Potential Suitors For the Top 5 2020 NFL Free Agents

dan-mennella
January 13, 2020 - 2:41 pm

The 2020 NFL free agent class is deep in quarterbacks and pass rushers, two positions that typically command top dollar in free agency for obvious reasons. Those players can change a team's fortunes and long-term outlook in a hurry.

Because the crop of free-agent quarterbacks is so deep, and the signing scenarios so nuanced, we covered the signal-callers in a separate article. But that doesn't mean there aren't impact studs to be found elsewhere in free agency.

There was no precise formula for determining this list, merely our best guess at five of the heftiest non-QB contracts -- based on player age, pedigree, performance to date, and possible contract value as projected by Spotrac.

Amari Cooper
Amari Cooper Photo credit Getty Images

Amari Cooper, Wide Receiver

Cooper, only 26, is among the more well-rounded wide receivers in the NFL, and is the best receiver in an underwhelming class. After a down year with the Raiders in 2017, Cooper was acquired by the Cowboys in a midseason trade in 2018 and played well in nine games. He did so again in his first full season in Dallas in 2019, starting all 16 games and putting up solid numbers across the board. Cooper didn’t lead the league or even place in the top 5 in any major receiving category, but he finished eighth in yards with 1,189, 19th in yards per catch at 15.1, 16th with 74.3 yards per game, tied for ninth with eight touchdown catches, and tied for 10th with 17 catches of 20 yards or more.

Cooper may not be the most explosive gamebreaker, but he’s solidly above average just about everywhere. At his age, with his track record and pedigree as a top-5 overall pick, he is an obvious re-sign candidate for the Cowboys and new head coach Mike McCarthy. Cooper is very likely to be paid handsomely whether it’s Dallas or one of these teams below, who might also be in the market for help at wide receiver.

Possible Destinations:

New England Patriots
Indianapolis Colts
Philadelphia Eagles
Green Bay Packers
New Orleans Saints
Arizona Cardinals

Chris Jones
Chris Jones Photo credit Getty Images

Chris Jones, Defensive Line

Jones, also 26, is a sack artist who, unlike most of the other premier free agent pass rushers, does his damage from the interior. Regardless of where he lines up, Jones has 31 sacks to his credit over the past three seasons, including 15.5 in his breakout 2018 campaign for which he earned second-team All-Pro honors, and figures to have plenty of suitors if he doesn’t return to the Chiefs.

While Jones wasn’t quite as productive or visible this season as he was last, it seems unlikely his post-breakout dip will cost him too much. Despite a groin injury that cost him three regular-season games in October and a calf injury that forced him to miss the Chiefs’ Divisional Round win over the Texans, Jones  was still productive in 13 games in 2019, picking up nine sacks.

Last summer, Jones skipped offseason minicamp workouts amid extension talks with the Chiefs in which the sides were reported to be far apart, and Jones was rumored to be considering a training camp holdout before reporting in July. All signals point to Jones seeking a big deal, and the Chiefs have plenty of money tied up in Frank Clark, with other stars soon to be paid as well.

Spotrac projects Jones to land a deal somewhere between those of Detroit’s Trey Flowers and Chiefs teammate Clark, which could put him in the range of $95M-$100M.

Possible Destinations:

Kansas City Chiefs
Baltimore Ravens
Miami Dolphins
Tennessee Titans
Jacksonville Jaguars
New York Giants
Seattle Seahawks

Yannick Ngakoue
Yannick Ngakoue Photo credit Getty Images

Yannick Ngakoue, Defensive End

Like Jones, Ngakoue is a young sack artist hitting free agency in his prime, but Ngakoue makes his leaving rushing from the edge. There’s usually a strong market for edge rushers, and Ngakoue’s unusual combination of age (25 in 2020), track record, and durability could propel him to the top deal at his position.

Spending the first four years of his career in the relative obscurity of Jacksonville, Ngakoue has somewhat quietly tallied 37.5 sacks while playing in 63 of 64 possible games. While the former third-round pick hasn’t repeated his 12-sack breakout season of 2017, his 17.5 combined sacks in the two subsequent seasons solidified him as a legitimate pass-rush threat, and he continues to produce forced fumbles and QB hits at above-average rates.

Ngakoue will be competing with several post-hype breakout stars who specialize in rushing the quarterback from the edge, including linebackers Jadeveon Clowney, Shaqil Barrett, and Dante Fowler, as well as down lineman Arik Armstead, but I’m predicting the bigger deal for Ngakoue based on his age and consistency. Clowney, in particular, is a wild card here, with the former No. 1 overall pick owning all the potential in the world but still never having harnessed it for a full season.

Possible Destinations:

Seattle Seahawks
Atlanta Falcons
Detroit Lions
New York Giants
Tennessee Titans
Baltimore Ravens
Miami Dolphins

Justin Simmons
Justin Simmons Photo credit Getty Images

Justin Simmons, Safety

Simmons was trending up as an above-average starter for the Broncos in recent years before taking his game to a new level in 2019 – second-team All-Pro level, in fact. Simmons’ monster season -- in which he allowed the second-lowest passer rating among safeties while tallying four picks, 15 passes defended, and 93 tackles -- prompted analytics maven Pro Football Focus to declare him the top player at his position.

While there may be some sticker shock for a relatively unheralded player, Simmons is the beneficiary of great timing. Not only is Simmons coming off a terrific season, but the market for defensive backs is trending in his favor, with the Bears having recently handed out a four-year, $58M extension to safety Eddie Jackson. Simmons might have a good case that he deserves more--and Spotrac agrees, forecasting a deal of five years and $72M.

Possible Destinations:

Denver Broncos
New York Giants
Philadelphia Eagles
Detroit Lions
Seattle Seahawks

Jack Conklin
Jack Conklin Photo credit Getty Images

Jack Conklin, Right Tackle

Titans running back and free-agent-to-be Derrick Henry will surely cash in on his legendary postseason run, but what about the big guys creating holes for him? Like Simmons, Conklin’s productivity outpaces the recognition he gets for it, but that may soon change. Conklin isn’t the Titans’ top tackle – that would be Taylor Lewan on the left side. But Conklin too is a former top-10 overall pick with a Pro Bowl on his resume – in his rookie season of 2016, no less. A torn ACL in the 2017 playoffs and a concussion in 2018 limited Conklin to nine games last season, but this year he returned and played in all 16 games, reestablishing his health and value.

Conklin’s foray into free agency couldn’t be timed much better.
He had a strong 2019 (PFF rating of 78), went deep into the playoffs with the Titans, and is one of the few prime-age tackles on the free agent market. At just 25, Conklin could cash in because of this dynamic. Last offseason saw four right tackles sign deals of at least four years and $50M. That bodes well for Conklin if a team sees him as a long-term starter.

Possible Destinations:

New York Jets
Los Angeles Rams
Green Bay Packers
Miami Dolphins
Cleveland Browns

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