2020 NFL free agents who I think will return to team

This list is a prediction of which upcoming free agents in the 2020 class will return to their former teams, and for how much money and years on their new contracts. It’s a fun exercise to see if you have a good understanding of the marketplace. It doesn’t include players who are reported to be franchise tagged, such as Chris Jones of KC, Dak to Dallas, Ngakoue to Jax, and Justin Simmons to Denver. Players are ranked by how much money they could get to re-sign with their teams.

(This article corresponds with my article on which 2020 free agents I believe will move teams.)

  1. Clowney, 3, 69 – Frank Clark reset the edge defender market, and Clowney could eclipse that as the only truly threatening presence on the defensive line as far as pass rushing. He’s had a chequered past as far as holding out for Houston, which caused his trade to Seattle, so I’m not sure GM John Schneider and co will give him a four or five year deal.
  2. Barrett, 4, 64 – Barrett gets less money than Clowney as he was a bit of a one year wonder as far as production, but is worthy of keeping long term. 
  3. Armstead, 4, 60 – an underrated, versatile piece on the Niners defensive line. They only have $13 mil in cap space at the time of writing, so they’d have to cut a player like the ageing Niners legend Joe Staley (saving them $10.5 million) and/or underused receiver Marquise Goodwin (saving them $3.6 mil). They might cut either of those players and re-sign them anyway. 
  4. B.Jones, 4, 56 – the Cowboys have a cap space of $77 million at the start of free agency to franchise Dak Prescott for $33 million (as has been reported), keep receiver Amari Cooper for around $15 million a year (who they gave up a 2019 first round pick for, which became safety Jonathon Abram) as well as re-signing the stud cornerback Byron Jones. 
  5. Derrick Henry, 4, 56 – Henry was vital to Tennessee’s success last season and could get the same yearly salary as Ezekiel Elliott.
  6. Scherff, 5, 55 – he’s been a Washington lifer and has been uncomplaining there, unlike fellow Pro Bowl lineman Trent Williams, so I think they might reward him with a five year deal. Injury concerns might hinder his annual salary however. 
  7. Tannehill, 3, 54 – he balled out last season, and at age 32 with limited snaps over the last few years due to injury, could have at least three quality years left, which I think the Titans could reward him for. Because of said injury history, I’m not sure he’ll command top-caliber QB money like Russell Wilson or Jared Goff, as he’s less proven, but staying in Tennessee for around $18 million a year wouldn’t be so bad considering he was on the bench for half the season most recently. 
  8. A.Cooper, 4, 48 – as mentioned, Dallas gave up a first round pick to get Cooper, so I don’t think they’ll let him walk. He’s their best receiver because he gets open consistently, but some drops in key games last season as the Cowboys were fighting for a playoff spot might hinder his market. 
  9. Thuney, 4, 44 – this could represent a discount as Thuney is one of the top lineman in this free agency class, and most teams could use him. However, he’s been with New England for his whole career, and if they can sign Tom Brady for a reasonable amount, they should be able to re-sign him (with $40 million in cap space before free agency). They might also release 36 year old kicker Stephen Gostkowksi, which would save them $3.4 mil, as he had a rough 2019 campaign that involved five missed kicks,  being placed on IR and having hip surgery.
  10. Van Noy, 3, 42 – he’s been a pretty dominant player along the defensive front for the last few seasons, and I think the Pats will reward him for it. 
  11. Kendall Fuller, 4, 40 – was a key piece in the Chiefs revitalised defense, and they obviously think highly of him as they included him in the trade of Alex Smith two offseasons ago. 
  12. Eli Apple, 4, 40 – a talented young corner who played his way out of New York, but started for the Saints. Talented corners are tough to come by, so I think NOLA will lock him up long term. 
  13. Schobert, 3, 36 – he’s been a franchise stalwart and has made a Pro-Bowl. Individuals like that are worth keeping around. 
