The start of NFL free agency in 2020 should be wild, if nothing else because of the high-profile names scheduled to hit the open market this year. Yes, a handful of those players will be retained by their teams via the franchise tag before free agency starts March 18 (effectively March 16 with the legal tampering period), but plenty will available for any team to sign.
The most notable of those players is Tom Brady, and the ripple effects of his decision in free agency will be felt league-wide. At this point, whether the 42-year-old quarterback will return to the Patriots for a 21st season or play for a new team for the first time in his career is anybody’s guess.
Headlined by Brady, quarterbacks are the biggest dominoes in 2020 NFL free agency. While Drew Brees is expected to re-sign with the Saints, Philip Rivers will not return to the Chargers. Dak Prescott is expected to be tagged by the Cowboys, but Ryan Tannehill and Jamies Winston should hit the open market. Even a QB who is not a free agent, Cam Newton, could be on the move via trade.
Including the latest rumors regarding those quarterbacks and the other top players set to hit the market, below is all you need to know about NFL free agency in 2020.
When does NFL free agency start in 2020?
While March 18, the start of the 2020 league year, is the official beginning of NFL free agency, the unofficial-but-true start of free agency is the legal tampering period, which begins March 16.
Beginning March 16, per the NFL, “teams are permitted to contact, and enter into contract negotiations with, the certified agents of players who will become unrestricted free agents upon the expiration of their 2019 player contracts at 4 p.m. ET on March 18.”
The franchise tag deadline for 2020 (now also March 16) will have passed by the time free agency opens. Tagged players and their teams have until July 15 to reach long-term contracts before they’re forced to play out the season with tag designations.
The start of the league year at 4 p.m. ET on March 18 also marks the opening of the trading period for 2020, though trades can be agreed upon (just not processed) before the window opens.
Below are the other notable happenings March 18:
NFL free agency rumors tracker
Below are the latest rumors regarding the top free agents who are set to hit the open market in mid-March.
(If you’re here for Tom Brady rumors, specifically, we have you covered with a Patriots QB-focused tracker here.)
— March 11: Teams expect cornerback Byron Jones to become the highest-paid defensive back in NFL history at $16 million to $18 million per year, according to NFL Media.
— March 9: The Cowboys send a new contract extension proposal to quarterback Dak Prescott “in hopes of kick-starting earnest discussions that lead to a multiyear agreement,” according to ESPN.
— March 2: The Jaguars will use the franchise tag on defensive end Yannick Ngakoue, according to ESPN. Ngakoue tweets he no longer has interest in signing a long-term deal with Jacksonville.
— March 1: The Patriots indeed hope to re-sign quarterback Tom Brady in free agency, and coach/general manager Bill Belichick “is not freezing Brady out,” according to NBC Sports Boston.
— March 1: The Bengals “currently plan to franchise tag” wide receiver A.J. Green, per ESPN. Cincinnati wants him on the team in 2020, potentially to pair with Joe Burrow if the QB is selected with the No. 1 overall pick.
— Feb. 28: If the Cowboys and quarterback Dak Prescott can’t reach a long-term deal before the March 12 tag deadline, Dallas plans to place an exclusive franchise tag on the QB, according to NFL Media.
— Feb. 27: ESPN NFL reporter Jeff Darlington says on “Get Up”: “I’m now at the point where I would be stunned if Tom Brady went back to New England.”
— Feb. 27: The Cowboys’ contract talks with wide receiver Amari Cooper “will intensify” before he becomes an unrestricted free agent, according to The Dallas Morning News.
— Feb. 27: The Chiefs are expected to use the franchise tag on defensive tackle Chris Jones, according to The Kansas City Star.
Top NFL free agents available in 2020
Below are the top 25 players who are scheduled to hit free agency in 2020, courtesy of Sporting News NFL writer Vinnie Iyer.
Updates to this list will be made when a player’s status changes, via a franchise tag or a signing in free agency.
1. Dak Prescott, QB, Cowboys (age: 26)
IYER: Prescott went back to his rookie level of success only while handling much higher passing volume and downfield pop under Kellen Moore. Moore is staying in Dallas with Mike McCarthy for that reason and the Cowboys locking up Prescott is the highest offensive priority of any team.
2. Chris Jones, DT, Chiefs (25)
IYER: Jones has proved to be a highly disruptive inside pass rusher in two schemes over two massive seasons. He’s an explosive talent for any front and the Chiefs may need to franchise-tag him (at around $15.5 million guaranteed) for 2020. The challenges to giving him a big contract are a past one to Frank Clark and a monster future one for Patrick Mahomes while working with limited cap space.
3. Amari Cooper, WR, Cowboys (25)
IYER: The Cowboys have every intention to keep their triplets of Prescott, Cooper and Ezekiel Elliott intact, but it was strange how they were forced into locking up the running back first. There’s a chance Cooper might explore a richer payday in free agency with the potential tag needed to go to Prescott first.
4. Drew Brees, QB, Saints (41)
IYER: Brees said he’s taking some time to contemplate his playing future in football, but coming off a third consecutive playoff frustration, he is fully expected to be back leading their offense with a deal on his terms. Sean Payton pretty much made it clear he’ll remain attached to his long-time QB.
5. Tom Brady, QB, Patriots (41)
IYER: He’s the third in the loaded class of veteran QBs as he’s much older than Prescott and wasn’t nearly as effective as Brees in 2019. But Brady still made the most of the talent around him to lead the Patriots through a tougher path to the AFC East title by grinding away with his mental toughness and competitiveness. It’s about 50-50 for him to stay in New England, as hard is that to believe.
