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Don’t overthink it: NFL free agent moves that make too much sense to not happen

By Emile Avanessian

Published: 12:20, 10 March 2022

With the start of NFL free agency now just days away, we’re thinking about moves that could – and should – happen. Here are ten scenarios that make too much sense to ignore.

NFL free agency officially begins on March 16. However, chatter about which teams have cap space to toss around, and who might be on the move, is already well underway.

With the exceptions of players likely to be ‘franchise tagged’ by their current teams and a host of others likely to re-sign without truly testing the market, it’s time we contemplate the prospect of some familiar faces in new places.

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Here are 10 free agent signings that make quite a bit of sense for both player and team:

WR Allen Robinson to the Las Vegas Raiders

It’s well-trodden ground at this point, but it also bears repeating: the 2021 Raiders had no business finishing the season as strongly as they did. Even if one made the case before the season that this was a playoff team (I did not), the humiliating and demoralising demise of former head coach Jon Gruden, followed then by the tragic car crash that cost a young woman her life, and will cost former wide receiver Henry Ruggs his career, this team had every reason to come apart at the seams.

They did not. They pulled together under interim head coach Richie Bisaccia, won four straight to close out the regular season and reach the playoffs, and were frankly not far away from ending the Bengals’ Super Bowl round before it even started.

There’s no delicate way to speak about this, so… the Raiders must now look to replace Ruggs on the roster. With a polarising but decidedly ‘very good’ quarterback (Derek Carr), a powerful young running back (Josh Jacobs), an excellent possession receiver (Hunter Renfrow) and an ultra-talented tight end (Darren Waller) on hand, the Raiders must target a legitimate #1 wide receiver. 

That they can get close to $100 million in cap space means that all manner of possibility is open. In this case, there’s no need to overcomplicate things. One of the best receiving options on the market – assuming Davante Adams doesn’t walk away from the Packers for nothing – is Allen Robinson. Robinson is coming off of a down year, in which he played only 12 games, with just 38 catches, 410 yards and a single touchdown. 

However, this is guy was one of the top half-dozen receivers in the league over the previous two seasons, with 200 catches, 2,397 yards and 13 TDs. That he spent the 2021 season either dinged up or dealing with the Bears’ nightmare QB situation shouldn’t be held against him. When healthy, Robinson is one of the most talented in-traffic pass-catchers, and is excellent at creating space on his routes.

OG Brandon Scherff to the Indianapolis Colts

Obviously, the Colts biggest question this offseason is whether or not to retain the services of Carson Wentz as their starting quarterback. Regardless of which course of action they choose to take on that front, Indy must shore up the offensive line, both in the interest of protecting whoever is taking the snaps, as well as to make life easier for their superstar workhorse back Jonathan Taylor.

It’s tempting, on the heels of an 1,800-yard, 18-touchdown season, to say that Taylor has already got all the help he needs. Maybe that’s true, but it never hurts for a team to press its advantage. For a Colts team with $37 million – and potentially a league-high $115-ish million in cap space once offseason moves are made – adding a perennial Pro Bowl guard like Scherff opposite a perennial All-Pro in Quenton Nelson will not only bolster pass protection, but make the running attack even more dominant.

EDGE Chandler Jones and LB De’Vondre Campbell to the Broncos

That the Broncos are a frontline (top-10/-12) quarterback away from serious contention is, at this point, a cliché. That being said, clichés become clichés for a reason – they are rooted in fact.

However, as the guy they’re likely moving on from, Teddy Bridgewater, is, at the moment, the one of the most alluring QBs currently on the market, there’s little the Broncos can do to address their most glaring need in free agency.

Given the solid state of the reminder of the roster, GM George Paton will do well to dedicate the Broncos’ nearly $40 million of cap space (which can be maneuvered to more than $100 million) is to try to transform his talented defense into a truly dominant unit. In Bradley Chubb, Patrick Surtain II and Justin Simmons, the foundation of a phenomenal defense is already in place.

Slotting Chandler Jones – an admittedly aging, but also historically great pass rusher – into the spot that opened up when franchise icon Von Miller was traded to the Rams midway through last season, could result in one of the NFL’s best pass defenses. Meanwhile, Campbell, the NFL’s best off-ball linebacker, whose playmaking instincts would solidify the middle of the defense. Given the devaluing of his position in recent years, he’ll likely offer great value (about $10 million per year) while doing so.

The Broncos’ ongoing issue at quarterback will have to be addressed either through the draft or – stop me if you’ve heard this before – the pursuit of a certain signal-caller with whom new head coach Nathaniel Hackett worked in Green Bay. No one would blame the front office for trying to put together an elite defense in the meantime.

DT D.J. Jones to the Kansas City Chiefs

Jones is a former sixth-round pick who, over five seasons in San Francisco, played his way into a starting role for two NFC Championship Game appearances and a Super Bowl.

Prior to the 2020 season, Jones struggled a bit with injuries, missing most of the 2018 season (10 appearances, 4 starts) and a third of the 2019 season (11 appearances, 11 starts). However, over the past two campaigns, he’s missed just two regular season games, playing at a decidedly better-than-average level in 2020, and approaching Pro Bowl-level production in 2021.

Jones, who just completed a one-year, $3.5 million deal with the Niners, will be looking to get paid. Barring some major moves, the Chiefa won’t have a ton of cap to play with, but they should have $9-$11 million per year to bolstering the middle of the D-line (alongside star DT Chris Jones) with a young talent like his namesake.

WR D.J. Chark to the Dallas Cowboys

A number of high-priority, potentially pricy decisions loom over the Cowboys:

What to do with running back Ezekiel Elliott? What to do with wide receiver Amari Cooper? What to do with tight end Dalton Schultz? What to do with pass rusher Randy Gregory?

