NFL Free Agency 2020: How teams with $45-60 million in salary cap space will approach the offseason


The start of the 2020 free agency period is about a week away. There are a whole bunch of stars and even more solid starters potentially hitting the market this offseason, which could lead to a huge amount of change for the league. With that in mind, we’re going to spend this week walking through the types of moves each and every team can make. But rather than go by division or conference, we’re going through the list in order of potential spending power. 

We began by digging into the teams with $60 million in cap space or more, allowing them to be the most active squads when the market opens next week. In the space below, we’re covering the next tier of teams, each of whom has $45-60 million in cap room.

*All salary cap numbers are courtesy of Spotrac.com.*

Cleveland Browns ($58 million)

Key Free Agents: Greg Robinson, Damarious Randall, Kareem Hunt, Joe Schobert, Christian Kirksey, Eric Murray, Justin McCray

Pressing Needs: OL, LB, DB

Minor Needs: WR, TE, IDL

Nothing else matters if the Browns don’t dramatically upgrade their offensive line. Joel Bitonio is set at left guard and J.C. Tretter is locked in at center, but all three other positions along the offensive line should have either new starters or additional depth pieces next season. 

Baker Mayfield was under constant pressure last season, and it completely undermined the team’s entire offense. The Browns aren’t going anywhere if they don’t figure out a way to get Mayfield back to the player he was as a rookie and that will not happen unless he’s well-protected. They should be on the phone with Washington right now about a Trent Williams trade. They should be interested in Jack Conklin, Jason Peters, Andrus Peat, Ron Leary, Michael Schofield, Greg Van Roten … whoever. If there’s an offensive lineman available, the Browns should be willing to talk to him. 

With Schobert hitting the market and Kirksey being released this week, the Browns also need to add talent at linebacker. Mack Wilson and Sione Takitaki are the only players of note on the depth chart right now. New defensive coordinator Joe Woods has been a defensive backs coach for most of his career, but he’s been with the Broncos and 49ers over the past few years and that could provide a window into which players the team will be interested in. Their will likely be competition for his services, but with the Browns needing another defensive back, Chris Harris Jr. would be an excellent fit at slot corner.

There have been rumors about an Odell Beckham Jr. trade but the Browns insist those rumors are unfounded. Still, the team could use more talent behind Beckham and Jarvis Landry, and if David Njoku is actually not long for Cleveland, there’s a need at tight end as well. They don’t have to break the bank here, and could look at low-cost options like Demarcus Robinson, Phillip Dorsett, or Kendrick Bourne, knowing that they’re likely to use some two-running back sets with Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt (assuming he’s re-signed) and thus have a third wideout on the field somewhat less often than other teams. 

Las Vegas Raiders ($57 million)

Key Free Agents: Karl Joseph, Daryl Worley, DeAndre Washington, Tahir Whitehead

Pressing Needs: WR, LB, DB

Minor Needs: EDGE

The Raiders are supposedly fine with Derek Carr but also supposedly interested in Tom Brady. That situation will be settled at some point, but no matter who is under center, they can’t enter next season with Tyrell Williams and Hunter Renfrow as the top two options on the outside. 

Oakland used more two-tight end sets than most teams last season and should continue to do so due to the presence of Darren Waller and Foster Moreau, but there needs to be some way to threaten the defense on the perimeter. Antonio Brown was supposed to be that guy, but obviously, things did not work out quite as well as the Raiders hoped. Stealing Emmanuel Sanders from the former cross-Bay rival 49ers would be a strong fit, but if they want to aim higher, then Robby Anderson would provide a bit more explosiveness. 

With Joseph and Worley both hitting free agency this offseason, the only player who should be a locked-in starter for the 2020 Raiders secondary is 2019 first-rounder Jonathan Abram. Lamarcus Joyner had a poor season in his first year after signing a big contract, but should probably receive heavy snaps again next year. Still, that leaves only Trayvon Mullen as a potential starter-quality player at corner. The Raiders spent heavily in free agency last offseason and with the move to Vegas this year, it would not be surprising if they shelled out big money once again. Byron Jones has been a rumored target, but Chris Harris, James Bradberry, Kendall Fuller, Logan Ryan, Bashaud Breeland, and Prince Amukamara should be in the mix as well. 

