We're less than a week away from the start of NFL free agency. Teams all across the league are making their various moves to get cap-compliant, setting the stage for what is sure to be a busy week of signings. With that in mind, we're spending this week playing matchmaker, identifying the one free agent that makes for the best fit with each NFL team. My colleague Jeff Kerr handled the AFC teams on Tuesday. In the space below, we tackle the NFC.
The Cardinals probably never should have let Haason Reddick walk in the first place. He had another productive season rushing the passer in Carolina last year, and with the Cards looking likely to lose Chandler Jones in free agency, they need some help in the pass rush department. Bringing back an old friend makes a lot of sense.
With Calvin Ridley suspended for at least the 2022 season, Russell Gage hitting free agency, and the Falcons having no pass-catchers of consequence beyond Kyle Pitts, they really need some help at wide receiver. Will Fuller's one-year, prove-it deal with the Dolphins didn't exactly work out for him last year. Maybe he's open to another one, but this time with Atlanta? The Falcons desperately need someone who can stretch the field on the perimeter to open things up for Pitts. They had a tough time getting him the ball often enough last year.
Matt Rhule wants to run the ball. A lot. Carolina's offensive line is not equipped for that. Brandon Scherff is one of the best run-blocking linemen in the NFL. Seems like a match made in heaven to me.
Chicago Bears: Any center
Remember last offseason, when the Chargers went out and signed Corey Linsley, solidifying the group in front of Justin Herbert and giving him a partner in setting the protections and identifying pre-snap looks? Yeah, the Bears should do that. Go get Ryan Jensen, Ben Jones, Bryan Allen, Bradley Bozeman... any one of them will work. It's the most important thing they can do in free agency to aid Fields' development.
The Cowboys typically do not go big-name shopping in free agency. They're also very conscientious about how their signings affect the compensatory pick formula. Kyle Van Noy was cut by the Patriots, so they can sign him without having to worry about that. With Leighton Vander Esch likely not being re-signed, Dallas needs some veteran help at this spot. Van Noy has shown flexibility to play linebacker and rush the passer, which would make him a good partner for Micah Parsons.
J.C. Jackson is the top cornerback on the market this offseason, and the Lions badly need help in the secondary. They also have plenty of cap space available to lavish Jackson with the type of contract he's looking for. It's no longer the same former Patriots brass in Detroit that went and chased a bunch of former Patriots players a few years ago, but that shouldn't stop this regime from making a splash for one of the best players available.
This might not be the big name Aaron Rodgers has in mind when it comes to wide receiver help, but hear me out. Braxton Berrios has proven to be a solid slot receiver during his time in the league: he caught 83 passes for 825 yards and five scores over the last two years despite A. playing for the Jets; and B. only cracking a 50 percent snap share nine times in 32 games. Earning targets is a skill, and Berrios earned them at a rate (24.7 percent of his routes) on par with players like Keenan Allen and Brandin Cooks last season. Plus, he was the First Team All-Pro return man. For a team that desperately wants to improve its special teams performance, he'd make for a really nice value play.
Will the Rams have room to fit this signing on their books? Almost certainly not! But these are the "all-in" Rams! With Andrew Whitworth reportedly leaning toward retirement, they could slide Joseph Noteboom in at left tackle... or they could figure out a way to move the money around and sign the top tackle on the market in Terron Armstead. The latter path is much more fun to ponder.
New Vikings coach Kevin O'Connell came to Minnesota from the Los Angeles Rams. His new team is extremely thin (in terms of quality players, if not necessarily bodies) at the cornerback spot. Why not bring along an old friend, whom his former team may not be able to afford to retain? Darious Williams is a solid No. 2 corner who plays bigger than his size, and can execute in coverage. Minnesota doesn't have a ton of wiggle room this offseason, and should look to shop in the lower and middle tiers of free agency.
New Orleans Saints: [Insert wide receiver here]
The Saints can't come into next season with the same depth chart they had behind Michael Thomas last year. They definitely can't do that without Sean Payton calling the plays. Pete Carmichael has been Payton's right-hand man for a long time and the team had success when he called plays in the past, but Payton has been able to get much more out of quietly limited skill groups in the past in large part because of the presence of Drew Brees. He's not there anymore, so the Saints need to give whomever is under center some help.
New York's offensive line has been a disaster for a while now. Both Joe Schoen and Brian Daboll came to the Giants from Buffalo, where the Bills built out their offensive line by signing a whole bunch of interior players to mid-range contracts rather than splurging on a big deal for one star. James Daniels is a solid player who has been held back by horrendous circumstances in Chicago. He's still very young, and should still be able to get better. He makes a lot of sense as a target.
This signing serves dual purposes. It gives the Eagles another strong receiver to pair with De'Vonta Smith and tight end Dallas Goedert, and it allows both them and Amari Cooper to stick it to the Cowboys. (Assuming he becomes available, which is expected.) Dallas might not view Cooper as being worth $20 million per year, but the Eagles don't have to sign him to the same exact deal. He's still only 27 years old, so he should have several more productive years ahead of him.
Austin Corbett is at least familiar with the Kyle Shanahan offense. The Rams run a version of it under Sean McVay, and it helped revitalize his career after he washed out of Cleveland. San Francisco likely wants to retain Laken Tomlinson, but also needs a better solution at right guard, where Daniel Brunskill was not up to snuff and Aaron Banks has yet to grab the reins. The Niners need to make sure the group in front of Trey Lance is rock-solid, and this would help.
After trading Russell Wilson to the Broncos, the Seahawks do have a decent chunk of room under the salary cap. They of course need a real solution at quarterback and some help along the offensive line, but they're likely going to try to win on the strength of their defense -- at least for next year. If they want to do that, they badly need pass-rush help. Chandler Jones is one of the best available, and would carry the added benefit of weakening a division rival.
With Ali Marpet retiring, the Bucs need a replacement at left guard. Connor Williams didn't work out in Dallas but perhaps Bucs offensively line coach Joe Gilbert can get through to him in a way the Cowboys never did.
We're cheating a little bit on this one. Huntley is an exclusive-rights free agent, which means Washington can't sign him. But the Commanders are in a very bad spot at quarterback right now, and none of the options available on the market are all that attractive. Why not see what it would take for the Ravens to part with Tyler Huntley in a trade? He showed starter potential while filling in for Lamar Jackson last season. Offensive coordinator Scott Turner has experience with dual-threat quarterbacks (Cam Newton) and you know Ron Rivera wants to run the ball. It's worth a phone call.