American Football Expert & Columnist
Neil Reynolds' Free Agency preview: Antonio Brown, Le'Veon Bell, Nick Foles and more
Last Updated: 08/03/19 3:30pm
There is rarely a quiet moment in the NFL but things are about to get positively hectic as the new league year opens at 9pm UK time on Wednesday, March 13 and the 32 teams can officially begin building their rosters for the 2019 season.
Recent history has shown us that this is a time for big-money signings, high-profile trades and surprise retirements. With that in mind, let's consider some of the big moves to look out for in the coming days.
Antonio Brown to… ?
There is no doubt that the end has arrived for the Pittsburgh Steelers and their superstar wide receiver Antonio Brown, who has averaged 114 catches, more than 1,500 yards and 11 touchdowns per year for the last six seasons.
While quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has suggested he and Brown talk to clear the air, it is evident that the Pro Bowl receiver is burning as many bridges as he can between himself and the Steelers. The divorce is inevitable and by the time you read this column, Brown could already have been dealt away from Pittsburgh.
But where will he end up and at what price? Those are the burning questions that remain particularly after a Thursday night that saw a trade to Bills appear certain and then on Friday morning be very much off.
As it has been stated that the Steelers will not simply give him away in order to get a malcontent out of the building. I would not be surprised to see Brown end up in Oakland with the Raiders. Jon Gruden is a big fan and the Silver and Black desperately need an infusion of playmaking talent on their roster.
The Cleveland Browns would love to add Brown to their roster but Pittsburgh won't want an in-division trade. I think Brown will end up heading out west, to a talent-hungry team like the Raiders or the San Francisco 49ers. Both have a need for a playmaker who can make their quarterbacks better.
Nick Foles to Jacksonville
This one seems a done deal and makes perfect sense to me - but the Jags will need to get creative with their finances first because Foles is going to command a lot more than the $18m per year currently being paid to Blake Bortles. And the Jags are currently in the worst financial state of any team in the league and sit $1.8m over the salary cap.
Foles is keen to run his own team again after getting himself a statue and a Super Bowl ring in Philadelphia. While he has delivered some big late-season performances in the past couple of years, Foles will still be in 'prove it' mode wherever he signs next week. And it will be early next week - he won't have to wait long to learn of his new team.
There is no guarantee Foles will be a success if he signs with Jacksonville. He would not have a wealth of receiving talent at his disposal and he still has to prove that he can be an upper-level passer when installed as the wire-to-wire starter.
I personally think this is a sensible move for Foles and the Jaguars, but the team would still need to work on putting some pieces around him.
Le'Veon Bell to the Colts?
This one comes with a big question mark because the Indianapolis Colts have been reluctant to splash their cash in free agency under general manager Chris Ballard. But this might be the year to put some elite talent around star quarterback Andrew Luck in order to make that next big step towards the Super Bowl.
Bell would be an immediate asset running behind a much-improved offensive line and his ability to catch passes out of the backfield would be a real boost to an already-potent attack. And there is no financial reason why this deal shouldn't happen - the Colts are flush with cash and have an NFL-high $109m to spend.
If this deal doesn't pan out, look for Bell to attract serious interest from the New York Jets. In that case, the Jets would need to spend some money on upgrading an offensive line that could use some help on the inside.
As for the Colts, I think they will be more active this time around (they cannot sit on their cash) and I would love to see them make a move for less-expensive receivers such as Tyrell Williams (Los Angeles Chargers) and Adam Humphries (Tampa Bay Buccaneers) and Landon Collins (New York Giants) would be a great addition at safety alongside Malik Hooker.
The Raiding of the Rams
The Los Angeles Rams are still coming to terms with their devastating and, at times, embarrassing showing in their Super Bowl loss to New England and it is fair to assume they will have a very different look come opening day in September.
And much of that will be of their own doing.
The Rams seem set to move on from veteran centre John Sullivan and are allowing guard Rodger Saffold to test the free-agent market. Both of those moves are mistakes. Sullivan may be 33 but he is injury free now and has not missed a game in two years. He gets all the calls made up front and, in my opinion, significantly helps young quarterback Jared Goff. Saffold is one of the best guards in the business.
One of the biggest factors in the Rams' rapid turnaround under Sean McVay was the improvement of the offensive line and it is about to crumble and lose two vital pieces.
LA also seem okay letting pass rushers Dante Fowler Jr. and Ndamukong Suh test free agency and both will command more money than the Rams are willing to pay. Linebacker Mark Barron has been released and safety Lamarcus Joyner also appears likely to be gone.
The Rams were loading up on talent this time last year. Are they heading in the opposite direction in 2019?
Trey Flowers to Cleveland
With edge rusher after edge rusher receiving the franchise tag and being taken off the market, the price that New England's Trey Flowers will be able to command has risen in the past week. He is now one of the leading quarterback-hunters on the market.
First, let's be clear that it very well could end up with Flowers returning to New England to sign a long-term deal. The Patriots allowed Don't'a Hightower and Devin McCourty to explore free agency in previous years with both deciding the grass is not always greener on the other side.
If Flowers does leave, I think the Cleveland Browns should go after a versatile lineman who can do a fine Michael Bennett impression and rush from anywhere along the line. Teaming Flowers with Myles Garrett would give Cleveland's defence quite the one-two punch.
The Browns have plenty of money to spend and are a team on the rise. This would be a move that makes sense for the player and his new team. Let's see if it makes enough sense to actually happen.
Earl Thomas to the 49ers
The San Francisco 49ers need help on the back end in the worst possible way. They have some young talent in their secondary but they make mistakes due to a lack of experience. This team is crying out for veteran safety help and placing Earl Thomas alongside Richard Sherman for one last go-around would be fun to watch.
Thomas may be 30 and coming off back-to-back injury-impacted seasons but let's not forget that when he is on the field, he remains one of the very best in the game and a true centre-fielder who can cover sideline to sideline.
More than that, Thomas would provide leadership and a high level of expectation in the locker room. That could be just as valuable for a relatively young team still finding its way under Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch.
This is a deep safety market so if not Thomas, maybe the 49ers look at Eric Weddle, the aforementioned Joyner or even Tyrann Mathieu as an alternative. They need help in their secondary and there are plenty of options for Lynch to consider as general manager.Sky Sports coverage of the NFL will continue through the off-season as we track the player moves and the storylines in the build-up to the 100th year of the NFL - and we will have all three days of the NFL Draft covered in April.