The one free agent every NFL team must sign in 2018
Pro Football Focus

It's the season of hope in the NFL, when teams add new players through free agency and the draft, giving fans reason to be optimistic.

With that in mind, here's one free-agent signing every team should make this offseason based on which players would be ideal fits for each franchise. A team's projected cap space, needs and potential scheme fits were weighed.


Buffalo Bills: LB NaVorro Bowman

2017 team: Oakland Raiders
Age heading into 2018 season: 30

A surprise playoff team in 2017, the Bills can't afford to rest on their laurels if they want to return in 2018. Linebacker Preston Brown is slated to become a free agent, and if he does indeed depart, they could do a lot worse than look at the veteran Bowman. PFF's 11th-highest-graded linebacker in 2017, Bowman registered 33 tackles against the run after joining the Raiders midway through the 2017, with 20 of those resulting in a defensive stop.

Backup signing: LB Avery Williamson, Tennessee Titans

Another linebacker who can help the Bills win, Williamson registered 27 tackles resulting in a defensive stop against the run in 2017.

Miami Dolphins: G Justin Pugh

2017 team: New York Giants
Age heading into 2018 season: 28

The Dolphins have long had a need for improved guard play. Pugh allowed only two sacks, one QB hit and 15 hurries on his 184 pass-blocking snaps, and his pass-blocking efficiency rating of 92.4 from 2017 ranks No. 7 among free-agent guards. The 2018 draft class is loaded at guard, and the Dolphins might be wise to get another guard in the draft -- even with the addition of Pugh -- in an effort to overhaul their interior offensive line.

Backup signing: G Josh Kline, Tennessee Titans

Kline is coming off a career year in pass protection in which he allowed just one sack during the regular season.

New England Patriots: LB Derrick Johnson

2017 team: Kansas City Chiefs
Age heading into 2018 season: 35

Savvy veteran linebacker to the Patriots. Is there a more obvious fit in this free-agent class? All three of the Patriots' starting linebackers at the end of the year struggled, with Marquis Flowers the highest-graded at 52.9, ranking 54th in the NFL. At 77.3, Johnson graded out as the 33rd-best linebacker in the NFL, particularly impressing in coverage. Allowing a reception once every 18.7 snaps in coverage, Johnson led all inside linebackers in 2017.

Backup signing: LB Demario Davis, New York Jets

The highest-graded available linebacker in 2017 at 87.3, Davis is coming off a career year.

New York Jets: QB Kirk Cousins

2017 team: Washington Redskins
Age heading into 2018 season: 30

The Jets were one of the surprises of the NFL in 2017 and flirted with playoff contention for longer than expected. Adding a solution at quarterback would go a long way to turning them into a contender, so they figure to be a big player in the Cousins sweepstakes. While Cousins wasn't as impressive in 2017 as 2016, he was still tied for third in the NFL with 10 touchdowns on throws 20 yards or further downfield. In New York, he could pair with wide receiver Robby Anderson, who led the NFL with seven touchdowns on those deep passes this past season.

Backup signing: QB Case Keenum, Minnesota Vikings

The team that misses out on Cousins will likely take a look at the Vikings' QB trio of Keenum, Teddy Bridgewater and Sam Bradford. Provided the Jets don't need to mortgage their cap future to sign Keenum, PFF's ninth-highest-graded quarterback in 2017 could lead them back to the playoffs.


Baltimore Ravens: WR Danny Amendola

2017 team: New England Patriots
Age heading into 2018 season: 32

The Ravens need help at wide receiver, and while they might make some moves to allow them to make a run at Allen Robinson, right now it makes more sense for them to be looking at a more sensible option with regards to the salary cap. Amendola would represent a safe pair of hands from the slot, as he dropped just eight of the 200 catchable passes thrown his way during the past three seasons (including the playoffs).

Backup signing: WR Taylor Gabriel, Atlanta Falcons

The Ravens desperately need playmakers, and if you look back to 2016, Gabriel showed the ability to win downfield, turning seven targets on throws 20 yards or further into four receptions for 213 yards.

Cincinnati Bengals: C Weston Richburg

2017 team: New York Giants
Age heading into 2018 season: 27

If the Bengals are looking to improve their offensive line in 2018, they could do a lot worse than adding Richburg. A second-round draft pick in 2014, Richburg missed all but the first four games of the 2017 season but was one of the NFL's best pass-blocking centers in 2015 and 2016. In those two seasons combined, he allowed just two sacks, two hits and 19 hurries on 1,319 pass-blocking snaps.

Backup signing: C Ryan Jensen, Baltimore Ravens

If they can't add Richburg, they could weaken a division rival by adding Jensen. His pass-blocking efficiency rating of 98.4 ranks third among available centers.

Cleveland Browns: S Lamarcus Joyner

2017 team: Los Angeles Rams
Age heading into 2018 season: 27

It might feel like Groundhog Day for Browns fans, but the opportunity Cleveland's front office is faced with this offseason is huge. Two picks in the top four of the draft and more than $110 million in projected cap room give them the opportunity to really right the ship. After adding Jabrill Peppers in the draft last year, signing Joyner would be a huge boost to the secondary heading into the 2018 season. Joyner is coming off a career year in which he ranked third among safeties with a PFF grade of 90.3.

Backup signing: S Michael Thomas, Miami Dolphins

His work with the first-team defense has been limited, but when given the chance Thomas has looked competent, and he comes with the added bonus of being one of PFF's top-graded special-teamers.

Pittsburgh Steelers: LB Zach Brown

2017 team: Washington Redskins
Age heading into 2018 season: 28

The loss of Ryan Shazier obviously leaves a void in a number of areas, but on the field, his impact has been at its apex in coverage. His 84.6 coverage grade ranked ninth among all linebackers in 2017, as he surrendered just one score while picking off three passes and breaking up another eight. Brown posted his best season against the run last year (87.7 run defense grade), and in past seasons, he has been outstanding in coverage, with 2015 being his best effort (61.0 quarterback rating against on throws into his coverage).

Backup signing: LB Todd Davis, Denver Broncos

A reserve linebacker for the Broncos, Davis has flashed serious ability, with 74 tackles resulting in a defensive stop during the past two seasons.


Houston Texans: S Eric Reid

2017 team: San Francisco 49ers
Age heading into 2018 season: 26

Reid is an athletic, young and versatile back-end defender. Reid can be moved around in the Texans' defense, and showed a wide-ranging skill set last season. He showed off his coverage ability by playing 120 coverage snaps in the slot and yielding only 12 catches for 95 yards. Reid also showed he can be used at linebacker as an extra run defender in the box, and he had an 85.8 run defense grade last season.

Backup signing: S Bradley McDougald, Seattle Seahawks

Stepping into the starting lineup in 2017, McDougald picked the perfect time to have a career year, impressing in coverage and likely landing himself a solid deal in the process.

Indianapolis Colts: G Andrew Norwell

2017 team: Carolina Panthers
Age heading into 2018 season: 26

The Colts have a new head coach in place, but nobody knows the actual health status and future of Andrew Luck's shoulder. The best thing the Colts' front office can do is build a better offensive line to protect him. Norwell was PFF's All-Pro left guard in 2017 and didn't yield a sack or QB hit on his 564 pass-blocking snaps. Playing behind a guard who doesn't let his QB get hit is exactly what Luck needs.

Backup signing: G Brandon Fusco, San Francisco 49ers

Once you get away from the top players at the position, it becomes more about finding good value. Coming off a solid year, Fusco could be just that for Indy.

Jacksonville Jaguars: WR Sammy Watkins

2017 team: Los Angeles Rams
Age heading into 2018 season: 25

Watkins had an interesting 2017 season, hauling in eight touchdowns despite having only 40 receptions, including the playoffs. Watkins, who dropped just one pass last season, has shown a pretty safe pair of hands since entering the NFL in 2014, dropping just 13 of the 206 catchable passes thrown his way. For a Jaguars team that could lose Allen Robinson this spring, Watkins would be the perfect fit.

Backup signing: WR Mike Wallace, Baltimore Ravens

If they miss out on a top wide receiver, Wallace would be a solid one-year option in Jacksonville after averaging 14.4 yards per catch in 2017.

Tennessee Titans: CB Patrick Robinson

2017 team: Philadelphia Eagles
Age heading into 2018 season: 30

Robinson is coming off the best season of his career, and the Titans would hope they'd be getting the 2017 version. Robinson did his best work in the slot last season, where he played 363 coverage snaps and allowed just one catch for every 12.1 coverage snaps in the slot; that rate was No. 1 among all free-agent cornerbacks. Robinson was so stingy in the slot that his passer rating allowed from there (65.2) ranked No. 5 among qualifying cornerbacks last season.

Backup signing: CB Nickell Robey-Coleman, Los Angeles Rams

An impressive 2017 sees him as the fifth-highest-graded available cornerback, with the ability to help out of the slot.


