Captain Munnerlyn

South Notes: Brees, Panthers, Titans, Texans

Don’t expect Drew Brees to sign another extension before the season. The 38-year-old Saints quarterback is again entering a contract year but wants to wait until after the season to discuss another deal to stay in New Orleans. Brees said waiting until the end of the year is best for himself and the team, Josh Katzenstein of NOLA.com reports. Brees’ one-year extension from 2016 will pay him $24.25MM this season.

The 17th-year quarterback is also not exactly endorsing the Saints taking a signal-caller early. While that may be in the best interest of the franchise post-Brees, the current starter doesn’t want a high draft pick that will sit behind him and not help the team in 2017.

The flip side is, if I’m going to start and that quarterback sits, well that’s not helping our team right now,” Brees said, via Katzenstein. “So, I want somebody who’s going to help our team right now. When I leave here, I want this organization to be successful — whenever that is — so I want them to be prepared for that. They need to be thinking about that, but then again, I don’t want to make it seem like this is my farewell tour. That’s not the way I view it.”

Here’s more from the league’s South divisions.

  • The Panthers‘ free agency plan focused on established veterans, and Dave Gettleman and Ron Rivera pointed to the success the more veteran-laden 2015 Super Bowl team had compared to its successor. “You go back to the Super Bowl year and you look at what we had with Roman (Harper), Charles (Tillman) and Jared Allen. Those three veteran guys right there. And then you look at what we did with (Mike) Adams, (Captain) Munnerlyn and Julius (Peppers),” Rivera said, via Joe Person of the Charlotte Observer, pointing to the additions of a 36-year-old safety, a soon-to-be 29-year-old nickel corner and a 37-year-old defensive end. “Are we trying to copy what we did? You’re darned right. We really are.” Both Adams and Peppers are actually older than the players the Panthers are bringing them in to emulate.
  • Rivera hopes Peppers’ decision to sign a one-year pact doesn’t amount to a farewell tour. The seventh-year Panthers coach said the 16th-year edge defender has a lot left in the tank and wants him to consider playing beyond this season. Peppers’ three mid-30s seasons produced a combined 25 sacks, adding to Rivera’s point.
  • Carolina also will consider using Munnerlyn outside in addition to his usual slot role, Person notes. Munnerlyn has far more experience than James Bradberry or Daryl Worley but has spent the majority of his career in the slot. The now-two-time Panther could be competing for an base defense starter’s role while sliding to his customary nickel on passing downs.
  • The Titans worked out Miami tight end David Njoku on Saturday, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets. They hold picks 5 and 18 in the first round. Njoku’s soaring value has induced mock drafts to route him to teams picking in the range of Tennessee’s No. 18 selection. The Titans still have Delanie Walker under contract, but he will be 33 in August.
  • Having been connected to Tony Romo throughout the offseason, the Texans are also a candidate to take a quarterback early. Bob McNair said as much earlier this offseason. But Bill O’Brien may not necessarily be ready to start a rookie. “I think it’s tough to play quarterback as a rookie in our league,” O’Brien said this week. “I think that there’s no substitute for experience. So, I think it’s hard to ask a guy to come in straight from college and Day 1 he’s a starter on your team. But I know that there are some really good quarterbacks in this draft that we’re looking at and we’ve met with a lot of them. We’re excited about continuing to get to know them. But, I just think for me as a general rule, that’s tough to start them as a Day 1 guy.”

NFC Contract Details: Fairley, Peppers, Reiff

Let’s take a look at the details of a few recently-signed NFC contracts:

  • Nick Fairley, DL (Saints): Four years, $28MM. $14MM guaranteed. $8MM signing bonus. Base salaries of $1MM, $4.25MM, $5.95MM, $5.95MM (Twitter link via Wilson). $500K available yearly in sack incentives (link via Mike Triplett of ESPN.com).
  • Captain Munnerlyn, CB (Panthers): Four years, $17MM. $8MM guaranteed. $6MM signing bonus. $1MM available via incentives (Twitter link via Matt Vensel of the Minneapolis Star Tribune).
  • Julius Peppers, DL (Panthers): One year, $3.5MM. $750K available via incentives (Twitter link via Josina Anderson of ESPN.com).
  • Riley Reiff, T (Vikings): Five years, $58.75MM. $26.3MM guaranteed. $11MM signing bonus (Twitter links via Ben Goessling of ESPN.com). Annual $500K Pro Bowl escalator clause (Twitter link via Wilson).
  • Mike Remmers, T (Vikings): Five years, $30MM. $10.5MM guaranteed (Twitter link via Matt Vensel of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune).
  • Dion Sims, TE (Bears): Three years, $18MM. $6MM guaranteed (Twitter link via Adam Caplan of ESPN.com).
  • Stefen Wisniewski, OL (Eagles): Three years, $9MM. $3.25MM guaranteed. $1.75MM signing bonus (Twitter link via Jeff McLane of the Philadelphia Inquirer)

