Benny Cunningham

Bears To Re-Sign Benny Cunningham

Benny Cunningham enjoyed an interesting Monday. The veteran running back made a visit to New Orleans to meet with the Saints, and he reached an agreement. Only not with the Saints.

The Bears agreed to terms to re-sign Cunningham, Joel Erickson of The Advocate reports (on Twitter). Cunningham also visited the Buccaneers during his latest stay in free agency but will come back to Chicago.

Going into his sixth season, Cunningham will turn 28 in July. He only received nine carries last season in playing behind Jordan Howard and alongside Tarik Cohen. But the Bears used Cunningham in the passing game. The former Rams runner caught 20 passes for 240 yards and two touchdowns last season, and he’ll continue to provide depth in the Windy City.

New Orleans has former seventh-round pick Daniel Lasco, now-journeyman ball-carrier Jonathan Williams and 2017 UDFA Trey Edmunds representing its depth behind Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara. Cunningham would have a better chance of seeing offensive work with the Bears, but the Saints are clearly looking around the market for reserve options.

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Saints To Meet With Benny Cunningham

Running back Benny Cunningham is expected to visit the Saints soon, Jason La Canfora of CBSSports.com tweets. He adds that other teams are interested in Cunningham, who has appeal both as a backup running back and special teams standout.

The Saints are set at the top of their running back depth chart with Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara, but there could be room for Cunnigham in a group behind them that currently includes Trey Edmunds, Daniel Lasco, and Jonathan Williams. The Saints are the bottom ten of the league in salary cap space, per Over The Cap, but Cunningham would not be a costly addition for them.

Cunningham averaged 27.8 yards per kick return with the Rams from 2014-16, which would make him an intriguing special teams pickup. Last year, Alvin Kamara averaged 31.5 yards per return for the Saints, but they may look to protect him a bit more going forward and use him less frequently on kick returns. Tommylee Lewis had the most KR attempts of any Saint (13) and he averaged 23.6 per try.

Cunningham visited the Buccaneers on Sunday but left Florida without signing a deal.

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Buccaneers Host RB Benny Cunningham

The Buccaneers are meeting with free agent running back Benny Cunningham on Sunday, reports Jason La Canfora of CBSSports.com (Twitter link).

Tampa Bay’s running back depth chart is currently in flux, as the club released Doug Martin earlier this offseason while Charles Sims is an unrestricted free agent. While the Buccaneers still employ Peyton Barber and Jacquizz Rodgers, Cunningham could help replace Sims, who spent the past four years as Tampa’s receiving back. The 27-year-old Cunningham only managed 20 receptions working behind fellow Bears Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen in 2017, but he posted 45 catches as recently as 2014.

Cunningham also has a history as a kick returner, as he averaged 27.8 yards per return with the Rams from 2014-16. The Buccaneers used three kick returners — Rodgers, wide receiver Bernard Reedy, and Sims — in 2017, but the latter two are no longer on the team’s roster.

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Bears Sign Benny Cunningham

After hosting him for a visit today, the Bears have signed running back Benny Cunningham to a one-year deal, the club announced.Benny Cunningham (Vertical)

Cunningham, 26, will slot in behind Jordan Howard, Jeremy Langford, and Ka’Deem Carey on Chicago’s running back depth chart, but most of his impact will be as a kick returner. On 22 kick returns, Cunningham ranked third in the NFL with 27.2 yards per return in 2016, while the Bears lost 1.1 yards of field position in the return game, according to Football Outsiders.

While it’s not out of the question Cunningham could chip in on offense if injuries affect the Bears, he’s averaged only 43 carries during his four-year NFL career. Cunningham did put up a career high 45 receptions in 2014, so perhaps a passing game role is in his future. More likely, he’ll compete with Deonte Thompson (who was re-signed today) for return duties.

Cunningham ranked as PFR’s No. 9 free agent running back still on the board. He’d visited the Jets already this offseason, and had also been loosely linked to the Seahawks.