Denver Broncos: QB Case Keenum

2017 team: Minnesota Vikings
Age heading into 2018 season: 30

The Broncos haven't been able to find a consistent starting quarterback out of the draft in recent years, so they will need to address the position immediately with a free agent. Keenum's performance down the stretch for the Vikings in 2017 demonstrated that he can help a talented roster win games. Keenum finished the regular season with an adjusted completion percentage of 76.5, tied for the fourth best in the NFL. The Broncos still have a very talented defense. Solid quarterback production could quickly return them to playoff contention.

Backup signing: QB Sam Bradford, Minnesota Vikings

PFF's 11th-highest-graded quarterback in 2016, Bradford could -- if healthy -- help the Broncos become a contender again.

Kansas City Chiefs: S Morgan Burnett

2017 team: Green Bay Packers
Age heading into 2018 season: 29

Without Eric Berry on the field, the safety position became the weakest link of the Chiefs' defense. Signing Burnett would give the Chiefs a solid counterpart for a healthy Berry in 2018. Burnett had a well-rounded 2017 campaign, as he graded positively both in coverage and as a run defender. He is one of the surest-tackling safeties in the NFL, as he missed only two tackles last season.

Backup signing: S Tyvon Branch, Arizona Cardinals

Branch had a huge year in 2017 and, at age 31 entering 2018, should have more than enough in the tank to make an impact in 2018.

Los Angeles Chargers: C Ryan Jensen

2017 team: Baltimore Ravens
Age heading into 2018 season: 27

The Chargers put a plan in place to improve the interior of their offensive line last offseason when they drafted guards in the second and third rounds. Unfortunately, rookie Forrest Lamp was lost to injury in 2017. He should return in 2018, and adding a competent center such as Jensen between the two young guards would go a long way in strengthening the middle of their line. Jensen's pass-blocking efficiency rating of 98.4 ranks No. 3 among the available free-agent centers, and he can help keep Philip Rivers upright.

Backup signing: C John Sullivan, Los Angeles Rams

Anyone who missed out on the young centers hitting the market could look to add Sullivan as a stopgap. He was solid in 2017, allowing one sack, three hits and 11 hurries in pass protection.

Oakland Raiders: DT Sheldon Richardson

2017 team: Seattle Seahawks
Age heading into 2018 season: 27

While Khalil Mack is one of the premier edge rushers in the league, the Raiders have not been able to properly complement him with an effective inside rusher. While Richardson has not come close to matching his breakout 2014 season (nine sacks, 54 total quarterback pressures), he has averaged better than 43 total pressures per season during the past three years, and notched 86 total defensive stops. Yes, he played alongside a host of excellent veterans in Seattle last season, but sharing a line with one of the league's current elites could help him return to the form he showed during his early years.

Backup signing: DT DaQuan Jones, Tennessee Titans

An intriguing option on the interior, Jones has consistently impressed against the run in the NFL.


Dallas Cowboys: DE Dion Jordan

Current team: Seattle Seahawks
Age heading into 2018 season: 28

Should the Cowboys lose DeMarcus Lawrence through free agency, they'll have to find his replacement. Regarded by many as a bust, Jordan last season flashed the potential that saw him drafted third overall by the Dolphins in 2013. Rushing the passer only 60 times, Jordan racked up four sacks, three hits and five hurries in 2017. He doesn't come with a rich history of pass-rushing prowess, but it's also unlikely that he would command a heavy price tag, so it could be a low-risk, potentially high-reward signing.

Backup signing: DE Adrian Clayborn, Atlanta Falcons

Clayborn is coming off a career year that was highlighted by a dominant six-sack, one-hit, five-hurry performance against the Cowboys.

New York Giants: LB Nigel Bradham

Current team: Philadelphia Eagles
Age heading into 2018 season: 29

The Giants once again need help at linebacker, and adding Bradham from a division rival would help them while weakening their opponent. Bradham was one of the top coverage linebackers in 2017, tied for the lead among linebackers with six pass breakups in coverage. There have been ups and downs throughout his career, but he has proved to be better than what New York currently has at the position.

Backup signing: LB Avery Williamson, Tennessee Titans

Williamson's prowess against the run would be welcome in New York. He had 27 tackles that resulted in a defensive stop against the run last season.

Philadelphia Eagles: LB Korey Toomer

Current team: Los Angeles Chargers
Age heading into the 2018 season: 29

Philadelphia is working to get under the salary cap and is unlikely to re-sign Nigel Bradham. So the Eagles need to add an economical piece to the linebacking corps. As a backup for the Chargers, Toomer has logged only 744 total defensive snaps over the past two seasons but did well against the run with a grade of 79.5 in 2017. Ten percent of his run plays ended in stops too, which tied for 10th among all inside linebackers.

