him is with the team that drafted him so look for Henry and the Titans to come to an agreement on a new contract at some point this offseason.
12. Justin Simmons, S, Denver Broncos
Simmons is a big (6-2, 202), physical safety coming off of a career year. He can make plays in coverage (4 INTs, 17 passes defended in 2019) but isn't afraid to lay the lumber and also is an asset in run support.
Possible Landing Spots: Denver, New England, Philadelphia, San Francisco
Prediction: The Broncos have made it clear they want to re-sign Simmons and he has expressed a desire in staying. With plenty of cap space, it only seems like a matter of time before the two sides come to an agreement. Denver's recent trade with Jacksonville for cornerback A.J. Bouye (which means Chris Harris Jr. will sign elsewhere) only reinforces the likelihood of Simmons staying in the Mile High City.
13. Joe Thuney, OG, New England Patriots
a second-team All-Pro last season, Thuney has started every game (including playoffs) in his first four seasons. He excels as a run blocker but is no liability in pass protection either.
Possible Landing Spots: New England, Baltimore, New York Jets, Buffalo, Miami, Tennessee, Seattle
Prediction: Given the issues the Patriots have had along their offensive line, can they afford to let Thuney leave? The problem for New England is loyalty may be tested considering how much cap space their AFC East rivals have, not to mention a need for a lineman of Thuney's caliber. However, Marshal Yanda's surprising retirement brings Baltimore into play and I look for the Ravens to swap one All-Pro guard for another who's close to that level.
14. Philip Rivers, QB, Los Angeles Chargers
Rivers isn't getting any younger (will be 39 before the end of this coming season), but it's premature to say he has nothing left in the tank. He's thrown for 4,200-plus yards in seven straight seasons and has started 224 consecutive games. Yes, he threw 20 interceptions last season but the Chargers' shaky offensive line should take some of the blame for this. A change of scenery may be just what Rivers needs as he's still seeking that elusive Super Bowl appearance.
Possible Landing Spots: Indianapolis, Tampa Bay, Tennessee, Carolina, Las Vegas, Chicago, New England
Prediction: Some of these possibilities are tied to what happens with the current options on the team's roster. This is especially the case with Carolina, Las Vegas, and of course, New England. However, even though Indianapolis has Jacoby Brissett, adding Rivers just makes a lot of sense and the Colts have plenty of cap space to fit him. Tampa Bay is certainly an option if Bruce Arians decides to move on from Jameis Winston (see below) and Rivers has already moved his family to Florida. The dark horse could be Tennessee since the focus right now is with the Titans landing Tom Brady.
15. Ryan Tannehill, QB, Tennessee Titans
Tannehill didn't start the season as the No. 1 on the Titans' depth chart, but he ended there and in the process probably secured himself a nice payday. Tannehill wasn't prolific, but he was certainly effective (22:6 TD-to-INT ratio) and efficient (NFL-best 117.5 passer rating).
Possible Landing Spots: Tennessee, New England, Los Angeles Chargers, Indianapolis, Las Vegas, Chicago
Prediction: Tennessee makes the most sense but the Titans' priority is re-signing Derrick Henry, which means another team could make Tannehill an offer he can't refuse. New England makes the most sense there, especially if Brady signs with Tennessee. The Chargers and Colts appear to offer him the best chances of being the starter right away, unless the Raiders move on from Derek Carr. I'm not sure Tannehill wants to go somewhere like Chicago where he'll again have to beat someone for the No. 1 spot. Since I am on the Brady-to-Titans bandwagon, I'll say Tannehill gets first crack at being New England's new signal-caller.
16. Brandon Scherff, OG, Washington Redskins
Three-time Pro Bowler lines up behind Joe Thuney as No. 2 guard on the market. Scherff could be Thuney's replacement in New England unless another AFC East team offers more money, which is where the J-E-T-S come in and deliver another blow to the Patriots.
17. Arik Armstead, DE, San Francisco 49ers
The 2015 first-round pick broke out in a big way, collecting more sacks in 2019 (10.0) than he had his first four years combined (9.0). San Francisco would love to keep its ferocious defensive line together but cap space could be an issue, especially with other teams able to pay Armstead more. Indianapolis' generous contract offer ends up being too much for Armstead to pass up.
