The NFL still plans to start its new league year and 2020 free agency at 4 p.m. ET on Wednesday. That means, as of noon ET on Monday, agents for players whose contracts expire Wednesday will be allowed to talk to interested teams about contract terms.
It has been a weird offseason, with voting on the collective bargaining agreement holding up a lot of the exploratory talks that usually go on at and after the NFL combine, and now the coronavirus outbreak forcing every sports league to alter its short-term plans. But we've managed to collect a couple of nuggets about the still-looming NFL free-agent signing period. Here are some things we've been hearing:
Dallas has spent the past couple of weeks hoping and trying to get quarterback Dak Prescott and star wide receiver Amari Cooper under contract before free agency opened. Indications are that they've made more progress with Cooper than they have with Prescott, and it wouldn't be a surprise to see a Cooper extension done in the next day or so. Expect it to be a shorter-term deal, maybe two or three years, that would allow the 25-year-old Cooper to hit free agency again while still in his 20s.
Prescott's deal is trickier, but sources close to the discussions have long believed that the Cowboys' application of the franchise tag to Prescott would not be the end of negotiations. They want to sign him long term regardless.
The Cowboys have enough cash and salary-cap space to sign all of their free agents, but it seems likely that defensive back Byron Jones is destined to land elsewhere. There are some who believe Jones will sign a contract that will pay him $16 million to $17 million a year, and he could benefit from a bidding war. Philadelphia is among the teams with a desperate need in the secondary, Oakland is looking for cornerback help, and the Giants need pretty much everything on defense. Could Dallas lose Jones to a division rival?
Jones sits atop the cornerback class because of his versatility -- he can play safety as well -- but James Bradberry and Bradley Roby look poised to cash in as well. There is lots of chatter connecting Bradberry to Washington, where his former Panthers coach, Ron Rivera, is now running the show,and some chatter that the Texans were working to bring back Roby over the weekend. (Update: Roby is headed back to Houston on a three-year deal.)
If Jones leaves Dallas, watch out for veteran Chris Harris Jr. as a possible replacement in the secondary on a shorter-term deal.
Drew Brees has made it clear he'll re-sign with the Saints. Tom Brady has made it anything but clear whether he'll re-sign with the Patriots or go elsewhere. But the contract structures of both quarterbacks makes Wednesday at 4 p.m. ET an important date.
Both contracts void automatically the instant the league year ends, and if they aren't re-signed, each team will have to carry an additional salary-cap charge in 2020. If Brees isn't re-signed by the Saints before 4 p.m. ET on Wednesday, an additional $5.4 million charge accelerates onto their 2020 salary cap. If Brady isn't re-signed by the Patriots by then, an additional $6.75 million charge accelerates onto their 2020 cap.
Re-signing the player before then would allow the Saints and/or Patriots to continue to keep those cap charges in the "void" year of 2021, where it currently sits. So expect Brees to get something worked out with the Saints before Wednesday afternoon, and expect the Patriots to push for an answer from Brady ASAP so they can arrange contingency plans.
With many of the top-level pass rushers in line for franchise tags, Jadeveon Clowney is the best free-agent edge player available and could cash in big. Sources say Clowney is looking for something in the $20-million-a-year range. Seattle (which promised not to franchise him when it acquired him in last summer's trade with Houston) would like to keep him but isn't likely to spend at that level to do so. If Clowney doesn't find another team willing to pay his price, he could end up back with the Seahawks, who were pleased with his 2019 performance.
Likewise, Dallas would like to bring back Robert Quinn, but he's likely to generate enough outside interest to drive his price beyond the Cowboys' preferred range. Quinn, Jason Pierre-Paul, Dante Fowler Jr., Shaq Barrettwho was franchise tagged by the Bucs on Monday), Mario Addison and Everson Griffen are among the pass-rushers who could appeal to teams that don't get Clowney or don't want to pay his price. You might see a big-name guy or two (Vic Beasley Jr.?) take a one-year prove-it deal like Fowler did with the Rams last year.
Oh, and speaking of Seattle, even if the Seahawks do bring back Clowney, expect them to pursue another pass-rusher as well. That's a major need area for them.
Some eyebrows were raised March 6 when Austin Ekeler reached a four-year, $24.5 million deal with the Chargers, in part because of the thought that he could have gotten more if he'd gone to restricted free agency. But I'm not so sure. I see Houston, Miami, Tampa Bay and Arizona as teams that might be willing to spend on a starting running back, but I'm having trouble finding others. The big deals signed by David Johnson and Todd Gurley in recent years, and the issues that have ensued with those players since, have teams leery of paying big money to running backs, and I don't think there's going to be a massive market for any of the free agents. A few notes on this class: