Best Free Agent Fits: Smith, David, Peterson, Poyer, Cox

We’re breaking down some potential fits for our top pending 2023 NFL free agents with the start of the league year and free agency coming up soon on March 15. Using our Top 2023 NFL Free Agents list, we’re examining the possible landing spots for the top 50 or so players who are expected to be available this offseason. 

Fletcher Cox

This is based both on reported interest by particular teams and by connecting the dots between team needs, coaching staff connections, scheme fits and available players. 

Keep an eye out this week for the rest of our Free Agent Fits series!

Buccaneers LT Donovan Smith

Best Fit: Rams

Smith has always been closer to an average left tackle than a good one, but at one of the game’s hardest and most important positions, there’s value in that. Injuries, age, salary and the Buccaneers hitting the reset button combined to put him on the market. If he’s healthy, it would not be surprising to see a decent market develop for him given how many teams need help at tackle.

But it’s also possible things could play out like they did for Charles Leno a couple of years ago, where he had to sign a cheap, one-year deal to re-establish himself for an extension a year later once he proved he was healthy and still had gas in the tank. It didn’t help Leno that he was cut in May instead of March when most teams had spent their free agent budget, so things should play out a little better for Smith. 

One of the teams that could be in the market for help on the offensive line is the Rams, as their woes at that position group played a major role in their 2022 season going down the tubes. They don’t have a lot of financial flexibility but they could make some moves, and the fact that Smith won’t count against the compensatory pick formula as a cap release will carry extra weight for Los Angeles. 

Buccaneers LB Lavonte David

Best Fit: Steelers

Another veteran who seems likely to move on from Tampa Bay as they shed salary, David has made plenty of money and won a Super Bowl, so retirement can’t be ruled out. If he wants to keep playing, a deep linebacker market and questions about his age and price could make things tricky for him. If those questions are answered, however, the Steelers could make a lot of sense. They’re highly thought of as an organization, particularly HC Mike Tomlin. They should have some spending room this offseason and they have a major need at linebacker where they could be starting almost completely from scratch if veteran LB Myles Jack ends up being a cap casualty. 

Vikings CB Patrick Peterson

Best Fit: Broncos

I hesitate to pair Peterson up with former coaches because his comments at times have indicated he’s not on the best terms with some of them. Still, his best years were in Arizona, some of them under DC Vance Joseph who’s now in Denver. The Broncos have All-Pro CB Patrick Surtain II but the spot across from him is up in the air a bit. Veteran CB Ronald Darby tore his ACL and could be cut to save money at some point this offseason, along with nick CB K’Waun Williams. Fourth-round CB Damarri Mathis stepped in for Darby and held his own.

Peterson would provide some veteran insurance, however, and Joseph’s scheme should fit him much better than what the Vikings ran last year. At 33 years old, Peterson shouldn’t be too expensive, which will matter as the Broncos will need to be judicious about their spending this offseason. 

Bills S Jordan Poyer

Best Fit: Eagles

A return to Cleveland where he played most of his rookie contract could make a lot of sense for Poyer, as they’ll be on the hunt for help at safety this offseason and should have money to spend. A return to the Bills isn’t totally out of the question either if his market isn’t as good as he hopes. Watch the Eagles, though, who technically drafted Poyer. 

Both starting safeties, C.J. Gardner-Johnson and Marcus Epps, are slated for free agency. Gardner-Johnson will have a strong market, Epps probably won’t. The Eagles like both and have talked about wanting to bring both back but they have budget constraints this offseason. If they lose Gardner-Johnson, they could be in the market for a replacement, even if they bring back Epps. Poyer’s market will dictate how much the Eagles can be in the mix but they might have a need and can offer a quality landing spot to someone. 

Eagles DT Fletcher Cox

Best Fit: Browns

The connections between the Browns and former Eagles players will be strong this offseason, especially on defense. They would have been there already given GM Andrew Berry came over from Philly but the addition of DC Jim Schwartz amps it up. Cleveland needs to essentially rebuild their defensive line outside of star DE Myles Garrett and will be in the market for multiple additions as they try to reach that coveted NFL goal of being able to pressure the opposing quarterback consistently with just four rushers. 

Cox is nowhere near the player he was in his prime but in a limited role he could still have some juice to bring to a team. What he wants to do will be important. He’s 32 years old, has made tons of money and has won one Super Bowl and played in another. Retirement would not be a surprise. If he plays, though, there are a lot of reasons why the Browns would make sense, including familiarity, fit in the defense, team need, contender status and potentially the budget available. 

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