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Bears Host RB Benny Cunningham

The Bears are meeting with free agent running back Benny Cunningham on Tuesday, tweets Jason La Canfora of CBSSports.com, and have also re-signed wide receiver Deonte Thompson, per Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press (Twitter link).Benny Cunningham (Vertical)

Given that clear-cut starter Jordan Howard is backed up by both Jeremy Langford and Ka’Deem Carey in Chicago, Cunningham would take on a purely special teams role with the Bears. The 26-year-old Cunningham didn’t play much on offense in 2016, anyway, as he managed only 21 carries for the Rams. His role as a returner, though, was far more clear.

On 22 kick returns, Cunningham ranked third in the NFL with 27.2 yards per return. Thompson, meanwhile, was Chicago’s kick returner last season, but only averaged 23 yards per return. The Bears lost 1.1 yards of field position on kick returns in 2016, according to Football Outsiders, so adding Cunningham could theoretically offer an improvement over Thompson.

Thompson is now under contract, however, which could lead the Bears to rethink a Cunningham acquisition. In contrast to Cunningham, Thompson played a bit of an offensive role last year, as he reeled in 22 of 36 targets for 249 yards and two touchdowns.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Top 2017 Free Agents By Position 3.0: Offense

The initial wave of NFL free agency is now complete, and while many of the league’s top available players are now off the board, there are still plenty of quality options still on the open market.

Listed below are our rankings for the top 15 free agents at each offensive position. These rankings aren’t necessarily determined by the value of the contracts – or the amount of guaranteed money – that each player is expected to land in free agency. These 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, as well as players who received the franchise tag, aren’t listed here, since the roadblocks in place to hinder another team from actually acquiring most of those players prevent them from being true free agents.

We’ll almost certainly be higher or lower on some free agents than you are, so feel free to weigh in below in our comments section to let us know which players we’ve got wrong.

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

Quarterback:

  1. Jay Cutler
  2. Chase Daniel
  3. Ryan Fitzpatrick
  4. Colin Kaepernick
  5. Josh McCown
  6. Robert Griffin III
  7. Case Keenum
  8. Matt McGloin
  9. Mark Sanchez
  10. Christian Ponder
  11. Blaine Gabbert
  12. Ryan Nassib
  13. Shaun Hill
  14. Kellen Moore
  15. Austin Davis

Tony Romo is not a free agent…at least not yet. If the Cowboys do not find a suitable trade and release him, you’ll find him at the top of this list.

Laugh if you must, but Cutler is far and away the best quarterback available on the open market. While most of this year’s QB-needy teams are done with their free agent shopping, the Jets are still searching for their 2017 starter and no one would make more sense for them than Cutler. He’s not all that far removed from playing solid football and he’s a logical transitional option for the Jets until they can isolate a better, younger option for 2018. Jay Cutler (Vertical)

Kaepernick’s reps wisely told the press that he will be standing for the National Anthem this year. Still, Kaepernick is an outspoken guy who wants to use his platform to discuss hot button issues, so there’s no guarantee that the media circus around him will cease. Jets owner Woody Johnson loves seeing his team on the back pages of the New York tabloids, but even he has to have more sense than to entertain Kaepernick. McCown, who has been contact with the team, would be an okay choice if they can’t get something done with Cutler. Chase Daniel could be an option too, but there isn’t much game film on him.

Needless to say, the No. 3 ranked player on this list isn’t an option in New York.

