NFL Free Agency Preview Part 1: A look at where each team stands

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Sam Prestipino, Sports Writer

With the 2021 NFL season in the books, there are quite a few players facing free agency. Last year’s free agency frenzy was wild but also tough on teams league wide. This was in part due to the decreased salary cap due to the Covid-19 Pandemic. This year, the salary cap is expected to grow by 25 million from the start of the Pandemic. This cap relief could be a huge blessing for some teams, but could still not provide much help to others.

Here is a look at where each team stands entering free agency. This will include different players to retain, let go, and target, in what could end up being the wildest free agency of all time.

All cap projections are courtesy of the Pro Football Focus (PFF) free agency preview.

Arizona Cardinals: 

Cap Space: -$813K (22nd)

Notable Team FA’s: Chandler Jones (Edge), Christian Kirk (WR), AJ Green (WR), James Conner (RB),  Chase Edmonds (RB), Zach Ertz (TE), Maxx Williams (TE), Robert Alford (CB), Colt McCoy (QB).

Team Needs: OL, CB

Preview: The cornerback position is of great need for Arizona. This was a unit that was ranked 28th by PFF in 2021. Arizona is also currently in a bit of a cap squeeze. This means that they should look to pick up cheap veterans at CB. Former Cardinal, Rasul Douglas could be a potential fit to return to his former team. Don’t be surprised if Arizona cuts some players in order to go after a bigger fish as well. Signing a player like Stephon Gilmore could pay dividends for this struggling Cardinals secondary.

Targets: Rasul Douglas (CB), Stephon Gilmore (CB), retain current FA’s

Atlanta Falcons:

Cap Space: -$6.6M (25th)

Notable Team FA’s: Cordarelle Patterson (RB), Dante Fowler Jr (Edge), Duron Harmon (S), Russell Gage (WR).

Team Needs: OL, DL, CB, WR

Preview: Atlanta is in a pretty bad position at the moment. Quarterback Matt Ryan is slowly declining, and the team hasn’t found much direction after the Super Bowl loss years ago. The rest of the roster is filled with holes. It would be pretty hard to imagine this Falcons team being very competitive this year. Atlanta’s cap situation will keep them pretty quiet this offseason. The best thing for them to do is to just retain key FA’s like Patterson and Gage, and buckle up for another rough ride in 2022.

Target: Retain current FA’s

Baltimore Ravens: 

Cap Space: $8.7M (19th)

Notable Team FA’s: Calais Campbell (DL), Justin Houston (Edge), Sammy Watkins (WR), Bradley Bozeman (OL/C), DeShon Elliot (S), Anthony Averett (CB), LJ Fort (LB).

Team Needs: CB, S, DL

Preview: The Baltimore secondary was riddled with injuries last year, which made their corner and safety situations look much worse than they actually were. However, the secondary unit still has a lot of work to do in order to make the Ravens contenders. CB’s Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters will return to hold down the outside, while Safety Chuck Clark is a solid piece at his position. Other than that, the secondary is pretty bare. Look for Baltimore to add depth in secondary in free agency and the draft this season.

Target: Joe Haden (CB), Tyrann Mathieu (S)

Buffalo Bills:

Cap Space: -$4.6M (24th)

Notable Team FA’s: Jerry Hughes (Edge), Harrison Phillips (DL), Levi Wallace (CB), Emanuel Sanders (WR), Ike Boettger (G), Mitchell Trubisky (QB).

Team Needs: DL, WR, RB

Preview: Buffalo should be looking to do everything possible in free agency to put them in a position to win a Super Bowl. The time is now. Unfortunately Buffalo is in a tough cap crunch. The best thing for the Bills to do in FA is to improve the interior defensive line. A great veteran to pursue if the money is there would be Calais Campbell. An unlikely move that I could maybe see them taking is to go after receiver Chris Godwin. The combination of Stephon Diggs, Chris Godwin, and Gabe Davis would make the Bills Super Bowl favorites. A move like this would likely mean sacrificing resigning guys like Jerry Hughes, Harrison Phillips, and Levi Walace.

Targets: Calais Campbell (DL), Chris Godwin (WR), Juju Smith-Schuster (WR), retain as many current FA’s as possible.

Carolina Panthers:

Cap Space: $17.2M (17th)

Notable Team FA’s: Stephon Gilmore (CB), Haason Reddick (Edge), Donte Jackson (CB), Matt Paradis (OL/C).

