Spring is the season of new hope in the NFL, as the calendar turns over to a different league year. In hopes of bettering their position within the league’s compeititve hierarchy, teams release, sign, trade and draft players. Although the past has shown a team’s drafting can define a legacy, sometimes a key piece to a championship run can come through free agency (see Alshon Jeffery going to the Eagles in 2017, for example). With many big names on the market, 2018’s NFL free agency is providing several signings that people will talk about for years to come. Here are some of the top players in each position group.
Quarterback: Kirk Cousins
Landing spot: Vikings
Cousins, a former fourth-round pick, has made quite a name for himself after entering the league in 2012. Originally backing up Robert Griffin III, Cousins got his chance to lead the Redskins full-time in 2015 and led them to the playoffs. He has started every game for Washington since and has won at least seven games in each of his three years at starter. Cousins brought to the market what many teams looked for: a young proven quarterback who can instantly make a team a contender. Cousins’ free agency ended when he signed a three-year, $84 million deal with the Minnesota Vikings on Thursday, according to NFL.com.
Honorable mentions: Drew Brees, Case Keenum, A.J. McCarron
Skill positions: Allen Robinson, wide receiver
Landing spot: Bears
Robinson was a curious case for gauging his market as a free agent. Robinson, a 6-foot-3 wide receiver, had a breakout year in 2015, tallying 80 catches for 1,400 yards and 14 touchdowns. Since then, he has struggled to stay healthy and effective when on the field. Coming off of an ACL tear in 2017, the Chicago Bears will bank on returning him to his 2015 form. If so, then they will have a red-zone monster on their hands and a legitimate No. 1 wide receiver.
Honorable mentions: Sammy Watkins, Dion Lewis, Jimmy Graham
Offensive line: Nate Solder, left tackle
Landing spot: Giants
Left tackle is one of the most difficult positions to find an effective starter for. That’s why Solder was the top offensive lineman on the board. After spending the past seven seasons with the Patriots, Solder, a Colorado alumnus, tested the market. The New York Giants signed a proven anchor of the trenches in Solder. Another plus with Solder is he brings championship experience, as he’s won two rings with New England.
Honorable mentions: Andrew Norwell, Justin Pugh, Weston Richburg
Defensive line: Ndamukong Suh, defensive tackle
Potential landing spots: Chiefs, Bills, Cowboys, Vikings
The Dolphins released Suh on Monday, and though it makes little sense based on on-field play, Miami made the move to clear cap space. Suh, a five-time Pro Bowl athlete, can choose his next location, and there is obviously no shortage of interest in the inside defensive force. Suh would immediately shore up any team’s defensive line problem through run stopping and pass rushing. The stats back him up, as he still graded as a top-10 defensive tackle last year, according to Pro Football Focus. Although age is an issue (he’s 31), he should still land a high-dollar deal.
Honorable mentions: Sheldon Richardson, Dontari Poe, Adrian Clayborn
Linebackers: Nigel Bradham
Landing spot: Eagles (again)
The linebacker free agent class this year is relatively weak, but there are several strong stopgaps available. Bradham was one of these, coming off a Super Bowl victory with the Eagles. Although Philadelphia at first stated it did not have the funds to keep him, the Eagles signed him again on Wednesday. Bradham does have some off-field issues but was considered the top 4-3 ‘backer available and can provide instant starting caliber play to the second level of almost any team.
Honorable mentions: Navorro Bowman, Avery Williamson, Zach Brown
Secondary: Malcolm Butler, cornerback
Landing spot: Titans
The hero of Super Bowl XLIX was another mysterious case on the market after the Patriots benched him in Super Bowl LII. Originally expected to join the Saints in a trade at the beginning of last season, Butler was finally free to go to a location of his choosing. Providing at least 48 tackles and two interceptions in each of the last three seasons, Butler can strengthen any team’s outside defense and, like Solder, will bring a championship-caliber player to his new team. After just turning 28, he is in the prime of his career. The Tennessee Titans signed Butler on Thursday.
Honorable mentions: Trumaine Johnson, Kyle Fuller, Aaron Colvin