If you’ve spent the NFL Free Agency period refreshing Twitter every five minutes, waiting to see if your favourite team has signed that coveted WR1 or retained their in-demand cornerback, you’ll have come across the same names time and time again.
The Dolphins have signed or retained 15 players, including David Long, Mike White and Jalen Ramsey. The Texans are suddenly everyone’s destination of choice, with a staggering 18 players (Devin Singletary, Robert Woods, Dalton Schultz and Jimmy Ward among them) putting pen to paper. And the Raiders have seen 21 guys sign or re-sign, from Jermaine Eluemenor, Jakobi Meyers and OJ Howard to Jimmy G.
But what about the other end of the spectrum? Which teams are keeping their eyes shut, their fingers in their ears and their chequebooks in their pockets? Here are my top five teams that need to wake up, smell the coffee and get in the game before the cupboard is bare.
Los Angeles Rams
Current cap space (courtesy of Over the Cap): $11.5 million
Last season, the Rams suffered a major hangover, crashing from Super Bowl glory to a lacklustre 5-12 record and third place in the NFC West. After years of giving away draft picks like candy and taking dead money hits, the chickens have finally come home to roost. The likes of Aaron Donald, Cooper Kupp and Matt Stafford don’t come cheap so it’s time to tighten the belt. Even cavalier GM Les Snead has admitted that “Our DNA is to attack, to hit the gas, but we’re going to hit the brakes a little bit.”
Now, I’m no driving instructor but I think they’ve not so much dabbed the brakes as done a full-on emergency stop. The team have many holes to fill, not least across their defence and yet, at the time of writing, the free agency frenzy seems to have completely bypassed Inglewood, California. In trading enigmatic CB Jalen Ramsey to Miami, they got tight end Hunter Long (one career reception) and a 2023 3rd round draft pick back in exchange, and they re-signed guard Coleman Shelton. And that’s it.
In contrast, they’ve needed a revolving door for everyone shipping out. As well as Ramsey, who was always going to move on for financial reasons, they’ve lost QB Baker Mayfield, WR Brandon Powell, CB David Long, safety Nick Scott, punter Riley Dixon and kicker Matt Gay. Linebackers Bobby Wagner and Leonard Floyd were also released. We all know that the front office staff are frantically trying to balance the books, but those last two moves in particular seem a little premature. Surely they could’ve waited and seen the lay of the land before letting players of such calibre just walk?
Maybe their limited cap space is hindering their approach but the absence of a first round pick in the draft (yet again) must be a catalyst to do something in free agency, surely?
Green Bay Packers
Current cap space: $22.4 million
As another team that fell from grace last year (8-9, third place in the NFC North), you’d have thought the Packers might have been a bit more active in recent days too. Franchise QB Aaron Rodgers emerged from his darkness retreat with a strange compulsion to pack his things after 15 years and move to the New York Jets, so at least that question has been answered. But it leaves Green Bay with Jordan Love under center. The young QB has spent the last three years waiting in the wings, with just one start to his name, so to say he’s an unknown quantity is an understatement of epic proportions.
The Packers have managed to retain the services of veteran linebacker Justin Hollins, safety Rudy Ford and the Swiss Army knife that is All-Pro cornerback/kick returner Keisean Nixon. But the only players moving to Wisconsin so far are 49ers safety Tarvarius Moore (who was injured all last season) and Rams long snapper Matt Orzech. Let’s face it, however desperate you are for new blood, that’s unlikely to set Twitter on fire.
Worryingly, there has been more traffic heading in the other direction. The biggest red flag is the departure of Allen Lazard, who has shown Rodgers the way out with a $44 million move to the Jets. Robert Tonyan returns to his native Illinois as the Bears’ new tight end, while defensive linemen Jarran Reed and Dean Lowry have left for Seattle and Minnesota respectively.
So what should they be doing? Well, filling the Lazard- and Tonyan-shaped holes seems like a good place to start, as Love will need more weapons than Romeo Doubs and Christian Watson to aim for. Should fellow free agents Randall Cobb and Marcedes Lewis also move on, the team will have lost those responsible for over 40% of their receptions, receiving yards and TD catches from last year. Yikes.
Safety Adrian Amos and kicker Mason Crosby may yet find new homes as unrestricted free agents too, so more gaps across the roster are expected. You have the most available cap space of our five teams here so get to it, Cheeseheads!
Los Angeles Chargers
Current cap space: $16.1 million
Every August, we’re told that this is going to be the Chargers’ year… and every January, we confirm that it wasn’t. So you’d have thought that to change the tide, Rams GM Tom Telesco and HC Brandon Staley would have spent March wheelin’ and dealin’ like their lives depended on it.
