With the NFL Free Agency period starting Thursday morning Australian time, many punters are ready to tune in and set all notifications to ‘on’ (especially Adam Schefter’s feed on Twitter) to keep up to date with all the moves. That being said, I think we’ve already done that ahead of time due to the trade frenzy that has swept the league over the last ten days!
Franchises with a large amount of cap space such as the 49ers, Jets, Browns and Colts will see this period as a major chance to bulk up their lists and lay the foundations for future success, and consider this period a big opportunity to shorten their team needs ahead of Draft Day to really start to fill some major holes with the stars of tomorrow.
But what if the FA structure was altered…?
What if the lower ranked teams had ‘first dibs’ on the big-name unrestricted free agents, rather than the so-called ‘high-demand destination clubs’ dominating the market over the past few years?
What if the NFL Free Agency period WAS A DRAFT???
After serious cap space analysis, positional spending trends, noticing team needs and countless pots of coffee, I’ve finalised a hypothetical One-Round NFL Free Agency Draft for the 2018 off-season.
Okay, so here are the rules:
- The draft order is based on the ranking of all NFL teams at the end of the season and have one selection each
- The order will NOT reflect the 2018 first round order for the NFL draft (Cleveland have pick one only, not picks one AND four)
- Team cap space will be taken into consideration (eg. The Baltimore Ravens have a current cap space of $4, 363, 460, therefore cannot draft a player with an expected cap hit of over that amount)
- Realistic predicted contracts will be based on NFL overall positional spending and player prestige
- The Free Agency list is accurate as of 12 March, 2018
- Once Team A has drafted a player from Team B, Team B will now have that hole to fill prior to their selection should it be a considerable move
- Team needs will ALSO take their expected selections in June’s 2018 NFL Draft into consideration, and will assume a team need has been filled when drafting that prospect
- I will also take into consideration the remaining cap space + number of UFA’s on each team’s rosters to make educated selections
Alright… Now that the rules are set, let’s get stuck into the first nine selections of this NFL Free Agency Draft!
PICK ONE: CLEVELAND BROWNS
CLEVELAND TEAM CAP SPACE: $82,752,946
TEAM NEEDS: 4-3 DT, RB, LB
PREDICTED NFL 1ST ROUND PICKS: SHAQUON BARKLEY (RB), JOSH ALLEN (QB)
DRAFTED PLAYER: SHELDON RICHARDSON (4-3 DT) / SEATTLE SEAHAWKS
ESTIMATED CAP HIT PER SEASON: $20,000,000
Okay, so we expect the Browns to select possibly the biggest running back prospect in almost ten years in Shaquon Barkley at pick one and the best available QB at four, so all focus on this hypothetical pick should be going to the defensive side. When looking at the list I see a lot of good young talent across the board and expect them to improve in 2018, but with Danny Shelton going to New England they have a major hole to fill at the defensive tackle position, and Richardson looks to be the UFA pick of the bunch.
We all know of his talent and Cleveland drafting him will be an immediate upgrade from the loss of Shelton, injecting some much-needed energy and penetration at the scrimmage line to help this franchise get back into playoff contention in the near future.
PICK TWO: NEW YORK GIANTS
NY GIANTS TEAM CAP SPACE: $13,999,984
TEAM NEEDS: G, T, LB, FS, QB
PREDICTED NFL 1ST ROUND PICK: SAM DARNOLD (QB)
DRAFTED PLAYER: CAMERON FLEMING (RT) / NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
ESTIMATED CAP HIT PER SEASON: $4,500,000
It’s safe to say the Giants’ run game has been close to non-existent over the past few years, and combining this with mediocre pass-block efficiency it is a no-brainer that this selection must go towards a versatile (and cheap) offensive lineman.
Cameron Fleming looks to tick all three of these boxes, boasting a good incline in production since 2014 and posting a modest 78.3 PFF grade in the 2017/18 regular season. The best aspect of Fleming’s game IS his versatility proving to be quite effective for the Pats in both the pass and run game, a trait that would instantly help New York’s struggling line from the get-go.
