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2024 NFL Free Agency matchmaking: One team fit for 15 notable free agents

The 2024 NFL free agency period officially begins at 4 p.m. ET on Wednesday, March 13. Before the frenzy begins, Nick Shook provides one team fit for 15 notable free agents.

NOTE: All cap figures and projections cited below come from Over The Cap, unless otherwise noted. As with Gregg Rosenthal's Top 101 NFL Free Agents of 2024, each player's listed age represents how old he will be on Sept. 5, when the 2024 NFL season is poised to kick off.

Chris Jones
DT · Age: 30

After rightfully holding out over a lack of a contract extension (and eventually agreeing to a one-year deal), Jones is going to get a ton of money this offseason. And though Chiefs GM Brett Veach recently said re-signing Jones is “at the top of the list,” it likely won’t be that simple. We’re talking north of $25 million for Jones, which is roughly $10 million more than the Chiefs have in available cap space. Turning 30 in July, the time is now for Jones to cash in with a contender, and I can’t think of a better fit than Houston, where the Texans will operate with the luxury of cap space afforded by C.J. Stroud’s rookie deal. Much of Houston’s offense is intact entering 2024, save for some room for improvement at running back and tight end (could Dalton Schultz return?), so if the Texans are going to spend some of the $67 million available, why not bolster a group that already did well with Maliek Collins and pending free agent Sheldon Rankins up front? Jones is a monster who played a direct role in delivering the Chiefs another title and could have a similar impact for DeMeco Ryans’ defense in Houston. Let’s make this dream a reality.

Brian Burns
Edge · Age: 26

After winning their first division title since the Clinton Administration, Detroit has north of $50 million to spend to upgrade a team that is already a title contender. The Lions also happen to have one of the NFL’s great young talents at edge rusher in Aidan Hutchinson, but he can’t handle the pass-rushing job alone. The addition of Burns would produce a dream edge-rushing pairing in Detroit, and if there ever was a time to spend on a young talent who is just entering his prime, it’s now. Burns might finally get the credit he deserves by playing in a place other than Carolina, and the tandem could elevate a defense that was good at times, but too inconsistent to get them to the Super Bowl.

Cousins might never see the open market, but because he’s the best quarterback approaching free agency, he deserves a place on this list. His contributions leave him deserving of another contract in Minnesota, too, even if it’s only a short-term deal. The Vikings learned last season how unprepared they were for a life without Cousins, and that alone should convince them to run it back with the veteran, even if he doesn’t offer an astronomical ceiling. Cousins was also playing some of the best football of his career before his season-ending injury, so much that he finished in my top 10 in the QB Index. Keeping the status quo and buying time to find a successor makes the most sense for the Vikings.

Fresh off a 17.5-sack campaign, the time is now for Allen to get paid handsomely, and the Commanders have the cap space and a big need at edge rusher. Sure, they jettisoned both Montez Sweat and Chase Young at the deadline, but that shouldn’t preclude them from spending on a premier edge-rushing talent in free agency. Allen seems like just the guy for new coach Dan Quinn to utilize as a pass-rushing demon.

Josh Jacobs
RB · Age: 26

Dallas has a lot of work to accomplish to create space to make significant signings, but as we know, the cap is a myth more than it is a roadblock. If the Cowboys can massage their cap into a workable state, they will have a legitimate chance to address a position of significant need. Running backs don’t get paid the big bucks anymore, either, so even a talent like Jacobs should be attainable. He’d instantly provide Dallas with a bell-cow it hasn’t had since the prime days of Ezekiel Elliott, and he’d likely keep the Cowboys in the contender conversation in 2024.

Look, it’s fun to pair Evans with a new team in the fantastical time that is the offseason, but if we’re being honest, the best place for Evans remains Tampa. Look no further than Baker Mayfield’s renaissance in 2023, a campaign in which he often found himself resorting to nothing more than chucking it up to Evans disproportionately and hoping for the best. Evans benefited from this partnership, catching 79 passes for 1,255 yards and 13 touchdowns, which tied for the most in the NFL. Keep this in place, Bucs, especially as you prepare to commit to Mayfield for multiple years. 

EDITOR'S UPDATE: Evans and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers agreed to terms on a two-year, $52 million deal, NFL Network Insider Mike Garafolo reported on March 4.

