Looking to 2025: Free agency and draft preview, plus Kelce is underpaid

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That’s a far cry from the 1936 NFL Draft, which marked the first time professional football teams selected from a pool of players. It looked something like this:

Free agency and the NFL Draft have come and gone, and the Raiders still have a “Band-Aid” at quarterback. New England could use an elite receiver, while the Falcons and Bears need edge rushers.

What does 2025 offer teams with question marks? Let’s look at expected free agents and next year’s draft:

2025 free agents 

After former GM Randy Mueller covered 2025’s top 30 free agents, let’s quickly look at three positions with players likely to be available:

  • WR: Stefon Diggs, Keenan Allen, Amari Cooper and Chris Godwin are all talented receivers above age 29 likely available in the $19-25M, one-year rental range. Tee Higgins (25) would command a longer-term deal.
  • QB: Either Russell Wilson or Justin Fields will likely move on from Pittsburgh, while Sam Darnold and Jimmy Garoppolo could tempt teams, but hopefully not mine. Daniel Jones could be cut. Heck, a 47-year-old Tom Brady could return.
  • Pass rushers: Veterans Khalil Mack, Shaq Barrett, Haason Reddick, Matt Judon and Josh Sweat could hit the open market. The $10-15M range is reasonable here. Seeing Mack (33) back in Chicago would be special.

Who’ll have cap space?

Teams who can and can’t spend in 2025, per Over the Cap:

  • Most cap space: Patriots ($128M), Cardinals ($113M), Commanders ($102M) and Lions ($98M … 👀).
  • Least cap space: Seahawks ($2M), 49ers (-$23M), Browns (-$31M) and Saints (-$73M … 😂).\

The 2025 draft

After a record-setting haul of quarterbacks and offensive players, next year’s draft is less star-studded, pending breakouts during the upcoming college season. Three takeaways from Dane Brugler’s 2025 mock draft:

  • No. 1: Georgia DL Mykel Williams, a “toolsy prospect” who could switch to edge — similar to his comp, 2022 No. 1 pick Travon Walker, who quietly had 10 sacks last season.
  • QBs: Only three are first-round picks, starting with Georgia’s Carson Beck, whom Dane lists as the No. 2 pick. Texas’ Quinn Ewers is No. 14, followed by Colorado’s Shedeur Sanders (yes, Deion’s son) at No. 22.
  • Defense: 17 defensive prospects are projected in the first round, including edge Abdul Carter, who draws comps to fellow Penn State alum Micah Parsons. Two Michigan defenders — DT Mason Graham and CB Will Johnson — go top five.

Who’ll have extra picks? 

While every team still has their first, the Bears and Bills have extra second-rounders (thanks, Bryce Young and Stefon Diggs). And of course, Eagles GM Howie Roseman has additional third-, fifth- and seventh-rounders in 2025.

The Vikings have the least draft capital, missing their second-, third- and fourth-round picks. The Rams traded a 2025 second to move up to No. 39 and draft DT Braden Fiske, who will reunite with fellow Florida State alumni Jared Verse (No. 19) in L.A. Speaking of draft pick trades …

What Dianna’s Hearing: Closing the books

The 2022 Texans-Browns Deshaun Watson trade is now complete. Let’s look at the results:

The Texans received:

  • 2022 first-round pick (became G Kenyon Green)
  • 2022 fourth (became RB Dameon Pierce)
  • 2023 first (became DE Will Anderson Jr.)
  • 2023 third (became WR Tank Dell)
  • (2024 first, which was then traded back with Vikings)
    • 2024 second (CB Kamari Lassiter)
    • 2024 sixth (LB Jamal Hill)
  • 2024 fourth (became S Caden Bullock)

The Browns received:

  • QB Deshaun Watson
  • 2024 sixth (included in trade for Jerry Jeudy)

And that doesn’t factor in Watson’s 2024 cap hit, which is a hair under $64 million.

Back to you, Jacob.

Most underpaid position in the NFL: Tight end?

Running backs get the attention, but the NFL’s most underpaid position might be tight end. After Hall of Famer Travis Kelce received an extension that amounted to a $4M raise, he became the highest-paid tight end in NFL history. Still, he will make significantly less than top receivers, many of whom he outproduces.

Three numbers demonstrate the difference:

  • $17.1M: Kelce’s new 2024 salary, per Spotrac, currently ranks 114th among all players, is ~$400K less than Jerry Jeudy, ~$1M less than Christian Kirk and ~$8M less than DeVonta Smith.
  • 302: Total receptions for TEs Evan Engram, T.J. Hockenson and Kelce in 2023, who made a combined $44M last season.
  • 301: Total receptions for WRs Tyreek Hill, Davante Adams and Mike Evans in 2023, who made a combined $74M last season.

As Austin Mock outlined in his excellent pre-draft article, the league does not consider tight end a premier position. The only positions with top-10 salaries lower than TE are center and running back, despite tight ends regularly outproducing highly paid WRs — while blocking better than some offensive linemen.

A productive, relatively cheap TE is a major advantage. Austin’s NFL Projection Model has Kelce and Mark Andrews making a similar impact on any given NFL game as Adams and A.J. Brown, but for significantly less money.

And unlike RBs, top TEs have incredibly long careers of sustained success. Kelce, for example, has played at least 15 games in every season since 2014, receiving a Pro Bowl nod each year. But, because he’s a TE, Kelce will make roughly half the amount of Amon-Ra St. Brown, the top-paid WR in 2024.

Ah, so that’s why Kelce is selling out?

Around the NFL

The Browns exercised CB Greg Newsome II’s fifth-year option, guaranteeing him around $13M this season. Mike Jones has the full list of players with fifth-year options. The deadline is Thursday.

Former Broncos CB Chris Harris Jr. announced his retirement from the NFL yesterday. Undrafted, the 34-year-old Harris was named to the 2010s All-Decade team after winning Super Bowl 50, making four Pro Bowls and three All-Pro teams.

How long until QB Bo Nix is the starter in Denver? “They won’t rush the rookie if he’s not ready, but Nix has every chance to win the job,” wrote Nick Kosmider in his look at the Broncos depth chart.

Kalyn Kahler revealed the identity of Prospect X, the most overlooked player in the 2024 NFL Draft whom the Vikings used their last pick on.

What’s the Falcons‘ plan at QB? Josh Kendall explores the unprecedented situation. “Ninety million dollars of Cousins’ guaranteed $100 million will be paid in the first two years of his deal, and the Falcons could release him after the 2025 season and accrue only $25 million in dead-cap penalty.”

Jacob’s Picks

📕 Post-draft Power Rankings. Josh Kendall assesses where teams stand following the draft: Chiefs reign on top, Dallas jumps to No. 7 and the Bears’ selection of Caleb Williams and Rome Odunze moves them into the top-15.  (The Athletic)

📕 Best value picks for all 32 teams: The Panthers drafted Dane Brugler’s No. 2 TE, Ja’Tavion Sanders, almost 50 spots below his ranking. Sanders’ 139 targets and 99 catches over the past two seasons trailed only Raiders’ TE Brock Bowers, the No. 13 pick. (The Athletic)

🎙 What did the draft tell us? Robert Mays is joined by ESPN’s Field Yates to break down the messages we’ve learned from teams’ roster-building this offseason. (The Athletic Football Show)

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(Photos: NFL draft: Harry L. Hall / Associated Press,
Travis Kelce: Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

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