Alshon Jeffery

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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FA Notes: Jeffery, Mitchell, Gillislee, Bell

“Those things will pick up as we get further down the road,” Bears general manager Ryan Pace said of contract negotiations with free agent receiver Alshon Jeffery. However, as Adam L. Jahns of the Chicago Sun Times writes, those decisions will start to “pick up” next week. Wednesday is the first day teams can assign the franchise tag to their impending free agents, and Jefferey could surely be in line to be slapped with the designation.

Jeffery also received the franchise tag last offseason, meaning his projected tag value for this season would be around $17MM. Jefferey didn’t necessarily have a “prove-it” season thanks in part to a four-game suspension, so the organization may not want to make the 27-year-old one of the highest paid wideouts for a second-straight year. Additionally, the Bears may not want to invest in the receiver long-term.

Let’s take a look at some other notes pertaining to the league’s free agents…

  • Following his release by the Dolphins earlier this week, defensive tackle Earl Mitchell has lined up a number of visits. According to NFL.com’s Mike Garafolo (via Twitter), the veteran is set to meet with the Seahawks, 49ers, Falcons, and Broncos next week. Mitchell joined Miami prior to the 2014 season, playing in 37 games over his three seasons with the team.
  • The Bills don’t want to lose running back Mike Gillislee like they did wideout Chris Hogan, writes ESPN.com Mike Rodak. The organixation assigned their former receiver the cheapest restricted free-agent tender last offseason, and the Patriots swooped in and signed him for practically nothing. The Bills have until March 9th to assign a similar tender to Gillislee. In 15 games last season, the running back ran for 577 yards and eight touchdowns on 101 carries.
  • Joel Corry of CBSSports.com writes that the franchise tag may be a “blessing” for Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell. The former agent notes that front offices are wary of signing running backs to lucrative, long-term contracts, citing the deal signed by DeMarco Murray. The running back franchise tag is projected to be valued at around $12MM, and Corry is skeptical that Bell could earn that kind of money (per year) via a standard contract.
  • Defensive tackle Nick Fairley and the Saints would both embrace a reunion, but Nick Underhill of The Advocate wonders if the two sides can make the money work. Following a season where he recorded 6.5 sacks, the writer believes Fairley could be in line to make around $9.5MM next year. While the Saints have the financial flexibility to make that work, Underhill wonders if they’d actually be willing to commit that kind of money.

2017 NFL Franchise Tag Candidates

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Starting today, NFL teams will be able to place franchise and transition tags on potential free agents for the first time. While the window for franchise tags is open, most clubs won’t actually tag any players right away.

As our list of important dates for the 2017 offseason shows, the deadline for teams to assign those tags doesn’t come until Wednesday, March 1st. Usually, when it comes to NFL contract discussions, deadlines spur action, so teams will wait until that deadline approaches to officially use franchise tags, once it becomes clear that they won’t be able to strike a longer-term deal yet with their respective free-agents-to-be.

Even though the action might not heat up for a couple more weeks, it’s worth taking a closer look at what to expect during 2017’s franchise tag period. The NFL hasn’t officially announced the salary cap figure for 2017, but former agent Joel Corry of CBSSports.com recently projected the 2017 franchise tag salaries based on a presumed $168MM cap. Here are the expected non-exclusive franchise tag amounts:

  • Quarterback: $21.395MM
  • Running back: $12.377MM
  • Wide receiver: $15.826MM
  • Tight end: $9.894MM
  • Offensive line: $14.444MM
  • Defensive end: $16.955MM
  • Defensive tackle: $13.468MM
  • Linebacker: $14.754MM
  • Cornerback: $14.297MM
  • Safety: $10.961MM
  • Punter/kicker: $4.863MM

(For a refresher on the characteristics of the exclusive and non-exclusive franchise tags, as well as the transition tag, be sure to check out PFR’s glossary entry on the subject.)

