Best Fits For Our Top 10 Remaining Free Agents

Free agency has been open for about two months now and several notable players remain unsigned. With the NFL Draft in the books, there’s now more clarity for teams and veterans about what depth charts will look like going into the summer. 

That should spark another miniature wave of signings and a few players have already inked deals, like veteran WRs Tyler Boyd, Zay Jones and Odell Beckham Jr. Not everyone will rush to sign at once, as some veterans would prefer not to go through the rigors of training camp if they don’t have to.

There’s a musical chairs aspect to this, however, and some players and teams will make the move now to lock up a spot, especially for the top options available. So here’s a look at the top ten players from our Top 100 Available NFL Free Agents list, and the landing spot that makes the most sense for each: 

1 – C Connor Williams: 49ers

Williams was in the middle of a career season last year when he sustained a significant knee injury, including a torn ACL. Had he not gotten hurt, it’s likely he would have cashed in big-time as a free agent back in March, especially given how well other interior offensive linemen did. It’s not out of the question that Williams could have been the NFL’s highest-paid center, as he’s come into his own since switching positions from guard to center in 2022. 

Instead, Williams remains unsigned, and comments from his agent Drew Rosenhaus seem to suggest he has significant obstacles to overcome in his rehab from injury. That presents a significant complication when looking ahead, as it’s hard to know when Williams will be ready to return to the field. The range for recoveries for torn ACLs is usually between nine to 12 months. For Williams, that would mean a return anywhere from September to December. Had he remained under contract with the Dolphins, a stint on the PUP list or injured reserve would have been a real possibility. 

Because of this, I would expect Williams to remain our No. 1 free agent available for a long, long time. His first goal will be returning to the field, his second goal will be finding a team to highlight his skills, likely a starting opportunity on a one-year deal, in an effort to land a significant contract in 2025. Williams just turned 27 years old, so there is some long-term upside for a team that takes a chance on him. 

The 49ers seem to make the most sense for both sides. Williams has excelled the last two years in HC Mike McDaniel‘s offense, which has deep roots in what HC Kyle Shanahan runs with the 49ers. There would be some scheme familiarity and Williams would be set up better to succeed than in some other offenses. In terms of raising his profile for a big deal, becoming a productive starter for a Super Bowl contender like San Francisco would go a long way. 

For the 49ers, they could stand to upgrade along the interior of their offensive line, whether it’s incumbent C Jake Brendel or RG Spencer Burford. They did spend a third-round pick on OL Dominick Puni who is an option for either spot but Williams is far more proven at this stage of his career as long as he can come back healthy. 

Even if Williams isn’t ready for camp, he could be an impact addition midseason if or when he’s healthy — providing the type of impact teams usually have to give up assets for at the trade deadline. This might be the last real year of the 49ers’ Super Bowl window, so making an upside swing to shore up a weakness makes a lot of sense. 

Other potential fits: 

Cowboys

Williams could return to where he started his career as the Cowboys remain a little unsettled on the offensive line. They will be counting on first-round LT Tyler Guyton and third-round C Cooper Beebe to start, sandwiching standout LG Tyler Smith. But if one of the rookies isn’t ready, Williams could give the Cowboys much-needed flexibility, either replacing Beebe at center or allowing Smith to move from guard to tackle. 

Eagles

Plan A for the Eagles in the first year without future Hall of Fame C Jason Kelce is to move Cam Jurgens from guard, where he started last year, to center, where he played in college and impressed Philadelphia as a future heir to Kelce. They’ll try to find a starting guard to replace Jurgens, with 2023 third-rounder Tyler Steen first up. 

But Steen struggled last year switching from tackle to the interior, and if he struggles again the Eagles might need to make a move. They could move Jurgens back to guard and replace him with Matt Hennessy, a former starter in Atlanta who signed as depth this offseason. The other option would be signing Williams who gives them upside at either guard or center and could parlay a “residency” with the Eagles and famed OL coach Jeff Stoutland into a bigger deal next year. 

Packers

The Packers would probably like to upgrade from former second-round C Josh Myers, and moving Zach Tom back inside is an option. However, Tom was so good at right tackle as a rookie that keeping him there might be preferable. In that case, Williams becomes an option to upgrade at center if he’s healthy. Green Bay’s system also has some parallels to Miami’s. 

Dolphins

The Dolphins have seemingly moved on at center, signing veteran Aaron Brewer in free agency in March to a substantial contract. However, there’s considerable familiarity between Williams and the Dolphins and a need that remains at guard for Miami to fill. Either Williams or Brewer could bump over a spot, as both have played guard in the past. I wouldn’t say it’s likely but I also wouldn’t completely rule out the Dolphins bringing back Williams. 

2 – CB Xavien Howard: Raiders

The Raiders talked this offseason about adding a true No. 1 cover corner to take their surprisingly feisty defense up a level in 2024. But Las Vegas had a lot of needs to fill and No. 1 corners don’t grow on trees. So far, that need remains unfulfilled. 

Howard probably isn’t a true No. 1 corner at this stage of his career. But he used to be. Howard was one of the top corners in the game while with the Dolphins, where he overlapped with Raiders DC Patrick Graham and safeties coach Gerald Alexander. He hasn’t played at that level over the past two years but he’s also been dealing with injuries. 

If the Raiders think Howard still has some gas in the tank, he could be a fascinating addition to their secondary at outside cornerback, taking the pressure off other young players and providing a wily veteran presence that HC Antonio Pierce would love. 

Other fits:

Vikings

Vikings DC Brian Flores is another coach who’s very familiar with Howard’s game from his years with the Dolphins. Minnesota has invested a fair amount at cornerback but has very little to show for it so far. If the young players on the roster don’t step up, Howard could be a temporary band-aid for a team that’s rebuilding but doesn’t want to completely throw in the towel on 2024. 

Bills

Buffalo’s quite familiar with Howard as a division rival, and at this stage of Howard’s career he’s better suited for a zone-heavy defense like what the Bills run. Howard would be a backstop if young corners like Christian Benford and Kaiir Elam aren’t ready to produce. 

Bengals

Cincinnati has worked to reload its cornerback group on Day 2 of the draft over the past two years and has some promising options between Cam Taylor-Britt and DJ Turner. However, if one gets hurt or doesn’t take a step forward, Howard played for Bengals CB coach Charles Burks with the Dolphins and would be veteran insurance. 

Texans

Howard is from Texas and has expressed a desire to play for the Texans. He’d be a great fit for DC DeMeco Ryans‘ defense. However, the Texans have made several other moves at cornerback and Howard has been available all offseason. 

3 – S Justin Simmons: Saints

Simmons was a cap casualty by the Broncos this offseason despite coming off a season in which he was named second-team All-Pro and to the Pro Bowl. He remains unsigned in part due to how crowded the safety market was this offseason, along with the fact that he’s on the other side of 30. At this point, another eight-figure deal is probably not in the cards. 

Aside from money, familiarity and the chance to win are two of the other big reasons players will choose particular teams. For Simmons, the Saints can check the familiarity box in a big way. Current Saints DC Joe Woods was Simmons’ position coach at one point in Denver as well as his defensive coordinator. He also played for Saints DB coach Marcus Robertson while with the Broncos. 

Safety is one of the biggest holes still left on the Saints’ roster, with a big void at the other slot opposite veteran S Tyrann Mathieu. For a team that envisions itself as a contender in the NFC South, the appeal of adding a player like Simmons is easy to see. Money is always a factor for the Saints but they actually still have some levers to pull to create cap space if they need to. If Simmons is willing to take $6 million or so, I think New Orleans would make that work. 

Other fits: 

Eagles

The connection between Simmons and Eagles DC Vic Fangio can’t be ignored. Fangio has called Simmons one of his favorite players he’s ever coached. The Eagles also don’t currently have a safety with a resume quite as strong as Simmons’. That said, they do have a crowded secondary currently, with Reed Blankenship, C.J. Gardner-Johnson and 2023 second-rounder Sydney Brown at safety, plus potentially second-round DB Cooper DeJean. Barring an injury or one of these players falling flat on their face, the fit in Philadelphia for Simmons is tough to project. 

