It’s a free agent market where the Bills can at least compete thanks to a rectified cap situation and money to spend. Though Buffalo is expected to be fiscally responsible in the market, they likely have a handful of prospective targets in mind at some key positions.
Here’s what you need to know as the market gets set to open officially on Wednesday.
1. Start times and deadlines
The window for NFL clubs to engage in contract negotiations with prospective unrestricted free agents begins Monday, March 11 at 12 noon. Even if a contract agreement is in place, a player cannot sign said contract until March 13 at 4 pm, when the free agent market officially opens for business.
The March 13 4 pm mark is also the deadline for clubs to submit qualifying offers to their restricted free agents to retain a right of first refusal/compensation to those players. If a qualifying offer is not made those players become unrestricted free agents and enter the free agent pool.
This Wednesday is also the date when all 32 NFL clubs must be under the salary cap by 4 pm, using the Top 51 Rule, meaning that the top 51 player salaries must have a sum that is below the 2019 salary cap of $188.2M. The only exceptions are if teams carried unused cap dollars over from the previous year, thereby raising their cap ceiling.
2. Who got tagged?
The franchise tag played favorites this offseason when it came to pass rushers. Of the six players who were given the franchise tag by their respective clubs, four were pass rushers.
Seattle DE Frank Clark, Houston OLB Jadeveon Clowney, Dallas DE Demarcus Lawrence and Kansas City OLB Dee Ford were all designated as non-exclusive franchise players. That means those players do have the freedom to negotiate a contract with another NFL club, but the compensation for their original club should they sign elsewhere would be two first-round draft choices.
The only other players saddled with the franchise tag were San Francisco K Robbie Gould and Atlanta DT Grady Jarrett.
3. Big names still out there
Although there were some big names taken off the market via the franchise tag and some players re-signing with their original clubs, there is a host of talent available particularly on the defensive side of the ball.
Among some of the bigger names on defense are New York Giants S Landon Collins, Philadelphia CB Ronald Darby and New England DE Trey Flowers.
On offense, Pittsburgh RB Le’Veon Bell will look to recoup some of the money he chose to pass on by sitting out the 2018 season after turning down a five-year $70M contract from the Steelers. WR Golden Tate headlines a group of talented slot receivers in the market, while two linemen coming off season-ending injuries in 2018 in Denver C Matt Paradis and Carolina OT Daryl Williams lead a list of experienced front line players.
Other notable names in the free agent market include Minnesota DT Sheldon Richardson, Washington edge rusher Preston Smith, Baltimore ILB C.J. Mosley and L.A. Rams G Rodger Saffold.
4. News and rumors
NFL national reporters have been tracking a lot of potential signings in terms of where the interest lies for certain clubs with glaring positional needs. There are a handful of teams seeking upgrades at quarterback and Philadelphia free agent Nick Foles is the big-ticket item.
“The Jaguars are expected to sign him,” said NFL.com’s Chris Wesseling of Foles. “There is significant interest in Foles around the league, including Miami.”
Another quarterback who could be available via trade is Arizona’s Josh Rosen, with rumors rampant that the Cardinals will use the number one pick in the NFL draft this spring on Oklahoma QB Kyler Murray.
“As far as compensation executive sources have been quoted as saying a third-round pick (in exchange for Rosen). That’s crazy,” said NFL Network Insider Marc Sessler. “There were a bunch of teams loved Josh Rosen last year. But the main point here is this was largely unbelievable that this was going to happen, but now it seems like a foregone conclusion. I don’t believe the Cardinals have finished their due diligence and made up their minds.”
The Indianapolis Colts are in need of a difference-making safety and a slot receiver. Many NFL media members have them pursuing Giants S Landon Collins and Tampa Bay slot receiver Adam Humphries.
Meanwhile, the Ravens are working hard to keep LB C.J. Mosley from reaching the free agent market, but the market value for the position is making things difficult.
“C.J. Mosley is someone the Ravens don’t want to let him out of the building, but the number is so high for linebackers because of the edge rushers, it’s $15 million a year and that sets the bar really high for negotiations,” said NFL Network Insider Tom Pellisero. “So we’ll see what the Ravens can do here.”
And with many pass rushers getting tagged, it has thinned the market meaning a free agent like Patriots DE Trey Flowers will be getting big money.
“I was wondering if he was going to make a lot of money, but I’ve been told he’s going to make about $17 million a season,” said NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport.