The NFL offseason is almost always crazy, but this year, things could get especially crazy, and that’s because when free agency kicks off in less than a week we’re going to see a class of free agents that’s unlike any we’ve ever seen in the history of the NFL.
For the first time in 20 years, Tom Brady might be leaving New England. For the first time in 16 years, Philip Rivers will be playing for a team that’s not the Chargers. Not to mention, there are plenty of other quarterbacks — like Andy Dalton and Jameis Winston — who will almost certainly be switching teams before the end of the month.
Over the week, there’s a good chance the unpredictable is going to happen — because that’s what always seems to happen during the NFL offseason — but I’m going to try to predict it anyway, and since everyone wants to know where Brady is going to end up, let’s cut to the chase and get to these bold predictions, starting with Brady.
Free agency is quickly approaching and Jason La Canfora joins Will Brinson on the Pick Six Podcast to present a series of offseason moves teams should try to make ranging from expected to bold. Listen below and be sure to subscribe.
10 bold predictions for NFL free agency
1. Tom Brady signs with the Buccaneers
Although the Titans and Patriots feel like the frontrunners in the Tom Brady sweepstakes, the prediction here is that he ends up in Tampa Bay, and no, I’m not just saying that because Brady is old and old people like to moving to Florida.
If I’m Brady’s agent, I’m steering him toward Tampa and that’s because the Bucs have something that the Patriots couldn’t offer last year: Actual offensive weapons. The Buccaneers currently have a situation that Brady could thrive in with offensive skill players like Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate. Compared to the offensive talent that Brady had to play with last year, that’s like going from a steak made out of hamster meat to a filet mignon.
Also, let’s not forget the Bruce Arians factor. For one, Arians has already proven that he can win with a veteran quarterback. During his time in Arizona, Arians traded for Carson Palmer and the gamble worked out, because the Cardinals ended up advancing to the NFC title game in 2015.
Plus, Arians is basically on the same timeline as Brady, as in, it won’t be surprising if both guys retire in the next year or two. Not only is Arians 67 years old, but he’s had some health issues in the past, so you know he’s not looking to build a team that’s going to win in five years, he wants to win now.
The best part for Brady is that the Bucs will have nearly $80 million in salary cap space heading into free agency (via over the cap), which means Tampa can basically write him a blank check.
The Buccaneers are owned by the Glazer family, and they’ll likely be more than happy to give Brady a blank check because the addition of the NFL’s most famous player would certainly help the team’s bottom line. For one, attendance will almost certainly sky rocket, which would be good news for a team that had the second-worst home attendance percentage in the NFL last year. (On average, Raymond James Stadium was only 79.1% full for Bucs home games in 2019). Oh, and let’s not forget that SUPER BOWL LV is being played in Tampa next season, which would give Brady a chance to do something no NFL player or team has ever done: Play a Super Bowl in their home stadium.
Not only do I think the Bucs make the most sense, but if I’m Brady, there’s a multitude of reasons why I’m not looking anywhere else. Although the Chargers and Raiders could both be options for Brady, playing in the same division as Patrick Mahomes is going to seriously cramp any chances Brady has of winning another Super Bowl.
As for the Titans, although Bradythis offseason, signing in Tennessee would be a high-risk move for both sides. Going to the Titans would put an immense amount of pressure on Brady and Vrabel. Remember, the Titans made it all the way to the AFC title game last season with RYAN TANNEHILL, and if Brady can’t replicate that success, that’s going to look bad for all involved. Vrabel will look bad for giving up on Tannehill and Brady will look bad for not leading the Titans as far or farther than Tannehill did.
The same issue would come up in San Francisco if the 49ers were to dump Jimmy Garoppolo for Brady. If the 49ers take a step back with Brady — which would be completely possible, because NOT making it to the Super Bowl would be a step back — Kyle Shanahan would instantly come under fire for giving up on Garoppolo so quickly. Shanahan could also lose respect in the locker room from stars like George Kittle, who’s already come out in support of Garoppolo.
If Brady doesn’t end up in Tampa, the only other spot I’d consider if I were him is New England, but he can’t go there, because that’s where our next quarterback is headed.
2. Andy Dalton gets traded to the Patriots
If Tom Brady decides to leave New England, that means the Patriots will be in the market for a quarterback, and that’s where Andy Dalton comes in. Dalton is a quarterback the Patriots could quickly mold into exactly what they need, which is something New England has actually been pretty good at. Over the past 19 years, Brady has only missed 19 games due to suspension or injury and the Patriots have gone 13-6 in those games. Dalton isn’t going to be able to carry an offense, but he can he a solid game manager, and since the Patriots have such a strong defense, a solid game manager might be all they need to compete for a Super Bowl in 2020.
The two biggest advantages with Dalton is that he has a reasonable contract for 2020 ($17.5 million base salary) and he likely won’t cost very much in trade compensation. If the Patriots could land him for a third-round pick, that would potentially be a steal for a quarterback who might end up starting all 16 games.