Running back:

  1. Adrian Peterson
  2. LeGarrette Blount
  3. Jamaal Charles
  4. Rashad Jennings
  5. Tim Hightower
  6. DeAngelo Williams
  7. Chris Johnson
  8. Christine Michael
  9. Benny Cunningham
  10. Bobby Rainey
  11. Brandon Bolden
  12. Denard Robinson
  13. James Starks
  14. Matt Asiata
  15. Kenjon Barner

Honorable mention: DuJuan Harris, Antonio AndrewsKhiry Robinson

Adrian Peterson (vertical)The Vikings have moved on and Peterson will not be back in Minnesota. Where he goes from here is anyone’s guess. When Peterson’s option was declined by the Vikings earlier this month, there were tons of stories (likely sourced by Peterson’s camp) about interest from a litany of contenders. Since then, each team – through anonymous sources – has denied being in the mix for the veteran. It would be easy to doubt Peterson at this juncture, but he has come back from serious injuries multiple times in his career and he is only one year removed from his stellar 2015 campaign. He gets the top spot over the bruising Blount as well as Charles, who hasn’t been healthy in a long while.

Jennings was brought to New York with the idea that he would be the team’s workhorse. Unfortunately, two of his three seasons with the G-Men were marred by injury. Jennings is currently putting his agility to good use on Dancing With The Stars and it remains to be seen how committed he is to football. After that, we have a trio of vets (Hightower, Williams, CJ2K) who could still advance the ball in limited spurts.

In case you’re wondering – Mike Gillislee is not listed here because he is a restricted free agent.

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AFC Rumors: Browns, Jets, Chiefs, Dolphins

NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport has provided some more insight on the Browns‘ quarterback plans following their acquisition of Brock Osweiler earlier today (Twitter link). The reporter notes that the team is likely to release Robert Griffin III, and they’ll continue shopping Osweiler as they search for a proper deal. Rapoport also expects the organization to select a signal-caller in the draft.

Let’s take a look at some other AFC notes on a busy day around the NFL…

  • Rams free agent running back Benny Cunningham is set to visit the Jets, reports Jason La Canfora (via Twitter). The former undrafted free agent has spent his entire four-year career with the Rams. He finished last season with 101 rushing yards and 16 receptions while serving primarily as a third-down back.
  • Linebacker Gerald Hodges will visit the Chiefs, according to ProFootballTalk (via Twitter). The former 49ers defender had a career-season in 2016, finishing with 83 tackles, three sacks, two interceptions, and one forced fumble.
  • The Dolphins have restructured defensive end Nick Williams‘ contract, reports Adam Beasley of the Miami Herald (via Twitter). The 27-year-old played in 10 games between the Chiefs and Dolphins last season, finishing with eight tackles.
  • Lawrence Timmons will be visiting the Dolphins on Friday, tweets ESPN.com’s Adam Schefter. The veteran linebacker spent his entire 10-year career with the Steelers, and he finished last season with 114 tackles, 2.5 sacks, and two interceptions.

La Canfora’s Latest: Seahawks, Campbell

CBS Sports’ Jason La Canfora writes that the Seahawks are zeroing in on offensive linemen and running backs. However, La Canfora notes that the team won’t overpay for the positions.

The team is “high” on Packers guard T.J. Lang but isn’t expected to offer anything “crazy.” Meanwhile, besides Adrian Peterson, the Seahawks are “monitoring” LeGarrette Blount and Benny Cunningham.

Let’s take a look at some other notable tidbits from La Canfora’s latest column…

  • The Jets, Browns, Ravens and Redskins are among the main teams seeking help at safety. Tony Jefferson is atop our list of the top available safeties, followed by Duron Harmon.
  • La Canfora says he wouldn’t be surprised if Calais Campbell lands with either the Buccaneers or the Jaguars. The Jaguars were previously linked to the Cardinals defensive end, while the Buccaneers were reportedly eying free agent Chris Baker.
  • The writer isn’t convinced that there’s a team besides the Browns that would be willing to pay receiver Terrelle Pryor more than $10MM a season.

Top 2017 Free Agents By Position 2.0: Offense

NFL free agency is right around the corner! The legal tampering period starts on Tuesday and free agency officially starts on Thursday. The list of available free agents will change between now and then as players re-sign with teams or get cut loose, but we have a pretty good idea of who will be available right now. After looking at the top defensive players, we now shift our attention to the other side of the ball.

