Free agency essentially boils down to a choice: stay or go.
Not every player will have the option to leave, specifically those who will be hit with the franchise tag, and not every player will want to leave. Some will recommit to the team they most recently suited up for. Others, however, will be donning different colors or scoping out a new city.
As the free agency period draws nearer, I've highlighted three free agents whose best option is remaining where they are -- and three who should definitely leave for new teams. (Note that players are listed with their current teams.)
THREE PLAYERS WHO SHOULD STAY
Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots
Brady recently texted his former offensive coordinator, Sirius XM NFL Radio's Charlie Weis, to remind him that nobody but Brady knows what's happening with his pending free agent status and NFL future. The football world is anxiously waiting to find out where arguably the greatest quarterback of all time will spend the 2020 season. But the 42-year-old will have a limited number of suitors, based on his age, system fit and concerns about a dip in production last season, even though a lack of support at the skill positions might have contributed to those struggles. The Patriots -- who are known for jettisoning veteran talent in advance of their inevitable decline -- might have similar concerns about Brady.
However, if Bill Belichick and Co. are open to another go-around with Brady, the benefits of sticking with the only franchise the quarterback has ever known outweigh the potential positives of leaving for a team like the Titans or Chargers. A new team would come with uncertainties; staying in New England would allow Brady to conduct his 21st NFL season in a familiar place on a team that will know exactly what he's capable of -- one that he can know will be favored to win the AFC East again, thus putting him in position to potentially add to his collection of Super Bowl rings. While some of the greatest QBs ever -- including Joe Namath, Johnny Unitas, Brett Favre and Peyton Manning -- ended up playing for multiple teams, there is something to be said for the idea of Brady being a Patriot for life.
Leonard Williams, DL, New York Giants
The Giants could use the franchise tag to hang on to Williams, in whom general manager Dave Gettleman already invested -- as part of a somewhat-risky decision -- a pair of draft picks while acquiring the former first-rounder from the Jets via trade last October. But if Williams does hit the market, and if he receives an offer from the Giants that is close to what he would get elsewhere, he should strongly consider staying with the team that seemingly wants to structure the defensive line around him, and which could be providing him with more help via the fourth overall pick in the draft. (New Giants coach Joe Judge scouted Derrick Brownat Auburn's pro day.)
Jason Pierre-Paul, Edge, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Bucs coach Bruce Arians said in December keeping the defensive front seven together is a priority for him, but that will be tricky, with Shaq Barrett, Carl Nassib and Jason Pierre-Paul are all headed for free agency. Barrett will likely be tagged, leaving Pierre-Paul potentially free to sign elsewhere. JPP was mentioned in my article listing free agents with maximum leverage heading into the signing period for a reason: He played a significant role in Barrett's 19.5-sack season. After Barrett's hot start (nine sacks in his first four games), opposing offensive lines began to focus on him, cutting down on his production -- until Pierre-Paul returned from offseason neck surgery in Week 8, forcing opponents to account for two potent pass-rushing threats. Barrett went on to notch 10.5 more sacks in his final 10 games, while JPP added 8.5 of his own. If the Bucs lock down Barrett and make a competitive offer to JPP, he should think about re-teaming with Barrett and continuing to build on the momentum they established in Tampa last season.
THREE PLAYERS WHO SHOULD LEAVE
Teddy Bridgewater, QB, New Orleans Saints
Last offseason, Bridgewater passed on a chance to start for the Dolphins, choosing instead to re-sign with New Orleans for another year of backup duty behind Drew Brees. Then, when Brees went down with a thumb injury, Bridgewater stepped up and compiled a 5-0 record with a 9:2 TD-to-INT ratio, answering any remaining doubts about his ability to once again be a bona fide starting QB after his 2016 knee injury. With Brees coming back for another season and Taysom Hill also likely to return, it would make little sense for either side to have Bridgewater on the Saints' roster in 2020, with Bridgewater appearing ready to bolt for a starting opportunity and New Orleans lacking the cap space to keep him. Tampa is an intriguing possibility for the 27-year-old; after Jameis Winston's 30-interception 2019, the Bucs would surely appreciate Bridgewater's turnover-averse ways.
Yannick Ngakoue, Edge, Jacksonville Jaguars
In the wake of reports that the Jaguarsintend to use the franchise tag on him, Ngakoue made it clear he wants out of Jacksonville. Though the team will be shorthanded after having bid farewell to veterans A.J. Bouye, Marcell Dareus and Jake Ryan, the ideal scenario for both sides could be for the Jags to tag Ngakoue, then find a trade partner who could send draft picks to Jacksonville and offer a big-bucks extension to Ngakoue, a la the trades that sent Frank Clark from the Seahawks to the Chiefs and Dee Ford from the Chiefs to the 49ers last offseason.
Joe Schobert, LB, Cleveland Browns
This one is a bit of a cheat, because while the Browns haven't indicated anything officially, Cleveland.com reported in February that the team won't be re-signing the linebacker this offseason as it focuses on filling glaring needs on the offensive line. But if Cleveland doesn't want him, Schobert should have no trouble finding someone willing to pay him $10 million per season this offseason -- as a defender who can make plays in space and serve a leadership role, he'll be well worth that cost. In 2019, the 26-year-old registered a career-high nine passes defensed and four picks.