- ESPN.com national NFL writer
- ESPN.com NFC North reporter, 2008-2013
- Covered Vikings for Minneapolis Star Tribune, 1999-2008
In this most unusual NFL offseason, a familiar sight awaits. The 2020 free-agent market is set to open Monday with a three-day negotiating period for players with expiring contracts. Deals can be formalized beginning Wednesday at 4 p.m. ET.
To be clear, however, 2020 is no ordinary year for the free-agent market. The pool of players includes an unprecedented number of starting quarterbacks, and is at least for now largely unaffected by pre-market moves. Uncertainty about the collective bargaining agreement, and the resulting impact on franchise and transition tagging, has delayed the usual frenzy of deals designed to keep players off the market.
Those agreements could come quickly once the NFL Players Association completes its CBA voting Saturday at 11:59 p.m. ET. But for now, here is everything you need to know about the market, and the players available.
Note: Listed age is based on how old each player will be entering the 2020 season.
TOP FREE AGENTS
1. Dak Prescott, QB
2. Tom Brady, QB
3. Drew Brees, QB
4. Yannick Ngakoue, EDGE
5. Brandon Scherff, G
6. Jadeveon Clowney, EDGE
7. Ryan Tannehill, QB
8. Chris Jones, DT
9. Shaquil Barrett, EDGE
10. Hunter Henry, TE
• See the full list of the top 100 available free agents for 2020.
QUARTERBACKS WHO COULD CHANGE TEAMS
2019 team: Patriots | Age entering 2020 season: 43
The story of the offseason will soon get resolution. A lack of progress on a new deal with the Patriots, whether based on CBA uncertainty or other factors, has bolstered speculation that Brady wants to test the market for the first time in his career. A move would follow a pattern set by some of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history, many of whom finished their careers with new teams, and start a domino effect around the league.
2019 team: Chargers | Age: 38
Rivers and the Chargers announced in February that they had agreed to part ways, ending a 16-year run together. Informed speculation has placed him in Indianapolis, which lost Andrew Luck to retirement last season and was underwhelmed by backup Jacoby Brissett’s performance, but there could be other suitors.
2019 team: Saints | Age: 27
A 5-0 stint in place of an injured Drew Brees suggested Bridgewater is ready to start full time, four years after a catastrophic knee injury nearly ended his career. He turned down an offer last season from the Dolphins, who wanted him to start, but he seems less likely to return to the Saints again as a backup in 2020.
2019 team: Buccaneers | Age: 26
The Buccaneers have been careful to avoid full-throated support of Winston’s return, which might depend on their ability to recruit a new starter. Winston’s 30 interceptions last season would be a deal-breaker for many teams, and if the Buccaneers don’t bring him back, he might struggle to find a starting job elsewhere.
2019 team: Titans | Age: 32
Tannehill earned the Titans’ trust in leading them to the AFC Championship Game last season and is a candidate for the franchise tag. Really, the only way he finds himself on the open market is if the Titans sign Brady.
MOST LIKELY TO BREAK THE BANK
Jadeveon Clowney, EDGE
2019 team: Seahawks | Age: 27
Despite recording only three sacks, Clowney was a force for the Seahawks after an August trade from the Texans. The Seahawks agreed not to use the franchise tag on him in 2020, and despite a relatively long injury history, there won’t be many (if any) better defensive disrupters on the market.
Amari Cooper, WR
2019 team: Cowboys | Age: 26
The Cowboys — who traded a first-round pick to acquire Cooper in 2018 — are pushing hard to re-sign Cooper, but he would be in line for a record-setting payday if he got onto the open market.
Byron Jones, CB
2019 team: Cowboys | Age: 27
Although he has intercepted only two passes in his career, Jones is highly athletic and has knocked away 43 passes over the same period. He’ll get paid as the best cornerback available.
Austin Hooper, TE
2019 team: Falcons | Age: 25
Hooper will be the top difference-maker available at a position that has seen its value increase in recent years, assuming the Chargers use the franchise tag on Hunter Henry. Hooper has caught 146 passes in two years and still has room to grow.