Team Needs: QB, OL

Preview: Carolina is in a tricky situation. They are a QB and an O-line away from being a playoff team. Carolina should focus on retaining their key FA’s. They should look to get a QB in the draft and build the OL in free agency. Guys like Brandon Scherff, Nate Solder, and Cam Robinson would be good fits in the Queen City. If Carolina looks to go QB in free agency, we could see them looking in the direction of Jameis Winston or Marcus Marriota.

Targets: Brandon Scherff (OL), Nate Solder (OL), Cam Robionson (OL), retain defensive FA’s.

Chicago Bears:

Cap Space: $28.6M (11th)

Notable Team FA’s: Allen Robinson (WR), Akiem Hicks (DL), James Daniels (OL), Andy Dalton (QB), Jason Peters (OL), Tashaun Gipson Sr (S).

Teams Needs: WR, OL, CB

Preview: This offseason comes with two goals for Chicago. The first is to tighten up the secondary and re-sign key defensive free agents like Akiem Hicks and Tashaun Gipson Sr. The second goal is to make second year QB Justin Fields as happy and comfortable as possible. They can do this through working on that o-line and adding star power at the wide-receiver position. Names like DJ Chark, Emanuel Sanders, and Jamison Crowder come to mind when adding talent to the receiving core.

Targets: DJ Chark (WR), Emanuel Sanders (WR), Jamison Crowder (WR), Terron Armstead (OL), Trenton Brown (OL)

Cincinnati Bengals:

Cap Space: $58M (3rd)

Notable Team FA’s: Jessie Bates III (S), BJ Hill (DL), Riley Reiff (OL), CJ Uzomah (TE), Quinton Spain (OL), Eli Apple (CB), Darius Philipps (CB).

Team Needs: OL

Preview: The Bengals are in fantastic shape headed into 2022. The AFC Champions head into the year with the third most amount of money to spend in the league and are just an offensive line away from becoming a potential dynasty. The not so great news for Cincy is that some of those funds will have to go into paying their pro bowl safety, Jessie Bates III. The rest should almost exclusively go into building the o-line for Joe Burrow. They should go all in on the big name free agent offensive linemen.

Targets: retain Jessie Bates III (S), Brandon Scherff (OL), Nate Solder (OL), Cam Robinson (OL), Terron Armstead (OL).

Cleveland Browns:

Cap Space: $24.9M (12th)

Notable Team FA’s: Jadeveon Clowney (Edge), Takkarist McKitty (Edge), Ronnie Harrison (S), Anthony Walker (S), David Njoku (TE), Rashard Higgins (WR).

Team Needs: Edge, WR, DL

Preview: The best thing for Cleveland to do is to target a big name wide receiver and to fill the remaining holes at edge rusher and DL in the draft and with lower end FA signings. The name of the game is giving Baker Mayfield a solid number one wideout in addition to Jarvis Landry.

Targets: Chris Godwin (WR), Allen Robinson (WR), Jerry Hughes (DL), Melvin Ingram (Edge/DL)

Dallas Cowboys:

Cap Space: -$21.7M (30th)

Notable Team FA’s: Randy Gregory (Edge), Leighton Vander Esch (LB), Jayron Kearse (S), Malik Hooker (S), Connor Williams (OL), Michael Gallup (WR), Cedrick Wilson (WR), Dalton Schultz (TE).

Team Needs: DL, LB, OL

Preview: Dallas has dug themselves into a pretty deep cap hole. With a significant amount of FA’s of their own and the 3rd worst cap situation in the league, the Cowboys will look to salvage what they can of their current FA’s.

Targets: Retain as many FA’s as possible, specifically Leighton Vander Esch (LB) and Dalton Shultz (TE).

Denver Broncos:

Cap Space: $38.9M (6th)

Notable Team FA’s: Bryce Callahan (CB), Kyle Fuller (CB), Alexander Johnson (LB), Josey Jewell (LB), Kareem Jackson (S), Teddy Bridgewater  (QB), Melvin Gordan (RB), Bobby Maassie (OL).

Team Needs: QB, CB, Edge

Preview: Denver’s handling of free agency really depends on whether or not they are able to acquire Aaron Rodgers from the Packers. For our purposes, let’s assume that they don’t end up getting Rodgers. The two biggest holes for Denver are at QB and CB. If they don’t trade for Rodgers, it’s likely that Denver picks up a quarterback in the draft. They will also probably address the secondary issues in the draft as well. Denver has money to spend in free agency, so it is possible that they will target big name edge rushers and corners.

