Alfred Morris

Poll: Best Free Agent RB Remaining?

Even as June winds down, there are a surprising number of quality running backs still available on the open market. The current free agent crop of backfield options includes some notable names, such as: 

Charles, Hightower, Vereen, and Murray were all on the Saints’ radar recently as they canvassed the free agent market for running back support. Ultimately, they signed Terrance West to help fill in during Mark Ingram‘s four-game suspension, leaving the other vets in limbo. While Charles, Hightower, and Vereen all showed their stuff for coach Sean Payton, Murray declined his invite, preferring not to participate in a giant cattle call.

When considering only past accomplishments, the names of Peterson, Charles, and Murray obviously stand out. But, unfortunately, father time is cruel to NFL running backs and these players are on the back nines of their careers, to put it mildly. Out of this trio, Murray has the best 2017 to show teams. Even though his job as the Titans’ top rusher was usurped by Derrick Henry, he had 39 catches for 266 yards and occasionally showed the powerful rushing that made him a force to be reckoned with in Dallas. Charles, he of several 1,000-yard seasons, had only 296 rushing yards in total and found himself at the bottom of Denver’s depth chart to close out the season. Peterson, meanwhile, forced his way out of New Orleans due to a lack of playing time and had only two performances of note in his run with the Cardinals.

Lacy signed with the Seahawks last year and hoped to put concerns about his health and conditioning to rest. Unfortunately, those questions persist after he averaged just 2.6 yards per carry in nine games. Lacy was a bulldozer in his early days with the Packers, but his last season of note came in 2015 when he averaged 4.1 yards per carry. Even then, ball security was a problem as he fumbled the ball four times.

Darkwa is back on the NFL radar after doctors cleared him to workout. Darkwa won’t win this poll on name value, but unlike everyone else on this list, he’s coming off of the best season of his career.The 26-year-old (did we mention that he’s also the youngest running back here?) ran for 751 yards off of 171 carries, good for a strong 4.4 yards per carry average. It was an ugly year for the Giants on the whole, but Darkwa excelled on a personal level.

Vereen, another ex-Giant, can’t say the same for his 2017 season. However, his second act with the Giants has been respectable on the whole. Acting as a secondary ball carrier, he has averaged 4.2 yards per carry over the last three seasons. He also showed that he can still be a worthwhile pass catcher out of the backfield with 44 grabs for 253 yards last season, though he averaged a career-low 5.8 yards per catch.

Last but not least is Morris, though you can be forgiven for forgetting about this three-time 1,000-yard rusher. Morris was a force to be reckoned with from 2012-2014, but he has been riding the pine for the Cowboys over the last two years. What you might not realize is that Morris was tremendous in a small sample last year as Ezekiel Elliott‘s early-season backup and later-season fill-in. Morris averaged 4.76 yards per carry off of 115 attempts, which makes one wonder why we haven’t heard his name mentioned in recent months.

Out of the running backs listed here, which player do you feel can contribute the most in 2018? Click below to cast your vote and defend your choice in the comments section.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Top 2018 NFL Free Agents By Position: Offense

NFL free agency will get underway on Wednesday, March 14th, 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. The same goes for players who have been franchise tagged or transition tagged.

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 2018:

Quarterback:

  1. Kirk Cousins
  2. Drew Brees
  3. Case Keenum
  4. A.J. McCarron
  5. Sam Bradford
  6. Teddy Bridgewater
  7. Colin Kaepernick
  8. Josh McCown
  9. Mike Glennon
  10. Drew Stanton
  11. Jay Cutler
  12. Chase Daniel
  13. Ryan Fitzpatrick
  14. Brock Osweiler
  15. Tom Savage

There were many difficult calls when putting this list together, but ranking Kirk Cousins as the No. 1 QB available was not among them. Cousins is the best quarterback to reach free agency in recent history and he’ll become the highest-paid player of all-time – at least, for some period of time – in mid-March. Who will make history with Cousins? That’s anyone’s guess right now. The Browns have more cap room than any other team, but a recent report from Adam Schefter of ESPN.com listed the Broncos, Cardinals, Jets, and Vikings as the final suitors for Cousins. Of those four, the Jets have the most money to work with, but they’re concerned about the Vikings winning out and Cousins’ desire to win could point him in another direction. If the Broncos and Cardinals want in on the Cousins sweepstakes, they’ll have to get creative with the books.

