Despite a bumpy 2019, the Jets and Le’Veon Bell apparently are headed for a second season together. It seems like an awkward pairing, given New York head coach Adam Gase’s stance against paying running backs big money, as well as his evasive reply recently to a question about Bell’s future with the team. Let’s give Bell and nine other prominent players a change of scenery for 2020.
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Chandler Jones, Cardinals OLB
Aaron Donald, Von Miller, T.J. Watt and Khalil Mack are top of mind among fearsome pass rushers. But here’s a stat that might floor you: From 2016-19, Jones was the only player to rack up 60 sacks. His talents seem wasted on a team that is mostly anonymous and defensively deficient. Arizona needs plenty of help, particularly in the secondary, and there are many teams that must bolster their pass rush. Jones is signed for two more seasons, and his 2020 cap hit is $21.3 million, per Spotrac, but his production and durability –- he had 19 sacks in 2019, and hasn’t missed a game in four seasons –- make him a bargain even at that number.
New scene: Any contender with cap space and a need for an edge rusher would be better than Arizona.
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Le’Veon Bell, Jets RB
Bell’s head coach doesn’t seem to like him, and his first season in New York was terrible (789 yards rushing). His 3.2 yards per carry was the worst mark of his career, and his 7.0 yards per reception was his worst mark outside his injury-shortened 2015 with the Steelers. The Jets could better use the money they owe Bell elsewhere. Despite their general manager’s hint the running back will be back in New York, it makes sense for Bell to be shopped. It’s difficult to figure if his skills have slipped because the offense is so deficient. A team in need of a proven running back should inquire about his availability.
New scene: Detroit makes a lot of sense, as the Lions have no semblance of a consistent running game, but there are enough holes to fix on defense to make it unlikely. An off-the-radar destination that is fun to consider? Houston.
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Allen Robinson, Bears WR
Unless the Bears sign pending free agent Tom Brady, 2020 is likely to feature more offensive frustration if QB Mitchell Trubisky plays as he did in 2019. That would be a shame because it would be another waste of Robinson’s talents. He managed 1,147 receiving yards and seven touchdowns this season despite few weapons around him. Robinson has one more season left on his contract, and Chicago could a good return for him in a deal.
New scene: A team with a better quarterback situation and an established running back and tight end. Hmmm, how about the Raiders? Oakland did not have a wide receiver reach 50 receptions this season, with Hunter Renfrow leading the way at 49. Robinson would be a major boost; he’d form a potent trio with tight end Darren Waller and RB Josh Jacobs.
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A.J. Green, Bengals WR
Green, who will be 32 at the start of next season, has been a consistent producer his entire career. Plus, he’s a good citizen despite playing in a dysfunctional environment. Green, who missed all 2019 with an injury, has finished with at least 1,000 yards receiving every year in which he has played at least 10 games. He is a pending free agent, and though he has talked about wanting to stay in Cincinnati, there figures to be a significant bidding war for his services.
New scene: If the Patriots make one more go of it with Brady and Bill Belichick, Green would be the kind of game-breaking threat on the outside who could transform their offense. After so many years in football purgatory, it would be fitting for one of the sport’s good guys to have a chance to play for a great team. And if not New England, Philadelphia is another great fit.
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Derrick Henry, Titans RB
Henry, a pending free agent, is coming off of his best season as a professional (league-leading 1,540 yards rushing). He is the reason the Titans are still alive in the playoffs, and despite a heavy workload (303 carries in 2019), the 26-year-old figures to have at least two good years left, if not more. There’s one team that could land him and instantly become a heavy favorite to win the Super Bowl.
New scene: Kansas City, where he’d give the Chiefs one of the best offenses ever assembled. Imagine Patrick Mahomes handing off to Henry, then using the threat of the run to set up play-action passes to tight end Travis Kelce and receiver Tyreek Hill. It’s a prospect that is as thrilling for fans of great offense as it is terrifying for defensive coordinators.
