The new league year begins at 4 p.m. ET on Wednesday, March 13. This also marks the official opening of something you might care about a bit more … 2019 NFL free agency! With the frenzy still a few weeks off, Marc Sessler perused the list of players set to hit the open market, reviewed team-by-team offseason needs and concocted one fun free-agent fit for each organization. Let’s start with the AFC. (NOTE: Check back on Thursday for the NFC rundown.)
Baltimore Ravens: Mark Ingram, running back
Baltimore’s pound-the-rock-down-your-throat attack was exposed in January’s playoff loss to the Chargers. With Lamar Jackson at the controls, though, the Ravens aren’t about to ditch their devotion to the run. I like the idea of new play caller Greg Roman unleashing a hammer-dropping ball-carrier like Ingram alongside Gus Edwards and Kenneth Dixon.
Buffalo Bills: Mitch Morse, center
The Bills were dragged down last season by one of the league’s ugliest run-blocking units. The pass protection wasn’t much sunnier, forcing rookie arm Josh Allen to run for his life inside a weapons-free offense. Assuming he bolts Kansas City, Morse would give Buffalo an anchoring presence at the pivot after finishing as the sixth-best pass-blocking center in football last season, per Pro Football Focus.
Cincinnati Bengals: Ja’Wuan James, offensive tackle
“Two linemen out of the gate? That’s no fun,” you moan. Also unfun: Watching your cowed quarterback get crunched to the godless turf. Bolstering Cincy’s line remains a top priority for newbie coach Zac Taylor. James, despite some past injury issues, would give the Bengals a reliable presence at right tackle. He’s ripe to be overpaid, but bookends are rare gems in today’s NFL. It’s a necessary expense.
Cleveland Browns: Frank Clark, edge
The Browns could use a tackle, too, but equal need exists for a havoc-spinning pass rusher to pair across from quarterback destroyer Myles Garrett. A bull-rushing powerhouse, Clark boasts the speed and strength to cast off blockers and crumble the pocket. Seattle wants him back — “I’m counting on it,” said coach Pete Carroll — but the Browns are flush with piles of cash.
Denver Broncos: Jamison Crowder, wide receiver
After landing their quarterback in Joe Flacco, the Broncos still have plenty of work to do on offense. The line is a mess and the defense could use corner help, but I’m suggesting a buy-low add at wideout in Crowder, a unique physical talent coming off a campaign sideswiped by injuries. Redskins coach Jay Gruden insists Crowder remains in Washington’s plans, but the lightning-quick pass catcher would fill a need in the slot for Denver.
Houston Texans: Matt Paradis, center
After the Texans allowed a league-high 62 sacks, finding better protection for franchise quarterback Deshaun Watson is nothing short of a burning priority. Less-disastrous tackle play is a must, but issues extend to the interior line, where Nick Martin ranked as the AFC South’s worst center, per PFF. Paradis was off to a strong start in Denver last season before a broken leg killed his campaign. He’s expected to be all systems go for camp and would help this line become something more than a full-blown disaster.
Indianapolis Colts: Ndamukong Suh, defensive tackle
If the Rams let him walk, Suh could help turn the middle of Indy’s defense into a rough neighborhood. General manager Chris Ballard has built the roster off draft picks and economical free-agent adds, but why not use some of your league-high $108 million cap space on a blue-chip centerpiece? The idea of Suh and Defensive Rookie of the Year Darius Leonard operating as teammates is beyond juicy.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Nick Foles, quarterback
You’ve undoubtedly endured a flood of Foles-to-Jacksonville blurbs by now, so I won’t linger. With whispers of “mutual interest” between the Jaguars and Philly’s Super Bowl-winning backup, the bigger question is whether the Eagles will franchise Foles to control this process and keep the division rival Giants and Redskins out of play.
Kansas City Chiefs: Kareem Jackson, cornerback
Bags of money will go toward retaining Dee Ford, but the defensive to-do list runs deeper, as the Chiefs shift to a 4-3 scheme under Steve Spagnuolo. Kansas City could use help at every position, but free agency is a good spot to find cover-man help in the form of Jackson, a reliable defender against the pass and a top-tier talent against the run for Houston in 2018. He turns 31 in April, but has plenty left for a win-now team like the Chiefs.
Los Angeles Chargers: Anthony Barr, linebacker
The Chargers‘ defense will continue to swirl around the nightmare tandem of Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram. The Bolts, though, could use a do-everything, versatile linebacker who plays all three downs. Barr’s stock has fallen after a brilliant campaign in 2015, but he gives you a reliable tackler who can blitz the passer. Still squarely in his prime with his 27th birthday coming up in March, he’s worth a look inside Gus Bradley’s 4-3 scheme.
Miami Dolphins: Clay Matthews, edge
I’m throwing darts here, but this feels like a 2019 Dolphins move to me. Amid whispers the club plans to shy away from its history of dropping mega-millions in free agency, look for the Fins to pad both sides of the ball with more affordable talent. Turning 33 in May and coming off a 3.5-sack campaign, Matthews is no lock to return to Green Bay.
New England Patriots: Golden Tate, wide receiver
The Patriots are paper-thin at wideout. Beyond Julian Edelman and special teams ace Matthew Slater, the remaining pass catchers under contract are humans named Braxton Berrios, Cody Hollister and Darren Andrews. (Josh Gordon‘s a restricted free agent and he’s currently suspended indefinitely by the NFL.) How about adding the wily and hyper-productive Tate to a Patriots squad just 12 months away from winning Super Bowl LIV?
New York Jets: Le’Veon Bell, running back
Close your eyes and imagine the following: A watchable — nay, intriguing — Jets offense. Gang Green houses the requisite dough to make a run at the level of player who rarely reaches the open market. The cost will be massive — “100 M’s!” Bell told TMZ when asked what it would take to sign with New York — but general manager Mike Maccagnan is running out of time to flip the switch on this still-in-progress roster.
Oakland Raiders: Ezekiel Ansah, edge
Anyone fits the Raiders. After trading away homegrown stars in Khalil Mack and Amari Cooper, Jon Gruden and new general manager Mike Mayock oversee a franchise with a thousand needs. Part of the team’s $71 million in cap space (according to Over The Cap) must go toward a pass rusher who can lift an Oakland outfit that notched a league-low 13 sacks last season — 17 fewer than the closest competitor. Ansah comes with question marks, but it’s not hard to imagine Gruden falling for the former Lion.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Pierre Desir, cornerback
The Steelers require linebacking help and — suddenly — a reliable wideout, with Antonio Brown set to be shipped out of town. For this exercise, though, I’m choosing to pad the Steelers at cornerback. Former first-rounder Artie Burns has massively underwhelmed, while Joe Haden turns 30 in April. The 28-year-old Desir was Indy’s top cover man in 2018 and would give Pittsburgh a solid presence against the run. After missing on countless corners in the draft, free agency feels right for the Steelers.
Tennessee Titans: Za’Darius Smith, edge
Smith generated plenty of rough-and-tumble tape for the Ravens last season. PFF credited him with 61 pressures, a breakout leap from his 40 in 2017. The Titans need help pressuring the quarterback — just like every team in the NFL — and would hope to grab Smith just as the 26-year-old hits his prime.
Follow Marc Sessler on Twitter @MarcSesslerNFL.