Drew Brees is included here, but by his own admission, he’ll be re-signing with the Saints rather than testing the open waters of free agency. Unless the Saints lowball their franchise QB, it’s hard to see him leaving New Orleans.

Case Keenum put together a tremendous season for the Vikings, but he doesn’t have a history of success beyond 2017. There will be plenty of interest in Keenum, but only after QB-needy teams strike out on Cousins. The incumbent Vikings could re-sign Keenum, but right now, it seems like they are intent on exploring the Cousins waters first.

There isn’t a ton of footage on A.J. McCarron, which made his placement on this list awfully tricky. We know this much: McCarron did well in place of Dalton in the home stretch of the 2015 season and his former offensive coordinator Hue Jackson was salivating at the chance of landing him before the Browns bungled the trade with the Bengals. McCarron’s relative youth is a plus (he won’t turn 28 until September) and his lack of experience can be looked at as a positive. Unlike some of the other names on this list, he hasn’t run up his NFL odometer.

What will NFL teams make of Teddy Bridgewater and Sam Bradford this offseason? Not long ago, both seemed like quality starting options. However, there are serious injury questions about both players and any team signing them will either look to backstop them with another decent option or ask them to come onboard as a QB2. With that in mind, one has to wonder if Bradford would consider retirement if asked to hold the clipboard for another signal caller. Bradford has earned upwards of $110MM over the years in the NFL, so it’s safe to say that he has enough money in the bank to call it quits if he wants. For now, he’s intent on playing.

Colin Kaepernick‘s placement on this list is sure to draw some strong reactions from his fans and detractors alike. Looking purely at his football ability, there’s no question that he belongs on someone’s roster. At minimum, Kaepernick profiles as a high-end backup, even after a year out of the game.

Quarterbacks coaches have long believed that Mike Glennon is capable of great things, due in part to his height. At 6’7″, he can see over any defensive line, but he hasn’t done much on the field to prove that he is a quality Week 1 starting option. Josh McCown, who is a decade his senior, edges him here for his surprisingly strong performance in 2017 at the helm of a weak Jets offense.

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Extra Points: Pats, Cowboys, Panthers, Bills

Newly-acquired defensive end Kony Ealy is in a “legitimate fight” to earn a place on the Patriots roster, opines Mike Reiss of ESPN.com. Thought to be a contender for a starting job (especially following Rob Ninkovich‘s retirement), Ealy has been practicing with New England’s reserves, per Reiss, who indicates Ealy simply “hasn’t clicked” since joining the defending Super Bowl champions. The Patriots essentially got Ealy for free from the Panthers, as they moved down only eight picks in the draft to pick up the 25-year-old. He’s signed through the 2017 season, but his $800K salary isn’t guaranteed.

Here’s more from around the NFL:

  • Alfred Morris played ahead of Rod Smith during the Cowboys‘ Hall of Game exhibition last week despite having seen fewer carries than Smith during training camp, leading Todd Archer of ESPN.com to wonder if Dallas was showcasing Morris for a potential trade. Reports in March indicated the Cowboys were likely to shop Morris, who is behind Ezekiel Elliott, Darren McFadden, and Smith on the backfield depth chart, but his salary ($1.2MM) could prove a hindrance. Plus, with Elliott likely to serve a league-mandated suspension, Morris’ presence on the roster could become all the more important. In his first season in Dallas, Morris managed 69 carries for 243 yards and two touchdowns.
  • Second-year defensive tackle Vernon Butler is believed to have escaped with only a knee sprain after leaving the Panthers‘ first preseason game on Wednesday, tweets Ian Rapoport of NFL.com. Butler will undergo an MRI today, but even a sprain could lead to a multi-week absence, meaning Butler may not be ready for the regular season opener. The 30th overall pick in the 2016 draft, Butler is expected to serve as Carolina’s third interior defender behind Kawann Short and Star Lotulelei. Butler played 21% of the Panthers’ defensive snaps a season ago.
  • Expected to battle for a starting role, Bills linebacker Reggie Ragland is now playing with the club’s third-team defense, and is now behind both Preston Brown and free agent addition Gerald Hodges on Buffalo’s depth chart, according to Mike Rodak of ESPN.com. As such, it’s conceivable the 2016 second-round draft pick could become a trade candidate, Rodak opines. Ragland not only missed the entirety of his rookie campaign with a torn ACL, but was selected by the Bills’ prior regime. Neither general manager Brandon Beane nor head coach Sean McDermott has any link to Ragland, so the 23-year-old could be on the block.
  • The Cardinals worked out punter Brock Miller on Wednesday, reports Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic (Twitter link). Miller, a former undrafted free agent out of Southern Utah, has been on the NFL workout circuit for much of the past three years. He signed a reserve/futures contract with San Francisco earlier this year, but was waived in May. Arizona sifted through three punters in 2016, and while Matt Wile is currently the incumbent, Richie Leone is also on the roster.

NFC Notes: Morris, Packers, Lions, Bradberry

Alfred Morris only played 112 snaps during his first season with the Cowboys, and Charean Williams of ProFootballTalk.com writes that the veteran running back’s future with the organization “remains murky.”

According to the writer, the Cowboys believe Morris has more success when he has more carries, but that isn’t a possibility in Dallas. Ezekiel Elliott should see even more responsibility in his second NFL season, and the team also re-signed veteran Darren McFadden this offseason.

Despite the uncertainty, running backs coach Gary Brown said the 28-year-old continues to keep his head high.

“Straight pro,” he said. “Doesn’t talk about it. Doesn’t mention it. Comes out has fun with it. Enjoys being around his teammates. That’s the kind of guys you need.”

As Williams points out, Morris is set to make $1.2MM next season and count for $2.14MM against the cap. While that would seemingly make him expendable, Brown said he’d love to keep all of his players.

“You just don’t know from year to year what’s going to happen, so you try to keep as many great players around as you can and then the business takes over after that,” Brown said. “Obviously, we would like everybody to stay, but that’s not realistic. We’ve got to make sure we’re training everybody, and we’re covering all our bases, and let whatever happens happen.”

Let’s take a look at some other notes from around the NFC…

  • Packers running back Jamaal Williams‘ four-year rookie contract includes a $565,992 signing bonus, and ESPN.com’s Rob Demovsky notes that that’s the only guaranteed money in the deal. The fourth-rounder’s contract could be worth up to $2.96MM, and Williams is set to earn a base salary of $465K in 2017.
  • If he isn’t looking for a lucrative contract, then ESPN.com’s Michael Rothstein believes free agent wideout Jeremy Maclin would be a logical fit for the Lions. The hypothetical acquisition would allow the team to roll a versatile three-wideout set that could include any combination of Marvin Jones, Golden Tate, and/or tight end Eric Ebron. Rothstein also points to the relative experience among the team’s other wide receivers.
  • Panthers cornerback James Bradberry fractured his left wrist today and will be in a cast for the next six weeks, reports Joe Person of the Charlotte Observer (via Twitter). Head athletic trainer Ryan Vermillion told Max Henson of Panthers.com that the defensive back could still participate in next week’s minicamp, and he’s expected to be fully recovered in time for training camp. The 2016 second-round pick started 13 games for the Panthers last season, compiling 59 tackles and two interceptions.
  • Former Minnesota Gophers linebacker Jack Lynn is “close” to signing with the Falcons, reports Darren Wolfson of 5 Eyewitness News (via Twitter). The four-year player finished his collegiate career with 77 tackles and 0.5 sacks in 13 games.