Here’s our look at the most likely candidates to be tagged, along with several more outside possibilities:

Virtual Locks:

Chandler Jones, DE, Cardinals: Maybe Jones should headline a category titled “Super Duper Virtual Locks.” In January, coach Bruce "<strongArians said that the Cards would apply the franchise tag to Jones if they were unable to immediately lock him up to a long-term deal. Then, just this week, Cardinals president Michael Bidwill offered additional confirmation of that plan. The $16.955MM tag will be applied to Jones in the next couple of weeks and the two sides will then have until the summer to work out a long-term deal. The odds of a longer pact coming together seem pretty good, considering the Cardinals knew what they were getting themselves into when they traded for Jones last year.

Kawann Short, DT, Panthers: Panthers head coach Ron Rivera admits that Short will “probably” be tagged and, unlike ex-teammate Josh Norman, Short doesn’t have a problem with it. The 28-year-old was the third-best defensive tackle in the NFL last year, according to Pro Football Focus, and the Panthers will gladly pay him ~$13.5MM on a one-year deal. A multi-year agreement could require an average annual value of $17MM, so our early guess is that Short will wind up actually playing on the tender.


Le’Veon Bell
, RB, Steelers: We’ve known for a while now that the Steelers will use the franchise tag on Bell. For all of his off-the-field headaches, Bell still stands as one of the league’s most dynamic running backs and a one-year, $12.3MM deal would suit Pittsburgh just fine. Sometime after the tag is in place, we’re expecting the two sides to agree on a long-term deal. As I wrote in our most recent edition of the Free Agent Power Rankings, Bell will top LeSean McCoy‘s ~$8MM AAV and Doug Martin‘s $15MM in guarantees on a new multiyear pact. Of course, other factors such as cash flow will be pivotal in talks, particularly given the limited shelf life of running backs.
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Eagles Expected To Pursue Alshon Jeffery

The Eagles will likely target Bears wide receiver Alshon Jeffery if he reaches the free agent market, sources tell Jason La Canfora of CBSSports.com. Chicago has the option of using the franchise tag on Jeffery for the second consecutive season, but such a move would come with a price tag of roughly $17.5MM.Alshon Jeffery (Vertical)

[RELATED: Top 3 Offseason Needs — Philadelphia Eagles]

Jeffery isn’t the only wideout the Eagles have been linked to this offseason, as reports have also indicated the club is interested in the Redskins’ Pierre Garcon and the Dolphins’ Kenny Stills. A reunion with former Eagle/current Redskin DeSean Jackson is also reportedly on the table. However, Jeffery is regarded as the top receiver available in free agency, and is likely to command a hefty contract if Philadelphia wants to add another weapon for second-year quarterback Carson Wentz.

The Eagles are tight on cap space, which could make a Jeffery pursuit tricky, but the club is hoping to clear “significant” financial room in the coming weeks, something they’ve already started doing by releasing veteran players. Cornerback Leodis McKelvin was first on the chopping block earlier this week, while Philadelphia has also approached left tackle Jason Peters about a paycut. Other players such as Connor Barwin, Jason Kelce, Ryan Mathews, and Ron Brooks could also be cut soon, giving the Eagles even more space with which to work.

Jeffery, 26, comes with warts, as he’s battled injuries throughout his career and was suspended four games for PED usage in 2016. But he’s the only player resembling a No. 1 wideout on the open market, as he’s averaged more than 1,000 yards receiving and six touchdowns over the past four seasons while struggling through two subpar years and dealing with questionable quarterback play.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

PFR’s 2017 Free Agent Power Rankings 2.0

For 30 of the NFL’s 32 teams, the offseason is already underway. Here is the latest installment of our 2017 NFL Free Agent Power Rankings, which is comprised only of upcoming unrestricted free agents, and is ranked by projected guaranteed money. In parentheses next to each player, you’ll find their position in the early January edition of the rankings. For more, check out our master list of all 2017 free agents.

Free Agent Power Rankings 2 (vertical)

1. Kirk Cousins, QB (1): Cousins may not be the best player on this list, but he will come away with the most guaranteed money of any free agent this offseason. Quarterbacks are perpetually in high demand and short supply and as a result Cousins could become one of the league’s three highest paid signal callers. Because Washington has already used the franchise tag on Cousins, a repeat would cost them a whopping $23.94MM for 2017. The belief is that Cousins is seeking that $23.94MM number as an AAV goal. There has been talk of the Redskins shopping their star QB, but the team has since publicly stated its intention of locking him up to a long-term dealKirk Cousins (vertical)

2. Chandler Jones, LB/DE (2): Jones has been an absolute stud ever since entering the league as a first-round pick in 2012. If we go by the numbers at Pro Football Focus, 2016 was actually Jones’ best year to date. This past season, he finished out with a strong 87.4 overall score, tying him for seventh amongst all edge rushers with Houston’s Whitney Mercilus. In the previous four seasons with New England, Jones averaged a 79.38 on PFF. Every team could use a sack machine like Jones, but coach Bruce Arians says the Cardinals will place the franchise tag on him if they cannot agree on a long-term deal. He’s technically ticketed for unrestricted free agency, but it doesn’t sound like Jones is going anywhere.

3. Kawann Short, DT (3): Unlike former teammate Josh Norman, Panthers defensive tackle Kawann Short says he won’t have any problem signing the franchise tender if the team tags him. “I wouldn’t fight it or anything,” said Short in early January. In 2016, he turned in his fourth straight 16-game season and ranked as Pro Football Focus’ fourth-best interior defender. Short, 28 this week, also had six sacks on the year. I think the Panthers would be wise to hit Short with the ~$13.468MM franchise tag or sign him to a long-term deal, but there is at least a non-trivial chance of him reaching the open market.

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PFR’s 2017 Free Agent Power Rankings

The regular season is over and, for most teams, the offseason is underway. Here is the latest installment of our 2017 NFL Free Agent Power Rankings, which is comprised only of upcoming unrestricted free agents, and is ranked by projected guaranteed money. In parentheses next to each player, you’ll find their position in the November edition of the rankings. For more, check out our master list of all 2017 free agents.

2017 Free Agent Power Rankings With Text (vertical)

1. Kirk Cousins, QB (1): In 2015, Cousins established himself as a solid NFL quarterback. That summer, the Redskins told Cousins they wanted him to prove it all over again before giving him a monster contract. Cousins was happy to oblige and he has now increased his value even further. After a so-so start to 2016 season, Cousins closed out strong to finish as Pro Football Focus’ No. 8 ranked QB, putting him ahead of notables such as Matthew Stafford, Ryan Tannehill, Andy Dalton, Ben Roethlisberger, Cam Newton, and Philip Rivers. All of those players have gotten their big pay day and now it’s time for Cousins to join the club. "<strong

2. Chandler Jones, LB/DE (2): Before you start salivating over the idea of Jones joining your favorite team’s front seven, we have some bad news: Bruce Arians says the Cardinals will place the franchise tag on him if they cannot agree on a long-term deal. Whether it’s on a one-year, $16.955MM deal or a multi-year contract that tops Olivier Vernon‘s Giants deal, it sounds like Jones is staying put. Jones, 27 in May, played in all 16 games this year and racked up 11 sacks.

3. Kawann Short, DT (4): Contract talks between the Panthers and Short stalled last summer and Fletcher Cox‘s market-boosting deal with the Eagles didn’t help matters. Short wound up playing 2016 for peanuts ($1.473MM) and he turned in yet another stellar season. Short was the fourth-best interior defender in the league this season, per Pro Football Focus, and his 87.7 overall score was roughly the same as his 2015 mark, even though he had five less sacks. In June, it was said that the Panthers did not want to go too far beyond an average annual salary of $15MM. If he’s not franchised tagged or signed to a long-term deal by Carolina, there are a few teams that will happily go beyond that point.

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Bears Notes: Pace, Fox, Jeffery, Cutler, Staff

Armed with significant cap space and the third overall pick in this year’s draft, the Bears should be in position to bounce back from their three-win 2016 next season. General manager Ryan Pace is cognizant of that, as he told reporters Wednesday that the Bears are “going to be aggressive and calculated” in the coming months. “This offseason’s huge,” he said (via Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune). “And I think there’s a big responsibility with that much cap space, (picking) this high in the draft. It’s a significant offseason for us. And we’ve got to get going in that direction.”