Panthers To Sign Captain Munnerlyn

The Panthers have agreed to sign cornerback Captain Munnerlyn, tweets Ian Rapoport of NFL.com. It’s a four-year deal, reports Peter Schrager of FOX Sports (Twitter link). Captain Munnerlyn (Vertical)

The newest member of the Panthers, wide receiver Charles Johnson, revealed Friday that he bumped into Munnerlyn at the team’s facilities, per David Newton of ESPN.com. Munnerlyn told Chris Tomasson of the St. Paul Pioneer Press (Twitter link) earlier today that he’d probably sign a new deal by the end of Friday.

Munnerlyn is now signed up for his second stint with the organization. The Panthers selected Munnerlyn in the seventh round of the 2009 draft, and he stuck with them through the 2013 season. Munnerlyn spent the previous three seasons as Johnson’s teammate in Minnesota.

Munnerlyn, who ranked as PFR’s No. 11 free agent corner, is strictly a slot man, but he’s an excellent one. Carolina finished 11th in pass defense DVOA last year even after losing Josh Norman, and Munnerlyn will now team with James Bradberry and Daryl Worley in a rapidly improving unit. The Panthers already addressed their secondary earlier today, agreeing to terms with veteran safety Mike Adams.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

PFR’s Top 50 NFL Free Agents

It’s free agency week! This year, thanks to the salary cap increase, the dollars will be flying and players will make more than you ever could have expected. Our lists for offense and defense rank free agents based on overall ability, but our Top 50 ranks players based on earning power. Here, you’ll get a good sense of what the market will be like this week and who the big fish are.

The league’s “legal tampering” window will open on Tuesday at 11:00am CT. Technically, teams and players aren’t permitted to finalize agreements on contracts during that legal tampering window, but that’s often treated as a guideline rather than a hard and fast rule. We will almost certainly see handshake agreements go down on Tuesday and Wednesday before they become official on Thursday, the technical beginning of free agency.

Our list of 2017’s top 50 free agents doesn’t include restricted free agents, or franchise tagged players, since they’re effectively restricted free agents as well.

With those caveats out of the way, let’s dive right in! Here are Pro Football Rumors’ top 50 NFL free agents for 2017, along with a few predictions on how much they might earn and what teams could be in the mix to sign them:

1. A.J. Bouye, CB (Texans): Bouye is an overnight sensation, going from unknown to elite talent in the blink of an eye. No one knows exactly what to make of Bouye, but his upside is too much for teams to pass up. The Texans declined to use the franchise tag on the 25-year-old (26 in August), but they’re still hoping to get a deal done this week. The Jets are said to have interest, but it’s not clear if they’ll have the room to get something done. Cornerback-needy teams like the Panthers, Saints, Jaguars, Titans, Bears, and Eagles can be expected to at least kick the tires on this year’s top player in the secondary. Could something like Janoris Jenkins‘ five year, $62.5MM contract ($28.8MM fully guaranteed) from last year be within reach? Jenkins had a longer history of success than Bouye, but consider these facts: Bouye nearly two years younger than Jenkins was at time of signing and the salary cap has risen by about $12MM.
Signed with Jaguars for five years, $67.5MM.A.J. Bouye (vertical)

2. Alshon Jeffery, WR (Bears): He was hurt for most of 2015 and he slumped along with the entire Bears offense in 2016, but his natural ability is still evident and he is a legitimate No. 1 wide receiver. At one point, it seemed like Jeffery could wind up as the league’s highest-paid wide receiver. That won’t be the case, but he will likely get more cash than any other wide receiver in this year’s class. The Eagles and Titans have been hot on his tail for some time now. The 49ers could also get involved and a return to the Bears cannot be ruled out either. Ultimately, Jeffery should wind up fetching at least $10MM per year and perhaps as much as $12MM per year on his next deal.
Signed with Eagles for one year, $9.5MM.