Here are our rankings for the top 15 free agents at each position. The rankings aren’t determined by earning power, they are simply the players we like the most at each position, with a combination of short- and long-term value taken into account. You won’t find restricted free agents or franchise tagged guys here since they are unlikely to go leave their current clubs.

Player evaluation is always subjective, so we encourage you to make your voices heard in the comments section in cases where you disagree with us.

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

Updated 3-7-2017, 2:55pm CT

Quarterback:

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

Honorable mention: Ryan Nassib, Landry JonesShaun Hill Mike Glennon (vertical)

Colin Kaepernick’s agents have (wisely) let everyone know that their client will stand for the National Anthem in 2017. That may seem like a minor point, but teams say they would have automatically removed him from consideration if he continued his attention-grabbing protest. He grabbed headlines for his actions on the sidelines last year, but he actually turned in an OK season. From a football standpoint, Kaepernick would make sense for a lot of teams as a QB2 with upside.

Interestingly, this list includes three quarterbacks who couldn’t cut it as the Jets’ starter and three rejects from the 49ers. They say that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure and all six of those players (Ryan Fitzpatrick, Kaepernick, Mark Sanchez, Geno Smith, Christian Ponder, Blaine Gabbert) come with varying degrees of potential and proven effectiveness. Smith, somehow, could reportedly be retained by the Jets and installed as the starter in 2017.

Ryan Nassib is just outside of the top 15 here with EJ Manuel getting the final spot. Despite positive word about his play in practice, Nassib is unproven and the Giants’ apparent lack of interest in re-signing him says a lot. It’s also possible that he might not be 100% after ending the 2016 season on IR with an elbow injury. Manuel, for all his warts, has shown potential in small bursts.

Running back:

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

Honorable mention: Robert Turbin, Travaris Cadet, Benny Cunningham, Lance Dunbar, Bobby Rainey, Brandon BoldenDenard Robinson, James Starks

Adrian Peterson (vertical)As expected, the Vikings have cut Adrian Peterson loose and he is expected to garner interest from contending clubs this week. Some might peg Peterson as the most talented running back in this year’s free agent class, but it all comes down to how you weigh his age and injury history. Peterson has shocked the football world in the past with an incredible comeback, but I’m a little skeptical of his ability to do it again in his age-32 season. Eddie Lacy, who has injury question marks of his own, takes the top spot at the position.

The Patriots believe they won’t be able to match the offers that come in LeGarrette Blount‘s direction. Latavius Murray could circle back to the Raiders, but he won’t be agreeing to a deal with them before free agency opens on Thursday.

Jamaal Charles has the most impressive resume of anyone on this list, with the exception of Peterson. However, no one knows exactly what he can do after playing eight games in the last two years. He’ll turn 31 in December and that’s usually not an indicator of success for running backs.

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Rams Place Robert Quinn On IR

The Rams have placed running back Benny Cunningham and defensive end Robert Quinn on injured reserve, the team announced today. In related news, the team has promoted offensive lineman David Arkin and defensive end Morgan Fox to the 53-man roster. Robert Quinn (vertical)

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Quinn has missed the last two games with a concussion and he’ll have to wait before he can take the field in the post-Jeff Fisher era. After missing time with other injuries this year, Quinn’s 2016 season ends with an efficient four sacks in just nine games. After missing half of the 2015 season, Quinn hopes to come back strong and healthy in the New Year. When he’s on the field and playing at 100%, Quinn is one of the most intimidating young edge defenders in the league.

Quinn showed his true potential in 2013 when he earned First-Team All-Pro and Pro Bowl honors as he tallied 19 sacks. He also received a tremendous 98.8 overall grade from Pro Football Focus. He came back down to earth a bit in 2014, but he still racked up 10.5 sacks on his way to yet another Pro Bowl selection.

Without Cunningham, the Rams are left with three running backs on the roster: Todd Gurley, Malcolm Brown, and Chase Reynolds.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.