- Bill Barnwell is a staff writer for ESPN.com.
The 2020 NFL season has arguably been the weirdest in league history. Next year will hopefully be something closer to normal, but the league’s pending free agents will be in a bind with the salary cap projected to fall to $175 million. Teams that have relied on steady cap increases will be forced to cut veterans to create space, resulting in a flooded market. The significant cap increases that will come after the league signs its new television deals are still two or three years away.
This is a terrible time to become a free agent, which is why it’s even more important to impress the market with how they perform over the final few weeks of the NFL season. Let’s run through the pending free agents who have the most to gain or lose over the remainder of the 2020 season. I’m leaving out players such as JuJu Smith-Schuster and Trey Hendrickson, in part because they likely have done enough to justify significant deals if they’re allowed to hit free agency.
For the 15 players on this list, the difference between a hot finish to the season and a disappointing December could amount to tens of millions in guaranteed money. Let’s start with a player who seemed to be in line to get his opportunity to impress, only to be left on the bench:
Jameis Winston, QB, New Orleans Saints
Age entering 2021 season: 27
Winston always seems to be on lists like this. This year, it looked like an enormous opportunity might be opening up for the former first overall pick after Drew Brees went on injured reserve, but coach Sean Payton chose to elevate Taysom Hill to the starting job. The 30-year-old was solid in his debut as the Saints’ starter, posting a 68.3 Total QBR in a comfortable victory over the rival Falcons.
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