Well, not really. Much of their work to date has been spent restructuring the contracts of Joey Bosa, Khalil Mack, Keenan Allen and Mike Williams, which did at least save them a cool $40 million in cap space. They also re-signed some of their own, including backup QB Easton Stick, OT Trey Pipkins, DL Morgan Fox, punter JK Scott and TE Donald Parham Jr.
The only guy to come through the “in” door so far is veteran Minnesota linebacker Eric Kendricks. Sure, the former All-Pro can replace Drue Tranquill – off to pastures new with the Chiefs – and help with Kenneth Murray’s development but that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Somehow, CBS gave the Chargers’ efforts to date an A- grade but I’m unconvinced. As well as the lack of newcomers, star running back Austin Ekeler has been given permission to seek a trade after extension talks hit the buffers. And safety Nasir Adderley’s retirement also needs addressing. I’d like to think the Bolts might use some of their $16 million to pursue someone like John Johnson, recently released by Cleveland, but they’ll have to be quick – they may face competition from the likes of Cincinnati.
Talking of which…
Current cap space: $17 million
Weirdly, I’ve seen the Bengals featured in an article about teams that are smashing free agency and even PFF gave them an A- grade but as a Cincy fan, I couldn’t disagree more.
One of the widely expected departures, LB Germaine Pratt, did not come to pass as feared, thanks to the lure of $20 million over three years. But the reigning AFC North champions couldn’t hang on to either of their starting safeties: Jessie Bates heading to Atlanta wasn’t news, but Vonn Bell joining Carolina came as more of a shock. Furthermore, running back Samaje Perine opted to move to Denver and TE Hayden Hurst followed Bell to the Panthers.
In response, they did fill Bell’s shoes with the versatile Nick Scott from the Rams, and a few depth pieces were retained or added here and there (guards, punt returner, long snapper, etc). And then there was the big one: LT Orlando Brown Jr coming over from conference rivals Kansas City for “just” $64 million. While not elite, he’s still a notable upgrade from Jonah Williams, who would’ve been shuffled over to the right side. However, this acquisition immediately triggered a trade request from Williams’ camp.
So, in summary, the Bengals have gained a solid blindside tackle to protect Joe Burrow but will now need to upgrade at RT. They don’t have any tight ends of note under contract, now that recent target Foster Moreau has left the game after a cancer diagnosis. And their sparse RB room is still dominated by Joe Mixon, who many believe isn’t worthy of his $12 million cap hit. (And I won’t entertain the Zeke Elliott rumours unless he signs on the dotted line.)
So it’s high time Cincinnati made some moves before there are no options left. Right tackle, tight end and running back remain the glaring holes, while another safety and corner wouldn’t hurt. Some will come in the draft, of course, but securing another free agency vet or two before then would enable them to go ‘best player available’ to a degree. So watch out for movement on Vikings TE Irv Smith, Packers safety Adrian Amos and even Kansas RB Clyde-Edwards Hilaire in the coming days and weeks.
Current cap space: $6.7 million
Our last “get a move on” candidate is another AFC North team: the Ravens. Of course, one of the league’s most compelling narratives in recent weeks has been about the future of franchise QB Lamar Jackson. Having been unable to reach a long-term deal, he’s been given the non-exclusive franchise tag, which will cost Baltimore $32.4 million (nearly 15% of their total salary cap). It also means they can match or exceed any offers from other teams or let him go for two 1st round picks. And the superstar QB has indicated that he’s ready to fly the nest.
But it seems the quarterback situation has hamstrung the team so much that they’ve been unable to do any other business. Indeed, Baltimore remain the only one of the league’s 32 teams not to have brought in anyone new at all. Sure, they’ve retained running back Justice Hill, cornerback Trayvon Mullen and safety Geno Stone, all on one-year deals, but that’s not going to cut the mustard. In the other column, guard Ben Powers (who allowed just one sack last year), safety Chuck Clark (traded for a 7th round pick in 2024) and TE Josh Oliver have left the building.
Maybe they can find a way to beef up their receiver room, especially with Rashod Bateman coming off foot surgery? (Even Marlon Humphrey has been tweeting that OBJ should become a Raven.) Replacing free agent corner Marcus Peters might also be prudent.
Either way, having played on the franchise tag last year, the Jackson saga has dragged on for over two years now and it’s impacting Baltimore’s ability to make other moves. The Ravens have shown that they are open for business but alas, no-one’s buying at the moment. But with only five draft picks this year, they can’t do much to boost that roster until someone comes calling for a former league MVP gunslinger. And time is ticking away…