Month: February 2017

Top 2017 NFL Free Agents By Position: Offense

NFL free agency will get underway on Thursday, March 9th, and while the list of free agents will change between now and then, we do have some idea of who will be available when free agency kicks off. The frenzy is right around the corner and it’s time for us to break down the outlook for each position. We’ll start today on offense, before getting to defense and special teams later this week.

Listed below are our rankings for the top 15 free agents at each offensive position. The rankings aren’t necessarily determined by the value of the contracts that each player is expected to land in free agency, they are simply the players we like the most at each position, with both short- and long-term value taken into account. Restricted and exclusive-rights free agents are not listed here since they are unlikely to actually reach the open market.

We’ll almost certainly be higher or lower on some guys than you are, so we encourage you to make your voice heard in our comments section to let us know which free agents we’ve got wrong.

Here’s our breakdown of the current top 15 free agents by offensive position for 2017:

Quarterback:

  1. Kirk Cousins
  2. Mike Glennon
  3. Nick Foles
  4. Brian Hoyer
  5. Ryan Fitzpatrick
  6. Case Keenum
  7. Matt McGloin
  8. Mark Sanchez
  9. Geno Smith
  10. Ryan Mallett
  11. Josh McCown
  12. Christian Ponder
  13. Blaine Gabbert
  14. Matt Schaub
  15. Ryan Nassib

Honorable mention: Shaun Hill

As of this writing, Kirk Cousins is far and away the best potential free agent quarterback in this year’s crop. By the time March gets here, we’re fully expecting Cousins to be spoken for. Ultimately, the Redskins could franchise tag him, work out a long-term deal with him, or swing some type of trade that nets them a massive haul of talent and picks. That will leave a crop of retread quarterbacks that would probably best serve as transitional options for QB-needy teams. Kirk Cousins

Mike Glennon hasn’t done much in his 18 career starts, but talent evaluators are still in love with his size and potential. The 6’7″ quarterback will get more money this spring than you might expect, particularly since there are no surefire QBs in this year’s draft.

Teams looking for stopgap QBs will find a plethora of experienced, though perhaps uninspiring, signal callers. Nick Foles, Brian Hoyer, and Ryan Fitzpatrick all have their best football behind them, but they could hold down the fort for a team in 2017 and maybe even find some success if the defense is strong enough. Of course, the ideal role for those guys would probably be as a backup to a better, younger quarterback.

Running back:

  1. Le’Veon Bell
  2. Eddie Lacy
  3. LeGarrette Blount
  4. Latavius Murray
  5. Darren McFadden
  6. Jacquizz Rodgers
  7. Rashad Jennings
  8. Danny Woodhead
  9. Rex Burkhead
  10. Tim Hightower
  11. DeAngelo Williams
  12. Andre Ellington
  13. Chris Johnson
  14. Christine Michael
  15. Robert Turbin

Consider Le’Veon Bell‘s name written in Etch-A-Sketch, because he is very unlikely to get near the open market. That could leave Eddie Lacy as the best tailback available in March. Lacy has struggled with weight issues in recent years and he lost much of the 2016 season to injury. Still, he is a bruising back that could nicely complement a quicker ball carrier. Before he was shut down for the year, Lacy was averaging 5.07 yards per carry in five games for Green Bay.

LeGarrette Blount (vertical)In the last two years, LeGarrette Blount seems to have put his off-the-field troubles behind him. Whether that’s a sign of his maturity or a product of the Patriots’ culture remains to be seen. Teams can ignore his past indiscretions, but they will be wary of his age. Blount turns 31 in December.

Latavius Murray has shown glimpses of being a special running back, but he has been inconsistent and his 4.0 yards-per-carry average of the last two years isn’t overly impressive. Darren McFadden ran for more than 1,000 yards in 2015, but 2016 was pretty much a lost year for him. Jacquizz Rodgers seemed to break out last year, but he wound up succumbing to the same injury bug that took down a host of other Buccaneers running backs. Speaking of injuries, Rashad Jennings was initially brought to the Giants to be a workhorse back, but two of his three years in New York were marred by ailments. Everyone in this tier has the potential to make a difference, but none should be counted on as anyone’s main guy in 2017.

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Extra Points: Bouye, Texans, Tannehill, Kelly

The Texans are unlikely to place the ~$14.297MM franchise tag on pending free agent A.J. Bouye, which the cornerback understands. “Like my agent told me, it’s about the market value. If you’re not set to make that amount in the franchise tag, then the Texans have to do what they have to do,” Bouye told Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle. “We made some moves last offseason and spent some money. We have guys, other corners, No. 25 [Kareem Jackson], No. 24 [Johnathan Joseph] and No. 30 [Kevin Johnson]. On top of trying to bring me back, they also have to take care of Hopkins, take care of Clowney when his deal is up.” If the Texans don’t tag Bouye, the 25-year-old could price himself off the team on a long-term deal once he reaches the open market. Even though he only has 19 starts to his name, Bouye’s “going to get paid a lot of money” because “everybody in the league knows how good he is,” an NFL personnel department executive informed Wilson.

More from around football (and a relevant baseball note):

  • As expected, the knee injury that sidelined Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill for the tail end of last season, including the team’s wild-card round loss to the Steelers, won’t be a problem going forward. Tannehill is now fully healed from his partially torn ACL/Grade 2 MCL sprain and will be able to participate in the Dolphins’ entire offseason program, reports Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald.
  • Because he pleaded guilty to a non-criminal charge of disorderly conduct in January 2015, former Ole Miss quarterback Chad Kelly isn’t allowed to participate in next week’s scouting combine in Indianapolis. However, Kelly’s agent, Vance McAlister, is still working to land an invitation for his client, details Lorenzo Reyes of USA Today. If that doesn’t happen, Kelly and McAlister might travel to Indy anyway. “We are talking with all the teams that have already expressed interest to see what their thoughts are to make a decision,” said McAlister, who believes Kelly deserves an opportunity to meet with each team and let the clubs decide if he’s worth drafting. “I’ll be the first to tell you, Chad has had to grow up and has made some mistakes because of his immaturity. No question about that,” continued McAlister. “But for me, it’s up to the 32 teams to decide whether he has learned from his mistakes or grown. Nobody would be writing a story or talking about this if Chad didn’t have the talent. And by no means are we trying to justify any of his behavior of what he has done in the past. But that’s for teams to talk to him, ask him the questions and decide.”
  • Onetime NFL defensive back Sanders Commings will attempt to break into Major League Baseball as an outfielder, having agreed to join the Atlanta Braves on a minor league contract, writes Steve Adams of MLB Trade Rumors. The soon-to-be 27-year-old could have taken a shot at a baseball career much earlier, as the Arizona Diamondbacks selected him in the 37th round of the 2008 MLB draft, but he instead chose to play football at Georgia. After his time with the Bulldogs ended, Commings went to Kansas City in the fifth round of the NFL draft in 2013. Commings appeared in the only two games of his pro football career that year with the Chiefs, who waived him in December 2015.
  • Jaguars offensive tackle Josh Wellsnew deal is a two-year, $1.52MM pact featuring $75K in guarantees, tweets Adam Caplan of ESPN.

Minor NFL Transactions: 2/23/17

Thursday’s minor moves:

  • The Lions have announced the signing of offensive tackle Pierce Burton to an undisclosed contract. Burton, who went undrafted in 2014, previously spent time on the practice squads of the Vikings, Falcons, Panthers and Colts. The ex-Ole Miss standout hasn’t yet appeared in an NFL game.

NFC Notes: Bucs, Saints, Lions, 49ers

Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston lobbed on Wednesday for the club to sign Redskins wide receiver DeSean Jackson in free agency, according to Greg Auman of the Tampa Bay Times. “I’ve met him before, and we want DeSean. You better believe we want DeSean here,” Winston said. “I think he would be a great asset to our team. Me growing up an Eagles fan, seeing what he did for the Eagles and back in his Cal days and even with the Redskins, I would love to have DeSean.” The 30-year-old Jackson is coming off his fifth 1,000-yard season and might command upward of $10MM annually on the open market. Tampa Bay is among the NFL’s leaders in cap space, though, and PFR’s Dallas Robinson noted Monday that the speedy Jackson could be a fit for its receiver-needy offense.

More from the NFC:

  • Saints defensive tackle Nick Fairley is likely to test free agency, and if he does, he could seek a contract worth around $10MM per year, writes Larry Holder of NOLA.com. The Saints would likely go to around around $6MM per annum for Fairley, suggests Holder. An annual average of $10MM would be a notable step up for a player who had to settle for one-year deals in each of the previous two offseasons. Fairley, 29, made $3MM last season in potentially his only year in New Orleans and totaled career highs in starts (16), tackles (43) and sacks (6.5).
  • It’s possible the Lions will do something significant at tight end this offseason, per ESPN.com’s Michael Rothstein, who lists the Patriots’ Martellus Bennett as a potential target in free agency. Signing Bennett, who appears likely to leave New England, would cloud starting tight end Eric Ebron‘s future in Detroit. Still just 23, Ebron set career highs in receptions (61), targets (86) and yards (711) last season, though he finished toward the bottom of the league in drops (seven) and only caught one touchdown. The Lions must decide by May whether to exercise Ebron’s fifth-year option for 2018.
  • Speaking of the state of Michigan, Wolverines head coach Jim Harbaugh took a shot at 49ers CEO Jed York on Thursday in a podcast with Tim Kawakami of the Mercury News. Harbaugh quipped that he deserves “an endurance medal” for working with the much-maligned York for four years, from 2011-14. San Francisco was a powerhouse under Harbaugh, as it went 44-19-1 and earned a Super Bowl berth, but the two sides parted ways over his poor relationship with management. The polarizing Colin Kaepernick was Harbaugh’s starting quarterback for most of the coach’s tenure in the Bay Area, and Harbaugh told Kawakami that “there’s no doubt” Kaepernick is still capable of being a No. 1 signal-caller. Kaepernick’s time with the Niners could be on the verge of ending, though he did have a positive meeting Wednesday with new general manager John Lynch.

Vikes Notes: AP, QBs, Kalil, Floyd, Greenway

Vikings running back Adrian Peterson has a $6MM roster bonus due March 11, two days after the market opens, but general manager Rick Spielman told reporters Thursday that the rusher’s future “will get addressed here before free agency starts” (via Andrew Krammer of the Star Tribune). Spielman hasn’t yet spoken to Peterson or his representative, but it’s fair to suggest that the Vikings likely won’t exercise the seven-time Pro Bowler’s option. Even if they don’t, though, Spielman indicated he’s amenable to bringing back the soon-to-be 32-year-old Peterson at a lesser cost in 2017. “If we don’t exercise that option, we always will keep the door open on all of our players,” Spielman said.

Regardless of whether Peterson returns next season as Minnesota’s No. 1 back, it has “got to run the football better,” head coach Mike Zimmer told Lindsey Young of the team’s website. The Vikings finished dead last in rushing (1,205) and yards per carry (3.2) last season, and barely having Peterson available didn’t help. While Peterson posted a microscopic 1.9 YPC, he did it over just 37 carries, having missed most of the year because of a torn meniscus.

More from Spielman:

  • Sam Bradford will start under center next season for the Vikings, but the quarterback position is “in flux” beyond that, according to Spielman. The Vikings have another starting-caliber signal-caller, Teddy Bridgewater, though he missed the 2016 campaign and might not play next season on account of the devastating knee injury he suffered last August. Spielman responded to that by trading the club’s first-round pick in this year’s draft (and a fourth in 2018) to the Eagles for Bradford, and the executive maintains that he “would do that over in a millisecond to get Sam Bradford on our football team with the circumstances we were dealing with.” Bradford is “just right now in the prime of his career,” Spielman opined, and is due to hit free agency next winter. Although the Vikings only went 7-8 with Bradford (8-8 overall), the 29-year-old fared respectably atop an ultra-conversative passing offense, having set the single-season completion percentage record (71.6) and posted 20 touchdowns against five interceptions.
  • Like Bradford, Bridgewater could also become a free agent next offseason if the Vikings don’t control him via his fifth-year option, which they’ll have to exercise or decline by May. In updating Bridgewater’s recovery, Spielman said: “He’s in the process of working through his motion. I know he’s doing specific things in rehab to get him back to being functional. When he’s going to be ready for football, dropping back and things like that — I think that’s still to be determined.”
  • Elsewhere on offense, the Vikings could lose longtime No. 1 left tackle Matt Kalil to free agency. Spielman, though, seemed to imply interest in re-signing the 27-year-old. “We have a plan in place on everything,” he stated. “But I also know I have a pretty good history of trying to keep our own guys as well.” Kalil missed all but two games last year because of a hip injury, and he hasn’t lived up to expectations since going fourth overall in the 2012 draft. However, he racked up 16 starts in each of his four seasons prior to 2016 and now stands as one of the most accomplished pending free agent tackles in a weak class.
  • Defensively, Spielman noted that tackle Sharrif Floyd, a potential cap casualty, is “under contract.” Like Peterson and Kalil, Floyd barely took the field last season (one appearance). But “he’s a pretty good player” when healthy, offered Spielman, who added that the team’s defense missed Floyd last season. Floyd sounds safe based on those comments, then, but Spielman could cut him by March 9 and get out of the 25-year-old’s entire $6.75MM-plus cap hit for 2017. As with Floyd, linebacker Chad Greenway‘s fate for next season will become known by the first day of the league year. Greenway, 34, will decide by then whether to retire. The pending free agent revealed last month that he’d only continue his career as a Viking, with whom he has spent all 10 of his seasons.

4 To 5 Teams Interested In Josh McCown

Having landed on the open market when the Browns released him Feb. 7, quarterback Josh McCown isn’t going to have difficulty finding work in free agency this offseason. The soon-to-be 38-year-old has spoken to four or five interested suitors over the past couple weeks, though he’s going to take his time picking his next club, he informed SiriusXM NFL Radio on Thursday (Twitter links here).

Josh McCown (vertical)

Unless McCown ends up with a previous employer, the team he chooses this year will be his 10th in the NFL since the Cardinals used a third-round pick on him in 2002. The journeyman has typically served as a backup, having started double-digit games in just two seasons, and indicated he’d like to mentor a young signal-caller if he takes on a reserve role with his next team. McCown also regards proximity to his home state, Texas, and joining a contending club as important factors.

Speculatively, McCown’s list of preferences could point him to Dak Prescott-lad Dallas, which will trade or release backup Tony Romo and could lose both Mark Sanchez and Kellen Moore to free agency. It’s also worth noting that the Cowboys showed interest in acquiring McCown from the Browns when Romo suffered a back injury last summer.

McCown ultimately stayed in Cleveland in 2016, of course, and totaled five appearances (three starts) with the 1-15 Browns as he battled injuries. When on the field, McCown completed 54.5 percent of passes, averaged 6.7 yards per attempt and tossed six touchdowns against six interceptions. During his 82-game, 60-start career, McCown has posted fairly similar numbers to his 2016 output (59.1 percent completion rate, 6.7 YPA and 79 scores against 69 picks).

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Broncos Could Pursue Andrew Whitworth

With the Broncos set to move on from left tackle Russell Okung, they’ll need to find a new blindside protector for their quarterback – whomever it may be – in 2017. Here’s some good news for that QB: The expectation is the Broncos will show interest in the best pending free agent tackle in this year’s class, the Bengals’ Andrew Whitworth, if he reaches the market March 9, reports Troy Renck of Denver7.

Andrew Whitworth (featured)

The Bengals are prioritizing re-signing Whitworth, who has spent his entire 11-year career with the club since it selected him in the second round of the 2006 draft. However, Whitworth is open to departing Cincinnati in advance of his age-36 season.

“I love Cincinnati and I want to be there,” he told SiriusXM NFL Radio on Monday (via Conor Orr of NFL.com). “I’m pretty positive that things will work out in a way that I’ll be there again, but I want to take advantage of the opportunity of being free and listen to what other people have to say. I think that’s the right way to do it.”

Should Whitworth leave Cincy for Denver, it would be a major blow to the former and a significant boon for the latter. Whitworth, after all, has been both durable and effective during his career, having logged nine 16-appearance, 16-start regular seasons and earned three Pro Bowl nods. He’s now fresh off his second straight Pro Bowl campaign, having ranked as Pro Football Focus’ second-best tackle among 78 qualifiers in 2016. Whitworth made $9MM last season and would be within reason to push for a raise on a short-term contract in the coming weeks.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Alterraun Verner Drawing Interest

It doesn’t appear free agent cornerback Alterraun Verner will go without an employer for long. Since the Buccaneers released Verner on Thursday afternoon, four to five teams have expressed interest in the seven-year veteran, he told SiriusXM NFL Radio (Twitter link). Verner also thanked the Bucs for their decision to release him early, thereby enabling the 28-year-old to reach the open market a couple weeks in advance of March 9.

Alterraun Verner

A fourth-round pick of the Titans in 2010, Verner has appeared in 16 regular-season games in all but one campaign, 2014, and he only missed two contests then. The 5-foot-10, 181-pounder has also racked up 70 starts and 15 interceptions, though he saw his playing time wane dramatically over the past two seasons. Verner started just three games in 2016, tying a career low, and only appeared in 22.8 percent of Tampa Bay’s defensive plays.

Verner, who will now look to join his third team, likely won’t approach the four-year, $25.5MM pact he inked with the Bucs as a free agent in 2014. At that point, he was a 25-year-old coming off a second-team All-Pro season. Nevertheless, he could be of interest to clubs that aren’t in position to pay premium prices for pending free agent corners like A.J. Bouye, Trumaine Johnson, Logan Ryan and Stephon Gilmore, among others.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Jets Release Breno Giacomini, Nick Folk

The Jets’ spring cleaning is underway. The Jets have announced the release of former starting right tackle Breno Giacomini and kicker Nick Folk. Breno Giacomini (vertical)

[RELATED: Cardinals LB Kevin Minter Interested In Jets]

Giacomini was slated to count for $5.1MM against the cap, but the Jets will save $4.5MM by cutting him. Folk, meanwhile, was scheduled to carry a $3.6MM cap number and his release means $3MM in savings. In total, the Jets have created $7.5MM in cap room between these two moves.

The release of Giacomini has been long expected. Last year, injuries limited him to just 266 total snaps. He did not see enough action to qualify for ranking, but his 44.3 overall score from Pro Football Focus would have placed him among the 15 worst tackles in the NFL. After Ryan Clady was let go, Giacomini stood the team’s only tackle with significant starting experience, but that did not Gang Green from going cheaper and younger. Giacomini will turn 32 in September.

Folk, 33 in November, connected on 27 of his 31 field goals last year, good for an 87.1% mark. He also went 24-for-26 on extra points. Folk finishes his Jets career with the second-most field goals made in franchise history. He has converted on 175 three-point tries with Gang Green in addition to his 64 makes with the Cowboys.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Buccaneers To Cut CB Alterraun Verner

The Buccaneers are releasing cornerback Alterraun Verner today, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (on Twitter). "<strong

Verner has not lived up to expectations in his three seasons in south Florida. The 28-year-old was scheduled carry a $6.5MM cap number in 2017, a number that was not at all palatable for Tampa Bay. Verner hasn’t been a regular starter since 2015 and last season he did not show any signs of getting back to his old form. In 16 games, he made three starts and finished the year with 12 total tackles and seven passes defensed. Verner saw only 241 snaps on the year, putting him far behind Brent Grimes and Vernon Hargreaves in terms of playing time.

Verner will now enter a competitive free agent cornerback market. As of this writing, A.J. Bouye, Trumaine Johnson, Logan Ryan, Stephon Gilmore, Prince Amukamara, Morris Claiborne, and Dre Kirkpatrick are all potential unrestricted free agents.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.