Free Agent Stock Watch

Free Agent Stock Watch: WR Will Fuller

Will Fuller has had an up-and-down NFL career to date, and it may now stand at something of a crossroads. He currently finds himself among an interesting crop of free agent receivers seeking new deals well after teams have done the bulk of their roster retooling. 

After two straight hugely productive seasons to finish his college career at Notre Dame, in which he totalled over 2,300 yards and 29 touchdowns, Fuller was one of the top receiver prospects in the 2016 draft class. He was the second wideout to hear his name called, going 21st overall to the Texans. That set him up in a favorable situation to begin his pro career.

Landing in Houston allowed Fuller to serve as an effective compliment to DeAndre Hopkins, given his vertical speed and field-stretching ability. He was an integral part of the team’s passing offense during his rookie season, as he saw a career-high 92 targets. Unfortunately, that year was also the one in which he saw the most time on the field, appearing in 14 contests.

Injuries have been a constant in the 28-year-old’s NFL tenure, unlike those final two years in college which made him so highly regarded. During his five seasons in Houston, he missed 27 total games, mostly due to injury. Part of that total also came from a six-game PED suspension, which was handed down late in the 2020 season. Despite the missed time, Fuller still put up career-best totals that year in receptions (53), yards (879) and touchdowns (eight).

That made him one of the top available free agents last offseason, as he hit the open market for the first time in his career. He signed with the Dolphins, a team which also added Jaylen Waddle in the draft as part of their WR overhaul. The deal carried a value of over $10MM, but was only one year in length and included incentives, as the team clearly had concerns about his availability.

Those proved to be well-founded; after missing the first week of the season due to the suspension, Fuller was also absent for Week 2 as a result of a non-injury-related matter. In October, he then suffered a broken finger, adding further to the list of ailments which have proved increasingly cumbersome to his career. The injury wasn’t expected to end his season, but it ultimately did limit him to just two games played. After recording four scoreless receptions, it comes as little surprise that Fuller is still a free agent this late into free agency.

As shown by his 16.6 yards per catch average in 2020, though, he has the ability to make a significant impact as a complimentary receiver when healthy. That qualifies him as one of the best remaining wideouts on the market, as the likes of Julio Jones and Odell Beckham Jr. have significant injury concerns of their own. A number of teams looking for veteran pass-catchers could stand to add him.

One such team is the Ravens, who were recently named as a logical destination for Fuller. The team traded away Marquise Brown during the draft, so they could use him as a replacement for Brown’s speed. Baltimore currently ranks second-last in the league in cap space, however, so any deal would need to be a short-term, low-cost one like that given to Sammy Watkins last year.

Other potential landing spots include the Colts (who have yet to re-sign T.Y. Hilton, or a similar compliment to Michael Pittman Jr.) and Packers (who considered trading for Fuller in 2020 and lost their top two WRs this offseason). Wherever he signs, Fuller could prove to be an effective addition given the right team fit and a bit of injury-related luck.

Free Agent Stock Watch: WR Willie Snead

A look at Willie Snead‘s early statlines in the NFL suggest that he would have put together a lengthy career as at least a high-end No. 2 receiver by this point of his tenure. That hasn’t taken place, and his 2022 season has left him on the open market deep into the offseason. 

The former UDFA found a home with the Saints in 2015. In his first two years with New Orleans, he put up significant numbers: 141 catches, 1,879 yards and seven touchdowns. Those campaigns also saw him record two of his three highest yards-per-catch averages, as he demonstrated his ability to move the chains on a consistent basis. Things have taken a significant turn since then, however.

After an eight-catch season in 2017, the Ball State product was on the move in free agency. He joined the Ravens via an offer sheet, as one of three veteran additions the team made to its receiving corps. Snead joined Michael Crabtree and John Brown in Baltimore, who had Joe Flacco as the starting quarterback at the time. By the midway point of that season, though, Lamar Jackson had taken over, beginning the team’s transition to the run-heavy offense which remains in place to this day.