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Teddy Bridgewater, Saints QB
Bridgewater’s marriage with the Saints was mutually beneficial in 2019. New Orleans didn’t miss a beat with him when Drew Brees was out with an injured thumb, and Bridgewater positioned himself to cash in in free agency by going 5-0 and playing solidly (1,384 yards passing, 67.9 completion %). He won’t command top-tier quarterback money, of course, but he could be in line for a short-term deal. Perhaps the most impressive part of Bridgewater’s play, besides his unblemished record, was the fact that his on-field connection with stud receiver Michael Thomas was almost as good as Brees’. With the right coaching and personnel around him, he could easily guide a team to the playoffs.
New scene: Teddy to Tampa Bay, anyone?
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Byron Jones, Cowboys CB
Jones was Pro Football Focus’ 21st-ranked coverage corner this season, and while that doesn’t put him close to elite status, it still places him in the “good to very good” category. He can also cover tight ends with his size (6-foot, 205 pounds) and athleticism, and his versatility should make him a coveted commodity in free agency. The Cowboys are somewhat in a state of flux now that Mike McCarthy has taken over for Jason Garrett, and the offense figures to get most of the attention.
New scene: One team that would likely drool over Jones’ skill set? The Cardinals, who were 27th in the league in net yards per pass attempt allowed and worst in the league against tight ends. Jones would go a long way toward fixing both issues.
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Eric Ebron, Colts tight end
Ebron missed five games in 2019, and his numbers (31 catches, 375 yards) dropped precipitously after a breakout 2018 campaign. Andrew Luck’s surprise retirement had much to do with Ebron’s decline, but he’s still young (26) and his performance last season was a tantalizing glimpse of what he can do. Several teams need tight end help, and Ebron’s down year will likely lower his price tag. Athletic tight ends who perform well in the red zone (all but two of his 13 touchdowns in 2018 came inside the red zone) are always a hot commodity. The only question with Ebron is consistency.
New scene: Jimmy Graham appears to be at the end of the line in Green Bay, where Ebron would be a good fit with Aaron Rodgers.
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A.J. Bouye, Jaguars CB
Bouye’s play suffered in 2019, and he counts $15.4 million against the cap for the Jaguars in 2020. Jacksonville might opt to release them, as they are tight against the cap for the coming season, with just $1.2 million to spare, per Spotrac. There are many teams that might covet his services, especially contenders.
New scene: New York! New York! The Giants aren’t contenders, but they desperately need secondary help. New York’s 2019 pass coverage grade, per Pro Football Focus, was 45.3, third worst in the NFL. The Giants have plenty of cap room, and they could get Bouye at a more affordable price, in light of his struggles in 2019.
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Javon Hargrave, Steelers nose tackle
Hargrave had a breakout season for the Steelers, performing at a particularly high level once he was pressed into more action after Stephon Tuitt was lost for the season. Pittsburgh is likely to make sacrifices to keep Bud Dupree, who put up huge numbers (11.5 sacks) in 2019, so Hargrave figures to have many suitors in the free-agent market.
New scene: Dallas is a potentially interesting destination, but so too is Buffalo. The Bills’ defense was very good in 2019, but that was mostly due to a superlative secondary. Buffalo was pedestrian against the run in 2019. Hargrave, whose 83.4 Pro Football Focus grade placed him eighth among defensive linemen in 2019, would provide immediate help there. DT Jordan Phillips is set to hit free agency, so the Bills may have a hole to fill, and on a defense high on production but mostly devoid of big names, Hargrave would fit right in.
Chris Mueller is the co-host of The PM Team with Poni & Mueller on Pittsburgh’s 93.7 The Fan, Monday–Friday from 2-6 p.m. ET. Owner of a dog with a Napoleon complex, consumer of beer, cooker of chili, closet Cleveland Browns fan. On Twitter at @ChrisMuellerPGH – please laugh.