The Raiders found Maxx Crosby in the fourth round of last year’s draft and still presumably have high hopes for first-rounder Clelin Ferrell, but could still use some more depth on the edge beyond Arden Key. After the release of Whitehead, though, and with Vontaze Burfict not a realistically reliable option, linebacker stands out as the more pressing need. Defensive coordinator Paul Guenther is a former longtime Bengals assistant, and the team could thus be interested in bringing back Preston Brown for another go-round, but they would still need to add more depth beyond that.

New York Jets ($56 million)

Key Free Agents: Ryan Kalil, Kelvin Beachum, Robby Anderson, Brian Poole, Alex Lewis, Neville Hewitt, Jordan Jenkins

Pressing Needs: OL, WR, EDGE, DB

Minor Needs: RB

As is the case for the Browns — who drafted Mayfield two picks before New York landed Sam Darnold — the only goal for the Jets should be figuring out the best ways to maximize Sam Darnold’s skills. That means adding talent along the offensive line and at wide receiver, especially if they’re unable to retain Robby Anderson. Looking at players who used to play on Adam Gase-coached teams seems like a terrible strategy, since most of those types of guys appear to get better once they move on from Gase. 

New York has Jamison Crowder locked in as the slot receiver, but probably can’t count on Quincy Enunwa staying healthy at this point, so needs to add significant pieces to upgrade at the outside receiver positions. They went with Demaryius Thomas last season and could bring him back, but it’d be better for them to get younger and more athletic. (Which is part of why the rumors of their not bringing Anderson back are so perplexing. Anderson indicated on Tuesday that there may be mutual interest in an extension, however.) 

The Trumaine Johnson splash signing worked out about as poorly as possible for the Jets. They are heavily rumored as one of the teams most interested in Byron Jones, but also likely need to address the cornerback position with more than just one player. Perhaps two middle-range options like Prince Amukamara, Logan Ryan, Nickell Robey-Coleman, Trae Waynes, or Darqueze Dennard might suit them better, but they definitely seem more likely to go for Jones and then try a cheaper option for that second spot.

The Jets also may have an even bigger need on the edge than in the secondary. Jenkins finished last season with a team and career-high eight sacks, giving him 15 over the past two seasons. But the only other player on the team with more than three sacks last year was safety Jamal Adams, who had 6.5. Upgrading the pass rush could also help take at least some pressure off of Adams, Marcus Maye, and whomever else the Jets sign to upgrade the back end. 

They also can’t come into the season with only Le’Veon Bell at running back. Both of their backups from last season are free agents. 

Los Angeles Chargers ($56 million)

Key Free Agents: Philip Rivers, Melvin Gordon, Hunter Henry, Travis Benjamin, Michael Schofield, Adrian Phillips, Jatavis Brown, Derek Watt

Pressing Needs: QB, OL

Minor Needs: TE, IDL, DB

It’s likely that no team will undergo more changes this offseason than the Chargers, who have already moved on from longtime starting quarterback Philip Rivers, are unlikely to retain Melvin Gordon, and might get priced out on Hunter Henry. They already traded Russell Okung for Trai Turner, which is perhaps an indicator that they’re moving on from guard Michael Schofield as well. That’s five of their 11 offensive starters, and fullback Derek Watt is also a free agent. 

The team says it’s comfortable with Tyrod Taylor under center, but is also expected to chase after Tom Brady. As is the case with the Raiders, getting the QB situation settled has to happen before the team does anything else. But there is a lot of “else” to take care of here, with probable openings at left tackle and tight end, plus a need for depth on the defensive interior and on the back end, where the Chargers like to use more defensive backs than almost any other team in the league. If they could somehow land Anthony Castonzo, that would be great, but Jason Peters and/or Halapoulivaati Vaitai may be more realistic options. 

Denver Broncos ($53 million)

Key Free Agents: Justin Simmons, Chris Harris Jr., Shelby Harris, Ron Leary, Connor McGovern, Will Parks, Derek Wolfe, Mike Purcell, Elijah Wilkinson

Pressing Needs: OL, IDL, DB

Minor Needs: QB, LB

Justin Simmons is expected to be franchise-tagged if he doesn’t come to an extension agreement by next week. That makes sense/ He is a quality player in the secondary and retaining him should be a priority — especially because Chris Harris is likely to leave. But the Broncos will need to find more help at corner, unless they feel comfortable with Isaac Yiadom and De’Vante Bausby as starters along with Bryce Callahan. Kareem Jackson can fill a corner spot, but then there’s a need at safety next to Simmons. 