Backup signing: LB Tahir Whitehead, Detroit Lions

Coming off a career year against the run with youth still on his side, Whitehead registered 48 tackles resulting in a defensive stop in 2017.

Washington Redskins: CB Kyle Fuller

2017 team: Chicago Bears
Age heading into 2018 season: 26

The Redskins traded one Fuller brother to Kansas City, so they can look to fill that void by signing another. Fuller allowed a completion percentage of only 51.3 into his coverage last season, 17th in the NFL. Fuller also excelled at making plays on the ball and led the league with 17 pass breakups. The Redskins could use that type of playmaker in their secondary.

Backup signing: CB Tramon Williams, Arizona Cardinals

After a career year, Williams is the second-highest-graded available free agent at the position, making him an intriguing one-year option in Washington.


Chicago Bears: WR Allen Robinson

Current team: Jacksonville Jaguars
Age heading into the 2018 season: 25

An obvious pick in mock drafts right now is Alabama's Calvin Ridley to the Bears. They could find a No. 1 wide receiver in free agency, though, with Robinson showing the ability to be a top-tier pass-catcher when healthy. In 2015, Robinson ranked 10th in the NFL with an average of 2.17 yards every time he ran a passing route and would immediately become Mitchell Trubisky's top target in Chicago.

Backup signing: WR Sammy Watkins, Los Angeles Rams

The Bears' top goal should be finding a No. 1 receiver, and if that's not Robinson, there's Watkins, who ranked fifth among wide receivers in 2017 with an NFL passer rating of 122.0 on throws to him.

Detroit Lions: DT Dontari Poe

Current team: Atlanta Falcons
Age heading into the 2018 season: 28

The Lions are looking for improvements on the defensive line. Adding Poe to the interior of the unit would be one way to achieve that. He impressed against the run and as a pass-rusher during his lone season in Atlanta, racking up two sacks, seven hits and 27 hurries from 473 pass-rushing snaps in the regular season.

Backup signing: DT Beau Allen, Philadelphia Eagles

Coming off a career year in which he racked up 18 tackles resulting in a defensive stop, Allen could be a solid fallback option here.

Green Bay Packers: LB Junior Galette

Current team: Washington Redskins
Age heading into the 2018 season: 30

The Packers have standouts on the defensive line, but they would be wise to add some help on the edge. Galette missed all of the 2015 and 2016 seasons but showed he still has the skills that made him one of the league's most underrated pass-rushers on limited snaps in 2017. With three sacks, nine hits and 25 hurries on 240 pass-rushing snaps, Galette ranked eighth among 3-4 outside linebackers with a pass-rushing productivity rating of 11.9.

Backup signing: LB Aaron Lynch, San Francisco 49ers

Lynch hasn't played much in the past two seasons, but over his first two NFL campaigns in 2014 and 2015, he had 13 sacks, 21 hits and 69 hurries.

Minnesota Vikings: G Josh Kline

Current team: Tennessee Titans
Age heading into the 2018 season: 28

With the Vikings likely in the market for a veteran quarterback, as well as looking to retain a number of key playmakers on both sides of the ball, they won't want to break the bank with an upgrade at guard. This makes Kline a viable option, as he followed up a strong 2016 campaign with the Titans with a bit of a step backward last year, at least in terms of run blocking. While he enjoyed one of the best pass-blocking years of his career (three sacks and no hits allowed with a category grade of 84.0), his 46.4 run-blocking grade was easily the lowest of his career. Assuming he maintains his strong play in pass protection from last year while returning to form on run blocks (his career-low grade in the discipline before 2017 was 76.3), he'll prove to be a more economical approach than Andrew Norwell, who will be looking to reset the market for high-end guards.

Backup signing: G Senio Kelemete, New Orleans Saints

If unable to sign Kline, the Vikings could instead look to a veteran such as Kelemete. In 848 combined pass-blocking reps in New Orleans the past two seasons, Kelemete has allowed just three sacks and three hits, although his run play has followed a track similar to Kline's.


Atlanta Falcons: WR Albert Wilson

Current team: Kansas City Chiefs
Age heading into the 2018 season: 26

The Falcons could use some help at wide receiver, particularly if Taylor Gabriel departs in free agency. Wilson could be the perfect fit for a team that doesn't have the cap space to break the bank in 2018. He forced 15 missed tackles on receptions last season, tied for the third most among wide receivers, and could turn short receptions into long gains in Atlanta.

Backup signing: WR Brice Butler, Dallas Cowboys

Another receiver who likely won't break the bank, Butler was efficient in limited work in 2017. Passes thrown to him netted an NFL passer rating of 131.6.