Snead still received 95 targets that year, totalling 62 receptions and 651 yards. It earned him a one-year extension in 2019, but he has yet to produce at that level in the proceeding years. Competing for looks in Baltimore’s low-target offense with the likes of Marquise Brown and Mark Andrews, Snead recorded 64 catches and 771 yards between 2019 and 2020. To no surprise, he was on the move again last spring.

The five-foot-11, 200-pounder signed with the Raiders, a decision which further reduced his offensive role. In Las Vegas – a passing attack centered around Darren Waller and, in 2021 in particular, Hunter Renfrow – he played just 38 offensive snaps. Seeking a new destination and a larger workload, Snead asked for, and was granted, his release in October. He finished the year in Carolina, one of his brief NFL homes before those highly-productive years in New Orleans.

In a recent interview with Tyler Dunne of GoLong.com, Snead, 29, made his case for a free agent deal, making sure to stress his need for an effective team fit. “I feel like I’ve been in every type of offense this league can throw at me,” he said. “And I’ve mastered all of it. Going into another year… I’ve got four or five years left in me. I want my next place to be the right place so I’m not getting lost again.”

Snead offers a different skillset to some of the other wideouts still on the market, such as Julio Jones and Will FullerA reunion with Baltimore would make sense on paper, given the team’s lack of experience in its receiving corps, but the nature of his departure (along with remarks he made about the team’s passing scheme in the aforementioned interview) would surely rule that out. Indianapolis is another team which has been named as a potential landing spot for a veteran, though T.Y. Hilton represents the likeliest candidate for a deal with the Colts.

The Titans could be in need of a complimentary wideout, given the overhaul of their WR room this offseason. With Robert Woods coming off of a torn ACL, Tennessee could look to add a low-cost slot option to take attention away from first-rounder Treylon Burks. In any event, Snead, who added that he is “the furthest thing from retiring,” should find a new home in the coming weeks on a short-term deal to rebuild his value.

Free Agent Stock Watch: DT Larry Ogunjobi

We were very close to not having to write this Stock Watch. In mid-March, free agent defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi signed a deal to join new head coach Matt Eberflus and new general manager Ryan Poles in Chicago. A failed physical led the Bears to call off the agreement, returning Ogunjobi to free agency. 

As I said before, Larry Ogunjobi embodies everything we are looking for in a Bear,” Poles said in a statement. “He is a special person and player. During the league’s negotiating window earlier this week, we agreed to terms with him, subject to him passing a physical here. After a standard and thorough physical and medical review with Larry yesterday afternoon, our medical team deemed him to have failed his physical and, therefore, unfortunately, we are not signing him today. This is difficult and it is emotional for everyone involved, but ultimately is what is in the best interest of protecting the Chicago Bears.”

Ogunjobi’s second free agent deal was set to earn $40.5MM over three years. He would have been entitled to a guaranteed $26.35MM at signing. Compared to his one-year, $6.2MM deal with Cincinnati last year, Ogunjobi was set for a substantial raise. Now, the 28-year-old is back on the market, searching for his next home.

Ogunjobi was a third-round pick out of Charlotte in 2017, getting drafted by the Browns. As a rookie, Ogunjobi was a rotational player. He played in 14 games, earning one start. Ogunjobi recorded 32 tackles, 1.0 sack, and 4.0 tackles for loss as a rookie.

He was named a starter on the line in his sophomore season and held down the job for the rest of his rookie deal, only missing two regular season games over his three years as a Browns’ starter. His second and third seasons were nearly identical. In each year, he recorded 5.5 sacks and 10.0 tackles for loss. His stats dropped a little bit during his last year in Cleveland, but over his last three seasons with the Browns, he totaled 148 tackles, 13.5 sacks, and 25.0 tackles for loss.

Ogunjobi signed with the Bengals last offseason on the one-year deal mentioned above. Ogunjobi got back to his normal ways with his best season to date. He recorded 49 tackles, but added 7.0 sacks and 12.0 tackles for loss. Ogunjobi set himself up to be a premier, young pass-rushing defensive tackle.

Unfortunately, Ogunjobi was injured during the Bengals’ Wildcard victory over the Raiders. The foot injury would require surgery, ending Ogunjobi’s season with the Bengals. It was reported shortly after his contract with the Bears was cancelled that the failed physical stemmed from that injured foot. Poles offered that the failed deal would have prevented them from adding other free agents during the legal tampering period, as well, so the failed physical became a non-starter.

Regardless, the Bears set a clear market for the defensive tackle heading into his sixth NFL season. A three-year deal with an average annual value (AAV) of $13.5MM is a nod to the accomplishments of Ogunjobi’s young career, but maybe includes a knock for injury. The deal would have given him the tenth-highest AAV in the league. Besides outliers like three-time Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald, who is on a six-year deal, and expert run-stopper Brandon Williams, who just finished a five-year deal with the Ravens, most of the top defensive tackles in the league are signing three- to four-year deals.

Who lands Ogunjobi, then? Atlanta could certainly use a playmaker in the middle of the defensive line. Many thought they would make a move for UConn’s Travis Jones, who ended up going to Baltimore in the 2022 NFL Draft. Giving Falcons defensive coordinator Dean Pees Ogunjobi to pair with Grady Jarrett could do wonders for that defense. Similarly, the Saints would be more than happy to put Ogunjobi alongside David Onyemata. Shy Tuttle is currently set to start next to Onyemata, and Ogunjobi would be a big upgrade in production.

Ogunjobi visited the Jets in early May, but no deal was reached. You probably can’t rule out the Bears, though. Despite the unfortunate outcome, there was enough of a connection that the two reached a deal initially. The Bears did sign Justin Jones to fill their tackle role, but if Ogunjobi is able to pass a physical with the team, he would represent a substantial upgrade over Jones.

Whoever does decide to reach a deal with Ogunjobi, a similar contract to the Bears’ offer should be expected. Ogunjobi should expect a three- or four-year contract from $12MM-$15MM per year. The once-failed physical may take a chunk out of his guaranteed money, but Ogunjobi should still be looking forward to a big payday once he signs the dotted line.

Free Agent Stock Watch: OL Ereck Flowers

Since being drafted ninth overall by the Giants in 2015, offensive lineman Ereck Flowers has had an up-and-down career along the East Coast. The recent Commanders cap casualty is facing free agency for the fourth time in his career. 

New York drafted the standout tackle out of Miami to take over as its new blindside tackle. The former Hurricane had prototypical size, length, and strength, but struggled with technique and coachability coming out of school early. Despite holding his job as the starting left tackle, Flowers only graded out as the 54th-best tackle in the NFL through his third year, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).

After declining his fifth-year option, the Giants moved Flowers to the right side of the line to accommodate the addition of Nate Solder. They benched Flowers two games into his fourth year in favor of Chad Wheeler and, after failing to find a trade partner to offload Flowers, they released their former top-10 pick. Four days later, Flowers signed a one-year deal with the Jaguars, in response to Josh Wells getting placed on injured reserve. He started the remainder of the season protecting Blake Bortles‘ blindside.

As a free agent after his time in Jacksonville, Flowers landed a one-year deal with Washington. During camp, Washington moved the longtime tackle inside to left guard, where he would start and excel for the entire season. His renewed efforts at guard earned him a three-year, $30MM deal with the Dolphins following his stint in DC. After adding several linemen in the following offseason, Miami traded Flowers back to Washington the day before the draft in exchange for the two teams swapping seventh round picks. Flowers returned to his starting position at left guard and reportedly played well enough to warrant discussions of an extension, but, ultimately, the Commanders opted to release the seven-year veteran to clear an additional $10MM from their books.

It was expected that Flowers would find a new home relatively easily, considering that, despite his grades, Flowers has solidified himself as a starter at every stop of his career, finding a positional home in his last few years at left guard. Yet Flowers remains available, looking for the right fit for his new home. The top guard options have all found deals so far this year, from Andrew Norwell signing for $5MM annual average to Brandon Scherff signing a deal worth an average of $16.5MM per year.