The Bears have gone just 9-23 in two years under Pace and head coach John Fox, but chairman George McCaskey hasn’t put either on the hot seat. “I’m not a patient person but I promised (Pace) that I would be patient,” he stated (via the Associated Press). “With all the adversity that we’ve had, I like the steady hand that he and John have had on the team.”

More from Chicago:

  • The Bears’ marquee free agent is wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, a 2016 franchise tag recipient who posted underwhelming production (by his lofty standards) and missed four games because of a suspension for performance-enhancing drugs. Pace assessed Jeffery’s season Wednesday and added that the team has a “big decision” forthcoming on whether to retain him. “I don’t think, I feel like this season, he really got into a rhythm that he would’ve liked to have gotten into,” said Pace (per Mark Potash of the Chicago Sun-Times). “I think that was because a lot of different quarterback play and also he missed four games. It’s hard for him to get in a rhythm and I think he showcased what he can do.”
  • As Pace mentioned with regards to Jeffery, the Bears shuffled through various quarterbacks – primarily Matt Barkley, Brian Hoyer and Jay Cutler – this season. The club will now have an offseason call to make on Cutler, who’s a strong release candidate. By cutting the soon-to-be 34-year-old Cutler, whom injuries limited to five games this season, the Bears would save $14MM in cap space against $2MM in dead money. McCaskey revealed he “has always been” a Cutler fan, but he noted that the 11-year veteran’s fate rests with Pace and Fox. A decision on Cutler hasn’t “been completely finalized yet,” according to Pace, who added that the signal-caller is “significantly ahead of schedule” from the right shoulder surgery he underwent last month. At the time same, though, Pace declared that “everything is on the table” as far as finding a franchise passer goes (via Jeff Dickerson of ESPN.com and Conor Orr of NFL.com).
  • The Bears will retain their most prominent assistants – offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains and defensive coordinator Vic Fangio – but changes are underway elsewhere on the coaching staff. Fox fired his longest-tenured assistant, offensive line coach Dave Magazu, and let assistant defensive backs coach Sam Garnes go, reports Biggs. The team will also need a new running backs coach, as Stan Drayton stepped down Tuesday to take a position with the University of Texas.

Bears Place WR Marquess Wilson On IR

The Bears announced that they are placing wide receiver Marquess Wilson on injured reserve. The move will open up a spot for Alshon Jeffery, who is returning from his four-game performance enhancing drugs suspension. Marquess Wilson (vertical)

Wilson was activated off of the physically unable to perform list in mid-November. Since then, he has recorded nine receptions in three games. On Friday, he fractured his left foot for the third time in his career. Now slated to hit the open market in March, this could mark the end of Wilson’s tenure in Chicago. In 2015, Wilson had a career-high 464 yards off of 28 catches with a touchdown in eleven games.

Jeffery, of course, is also scheduled to hit the open market. He was already in the midst of a so-so year when he was slapped with a suspension for PEDs last month. These last three games might not mean much for the Bears, but they could have a big impact on Jeffery’s future. If he doesn’t finish the year strong, he won’t have a chance of approaching the deals given to star wide receivers like Julio Jones, Demaryius Thomas, and Dez Bryant.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Extra Points: Jeffery, McCoy, Boyle, Cowboys

Alshon Jeffery could be entering free agency after this season and doing so on the heels of an unremarkable year, one now marred by the performance-enhancing drugs suspension. That suspension for the Bears‘ top target is expected to scare off “a number” of teams and could help lead to a tepid market for the Bears’ present top weapon, Jason Cole of Bleacher Report notes (video link).

Cole also points to other receivers like Michael Floyd or DeSean Jackson as cheaper options as also being a factor in Jeffery having to possibly accept a short-term deal. Kenny Britt would qualify here as well, although 2017 UFA Terrelle Pryor could be a prime candidate for an eight-figure AAV deal.

