NFL free agency officially begins with the dawning of a new league year at 4 p.m. ET on Wednesday, March 18. As we race toward the open market, Marc Sessler explores one fun free agency fit for each AFC team.
The Ravens are bound to chase pass-rushing help after struggling all year to badger the quarterback. I'm matching Baltimore with Sanders, though, pairing the underrated, rugged wideout with second-year burner Marquise Brown inside an otherwise-lacking wideout corps that saw Willie Snead finish second among the group with just 31 grabs. After pinpointing Mark Ingram and Marcus Peters as ideal veteran adds for the roster, Baltimore's front office is on a roll. Adding Sanders would do wonders for a Ravens offense desperate to correct January's stunning collapse.
This might require a gaggle of Buffalo henchmen kidnapping Bruce Arians after the Bucs coach said Barrett "ain't going anywhere." Adding another layer of complexity, Barrett has crooned about handing Tampa a hometown discount, adoring Florida's income tax scenario and -- most distressing for hopeful Bills fans reading this blurb -- his personal distaste for moving his family across the country. Still, life's minor annoyances don't outweigh his once-in-a-lifetime earning potential after Barrett emerged from the wilderness as a roaming night terror for quarterbacks everywhere with a gaudy 19.5 sacks. His agent will listen to offers -- and why not Buffalo? Bills coach Sean McDermott could evil-cast spells with Barrett paired next to interior behemoth Ed Oliver.
The correct answer might be NO HUMAN, as the Bengals are annoyingly allergic to making a splash in free agency. Their build-from-within strategy has failed along the offensive line, though, one that never recovered after allowing stalwart bookend Andrew Whitworth to walk in 2017. The club believes 2019 first-rounder Jonah Williams can grow at left tackle, but fellow first-rounder Billy Price has struggled inside over his first two campaigns. With the first overall pick all but guaranteed to be spent on quarterback Joe Burrow, the Bengals would be wise to hit the gas on building a rock-solid, star-dappled front five. Scherff would arrive as a mauling, white-knuckle force with strong starting experience under his belt in Washington. He'd operate as an anchor for autumns to come.
The longtime Browns fan in me is still smarting from last year's offseason theatrics, which brought star wideout Odell Beckham Jr. and edge nuisance Olivier Vernon to Cleveland in a monster swap with the G-Men. That development generated a level of hype the flameout-prone Browns couldn't live up to. Part of me desires Cleveland to go ultra-silent, sign nobody, become forgotten by society and (for once) happily surprise come September. From a more logical angle, the Browns require help in multiple areas. The offensive tackle situation is messy, and the roster could use a calming presence at safety. Coming off a top-tier season in Minnesota, Harris would reunite with new Browns coach and ex-Vikings assistant Kevin Stefanski while filling the likely void left by Damarious Randall and Morgan Burnett.
Denver has failed to produce a capture-the-imagination attack since Peyton Manning sat at the controls. Quarterback issues stirred years of malaise, but don't ignore this ill nugget: No Broncos offensive lineman has earned a Pro Bowl bid since Ryan Clady flipped the switch in 2014. Cash and high draft picks have been spent up front, but troubles persist. First-rounder Garett Bolles has underwhelmed at left tackle, collecting holding flags like it's a hobby. Across the way, right tackle Ja'Wuan James saw last season detonated by injury after landing as a big-money free agent. It's frustrating to apply endless resources to one area, but darkness will linger until the line clicks. Conklin won't come cheap, but he's coming off a stellar campaign and would give the Broncos a low-risk bookend to build around for years to come. With newbie Drew Lock under center, building a five-man unit of maulers is a must for John Elway and friends.
Yes, Houston is already armed with fleet-footed Will Fuller, but fleet-footed Will Fuller has missed 20 games over the past three seasons due to a laundry list of injuries. His sick days have struck at the ugliest of junctures for the Texans, a team that scored nearly six fewer points in games Fuller missed last season. Availability is key, and Fuller has proven to be a roaming wild card on that front. Kenny Stills helps, but why not solve this lingering annoyance by snatching up a lightning-quick, still-evolving deep threat in Anderson? Trapped in a low-octane, weapons-free Jets offense last season, Anderson would bloom across from DeAndre Hopkins, setting both pass catchers free to set secondaries on fire.
I can't fathom Rivers finishing his career tucked away in Tampa with the Bucs. Teaming with the aggressive-minded Bruce Arians is attractive, but the more organic coaching fit is Rivers pairing with Colts figurehead and ex-Bolts aide Frank Reich. They adored each other in San Diego and would make for an intriguing duo in Indy. It's no knock on Jacoby Brissett, who stepped in admirably for Andrew Luck -- but it's a necessary upgrade. Rivers would find himself behind an ultra-sturdy offensive line on a team with a savvy front office and plenty of talent on both sides of the ball. There isn't a finer fit for the 38-year-old ironman.
