The free agents starting off a new NFL season are giving us all a weird feeling. The crop is tougher to predict and to rank than any recent years and leaves a lot of question marks hanging around. Some of the best players ever can already see the end of their careers on the horizon, which makes both a renewed contract and an offer from a new team seem awkward and hard to picture.
But, the talent is impossible to deny – though difficult to categorize or make guesses about the future. But in the end, most of these free agents will be picked up and bound back down somewhere – especially the top 10.
By next month, we’ll have some answers. In the meantime, here are the most valuable players:
1. Dak Prescott, Cowboys QB
Dak’s 2019 performance led to some pretty split opinions, divided over his mind-blowing numbers before a very bumpy end of the season. But Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has made it clear he wants to bring him back, and we don’t doubt it.
2. Chris Jones, Chiefs DE
Worth his weight in gold as an interior lineman, we’re sure he’ll be contracted any minute as he continues on to the Super Bowl with his current team.
3. Amari Cooper, Cowboys WR
No doubt the Cowboys would love to swoop Cooper up, but making a better offer than 31 other teams might be a price too steep…
4. Jadeveon Clowney, Seahawks DE
Is he one of the highest-paid defender in football, or the highest? We’ll see who’s willing to put their money where their cleats are.
5. Shaq Barrett, Buccaneers OLB
Bruce Arians said of Barrett after his career year: “He ain’t going anywhere.” This year’s performance is sure to jack up his profit a bit.
6. Ryan Tannehill, Titans QB
Tannehill’s talent may yet be short-lived, but the numbers force us to bring him to the top of these ranks anyway – there could be an ascending starting quarterback in those shoes, and it looks like the Titans are willing to keep their ropes around him just in case. His previous performance in the Miami Dolphin was less than impressive but he was able to bring the 9-7 Titans to the AFC Championship game.
9. Drew Brees, Saints QB
Brees certainly made the Saints’ money worth something last season, but his arm strength is still in question next season – and with new teammates on the other end. Brees will be entering his 20th season in the NFL.
8. Tom Brady, Patriots QB
Well, this one’s a no-brainer. After a long and rich career that’s seen him all the way to 43 years and with a dismal last season, his prospects are looking short-term and will almost definitely only include a return to the team he’s played with for 2 decades and his entire career if it’s short-term.
Her Father’s Daughter
Following in her father’s footsteps, Gigi was an all-star on the basketball court. Although she was only a teenager, there were constant reports of her skill. College basketball coaches were asking her father to encourage her to attend their colleges and play for their teams, despite her young age.
“I Got This”
Being the father of four daughters, fans would always comment on how Kobe needed to have a son to continue his legacy. But Gianna was all her father ever needed. “Gianna will be standing next to me, and it’ll be like, ‘And you gotta have a boy. You and V gotta have a boy, have somebody carry on the tradition, the legacy,'” he said. Gianna would quickly chime in, “I got this. No boy, for that, I got this.”
Daddy’s Little Girl
Gianna was always by her father’s side, both on and off the basketball court. In 2009, the daddy-daughter duo that swept the world off their feet was photographed after the Lakers defeated Orlando Magic, 99-86. Victory aside, it didn’t matter to Gigi if Kobe won or lost the game, she was always in her father’s arms. They were always right beside each other, even at the very end of both of their lives.
Her Role Model
From a young age, Gianna looked up to her father. The world watched as Gigi grew into her father’s mini-me. From being an infant in her father’s arms to a toddler trying to her hold her father’s Larry O’ Brien Trophy, all bets were on her. The young family posed together after the Lakers won the NBA Finals in 2009 – Vanessa, Natalia, and Gianna, all wearing purple and yellow, the Lakers’ colors.
Kobe and Vanessa Bryant had four daughters, Gigi was the basketball player of the four. She was going to carry the Bryant name as a baller. This was a happy realization for Kobe, knowing his daughter was going to follow in his footsteps. Gigi’s head was always in the game, “I try to watch as much film as I can,” she said in an interview with Las Vegas CBS affiliate KLAS in 2019.
A Family Affair
Bryant acknowledged his daughter’s talents long before the world understood that Gigi was her father’s protégé. In 2017 he said, “She came to me last summer and asked if I would teach her the game a little bit, so she just started playing,” Bryant said. The MVP recognized his daughters’ many talents, bringing them up whenever possible, “Natalia’s a great volleyball player and Gianna’s great at basketball, great at soccer.”
How Kobe Met Vanessa
Kobe was an iconic basketball player, but first and foremost, he was a family man. To understand his relationship with Gigi, we must first understand his relationship with her mother, Vanessa. He met his wife, Vanessa, in 1999 on the set of a Snoop Dogg video shoot where she was a backup dancer. She was still a high school student, and he was just twenty years old. When Vanessa turned eighteen, the two got engaged. It wasn’t until April 2001 that the lovebirds tied the knot.
Many Thought Their Relationship Wouldn’t Last
Although Kobe and Vanessa were married for close to nineteen years before the NBA star tragically passed away, many believed that their marriage wasn’t going to last. After all, the two were bound to face extraordinary odds, given the fact that they had met when they were both so young. That, combined with the strain of living in the public eye, didn’t make for a promising future, according to a close source. They pushed through, building a family of four beautiful daughters together.
The Apple Doesn’t Fall Far
The father and daughter’s similarities were apparent – their dark, piercing eyes, especially. But, there were also similarities in the way they played the game. They were both methodical and were willing to outwork their opponents. Gigi knew that being her father’s daughter meant that all eyes would be on her and that the comparisons between the two on and off the court were inevitable, but she worked it in her favor while making the game her own.
A Bright Future
Gianna would listen to her father break down play by play, and together, they would watch every detail on the court. Russ Davis, the women’s basketball coach at Vanguard University in Southern California, who had become close with the Bryant family in recent years, said that Gigi was turning into a special player, improving and understand the game. She was going to have a bright future.
Mamba & Mambacita
On December 30th, 2019, Kobe filed to trademark Gigi’s very own baller name, “Mambacita.” Bryant started referring to his daughter by this handle on social media – it was a twist on his own hoops nickname, “The Black Mamba.” The game-plan was to put “Mambacita” on all of Gigi’s athletic clothing, such as hats, shirts, jerseys, shorts, and sweatpants.
Basketball wasn’t the only sport Gianna and her father enjoyed together. In 2018, the father-daughter duo watched the Phillips 66 National Swimming Championships. They enjoyed the championships alongside Olympic medalist, Michael Phelps. Bryant was a close friend of Phelps’ and made many appearances at major swimming events. Throughout the years, Kobe made his way to many swimming events, teaching Gigi that the love of sports can be a diverse one.
Standing on the Shoulders of Giants
Soccer was another sport Gigi and Kobe enjoyed together. Even when Gianna was too short to see what was happening in the game, her father wouldn’t let her miss a second of it. He would pop her up on his shoulders as any father would, ensuring the very best for his daughter. Without giving it a second thought, he put her on his shoulders when they attended the USA vs. China woman’s soccer match at Qualcomm Stadium on April 10, 2014.
She Got Game
In late December 2019, Kobe retweeted a post of a short video of Gigi, posted originally by the WNBA. She scored, of course. The proud father would tweet and retweet many videos of his 13-year-old legend-to-be playing on the court, playing the sport they both loved dearly. Kobe was a proud father, always pushing her forward. “Gigi getting better every day,” her dad wrote.
His Life Post-NBA
Following his retirement, Bryant felt that he finally had the time to pursue another side of himself, one that inspired him, in his words, and that he felt was endlessly rewarding. His family was his inspiration, and he founded The Kobe & Vanessa Bryant Family Foundation, which is dedicated to improving the lives of youth in need by providing financial resources and programs. After retiring, Bryant would frequently invite current NBA stars to his home to help them train. He had many business ventures, including a collaboration called “13”, a constant reminder of him being drafted thirteenth back in 1996.
A Rekindled Passion
Kobe spoke out about how Gigi’s love for basketball rekindled his passion for the sport after his retirement. “Before Gigi got into basketball, I hardly watched it, but now that she’s into basketball, we watch every night,” he admitted. He said that he enjoyed watching the game through her eyes – not as an athlete or a player – it wasn’t even about him. It was the joy of watching his daughter have such a good time.
Wherever You Go, I Go
Since they were young girls, Gigi, her sisters, and her mother would be there to cheer on their king. Most of the family photos that have been captured over the years are of Kobe walking hand in hand with his daughters in and out of games. In 2008, #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers walked out of the arena holding Gianna in one arm while he held his eldest, Natalia’s hand. Bryant’s family’s support was everything to him.
Family of Six
It was only on June 20th of 2019 that the Bryant family became a party of six. Gigi became an older sister again when her parents welcomed another baby girl into the world. Vanessa gave birth to a cutie named Capri Kobe Bryant or “Koko” for short. “Our baby girl is here,” Vanessa captioned her social media post, along with a photo of her daughter’s name embroidered on a baby blanket. “So thankful for our newest baby blessing.” Sadly, though, Koko’s father and big sister passed when she was just shy of eight months old.
The Girl Loved the Spotlight
Gigi was front and center for many of the most significant moments in her father’s career. Paparazzi photos, along with social media images, show Gigi’s transformation from Bryant’s youngest fan to his mentee. Sure enough, the young woman was on her way to becoming the heir to her father’s basketball legacy. “She had the right mentality, so confident, relentless, so mean and aggressive,” the Chicago Sky player and family friend, Gabby Williams, said.