18. Cory Littleton, ILB, Los Angeles Rams
Since becoming a starter two seasons ago, Littleton has thrived as one of the most well-rounded linebackers in the league. He's a tackling machine that's just as effective in coverage and able to get to the quarterback when called upon. The Rams don't have a lot of cap space to work with but can't afford to let Littleton leave with fellow linebackers Dante Fowler Jr. and Bryce Hager also free agents.
19. Anthony Harris, S, Minnesota Vikings
Like Justin Simmons, Harris is a safety with size (6-1, 202). He definitely made his mark in pass coverage last season, tying for the league lead with six interceptions. The only knock on him is 2019 was his first season (five total) as a full-time starter. But that won't scare teams from signing him. Returning to Minnesota can't be ruled out but Miami and Cleveland each have considerably more cap space and New England can't strike out on every free agent, right? Unless the Vikings get creative with their cap space, Harris takes his talents to South Beach.
20. Austin Hooper, TE, Atlanta Falcons
To simply call Hooper a consolation prize to teams that miss out on signing Hunter Henry is not fair to the two-time Pro Bowler. But it's perfectly reasonable to list the same teams as possible landing spots for both tight ends. Along those lines, if Henry stays with the Chargers, then that leaves the Patriots, Cardinals, Bears, Jaguars, Redskins, Bills, and Packers. If New England loses out on Henry (and a few other top free agents), I think the Patriots will be extra motivated to address one key need by adding Hooper. But don't rule out a team like Washington or Arizona overpaying to get him to sign.
21. A.J. Green, WR, Cincinnati Bengals
Injuries have cost Green 13 games over the last three seasons, but he's still one of the best at his position. The longtime Bengal is a seven-time Pro Bowler with 63 career touchdown catches. As much as he may want a change of scenery, Cincinnati will do whatever is necessary to keep him around, even if that means tagging him.
22. Chris Harris Jr., CB, Denver Broncos
Harris may be older (turns 31 in June) than some of the other cornerbacks on the market but his resume can't be overlooked. He may be more of a situational player than an every-down cornerback at this point, but he's still capable of locking down a receiver when called upon. Denver traded for A.J. Bouye, seemingly ending Harris' chances of re-signing but he still lands in a good spot as Byron Jones' replacement in Dallas.
23. Teddy Bridgewater, QB, New Orleans Saints
Drew Brees' return likely means the end of Bridgewater's time in New Orleans as the Saints can't afford to keep him and Taysom Hill as high-priced backups. Bridgewater wants to be a starter, which means the Los Angeles Chargers and Indianapolis have to be on the list and presumably so do Tampa Bay and New England. Carolina could become an option if the Panthers decide to move on from Cam Newton. But I'll say the QB musical chairs have Bridgewater landing on the West Coast, where he'll compete with Tyrod Taylor for the Chargers' starting job. That is, unless Bruce Arians decides he wants to make a change in Tampa Bay.
24. Jameis Winston, QB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Has there been a more polarizing quarterback in recent seasons? Winston's 30-TD/30-INT 2019 performance was a first in NFL history. So is he a franchise quarterback or just another signal-caller with so much untapped potential? That's for Bruce Arians to decide and while there's already been plenty of speculation about what Tampa Bay is going to do at quarterback, I just don't see a scenario that doesn't have Winston in a Bucs uniform for at least one more season. He may have to settle for a prove-it contract, but I think Arians is willing to give him one more shot.
25. Matt Judon, Edge, Baltimore Ravens
Judon is coming off of his first Pro Bowl campaign, recording career highs in both sacks (9.5) and forced fumbles (four). Baltimore would love to re-sign him but may not be willing to get in a bidding war for his services. His profile as pass-rushing specialist and ability to play as a defensive end or linebacker should help him land the contract he's seeking. Every team in the AFC East would love to add him, but Buffalo wins the Judon sweepstakes.
Other names to watch (in alphabetical order):
Robby Anderson, WR, New York Jets
Anthony Castonzo, OT, Indianapolis Colts
Jack Conklin, OT, Tennessee Titans
Kenyan Drake, RB, Arizona Cardinals
Bud Dupree, OLB, Pittsburgh Steelers
Dante Fowler Jr., OLB, Los Angeles Rams
Melvin Gordon, RB, Los Angeles Chargers
Breshad Perriman, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Jarran Reed DT, Seattle Seahawks