The Brandt Report

Free agency fits: Kirk Cousins to Browns? Le'Veon Bell to Bucs?

Without the help of key free agents, would the Eagles have won Super Bowl LII? Could the Jaguars have reached the AFC title game? Would the Rams have morphed from league doormat to offensive juggernaut?

Philadelphia (Nick Foles, LeGarrette Blount, Alshon Jeffery), Jacksonville (Calais Campbell, A.J. Bouye) and Los Angeles (Andrew Whitworth, Robert Woods) thrived in 2017 thanks to additions made -- some splashy, some well under the radar -- last offseason. Who will follow their footsteps this March? Below, I've identified strong potential fits for some of the most notable players on the verge of free agency.

NOTE: These are not necessarily meant to predict where these players will sign; rather, I tried to find potential new homes where each player would fit well.

Kirk Cousins, quarterback

Cousins is a Pro Bowl-caliber player without a significant injury history who is in the prime of his career and has years of high-end production ahead of him. Thus, he is about to become the best quarterback to ever hit free agency, presenting a highly enticing opportunity for a number of teams in need at the position.

If I were the Browns, I'd strongly consider signing Cousins and taking a quarterback with either the first or fourth overall pick. Cousins can step in and make Cleveland -- which is not as bad as people seem to think -- instantly better, while providing a promising youngster like Josh Rosen (who I think has the chance to be special) time to develop. Cousins might balk at the role of veteran mentor, but the Browns have copious amounts of cap space (per with which to help him overcome his doubts. (That is, unless tweets from Joe Thomas are enough to convince him ...) When I was with the Cowboys, we tried to draft a quarterback every year -- for Cleveland, the investment is worth it if it means solving a problem that has dogged this organization for two decades. Don't forget that general manager John Dorsey cut his teeth with the Packers, who famously drafted Aaron Rodgers to develop behind Brett Favre.

The Jets are similarly thirsty for a young, reliable winner like Cousins, while the Broncos are in the best position to seriously contend right away upon adding the soon-to-be-former Redskin.

Le'Veon Bell, running back

Leaving aside Bell's suspension history and a relationship with his team that can seem bumpyat times, Bell is, from a pure talent standpoint, an all-around back who can make any squad better, regardless of scheme. If I were the Steelers, I'd try very hard to keep him in the fold -- but I wouldn't go overboard, given that Pittsburgh does have other offensive stars to lean on, like Antonio Brown, Ben Roethlisberger and JuJu Smith-Schuster. Plus, this draft isn't a bad one in which to find running back talent. If Bell's price is too high for the Steelers, the Buccaneers and Giants could both use his services. Tampa Bay hasn't had a 1,000-yard rusher since 2015, and the Giants haven't had one since 2012. Imagine what Bell could do to help unlock that Bucs offense. New York, meanwhile, is starved for complementary talent to help ease Eli Manning's burden.

Allen Robinson, wide receiver

The Cowboys and Bears both desperately need receiving help to juice up their offenses. Dallas could replace Dez Bryant, who has not posted a 1,000-yard season since 2014 and might make a logical cut candidate, while Chicago, frankly, could stand to add anyone who has proven capable of being a legitimate receiving threat. Robinson, who missed most of 2017 with a torn ACL, is a big-bodied receiver who can create separation. The receiver class in the draft, meanwhile, is relatively weak. Robinson is going to be expensive, but he'll also produce. I'd expect the Jaguars to use the franchise tag on him, but if he somehow hits the open market, the Cowboys and Bears should leap at the chance to add him.

Demarcus Lawrence, pass rusher

Everybody's looking for a pass rusher like Lawrence, who is only 25 and coming off a breakout season in Dallas (14.5 sacks). I would think the Cowboys will franchise-tag him if necessary, but Lawrence would also make sense for the Colts, who finished with 25 sacks in 2017 (31st in the NFL). Indianapolis GM Chris Ballard is a smart guy, and the prospect of boosting the defense -- and, thus, taking some pressure off Andrew Luck, whenever he returns -- would surely be enticing. Even if the Lions decide to retain Ezekiel Ansah (see below), they would benefit from further augmenting the pass rush with Lawrence, given that Detroit only managed 35 sacks (20th).

Andrew Norwell, offensive guard

If he reaches the market, Norwell is likely to become the richest guard in the league. The All-Pro is a solid player and probably better than Kevin Zeitler, who landed a lucrative deal from the Browns last offseason. The Niners should have tons of money to spend and would surely love to add additional protection for Jimmy Garoppolo. The Dolphins are currently projected to be facing a tighter cap situation, per, but they need help up front and, if they can swing the numbers, would do well to add Norwell.