I’m actually not the only one who likes the idea of Dalton to the Patriots, so does former Patriots offensive coordinator Charlie Weis. Weis, who spent five seasons coaching under Belichick in New England and won three Super Bowls during his time with the Patriots, knows what the team looks for in a quarterback, and he thinks.
Also, when you look at the other quarterbacks who might become available, Dalton seems to make the most sense. For one, you have to think the Patriots would stay far away from turnover machines like Philip Rivers or Jameis Winston. Belichick hates turnovers and I have to think he’d quit coaching before he’d be willing to coach someone who throws 20-30 interceptions per season (Brady has never thrown more than 14 picks in a season).
3. Philip Rivers signs with the Colts
This is probably the one prediction on this list that doesn’t technically qualify as bold, but I’m including it anyway, because Rivers to the Colts makes way too much sense not to happen. Keep in mind, Rivers is 38 years old, and the last thing you want to do if you’re a 38-year-old quarterback is learn a new offense. If Rivers goes to Indy, he wouldn’t have to do that since he’s already familiar with most of the offensive coaching staff. The Colts offensive coordinator is Nick Sirianni, who spent five seasons as an offensive assistant with the Chargers while Rivers was with the team.
Let’s also not forget that Rivers is highly familiar with Colts coach Frank Reich. A few years before Reich was hired in Indy, he spent three seasons with the Chargers, including two as the team’s offensive coordinator (2014-15). In 2015, Rivers threw for a career-high 4,792 yards.
4. Cam Newton gets traded to the Chargers
The rebuilding Panthers seem open to trading away anyone they can this offseason, so it wouldn’t be shocking at all to see them dump Newton at some point. The spot that makes the most sense is in Los Angeles with the Chargers.
On the Chargers’ end, they’re getting ready to open a new stadium in 2020, and they haven’t exactly done a good job of selling tickets. Adding a superstar like Newton, who was the NFL’s MVP just five years ago, would no doubt help the team sell some tickets at the box office. From a football perspective, a healthy Newton would be a monstrous step up from Tyrod Taylor.
Although Taylor is currently penciled in as the starter, Chargers coach Anthony Lynn definitely sounded open to bringing someone else in when he was asked about the quarterback situation during.
“We couldn’t have a better backup right now, and now he has an opportunity to maybe step up into a starting role,” Lynn said of Taylor. “I’ve had Tyrod before (in Buffalo), and I know what this young man brings to the table, in the passing game and the running game. One of the things he does very well is take care of the football.”
During Lynn’s two-year stint in Buffalo, he got to watch Taylor start 29 games and the Bills went 15-14 in those starts, which isn’t exactly promising. If the Chargers are hoping to make a splash at quarterback, but can’t get Tom Brady, Newton would definitely be a solid Plan B. Also, let’s not forget that these two teams have already been making deals together this offseason. On March 4, the Chargers sent tackle Russell Okung to the Panthersfor offensive guard Trai Turner, so we know that Chargers general manager Tom Telesco already has Panthers GM Marty Hurney on speed-dial.
5. Jameis Winston signs with the Panthers
Based on the way Bruce Arians has been talking this offseason, Jameis Winston should probably just go ahead and pack his bags, because it doesn’t sound like there’s any way he’s going to be returning to the Buccaneers.
With Winston no longer in Tampa, there aren’t a lot of teams out there that would seem to make sense for him, but Carolina would definitely be an intriguing landing spot. For one, Winston would have the chance to exact some revenge on the Bucs, because he’d get to face his old team two times per year in divisional play. Also, the Panthers might be the one team that could potentially get Winston to cut down on his insanely high interception totals. If you don’t want a quarterback to throw interceptions, the best way to do that is by not letting him throw the ball. That strategy didn’t really work in Tampa, because the Bucs didn’t have much of a running game behind Winston. However, in Carolina, the Panthers have Christian McCaffrey, who might be the one guy who could help Winston solve his turnover problems.
With McCaffrey in the backfield, WInston might be more inclined to make the safe outlet pass to his running back, instead of slinging a jump ball downfield that may or may not be caught by the other team. Of course, Winston will still be allowed to sling it around once in awhile, and with receivers like D.J Moore and Curtis Samuel, the Panthers have the skill players who could take advantage of his arm strength.
If you’re the Panthers, adding Winston as a bridge quarterback would make some sense, because it would allow the Panthers to draft someone without being forced to start them in 2020. If the rookie is good enough to start, then Winston can serve as a backup and leave Carolina after the 2020 season.
6. Teddy Bridgewater signs with the Bears
The Bears haven’t come out and said they’re going to give up on Mitchell Trubisky just yet, but this definitely feels like the offseason where they’re going to bring in some competition for their starting quarterback. Although trading for someone like Andy Dalton might sound enticing to the Bears, that would involve giving up some compensation. Instead of losing a draft pick or two in a trade, that prediction here is that the Bears go out and sign Teddy Bridgewater.