Jets

The Jets’ two starting safeties right now are Tony Adams and Chuck Clark, the latter of whom is coming off a torn ACL from last June. Adams has outplayed expectations as a former undrafted free agent but it would be a reach to call him an impact starter. Same for Clark. Simmons would be a big boost on paper to the Jets’ secondary as long as he hasn’t lost a step — and as of last season he hadn’t. 

The hangup for the Jets will be money. They can create more cap space but GM Joe Douglas alluded to being tight to their cash budget for the season, or in other words the amount of cash owner Woody Johnson has earmarked for player payroll. Perhaps Johnson can be convinced they need more cash to get Simmons. 

49ers

49ers S Talanoa Hufanga is coming off of a torn ACL, and the other safety spot will be manned by either 2023 third-rounder J’Ayir Brown or fourth-rounder Malik Mustapha. Is that good enough for a team with big Super Bowl aspirations like the 49ers have? If not, Simmons stands out as the best safety on the market and one who could form a terrific tandem with Hufanga once the latter is healthy. 

4 – CB Stephon Gilmore: Colts

No other team has focused on re-signing its own players quite like the Colts and GM Chris Ballard this offseason. Nearly all of their major outside additions have come via the draft and Ballard has so far done little to address what seemed like Indianapolis’ biggest need on paper this offseason: cornerback. When asked, Ballard has said he’s confident in young players like JuJu Brents, Dallis Flowers and Jaylon Jones. But those three still have to prove that on the field. 

That’s where a player like Gilmore could come in. He has plenty of familiarity to check that box for Ballard after playing for the Colts in 2022, including for DC Gus Bradley. While the Colts traded him last year, it was with the expectation that 2023 wouldn’t be a contending season for them. Now the Colts look poised to make noise in the AFC South. Gilmore would address their biggest need and provide a valuable veteran presence in what is a young secondary overall. Although he’s turning 34, he was still a quality cover corner last season in Dallas. 

Other fits:

Chiefs

The Chiefs are quite good at cycling through unheralded cornerbacks who turn out to be great players. After letting L’Jarius Sneed walk, they have some interesting options in the pipeline with Joshua Williams and Jaylen Watson alongside star CB Trent McDuffie. But if the reigning Super Bowl champions need more help in the secondary in their quest for a three-peat, Gilmore presents a potential upgrade. 

Falcons

Falcons CB AJ Terrell is an excellent player, and would seemingly be in line for a new deal entering the last year of his rookie contract. Atlanta has a mishmash of options outside of Terrell, however, including Clark Phillips, Dee Alford, Mike Hughes and even Kevin King, who hasn’t played since 2021 and is attempting a comeback. Gilmore would provide a quality No. 2 option across from Terrell. Being closer to his hometown of Rock Hill, South Carolina, would also likely be a perk, as well as the chance to play for HC Raheem Morris.

Vikings

Flores knows Gilmore after overlapping in New England and competing against him as head coach of the Dolphins. Gilmore is a perfect fit for his defense with his combination of skills and smarts, and the Vikings remain unsettled at cornerback. 

Panthers 

Gilmore played half a season for his hometown team after being traded by the Patriots but left for more money and a chance at winning. The Panthers still have a need at No. 2 cornerback and the hometown connection remains, but I’m not sure if either side considers the other their top option. 

Texans

As pointed out in the section on Howard, the Texans have already made several moves to try and fortify their cornerback group. But if they do need more, I think they’d gravitate to Gilmore at cornerback given his smarts and the connection to GM Nick Caserio.

5 – CB Steven Nelson: Cardinals 

Over the past few years, Nelson has been one of the league’s steadier No. 2 cornerbacks. But the NFL is unflinchingly ageist when it comes to defensive backs, so the 31-year-old has had to settle for prove-it deals. This year seems to be on a similar track. Still, there is enough demand around the league for solid cornerback play that Nelson should be able to find work. 

The Cardinals are a team to keep an eye on. In 2021, Nelson played a year with the Eagles, overlapping with Cardinals HC Jonathan Gannon and DC Nick Rallis who were the defensive coordinator and LB coach respectively. Arizona has invested three Day 2 picks at cornerback over the past two seasons and signed Sean Murphy-Bunting in free agency, but Nelson would provide an experienced backstop for the youngsters with how hard it is to transition from college to the pros at cornerback. 