Anthony Harris, S
2019 team: Vikings | Age: 29
Although he is relatively old for a first-time free agent, Harris is likely to be the top available safety once the tag process is complete (Justin Simmons is likely to be tagged by the Broncos). The Vikings’ tight salary-cap situation makes it almost impossible to keep him.
Jack Conklin, OT
2019 team: Titans | Age: 27
Conklin played well enough in 2019 to rate as the best tackle available in this market. After the Titans declined his fifth-year option, the right tackle will have multiple suitors and will be paid like a Pro Bowler.
WOULD BREAK THE BANK IF NOT TAGGED
Dak Prescott, QB
2019 team: Cowboys | Age: 27
Prescott will play for the Cowboys in 2020, via either the franchise tag or a long-term deal that would approach $40 million annually. With his track record and age, one can only imagine how much higher the bidding would go.
Yannick Ngakoue, EDGE
2019 team: Jaguars | Age: 25
Although Ngakoue has said publicly that he wants to move on, the Jaguars could well tag him to retain control of his movement. He could still wind up with a big deal via a sign-and-trade, but after 37.5 sacks in four seasons, he would secure a precedent-setting deal if he were to instead hit the open market.
Brandon Scherff, G
2019 team: Redskins | Age: 28
Scherff’s future has trended toward returning to the Redskins, one way or the other. But he is a three-time Pro Bowl player who could become the NFL’s highest-paid interior offensive lineman if he actually got onto the open market.
Chris Jones, DT
2019 team: Chiefs | Age: 26
Although his nine sacks in 2019 fell short of his monster total of 15.5 in 2018, Jones is widely considered a premium disrupter and would be paid that way if the Chiefs let him go.
Matthew Judon, EDGE
2019 team: Ravens | Age: 27
There is a long history of Ravens defensive players cashing in elsewhere, and Judon — who set a career high with 9.5 sacks in 2019 — would probably be the next one.
Justin Simmons, S
2019 team: Broncos | Age: 26
The Broncos have said they will use the franchise tag if Simmons doesn’t sign a long-term deal, but he would become the NFL’s highest-paid safety if he somehow got onto the market.
Dante Fowler Jr., EDGE
2019 team: Rams | Age: 26
Fowler’s timing was perfect in 2019. His 11.5 sacks with the Rams reminded the league why he was the No. 3 overall pick of the 2015 draft, just in time to enter free agency. A tag is possible but not a certainty.
Cory Littleton, LB
2019 team: Rams | Age: 26
Usually, linebackers need big sack numbers to hit a free-agent payday. But Littleton is a versatile tackling machine who could be a three-down player in most every scheme. He is another name to watch for a Rams franchise tag — but he’d cash in as a free agent.
TEAMS READY TO SPEND
Cap space as of March 12: $85.5 million
The big thing the Colts need to do is find a new starting quarterback. We’ve linked them to Rivers, but whoever it is will likely consume $20 million or more in cap space alone.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Cap space as of March 12: $81.1 million
Like the Colts, the Buccaneers are at least going to shop around for a new starting quarterback. Perhaps they can get a relative bargain with a player like Bridgewater. But no credible starter on the open market will be cheap.
Cap space as of March 12: $82.3 million
After earning their second playoff spot in three years, the Bills rightfully smell an opportunity to challenge the Patriots in the AFC East.
Cap space as of March 12: $88.5 million
The Dolphins have mostly been focused on accumulating draft picks over the past year, but their roster-shedding has left them with more cap space than any other team in the NFL. They’re in position to improve any and all portions of their roster if desired.
Most available cap space, as of March 12
1. Miami Dolphins, $88,520,426
2. Indianapolis Colts, $85,534,255
3. Buffalo Bills, $82,293,974
4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers, $81,112,764
5. New York Giants, $79,290,136
Least available cap space, as of March 12
32. Minnesota Vikings, $1,504,204
31. Pittsburgh Steelers, $1,781,333
30. Atlanta Falcons, $3,982,178
29. New Orleans Saints, $5,776,129
28. San Francisco 49ers, $14,204,195
• See a full breakdown of all 32 teams’ salary-cap considerations and needs.