  14. Clinton-Dix, 3, 36 – played well replacing Adrian Amos in Chicago, and is still young enough (age 27) to deserve a longer term deal than he’s had the last couple of seasons. 
  15. H.Henry, 3, 36 – has been injury prone but has been one of the best tight ends in the league when healthy. Will be crucial to the Chargers keeping relevant in the post-Philip Rivers era. 
  16. A.Hooper, 3, 33 – has been a quality tight end for a Falcons team that was in the Super Bowl just a few seasons ago, and he’s still just 25 years old. 
  17. Judon, 3, 33 – the Ravens need edge defenders and keeping Judon will help them continue to be a pretty dominant defense. 
  18. Anthony Harris, 3, 33 – had a breakout season with previous starter Andrew Sendejo gone. He’ll get a decent payday but a small-ish track record of success might mean he doesn’t get top safety money or long term commitment beyond three years. 
  19. Leo-Will, 4, 32 – the Giants gave up a third and fifth round pick to get Williams from the Jets last midseasons, so letting him go would be a disaster. 
  20. Brady – 2 years, $30 million. He had a drop off in production last season, and while he didn’t have much consistency at receiver and offensive line, there’s no doubt he’ll continue to decline as far as arm talent and maneuverability in the pocket. Staying in New England for $30 million wouldn’t be so bad. The Pats gave Jimmy G to San Fran for a second rounder with the assumption Brady could play until age 45, so letting him go would be a lost cause.
  21. Mike Pierce, 3, 30. A great run stuffer for the Ravens. Phlly have set a precedent for loading up on the defensive line with some success, bringing in Malik Jackson when they already had Fletcher Cox, Timmy Jernigan and Derek Barnettt, so the Ravens might do this also to help fellow d-tackle Brandon Williams.
    Pierce
    2020 free agent Michael Pierce, formerly of the Baltimore Ravens. Pic courtesy of pressboxonline.com.
  22. Devin McCourty, 2, 28 – a highly underrated piece of the Pats dominant run over the last decade. At age 32 he still has the speed to be a quality free safety, and will continue to be a veteran leader. 
  23. Bridgewater – 3, 27 – the Saints need a future at QB after Drew Brees and they might already have one in-house in Bridgewater, who they traded a third round pick for in 2018. He’s younger than Taysom Hill and is more proven as a starter. I think $9 million a year or so will be enough to keep Bridgewater in town – there might still be some concern about his injury history which could limit the market on him. 
  24. AJ Green, 2, 24 – a crucial part of presumed number one pick Joe Burrow’s time as a franchise QB will be having quality receivers, and AJ Green fits the bill. He’s held out for Cincy last season, but could be tempted back for a couple more years with Burrow under center. 
  25. Littleton, 3, 24 – the Rams have very little cap space but desperately need to keep Littleton, who has progressed from a key special teams contributor to being a quality young off-ball linebacker. 
  26. Chris Harris, 3, 24 – the Broncos still have a talented defense that Harris might not want to leave, particularly after they franchised Justin Simmons, acquired AJ Bouye, and are keeping Von Miller. Drew Lock might have shown enough promise to be good enough to get the Broncos back to the playoffs, so I think Harris might re-sign. 
  27. Jimmie Ward, 3, 24 – was a good player for the Niners in their Super Bowl season, showing great range and physicality from the safety spot. Keeping him would keep the locker room and personnel consistency intact, and they might find the cap space if they can make the aforementioned moves like trading Marquese Goodwin.
  28. Martinez, 3, 24 – has been a stable presence for the Packers as an off ball linebacker, could be entering prime at age 26. Without him, that linebacker group could look less than promising. 
  29. Kenyan Drake, 4, 24 – he balled out for Arizona after being traded there from Miami for a fifth round pick last midseason, and is young enough (26) to be worthy of a long term deal. They’re paying fellow running back David Johnson $13 million per year until the 2022 offseason, but with around $40 million in cap space, I don’t think that will be a major problem, and having two starting level running backs is a good idea with the league trending towards sharing the workload at a punishing position. 
