Cam Newton’s Patriots contract removed the highest-profile free agent (non-Colin Kaepernick division) from this year’s market, but due largely to the COVID-19 pandemic, several starter-caliber players remain unattached entering July.
Free agents are not yet allowed to visit teams. But once the NFL and NFLPA hammer out an agreement that will green-light active players to return to team facilities, free agents figure to come off the board.
Here are the top remaining free agents in this year’s class, along with (surely accurate) destination projections.
Nigel Bradham, linebacker
Over the past year and change, Cleveland has remade its linebacking corps by cutting pricey cogs Jamie Collins and Christian Kirksey and letting 2019 tackles leader Joe Schobert walk in free agency. The Browns have four 2019 or ’20 draftees at the position, but the pandemic-nixed offseason will disproportionately affect younger players. A Browns team that has added several defenders on one-year deals –- and still has an NFL-most $37 million in cap space -– could use an experienced cog. Journeyman B.J. Goodson does not qualify as such. Bradham, 30, has been a starter for the past six seasons and was one of the NFL’s better coverage linebackers throughout his four-year Eagles stay.
Stealth team to monitor: Broncos
Although starters Todd Davis and Alexander Johnson remain, the Broncos have needed a true coverage 'backer for years. They have yet to make a notable move at linebacker since head coach Vic Fangio's arrival in 2019.
Justin Britt, center
Dave Gettleman has spent his Giants GM tenure insisting an offensive line rebuild was coming, yet the oft-scrutinized exec’s effort has stumbled. The Giants have big needs at a few positions; center is one of them. After his Seahawks release, Britt profiles as an experienced blocker who could easily transition into an as-of-now unclaimed Giants role. The 29-year-old center worked as Seattle’s starting pivot for the past four years. Plugging him in between talented guards Kevin Zeitler and Will Hernandez would give the Giants their most complete O-line since perhaps Super Bowl XLVI.
Stealth team to monitor: Patriots
While the Patriots are expected to have starter David Andrews back after he missed a season with blood clots, they lost backup Ted Karras and could use insurance with an injury-prone quarterback taking over for Tom Brady.
Antonio Brown, wide receiver
Russell Wilson asked the Seahawks to acquire stars this year; thus far, that has not happened. Wilson has also reportedly lobbied at multiple junctures for the team to sign Brown. The Seahawks have not been afraid to take gambles in the recent past –- as additions of Frank Clark, Mychal Kendricks and Josh Gordon showed -- and present one of the league's most stable infrastructures. Brown, 32 next week, has submitted both a Hall of Fame-caliber career and a Hall of Fame disruptive stretch –- one likely to produce a suspension. But after his impossibly chaotic 2019, Brown must realize he may have just one more chance.
Able to thrive out wide or in the slot, the four-time first-team All-Pro would transform Seattle’s passing game, make life easier for Tyler Lockett and D.K. Metcalf and satisfy a quarterback who constantly has to make do with substandard offensive lines.
Stealth team to monitor: Packers
GM Brian Gutekunst has been far more willing to add free agents than predecessor Ted Thompson, and although a Brown gamble would be out of character for Green Bay, Aaron Rodgers’ off-script style would work well with the superstar. And a need obviously exists.
Jadeveon Clowney, edge defender
The Browns are believed to have made Clowney a competitive one-year and multiyear offers, but the former No. 1 overall pick has thus far viewed Cleveland as a less attractive destination. Clowney, however, shares an agent with Myles Garrett and has a good reason to change his mind on accepting the Browns' offer.
Being Garrett’s sidekick, and thus offensive lines’ No. 2 priority each week, would be a smart situation for a showcase season in advance of a long-sought payday. Clowney, 27, has played on the fifth-year option and the franchise tag. Replacing Olivier Vernon for a sleeper Browns team would be one of the best possible paths to rebound from a three-sack 2019 and secure a windfall deal next year.
Stealth team to monitor: Jets
Rumored to be intrigued by a New York stay, Clowney would bring his multidimensional skill set to a defense in need of front-seven playmakers.
Devonta Freeman, running back
After missing out on Carlos Hyde, the Eagles remain light in the backfield. Not many running back-needy teams are out there, so Freeman passing on a reported $3M Seahawks deal –- money Hyde then took –- may not have been the best idea. With so much young talent at this easier-to-grasp position, Freeman may need an injury to reignite his market. The Eagles, however, lack a wingman for Miles Sanders following Jordan Howard's free-agency exit. A two-time Pro Bowler, Freeman will have to accept a prove-it deal after his Falcons release. As a 1-B back, the 28-year-old may still possess the chops to make a difference.
Stealth team to monitor: Buccaneers
This is not so stealthy, because Tampa Bay coach Bruce Arians admitted the Bucs are interested. The ex-Falcon could be a complementary player alongside Ronald Jones for a team chasing a Super Bowl.
Taylor Gabriel, wide receiver
Gabriel’s best season came for Kyle Shanahan’s potent Falcons offense in 2016, and his former coach has a sudden need. Deebo Samuel’s broken foot will sideline him well into the season, and after 49ers slot receiver Trent Taylor missed all of 2019 with a broken foot, San Francisco will need to be prepared. While a trade would make sense here too, Gabriel’s familiarity with Shanahan's complex passing game would make him a fit with and without Samuel.
