NFL free agency officially begins with the dawning of a new league year at 4 p.m. ET on Wednesday, March 18. As we race toward the open market, Nick Shook explores one fun free agency fit for each NFC team. Check back on Thursday for Marc Sessler’s accompanying file on the AFC.
NOTE: All cap figures and projections cited below come from Over The Cap, unless otherwise noted.
ARIZONA CARDINALS: Bud Dupree, outside linebacker
The Cardinals need to find a way to keep RB Kenyan Drake, and they took a potentially smart risk in re-signing LT D.J. Humphries, but that’s just the beginning of the offseason work in Arizona. After cutting Terrell Suggs in December, the Cards rode out the remainder of 2019 with Cassius Marsh at outside linebacker. It’s time to upgrade the position. There are plenty of worthy candidates, Shaquil Barrett chief among them — but if the Cardinals want to take a more economical approach to this, they should set their sights on the AFC North. Dupree or Matt Judon would fill this role nicely opposite Chandler Jones and create a weekly problem for opposing offenses. While Judon might be the surer bet at the position, Dupree could have the higher ceiling after flourishing in a similar scenario in 2019, when he played opposite T.J. Watt.
ATLANTA FALCONS: Matt Judon, outside linebacker
The Falcons don’t have much dough to work with, possessing a little over $5 million in projected cap room. They can save the most by cutting center Alex Mack, but he’s been too reliable for that to be a guarantee. Atlanta also has to decide whether it’ll make a last-ditch push to keep De’Vondre Campbell or watch him walk. Should the Falcons free up enough space, though, Judon could join the team and make an impact off the edge in place of Campbell. The Falcons will just have to do some cap gymnastics before entertaining such a thought.
CAROLINA PANTHERS: Yannick Ngakoue, defensive end
The Panthers currently have $32 million in projected space, but that number could jump above $50 million if they cut Cam Newton. That would create a huge need at quarterback, of course, but they could address that position with a veteran like Andy Dalton (or a number of other available options) and spend elsewhere. Enter Ngakoue, who has proven to be a problem-causer off the edge and is just entering the prime of his career, turning 25 in March. Carolina hasn’t had a young defensive end with this type of potential since the peak years of Julius Peppers, and now could be the time for David Tepper’s team to make its first big signing at the position since he took over ownership.
CHICAGO BEARS: Vonn Bell, safety
The Bears have very little cap room to work with, and it’s unlikely they’ll be able to do much of anything at their current position. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is in search of a big payday in free agency, meaning Chicago will need to address the position in some form. Without cutting someone to create space, this isn’t likely to happen, but Bell might sign at a lower number, at least.
DALLAS COWBOYS: Amari Cooper, wide receiver
Look, we could venture outside of those who played for the Cowboys in 2019, but the best solution to Dallas’ most glaring need was already on their team this past season. Jerry and Stephen Jones will find a way to get the Dak Prescott deal done; Cooper, however, is less certain. With the Cowboys having sent a first-rounder to Oakland for a season and a half with Cooper thus far, the Cowboys should feel very pressed to keep the receiver, who has proven he’s worth a big contract.
DETROIT LIONS: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, safety
This might seem like a bit of a reach for the Lions, but Detroit could use a splash signing in the secondary and has the cap space (projected $46 million) to get it done. Clinton-Dix has plenty of experience in the NFC North, having played for Green Bay and Chicago, and he stands alongside Bell as one of the best strong safety options on the open market. This only happens if the Lions don’t retain Tavon Wilson, who played well in Detroit but is headed toward a pay raise this offseason.
GREEN BAY PACKERS: Bryan Bulaga, offensive tackle
The Packers could explore a cheaper option at right tackle, but Green Bay would be best suited to come to an agreement on a new deal with Bulaga, who has years of experience protecting Aaron Rodgers and still possesses plenty of quality talent at age 30. The Packers are working with $24 million in projected space, and while Green Bay likely won’t spend as heavily as it did last offseason, opening up the wallet for Bulaga is worth it (especially if they can ink him on a shorter-term deal and potentially draft his eventual successor in this tackle-rich class).