NFC Notes: Redskins, Panthers, Cowboys

Although free agency opens in less than a week, the Redskins still haven’t attempted to negotiate a new deal with Pierre Garcon, the soon-to-be available wide receiver said Thursday (via Peter Halley of CSN Mid-Atlantic). “I haven’t heard anything from the Redskins,” Garcon said on former Colts punter Pat McAfee’s podcast“I have not heard anything at all. But everybody does strategic moves right before free agency, or right during free agency, so I couldn’t tell you what they’re up to.” As arguably a top 25 free agent in the 2017 class, the 30-year-old Garcon could garner $9MM-plus per annum on his next contract.

More from the NFC:

  • It’s “fair” to say the Panthers will draft a running back this year, general manager Dave Gettleman told David Newton of ESPN.com. That’s not surprising given that starting running back Jonathan Stewart will play his age-30 season and face a contract year in 2017. Gettleman is bullish on this year’s selection of backs, which LSU’s Leonard Fournette, Florida State’s Dalvin Cook and Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey headline. “It’s a deep running back group, we know that,’’ he said. “It’ll be interesting to see how the whole process plays out because we’re really just halfway through it.’’
  • The Cowboys plan to shop running back Alfred Morris, but they’re going to have difficulty finding a taker because of his contract, opines Rich Tandler of CSN Mid-Atlantic. Although Morris is due an affordable base salary of $1.2MM in 2017, his deal also includes $500K in per-game roster bonuses.
  • On the heels of a season in which the Vikings’ offense placed 23rd in scoring, 26th in DVOA and 28th in yardage, defensive-minded head coach Mike Zimmer has taken a more hands-on approach with the unit, Kevin Seifert of ESPN.com details. Zimmer has twice watched every offensive play the Vikings ran in 2016 and sat in on meetings with coordinator Pat Shurmur and his staff over the past couple months. Observed Zimmer: “I’m watching tape [of last season]. And we run a complementary play off another play, but we don’t run that other play. So [the defense] is saying, any time they do this, they’re going to run that. So this is about trying to get the players in the right position to do more.”
  • After playing through foot problems last season, all-world Falcons receiver Julio Jones will undergo surgery Monday, per Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (via Marc Sessler of NFL.com). Fortunately for Jones and the Falcons, the procedure will be minor and won’t affect his training camp availability.

Cowboys To Shop Alfred Morris

The Cowboys’ addition of running back Alfred Morris via free agency last year proved to be somewhat superfluous, as they later went on to select workhorse Ezekiel Elliott fourth overall in the draft. Elliott earned first-team All-Pro status as a rookie after leading the NFL in rushing yards (1,631) and carries (322). Morris picked up just 69 attempts, meanwhile, and the Cowboys are now planning to shop him around the league, according to Clarence Hill of the Star-Telegram.

Alfred Morris (vertical)

The 28-year-old Morris is due a relatively meager $1.2MM base salary in 2017, the final season of his contract, and getting rid of him would make it more realistic for the team to retain at least one of Darren McFadden or Lance Dunbar – two impending free agent rushers. McFadden is open to staying in Dallas as Elliott’s backup, though two other clubs are showing interest in the soon-to-be 30-year-old, per Hill. While he played only four games last season because of an elbow injury, McFadden isn’t far removed from a thousand-yard showing in 2015.

A Redskin from 2012-15, Morris has gone past the 1,000-yard mark three times during his five-year career, but his effectiveness has faded in recent seasons. He averaged a subpar 3.7 yards per carry on 202 tries in his final season in Washington and posted a 3.5 YPC in what could be his only Dallas campaign. Morris has been a bell cow, having exceeded 200 attempts in four seasons, and his need for carries makes him a poor fit for the Cowboys, notes Hill.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Alfred Morris: Free Agency Was “Insulting”

For the first time since his four-year tenure with the Redskins ended over the winter, Cowboys running back Alfred Morris will face his former team this Sunday.