Denver’s entire defensive front is set to hit free agency, which means that unit is likely due for an overhaul as well. Von Miller and Bradley Chubb are a fantastic one-two punch on the edge, but they’re going to need some help up the middle. Lucky for the Broncos, there is an extremely deep crop of interior defensive linemen available this offseason, whether they want to go shopping at the top of the market (Chris Jones, D.J. Reader, Leonard Williams, Arik Armstead if they want to move him back inside), the next tier (Jarran Reed, Jordan Phillips, Danny Shelton, Javon Hargrave), or somewhere even cheaper than that.

Drew Lock looked pretty good down the stretch of last season but with this draft’s depth at quarterback the Broncos might want to take a look at another option there, and they need some additional depth behind Josey Jewell and company at the inside linebacker spot as well. 

Seattle Seahawks ($53 million)

Key Free Agents: Jadeveon Clowney, Jarran Reed, Quinton Jefferson, Mychal Kendricks, Al Woods, Germain Ifedi, Mike Iupati, George Fant, Jacob Hollister, Luke Willson

Pressing Needs: OL, EDGE, IDL, DB

Minor Needs: WR

Protect Russell Wilson at all costs. (And maybe do some work trying to get after the opposing quarterback while you’re at it.) 

Tennessee Titans ($48 million)

Key Free Agents: Ryan Tannehill, Derrick Henry, Jack Conklin, Logan Ryan, Marcus Mariota, Wesley Woodyard, Kamalei Correa

Pressing Needs: WR, DB

Minor Needs: EDGE

The Titans are one of the teams that would most benefit from the new collective bargaining agreement not passing before this weekend’s deadline. That way they could use the franchise and/or transition tags on two of Ryan Tannehill, Derrick Henry, and Jack Conklin. Like the Raiders and Chargers, they are likely to get their quarterback situation settled first, whether by re-signing Tannehill or snaking Tom Brady away from the Patriots. 

The next step is to get Henry and/or Conklin re-signed. Faced with a choice between the two, the Titans should choose Conklin, but will probably choose Henry. If the argument is that Henry is the foundation of the offense and is thus more important, well, I’d ask why he didn’t take off until Tannehill (and not Mariota) was under center, and why you want to base your offense around running the ball in the first place. It’s just acquiescing to have a less efficient offense than the other team. In specific matchups it can work as a strategy to drive up variance; but as a long-term strategy it is far less desirable.

The very fact that Henry was a mid-second round pick and became this productive while costing far less than higher draft picks and players who signed extensions is itself an argument against paying him big money; and if you don’t buy that one, go look at the other top-of-market running back deals and ask how many of the teams that signed them would like to take them back. How many teams would want any of the Ezekiel Elliott, Todd Gurley, Le’Veon Bell, Devonta Freeman, David Johnson, or Jerick McKinnon contracts on their books? 

After sorting all that out, the Titans need to find a way to give Tannehill or Brady more options on the perimeter beyond A.J. Brown. The Adam Humphries signing did not work out and Corey Davis has yet to tap into the potential that made him the No. 5 overall pick. Getting another target will only help the offense become more explosive — especially if they become more pass-oriented rather than force-feeding the ball to Henry as often as they did down the stretch of last season. 

The Titans would also be smart to dip into the cornerback market. Adoree’ Jackson is all set at one cornerback spot, but Malcolm Butler has underperformed and Logan Ryan is a free agent this offseason. Using LeShaun Sims, Tramaine Brock, snd Tye Smith … did not work. If they can find a way to bring Ryan back, they should do it, but they might otherwise need to go bargain shopping or turn to the draft. 

Cincinnati Bengals ($48 million)

Key Free Agents: A.J. Green, Darqueze Dennard, Nick Vigil, Josh Tupuo, Tyler Eifert, John Jerry

Pressing Needs: QB, WR, TE, OL, EDGE, LB, IDL, DB

Minor Needs: N/A

The Bengals are typically not very active free-agency shoppers. The last time they signed a player away from another team to a contract worth more than $__ was __. That could, but probably will not change this offseason, given the team’s history of outside spending. 

