NFL free agency matchmaker: For both fantasy and reality, where should the top players end up?

Whether you're an avid fantasy football player or just a fan of the NFL, free agency always brings a sense of excitement with it. And in the spirit of that excitement, Matt Harmon is playing matchmaker with the top free agents at every position, revealing where he thinks they'll fit best in both fantasy and reality.


Kirk Cousins to the Atlanta Falcons

I’m buying all the whispers that point to Cousins deciding between a return to Minnesota or flying away to Atlanta. Ultimately, the Falcons' sheer will to land a proven starting quarterback and their willingness to pay up for that security wins out over a Vikings brass that seems split on their path forward at the position.

Atlanta makes sense for Cousins because this team has the talent it needs to win now. Specifically on offense, Drake London has all the tools and abilities to handle significant volume in the new system Zac Robinson will bring on offense. Bijan Robinson is a bellcow back capable of being the figurehead of a dominant run game.

I know some will feel burned by what happened with this offense over the last few seasons, but this will be the dawn of a new era and Cousins’ arrival will seal that reality.

Baker Mayfield back to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers

A reunion here is the only thing that makes sense for both parties. I remain unconvinced that another team will view Mayfield as highly as the Bucs will after he enjoyed success in their building. You would imagine Mayfield wants to settle down after experiencing quite a bit of volatility in his first five seasons in the league.

The one big variable to consider with this unit is turnover at the offensive coordinator position, with Liam Coen taking over following Dave Canales’ departure. Otherwise, Mayfield should return to resume his excellent connection with Mike Evans and continue to ride the wave of a largely successful 2023 retool.

Russell Wilson to the New York Giants

I haven’t seen this one reported anywhere, and I'm not convinced it's a real possibility. Nevertheless, I think it makes some sense.

Brian Daboll has to know his seat is hot entering 2024 after a full-on disaster showing last season. I can’t imagine Daboll is comfortable rolling into that pressure cooker with Daniel Jones the lone serious option at quarterback. There are at least some rumblings the front office already has buyer’s remorse, so they could be on board with adding real competition. Wilson’s offset money would allow the Giants to pay him very little as he recoups almost all of his Denver salary. It’s a unique situation that would give the Giants a chance to add a competent veteran to push Jones without having to shell out major money to two quarterbacks.

Gardner Minshew back to the Indianapolis Colts

Other analysts believe that Minshew is closer to starting-caliber than I do. He was a limiting factor in the Colts offense last year after replacing Anthony Richardson but he did his job to keep the ship afloat. That sounds like a great backup option to me, even if Minshew has now started a healthy 37 games through five seasons. Given Richardson’s injury concerns, I see the cap-rich Colts doing what they need to keep Minshew in-house. This is good news for fantasy football managers investing in Michael Pittman Jr. or other pass-catchers here. The floor is protected.

Ryan Tannehill to the Chicago Bears

Tannehill’s days as a starter should be finished. He can still make a quality backup and is within the veteran-mentor stage of his career. The Bears need someone with experience to work alongside future No. 1 overall pick, Caleb Williams. Tannehill learned to play within structure during his Titans days and could help Williams acclimate to the league in Year 1.

Joe Flacco to Minnesota Vikings

This might sneakily be my favorite of the exercise. If the Vikings lose Cousins and prepare to walk down the rookie quarterback path, it would help to have a veteran in place who could start for a stretch as the rookie develops. Joe Flacco averaged a beefy 12.0 yards per attempt on play-action throws with the Browns last regular season. That would overlap with some of the staple concepts of Kevin O’Connell’s offense.

Jacoby Brissett to New England Patriots

A reunion that makes sense for all sides. Whether the Patriots just want a veteran backup to a rookie or a one-year placeholder, Brissett can be their man. He’s put good film on display in spurts for each of the last two seasons.

Jameis Winston and Sam Darnold to the Denver Broncos

I have no idea what the Broncos will be on offense this year, but they don’t have the money for a Cousins pursuit nor the draft capital to trade up for a top prospect. So why not just put together the weirdest, wildest quarterback competition possible for Sean Payton to mess around with?

Running Backs

Saquon Barkley to the Chicago Bears

None of the available free-agent running backs, Barkley included, are coming off their best year. The Bears can afford to take the plunge and add him to their backfield. Chicago has the sixth-most cap space entering free agency and should be all-in on adding talent around Caleb Williams.

They can just get by with their current committee of backs next season. With an investment at running back like Barkley, they can take their offense in both phases to a different level.

Josh Jacobs to the Houston Texans

Jacobs boasted a 66.3% success rate and 4.83 yards per carry on zone concept runs during his electric 2022 campaign. That should make him a system fit with the Texans offense under Bobby Slowik. Jacobs would give the Texans a stabilizing back who can catch passes and help close out games. If he played alongside C.J. Stroud, he’d be a likely second-round fantasy pick in 2024.