Morris spoke Wednesday about his final season in Washington, telling reporters (including John Keim of ESPN.com), “By the end of the year, I figured my time there was gone. You’re not the coach’s guy, you’re not the GM’s guy, they draft a young guy. It’s a business, so I expected that. They just had a different plan and I wasn’t a part of it and that was OK.”

Alfred Morris (vertical)

When the Redskins selected Morris in the sixth round of the 2012 draft, Mike Shanahan was at the helm as their head coach. Morris had a tremendous rookie year under Shanahan, rushing 335 times for 1,613 yards and 13 touchdowns, and he was also excellent in his second season (276 attempts, 1,275 yards, seven scores). The Redskins then ousted Shanahan in favor of Jay Gruden, and Morris’ numbers began falling off considerably. The ex-Florida Atlantic Owl still racked up 1,000-plus yards and eight scores in 2014, but his attempts (265) and yards-per-carry average (4.1) hit career lows. Those numbers further declined last year for Morris, who failed to approach 1,000 yards (751), put up just 3.7 yards per tote and scored a meager one touchdown.

Fresh off his career-worst showing, Morris hit the open market. Once there, he only drew interest from the Broncos, Dolphins and Cowboys, leading to disdain for a process that he called “insulting.”

“I didn’t like it one bit. I don’t want to do it again,” he said.

On settling for a two-year, $5.5MM deal with the Redskins’ NFC East rivals, the Cowboys, he stated, “Eventually Dallas came knocking. I did a visit and it just seemed like a good fit. So I said, ‘Why not?’ It’s a rival team, but I didn’t even think about that. I was a kid trying to keep his dream alive and it just happened to fall to the rival team.”

Morris’ chances to make an impact with the Cowboys seemingly took a hit when they selected former Ohio State star rusher Ezekiel Elliott with the fourth overall pick in April’s draft. After all, Dallas already had Darren McFadden, who impressed last year, and Lance Dunbar on its depth chart. However, McFadden has since gone on the shelf with an elbow injury that will cost him several weeks of the season, thus opening the door again for Morris.

As expected, Elliott was the Cowboys’ bell cow in their season-opening loss to the Giants, but Morris was effective in a secondary role (seven carries, 35 yards). The Redskins, meanwhile, failed to establish a running game with second-year back Matt Jones in a 38-16 loss to Pittsburgh and yielded 143 yards to the Steelers’ DeAngelo Williams. If Washington’s Week 1 performance is any indication, Elliott and Morris should have productive showings Sunday.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Dolphins Notes: Morris, Shelby, Moore, Jordan

The Dolphins expressed interest in free agent running back Alfred Morris before he signed with the Cowboys, according to Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald. Miami, of course, signed Broncos restricted free agent C.J. Anderson to a four-year, $18MM offer sheet, only to see Denver eventually match the deal. The club has also eyed free agent options such as James Starks and Chris Johnson, and is now said to be exploring the trade market as its search for a back continues.

Let’s take a look at a few more items out of South Beach…

  • Morris wasn’t the only free agent whom the Dolphins initially targeted, per Jackson, who reports that Miami also showed interest in cornerback Patrick Robinson before he joined the Colts. Additionally, the Dolphins might have more strongly gone after fellow corner Josh Robinson had they known they’d have cap space available once Denver matched the offer to Anderson.
  • Among their own free agents, Miami reportedly did not contact defensive end Derrick Shelby “for months,” according to Jackson, before calling him at the last minute to ask if he’d accept $3MM. Shelby ultimately signed a $21MM deal with the Falcons.
  • Like Shelby, quarterback Matt Moore received the cold shoulder from the Dolphins as the club met with Brandon Weeden and, per Jackson, showed interest in Luke McCown before he re-signed with the Saints. Moore eventually re-signed with Miami after being endorsed by head coach Adam Gase, reports Jackson.
  • The Dolphins weren’t fans of this year’s class of free agent corners, which explains why they didn’t target any of the top-rated players on the board at that position.
  • Miami does still need secondary help, however, and as Jackson explains in a separate article, the Dolphins are studying the top cornerbacks available in the draft.
  • Jackson believes that former third overall pick Dion Jordan would make the Dolphins’ roster if he’s reinstated from his yearlong suspension.

