This year’s crop of NFL free agents doesn’t boast a wealth of impact talent. However there are indeed difference makers available, and plenty of teams with the cash to pursue them.
Here’s a look at five clubs seemingly poised to be aggressive once the market officially opens Wednesday at 4 p.m. ET (48 hours after teams are allowed to enter into negotiations):
New general manager John Dorsey didn’t wait to begin aggressively reshaping his roster. Working hard to put last season's winless campaign behind them, the Browns agreed to trades for Dolphins wide receiver Jarvis Landry, Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor and Packers cornerback Damarious Randall — all on Friday afternoon. With those moves, Cleveland took on roughly $34 million in salaries for the 2018 season but still has around $80 million in its war chest — Saturday's trade of Danny Shelton to the Patriots brought some cap space back — but that figure could still fluctuate if a long-term deal is reached with Landry, who's currently saddled with a franchise tag of $16 million.
Still, Dorsey's work is far from complete. After miserable drafts under previous regimes, the Browns have plenty of holes. Groomed in the Packers’ organization before serving as Kansas City's GM for four years, Dorsey believes in building through the draft and has said the Browns will practice prudence in free agency. Still, he must fortify his depth chart, and free agency represents the start.
New York Jets
Owners of roughly $90 million in cap space, more than any other franchise, the Jets are desperate to put a 5-11 season behind them. They want to give quarterback Kirk Cousins an offer he can't refuse and also aim to spend big on the cornerback position. Cousins still might opt to sign for less elsewhere if it means a better chance at winning. In that case, the Jets will shift to Plans B and C and spread that money around to address their various needs.
Either way, coming off consecutive 5-11 seasons, coach Todd Bowles and GM Mike Maccagnan need a competitive season in 2018.
They weathered the injury of starting quarterback Sam Bradford and still reached the NFC Championship Game thanks to a talented roster and the play of backup Case Keenum, who went 11-3 in place of Bradford.
But Minnesota management is far from satisfied. The Vikings view Cousins as an upgrade under center and are prepared to let Keenum, Bradford and Teddy Bridgewater all depart. Minnesota can't compete with the Jets' cap space, but that won't prevent GM Rick Spielman from aggressively pursuing Cousins while looking for additional opportunities to strengthen the roster.
In addition to the Jets, Minnesota is expected to face competition from Denver and Arizona for Cousins’s services. If the Vikings are unsuccessful in the Cousins sweepstakes, will they try to re-sign Keenum? Stay tuned.
They don’t have a first- or second-round pick in the draft, so expect them to turn to free agency to shore up a number of areas. Houston has more than $60 million in cap space, and will find ways to put it to good use.
It’s important to bolster the roster to provide additional support for young quarterback Deshaun Watson, who is still mending from reconstructive knee surgery but aiming to build on his impressive rookie season. The team's most pressing needs are along the offensive line and in the secondary.
San Francisco 49ers
Energized by a 5-0 finish to the regular season and subsequent signing of quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo to a long-term deal, the Niners will enter free agency with around $70 million in cap space, determined to get help at edge rusher, offensive line and running back. They actually got a head start Saturday night, reaching a deal with former Seattle corner Richard Sherman, who was eligible to sign earlier because his previous deal had been terminated.
GM John Lynch said he won’t hesitate to use Garoppolo as a pitch man for free agents. His instant success and the potential that the roster showed down the stretch suddenly make San Francisco a very desirable destination.
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