The Major League Baseball free agent market has been slow to develop the last couple of years, with the top free agents not signing until spring training started. Free agency in the NFL is different, with many of the top guys available agreeing to contracts on the first day of the new league year — which is March 13 in 2019 — when free agency officially begins. With that in mind, here’s a look at five NFL free agents every team should be coveting for 2019.
Le’Veon Bell, RB
It’s been a while since teams have seen Le’Veon Bell on the field in an NFL game — Jan. 14, 2018 to be exact. He famously sat out the 2018 season in a contract dispute when the Steelers put a franchise tag on him for the second straight season. There was speculation that the Steelers may use a transition tag on him this year, but the team has confirmed it will not do that, making Bell a free agent.
He recently turned 27 and will have gone more than 18 months without playing in a regular season or playoff game by the time the regular season kicks off on September 5, 2019. Some teams may see his year off as a positive, while others may view it negatively.
One thing that teams will have to view objectively are his stats. He has surpassed 1,200 rushing yards in each of the last two seasons he’s played, including 1,268 yards in just 12 games in 2016, and he still likely has at least a couple of good years left in him despite getting up in age for an NFL player. Bell should be one of the best NFL free agents out there as he seeks the big-money contract he was hoping to get by sitting out 2018.
Nick Foles, QB
When a starting quarterback hits free agency, there’s always interest from multiple QB-needy teams. Nick Foles isn’t quite one of the best Eagles QBs ever, but he’ll probably be in high demand as one of the top NFL free agents at the position. He served as the backup with the Eagles the last two seasons but forced into the starting role due to injuries to Carson Wentz.
Foles played well as the starter, including being named MVP of Super Bowl LII. He declined his portion of the mutual option for 2019, hoping to hit the market and be able to sign with the team of his choice, but the Eagles may still tag him for roughly $25 million with the intention of trading him. If that doesn’t happen, look for Foles to get a long-term deal from a team like the Jaguars, Dolphins or Redskins who are in need of a legitimate starting quarterback.
Landon Collins, SS
Landon Collins’ numbers have come back to Earth a bit since his career season in 2016, but he is still just 25 years old and can be a good addition to a team’s defense. He is rehabbing from shoulder surgery that he had in December, which could cause some teams to be leery about signing him to a long-term deal.
He recorded nearly 100 tackles last season despite playing in just 12 games, so if he’s healthy when training camp begins he should have another good season. There is a chance that the Giants could still franchise tag him, but he’s looking for a long-term deal and will likely get one in free agency if he’s not tagged. Even with several high-profile defensive backs out there, Collins might be one of the best NFL free agents on that side of the ball.
Tyrann Mathieu, CB/S
Defensive back Tyrann Mathieu signed a one-year contract with the Texans five days after being cut by the Cardinals last March. He knew he’d be playing to get a big contract this offseason, and his performance certainly helped his cause. He had two interceptions and a career-best three sacks, and he tied his career high with 89 tackles, including 70 solos. Stats like that show that the “Honey Badger,” as he’s known, is still a good defender entering his age-27 season, and he should get a contract that is indicative of that.
Earl Thomas, FS
Earl Thomas will be 30 in May and hasn’t played an entire season since 2015, but he could still be a nice addition for a team looking for a defensive playmaker. He had three interceptions despite playing in just four games last season, which may be good enough for a team to give him a chance on at least a short-term contract.
He’s not likely to get a big-money, long-term deal like the other guys on this list, but if teams think he is healthy and still has something left on the field, he’ll sign somewhere.
There are other players like Texans DE/LB Jadeveon Clowney and Cowboys DE Demarcus Lawrence whose contracts expire. However, they seem likely to sign extensions or earn the franchise tag with their current teams. But in the unlikely event that they become free agents, they would draw interest from a number of teams.