FA Rumors: Bolden, Bears, Morris, Larsen

The free agent contracts for players like Brock Osweiler, Olivier Vernon, and Malik Jackson dominated NFL discussions when the new league year opened earlier this month, but Field Yates of ESPN.com wants to make sure that some of this year’s less heralded deals don’t fly entirely under the radar.

In an Insider-only piece, Yates identifies the Panthers‘ one-year deal with defensive end Charles Johnson, the Seahawks‘ three-year agreement with wide receiver Jermaine Kearse, and three other signings as moves that perhaps didn’t get the attention they deserved.

Here’s more on 2016 free agency:

  • Omar Bolden‘s previously-reported visit to the Bears is set to happen next Wednesday, according to Troy Renck of the Denver Post, who tweets that Chicago is the favorite to land the versatile defensive back, special-teamer, and return man.
  • Sean Stellato, the agent for Alfred Morris, appeared on 105.3 FM-KRLD The Fan in Dallas to discuss why his client was ready to move on from Washington, and why he wanted to sign with the Cowboys. The Dallas Morning News has the key quotes from Stellato, who said Morris was seeking “a fresh start.”
  • Free agent guard Ted Larsen continues to consider his options and isn’t expected to sign a contract today, but his visit with the Falcons went “great,” a source tells Vaughn McClure of ESPN.com.
  • As Jeff Dickerson of ESPN.com details, new Jets running back Matt Forte wasn’t thrilled with the Bears‘ willingness to pursue C.J. Anderson in free agency after announcing they were moving on from Forte. Despite comments from head coach John Fox suggesting the team was happy with its young, in-house backs, the Bears reportedly made Anderson an offer higher than the one he signed with Miami.

Contract Details: RGIII, McLendon, Morris

Here are some specific details on contracts that have been agreed upon or signed within the last several days:

  • Robert Griffin III, QB (Browns): Two years, $15MM. $6.75MM guaranteed. $3.5MM signing bonus. $750K annually in per-game roster bonuses. Base salaries of $3.5MM (guaranteed) and $6MM. $750K roster bonus on third day of 2017 league year. Up to $3.5MM in annual incentives based on playing time, yards, and passer rating (Twitter links via Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle and Tom Pelissero of USA Today).
  • Steve McLendon, DT (Jets): Three years, $10.5MM. $4MM guaranteed. $2.25MM signing bonus. $250K option bonus after 2017 season. $250K annually in per-game roster bonuses in 2017 and 2018. $750K escalator (Links via Rich Cimini of ESPN.com and Wilson).
  • Alfred Morris, RB (Cowboys): Two years, $3.5MM. $1.8MM fully guaranteed. $1MM signing bonus. Can be worth up to $5.5MM with incentives/escalator. $500K in per-game roster bonuses in 2017. $1MM rushing-yard escalator for 2017. Threshold for incentives begins at 1,000 yards (Twitter links via Todd Archer of ESPN.com, Pelissero, and Wilson).
  • Daryl Smith, LB (Buccaneers): One year, $2.5MM. $2MM guaranteed. $650K signing bonus. $500K in per-game roster bonuses (Twitter link via Greg Auman of the Tampa Bay Times).
  • Taylor Mays, S (Bengals): One year, $840K. $25K signing bonus. $35K October 10th 53-man roster bonus (following suspension). $40K playing-time incentive (Twitter link via Wilson).