Other fits:

Titans

Nelson also overlapped with Titans DC Dennard Wilson in Philadelphia. Wilson was his position coach with the Eagles and now runs his own unit. The Titans have made significant veteran additions at cornerback this offseason but both Chidobe Awuzie and L’Jarius Sneed have some injury question marks. Cornerback is a position where it’s tough to have too much depth. 

Chiefs

Nelson started his career with the Chiefs and a return could be in play if some of the young players Kansas City is counting on to step up need more time to develop. 

Falcons

As mentioned in the Gilmore section, the Falcons are throwing a lot of things at the wall right now to see if a No. 2 corner will stick. Nelson is one of the veteran options who would be an upgrade if no one emerges by training camp or the preseason. 

6 – WR Corey Davis: Jets

Davis is attempting a comeback after a year off from the game. The Jets released him from the retired list, more to avoid paying him $10 million than any altruism. However, New York would remain a decent fit for him and probably the best one since there’s been little reported interest in Davis. The Jets could use some veteran depth at receiver, particularly with Mike Williams rehabbing a torn ACL, and Davis should be an upgrade over Allen Lazard.

Other fits: 

Steelers

Davis had the best years of his career under Steelers OC Arthur Smith when he was in the same role with the Titans. Pittsburgh has been poking around about adding a veteran receiver this offseason and Davis could be an option if he has some gas left in the tank. 

7 – OT D.J. Humphries: Commanders

Humphries is in a similar boat to Williams in that he’s also rehabbing a torn ACL that was suffered late last season and as a result will impact his 2024 outlook. Humphries tore his ACL even later than Williams, going down right near the beginning of the calendar 2024 year. Given the standard recovery timeline, it’s not even a given he’s ready to play this year. 

But if he can make it back to where he was before the injury, Humphries would represent an upgrade for a number of teams as an above-average left tackle. He just turned 30 at the end of last year, so he could have several good seasons left in him. 

Should Humphries be ready to play Week 1, the Commanders are a team I’d spotlight. Humphries played for OC Kliff Kingsbury for a few seasons and the Commanders currently have a glaring need at left tackle. Veteran Cornelius Lucas will be asked to hold it down until third-round OT Brandon Coleman is ready to play. Lucas is better suited as a backup than a Week 1 starter, and Coleman will need some time to transition to the NFL.

Given the stakes are protecting No. 2 overall QB Jayden Daniels, the Commanders shouldn’t mess around with the position. Humphries would be a natural bridge starter with the chance to rebuild his value for free agency in 2025 or perhaps even force Coleman inside to guard. 

Other fits: 

Patriots

The Patriots’ current plan at left tackle is to start the winner of the battle between veteran Chukwuma Okorafor and third-round OT Caedan Wallace. In addition to being a rookie, Wallace has only played on the right side and Okorafor has been a right tackle only in the NFL as well. Humphries is a question mark due to his injury, but if he’s healthy enough to play, he’s probably a better option than either player here, and the Patriots have a young quarterback to protect too. 

Chiefs

If the season started today, Kansas City would be entrusting QB Patrick Mahomes‘ blind side to either second-year OT Wanya Morris or second-round rookie OT Kingsley Suamataia. That’s a lot of responsibility for two young players. A healthy Humphries would be a rock-solid upgrade and give the Chiefs more time to develop a long-term replacement at left tackle. 

Saints

New Orleans is working first-round OT Taliese Fuaga at left tackle to see if he can stick, but he was projected as a natural right tackle and replacement for Ryan Ramczyk whose career is in doubt with a knee injury. If Fuaga ends up on the right side and former first-rounder Trevor Penning doesn’t change his current career trajectory, the Saints will need a new left tackle. Humphries would be the best available if healthy. 

8 – OT Charles Leno: Chiefs

Leno was a cap casualty by the Bears in 2021 and was quickly signed by the Commanders. He went on to lock down the blind side for Washington for three seasons, playing at a competent level. He’s not a Pro Bowl player but he’s largely been a reliable veteran, and that has a lot of value given how important good left tackle play is. Unfortunately the combination of an injury and a regime change in Washington resulted in him being cut again. 