Targets: Chandler Jones (Edge), Dante Fowler Jr (DL), Joe Haden (CB), Jason Verrett (CB)

Detroit Lions:

Cap Space: $23.6M (13th)

Notable Team FA’s: Charles Harris (Edge), Tracy Walker (S)

Team Needs: QB, WR, CB. S, LB

Preview: The Lions should be looking to upgrade across the board, especially in the secondary. Detroit was graded second to last in coverage last year. Detroit should use the draft to fill most of their holes, however, they should be able to make some strides by signing some veteran help at both corner and safety.

Targets: Marcus Williams (S), Terrell Edmunds (S), Kyle Fuller (CB), Stephon Gilmore (CB), Rashard Higgins (WR)

Green Bay Packers:  

Cap Space: -$50.8M (31st)

Notable Team FA’s: Davante Adams (WR), Marquez-Valdes-Scantling (WR), Robert Tonyan (TE), Dennis Kelly (OL), Rasul Douglas (CB), De’Vondre Campbell (LB).

Team Needs: OL, WR

Preview: Green Bay is in an impossible situation. If MVP Aaron Rodgers returns to the team, it would be almost impossible to bring back any of their free agents. This means that both his number 1 and 2 pass catchers in Adams and Scantling would be gone. Even if Rodgers demands a trade or retires, the Packers would still be way over the cap, meaning that they could probably only keep one of their outgoing free agents. There are dark days ahead for the Packers faithful.

Targets: Pray for a miracle.

Houston Texans:

Cap Space: $17.9M (16th)

Notable Team FA’s: Justin Reid (S), Desmond King II (CB), Maliek Collins (DL), Tyrod Taylor (QB), Jordan Aikins (TE).

Team Needs: Every single position

Preview: This is a terrible Houston Texans roster. The team is in the middle of the pack as far as cap space, however, if Deshaun Watson is traded this offseason, their cap space would jump to the top of the league. It’s unclear what the future holds for Houston, what is clear is that they are in need of a rebuild, and there’s no time to waste.

Targets: Dede Westbrook (WR), Jesse James (TE), Trai Turner (OL), Steven Nelson (CB)

Indianapolis Colts:

Cap Space: $37.4M (7th)

Notable Team FA’s: Eric Fisher (OL), Mo Alie-Cox (TE), Mark Glowinski (OL), Marlon Mack (RB), TY Hilton (WR), Xavier Rhodes (CB).

Team Needs: QB, WR, OL

Preview: After a stale first season in Indy, Carson Wentz will likely no longer be a Colt headed into 2022. This means that Indianapolis will need to find a replacement in either free agency, the draft, or via a trade. There aren’t very many fantastic QB’s in this FA class, meaning that it is likely that Indy will likely be looking to trade for an elite quarterback. They probably won’t draft a quarterback because management believes that they have a Super Bowl caliber roster. Regardless of who the Colts’ QB is next year, they’ll need some weapons to throw to, and some protection up front. This is where Indy will look to take advantage of the free agent market.

Targets: Davante Adams (WR), Allen Robinson (WR), Brandon Scherff (OL), Nate Solder (OL), Ben Jones (C/OL), retain Eric Fisher and Xavier Rhodes

Jacksonville Jaguars:

Cap Space: $59.3M (2nd)

Notable Team FA’s: DJ Chark (WR), Cam Robinson (OL), Andrew Norwell (OL), AJ Cann (OL).

Team Needs: WR, OL, LB, CB, DL, TE

Preview: Jacksonville’s goal for the 2022 season is to make former number one overall pick, Trevor Lawrence as comfortable and happy as possible. This is something that Jacksonville should be able to do. They’re kind of in a dream situation to start a new era of a franchise. The Jags have the number one pick in the draft, the second most amount of cap space, and the greatest QB prospect since Andrew Luck. In free agency, Jacksonville will need to pick up an elite receiver and some offensive line help, along with a few pieces on the defense.

Targets: Allen Robinson (WR), Chris Godwin (WR), Sammy Watkins (WR), Mike Williams (WR), Trenton Brown (OL), Dan Feeney (OL), Marcus Maye (S), Anthony Barr (LB), Dalton Schultz (TE)

Kansas City Chiefs:

Cap Space: $14.5M (18th)

Notable Team FA’s: Tyrann Mathieu (S), Charvarius Ward (CB), Mike Hughes (CB), Melvin Ingram III (Edge), Derrick Nnadi (DL), Darell Williams (RB), Mike Remmers (OL), Orlando Brown Jr (OL).

Team Needs: WR, CB, DL

Preview: The main goal for Kansas City this offseason is to retain their key free agents. As far as additions, adding more weapons for Patrick Mahomes is a must.

Targets: Juju Smith-Schuster (WR), DJ Chark (WR), Stephon Gilmore (CB).

In the next issue, I will be covering the remaining 16 teams.