3. Kenny Stills, WR (Dolphins): Jeffery isn’t the only wide receiver who could fetch $12MM per year. Stills isn’t necessarily the best wide receiver on his own team, but he is just on the cusp of his 25th birthday and his ability to stretch the field is tantalizing. It doesn’t sound like the Dolphins are ready to be the highest bidder for his services and it’s not hard to imagine a team like the Eagles landing him. Naturally, there’s quite a bit of overlap between the potential suitors for Jeffery and Stills: the Eagles, Titans, Bears, and 49ers will probably come calling. The Rams may not have enough room to squeeze in Stills, but they could certainly use a playmaker like him if they do not re-sign Kenny Britt. Stills reportedly likes the West Coast (who doesn’t?) so the Niners and Rams could have a leg up on the others if the bidding is close.
Re-signed with Dolphins for four years, $32MM.

4. Dont’a Hightower, LB (Patriots): The market is capped for non-rush linebackers, but Hightower is pretty much the best at what he does and is also lauded for his intangibles. The Patriots have always embraced the “next man up” philosophy, so it is possible they will allow him to go elsewhere. The Dolphins have been frequently connected to Hightower, but that might be too ambitious for a team that has multiple major needs to address. The Colts might also make sense, but the price might be too rich for their blood. A Patriots return appears to be the most likely outcome, but anything is possible.
Re-signed with Patriots for four years, $35.5MM. 

5. Kevin Zeitler, G (Bengals): Zeitler has age on his side and he’s one of the safest free agents in the top ten after three consecutive years of dominance. Interior offensive linemen don’t get as much love as their counterparts on the outside, but they are still incredibly vital and Zeitler’s next contract will reflect that. If he doesn’t circle back to the Bengals, the Jaguars, Cardinals, Packers, and Seahawks all make varying degrees of sense for Zeitler. From a football standpoint, you can add the Jets to that group too, but I’m not sure they can meet a ~$12MM/year asking price.
Signed with Browns for five years, $60MM.

6. Logan Ryan, CB (Patriots): There are bigger names available at the cornerback position, but Ryan slots ahead of many of them after a career year. It also doesn’t hurt that this fresh-faced Super Bowl champ only just turned 26 in February. If the Patriots don’t tie him down, Ryan’s earning power could conceivably vault him past Trumaine Johnson in terms of guaranteed cash. The Jaguars and Titans would be wise to zero in on Ryan if they can’t land Bouye and it’s possible that some of their evaluators might even prefer Ryan over the Houston standout. Ryan’s next deal will probably pay him eight figures per year and it should be a lengthy pact.
Signed with Titans for three years, $30MM.

7. Terrelle Pryor, WR (Browns): There is strong mutual interest in a new deal between Pryor and the Browns. Still, the Browns passed on the opportunity to franchise tag the Ohio State product and he now appears poised to test the open market. With pretty much just one year to show, how will Pryor fare in free agency? His next deal should pay him at least $10MM/year and he could get up to $12MM/year. In addition to the Browns, the usual suspects for this year’s high-end WRs will explore signing Pryor (say it with me): Eagles, Titans, and 49ers. There’s conflicting word about whether the Steelers will get involved. The Giants are known to have interest, but I don’t think they’ll be splurging on free agents like they did one year ago.
Signed with Redskins for one year, $6MM.

8 .Ricky Wagner, OT (Ravens): There’s already talk of Wagner fetching around $10MM/year and it’s not like this year’s free agent market is flush with young, quality tackles. When you also consider the lack of quality tackles in the draft, it’s apparent that Wagner is about to get PAID, in all caps.Believe it or not, $10MM/year might be his floor. When all is said and done, he’ll be the league’s biggest earner at right tackle. The Bears are particularly interested in Wagner, so he could go from the AFC North to the NFC North this week.
Signed with Lions for five years, $47.5MM.

Calais Campbell (vertical)9. Calais Campbell, DL (Cardinals): Campbell was supposed to be an afterthought in Arizona after the addition of Chandler Jones. Perhaps motivated by a perceived slight, Campbell turned in a stellar year. Now, the Cardinals would very much like to keep him, but they can only go so far as they back up the Brinks truck for Jones and look into retaining other key free agents. If Jones does not agree to a cap-smoothing long-term deal between now and March 9th, the odds of Campbell leaving increase. The Jaguars are said to be a leading contender for Campbell while the Titans, Broncos, Colts, and Bears could also use a force like him. His age (31 in September) gives him a bit of a ceiling in terms of overall compensation, but he should still do nicely this month.
Signed with Jaguars for four years, $60MM.

