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2024 NFL free agency: Five players who should stay with current team, five who should hit open market

Adam Rank identifies five players who should take advantage of free agency by hitting the open market ... and five who should find a way to make it work in their current situation.


Jaylon Johnson
Chicago Bears · CB · Age: 24

The Bears are one of the teams in great shape cap-wise, and they could reset the quarterback clock during the 2024 NFL Draft. At some point, you want to invest in your players and reward the loyalty of some of your club’s best. Johnson had a massive breakout campaign in 2023, earning his first Pro Bowl nod, and is one of the reasons (along with Montez Sweat) the Bears' defense improved dramatically last season -- ranking 12th overall after finishing 29th in 2022. GM Ryan Poles has even suggested he wants to extend Johnson long-term. Jaylon wants to stay in Chicago. This one seems automatic. 

Baker Mayfield
Tampa Bay Buccaneers · QB · Age: 28

This a tough one because Dave Canales -- who deserves a lot of credit for the rebirth of Baker -- is now the head coach of the Carolina Panthers. So returning to Tampa means Baker is going to learn from yet another offensive coordinator. That said, Liam Coen, is a more-than-capable replacement. In fact, Coen briefly worked with Mayfield as the offensive coordinator in Los Angeles two seasons ago. And it was Baker’s short stint with the Rams that really could get the credit for the quarterback's career resurgence. I mean, reuniting with Coen has to be better than, say, testing your luck with Arthur Smith in Pittsburgh. 

Justin Madubuike
Baltimore Ravens · DT · Age: 26

Madubuike is about to break the bank as one of the top defensive linemen on the free-agent market this offseason. He had a major breakout season -- in a contract year, no less -- with a team-high 13 sacks for a Ravens unit that lead the NFL in the category. And it’s not like Madubuike is a product of the system or anything like that, but the Ravens have built a special defense -- boosted by former DC Mike Macdonald, who’s now the head man in Seattle -- and it would be a shame to see the Pro Bowler walk away from that. He might end up with more money if he leaves, but I’m not sure he’s going to have more success.

Danielle Hunter
Minnesota Vikings · Edge · Age: 29

I know there are a lot of fan bases that are hoping Hunter joins their squads this offseason. I’m a Bears fan and would love for him to be in Chicago. But I really respect the work Brian Flores did to get even more out of an extremely talented player, as Hunter logged a career-high 16.5 sacks in Year 9 with the Vikings. I would have a hard time leaving that situation if I were him.

Chase Young
San Francisco 49ers · Edge · Age: 24

Again, I don’t want to take away from anybody’s chance to get the bag, as the kids put it. And nobody would blame Young for cashing in. But after spending the majority of his young career with a franchise undergoing a tumultuous ownership change -- a franchise that never won more than eight games in a season during his tenure -- Young saw how the other half lives. His brief time with the 49ers must've been like going from a cover band to being a member of Metallica. There are some things you can’t put a price on. And I’m assuming he’d still get money to play for the 49ers, so I would try to run it back with them if possible.


Brian Burns
Carolina Panthers · Edge · Age: 25

I want Burns to get out of Carolina. He’s a great player, but his talent has been wasted with a team that has won five games or fewer in four of his five seasons there (seven in 2022). Leaving will likely require that the team does not place the franchise tag on him. I imagine the Panthers still want to build around a player like Burns, who has led the team in sacks in three of his five seasons, but I don’t see a quick turnaround happening in Carolina. The franchise might be better off saving the money and letting him go chase a ring, or at least a playoff berth. I might be asking too much here. 

Chris Jones
Kansas City Chiefs · DT · Age: 29

The Chiefs could conceivably franchise tag Jones to keep him in Kansas City for another season, but that outcome doesn’t look likely at this point. I don’t want to shed too many tears for a guy who keeps getting paid at a high level to go out and win Super Bowls. But at some point, the star shines too bright and you need to go out and do your own thing. Like Jason Sudeikis. And yes, I’ve just caught on to Ted Lasso.

Antoine Winfield Jr.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers · S · Age: 25

Oh, man. Winfield Jr. does it all for the Bucs! And he could be the most coveted player if he does reach free agency. GM Jason Licht said Tuesday during the NFL Scouting Combine that he hopes to avoid using the franchise tag and that a long-term deal might be possible. And hey, if Winfield loves Tampa, that might not be a bad idea. However, I see a few up-and-coming teams that could use a safety, so maybe it would be in the All-Pro’s best interest to find a squad that might be closer to contending again. But that’s just me. I will say, he’s already won a Super Bowl with the Bucs, so looking elsewhere would not be taking the easy way out.  

Michael Pittman
Indianapolis Colts · WR · Age: 26

There could be a robust market for wide receivers this offseason -- especially with Davante Adams seemingly off the market. Mike Evans could be back in Tampa Bay (EDITOR'S UPDATE: Evans agreed to a two-year, $52 million extension), and Tee Higgins was tagged by Cincy. That could make Pittman the top dog, so to speak, of the free-agent class (assuming he doesn't get tagged, too). I know he might not be deemed as dynamic as some of the other guys, but Pittman has the ability to be a consistent 100-catch, 1,000-yard receiver for the right team. And he might find a better opportunity outside of Indianapolis, which has relied recently on its top-10 rushing attack and is looking for quarterback Anthony Richardson to return healthy and further develop as a passer in Year 2.

Saquon Barkley
New York Giants · RB · Age: 27

This one is obvious, and really, it goes for all the running backs -- including Derrick Henry and Austin Ekeler. The obvious landing spot is Baltimore. I don’t know if it was my imagination (looks like maybe it wasn’t), but I felt like the Ravens and Titans nearly made a rare NFL in-season deal for Henry last year. And while people might say Henry should sign with the Ravens this offseason, I believe Barkley has the most to offer Baltimore. Henry could instead end up joining a team like the Cowboys, which definitely missed having a bruising back last season. 

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