Flowers would likely be looking at deals that align with the likes of other consistent starters like Rodger Saffold, Lucas Patrick, or Flowers’ former Hurricanes teammate Jon Feliciano. That is to say, he will likely end up signing a one- to two-year tryout deal for around $3.5-$6MM depending on how needy the franchise he ends up with is for an interior lineman. He’ll also have a little value added to his contract for the flexibility he provides as an option to play tackle, as well.

In terms of destinations, Feliciano’s former team, the Bills, doesn’t have a ton of depth on the interior behind Saffold and Ryan Bates. Their top backup is Cody Ford who was benched early last year. Dallas will have a competition for the left guard spot between rookie Tyler Smith and Connor McGovern, with Connor Williams signing with the Dolphins. McGovern struggled last year when moving from right guard to left and Smith played tackle at the collegiate level and may have difficulty transitioning inside. In Detroit, Halapoulivaati Vaitai‘s cap hit is becoming quite large and he is under contract through 2025. Flowers may provide a cheaper option at guard.

The team with the biggest need at left guard is likely Tennessee, which will aim to replace Saffold. Currently it’s looking like a battle between Aaron Brewer, who has six career starts in two years, and Jamarco Jones, who has seven career starts in three years in Seattle. The Titans also drafted Dillon Radunz, but they may want him competing for their open position at right tackle. Tennessee would be well-served to bring in Flowers as a proven starter at left guard over the options it currently has.

In the end, while maybe not living up to his potential as the ninth overall pick, Flowers has established himself as an effective starter in the NFL. His run of recent success was cut short due to the construction of his salary, but he likely won’t be down for long. Look for Flowers to sign a short deal for a couple million per year on a team that needs immediate help on the offensive line.

Free Agent Stock Watch: Chiefs OT Orlando Brown Jr.

In November, we wrote a Free Agent Stock Watch on Chiefs’ blindside tackle Orlando Brown Jr. Three months later and the situation is starting to clear up a bit. In case you don’t feel like reading the older piece, here’s a quick recap: 

A unanimous All-American at Oklahoma, Brown was selected in the third round of the 2018 NFL Draft by the Ravens. Despite being considered a first-round pick for much of his last year in college, a poor performance at the NFL Combine plummeted the young tackle’s stock. Brown quickly made sure that the football world knew he was not going to be defined by his combine performance and became widely considered as one of the biggest steals of the draft.

Brown went to his first Pro Bowl in 2019, after his first full season as the Ravens’ starting right tackle. The next year, an injury to newly extended left tackle Ronnie Stanley pushed Brown to the left side of the offensive line for the last 10 games of the season. Brown made his second Pro Bowl that year after playing most of the year at left tackle.

At that point, Brown made it clear to the Ravens that he intended to be the best left tackle in the NFL. Brown’s determination to play on the left side of the line stemmed from his late father’s wish that he not settle for any other position in the NFL, so Brown requested a trade to an organization that would allow him to live that dream.

The Ravens honored Brown’s request and traded him to the Chiefs. It was initially thought that Kansas City would extend the young stalwart tackle and lock down their future at the position, but the Chiefs held off, allowing Brown to play out the final year of his rookie contract. Brown’s first year as a Chief ended with him becoming the only offensive tackle in the NFL to be in all of the last three Pro Bowls.

At this point, it’s not expected that Kansas City would let their blindside blocker walk away after only one year. Brown is a talented and, perhaps more importantly, young left tackle who not only dominated in the Ravens’ run-game-centered offense, where they passed the ball 44.96% of the time, but also dominated in the Chiefs’ pass-heavy offense, where they passed the ball 62.36% of the time.

Spotrac.com estimates a calculated market value for Brown at a five-year deal worth $116.58MM. That would give Brown the NFL’s highest average annual salary for an offensive tackle at $23.32MM per year, over the likes of Trent Williams ($23.01MM), David Bakhtiari ($23MM), Laremy Tunsil ($22MM), and former teammate Ronnie Stanley ($19.75MM).