10. Stephon Gilmore, CB (Bills): In terms of pure talent, Gilmore might be the best cornerback available. Trouble is, no one knows what to make of him after a down 2016. Some have openly theorized that Gilmore was playing it safe to avoid injury in his pivotal contract year. It’s also possible that Buffalo’s injuries in the front seven put undue stress on the secondary. The Bears are reportedly high on Gilmore and he may represent a cheaper option than Bouye or Ryan. A Bills return would also make sense here.
Signed with Patriots for five years, $65MM.

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Captain Munnerlyn Expected To Test Market

Although the Vikings would like to re-sign slot cornerback Captain Munnerlyn, the club is expected to allow the veteran defensive back to first gauge his value on the open market, reports Chris Tomasson the St. Paul Pioneer Press (Twitter link). Indeed, no deal is expected between Minnesota and Munnerlyn before free agency begins on Thursday, tweets Ben Goessling of ESPN.com.Captain Munnerlyn (Vertical)

[RELATED: Latest On Adrian Peterson’s Market]

Entering his age-29 season, Munnerlyn said earlier this month he’s targeting a four- to five-year deal once he reaches the free agent market. While that length of contract might be hard to come by given his age, Munnerlyn is certainly still a solid player, and his role as a slot corner is all the more important as offenses increasingly utilize three-wide receiver sets. In 2016, Munnerlyn played in 15 games and defensed three passes, grading as the No. 49 CB among 112 qualifiers, per Pro Football Focus.

Munnerlyn rates high in PFR’s free agent rankings, placing as the No. 11 cornerback available and earning an honorable mention of PFR’s list of the top 50 free agents. The former seventh-round pick isn’t the only Vikings defensive back scheduled to hit free agency this week, however, as Terence Newman is also heading for the open market on Thursday.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Top 2017 Free Agents By Position 2.0: Defense

NFL free agency gets underway on Thursday 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. Here is our updated outlook for each defensive and special teams position.

Listed below are our rankings for the top 15 free agents at each defensive 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 franchised players 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 defensive position for this offseason:

Edge defender:

  1. Nick Perry
  2. Jabaal Sheard
  3. John Simon
  4. DeMarcus Ware
  5. Lorenzo Alexander
  6. Andre Branch
  7. Julius Peppers
  8. Charles Johnson
  9. Datone Jones
  10. Dwight Freeney
  11. Chris Long
  12. Mario Williams
  13. Paul Kruger
  14. Courtney Upshaw
  15. Jarvis Jones

Now that Chandler Jones, Melvin Ingram, and Jason Pierre-Paul have all been assigned the franchise tag, Nick Perry stands as the top edge defender on the free agent market, and is now in a position to cash in. The Packers opted against the franchise tender for the 26-year-old Perry, so he’ll hit the open market following a career year which saw him post 11 sacks."<strong

The rest of this year’s crop of free agent pass rushers is a blend of young defenders searching for their first payday and veterans on the hunt for one last contract. Among players with youth still on their side, Datone Jones figures to interest clubs thanks to his versatility, as he can vacillate between end and linebacker, while fellow former first-round pick Jarvis Jones is solid against the run. John Simon has been overlooked while playing alongside the likes of J.J. Watt, Jadeveon Clowney, and Whitney Mercilus but could represent a hidden gem, while the Dolphins are reportedly prioritizing Andre Branch.

After managing nine sacks over the first nine years of his NFL tenure, Lorenzo Alexander busted out with 12.5 quarterback takedowns in 2016, and now could be looking for a double-digit annual salary. Charles Johnson, meanwhile, looks like a good bet to return to the Panthers, but DeMarcus Ware could be something of a wild card — after missing 11 games in the past two seasons, does the 34-year-old have enough left in the tank? The same could be asked of Dwight Freeney, who at age-37 posted three sacks in a rotational role for the Falcons.

