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Ten NFL Free Agency 2024 Predictions: Patriots Will Spend Big, Bears Anticipate QB Arrival

Forecasting which teams to keep an eye on, where big-name stars will land in the market and how a few potential contracts will materialize.

As I now know first hand, the prediction business is a messy one. Just when you think the world isn’t paying attention—wham—here comes a covertly-filmed confrontation from a general manager easily four feet taller than I looking to settle scores. It’s safe to say my predictive methods have needed some WD-40 the older that I get. I intend to start rectifying the horrendous shame brought onto myself and my family now.

With free agency looming, here are 10 (ish) bold predictions, ranging in boldness from very mild to mango-habanero level, if we’re using the Buffalo Wild Wings scale. (We should really be using the Buffalo Wild Wings scale more often, anyway, and adding it to “a melting pot of different measurements that will make European men throw tantrums.”)

Anyway, here goes nothing, but hopefully something:

1. The New England Patriots will spend big money

At the combine, I wrote a little bit about the Patriots’ shift in tone post–Bill Belichick. Director of scouting Eliot Wolf specifically mentioned “weaponizing the offense” during his combine press conference, which I believe to be a highly intentional comment. I would guess that New England knows it has one of the worst rosters in the NFL. That cannot be a surprise to someone like Wolf, who has spent a majority of his sentient life attending the combine (yes, even before he got his driver's license). The Patriots need help everywhere, which means spending some of that $88 million in cap space simply to get them up to par. In some ways this is obvious, but I do think New England will also be aggressive in all corners of free agency. This is not a “win the offseason” round of free agency; it’s an “acquire enough talent to not lose by double digits to the Bills” instead.

2. The Chicago Bears will come away with a wide receiver … and more

Former USC quarterback Caleb Williams at the NFL Combine

If the Bears do end up drafting Caleb Williams, they can look to free agency to get him added weapons in the passing game. 

I think the Bears would like to finish this offseason by nailing two position groups in particular: wide receiver and offensive line. Specifically, I think the Bears are going to try and get more athletic up front, anticipating the onboarding of someone like Caleb Williams, who, while excellent in structure, has a lot of gifts that shouldn’t be confined to the pocket. This draft has a great wide receiver class, and the Bears could certainly bolster DJ Moore with a rookie first-round pick, though I think Chicago can also come away with some veteran talent as well. The top free agent wide receivers include Calvin Ridley, Gabe Davis, Odell Beckham Jr. and Tyler Boyd.

3. Speaking of wide receivers, the market will not be kind to this year’s class, again. (We also predicted this in 2023.)

The wide receiver market boom is, temporarily, over. Until Justin Jefferson signs his contract—which, if he does at all, I’m assuming will take place right before games are played because of the difficulty of the negotiations—this class is left to stand on its own merit. I talked to a pair of agents, neither of whom expected Ridley to top the $20 million threshold in terms of average annual value. That space is currency occupied by the likes of Moore, Keenan Allen, Mike Williams and Amari Cooper. The same agents felt like Boyd would not top $15 million, and may end up hovering between $12 and $15 million … or less.

The flip side of this prediction is that a few teams will get valuable help for next to nothing. Wide receiver rooms are somewhat barren across many NFL depth charts. This may be one position group where the middle class is taken care of despite the lack of a true, position-altering contract.

4. Chris Jones will get $30 million per year … or more.

Chiefs defensive tackle Chris Jones reacts to a play.

Chris Jones has 26 sacks over the last two seasons.

I think that Jones’s camp is pretty confident in their ability to hit a home run on the open market. That means walloping the $24 million contract that Quinnen Williams recently signed with the Jets, and coming within the sacred space occupied by Aaron Donald, whose average annual value of $31.6 million currently paces the tackle market. Outside of Kirk Cousins, Jones is probably the only other player on the market who could completely change the outcome of a game on his own. This was true of the 2024 Super Bowl, as well as countless other games throughout Jones’s storied Kansas City Chiefs career.

5. Cousins’s deal is not fully guaranteed

Wherever Cousins signs—probably with the Atlanta Falcons—his stretch of magician-like performances at the negotiating table will come to an end. The Falcons will hand Cousins the most money, but not every drop of it will be guaranteed. While the Falcons should have made more of an effort to secure a quarterback for their previous head coach, the move will spring Atlanta toward the forefront of a wide-open NFC South. At this point, the game seems to be: contend with the Minnesota Vikings on price. The Vikings also have Baker Mayfield as a potential replacement, as well as a healthy cabinet of draft capital from which to use for a trade-up in the draft. Having Jefferson cost as much as a quarterback would almost certainly necessitate a rookie passer to calibrate the salary cap (at least in the eyes of the Vikings, because, let’s be honest, they could sign Jefferson and Cousins both if they really wanted to).