LOS ANGELES RAMS: Andrew Whitworth, offensive tackle
The Rams found a rock-solid left tackle in Whitworth when they convinced him to move from snowy Cincinnati to sunny Los Angeles, and they’d be best served to keep him, even at 38 years old. With $15 million in cap space and a number of positions to address, keeping Whitworth with a lower-priced veteran deal could help Los Angeles find ways to fit in other players under the cap. The other option, of course: Draft a replacement at left tackle and accept the risk of starting a rookie alongside another young lineman in third-year pro Joseph Noteboom.
MINNESOTA VIKINGS: Byron Jones, cornerback
Minnesota suddenly has a big need at the position. Xavier Rhodes noticeably declined last season (ignore his Pro Bowl selection), while Trae Waynes is ticketed for free agency, so the Vikings will need to find at least one corner to fill the void. Hope remains for 2018 first-rounder Mike Hughes, who needs to stay healthy in order to contribute, but it’s time for Minnesota to make a change for the better at cornerback.
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS: Chris Harris Jr., cornerback
The Saints have less than $10 million to work with in cap space right now, but thanks to Monday’s news that Drew Brees will make another go of it in 2020, they at least have a better understanding of how to use their remaining money. An upcoming void is going to exist in the secondary, most likely at cornerback. Harris accounted for a little over $12 million in space for Denver this past season, but at 30 years old, he’s running out of time to make another run at a title. Perhaps he could be convinced to come to New Orleans for such a shot at a lower number, especially with the knowledge the Saints will be going for it again with Brees under center.
NEW YORK GIANTS: Jadeveon Clowney, defensive end
The Giants are young and need help in a variety of areas, but with nearly $62 million in projected cap space, New York has the room to sign a big-time player at edge rusher. The Giants will likely first try to keep Leonard Williams at a lower number, but if they want to aim for the big catch, Clowney would fit the bill and provide an instant impact at a position of need.
PHILADELPHIA EAGLES: Byron Jones, cornerback
As is evidenced in this file, Jones will be sought after in this group of free agents. One only needs to watch about two or three episodes in the latest season of “All Or Nothing” to realize how badly the Eagles need to upgrade their cornerback position. Sure, Jalen Mills‘ return helped, but he’s going to be a free agent in March. The Eagles battled injuries all over their roster in 2019 and perhaps no position group was more devastated than the secondary (though receiver could make a strong case). Jones isn’t a turnover producer, but he would give the Eagles a strong cornerback that they wish Sidney Jones would’ve grown to become by this point. Plus, adding Byron Jones would mean stealing a quality player from the rival Cowboys.
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS: Arik Armstead, defensive end
It took some time, but the 2015 first-round pick finally flourished in 2019, just in time for free agency. San Francisco is young and talented enough to make another run at the Super Bowl, and Armstead could factor into such success if the 49ers find a way to make it work. Justin Simmons could also be a great fit if the Niners can’t keep Jimmie Ward at free safety.
SEATTLE SEAHAWKS: Jack Conklin, offensive tackle
Conklin fits on the Seahawks for two reasons: Germain Ifedi is headed to free agency and isn’t a lock to be retained because of his up-and-down play, and Seattle will have $50 million to work with this offseason. That seems to create an ideal landing spot for Conklin, who would shore up a position that has been a liability for the Seahawks for some time.
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS: Jack Conklin, offensive tackle
Sure, we listed Conklin as a fit for Seattle just above, but signing the accomplished right tackle would be a coup for Tampa Bay, too. Bruce Arians doesn’t like drafting offensive linemen, and the Buccaneers have a need at right tackle. That seems to make for an excellent fit with Conklin, who rebounded from injury to play well for Tennessee’s run-first offense in 2019. Conklin is Gregg Rosenthal’s No. 25 free agent in this class and would provide an immediate long-term solution at the position, replacing 34-year-old veteran Demar Dotson.
WASHINGTON REDSKINS: Amari Cooper, wide receiver
There might be other enticing receiving options on the market (A.J. Green, 31 and Emmanuel Sanders, 32), but the 25-year-old Cooper fits best because of the years he still has ahead of him. If Dallas can’t find a way to keep Cooper, the Redskins should pounce on their division rival’s loss. Cooper would create an excellent one-two punch at the position for Dwayne Haskins to work with, teaming with Terry McLaurin to create a duo that can attack all parts of the field. With $53 million in projected cap space, Washington will have the spending power necessary to add a key playmaker to its young roster.
Follow Nick Shook on Twitter @TheNickShook.