As many as 10 wideouts, in Cole’s view, being first- or second-round picks also could induce teams to be careful throwing money around for wide receivers. Jeffery is playing this season on the $14.59MM franchise tag and posted less-than-stellar numbers prior to his suspension. He of two 1,100-yard seasons, the 26-year-old Jeffery has just 630 and one touchdown for the struggling Bears.

Here’s more from around the league.

  • The Falcons‘ deal with Ryan Schraeder cements the $6MM/year range for right tackles, Charles Robinson of Yahoo Sports (on Twitter) opines. Now, he envisions a similar range for Marcus Cannon (Patriots), Riley Reiff (Lions), and Ricky Wagner (Ravens).
  • Panthers defensive end Ryan Delaire returned to practice today. He’s eligible to come off IR this week if the Panthers choose to do so, Joe Person of the Charlotte Observer notes (on Twitter). Carolina’s IR is not populated with key personnel, as Roster Resource shows, so that’s one less road block in this scenario.
  • Cowboys safety Barry Church has been sidelined with a fractured right forearm but he expects to be back in time to face Minnesota on Dec. 1 (Twitter link via Brandon George of The Dallas Morning News). Church says he’ll wear a cast when he plays.
  • Tony Romo attempting to make Dak Prescott‘s ascent to the Dallas starting job easier could benefit the veteran passer this offseason, Cole of notes (video link). The Cowboys, per Cole, could be more willing to accommodate the 36-year-old quarterback with a trade, with the NFL insider mentioning the Broncos and Chiefs as potential destinations.
  • Bills running back LeSean McCoy had a surgical procedure on his thumb Monday but he will be ready to play this Sunday, a source tells Adam Schefter of ESPN.com (on Twitter). McCoy has matched his career high with 5.2 yards per carry thus far this season.
  • Ravens tight end Nick Boyle’s suspension is now up, and the team will have one week to evaluate him before putting him on the 53-man roster, Jeff Zreibec of the Baltimore Sun reports (via Twitter). The second-year tight end’s now been popped for two PED suspensions. He will return to practice this week, but John Harbaugh said (via Zreibec, on Twitter) it’s not certain he plays Sunday.

Sam Robinson contributed to this report

Alshon Jeffery Suspended 4 Games For PEDs

5Bears wide receiver Alshon Jeffery has been suspended four games for violating the league’s PED policy, the league announced. This suspension comes at a horrendous time for Jeffery as he is poised to be one of the top players on the free agent market this offseason. As it stands now, Jeffery will be out through Dec. 11th against the Lions. Jeffery could postpone the suspension with an appeal and, of course, could get it overturned if he were to win. "<strong

The Bears have been wrestling with what to do about Jeffery this offseason and today’s PED ban could help inform their decision. Through nine games this year, Jeffery has 40 catches for 630 yards and one touchdown, numbers that are not quite on pace with his best work.

The wideout has released the following statement (via Rand Getlin on Twitter):

“As a professional athlete, I have been careful about what I put in my body. I took a recommended supplement to combat inflammation. Unfortunately this supplement contained an ingredient that was on the NFL’s banned substance list. I take full responsibility and I’m deeply upset with myself for not doing the proper research on this supplement.

I want to apologize to my family, the Bears organization, my teammates, and Bears fans. I will work hard to earn back the respect and trust of the Bears nation and look forward to being back on the field.”

Jeffery broke out in 2013, catching 89 passes for 1,421 yards and seven scores on his way to a Pro Bowl selection. He was also extremely productive in 2014 (less yards, more touchdowns), but his 2015 season was cut short by injury. Now, as Jeffery tries to make his case to be one of the league’s highest-paid receivers, he has likely incurred another major red flag.

Jeffery will miss out on $3.4MM+ in salary during the suspension. This spring, his apparent misstep could cost him much more. After today’s revelation, Jeffery might not get a chance to approach the deals of Julio Jones, Demaryius Thomas, and Dez Bryant.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.