In an article by Aaron Wilson of Pro Football Network, Chiefs’ general manager Brett Veach was quoted saying, “As far as Orlando, he was a guy that had a dream to play left tackle and had a small sample size of him playing left tackle at Baltimore. He’s another unique character, too, where when you talk about a culture and when you talk about a guy that does everything the right way, Orlando Brown is in the category.”

A conversation will likely need to be had with quarterback and former MVP Patrick Mahomes as his cap hit is expected to jump from $7.43MM in 2021 to $35.79MM in 2022. If the Chiefs are not able to figure out a long-term deal with Brown, they are likely to use their franchise tag to give both parties an extra year to come to an agreement. In the unlikely event that neither of those options play out, Brown will certainly become one of the top offseason priorities for any team interested in a franchise left tackle.

Free Agent Stock Watch: Chiefs S Tyrann Mathieu

He’s been here before and has seen his value fluctuate rather broadly over the course of his nine-year career. Tyrann Mathieu hopes he’ll cash in on the high end on this go round as he tries to steady a Kansas City defense that has struggled early in the season. 

The former LSU Tiger was drafted in the third round by the Cardinals in 2013. He was solid through his first couple of pro seasons, but he truly broke out in his Year 3 with five interceptions and 17 passes defensed en route to first-team All-Pro honors. Despite the ACL tear that capped his 2015, the Cardinals rewarded the rangy safety with an eye-popping five-year, $62.5MM extension just before the start of ’16.

His first foray into free agency came in 2018, when he refused to take a pay cut. Three days later, the Texans took a flier on Mathieu with a one-year, $7MM deal. The next year, he moved on to the Chiefs, who furnished him with a three-year, $42MM contract. Rejuvenated in KC, he went on to capture a Super Bowl ring and nab ten interceptions over the next two years.

Now Mathieu sits in a contract year once again. He’s seen his value fluctuate from a rookie deal to $12.5MM per annum to $7MM all the way to to his current contract, valuing him at $14MM per year.

He’s had a good a year so far — two picks, one pick-six, five passes defensed, and a sack for good measure. Still, he’ll need a bigger second half in order to land the kind of deal that he wants. Fortunately, there’s still plenty of time to pad the highlight reel and ample opportunity as the Chiefs make their playoff push.

Mathieu is unlikely to top Jamal Adams ($17.5MM per year), but there’s reason to believe that he could approach Harrison Smith‘s deal ($16MM per year). After all, Smith inked his four-year re-up in his age 32 season. Mathieu, meanwhile, won’t turn 30 until May.

While Mathieu does have a bit of an injury history, he’s got plenty of gas left in the tank and an All-Pro skillset to offset any concerns. As long as he keeps his foot on the pedal, Mathieu should still be able to command top dollar for his services this spring.

Free Agent Stock Watch: Chiefs OT Orlando Brown Jr.

He bet on himself to be a focal point of a team’s offensive line and he hopes to see that bet pay off this spring. Set to be a free agent after the 2021-22 season concludes, Orlando Brown Jr. has had an interesting journey through his rookie contract.

A unanimous All-American at Oklahoma, Brown was selected in the third round of the 2018 NFL Draft by the Ravens. Despite being considered a first-round pick for much of his last year in college, a poor performance at the NFL Combine plummeted the young tackle’s stock. Brown quickly made sure that the football world knew he was not going to be defined by his combine performance and became widely considered one of the biggest steals of the draft. Six games into his rookie year, an injury to starting right tackle James Hurst thrust Brown into a starting role. Brown, meanwhile, hasn’t missed a single game since taking over.

Brown went to his first Pro Bowl in 2019 after his first full season as the Ravens’ starting right tackle. The next year an injury to newly extended left tackle Ronnie Stanley pushed Brown to the left side of the offensive line for the last 1o games of the season. Brown made his second Pro Bowl that year after playing most of the year at left tackle.