Interior defensive line:

  1. Calais Campbell
  2. Johnathan Hankins
  3. Brandon Williams
  4. Dontari Poe
  5. Chris Baker
  6. Bennie Logan
  7. Nick Fairley
  8. Alan Branch
  9. Jared Odrick
  10. Karl Klug
  11. Terrell McClain
  12. Lawrence Guy
  13. Stacy McGee
  14. Stephen Paea
  15. Sylvester Williams
    Honorable mention: Paul Soliai

Calais Campbell is the best overall player among interior defenders, and though he’s entering his age-31 season and may not cost as much as Johnathan Hankins, Brandon Williams, and Dontari Poe, Campbell will still be highly-sought after as he searches for his last substantial payday Campbell’s agent met with the Cardinals last week, but other speculative fits for the veteran defender include the Broncos, Raiders, Ravens, Colts, and Titans."<strong

Hankins is only 24 years old, and though the Giants are trying to retain him along with the rest of their defensive core, the 6’3″, 320-pound mauler should represent an attractive option to a number of clubs this offseason. Williams, too, offers a massive presence on the inside, while Poe could intrigue clubs based on his first-round pedigree and athleticism (though his play hasn’t always matched his potential). The Redskins’ Chris Baker is a solid, well-rounded defensive tackle, and could constitute a consolation prize for teams that miss out on their top targets.

The rest of the class offers an interesting mix of nose tackles (Bennie Logan), interior pass rushers (Nick Fairley, Karl Klug), and run stoppers (Alan Branch), so clubs hoping to bolster their defensive line should find no shortage of options. Jared Odrick recently hit free agency after being released by the Jaguars, while Terrell McClain, Lawrence Guy, and Stacy McGee could be underrated finds for the right team. McClain, for what it’s worth, has already been linked to the Falcons.

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NFC North Notes: Munnerlyn, Lions, Hyde

Captain Munnerlyn will be 29 before the 2017 season begins, but the veteran slot cornerback does not have a medium-length contract on his mind. The Vikings free agent is seeking a long-term pact and a raise.

I’m looking for a four- or five-year deal; just somewhere I can finish my career at, and go from there,” Munnerlyn said, via Chris Tomasson of the St. Paul Pioneer Press. “I don’t want a one- or two-year deal. I definitely don’t want to do that. I want to get something longer, so I can settle in and see if I want to make [Minnesota] my home.

Munnerlyn finished a three-year, $12.2MM Vikings deal and received more slot reps than almost any corner in football during that span. Using the cap’s increase to $167MM behind the reasoning, Munnerlyn is targeting a raise from the $4.2MM base salary he earned in 2016. Two of his agents were scheduled to meet with Vikings executive vice president Rob Brzezinski on Friday. Munnerlyn joins the likes of A.J. Bouye, Stephon Gilmore, Morris Claiborne and others on the cornerback market.

Here’s more from the NFC North on Combine Saturday.

  • The Lions are open to discussing an extension with Eric Ebron, but Bob Quinn said (via Kyle Meinke of MLive.com) that conversation won’t occur for months. Detroit has Ebron’s fifth-year option decision due in early May. Ebron is due $3.9MM in 2017, and Meinke notes Quinn’s recent comments on the tight end suggest he is genuinely interested in keeping him in the Motor City long-term. Ebron could see a bigger role in ’17 if the Lions don’t bring back Anquan Boldin. The 23-year-old tight end set career highs in receptions (61) and yards (711) last season despite playing in just 13 games.
  • Recipient of an extension that hasn’t benefited the Lions, DeAndre Levy has yet to be approached about a pay cut or restructure, Michael Rothstein of ESPN.com notes. This course of action may be coming this offseason after Levy’s last two years of work — just 21 tackles and six games played since signing that four-year, $33.74MM extension — but it hasn’t yet. And Quinn expects Levy to return in 2017, although that decision isn’t final yet. As a result of Levy’s injury issues, linebacker is a glaring need for the Lions going into free agency.
  • Packers contract negotiator Russ Ball met with Micah Hyde‘s agent on Friday at the Combine, ESPN.com’s Rob Demovsky reports. ESPN confirmed Ball met with the agents of Packers UFAs Eddie Lacy, Jared Cook, T.J. Lang and J.C. Tretter. However, Lang has already said he won’t sign before free agency commences. Green Bay isn’t likely to retain Tretter, either. Hyde said he would love to stay in Green Bay, identifying it as the best place for him, but hasn’t heard much from the team this offseason about a reunion.

PFR’s Top 50 NFL Free Agents For 2017 1.0

[UPDATE: CLICK HERE FOR THE LATEST EDITION OF PFR’S TOP 50 FREE AGENTS]

There will be oodles of free agents available in March, but only a certain percentage of them can be real difference makers for your team. To help separate the wheat from the chaff, we’ve assembled our early list of the Top 50 Free Agents for 2017.