Although her biggest inspiration was her father, many of her favorite players had UConn ties, the university she hoped to one day attend herself. One of her favorite players was Gabby Williams. Williams was shocked when Gigi told her she was her favorite player – they would FaceTime before games, and Williams would even practice with Gigi and her teammates. She was blown away with how hard she had to play against them. “From what I saw,” Williams said in regards to Gigi, “she was going to be heaps better than me.”
Most Valuable Coach
Bryant would coach Gigi and her teammates five or six times a week. They ran the triangle offense, the one Kobe himself had so much success with during his career. Professionals, the best players in the world, struggled with the triangle, but Gigi and her teammates were figuring it out. Kobe was a good coach, he would never yell, he would speak, and the girls would listen.
Mamba Sports Academy
Over the past two years, Kobe coached Gianna’s Amateur Athletic Union basketball team at the NBA player’s Mamba Sports Academy in California. Bryant partnered with Sports Academy CEO Chad Faulkner in 2018 to renovate the 100,000-square-foot facility, which now holds five basketball courts, five volleyball courts, and two beach volleyball courts. The facility also holds a trainers’ room and a doctor’s office, as well as a cognition lab to analyze the times and stats of the athletes.
A Future Husky
After the news of the tragedy broke, UConn made sure their number one fan was honored as she deserved. The players reserved a seat in the middle of the bench with flowers and a No. 2 jersey for Gigi, who dreamed of eventually playing for the Huskies. Kobe was a huge UConn supporter and took Gigi to games with him, in 2017, the family sat courtside at a UConn game, and Gigi got a peek at the locker room, taking pictures with the team.
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One on One
As the world followed Gigi’s progression on social media, it was hard not to notice that her father was not easy on her on the basketball court. He knew his daughter was capable of reaching greatness and pushed her to reach her full potential. At 5-foot 10-inches-tall, it seemed like the basketball court was simply in Gigi’s destiny. It was, until the very end.
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Interestingly enough, Kobe admitted he never intended on coaching – but being his daughter’s mentor came before everything. He said that he could coach 15 players, but after the release of his award-winning short film Dear Basketball, he preferred to put high-level content into stories to reach a wider audience – Kobe wanted to make stories come to life.
Baby Number 5
After his retirement, Kobe dished about life at home – he loved being around his girls, watching them grow. When he was asked about baby number five and having a boy, he said, “I hear boys are just walking tornadoes. We’ll see. I think Vanessa wants a boy more than I do.” All options were on the table, and he was open to the idea of having another baby.
The Tragic Accident That Ended it All
Bryant and Gianna were on their way to a scheduled game at Mamba Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks, a game in which he was supposed to coach. Kobe was en route there alongside Gigi and seven other people — including the pilot — when the chopper hit some foggy weather conditions causing it to crash into the hills of Calabasas and instantly burst into flames. The crash occurred shortly before ten o’clock in the morning in which firefighters rushed to the scene to find that the crash had ignited a quarter-acre brush fire.
A World in Mourning
In the aftermath of Gigi and Kobe’s passing, it’s no surprise that people around the world have been paying tribute to the basketball legend and his daughter via social media. Several celebrities and athletes paid their respects to Kobe, including longtime Lakers teammate, Shaquille O’Neal, who was “sick” over the news, calling Gigi his niece.
There’s no words to express the pain Im going through with this tragedy of loosing my neice Gigi & my brother @kobebryant I love u and u will be missed. My condolences goes out to the Bryant family and the families of the other passengers on board. IM SICK RIGHT NOW pic.twitter.com/pigHywq3c1
— SHAQ (@SHAQ) January 26, 2020
Honored in Art
Street art and murals honoring Kobe and Gigi started popping up all over Los Angeles. One mural, in particular, is drawing attention locally and worldwide. Jules Muck, who paints murals across Los Angeles buildings, spray-painted a portrait of Gigi and Kobe in a mid-city neighborhood. Muck captioned the mural with a banner that says, “Kobe & Gigi Forever Daddy’s Girl.”
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Although she was only 13 years old, Giana’s love for basketball was apparent to everyone that loved her. When she would walk off the court with the biggest, sweetest smile on her face. She loved the game, and she loved to learn. Giana wanted to be like her father. That was his legacy, and now it is Gigi’s legacy as well.
Memorial At Staples Center
On February 24, thousands of fans poured into a sold-out Staples Center to pay their respects to Kobe, Gigi, and the seven other souls that were tragically lost in the helicopter crash a month prior.
For the first time since the accident, Vanessa Bryant publicly spoke out about the loss of her husband and daughter. The memorial also included performances from Beyoncé, Alicia Keys, and Christina Aguilera. Additionally, The Lakers are donating all ticket proceeds to the Mamba and Mambacita Sports Foundation.