6. Jadevon Clowney, EDGE, Seahawks (26)
IYER: Clowney liked playing in Seattle’s 4-3 scheme after coming over from Houston’s 3-4, continuing his elite run stopping and when healthy, being a force in the pass rush even without the sacks (only 3 in 13 games) to back it up. He has said he wants to keep contributing to a top contender and the Seahawks want to bring him back.
7. Byron Jones, CB, Cowboys (27)
IYER: Jones failed to record an interception in his second full season at cornerback but used his 6-0, 205-pound frame well to be a shutdown artist and also has translated his athleticism to be an active, sound tackler.
8. Justin Simmons, S, Broncos (26)
IYER: Simmons is coming off a monster season as a big safety (6-2, 202 pounds), showing off both his prolific tackling against the run and ball-hawking in physical coverage (four interceptions). He is a priority re-sign for John Elway.
9. Hunter Henry, TE, Chargers (25)
IYER: Henry rebounded well in a 12-game season coming off a torn ACL with 55 catches for 652 yards and a TD, building on his rookie and second-year promise. At 6-5, 250 pounds, he’s a prototype complete player at the position and sneakily the best of the Chargers’ three offensive re-sign options.
10. Derrick Henry, RB, Titans (26)
IYER: This Henry was beastly down the stretch to become the NFL’s reigning rushing champion with his old-school blend of power and burst. The Titans will be keeping the hammer and foundation of their offense, but they might need to figure out how much they’re paying their quarterback before knowing what they can pay Henry.
11. Joe Thuney, G, Patriots (27)
IYER: Thuney is coming off a second-year All-Pro season at left guard, standing out despite injuries dampening the play next to him at left tackle and center. He is an efficient all-around blocker, especially a rock in the running game.
12. Philip Rivers, QB, Chargers (38)
IYER: Rivers looks like he’s either preparing himself to land with another team in free agency or getting ready to retire with his noted family relocation from Southern California to Florida. He’s coming off a rough season where he got too careless with the ball but he’s got something left as a fiery leader in the right offensive support system.
13. Cory Littleton, ILB, Rams (26)
IYER: Littleton is a highly active tackler and one of the best cover men at his position because of his quickness, range and instincts. He also can be effective going after the quarterback as a blitzer.
14. Shaquil Barrett, EDGE, Buccaneers (27)
IYER: The Bucs got major dividends from the former Bronco as he enjoyed a terrific, long-awaited breakout season, leading the NFL in sacks (19.5) in Todd Bowles’ 3-4.
15. Ryan Tannehill, QB, Titans (31)
IYER: The Titans need to be careful about overpaying and over-committing to Tannehill too much given his age, but it’s hard not to think of him as a continued, highly reasonable solution to QB after he meshed so well in the offense playing off Henry and the dominant running game.
16. A.J. Green, WR, Bengals (31)
IYER: Green wants to stick around after his season completely lost to ankle injury if the Bengals bring him back at the right final contract price. The Bengals could use him to give Joe Burrow a reliable veteran security blanket outside.
17. Anthony Harris, S, Vikings (28)
IYER: Harris, like Simmons is another big safety (6-1, 202 pounds), only coming off making a few more big plays in coverage (6 INTs) with a little less impact against the run.
18. Jameis Winston, QB, Buccaneers (26)
IYER: The good of Winston was the league-leading 5,109 yards passing with 33 TDs. The bad was his league-leading 30 INTs that pushed his efficiency way down again for Bruce Arians. Should the Bucs think they are better off trying to win games with someone else, he should be a starter elsewhere.
19. Anthony Castonzo, OT, Colts (31)
IYER: He’s been terrific as their left tackle, keeping up the pass protection in the transition from Andrew Luck to Jacoby Brissett without losing his run-blocking edge. But it’s sounding like he’s split between retiring and re-signing.
20. Yannick Ngakuoe, EDGE, Jaguars (24)
IYER: He’s too young and too productive as their best pass rusher (8 sacks in 2019) to let walk. If they can’t figure out a long-term deal in the short term, he’s bound to be franchise-tagged at a little more than $19 million for 2020.
21. Arik Armstead, DE, 49ers (26)
IYER: The 2015 first-rounder from Oregon finally busted out big time with his massive frame (6-7, 290 pounds) with 10 sacks in Robert Saleh’s 4-3, or one more than the total of his previous four seasons. He’s probably still more of a solid complementary pass rusher than transcendent one.
22. Brandon Scherff, G, Redskins (28)
IYER: The three-time Pro Bowler and No. 5 overall pick from 2015 isn’t too far behind Thuney with his powerful work at right guard for Washington.
23. Chris Harris Jr., CB, Broncos (30)
IYER: Harris has shown some signs of slowing down, but overall, thrust into more of a traveling shutdown role in Denver’s new defense with Vic Fangio, he responded well to the point he has fine appeal on a shorter-team deal.
24. Jack Conklin, OT, Titans (25)
IYER: Back to being fully healthy, the 2016 No. 8 overall pick rebounded into form as a rock of a right tackle paving the way for Henry. He is likely to locked up by Tennessee, which is what he wants, too.
25. Leonard Williams, DT, Giants (25)
IYER: Williams has been more than a little disappointing with his explosive impact up front, given he was the No. 6 overall pick in 2015, prompting his crosstown trade from the Jets. The Giants want to bring him back as a cornerstone for the rebuild for Dave Gettleman and new defensive coordinator Patrick Graham.
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