The fit that might make the most sense is a reunion with former Bears HC Matt Nagy, currently the offensive coordinator for the Chiefs. As noted above, the Chiefs right now would be taking a risk on a young player at left tackle. Morris is a second-year former third-round pick who was adequate in small spurts last year. Being the starter from Week 1 is a different beast. Suamataia has terrific physical traits but he needs some development work to put it all together. 

Leno would bring a level of competence and reliability at left tackle that the Chiefs need to help ensure their offense can be better than last season, something that will probably be necessary to achieve the team’s goal of being the first-ever to win three straight Super Bowls. 

Other fits: 

Ravens

Leno wouldn’t necessarily start for the Ravens, at least not at first, but he would provide valuable insurance for LT Ronnie Stanley who has unfortunately had his career sidetracked by injuries. He also wouldn’t have to move far after playing in Washington the past three seasons. 

Saints

As noted above, the Saints might not have a legit starting left tackle on the roster, so adding someone could be a priority at some point this summer. 

9 – S Quandre Diggs: Steelers 

Age hits quickly for defensive backs. Diggs made three straight Pro Bowls up until last season, then was a cap casualty during a major coaching change for the Seahawks. At 31 years old, his market has not been robust so far due to how many quality safeties were available this offseason. 

However, Diggs can still play. He’s a feisty competitor and still offers something as a middle-of-the-field safety with range. He would be a perfect fit with the Steelers who could use more help on the back end of their defense. Diggs is probably an upgrade over DeShon Elliott (another Texas product coincidentally) and it helps that he started his career in Detroit playing for Steelers DC Teryl Austin. Adding him would allow the Steelers to continue to move S Minkah Fitzpatrick around the defense, which is the role he excels the most in. 

Other fits: 

Jets

Current Jets secondary coach Tony Oden held a similar role with the Lions for the first three years of Diggs’ career, which is another notable coaching connection that could make New York an option. New York could use more help at safety and Diggs would probably come on the cheaper side compared to the top option, Simmons. 

49ers

Diggs played for 49ers DC Nick Sorensen, who was his position coach for a year and a half in Seattle. San Francisco also runs a similar defense to what Diggs was playing in with the Seahawks. He would be another quality option to give San Francisco a veteran presence in a contending year if the youngsters aren’t ready to roll at safety. 

10 – S Eddie Jackson: Falcons

On paper, the Falcons should be viable threats to win the NFC South and make some noise in the NFC playoffs. But the defense still needs a considerable amount of work. Jessie Bates is one of the best safeties in football but the other safety position in Atlanta is a question mark between Richie Grant and Demarcco Hellams. The Falcons could probably find an upgrade with how deep the safety position is in free agency. 

Jackson has had a tougher time staying healthy the past few seasons but brings a lot of experience and a resume as a ball-hawk. He’s probably one of the best picks of former Bears GM Ryan Pace‘s tenure, and Pace is now with Atlanta’s front office. Falcons DL coach Jay Rodgers didn’t coach Jackson directly but he did overlap with him in Chicago as well. 

Other fits:

Raiders

Las Vegas could use a little more depth at safety. Both assistant GM Champ Kelly and director of pro personnel Dwayne Joseph were big parts of the Bears’ front office when Jackson was at his peak in Chicago. 

Eagles

Jackson has a connection with Eagles assistant coach Sean Desai, who was both his position coach and defensive coordinator in Chicago. The Eagles are in a decent spot depth-wise at safety but it’s worth noting the connection given how poorly the team’s secondary played in 2023. 

49ers

The 49ers hired Brandon Staley in a significant coaching role this offseason. We’ve noted their potential need for veteran depth at safety a couple of times in this piece, and Staley would be a connection to Jackson as an option. 

Lions

New Lions DB coach Deshea Townsend was the secondary coach for the Bears for three seasons from 2019-2021, square in the middle of Jackson’s tenure in Chicago. You’ll often see players bounce around the same division because teams have more familiarity with them from advance scouting twice a year. The Lions’ starters at safety are set but they’ve expressed a desire to add to the depth at the position this offseason. 

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