The free-agency period is drawing ever closer, but for now, it remains a future proposition -- which means there's still space to dream up team-player pairings that tantalize with the promise of just how right they feel. Put the dour realities of spending limits and negotiating tactics aside and join Gregg Rosenthal as he runs through fun potential free-agent additions for each team in the NFC.
The perfect tonic for the Bruce Arians hangover would be a young quarterback the franchise could get excited about. New head coach Steve Wilks insisted the team would be "active and aggressive" pursuing a new quarterback after Carson Palmer's retirement. Bridgewater has the highest ceiling of any free-agent QB available, despite essentially missing the last two seasons with a devastating knee injury. As Arians liked to say: No risk it, no biscuit.
General manager Thomas Dimitroff's unquenchable desire to load up his defensive line and take big swings in personnel should make Richardson an attractive prospect if the Seahawks don't use the franchise tag on him. With Dontari Poe hitting free agency, Richardson could form a ridiculously disruptive interior duo with Grady Jarrett.
Cam Newton desperately needs more speed around him. New Panthers offensive coordinator Norv Turner desperately needs a vertical, outside receiver to stretch the field and take advantage of Newton's arm. Watkins would check a lot of boxes for the Panthers in what would be a rich return to the Carolinas for the former Clemson star. New/old Panthers general manager Marty Hurney was not shy handing out top-of-the-market deals in his first turn running the franchise.
Beleaguered Bears general manager Ryan Pace will find new pass catchers for quarterback Mitchell Trubisky. The only question is who. While Chicago figures to be in the mix for some brand-name wideouts, don't look past Graham as a potential red-zone boost. Pace was in New Orleans when the Saints drafted Graham and the two men could be ready to party again like its 2010.
Dallas' passing attack was predictable by the end of last season, in desperate need of some versatile, youthful pass catchers. Enter Burton, the type of "move" tight end that the Cowboys have generally stayed away from during the Jason Witten era. With Witten's career winding down, it would be a coup to steal Burton from their division rivals to help heat up a stale offense.
New Lions coach Matt Patricia and general manager Bob Quinn have seen the Malcolm Butler beyond the recent Super Bowl headlines. And they know he can ball. It's rare for a young cornerback who has ranked among the 10 best in the league for multiple seasons to hit free agency in his prime. It's even rarer for that to happen when recent events have conspired to make him a buy-low candidate. Adding Butler to a secondary with cornerback Darius Slay and safety Glover Quin would provide an identity for a generic Lions defense.
New Packers defensive coordinator Mike Pettine has always done a nice job using his safeties, especially when they're versatile. Reid finished off his 2017 campaign with the 49ers in style, showing the ability to line up at weakside linebacker and make an impact as a pass defender. Still only 26 years old after five productive seasons as a starter, Reid is the type of free-agent signing former general manager Ted Thompson rarely made.
With cornerbacks Trumaine Johnson, Nickell Robey-Coleman and Kayvon Webster all possibly on the way out, the Rams need help at the position without breaking the bank. Grimes, 34, is still playing a high level. His physical style would work well in Wade Phillips' system for a team that is ready to win now.
The Vikings will bring back one of the most cohesive, talented defenses in football. They have perhaps the NFL's best starting receiver tandem and a running back who was leading the league in yards from scrimmage as a rookie (before injury, of course). Minnesota has all the pieces in place to deliver a title-starved region the inner peace and well-mannered satisfaction that Philadelphia basks in today. The Vikes just need a quarterback. Do it for the good of the league, Kirk!
Oh, you didn't hear that a Hall of Fame quarterback still at the top of the game is available in free agency? Just because everyone is acting like Brees returning to the Saints is easy doesn't make it so. He's the most important player in franchise history, 39 years old, supported by an agent in Tom Condon hardly known for taking hometown discounts. Condon knows that Cousins is about to reset the quarterback market and Brees is worth far more than he made last year. I fully expect the Saints to make this deal happen, but there is a risk that its complicated nature could make negotiations thornier than many expect and hold up necessary moves on the rest of the roster. Get it done quickly, Saints, or it could get ugly.
The Giants spend money on defense, just rarely at linebacker. For half a decade, the G-Men have rotated through late draft picks and low-wattage free-agent linebackers with few players sticking. Bradham would provide an edgy, intelligent addition to a group that has a lot of questions. Defensive coordinator James Bettcher, fresh off a great run in Arizona, would know just how to deploy Bradham's underrated pass-coverage skills.
Who says you can't go home again? It's clear that "The Inconvenient Truth" never stopped loving the 49ers -- and their loyal fan base loves him right back. Gore still possesses an incredibly complete skill set at age 34 and would make a perfect mentor to a rookie to be drafted later.
Russell Wilson is somewhere right now, scrambling, looking for an outlet receiver to call his own. A reliable third-down back could help this somewhat-random Seahawks offense stay on schedule, and C.J. Prosise has been anything but reliable. Burkhead can line up wide, take inside carries and should come on the cheap. Seattle has learned the hard way you can't possibly have too many running backs.
Kicker woes have plagued general manager Jason Licht for years, so why not go after the baddest kicker of them all? Strong-legged kickers last forever and something just feels right about Janikowski heading to the franchise that stopped him from winning the Super Bowl 15 years ago. Seabass and Jon Gruden will forever be pirate ships, passing in the night.
Last year in free agency, the Redskins threw randomly large amounts of money at backup defensive linemen with names that sound like Irish dive bars, striking out with Terrell McClain and Stacy McGee. Poe will be costly after a solid season in Atlanta, but is a safe bet as a disruptive interior presence to play next to second-year pro Jonathan Allen.