Save for the brief Tommy Cutlets era, the Giants were a tough watch in 2023. Lost in that ugliness, though, was another solid season for Barkley, who routinely fought through adverse situations to produce positive gains out of bad situations. The numbers don’t suggest he’s as good (or owns as much earning power) as he was a year ago, but I can confidently say he’s still a very good back who would thrive in a better offense. The problem, though, is running backs don’t get paid much these days, and Barkley will likely only fetch a two or three-year deal. This is all setting up for a perfect scenario for him to join a contender that doesn’t have a ton of cap space. GM Eric DeCosta and the Ravens will look to sign a veteran back this offseason, and although bringing back Gus Edwards and J.K. Dobbins is on the table, Barkley sure feels like a good fit.

Despite operating under different leadership regimes, the Raiders have spent the last few years conducting business in the veteran edge rusher market, pairing Maxx Crosby with the likes of Yannick Ngakoue and Chandler Jones. New GM Tom Telesco could take a similar approach in his first year leading the Silver and Black, adding a seasoned menace in a fashion not unlike the one that saw him bring Khalil Mack to Los Angeles. With nearly $43 million to spend, the Raiders can afford to make such a move for a player who proved he can make it work, no matter the scheme, with 16.5 sacks to prove his worth in 2023.

I could envision Beckham returning to Baltimore, where he’s said he enjoyed his time immensely. But Beckham tends to take plenty of time to figure these things out, meaning he might be the last on this list to find a home. He has also sought employment with contenders since leaving Cleveland, and that likely won’t change in 2024. So where does he go? He accounted for less than $5 million of cap space in Baltimore last year, making him a feasible signing for most teams. If a high-level quarterback is a requirement, that pool will shrink. And yet, I feel as if a return to New York has always been alluring to Beckham. Daniel Jones doesn’t do it for me, but maybe he will for Beckham – or maybe Beckham will once again wait out his free agency until a contender comes calling.

Chase Young
Edge · Age: 25

I really wanted to match Young with Washington, considering how badly it needs edge-rushing help after trading away Young and Montez Sweat at the deadline. That bridge very well may be critically damaged, if not burned entirely, though, so let’s find a new place for Young, who likely won’t command top dollar due to production inconsistency and a rough injury history. Arizona has money to spend and is coached by a former defensive coordinator in Jonathan Gannon, who once oversaw an Eagles defense that flirted with the all-time single-season sacks record in 2022. His leader in sacks in 2023 was Dennis Gardeck with a whopping six, and his team ranked 29th or worse in pressure rate and sacks. It’s time to bring in some new talent, and since Young won’t require the Cardinals to break the bank to sign him, it’s worth pursuing him with the hopes he’ll stay healthy and find some consistency in his play.

The Colts currently have $72 million in cap to spend. One of their starting safeties, Julian Blackmon, is headed toward free agency. Winfield, meanwhile, is coming off his first All-Pro season, an overdue recognition for a helluva playmaker. Want to spend to improve that defense? Add Winfield and reap the benefits on the back end.

If ever there was a time for the Ravens to use the franchise tag, it’s now. Madubuike plays a relatively unglamorous position, but those who watched Baltimore’s defense come into its own down the stretch in 2023 know Madubuike was an essential part of that evolution. He was a fantastic wrecker of offenses and should fetch plenty of money on the open market – if he gets there. If he does, an AFC North rival in southern Ohio should be first in line to recruit him, especially if the Bengals don’t try to keep D.J. Reader. Madubuike is the latest Raven to approach his prime just as he’s leaving town to make more money elsewhere (Matt Judon, Za’Darius Smith, etc.). Will he find a new home?

Gardner-Johnson’s optimistic first season in Detroit was interrupted by a pectoral injury that sidelined him for 14 games, leaving a void in the Lions’ secondary while also hurting his value on the open market. It seems pretty reasonable to hope that both parties decide to chalk up 2023 as a lost year and decide to run it back. If money becomes a problem, Gardner-Johnson might head elsewhere, even with limited leverage. But the Lions aren’t hurting for cap space either, so running it back in 2024 seems to make the most sense for a Detroit defense that could use more consistency from its secondary.

The Panthers desperately need to provide Bryce Young with quality pass-catching talent (among other things), and because it's going to take more than just one signing, Carolina can't exactly go out and break the bank on a top-end receiver. Boyd will fit just nicely at a market value that should land below $10 million per year while providing Young with veteran production and allowing the Panthers to spend to address other needs. 

Henry appears set to depart Tennessee after spending all eight years of his professional career in Nashville, but at 30 years old, he likely won't command top dollar. While he proved in 2023 he can still get the job done quite well, his odometer is loaded with miles, leaving him to sign a short-term deal with a contender -- unless none of them express interest in his services. A similar situation happened with Ezekiel Elliott and the Patriots last season, and with quarterback very much unsettled in New England, adding a load-bearing back to assist a young signal-caller might be the move, especially considering Henry could come rather cheap.

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