Our early version of the NFL’s top 50 free agents may include players who will be re-signed between now and March 9. When we update this list next week, a few of the big names will be spoken for while new high-profile names will join the fray as veterans become cap casualties.

Last month, we broke down the top free agents by position on both offense and defense, but our rankings below may not have each player listed in the same order. Those position lists took the short-term value of a player into account more heavily, meaning many players in their 30s received prominent placement. Our overall top 50 list favors longer-term value, and is more about forecasting which players will be in highest demand when it comes to years and dollars.

With those caveats out of the way, let’s dive in! Here are Pro Football Rumors’ top 50 NFL free agents for 2017:

  1. A.J. BouyeA.J. Bouye, CB (Texans): Out of nowhere, Bouye went from unknown to elite. The Texans would like to retain him, but they opted against using the franchise tag to get it done. That means that we’re about to see one of the most intriguing free agent cases in recent memory play out. Bouye doesn’t turn 26 until August and he finished out the year as one of the league’s best cornerbacks. Conversely, he didn’t do much of note in his previous three NFL seasons. Recently, one executive told Albert Breer of The MMQB that he’s expecting Bouye to be the highest-paid free agent in this year’s class, “assuming the guys we believe will be franchised actually are.” Another posited that he could match Janoris Jenkins‘ five year, $62.5MM contract from last spring, a deal that included $28.8MM fully guaranteed. The Jets could be among the clubs to pursue Bouye.
  2. Alshon Jeffery, WR (Bears): There are question marks a-plenty, but no one can deny Jeffery’s natural ability. Not long ago, it seemed like Jeffery would fetch a free agent deal to totally reset the wide receiver market. Even after an iffy season, the projected salary cap increase and lack of available star receivers should allow Jeffery to become a very rich man.
  3. Kenny Stills, WR (Dolphins): Stills is going to get paid this offseason and the average annual value on his next deal could be far, far more than anticipated. The latest reports indicate that he could make up to $12MM/year on his next deal. The Eagles are said to be high on him and other WR-hungry teams like the Titans could also show interest.
  4. Dont’a Hightower, LB (Patriots): The market is capped for non-rush linebackers, but Hightower is pretty much the best at what he does and is also lauded for his intangibles. The Patriots have always embraced the “next man up” philosophy, so it is possible they will allow him to go elsewhere.
  5. Kevin Zeitler, G (Bengals): Zeitler has age on his side and he’s one of the safest free agents in the top ten after three consecutive years of dominance. Interior offensive linemen don’t get as much love as their counterparts on the outside, but they are still incredibly vital and Zeitler’s next contract will reflect that.
  6. Calais Campbell, DL (Cardinals): Campbell was supposed to be a goner in Arizona. However, instead of staying in Chandler Jones‘ shadow, Campbell turned in one of his best seasons to date. Now, the Cardinals would very much like to keep him, but they can only go so far as they back up the Brinks truck for Jones. If Jones does not agree to a cap-smoothing long-term deal between now and March 9th, the odds of the former University of Miami star leaving increase.
  7. T.J. Lang, G (Packers): In 2016, Lang earned a strong 87.0 overall grade from Pro Football Focus (8th amongst guards), including a 92.9 score for pass blocking (2nd). Lang, who turns 30 in September, also spent some time at tackle early in his career and could be moved around the line in a pinch.
  8. Tony Jefferson, S (Cardinals): The metrics at PFF actually placed Jefferson slightly ahead of Eric Berry in 2016. He’s also a full three years younger than the KC star. The Cardinals want to keep Jefferson, but he will test the open market no matter what.
  9. Terrelle PryorTerrelle Pryor, WR (Browns): Pryor and the Browns haven’t exactly played it coy about their intentions. Both sides badly want to get a long-term deal done and we’d be surprised if that didn’t come to fruition. The franchise tag was too expensive here, so Pryor will garner considerable attention as a young WR2 type if a multi-year pact is not struck in the coming days.
  10. Logan Ryan, CB (Patriots): There are bigger names available at the cornerback position, but Ryan slots ahead of many of them after a career year. It also doesn’t hurt that this fresh-faced Super Bowl champ only just turned 26 in February. If the Patriots don’t tie him down, Ryan’s earning power could conceivably vault him past Trumaine Johnson in terms of guaranteed cash.