Derrick Henry to the Baltimore Ravens

I’ll be the 100th person to suggest this fit after this was a rumored trade at the deadline during the season. It just makes so much sense. The Ravens have built an excellent power-rushing ecosystem over the years. Adding Henry, even at this stage of his career, can serve to weaponize that. This would be one of the few landing spots where I’d be willing to get aggressive with Henry’s fantasy projections.

Austin Ekeler to the Kansas City Chiefs

Ekeler is at the point in his career where he needs to return to a timeshare. He can still bring value to a team in a receiving-heavy workload where he complements an early-down banger. That sounds like a fit with the Chiefs and Isiah Pacheco. He could play on passing downs and he also fits well in some of their gap-heavy run concepts.

Tony Pollard to the Philadelphia Eagles

The Eagles continue to try and moneyball their running back position with cheaper or distressed additions. Pollard has familiarity with now-Eagles offensive coordinator Kellen Moore and should come at a reasonable rate after a down year with the Cowboys. Philly would likely add more to their backfield than just Pollard in this scenario.

D’Andre Swift to the Washington Commanders

Swift certainly has juice and is a quality back but he’s more of a complementary piece than a bellcow. He could add some lightning to Brian Robinson’s thunder in Washington. Kliff Kingsbury’s offense left plenty to be desired from a passing-game standpoint but the run game was often efficient.

JK Dobbins to the Los Angeles Chargers

Dobbins may not end up getting much interest on the open market given how injuries have haunted his career. The Chargers make sense as a landing spot as he can follow former coordinator Greg Roman there. Los Angeles is in the middle of a full rebuild in the backfield with both Ekeler and Joshua Kelley up for free agency.

Zack Moss to the Minnesota Vikings

Moss seems destined to be every Zero-RB drafter’s favorite sleeper next season. In some appearances with the Colts last season, Moss showed he can handle a starter-level workload. The Vikings are still looking to find a permanent solution in the post-Dalvin Cook era, and Moss can fit into the rotation.

Wide Receivers

Calvin Ridley to the New York Jets

The Jets desperately need starting-caliber receivers beyond Garrett Wilson. The rest of that room is a disaster. Part of what led to Ridley’s volatile production last year was the Jaguars’ static usage and persistent alignment at X-receiver. With Wilson in place, Ridley could slide in as the flanker and give New York another option who can separate.

Marquise Brown to the New England Patriots

New England is in such dire straits on offense from a personnel standpoint it needs to come away with multiple possible starters in free agency. Brown isn’t a No. 1 but is a starting-level option with inside/outside versatility as a speed-based receiver. The Patriots would need to look for a true X-receiver with size to start alongside Brown and DeMario Douglas, but this draft is rich with prospects of that ilk.

Gabe Davis to the New York Giants

Brian Daboll has already shown a willingness to sign receivers he worked with in Buffalo — Isaiah Hodgins and Cole Beasley — so he takes another swing here. Gabe Davis is a limited player who rips it downfield on vertical routes and in tight coverage. He would not be the lone solution to the Giants’ wide receiver woes but he does give them an option on the outside.

Curtis Samuel to the Houston Texans

I’ve always held a soft spot for Samuel so you can accuse me of wishcasting. However, the Texans could stand to add more depth to their receiver room behind 2023 breakout star, Nico Collins. Samuel has been pigeonholed into gadget-based roles in the past but can beat man coverage outside. He’d give them a solid No. 3 who can pass as a WR2 if Tank Dell comes back a little slow off a season-ending injury.

Odell Beckham Jr. back to the Baltimore Ravens

It’s tough to find a landing spot for Beckham, given that he’s purely a rotational player at this stage of his career. But he had some moments and got downfield with the Ravens last season. Perhaps he returns to Baltimore on a cheaper deal after they paid handsomely for his services this time last year.

Darnell Mooney to the Kansas City Chiefs

This move alone would not solve all of the Chiefs' wide receiver woes but it’s a start. Mooney’s production fell off a cliff the last two years but he caught 142 passes over his first two seasons in the league, playing under Chiefs offensive coordinator Matt Nagy. Mooney can play inside and out, which would allow them some flexibility with Rashee Rice and leave them open to pursue a true X-receiver in the draft.

Kendrick Bourne to the Carolina Panthers

Bourne has always been a rock-solid role player throughout his career. He had some big moments with the Patriots last year. He can beat man coverage and has been productive on third down throughout his career. His 2023 ACL tear gives the Panthers a discount.

Tight Ends

Noah Fant to the Cincinnati Bengals

The Bengals' tight end career rehabilitation tour has gone 1-for-2 after a successful stint with Hayden Hurst in 2022 and a flop with Irv Smith Jr. last year. They currently don’t have a tight end under contract for next season. Fant fits the mold of tight ends who flashed in their earlier years only to break out on their second contract. Perhaps the Bengals strike gold here.

Gerald Everett to the Washington Commanders

I feel a little less confident in this one after Washington signed Zach Ertz, who has history with Kliff Kingsbury. Yet, that can’t be their only move at the position. I’ve never been a huge Everett fan but he could fit in this spread offense as a move option.