The first wave of free agency crashed over the NFL like a tsunami, shaking up rosters across the league. And yet, a number of impact players remain on the open market. Where could they be headed? Nick Shook plays matchmaker with some of the top talents still available.
Cam Newton, quarterback
This might not sound like it makes sense on the surface, but one must remember that Josh McDaniels once spent a first-round pick on Tim Tebow, so dual-threat quarterbacking is clearly something of interest to the Patriots' offensive coordinator. And it's not hard to imagine Bill Belichick being intrigued by something different than what he's had at QB for the past two decades in New England. Obviously, Newton's multiple ailments over the past few years are a concern, but New England is exactly the kind of franchise that might be able to get the former league MVP on a one-year prove-it deal. Newton wouldn't have a ton of weapons to work with, but would have a reliable slot receiver in Julian Edelman -- and not the stiffest competition to battle for the starting job. The Patriots could afford to take a team-friendly gamble on Newton and potentially benefit in a major way.
Jadeveon Clowney, edge rusher
This is barring a return to the Seahawks, of course, but Clowney hasn't gotten the market he expected, which explains why he's still available. Teams might also view him differently than his representation does. For much of this exercise, though, we're going to consider teams with somewhat-significant cap space remaining because they're most flexible to sign the top names still out there. The Jets have the second-most cap space available at publishing -- around $36 million, per Over The Cap -- meaning they have the room to entice Clowney to come to New York. Those raising the question about fit within the Jets scheme shouldn't be too concerned, as the former No. 1 overall pick has proven he can play standing up or with his hand in the dirt. Adding him to a defense that already includes C.J. Mosley and Jamal Adams would give the Jets playmakers at all three levels -- and a big offseason splash.
Jameis Winston, quarterback
My culture-clash fever dream places Winston in New England -- and the Chargers sure seem like a team that could use an option other than Tyrod Taylor, even if they're publicly putting their confidence behind him. Neither feels all that likely, though, so we need to explore legitimate backup options, and with the Steelers needing a long-term answer beyond Ben Roethlisberger, this feels like a sneaky-good situation for both sides. The problem: Pittsburgh has just $10 million in cap space right now, per Over The Cap, so some financial gymnastics might be necessary. But if Mike Tomlin can get Winston to cut down on his risks and turnovers and learn something from Big Ben -- not the most eager mentor, but whatever -- this has legitimate upside.
Everson Griffen, edge rusher
"The Browns already have Olivier Vernon opposite Myles Garrett," you're shouting at me as you read this sentence. You're correct, but Vernon also has a large cap number attached to his name. He's worth right around that $15.5 million figure, and the Browns definitely aren't hurting for space (they have the most remaining in the NFL, even after an active week and a half), but we could see one of two possibilities here: Either Cleveland swaps Vernon for Griffen, cutting the former, clearing all of that money and signing the older Griffen for less, or they protect against injury by just adding the 32-year-old as depth and carry both problem-causers off the edge. The more I type this, the more I like the latter for the Browns, especially since they likely wouldn't have to pay Griffen a ton of money in the future to secure his services in 2020. He'd also see a familiar face in Cleveland in head coach Kevin Stefanski, who came to the Browns from the Vikings in January.
Logan Ryan, cornerback
The Vikings sure could use a solid corner in their defensive backfield, suddenly missing their top three covermen from last season: Trae Waynes, Xavier Rhodes and Mackensie Alexander. And they probably wouldn't have to pay the 29-year-old Ryan a salary that exceeds $10 million per year. With roughly $13 million left in space, that seems to make this a good fit, especially if Ryan is seeking contention and not a massive payday, which he's likely learned he isn't going to get this offseason.
Damarious Randall, safety
This is Randall's first shot at free agency, and when he's healthy, he's a very good free safety. He wasn't available all that much in 2019, though, and it has no doubt hurt his value on the open market. Washington has both cap space and Sean Davis on the roster as its best free safety, meaning the 'Skins could use an upgrade. The process might take a little bit longer for Randall, though, because teams aren't able to meet with players in person, and he's a candidate that an organization would likely want to sit down with before offering him a significant deal. Again, though, when content and healthy, Randall is a playmaker. Ron Rivera could use someone like that on the back end -- after vetting him personally.
Jason Peters, offensive tackle
As mentioned previously, the Browns have the most cap space to work with. They also have a glaring need at left tackle that they could definitely address in the draft. Such a plan -- throwing a rookie into the fire at an important position -- isn't exactly foolproof, though. Peters is still capable, even at 38, wouldn't cost the Browns much beyond 2020 and is the ideal stopgap for a team in need of one.
Shelby Harris, defensive tackle
The Titans shed close to $20 million by letting Logan Ryan walk and trading Jurrell Casey to the Broncos, but the latter move left a hole up front. Signing the younger Harris to a multi-year deal could fix that quickly, and with around $26 million in space, they could afford to give him a good chunk of that this year before having to allocate money elsewhere in future seasons.
Carlos Hyde, running back
The Buccaneers lacked any semblance of a running game last season -- a reality created in part by their early deficits produced by Jameis Winston's interceptions -- and they watched Peyton Barber walk to Washington this week. That leaves Ronald Jones as the lone notable back in their backfield. Tom Brady's best teams have almost always had a larger, reliable running back who could carry a significant load, and Hyde could fit that bill with ease. With the RB turning 30 in September, it likely wouldn't cost Tampa much, either.