Gabriel, 29, averaged 16.5 yards per catch and had six TD catches in 2016. He's just 5-foot-8, but he would complement first-round pick Brandon Aiyuk. Veteran know-how will be key for contenders amid the forthcoming coronavirus-marred season.
Stealth team to monitor: Redskins
The Redskins' new regime needs to gauge QB Dwayne Haskins' viability as a long-term starter, and their present pass-catching corps will make doing so difficult.
Markus Golden, edge defender
It is starting to look like the rarely deployed unrestricted free-agent tender the Giants placed on Golden may keep him in New York. Few other teams seem interested in the sixth-year outside linebacker. If no team signs Golden by July 22, the Giants obtain his exclusive rights at barely $4 million. This would be a bad break for a player coming off a 10-sack season, but he would once again be the Giants’ top pass rusher. New York has not shown interest in Jadeveon Clowney and may need additional funds to plug other holes later this offseason. Golden, 29, would be a much cheaper option.
Stealth team to monitor: Texans
Having yet to replace Clowney since trading him last year, the Texans –- and splashy-transaction addict GM Bill O’Brien -– outflank the Giants in cap space and need more help on defense.
Stephen Gostkowski, kicker
Coming off hip surgery, Gostkowski could have a robust market when teams reopen their facilities to players. Named to the 2010s’ All-Decade team, Gostkowski was the Patriots’ kicker for 14 seasons. The 36-year-old specialist would be an upgrade for many teams, but he worked with new Giants head coach Joe Judge for eight seasons during Judge's tenure coaching the Pats' special teams. The Giants just saw Pro Bowl kicker Aldrick Rosas arrested for an alleged hit-and-run two weeks ago -- this coming after he made just 70% of his field goals last season -- and the Judge-Gostkowski connection could now be pivotal.
Stealth team to monitor: Raiders
Jon Gruden, who is known for his impatience and affinity for veterans, could upgrade after Daniel Carlson went 6-for-12 on 40-plus-yard field goals last season.
Everson Griffen, defensive end
With Russell Wilson and Bobby Wagner each the highest-paid player at their respective positions, the Seahawks must be more selective elsewhere on their roster. Griffen, the former Viking, would allow the team a chance to save money and add a more productive pass rusher than Jadeveon Clowney. Griffen has three double-digit sack seasons since Clowney entered the league; Clowney has zero. Though 32, Griffen is coming off a Pro Bowl season. He registered 24 quarterback hits -– 17 more than Clowney -– last season and would help a Seahawks team that ranked 31st in 2019 with just 28 sacks. Griffen has also shown interest in a Seattle deal.
Stealth team to monitor: Cardinals
Like 2019 Cardinals signee Terrell Suggs, Griffen is an Arizona native. And the Cards still need a bookend partner for star sack artist Chandler Jones.
Logan Ryan, cornerback
Primarily a slot cornerback, Ryan has also seen time outside in his seven-year career. This would be key for a Jets partnership, which has been rumored this offseason. The Jets re-signed slot defender Brian Poole earlier this year but have a glaring need on the outside, where street free-agent pickup Pierre Desir resides as the top performer. The Jets profile as a team that could offer Ryan, 29, a multiyear deal. They need help at corner and lack much in the way of edge rushers, limiting Gregg Williams’ pass-defense options.
Stealth team to monitor: Vikings
Having lost three experienced corners from their defenses of recent years, the Vikings are set to turn to first- and third-round picks at a bad time for rookie acclimation. Ryan would act as vital veteran support.
Jason Peters, tackle
Perhaps the best match on this list. The Chargers have spent for a few 30-something free agents, including right tackle Bryan Bulaga, this offseason. But they may have the NFL’s bleakest left tackle situation. Pro Football Focus graded Peters as one of its best pass-protecting tackles last season, his age-37 slate, and he would be the perfect stopgap for a Bolts team set to pair an upgraded roster with an uncertain quarterback situation. Peters protecting Tyrod Taylor and/or first-round pick Justin Herbert would be a much better scenario for Los Angeles’ contention chances.
Stealth team to monitor: Broncos
Although the Broncos have outfitted Drew Lock with plenty of help – both at the skill positions and up front –- they have seen extensive evidence embattled left tackle Garett Bolles could undercut the overhaul.
Larry Warford, guard
The Eagles once again managed to add two well-paid starters –- cornerback Darius Slay and defensive tackle Javon Hargrave –- after entering the offseason up against the cap. They still have $24M-plus in cap space –- near the top of the league. A team that previously had assembled rare long-term continuity on its offensive line suddenly needs help, with Pro Bowl guard Brandon Brooks suffering his second ACL tear in 17 months.
Warford is not on Brooks’ level, but the 29-year-old interior blocker remains in his prime and was 3-for-3 in Pro Bowls (as an alternate, but still) with the Saints. He could step in for Brooks in 2020 and attempt to score a final big payday next year.
Stealth team to monitor: Dolphins
The Dolphins could offer a multiyear deal, needing more up-front help as they prepare to transition to a quarterback –- Tua Tagovailoa –- with an extensive injury past.