At that point Brown made it clear to the Ravens that he intended to be the best left tackle in the NFL. This put Baltimore in a difficult position as they had signed Stanley to a five-year extension worth $98.75 MM just prior to the 2020 season. Stanley, a First-Team All-Pro in 2019, had been drafted only two years prior to Brown and had established himself as the future blindside blocker in Baltimore. But Brown’s determination to play on the left side of the line stemmed from his late father’s wish that he not settle for any other position in the NFL, so Brown requested a trade to an organization that would allow him to live that dream.

The Ravens honored Brown’s request and traded him, along with a second-round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft and a sixth-round pick in the 2022 NFL draft, to the Chiefs for a first-, third-, and fourth-round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft and a fifth-round pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. It was initially thought that Kansas City would extend the young stalwart tackle and lock down their future at the position, but the Chiefs held off, allowing Brown to play out the final year of his rookie contract.

Perhaps the Chiefs wanted to be sure that Brown could perform in a pass-happy system that differed greatly from the Ravens’ run-heavy offense. Brown’s play has not suffered as he continues to use his length well in pass-blocking and, while not dominant as a run-blocker, he rarely misses blocks in the run game.

It’s not expected that Kansas City would let their blindside blocker walk after only one year. Brown should expect a strong extension offer from the Chiefs. And while it may not be feasible to reach the yearly average value of contracts like Trent Williams ($23.01MM) or David Bakhtiari ($23 MM), the contracts of other young tackles like Laremy Tunsil ($22MM per year) and former teammate Stanley ($19.75MM) should serve as a good jumping off point to determine Brown’s worth.

A conversation will probably need to be had with quarterback and former MVP Patrick Mahomes as his cap hit is expected to jump from $7.43MM in 2021 to $35.79MM in 2022. If the Chiefs are not able to make a deal work, Brown will certainly become one of the top offseason priorities for any team interested in a franchise left tackle.

Free Agent Stock Watch: Buccaneers WR Chris Godwin

He figures to be one of the hottest free agents of the spring. Still, Chris Godwin presents an unusual case. To date, the former third-round pick has just one 1,000-yard season on his resume. 

Godwin went off for 1,333 yards and nine touchdowns in 2019, positioning him as one of the game’s best young wideouts. His 2020 was sidetracked by multiple injuries, softening what could have been an explosive encore. To his credit, the Penn State product still notched 840 yards off of 65 catches in 12 games. He remains an essential part of Tampa Bay’s loaded skill-position corps, as evidenced by his $15.983MM franchise tag.

Godwin might have a stronger resume today if another team drafted him in 2017. Even though he’s flourished with the Bucs, he spent his first couple of years behind DeSean Jackson. Now, he’s one of several standouts, joined by the likes of Mike Evans, Antonio Brown, and Rob Gronkowski. So far, he’s still managed to shine this year with a 29/366/2 line through five games. That includes his whopper of a season opener — nine grabs for 105 yards and a score over the Cowboys.

The Buccaneers moved heaven and earth to re-up all of their stars while tagging Godwin. They’ll need to work some more magic this spring, because Godwin should easily match Kenny Golladay‘s contract. The Giants furnished Golladay with $72MM over four years, including $40MM guaranteed and another potential $4MM in incentives. Keep in mind — Golladay was 27 at the time of signing and Godwin will turn 26 in late February. Plus, Golladay was dealing with a depressed salary cap. Next year’s increase will help the young Buc.

Speaking of Golladay, the Lions still need to replace his production. Godwin would be an excellent fit, though they’ll also have to address their woeful secondary, front seven, and just about every other position group. It’s also worth noting that the Patriots — who haven’t had the best luck drafting WRs — will be cash-flush. But, given the Bucs’ ability to keep the band together, we’d be surprised to see Godwin leave Tampa next year.

Free Agent Stock Watch: Kawann Short

He was one of the NFL’s premier defensive tackles across multiple seasons. Now, he stands as one of the very best free agents left on the board. We haven’t heard much about Kawann Short since he was released in February, but the former Panthers star shouldn’t have too much trouble finding his next employer.