Carolina Panthers: CB Malcolm Butler

Current team: New England Patriots
Age heading into the 2018 season: 28

Coming off the controversy of being benched in the Patriots' Super Bowl loss to the Eagles, Butler could be a perfect fit in Carolina. PFF's 51st-highest-graded player at the position in 2017, the former undrafted free agent was at his best in 2016, when he allowed an NFL passer rating of 78.2 on throws into his coverage, the 19th-lowest mark in the NFL that season.

Backup signing: CB Rashaan Melvin, Indianapolis Colts

Melvin's work came on a smaller sample size, and his play was up and down, but his NFL passer rating allowed of 60.3 was lower than Butler's.

New Orleans Saints: TE Tyler Eifert

Current team: Cincinnati Bengals
Age heading into the 2018 season: 28

Assuming the Saints do re-sign quarterback Drew Brees, they'll be well aware that the window to win another Super Bowl with him is ever narrowing. With plenty of talent already an offense, taking a chance on Eifert could put them over the top. One of the NFL's most dynamic playmakers at the position when healthy, Eifert was tied for 15th among tight ends with an average of 1.64 yards per route run in 2016.

Backup signing: TE Jimmy Graham, Seattle Seahawks

It's not hard to connect the dots for a Graham-to-New Orleans reunion, though he is coming off the lowest-graded season of his career.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: DE Alex Okafor

Current team: New Orleans Saints
Age heading into the 2018 season: 27

Okafor's 2017 season ended prematurely after suffering a torn Achilles against Miami in Week 11. He should be an affordable option well worth the risk for a defense that struggled mightily all season to create pressure off the edge. Okafor ranked third in run-stop percentage last season among all edge players, and he had already racked up 30 quarterback pressures before his injury.

Backup signing: DE Dwight Freeney, Detroit Lions

Freeney always finds his way onto an NFL roster, and while he wouldn't be a full-time starter, he could still help out the Buccaneers as a rotational player.


Arizona Cardinals: CB Morris Claiborne

Current team: New York Jets
Age heading into the 2018 season: 28

Tramon Williams ranked ninth among cornerbacks with a PFF grade of 88.8 in 2017. He's currently slated to be an unrestricted free agent, though, and will be 35 years old when the 2018 season begins. With the Cardinals in the market for a No. 2 cornerback opposite Patrick Peterson, Claiborne could be the right player at the right price if he can perform like he did in 2016. Claiborne didn't impress for the Jets last season, but during the previous season in Dallas, he allowed an NFL passer rating of only 64.1 on throws into his coverage, the eighth-best mark in the NFL that season.

Backup signing: CB Bashaud Breeland, Washington Redskins

Breeland allowed a reception just once every 14.3 snaps in coverage, the 17th-best mark among cornerbacks.

Los Angeles Rams: S Tre Boston

Current team: Los Angeles Chargers
Age heading into the 2018 season: 26

Boston allowed only one reception for every 193.7 snaps in coverage in 2017, a mark that ranks first among all free-agent safeties. Boston also has a knack for making plays on the ball and had five interceptions last season, so he can help get the ball back to the deadly Rams offense. Placing Boston next to impressive second-year safety John Johnson III would give the Rams a talented back-end pair.

Backup signing: S Marcus Gilchrist, Houston Texans

Coming off a career high in PFF coverage grade, Gilchrist would be a solid stopgap if the Rams lose Lamarcus Joyner.

San Francisco 49ers: CB Trumaine Johnson

Current team: Los Angeles Rams
Age heading into the 2018 season: 28

The 49ers need significant help at cornerback and have the cap space to throw a huge contract at Johnson, who is sure to be one of the biggest names at the position this offseason. He surrendered just one touchdown to 11 total passes defended in 2017, and over his six-year career with the Rams, he has picked off an average of three passes a season while breaking up another 5.8.

Backup signing: CB Terence Newman, Minnesota Vikings

Newman will be 39 when the 2018 season begins but is still a solid cornerback and could provide veteran leadership on an up-and-coming team.

Seattle Seahawks: DE William Hayes

Current team: Miami Dolphins
Age heading into the 2018 season: 33

Hayes was able to play in only 10 games for the Dolphins last season but was still a highly effective player when on the field. His elite run defense grade of 90.5 ranked fifth among all edge players in the league, as he posted 16 run stops with no missed tackles on 137 run snaps.

Backup signing: DE Kony Ealy, New York Jets

Ealy has never lived up to the performance he put up against the Broncos in Super Bowl 50 but could be a solid fit as a rotational player for the Seahawks.