One key NFL free-agent target for every team: Where would Jimmy Garoppolo, others fit?

The past couple of weeks have been busy in the NFL, with the combine, franchise-tag action and quarterback musical chairs in full swing. But next week, things will really kick into high gear across the league as free agency opens.

The “legal tampering” window, when teams are permitted to begin negotiating with the representatives of free agents, opens Monday at noon ET. Then, starting at 4 p.m. ET Wednesday, players can begin signing new deals.

This time of year, hope springs eternal as every team adds what its officials view as difference-making pieces to the puzzle.

Here’s a look at one key free-agent target who would make sense for each of the NFL’s 32 teams as they try to upgrade their rosters and position themselves for success this fall.



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The Cardinals badly need a lead pass rusher with J.J. Watt now retired and Markus Golden better suited as a second fiddle. Davenport generates a lot of pressure, but last season only managed half a sack. This isn’t a strong year for pass rushers, because teams don’t let top edge guys walk. But Davenport could potentially help Arizona.

The Falcons’ needs are plentiful, but they couldn’t stop anybody last season. That’s why despite the uncertainty at quarterback, Atlanta has to invest in the defense. Hargrave is regarded as one of the league’s top interior linemen.

If Lamar Jackson stays, the Ravens need to upgrade his supporting cast. Former divisional rival Smith-Schuster, who just came up big in the Super Bowl for Kansas City, could help fill a void.

Buffalo needs more balance on offense and should’ve swung a deal at last year’s trade deadline to bring Hunt into the mix. It didn’t, but now gets a shot at a do-over by signing him in free agency. An improved rushing attack will help ease pressure on Josh Allen and make the Bills less predictable.

Frank Reich has turned to the steady veteran before, and it just might be time for the Panthers coach to do so again. Carolina is fully expected to use the top pick (acquired Friday via trade with Chicago) on a quarterback. But Brissett would fill a big need as insurance if that prized rookie isn’t ready for prime time, and as a valuable mentor.

The Bears certainly need to surround Justin Fields with more weapons. But they also need to bolster their defense so Fields and the offense are in more favorable positions. A top-flight pass rusher like Ngakoue could help with that.

Protecting Joe Burrow is always priority No. 1. The Bengals last offseason invested in their line but still have a long way to go before that unit is as strong as it needs to be. Landing Taylor could help Cincinnati take another step forward.


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The Browns’ defense didn’t perform up to standards last season and that prompted a change at defensive coordinator. Cleveland could use some additional playmakers with whom Jim Schwartz could work. Wagner is a tackling machine and would serve as a good tone-setter to go along with Myles Garrett.

The Cowboys need to get Dak Prescott another weapon opposite CeeDee Lamb. Thielen brings a valuable veteran presence and is dependable with his ability to move the chains.

The Broncos need to bolster the interior of their defensive line, so Sean Payton could look to his past and recruit eighth-year veteran Onyemata, who is coming off one of his most productive seasons.

After giving up a league-high 392.4 yards per game and ranking third-worst against the pass, the Lions must address their secondary. Enter Dean, who has recorded multiple interceptions in three of his first four seasons in the league.

An impactful tight end is an important element of the Mike Shanahan offense that has been passed down to Matt LaFleur. But the Packers have been lacking in this area, which is why Schultz would make a lot of sense.

The Texans will draft one of the top quarterbacks, and possibly the No. 1 passer available. But they need a veteran quarterback, and White, who last season played under former Kyle Shanahan disciple LaFleur, would have good familiarity with the system Bobby Slowik is bringing from San Francisco.

The Colts very well could snatch up one of the top quarterbacks in the draft, but rookie head coach Shane Steichen could use a veteran to help him get things started on the right foot. Minshew was in Philly with Steichen and could be the right man for the job.

With defensive back ranking high on the Jaguars’ offseason shopping list, the rising Sutton (three interceptions, 15 pass breakups last season) would be a nice get.

Thomas hits free agency after a few injury-plagued seasons, and there are few destinations more attractive than Kansas City, where Patrick Mahomes could use another playmaker to keep this dynasty train rolling.

With Derek Carr now in New Orleans, the Raiders need to find the right quarterback for Josh McDaniels. There’s no better free-agent option than Garoppolo, who knows McDaniels’ system well from his time in New England, and also should come at a price that allows the Raiders to continue to address other roster holes.


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They have the guys on the edge in Joey Bosa and Khalil Mack. But with losses expected at the heart of the defense, Bush could be a good option.

Coming off a sorely disappointing season in which Matthew Stafford was battered and bruised and eventually placed on injured reserve, the Rams must invest in their offensive line. McGary, a first-round pick in 2019, could be a key building block.

Desperate to better protect Tua Tagovailoa, Mike McDaniel could look to lure McGlinchey away from his old boss Kyle Shanahan and the 49ers.

The Vikings must make key additions, and with Za’Darius Smith reportedly asking for his release, pass rusher becomes an even greater priority. Flowers had some of his best years in New England under new Minnesota defensive coordinator Brian Flores, so a reunion could be in order.

The Patriots need wide receiver help, especially with Jakobi Meyers expected to depart via free agency. Golladay failed to meet expectations in New York but does have the potential to be an impact wideout. A fresh start in New England could be just what he needs.

Solid both against the run and the pass, Rankins could help fill a void along the interior of a Saints defense that needs to improve.

OBJ hasn’t lost his love for the Big Apple, and with Daniel Jones now locked up for the long term and Saquon Barkley retained on the franchise tag, the Giants need a playmaker on the perimeter.


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If they swing this trade for Aaron Rodgers, adding another wide receiver opposite Garrett Wilson makes a lot of sense. Lazard knows Rodgers well and thus could follow him from Green Bay.

A talented veteran like Peterson could help bolster a retooled defense in Philadelphia, where many familiar faces may be departing.

Mike Tomlin’s defense needs more playmakers on the back end and Gardner-Johnson could help take the unit to another level.

Gone is DeMeco Ryans, in his place is Steve Wilks, and getting him a top-flight cornerback like Bradberry could help ensure this unit remains among the best in the league.

The Seahawks ranked among the worst in the league against the run, so they’ll be in pursuit of disruptive players for the interior of their line. Tomlinson fits the bill and shouldn’t break the bank to land.

The Bucs and Mayfield are both looking for fresh starts. After showing promise late last season with the Rams, perhaps the 2018 No. 1 pick can help Todd Bowles and new offensive coordinator Dave Canales begin the post-Tom Brady era.

The Titans have to sort out their quarterback situation, but regardless of who’s under center, he will need improved receivers. Meyers would likely be attractive to coach Mike Vrabel, who played for the Patriots.

Washington’s defense has a great line but really could use an upgrade at inside linebacker. Edmunds, a two-time Pro Bowl selection with great size and versatility, could certainly make an impact.

(Illustration: Sean Reilly / The Athletic: Photos of James Bradberry, Jimmy Garoppolo and JuJu Smith-Schuster: Getty Images)

2023-03-11 10:01:43