It’s been a busy two weeks in the NFL, with the combine, franchise action and quarterback musical chairs in full swing. But next week, things really kick into high gear league-wide with the opening of free agency.
The “legal tampering” window, when teams are allowed to begin negotiating with free agent representatives, opens Monday at noon ET. Then, starting at 4 p.m. ET on Wednesday, players can start signing new deals.
At this time of year, hope is eternal as each team adds to the puzzle what their officials consider the pieces that make a difference.
Here’s a look at a key free agent target that would make sense for each of the NFL’s 32 teams as they try to improve their rosters and position themselves for success this fall.
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The Cardinals badly need a pass thrower up front with JJ Watt now retired and Markus Golden better suited as second fiddle. Davenport generates a lot of pressure, but last season only managed a half sack. It’s not a good year for pass rushers because teams aren’t letting top guys walk. But Davenport could potentially help Arizona.
The Falcons’ needs are many, but they couldn’t stop anyone last season. That’s why despite the quarterback’s uncertainty, Atlanta needs to invest in defense. Hargrave is considered one of the best inside linemen in the league.
If Lamar Jackson stays, the Ravens need to improve his supporting cast. Former division rival Smith-Schuster, who just won the Super Bowl for Kansas City, could help fill a void.
Buffalo needs more balance on offense and should have made a deal at last year’s trade deadline to bring Hunt into the mix. He didn’t, but he now gets a chance to do it again by signing him in free agency. An improved rushing offense will help ease the pressure on Josh Allen and make the Bills less predictable.
Frank Reich has turned to the stable veteran before, and it might be time for the Panthers coach to do it again. Carolina is expected to use the first pick (acquired Friday in a trade with Chicago) on a quarterback. But Brissett would fill a great need as an insurance if this prized recruit isn’t ready for prime time, and as a valuable mentor.
The Bears definitely need to surround Justin Fields with more weapons. But they also need to strengthen their defense to put Fields and the offense in more favorable positions. A top-flight pass thrower like Ngakoue could help with that.
Protecting Joe Burrow is still the No. 1 priority. The Bengals invested in their last offseason but still have a long way to go before this 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 fell short last season and that led to a defensive coordinator change. Cleveland could use additional point guards that Jim Schwartz could work with. Wagner is a tackle machine and would serve as the bon ton to accompany Myles Garrett.
The Cowboys need to get another weapon from Dak Prescott against CeeDee Lamb. Thielen brings valuable veteran presence and is reliable with his ability to move chains.
The Broncos need to strengthen inside their defensive line, so Sean Payton can look to his past and sign eighth-year veteran Onyemata, who is coming off one of his most productive seasons.
After giving up a record 392.4 yards per game and ranking third against the pass, the Lions need to tackle their secondary. Enter Dean, who has recorded multiple interceptions in three of his first four seasons in the league.
A hard-hitting tight end is an important part of Mike Shanahan’s offense that was passed on to Matt LaFleur. But the Packers have been lacking in that area, which is why Schultz would make a lot of sense.
The Texans will draft one of the best quarterbacks, and possibly the No. 1 passer available. But they need a veteran quarterback, and White, who played last season under former Kyle disciple Shanahan LaFleur, would be familiar with the system that Bobby Slowik brings from San Francisco.
The Colts could very well snatch one of the best quarterbacks in the draft, but rookie head coach Shane Steichen could use a veteran to help get him started on the right foot. Minshew was in Philadelphia with Steichen and might be the right person for the job.
With the defensive back high on the Jaguars’ offseason shopping list, Sutton’s rise (three interceptions, 15 pass breakups last season) would be a big deal.
Thomas is hitting free agency after a few injury-plagued seasons, and there are few more enticing destinations than Kansas City, where Patrick Mahomes could use another playmaker to get that 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 is familiar with McDaniels’ system from his time in New England, and should also have a price tag that allows the Raiders to continue filling more holes in the game. the list.
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They have the guys on edge in Joey Bosa and Khalil Mack. But with expected casualties at the heart of the defense, Bush could be a good option.
After a very disappointing season in which Matthew Stafford was battered and bruised and ultimately placed on the disabled list, the Rams need to invest in their offensive line. McGary, a 2019 first-round pick, could be key.
Desperate to better protect Tua Tagovailoa, Mike McDaniel may seek to lure McGlinchey away from his former boss Kyle Shanahan and the 49ers.
The Vikings need to make some key additions, and with Za’Darius Smith reportedly asking for his release, the pass rusher becomes an even bigger priority. Flowers had some of his best years in New England under new Minnesota defensive coordinator Brian Flores, so a reunion might be in order.
The Patriots need the help of a wide receiver, especially with Jakobi Meyers expected to leave via free agency. Golladay fell short of expectations in New York, but has the potential to make a large-scale impact. A fresh start in New England might be just what he needs.
Solid against both the run and the pass, Rankins could help fill a void inside a Saints defense that needs to improve.
OBJ hasn’t lost its love for the Big Apple, and with Daniel Jones now locked up long-term and Saquon Barkley retained on the franchise tag, the Giants need a perimeter playmaker.
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If they’re swinging that trade for Aaron Rodgers, adding another wide receiver across from Garrett Wilson makes a lot of sense. Lazard knows Rodgers well and could therefore follow him from Green Bay.
A talented veteran like Peterson could help bolster a revamped defense in Philadelphia, where many familiar faces could leave.
Mike Tomlin’s defense needs more playmakers at the back 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 league’s worst against the run, so they’ll be chasing disruptive players for inside 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 start the post-Tom Brady era.
The Titans need to fix their quarterback situation, but whoever is under center will need improved receivers. Meyers would likely be attractive to coach Mike Vrabel, who played for the Patriots.
The Washington defense has a great line but could really use an upgrade at inside linebacker. Edmunds, a two-time Pro Bowl selection with great height and versatility, could definitely make an impact.
(Illustration: Sean Reilly / Athleticism: Photos of James Bradberry, Jimmy Garoppolo and JuJu Smith-Schuster: Getty Images)