Short said “a few teams” reached out over the winter, mostly with interest in one-year deals due to his recent shoulder injuries. That’s a clear red flag, but suitors might feel better knowing that the Panthers have left the door open to a reunion. New GM Scott Fitterer told Short that’d he’d be willing to talk about a new deal — something less than his previous five-year, $80MM pact.

Short, 32, has played in just five games over the past two seasons. He’s torn both of his rotator cuffs in that span, preventing him from doing his usual fine work. Before all of that, Short was a key pillar of the Panthers’ defense. His first nod came in 2015 when he registered eleven sacks. In 2017, he turned in a 7.5-sack season. And, just two years ago, he earned his second Pro Bowl nod.

The veteran won’t match his previous $16MM AAV, but plenty of teams should be willing to put a deal on the table. For starters, there’s the Buffalo—Carolina pipeline; Brandon Beane and Sean McDermott would love to add him to the Bills’ already stacked interior. Alternatively, if former foe Dan Quinn wants to add Short to his defense, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones would surely break out the checkbook. The Seahawks also have a knack for signing big-name vets and a healthy Short would ease the sting of losing Jarran Reed. Though it’s hard to bank on Short’s health and availability, he’d be one heck of a summer addition on a one-year, ~$2MM deal.

Free Agent Stock Watch: Marcus Williams

Though he has yet to earn a Pro Bowl nomination, the Saints’ Marcus Williams has established himself as one of the best young safeties in the NFL. A member of New Orleans’ loaded 2017 draft class that also included Marshon Lattimore, Ryan Ramczyk, Alvin Kamara, and Trey Hendrickson, Williams’ presence in the secondary has been instrumental in the Saints’ defensive success over his first four years in the league.

Williams, a free safety, is a prototypical centerfielder and ball-hawker whose one true weakness coming into the 2020 season was his tackling ability. But he made great strides in that regard, as Pro Football Focus charged him with just two missed tackles last year. PFF ranked Williams as the seventh-best safety in the game in 2020, and while it was especially bullish on his run defense, he also scored well in coverage.

Between that and his playmaking abilities — he has recorded 13 interceptions and 30 passes defensed over his first four years in the league — Williams will be a hot commodity if the Saints let him hit the open market. And New Orleans might not have a choice. The club’s salary cap problems have been well-documented, and we heard over the weekend that re-signing Hendrickson — whose 13.5 sacks were the second-most in the NFL last season — may not be possible.

The same goes for Williams. The Utah product will justifiably be aiming for the top of the safety market, which is currently headed by the Cardinals’ Budda Baker‘s $14.75MM average annual value. The Bears’ Eddie Jackson ($14.6MM) and the Titans’ Kevin Byard ($14.1MM) are not too far behind in terms of AAV, and all three players landed guarantees north of $30MM. Theoretically, GM Mickey Loomis could backload a Williams contract in an effort to fit him under the 2021 salary cap, but Loomis will have a number of difficult decisions to make, and even a backloaded deal might be too rich for the Saints at this point.

It seems that the franchise tag, which would carry a projected value of about $10.5MM, is definitely out of the question since the Saints would need to carry that entire amount on their cap in 2021. So if the Saints can’t bring back Williams, where might he end up?

The Raiders are one obvious potential landing spot. Las Vegas recently hired Gus Bradley as its new DC, and Bradley was one of the architects of the Seahawks’ Legion of Boom secondary that saw Earl Thomas playing centerfield against opposing offenses. The Raiders’ offense is in pretty good shape, and after a series of straightforward cuts, they will have enough cap space to sign a quality free agent or two. Williams would team with Johnathan Abram to form a young and talented safety tandem.

The Lions and Jaguars were the two worst teams in the league in 2020 in terms of total defense, and while both clubs are very much in the rebuilding phase, Williams is young enough that he could still be a part of the next competitive outfits in Detroit or Jacksonville. Those teams have plenty of areas of need, but a strong back-end defender is a worthwhile target for any defense.

One way or another, Williams is about to get paid. He might not be the most talked-about FA at this point, but assuming the Saints don’t hit him with the franchise tag, he will be one of the first players off the board when free agency officially opens next month.