PICK THREE: HOUSTON TEXANS
HOUSTON TEAM CAP SPACE: $65,723,753
TEAM NEEDS: OFFENSIVE LINE, CB
PREDICTED NFL 1ST ROUND PICK: NO SELECTION
DRAFTED PLAYER: ANDREW NORWELL (LG) / CAROLINA PANTHERS
ESTIMATED CAP HIT PER SEASON: $11,200,000
With no first round selection in June the Texans would have to be smart with this selection, and I feel they may need to take the same approach as the Giants at No. 2 and go with a versatile yet extremely effective lineman to help both their young franchise QB, and commodity at running back in Lamar Miller.
Norwell was ranked the third best guard according to Pro Football Focus with a staggering 88.8 grade and an elite 90.9 grade in pass blocking, production that would be music to Deshaun Watson’s ears when he comes back from his ACL injury in 2018.
PICK FOUR: INDIANAPOLIS COLTS
INDIANAPOLIS TEAM CAP SPACE: $72,188,489
TEAM NEEDS: LB, C, G, WR
PREDICTED NFL 1ST ROUND PICK: BRADLEY CHUBB (DE)
DRAFTED PLAYER: ALLEN ROBINSON (WR) / JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS
ESTIMATED CAP HIT PER SEASON: $16,000,000
We expect Andrew Luck to (FINALLY) come back to full health in 2018, and would love to have a wide receiver corps that isn’t heavily reliant on the ever-productive T.Y Hilton. YES, their defense is a right mess, but there are no real enticing elite defensive players on the UFA list that interest me when picking for this team, so I feel x-factor wide receiver Allen Robinson may be right selection at this pick four.
Despite a season-ending ACL injury in week two we are all knowing of his talent, and Indy’s other receivers in Donte Moncrief, Kamar Aiken and Chester Rogers are too frustrating and inconsistent to trust. Robinson will see the opportunity with Luck at QB (as well as the juicy payrise) and leap at the opportunity to make this Colts’ offensive unit one of the most exciting in the NFL once again.
PICK FIVE: CHICAGO BEARS
INDIANAPOLIS TEAM CAP SPACE: $50,229,690
TEAM NEEDS: C, RG, RT, WR
PREDICTED NFL 1ST ROUND PICK: DENZEL WARD (CB)
DRAFTED PLAYER: SAMMY WATKINS (WR) / LOS ANGELES RAMS
ESTIMATED CAP HIT PER SEASON: $6,000,000
Ideally we would’ve LOVED Allen Robinson here, but with the Colts selecting him at No. 3 he’s now off the board, and makes Watkins the automatic number one wideout on the targets list and an under-the-radar selection at pick five.
Alshon Jeffery won a ring with the Eagles, and his absence from Chicago was a noticeable one as it exposed a lack of depth at the wide receiver position, but taking the former first rounder here would give second-year QB Mitch Trubisky a reliable and exciting target to improve this Bears team and help his personal development.
The former Clemson product finally regained the talent and buzz he temporarily showed at Buffalo before injuries got to him, and has proved that he can really be a difference maker when healthy! His 76.2 PFF grade is a modest rating compared to other wide receivers in the NFL, but signing him for just over $5m is a reasonable result as a temporary WR1.
PICK SIX: NEW YORK JETS
TAMPA BAY TEAM CAP SPACE: $89,879,171
TEAM NEEDS: QB, CB, LB, G, RT, C
PREDICTED NFL 1ST ROUND PICK: MINKAH FITZPATRICK (S)
DRAFTED PLAYER: KIRK COUSINS (QB) / WASHINGTON
ESTIMATED CAP HIT PER SEASON: $27,000,000
I don’t need an explanation for this pick. Despite a major deal almost done with the Vikings, Cousins is technically still a UFA and the Jets are miles ahead of the Vikings in the FA Draft order. The Jets need a QB in his prime, plain and simple, and Cousins fits the bill.
