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Best NFL team fits for notable remaining free agents: Stephon Gilmore to Patriots? OBJ back to L.A.?

If you thought the free agency frenzy was finished, you thought wrong.

Two of the players I originally selected for this piece -- Trent Brown and Mike Williams -- were signed within hours of each other Tuesday. I wouldn't be shocked to see a couple of the names that did make the list below find homes within a week or so. Things move fast in this business, even when you think a calm has arrived.

Using Gregg Rosenthal's Top 101 free agents list as somewhat of a guide, let's dive into several of the most notable remaining free agents who have caught my eye and left me wondering where they might land in the days, weeks or even months ahead. It's time for some matchmaking.

NOTE: Each player's listed age represents how old he will be on Sept. 5, when the 2024 NFL season is expected to kick off.

Having split his most recent contract (a two-year pact) between the Colts and Cowboys, Gilmore seems to be entering the one-year deal portion of his career. He’s certainly still serviceable; last season, he recorded 13 passes defensed, two interceptions, a quality completion percentage allowed over expected (-5.6%) and a targeted expected points added of -10.5, per Next Gen Stats. A contender in need of an experienced corner could benefit from his presence, but let's not simply pick a spot for Gilmore to chase another ring. New England makes for a good fit because of what he could bring to his former employer, which offers plenty of familiarity in the form of defensive coordinator DeMarcus Covington (a former assistant during Gilmore’s time there) and Gilmore’s past teammate, Dont’a Hightower, who will serve under coach Jerod Mayo as inside linebackers coach. Gilmore could share his many years of NFL experience with youngster Christian Gonzalez, whom the Patriots see as the next great New England corner. Who better to show him the way than Gilmore, who earned the Defensive Player of the Year award in New England in 2019? The only downside to this pairing: It probably won’t include a title pursuit. 

The longstanding safety tandem of Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer is no more, with Poyer moving south to the division-rival Dolphins. Hyde is still available, but he is also 33 years old, and seeing how this offseason has produced a shift in approach for Brandon Beane’s Bills, I feel as if they’d rather take a swing on a younger player than bring back a trusted veteran. Enter Blackmon, a four-year veteran whose market value should fit within Buffalo’s remaining cap space about as snugly as he should in Sean McDermott’s defense. He’d likely attract more attention had he not encountered injury issues prior to 2023. As Gregg Rosenthal noted, Blackmon looks like a sleeper with upside. Perhaps we’ll all be wondering how we missed him he swoops in for a huge takeaway in a key late-season game for Buffalo.

I knew I was getting old when I read Simmons was 30 and a newly released free agent. I remember his rise like it was yesterday; yet, here he is, in the 30-plus market and unlikely to command top dollar. Don’t mistake him for a depreciated asset, though, as Simmons will still provide a significant boost to the team he joins. Let’s pair him with Indianapolis, where former seventh-round pick Rodney Thomas is currently slated as the starting free safety. The Colts have enough cap space to snag Simmons and upgrade the back end of their defense, which could use a playmaker like Simmons even after the retention of Kenny Moore II. Plus, with a healthy Anthony Richardson, they’ll expect to be a playoff contender, making for an attractive fit for Simmons.

The QB carousel has spun around and spit out veterans to a number of new homes, but it's gradually slowing -- and Tannehill finds himself still seated upon his wooden horse, ready to loosen his grip and prepare for launch. Where should he go, might we ask? Why not trade a wooden horse for a real one in Denver, home of the Broncos, who just so happen to be in the market for another quarterback? Jarrett Stidham is on the roster and started the final two games in 2023, but unless Sean Payton sees something the rest of us don’t, I can’t anticipate that Stidham will be the answer for all of 2024. A union between Denver and Tannehill, who still was decent when asked to step in even after losing his job to Will Levis in Tennessee, seems like a safe, wise move for both parties.

If we’ve learned anything from the last few years, we know Beckham will take his time when choosing his next destination. The remaining question, though, is crucial: Who wants him? Beckham is no longer the highly coveted superstar talent he once was, but he proved in 2023 he can still be a key contributor for a contender, catching 35 passes for 565 yards and three touchdowns for the AFC’s top-seeded Ravens. He’s already posted a farewell message to Baltimore, but with a strong receiver class coming in April’s draft, it might be wise for most teams to wait to sign a veteran like Beckham. Whenever Beckham finds a new team, Los Angeles sure feels like a great fit, because after the departures of Keenan Allen and Mike Williams, the Chargers desperately need receivers -- plural. Beckham spends his offseasons in L.A. and played half a season for the Rams in 2021, so he knows both the greater Los Angeles metro area and SoFi Stadium quite well. He’ll also have a stellar young quarterback to team up with in Justin Herbert, and he could be the only true veteran receiver in a room filled with youth. This makes too much sense to not happen -- even after the Bolts draft a receiver (or two).

Boyd picked a bad time to have a bad year, but that shouldn’t mean he's excommunicated from the NFL entirely. He still has plenty of history serving as a reliable slot receiver who can put up consistently strong numbers on a year-to-year basis. The downside: This upcoming draft is loaded at receiver, and I’m not sure many teams will want to pay for a veteran when they could get a couple of rookies on the cheap. Still, there are teams with needs at the position -- including the division-rival Steelers, who seemed like a strong fit for Boyd after jettisoning Diontae Johnson but might wait him out to see if the price drops. The fit makes plenty of sense: Boyd knows the AFC North and will run routes for an experienced quarterback in Russell Wilson, who should come to appreciate him pretty quickly. 

EDITOR'S UPDATE: Clowney is signing with the Carolina Panthers on a two-year, $20 million deal that's worth up to $24 million, NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported on March 27.

Clowney has made a habit out of waiting as long as possible to sign with a team, so don’t be surprised if he’s still a free agent come Memorial Day. Eventually, though, he’ll attract another round of offers, and I fully expect his next home to be with a projected contender. He’s already visited the Jets, but let’s not limit him to one AFC East team. Send him to Miami, where the Dolphins aren’t going to have Jaelan Phillips for a while because of the Achilles injury he sustained in November, leaving a hole on the edge. Replace Phillips with Clowney, a veteran who proved he still has the juice last season, tying a career-high with 9.5 sacks. The Fins have some money to spend and expectations to meet, conditions that match the situations Clowney has traditionally sought. Why not take his talents to Miami Gardens?

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