Against this backdrop, paying up to retain a talented, big-play threat #3 receiver who’s coming off of an injury, is a luxury the ‘Boys don’t have. Now, they could wait for Michael Gallup to hit the open market, hope that no one is willing to pay him big bucks, and try to bring him back on a cheap deal, but it’s not realistic to expect that everyone will undervalue Gallup’s talent. Plus, that’s not really a plan. Thus, it makes sense to look for someone else’s talented big-play receiver who just completed an injury-plagued season

A fractured ankle suffered in October limited D.J. Chark to just four games last season. Provided the injury has healed, Chark is precisely the type of low-cost, high-upside gamble that cap-strapped (the Cowboys are $21 million over) hopeful contenders must make. If Chark is healthy, the 6’4, 25-year-old – who’s just two years removed from a 1,000-yard, eight-touchdown Pro Bowl season, and still managed 700 yards for the atrocious 2020 Jags – could thrive in Dallas’s loaded attack.

LT Terron Armstead and C Ryan Jensen to the Cincinnati Bengals

The feel-great 2021 season saw the Bengals notch a playoff victory for the first time in three decades, and return to the Super Bowl for the first time since 1989. This is no time to stand pat.  

While this team has needs on the defensive side of the ball, the top priority this offseason is to bolster the offensive line. After a knee injury prematurely ended his rookie season, quarterback Joe Burrow returned to the lineup and didn’t miss a beat.

In 2021, Burrow led the NFL in both completion percentage (70.4%) and yards per pass attempt (8.9), while throwing for over 4,600 yards and 34 touchdowns, en route to the league’s Comeback Player of the Year Award.

Burrow’s achievements are made all the more impressive by the fact that he also led the league in times sacked (51) and yardage lost to sacks (370) during the regular season, and was then taken down another nineteen times in four playoff games.

The Bengals are on the heels of not only a special season, but, with Burrow, Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins, Joe Mixon and Trey Hendrickson leading the way, potentially a special era. To come anywhere close to maximising it, this team must be able to keep its franchise QB upright.

As one of the teams with the most available cap space, both currently (nearly $50 million) and potentially (financial maneuvering could bring this number up to about $100 million), the Bengals can afford to shop at the top of the market to address their most pressing need.

In Armstead and Jensen, who could presumably be signed for about $30m per season combined, the Bengals could shore up 40% of the offensive line – including the always vital left tackle spot – in one fell swoop. Also, beyond their considerable talent, both players are well-regraded by teammates and coaches, they are experienced at protecting superstar QBs, in Drew Brees (Armstead; from 2013-18) and Tom Brady (Jensen, the last two years).

QB Teddy Bridgewater to the Washington Commanders

There’s only so much to analyse here. A couple of years ago, Washington swung and missed on a potential ‘quarterback of the future’ in Dwayne Haskins. Heading into last season with a roster that seemingly featured an elite defense and a variety of playmakers on offense, The Team added high-risk, high-reward veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick to the mix.

Fitzpatrick was lost to a season-ending injury in Week 1, at which point Washington turned to Taylor Heinicke to fill the void it. Heinicke did what he could, but a team’s ceiling is only so high when he is its starting quarterback.

This offseason, the now-Commanders NEED a QB. However, with no NFL-ready, blue chip QB prospect to be had with the 11th pick in the draft and few guarantees of quality production from the incumbents, the Commanders must make do with what they can find on the open market.

We talk often about Teddy Bridgewater. It often involves game-manageresque clichés , something along the lines of ‘unremarkable and unspectacular, but a generally competent and safe pair of hands’. Say what you will about that profile, but that competence, along with being a solid professional and good teammate, is carving out a rather lucrative, decade-long career for Teddy.

He won’t elevate an offense, he but also won’t run it into the ground. In Washington, if 2021’s hugely disappointing defense can get back on track, this safe pair of hands could mean a return to the playoffs.

TE Zach Ertz to the Seattle Seahawks

There’s a case to be made that the Seahawks, and not the Raiders should make the strongest play for Allen Robinson. After all, the Seahawks are starting with more than $35 million of cap space – they could bring that figure close to $90 million.

Of course, we must also note that that whopping $90 million figure would call for the Seahawks to allow some vital members of their squad – from a veritable laundry list of their own free agents to walk away. 

Nonetheless, the Seahawks are in need of another playmaker, preferably at the tight end spot, in the passing game. Ertz was seriously hampered by injury in 2020. This, along with his impending free agency, led the Eagles to trade the three-time Pro Bowler to Seattle’s division rivals, the Cardinals. In Arizona, Ertz immediately returned to the player he’s been throughout his career, with 56 catches (with a 69.1% catch rate) for 574 yards in 11 games.

He is a reliable presence in the middle of an offense, with genuine big play upside. Basically, he’s Zach Ertz again. Paired with another top-tier QB like Russell Wilson, and with D.K. Metcalf and Tyler Lockett drawing plenty of attention on the outside, his fit in Seattle almost makes too much sense to not happen.

Update: As part of the trade that sent quarterback Russell Wilson to the Denver Broncos, the Seahawks received productive soon-to-be-fourth-year tight end Noah Fant. Between Fant’s arrival, the release of defensive stalwart, middle linebacker Bobby Wagner, in the immediate aftermath of the Wilson trade, and the downgrade at quarterback (barring another huge deal) from Wilson to either former Bronco Drew Lock, or 2021 backup Geno Smith, I no longer expect the Seahawks to pursue a top-tier tight end in free agency

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