Nate Solder, offensive tackle

Solder is the only top-flight left tackle on the path to free agency, and I think he'd make sense for the Bengals, who I see making a concentrated effort to spend some money in an attempt to beef up their line (40 sacks allowed in 2017, tied for 13th-most in the NFL). The Texans, meanwhile, must do everything in their power to protect Deshaun Watson as he comes back from a torn ACL, and they don't really have a left tackle at this point. Plugging Solder in would go a long way toward easing that concern. I think the Patriots should bring him back, but this team's historical reluctance to invest in its own veterans is well known.

Sheldon Richardson, defensive tackle

Somewhere along the line, Richardson is going to wake up -- and it might be next to Chris Jones or Justin Houston in Kansas City. True, the Chiefs are projected to be relatively tight against the cap. But those guys might be the kind of players who can motivate Richardson to play up to his potential after the Jets traded him away heading into last season. He's an athletic run-stopper with pass-rush ability. I also think Buffalo -- which, with two first-round picks, two second-rounders and two third-rounders, will have a chance to add a ton of talent -- could see Richardson as an attractive fit (provided the issues that led to his ouster in New York don't scare them off). And, of course, Seattle would be able to use him, as well.

Malcolm Butler, cornerback

Butler is going to have to explain his surprise benching by the Patriots for Super Bowl LII to prospective employers. But his overall track record is still strong enough to attract suitors. The Rams could use him to replace Trumaine Johnson, while the Packers, who need a second corner, could add him as new coordinator Mike Pettine shapes his defense.

Case Keenum, quarterback

I think Keenum showed what he's always been capable of in 2017. He's not the tallest guy in the world and he doesn't have the best arm, but he's good for about 240 yards and a touchdown or two per game -- and he doesn't make too many killer mistakes. He'll be a top option for teams looking for veteran quarterback help, and the Cardinals -- who, like the Vikings, play at least half their games indoors -- would make sense. Keenum is a quiet leader who gets the job done, and I could see him being a steadying influence on Arizona as the team transitions to new coach Steve Wilks. I think the Vikings should try to retain Keenum, even if they also keep fellow QB Teddy Bridgewater, though the market for Keenum will be competitive.

Sammy Watkins, wide receiver

Watkins is a speedy receiver who can produce, and I like his size. The Rams should try to keep him, but if he leaves Los Angeles, he could really help Oakland. Watkins' career yards-per-catch figure (15.9) is 1.6 yards better than that of top Raiders receiver Amari Cooper (14.3); furthermore, no Oakland pass-catcher reached the 700-yard mark in 2017. Tennessee, meanwhile, has not had any wideout post a 1,000-yard season in Marcus Mariota's three years there, and adding Watkins would be worth a shot.

Jarvis Landry, wide receiver

Landry is the NFL record-holder for catches in a player's first four pro seasons, with 400. A quick possession-type receiver with fabulous hands, Landry would make a big difference in both Cleveland and Baltimore. After all, he piled up those numbers in Miami despite spotty quarterback play; imagine what he could accomplish with a solid signal-caller (like, say, Kirk Cousins or Josh Rosen in Cleveland or Joe Flacco in Baltimore). Landry's career catch rate (70.2 percent) dwarfs the best mark posted by any Browns (Andrew Hawkins, 58.9 percent) or Ravens receiver (Steve Smith, 63.3 percent) with 200-plus targets over the past four years. Landry might not be a constant home-run threat, but if you need to pick up the first down, he's your man. And he's a pretty good kick returner, to boot.

UPDATE: The Dolphins announced Tuesday they've placed the franchise tag on Landry.

Bashaud Breeland, cornerback

Breeland is not as good as A.J. Bouye, but he does remind me of last year's marquee free-agent cornerback. Breeland, who has shown in his four years with the Redskins that he can cover the opposition's best receiver, would pair nicely with Stephon Gilmore in New England or Xavien Howard in Miami.

Ezekiel Ansah, pass rusher

Ansah managed just two sacks in an injury-hampered 2016 season -- and then he racked up 12 in '17. But it was a quiet 12; Ansah just didn't seem to flash like he did in college. New Lions coach Matt Patricia must decide how he sees Ansah (and the talent pool he'd be drawing from to replace him), but I could envision Detroit using the franchise tag here. Alternatively, Ansah could potentially help quite a bit in Baltimore (where Terrell Suggs is only getting older) or Tampa (which posted a league-low 22 sacks in 2017).

Justin Pugh, offensive lineman

Potential fits: Houston Texans, Denver Broncos.

Pugh can play guard or right tackle, and the Broncos desperately need help on the offensive line, as do the Texans. The Giants will do what they can to keep him, but I'm not sure they can afford to tag him. Pugh is a better run-blocker than pass-protector, but he's not bad at pass protection, either -- he's really a versatile guy, and that's what everyone is looking for.

Follow Gil Brandt on Twitter @Gil_Brandt.

This article has been reproduced in a new format and may be missing content or contain faulty links. Please use the Contact Us link in our site footer to report an issue.

Related Content


See all the Action

Replay every game all season.