If you look at spots where Bridgewater has thrived, it usually involves a team with a strong defense that also has talented running backs, and guess what, the Bears check off both those boxes.
In 2019, Bridgewater proved that he still has the talent to be a starting quarterback in the NFL. With Drew Brees on the sideline due to injury, Bridgewater started five games for the Saints and went 5-0 in those starts. During that stretch, Bridgewater completed 69.7 percent of his passes, averaged 7.3 yards per attempt, threw nine touchdowns (to just two interceptions), and posted a 103.7 passer rating. The Bears probably would have won the past three Super Bowls if they had gotten production like that from their quarterback.
If the Bears can get Bridgewater to sign for $20 million per year, they could afford to keep him and Trubisky. In an era where quarterbacks make more than $30 million per year, Trubisky and Bridgewater would only have a cap hit of $29.2 million combined in 2020, but only if the Bears could land Bridgewater at that $20 million mark.
7. Marcus Mariota signs with the Redskins
If Ron Rivera has made one thing clear during his first two months as coach of the Redskins, it’s thaton Dwayne Haskins as his quarterback. Not only has Rivera been non-committal about making Haskins his starter for 2020, but he’s even mentioned the possibility of bringing in competition. Although it seems highly unlikely that the Redskins would draft a quarterback in the first round for the second consecutive year — and I don’t think owner Dan Snyder would let them due to his close ties to Haskins — it wouldn’t be surprising at all to see Rivera bring in a veteran, which is where Mariota comes in.
If Mariota plays well enough to win the job, then Rivera will have a new starting quarterback on his hands. On the other hand, if Haskins is able to beat out Mariota for the starting spot, then he’ll likely become the Redskins quarterback of the future, which is almost certainly what Snyder wants to see.
8. Buccaneers trade for Cardinals running back David Johnson
If the Buccaneers add Tom Brady, their offense will still be missing at least one thing: A talented running back, and that’s where David Johnson comes in. For most of the 2019 season, Johnson was basically an afterthought in Arizona, where he totaled 345 rushing yards and 370 receiving yards. Although those numbers aren’t horrible, they’re not exactly great for a guy who had a $9.7 million cap hit last season.
With Johnson’s cap hit scheduled to jump up to $14.2 million in 2020, this would be the perfect offseason for the Cardinals to dump him, and if that happens, the Bucs should be the first team on the phone trying to make a trade with Arizona.
Not only would Johnson be in the same offense as Brady, but he also would be reunited with Arians. The best season of Johnson’s career came in 2016, when he was a star in Arians’ offense with `1,239 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns on the ground. That same season, Johnson also added 80 receptions for 879 yards and four touchdowns. Basically, he was an unstoppable force, and if he can stay healthy, he’d give Tampa another powerful offensive weapon for Brady.
9. Melvin Gordon signs with the Texans
During Gordon’s holdout in 2019, he let the Chargers know that he would be open to a trade and one of the teams that he was interested in being dealt to was the Houston Texans.
Last season, that move didn’t make a lot of sense for the Texans because they already had a starting running back in place (Lamar Miller). After Miller went down with a season-ending injury in August, the Texansafter Gordon. The reason Gordon makes sense for Houston this year is because both Hyde and Miller are set to be free agents. Basically, that means that the Texans are currently thin at running back, and they can fill that void by adding Gordon, who would be one of the most talented backs that Deshaun Watson has ever played with.
The addition of Gordon would potentially do wonders for the Texans offense. Not only would it take pressure off of Watson, but it would take pressure off the Texans entire passing game, including DeAndre Hopkins. With an estimated $61.3 million in cap space heading into free agency, the Texans have more than enough money to make this move, and it’s a move that could help them keep up with the Chiefs in the NFL’s never-ending offensive arms race.
10. Todd Gurley gets traded
The Rams are paying Todd Gurley to be their workhorse, but that’s not exactly how things have worked out for the running back over the past two seasons. Since signing a four-year, $60 million, the Rams have actually cut down on Gurley’s workload and they plan to continue doing that in 2020, which means they’re paying him a lot of money for not a lot of production. You have to think that Los Angeles would be willing to dump Gurley’s contract if they could find a trade partner, and although it won’t be easy, this might be the offseason to do it.
The reason we could see it happen this offseason is because there’s a lot of teams out there that could use a running back that also happen to be flush with cap space with the Dolphins ($88.1 million), Buccaneers ($79.9 million) and Texans ($61.3 million) at the top of the list. The Dolphins would probably make the most sense, and that’s because they were the worst rushing team in the NFL last season. As a matter of fact, they were so bad that RYAN FITZPATRICK led the team in rushing with 243 yards (That is not a typo. Not a single player on the team cracked the 250-yard mark in 2019). Gurley would also bring some star power to a team that doesn’t really have any right now.