PICK SEVEN: TAMPA BAY BUCANEERS
TAMPA BAY TEAM CAP SPACE: $71,158,951
TEAM NEEDS: 4-3 DT, LT, LG, LB
PREDICTED NFL 1ST ROUND PICK: DERWIN JAMES (S)
DRAFTED PLAYER: DONTARI POE (4-3 DT) / ATLANTA FALCONS
ESTIMATED CAP HIT PER SEASON: $12,000,000
It’s no surprise that I’d choose a big-name defensive player with this selection for a Bucs unit yearning for relevancy, and with a healthy amount of cap room to make a big play it looks like Dontari Poe is the most logical selection. Expected to select FSU product Derwin James in the NFL Draft I feel we should bolster a defensive line that’s been nothing short of mediocre for the past three years, and get someone to help Gerald McCoy penetrate the line.
Poe has proven to be a star in the league for both the Chiefs and Falcons, making big plays and pressuring the QB consistently throughout his prime and would be someone that would definitely make an immediate impact in week one of the new season.
PICK EIGHT: DENVER BRONCOS
TAMPA BAY TEAM CAP SPACE: $35,288,150
TEAM NEEDS: QB, WR, LG
PREDICTED NFL 1ST ROUND PICK: QUENTON NELSON (G)
DRAFTED PLAYER: SAM BRADFORD (QB) / MINNESOTA VIKINGS
ESTIMATED CAP HIT PER SEASON: $14,500,000
Okay, so Cousins is gone and it looks like all the top QB’s will be gone by Denver’s pick five (they MAY take a major punt on Baker Mayfield, but don’t count on it) so selecting Sam Bradford here ticks both the ‘scheme formation’ and ‘affordability’ criterion.
He is 30 and injury-prone, so a deal no more than $14.5m a year would be expected for the former Eagle/Viking/Ram. You COULD also pose Case Keenum as the alternative at this pick, but I feel Bradford fits Gary Kubiak’s zone-run scheme offense better as he isn’t as reliant on his arm, can feed C.J Anderson the ball more often, make a surprise big play with either Demaryius Thomas or Emmanuel Sanders, and more importantly reduce his injuries. We’ve noticed throughout his career that he can’t carry the expectation as the focal point of an offense, so a supporting cast role to Anderson and his productive wide receivers would only prove to be highly beneficial for him.
PICK NINE: SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
TAMPA BAY TEAM CAP SPACE: $70,060,420
TEAM NEEDS: ILB, DE, C
PREDICTED NFL 1ST ROUND PICK: TREMAINE EDWARDS (DE/OLB)
DRAFTED PLAYER: DEMARIO DAVIS (ILB) / NEW YORK JETS
ESTIMATED CAP HIT PER SEASON: $10,000,000
Wow… This team! They went from cellar-dwellers to 2018 playoff smokeys in the space of 5 months, and at pick eight they could find someone else to make them an even stronger unit leading into week one in September.
They just clinched the services of Richard Sherman to bolster their secondary and are projecting to get Tremaine Edwards with their first pick in June, so I feel like a productive inside linebacker may be the best option with this selection, and I can’t look past the Jets’ Demario Davis.
This guy, in my opinion, is one of the most underrated defensive players in the league, and is mainly shadowed due to the overall ineffectiveness of the team he plays for, but when looking at his numbers he deserves to be considered in the elite bracket in his position. After a lull in production between 2015-2016, Davis had his best season in 2017 boasting an 87.3 PFF grade which resulted in an 8th overall rank in his position. He is an effective run-stopper with great instinct and football I.Q to read the offense and make a big play, the kind of attributes that GM John Lynch would be frothing at the mouth over.
Additionally, with the off-field issues and uncertainty on star rookie linebacker Reuben Foster, Davis would make a great leader for him as well as complimenting the productivity in the middle of the field, which would possibly create a very intriguing tandem that would no doubt make them a harder unit to come up against!