  30. Brockers, 3, 21 – has been a good contributor on the defensive interior alongside Aaron Donald the last few seasons. If they re-sign Brockers, he and Greg Gaines can provide a nice defensive tackle rotation. 
  31. Robby Anderson, 3, 21 – the Jets are already paying Quincy Enunwa and Jamison Crowder nine million dollars per year each, but three receiver sets are in vogue so paying Anderson decent money might be a fine option anyway. Anderson has great deep ball ability which works well with Crowder and Enunwa’s shorter route YAC ability. 
  32. Conklin, 3, 21 – the Titans declined Conklin’s club option on his fifth year before last season, indicating that they might not prioritise having him once free agency hits, but he was a key part of the Titans great performances in the second half of last season. He’s one of the premier offensive lineman in the free agent class, so losing him would be a big loss for a team on the rise. 
  33. Everson Griffen, 2, 20 – he declined his player option on his contract with the Vikings to enter free agency, but he might re-sign with his team, as they’re still a solid team with strong defensive personnel and great skill position players on offense. 
  34. Bulaga, 2, 20 – has been an above average tackle when healthy. He’s 30 years old so a two year deal seems reasonable. 
  35. Winston, 2, 18 – very hit and miss – his 1:1 touchdown to interception ration last season suggests that. He played better towards the end of season which might have secured him a spot on the roster for a couple more years. 
  36. Tre Boston, 3, 18 – has played for four teams in four seasons, but played well enough for Carolina to deserve a long term deal. The Panthers are not opposed to committing long term to safeties who perform for them despite having some turmoil in their past – they gave Eric Reid $22 million over three years last offseason, one year removed from filing a grievance letter to the NFL for his inability to find a new contract, possibly due to his public protests against police brutality.  
  37. Brees – 1, $17 – he’s 41 years old so it’s unlikely he’d sign for longer, and this amount of money will ensure the Saints can improve in free agency. 
  38. Castonzo, 2, 16 – he’s been big part of Indy’s quality offensive line, so bringing him back for two years seems like a good idea. 
  39. J.Collins, 2, 12 – was basically let go by the Browns, and the Pats used him well, so signing him for a couple more years at a cheap rate might be a good move. 
  40. Jordan Howard, 2, 12 – was a consistent yard gainer for Philly, was given away for a sixth round pick by the Bears an offseason ago, so his market might still be low. 
  41. Jason Peters, 1, 10 – Peters is so good that he still contributes at age 38. Signing him for one more year gives Andre Dillard more time to grow and increases the bench depth. 
  42. Trevathan, 2, 10 – the Bears rarely rotate their starting linebackers out, so I think they prioritise bringing back a known quantity in Trevathan, as well as a younger Nick Kwiatkowski for more depth. 
  43. Nassib, 2, 10 – played well in a edge defender rotation for Tampa Bay, enough so to deserve a couple more years on his contract. 
  44. Ebron, 2, 10 – was a Pro-Bowl level tight end in 18-19, but had injuries last season and multiple ominous DNPs, which has undoubtedly led to Indy GM Chris Ballard say they’ll “probably move on” from him in free agency. Having said that, I see the market being low on him due to last season, and the Colts might realise that he’s too talented to let go so easily. He is a good enough receiver to play with fellow tight end Jack Doyle on occasion anyway. 
  45. Mike Daniels, 1, 7 – was strangely released by his long-time team the Packers last offseason and was picked up by the Lions. Defensive tackle will be a need for them with their release of Damon Harrison and Ashawn Robinson’s free agency. Daniels is good enough to deserve another short term contract at age 30. 
  46. Mariota, 2, 6 – disappointed as a starter last season, and his team had a dramatic turnaround when Tannehill started in his place. He was the second overall pick for Tennessee in 2015, so I think they’ll keep him around, as he knows the playbook and his teammates well.