UNFAMILIAR NAMES WHO WILL GET PAID
Javon Hargrave, DT
2019 team: Steelers | Age: 27
Young interior disrupters tend to do well in free agency, and Hargrave is arguably the best of the bunch in this market.
D.J. Reader, DT
2019 team: Texans | Age: 26
Reader is a massive run-stopper, and the Texans appear to judge him as too expensive to keep.
Joe Thuney, G
2019 team: Patriots | Age: 27
Thuney earned second-team All-Pro honors last season and ranks below only Scherff among guards on the free-agency list.
Joe Schobert, LB
2019 team: Browns | Age: 26
After producing arguably his best season in 2019, recording 133 tackles while also grabbing four interceptions, Schobert is likely to find multiple suitors.
Nick Kwiatkoski, LB
2019 team: Bears | Age: 27
Not every team prioritizes inside linebackers, but Kwiatkoski proved more than capable of holding down a full-time job last season with 76 tackles and three sacks while starting eight games.
Shaquil Barrett, EDGE
2019 team: Buccaneers | Age: 27
Barrett had an eye-opening season in 2019, racking up a league-high 19.5 sacks after signing a one-year deal. The Buccaneers could well use the franchise tag, but if they don’t, teams should remember that Barrett’s previous high sacks total in a season was 5.5.
Jarran Reed, DT
2019 team: Seahawks | Age: 27
After serving a six-game suspension for a violation of the NFL’s personal conduct policy, Reed resumed his role as a starter but didn’t come close to matching his 2018 sack rate during the remaining 10 games. He has potential, but teams would be paying based on one high-end season.
Trae Waynes, CB
2019 team: Vikings | Age: 28
Older than most first-time free agents, Waynes benefitted from playing alongside Xavier Rhodes during his time in Minnesota. Open-market prices for starting cornerbacks could push beyond his value.
Vic Beasley Jr., EDGE
2019 team: Falcons | Age: 28
Beasley has put up good sack numbers in his career and will generate interest, but teams would be smart to take their cue from the Falcons, who have made no attempt to keep him.
Leonard Williams, EDGE
2019 team: Jets/Giants | Age: 26
Williams has displayed the right mix of talent, pedigree and lack of consistent production to make him a strong candidate to be a bust signing.
PRODUCTIVE RUSHERS WHO WILL PAY THE RUNNING BACK PENALTY
Conventional running backs, no matter how talented, usually generate limited appeal because of their short career arcs.
2019 team: Titans | Age: 26
Henry will be paid well after leading the NFL in rushing (1,540 yards) and rushing touchdowns (16). But will his eventual deal be commensurate with his status as one of the league’s top offensive players? No.
2019 team: Chargers | Age: 27
Gordon has more rushing touchdowns in the past four seasons (36) than all but three NFL players over that span. But a holdout didn’t net him the kind of money he was looking for last year, and now he is a year older with another 12 games on his résumé.
2019 team: Texans | Age: 29
A career year that included 1,070 yards in 14 games last season won’t mean as much as his age, which in NFL terms is ancient for a running back.
2019 team: Eagles | Age: 25
Howard’s career hit a still-unexplained speed bump after he rushed for 3,370 yards and 24 touchdowns in three seasons with the Bears. He managed 525 yards and six scores in 10 games with the Eagles in 2019. Regardless, teams will view him as a player who had 979 touches before his 26th birthday.
WIDE RECEIVERS WHOSE PRICE COULD BE DIMINISHED BY THE DRAFT
The 2020 wide receiver class is among the most talented in draft history.
2019 team: Jets | Age: 27
Anderson caught 27 passes for 420 yards over the Jets’ final six games, and that surge might make him the top available receiver after Cooper and A.J. Green.
2019 team: Broncos/49ers | Age: 33
Sanders was productive after a midseason trade to the 49ers, and he has more potential for future success than most 33-year-old wide receivers.
2019 team: Chiefs | Age: 25
In some years, Robinson would be a major target. He set a career high last season in receptions (32) and yardage (449). But how will the market view him in 2020?
2019 team: Colts | Age: 26
Funchess missed 15 games last season and is two years removed from his best campaign. He has the kind of frame that teams covet, but there are plenty of younger options of similar stature in the draft.
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