  11. Ricky Wagner, OT (Ravens): Wagner could reportedly fetch around $10MM/year. The free agent market is short on young, quality tackles and this year’s draft is no great shakes.
  12. Duron Harmon, S (Patriots): Surprised to see Harmon so close to fellow safety Tony Jefferson on this list? Don’t be. Free safety is where the money is at and Harmon figures to get make more than any of us anticipated six months ago. Like Ryan, Harmon is also just 26.
  13. Martellus Bennett, TE (Patriots): Rob Gronkowski‘s injury woes were unfortunate, but the Patriots barely missed a beat thanks to Bennett. Recently, Bennett gloated about Super Bowl winners getting overpaid and he’s not wrong – the shine of a championship ring tends to illuminate free agents. Still, Bennett shouldn’t sell himself short: he’s a big, bruising tight end who can be a major factor in the red zone, as evidenced by his seven touchdowns last season.
  14. Stephon Gilmore, CB (Bills): In terms of pure talent, Gilmore might be the best cornerback available. Trouble is, no one knows what to make of him after a down 2016. Some have openly theorized that Gilmore was playing it safe to avoid injury in his pivotal contract year. It’s also possible that Buffalo’s injuries in the front seven put undue stress on the secondary. GMs will use these justifications and more to convince ownership to pony up big dollars.
  15. Brandon Williams, DT (Ravens): The Ravens are prioritizing a new deal for Williams this offseason, but if they don’t re-sign him, the Dolphins could be among the teams in pursuit. Williams doesn’t fill up a stat sheet, but he is an effective run-stuffer with age on his side. At 28, teams won’t be hesitant about making a multi-year commitment.
  16. Dontari Poe, DT (Chiefs): Poe is a bit inconsistent, but when he’s on it’s a clear reminder of why the Chiefs made him the No. 11 overall pick in the 2012 draft. The Memphis product boasts two Pro Bowl selections and his athleticism may allow him to occasionally play a bit on the outside.
  17. Nick Perry, DE (Packers): After this year’s premier edge defenders were franchised, Perry stands as the best defensive end available. In just 14 games (12 starts), the former first-round pick amassed 11 sacks. Teams employing a 3-4 scheme will be especially interested in his services.
  18. Kenny Britt, WR (Rams): Britt managed to turn in his first career 1,000+ yard season despite playing in the NFL’s worst offense. He could match or even best Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson when it comes to average annual value and his age could lead to a longer deal. The Giants could bring the Rutgers product back to New Jersey to fill Victor Cruz‘s spot and take attention away from Odell Beckham Jr., but we’re expecting them to put their resources in other areas. Kenny Britt
  19. Mike Glennon, QB (Buccaneers): I’d like to take this opportunity to remind everyone that players are ranked here based on projected earnings, not ability. As of this writing, Glennon is the second-best QB in this year’s free agent class (and, remember, Kirk Cousins could be inked to a long-term deal or given the exclusive tag). When we revisit this list next month, Glennon’s placement among QBs may be challenged by Tyrod Taylor and others.
  20. Johnathan Hankins, DT (Giants): Hankins has youth on his side as he won’t turn 25 until late March. He also played a hand in the Giants’ strong run defense last year – as a team, they allowed just 88.6 yards on the ground per game.
  21. Larry Warford, G (Lions): The knock on Warford when he was coming out of Kentucky was that he might not be able to make it at the next level due to his lack of agility and athleticism. Today, he’s not the quickest guard in the NFL, but he’s unquestionably starting caliber. Warford has never missed more than three games in one NFL season and he’s just entering his age-26 season.
  22. Kevin Minter, LB (Cardinals): The Cardinals have lots of free agents to address this offseason and that could lead to the 26-year-old Minter going elsewhere. Last year, he racked up 81 total tackles and 3.5 sacks in 16 games.
  23. Andrew Whitworth, OT (Bengals): Whitworth is a stud, but his earning power is capped by his age (he’ll celebrate his 36th birthday in December). Last year, PFF rated him as the second-best tackle in the entire NFL and he’s been a Top 5/Top 10 guy for the last five years in a row. It should also be noted that he has been remarkably durable throughout his career, missing only two games since 2009.
  24. Pierre Garcon, WR (Redskins): Garcon is a solid possession receiver, a label that he personally rejects. We understand where he’s coming from. This year, the Redskins had the veteran running deeper routes than he has in the past and he showed that he could stretch the field a bit, even though he wasn’t the fastest guy on the WR depth chart. He didn’t approach his gaudy 2013 numbers, but he still turned in a respectable stat line of 79 catches for 1,041 yards. His 69.1% catch rate was a career-high.