6. The Indianapolis Colts will be somewhat active, but they won’t make a splash

I think the Colts will tell us a bit about themselves this offseason. Namely, I think the Colts like the Colts better than you or I do right now. That means Indianapolis will spend money in free agency, but perhaps not in the way we might think. For the Colts in particular, that means the always unsexy but ever-important task of bolstering the athleticism of their interior defensive line. With Samson Ebukam and Kwity Paye on the outside and the stalwart DeForest Buckner on the inside, the Colts are still searching for another piece to unlock the line as a whole. Think of them as analogous to the 2023 Cleveland Browns who, as we mentioned last year, were looking for interior defensive line help to take the pressure off Myles Garrett.

7. The Tennessee Titans will attempt a full-on makeover, with character at the forefront

Tennessee Titans head coach Brian Callahan

New Titans head coach Brian Callahan has his work cut out for him with a roster that needs to be revamped.

With $75 million to burn this offseason, the Titans will try to pivot out of the Mike Vrabel era by making some targeted free agency decisions. I would guess that, if we were to interview Ran Carthon and Brian Callahan following a spending spree, they will say that character was the determining factor in any and all deals. Callahan comes from Cincinnati, where the temperament of the team was essential to its success. He now arrives in Tennessee, where a stable of Vrabel’s loyal soldiers exist. While I don’t think there’s a Jets vs. Sharks battle incoming, it’s always smart for a coach to use a few early extensions and free-agency signings as a vehicle aimed at changing the vibe of the locker room.

8. The Daniel Jones and Geno Smith contracts will loom large

The Jones deal (four years, $160 million) and Smith deal (three years, $75 million) are a kind of fascinating bookend for some of the more noteworthy QB deals this offseason. Before last year’s free agency period, weeks before the Jones deal, Tua Tagovailoa signed with the same agency that reps Jones. One would imagine that Tagovailoa is of the mind, and the Miami Dolphins are of the expectation, that Jones’s deal will be a kind of tentpole in their negotiations. Could Tagovailoa structure a deal that nestles somewhere between the $40 million per year that Jones makes and the $43 million per year that Josh Allen makes?

Similarly, I feel like that should be the starting point of any and all Mayfield negotiations. His numbers were competitive with Tagovailoa’s last year, and Mayfield is just three years older than Tagovailoa.

Mayfield is in a great spot, at least from my vantage point. The Buccaneers re-signed Mike Evans and brought in offensive coordinator Liam Coen, who worked with Mayfield at the Los Angeles Rams. The Vikings have a malleable, quarterback-friendly offense and the best receiver in the NFL. A team like the Patriots, who are deep-pocketed with cap space and organizationally liked Mayfield when he was coming out of the draft, could also be lurking.

But where do teams place Mayfield in their internal rubric? Smith is five years older than Mayfield, and one could assume that Mayfield has that late-peak potential built into the next half decade. Furthermore, who would you rather want right now, if you only had to start your team over with one player: Mayfield or Jones?

9. We finish the offseason completely stunned by the Dallas Cowboys’ inaction

The Cowboys have a $59.4 million cap number for Dak Prescott next season. Logically, it would make sense to extend Prescott and ease that financial burden on Dallas’ shoulders. However, we don’t know what the Cowboys are thinking long-term, or if they are more interested in the strategic, circus-type atmosphere that could be created around forcing Prescott to play out the final year of his deal in the first place. In some Jones-ian dimension, it probably makes sense for the oil man to force Prescott to play out the deal—he’d have to pay Prescott $60 million either way, whether that be in an extension now or if Prescott plays his heart out next season and reaches the open market.

Of course, if Prescott actually reaches the open market, we would have a far more palatable Deshaun Watson–like feeding frenzy that could push Prescott closer to the mid-60s in terms of average annual value. I suppose, at that point in time, the Cowboys would be more eager to open their checkbooks.

From a fundamental standpoint, imagine if Jerry Jones refuses to budge here, failing to open up some much-needed space to improve the team during a critical lame-duck season for Mike McCarthy (with Bill Belichick looming in a television booth somewhere).

10. Grab bag of predictions

The Baltimore Ravens will be cool and fun, signing both Danielle Hunter and Derrick Henry … L’Jarius Sneed resets the cornerback market after a trade, besting the $21 million per season currently being made by Jaire Alexander … Jefferson’s contract impasse drags deep into the NFL preseason, with the receiver eventually settling somewhere between $32 to 33 million per season, if at all … The Dolphins and New York Jets pilfer the veteran free agent offensive line market … The most impactful signing of the offseason in terms of real dollars to actual on-field value is D.J. Reader, whose departure will also force the Bengals to adjust.