Still, Cincinnati has two of the most intriguing pieces available this offseason in A.J. Green — who will reportedly be franchise-tagged if there’s no agreement reached by next week — and Andy Dalton. The franchise-tag talk surrounding Green doesn’t make a ton of sense being that it seems fairly clear that he does not want to be in Cincinnati any longer, but perhaps they can get a team to give them a second- or third-round pick for him, and then he can sign a new deal with that new deal. 

Dalton could obviously be of use to whichever team misses out on Brady or Philip Rivers or Jameis Winston or whatever other quarterback they end up chasing, and makes a lot of sense as a backup/competition for Mitchell Trubisky in Chicago. Whether or not the Bengals can get something in a trade for Dalton likely depends on how all the dominoes fall, but in the event they can’t make a deal for him, they can cut him with no dead money and save more than $17 million against the cap. Doing this ahead of free agency as a courtesy to Dalton and allowing him to pick his next team before they all fill their quarterback slots would be a good way to send him off, rather than forcing him to wait until later in the summer or pretending that he’s going to start ahead of Joe Burrow at the beginning of next season. 

After Green and Dalton are settled, the Bengals just need talent at essentially every spot. They shouldn’t be choosy. 

Detroit Lions ($47 million)

Key Free Agents: Tavon Wilson, Rashaan Melvin, Mike Daniels, Damon Harrison, A’Shawn Robinson

Pressing Needs: IDL, DB

Minor Needs: EDGE

Three of the four players the Lions gave 200 or more snaps on the defensive interior last season are free agents. Two of them (Mike Daniels and Damon Harrison) almost certainly won’t be back. The third (A’Shawn Robinson) is a holdover from the previous regime and has underwhelmed in four NFL seasons. 

The Lions broke the bank for Trey Flowers last offseason, and right now, interior defensive linemen seems like almost as big a need as the edge was last year. Chris Jones should be on the team’s radar, as should all the other top, middle, and low-end options; but they could also elect to double-up on the edge and pursue someone like Arik Armstead, who is a similar player to Flowers and could bookend the defensive line. Any and all former Patriots will also presumably be on the short list of players they’re interested in signing, given the way Matt Patricia has approached team-building during his time in Detroit. 

Defensive back may somehow be an even more pressing need than interior defensive line, being that the Lions traded Quandre Diggs during last season, appear ready to trade Darius Slay this offseason, and have precious little starter-quality talent in the secondary beyond those two players. Retaining Tavon Wilson would be a nice start but man, the Lions need a whole lot more than that on the back end. If Patricia can steal Devin McCourty away from New England with the Patriots more focused on surrounding Brady with better offensive skill talent, that would be a tremendous pickup. The same goes for Logan Ryan, who seems like an obvious fit at corner given Patricia’s predilection for going after Patriots or Patriots-adjacent players. 

Philadelphia Eagles ($46 million)

Key Free Agents: Jason Peters, Halapoulivaati Vaitai, Nelson Agholor, Nigel Bradham, Rodney McLeod, Vinny Curry, Timmy Jernigan, Ronald Darby, Jalen Mills

Pressing Needs: WR, DB

Minor Needs: EDGE, LB

The Eagles need help at every spot connected to the passing game on both sides of the ball save for tight end, but dramatic changes almost have to be coming at the wide receiver and cornerback spots. Describing those positions as a “disaster” last season would almost be too kind. Nelson Agholor is sure to move on. Alshon Jeffery might (via trade or release) as well. Ronald Darby and Jalen Mills seem iffy at best to return. Finding replacements for all of them has to be at the top of the priority list.

With Curry, Jernigan, Bradham, and McLeod all hitting free agency and players like Brandon Graham and Malcolm Jenkins getting up there in age, it highlights an obvious need for the Eagles to infuse their defense with more youth, whether simply as depth pieces or as potential starters down the line. This is a consequential offseason for a team that is now two years removed from its Super Bowl victory and looked as recently as last offseason to be one of the deepest rosters in the league, only to be revealed as anything but. 





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