The top offensive NFL free agents and their best fits By Ryan Kanne
The franchise tag deadline has come and gone, making some top free agents unavailable this offseason. Even with some targets gone, there are plenty of quality players available when free agency opens March 17. Here are the top options at eachoffensive position and where they could sign.
QB Jameis Winston
A disappointing year from Cam Newton makes Winston the top quarterback in free agency by default. The former first overall pick showed flashes when called upon from the bench, including a 56-yard touchdown for his only playoff pass. The biggest question facing Winston earning a starting contract is if those flashes can be maintained in the right situation.
As a starter in 2019, Winston infamously threw 33 touchdowns and 30 interceptions. This capped off a 7-9 season for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers before they brought Tom Brady in. Winston clearly has talent, but for him to reclaim his career he has to find the perfect situation for him.
The best situation for Winston will likely be with the New England Patriots. With the third most cap space in the NFL, the Patriots could quickly rebuild the offense around a veteran quarterback like Winston. While the Patriots struggled to pass the ball, their rushing attack finished fourth in yards. The offensive balance along with a defense set to rebound from a down year make the Patriots a prime destination for any QB.
RB Aaron Jones
Aaron Jones has quickly turned into a legitimate star running back since his breakout season in 2019. Since 2019, Jones has averaged almost 1500 total yards and 15 total touchdowns to rejuvenate a Green Bay Packers backfield that had struggled. While Jones has been productive, the Packers have young running backs to replace him for significantly cheaper.
Even with a projected yearly salary of $14.6 million according to Spotrac.com, Jones can add considerable value to any team. The 26-year-old still has plenty of good years left to give as one of the younger running backs available.
Jones will generate a lot of interest even with the league wide notion that running backs are replaceable. His price tag will scare some teams away, especially with the recent announcement of the NFL’s shrinking cap space. Teams like the New York Jets shouldn’t be scared from signing a big time running back like Jones.
Despite losing on the Le’Veon Bell signing a few years ago, it could be time for another big running back signing for New York. The Jets have tons of cap space and a desperate need to upgrade the offense for whoever is their QB in 2021. Jones can add a safe target in both the running and passing game to help the Jets rebound in a tough AFC East.
WR Juju Smith Schuster
There are better wide receivers than JuJu Smith-Schuster in free agency like Kenny Golladay, but Schuster’s ability and age make him the front runner for the bigger contract. His popularity outside of football also factor into his contract considering he brings his almost 7.5 million followers across Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok with him.
On the field you shouldn’t underestimate Schuster’s ability, especially in the slot. Among wide receivers no one had more opportunities in the slot with over 82% of his snaps coming there. Those opportunities never stopped coming in the Pittsburg Steelers offense as he gained 97 receptions with no drops.
Schuster’s best abilities show in the red zone and after the catch. While he didn’t pass 900 receiving yards on the year, Schuster was still able to finish 13th in yards after the catch. And if the Steelers were in the red zone, Schuster was Ben Roethlisberger’sfavorite target earning the fourth most red zone targets with 19.
With big time personality and marketability to pair with the ability to be a number one receiver, Schuster’s best fit is also with the New York Jets. The Jets enter the offseason with the second overall pick in this year’s draft and the second most cap space, both second to the Jacksonville Jaguars. The assumption is that there will either be a highly touted rookie QB or veteran with the Jets by the draft so Schuster could add a great safety valve for whoever is under center.
TE Hunter Henry
After a career highlighted by injuries limiting his on-field time, Hunter Henry is a free agent. His career with the Los Angeles Chargers began with a bang as he accumulated 81 receptions for 1057 yards and 12 touchdowns in his first two seasons. After missing all of 2018, Henry’s next two seasons were even better as he hauled in 115 receptions for 1265 yards and 9 touchdowns from 2019-2020.
As a great offensive weapon, Henry should have no problem finding a new home this offseason. His preference has him going somewhere “with a good quarterback” according to an interview he gave in February. With that in mind Henry could ditch the sunny days of Los Angeles for the freezing cold of Buffalo.
The Buffalo Bills had no problems offensively but adding Hunter Henry over the middle to pair with a recovering Cole Beasley and Stefon Diggs could be a match made in heaven. While young star Josh Herbert didn’t live up to the “good quarterback” label, Josh Allen certainly does after his 45 total touchdown season.
OT Trent Williams
Trent Williams joined the 2019 NFC champions for a third and fifth round pick. Since then, he’s proven why he was such a sought-after offensive linemen after missing all of 2019. At 32 years old, Williams ranked as PFF’s highest graded offensive tackle with a 91.9 grade and looks to cash in on a big pay day.
Even with his age raising some concern, there have been plenty of offensive lineman to play with high productivity into their late 30’s like Anthony Costanzo and Andrew Whitworth. Because of that, the best fit for Williams would be to stay in San Francisco to try to keep Jimmy Garoppolo healthy again.
OG/C Joe Thuney
Joe Thuney looks to follow in the footsteps of other top guards like Andrew Norwell towards a big contract. The top offensive guard in free agency certainly deserves it after giving up only two sacks and being called for only three penalties. Thuney adds consistency along any offensive line he joins as he barely even misses snaps on offense.
Any team could use a dependable 28-year-old guard like Thuney, but the Cincinnati Bengals could use him the most. While a surefire blindside tackle would be more valuable, Thuney will add a consistently good blocker for Joe Burrow and Joe Mixon. Overall, the Bengals need offensive lineman and Thuney may be one of the best available.