The race to Super Bowl 54 begins March 13. That’s the first day teams can officially sign the free agents who can push their rosters over the top and into the NFL’s record books.
This year’s class of available players is loaded with talent, though most of it comes on the defensive side of the ball. Pocket-crumpling pass rushers like DeMarcus Lawrence, Jadeveon Clowney, and Frank Clark are all set to cash in after superlative seasons — whether that’s on an eight-figure single-year franchise tag deal or a massive long-term contract. Same goes for versatile safeties like Landon Collins, Earl Thomas, and Lamarcus Joyner.
There aren’t as many recognizable offensive standouts in this year’s list of available players, but the headliner is big enough to make up for a lack of depth behind him. Le’Veon Bell finally earned unrestricted free agency after two years of Steelers’ franchise tags, one of which the three-time All-Pro played an Uno “skip” card. The 27-year-old tailback now gets to choose where he’ll like to play next as he searches for the massive multi-year deal that includes the guaranteed money he couldn’t find in Pittsburgh.
Even though there are many big playmakers hitting free agency, a couple more could be available via trade. The Steelers are listening to offers for Antonio Brown, while the Giants and Odell Beckham Jr. can’t seem to shake trade rumors.
How are franchises lining up for what promises to be a mid-March spending spree? Here are some of the rumors following the league’s top free agents into the official start of bidding season.
Le’Veon Bell, RB
2018 team: Pittsburgh Steelers
Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert says the team won’t franchise or transition tag Bell this offseason. He’ll be completely free to negotiate with teams across the league this spring.
2018 team: New York Giants
Collins has reportedly already packed up much of his locker in northern New Jersey, though to what extent and what that actually means isn’t clear. ESPN’s Josina Anderson’s sources suggest he doesn’t expect to be with the club in 2019, though his feelings may not factor into that decision. While the New York Post’s Paul Schwartz refuted those reports, Collins himself checked in to make it clear he’s not entirely thrilled about the idea of playing for New York under a tag.
The stuff in that locker that I have left I do not need
— LANDON COLLINS (@TheHumble_21) February 20, 2019
Collins is reportedly prepared for a long contract standoff if he’s tagged this spring — possibly long enough to last into the 2019 season. The Giants could keep him in white and blue with the franchise tag at a cost of just over $12 million for 2019. However, contract talks between the two sides are forthcoming, according to NFL Network.
Nick Foles, QB
2018 team: Philadelphia Eagles
Foles voided his mutual option for the 2019 season, but the Eagles might not let the Super Bowl 52 MVP leave that easily. Philly could still use its franchise tag to retain his rights before trading him away in exchange for low-cost assets. The early favorite to trade for Foles, per ESPN’s Chris Mortensen, is the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Robbie Gould, K
2018 team: San Francisco 49ers
The Niners are expected to use their franchise tag to retain Gould, who led the league in field goal percentage after making 33 of his 34 attempts in 2018.
Johnathan Hankins, DT
2018 team: Oakland Raiders
Hankins continued his streak of excellent play in the middle last fall, and that caught John Elway’s eye. The Broncos are interested in adding him to their stable.
DeMarcus Lawrence, DE
2018 team: Dallas Cowboys
Lawrence isn’t interested in being tagged by the Cowboys for a second straight year. The dynamic pass rusher would reportedly refuse to sign a franchise tender this spring, giving way to a potential Bell-esque showdown between the two sides. Dallas would prefer to sign Lawrence to a long-term deal rather than resort to using the tag anyway.
DeVante Parker, WR
2018 team: Miami Dolphins
Parker isn’t a free agent … yet. The Dolphins are expected to release the former first-round pick, thus clearing $9.3 million from the club’s salary cap. Parker had his least productive season as a pro in 2018, making only 24 receptions in 11 games.
Cody Parkey, K
2018 team: Chicago Bears
To no surprise of anyone who watched the Wild Card Round of the playoffs, the Bears are expected to release Parkey at the start of the new league year. Despite his infamous double-doink field goal miss that ended Chicago’s 2018 season, Parkey should be able to find a new team.
Earl Thomas, S
2018 team: Seattle Seahawks
Thomas, a Texas native, has been linked to the Cowboys ever since becoming disillusioned with his place on the Seahawks’ spending sheet. He may not be able to earn what he feels he’s worth in Dallas, either. The Athletic’s Calvin Williams reports a Cowboys’s source doesn’t see the team as more than “bargain shoppers” when it comes to the All-Pro safety.