Jacksonville's once-formidable defense collapsed into ultra-bedlam down the stretch last season, allowing 200-plus yards on the ground in three straight November affairs before closing as the fifth-worst run-stopping crew league-wide. The sudden exit of speedy linebacker Telvin Smith was never masked over in 2019. The cap-strapped Jaguars need versatile help at every level, making Littleton an appropriate target. Coming off a pair of rousing Rams campaigns that saw him combine to notch 7.5 sacks, 15 tackles for loss, five interceptions and two forced fumbles, Littleton operates as a three-down playmaking defender who can do it all.
The Super Bowl-winning Chiefs are laced with weaponry, but the backfield occasionally morphed into a clown car in 2019. Damien Williams enjoyed his moments, but no Chiefs back reached 500 yards on the ground or 250 through the air. The committee approach was far from fatal, but I'd love to see Patrick Mahomes author on-field madness with a player like Ekeler at his disposal. The Chargers wonder finished second among all backs in receiving yards (993) last season and showed flashes of dominance on the ground before splitting time with a back-from-holdout Melvin Gordon. Just 24 years old, Ekeler is primed for a string of monster seasons as one of the AFC's most exciting talents. Stealing him away from a division rival would serve as a raging coup for the high-flying Chiefs. Ekeler's a restricted free agent, though, so admittedly that might be easier said than done.
Green appears open to staying in Cincinnati -- "I always wanted to be here my whole career," he said last month -- but what are the Bengals willing to pay him? The franchise tag feels more likely, but if the starry wideout reaches the open market, the Raiders would make for an ideal landing spot after Antonio Brown's dance with the devil left the Silver and Black in a fix. If Green is tagged, general manager Mike Mayock should organize a search party in pursuit of the next best thing. How about Robby Anderson beguiling AFC West cover men, or Randall Cobb arriving as a solid veteran upgrade? Amari Cooper, of course, is the opposite of a love connection.
Chargers fans are annoyed by this half-baked article, which details the departures of Austin Ekeler (above) and Hunter Henry (below) on top of Philip Rivers. Hearing coach Anthony Lynn talk up Tyrod Taylor as a viable starter under center is equally disquieting. Same goes for the still-messy offensive line. In this dreamt-up scenario, the 31-year-old Castonzo arrives as a dependable bookend with just five missed games over the past four years. Whispers of retirement must be resolved, but the mountain of greenbacks commanded by free agent tackles should keep Castonzo's interest alive.
The Dolphins need help all over the grid. Certain to target a quarterback with the No. 5 overall pick -- or trade up for one -- Miami is tasked with rebuilding an offensive line that struggled to look like a pro-level unit for much of 2019 after shipping talented bookend Laremy Tunsil to Houston. Sharing New England ties with Dolphins coach Brian Flores, the 27-year-old Thuney has seen his Pro Football Focus grades improve in each of his first four seasons, finishing last year as the game's fifth-rated guard. With an unnamed rookie passer likely to make starts in 2020, Thuney would give the Fins a veteran leader just entering his prime.
My editors would prefer I airlift Brady to Los Angeles or Vegas for the sake of clicks, but I'm betting on Foxborough. With Josh McDaniels returning to call plays -- and enough cap room to add pieces -- why go play behind a dangerously average Bolts front five? Why toil inside a Raiders offense sorely lacking skill-position thunder? Unless Bill Belichick secretly longs to part ways, one more swing around the sun feels right for Brady and the Pats.
The work-in-progress Jets are tasked with bolstering an offensive line that finished 30th in PFF's pass-blocking efficiency metric last season while New York fielded the second-worst ground game in the NFL. Sam Darnold deserves -- and requires -- better care entering his third campaign, but Gang Green is saddled with another burning need: locating a game-altering pass rusher. Ngakoue would make for a juicy addition on a front seven welcoming back a healthy C.J. Mosley at inside linebacker while hoping for a breakout second season from lineman Quinnen Williams.
With Ben Roethlisberger teed up for a healthy return, the Steelers must focus on surrounding their big-bodied flinger with new weapons. Henry has yet to experience a true breakout campaign, but the 6-foot-5, 250-pound target has produced moments suggesting a lofty ceiling. One year removed from a season-ending ACL tear, Henry spent 2019 competing for touches in a Bolts offense boasting two 1,000-yard pass catchers in Keenan Allen and Mike Williams and nearly a third in Austin Ekeler. We haven't seen Henry in a genuine feature role. He would fit with plenty of clubs, but the Steelers could use an X-factor at the position to brighten the final chapters of Big Ben's NFL journey.
TENNESSEE TITANS: Get the band back together
The Titans must tackle one of free agency's trickier to-do lists. The current squad came within a game of the Super Bowl thanks to a Comeback Player of the Year effort by quarterback Ryan Tannehill and the terrifyingly beautiful handiwork of power back Derrick Henry. Still, it's fair to question whether Tannehill deserves a long-term pact off a limited-but-saucy sample size, while a monster extension for Henry -- any running back, really -- gives one the jitters. The widely acceptable solution is slapping the franchise tag on your quarterback and the transition label on Henry. Both moves would set up Tennessee for a critical one-year assessment heading into next offseason's business cycle.