  25. Zach Brown, LB (Bills): Finally, Brown lived up to his second-round draft status in 2016. After settling for a cheap one-year deal last year, Brown should do a lot better this time around.
  26. Chris Baker, DT (Redskins): Baker is well-rounded and can be used on both the interior and outside of the defensive line. The Redskins have been leaning on him more each year and he has thrived with the increased responsibilities.
  27. Prince Amukamara, CB (Jaguars): After being slowed by injuries in New York, Amukamara managed to stay on the field for most of the season in Jacksonville. He probably won’t blossom into a shutdown corner this late in the game, but the former first-round pick would make a fine CB2 somewhere.
  28. DeSean Jackson, WR (Redskins): Jackson is on the wrong side of 30 and, typically, blazing speed does not age well. Still, he’s one of the game’s best deep threats and we can’t help but think that the Eagles will overspend to bring this fan favorite home.
  29. Jabaal Sheard, DL (Patriots): Sheard saw his playing time reduced in the middle of the season and was even a healthy scratch for one game in November. Despite that bump in the road, the 27-year-old (28 in May) still managed to finish out the year with five sacks and 33 total tackles. Teams may have some questions about Sheard’s effort and/or conditioning after he wound up in Belichick’s doghouse. His stock could be affected if the Patriots don’t make a genuine effort to re-sign him.
  30. Jonathan Cyprien, S (Jaguars): Jacksonville fans are often frustrated with Cyprien, but he’s coming off of a career year and he appears to have put many of his bad habits behind him. He finished out 2016 with 126 total tackles, one sack, and four pass deflections. PFF’s 87.8 overall grade was the best of his career and placed him No. 7 among safeties, just ahead of Eric Berry.
  31. Ronald Leary, G (Cowboys): Leary has no interest in a reserve role and he’ll get the full-time starting job he craves this spring.
  32. Adrian Peterson Raiders (vertical)Adrian Peterson, RB (Vikings): As expected, the Vikings will decline Peterson’s hefty option for the 2017 season. A return to Minnesota is still possible and contenders like the Giants and Raiders will also be making a strong push to add AD to their backfield. Still, given his injury history, it’s hard to see Peterson getting a lucrative multi-year deal on the cusp of his 32nd birthday, hence his ranking this far down on the list. We have him as our top running back in the Top 50 because he should still score a fat one-year contract.
  33. Barry Church, S (Cowboys): Church isn’t a megastar, but he is a well-rounded strong safety who should draw plenty of interest. Berry re-signing with the Chiefs should cause a domino effect that enhances his market.
  34. J.C. Tretter, C (Packers): In an admittedly small sample last year, PFF rated Tretter as the ninth-best center in the NFL last season. Despite playing in only six games before his season-ending injury, Tretter should outearn every other center thanks in large part to his youth. The former fourth-round pick just recently turned 26.
  35. Dre Kirkpatrick, CB (Bengals): We’re still waiting for Kirkpatrick to live up to his first-round billing.
  36. Eddie Lacy, RB (Packers): Lacy’s weight issues are well documented but when he’s on, he’s on. Before his unfortunate injury this past fall, Lacy was averaging 5.07 yards per carry.
  37. Riley Reiff, OT (Lions): Personally, I prefer Russell Okung and Kelvin Beachum to Reiff, but I anticipate Reiff getting more money than both. He’s younger than Okung and coming off of a much better year than Beachum.
  38. John Simon, LB/DE (Texans): J.J. Watt, Jadeveon Clowney, and Whitney Mercilus get the attention in Houston, but Simon is a quality edge rusher in his own right. This spring, the 26-year-old could go from supersub to starter with a significant pay bump.
  39. T.J. McDonald, S (Rams): I’m not as high on him as others, but he’s young and can knock receivers into next week.
  40. Morris Claiborne, CB (Cowboys): After multiple disappointing seasons, Claiborne broke out in his contract year. Then, his campaign ended after seven games. Will teams take the glass-half-full view of the former No. 6 overall pick? We believe they will, but there’s also a good crop of defensive backs in this year’s draft.
  41. Micah Hyde, S (Packers): Hyde, who just turned 26 in December, offers versatility and can be slotted anywhere in the secondary. In that respect, you might be thinking that he’s Darius Butler-lite. Many will prefer Butler as a player for the here and now, but Hyde could get more years and dollars thanks to the age gap.
  42. Latavius Murray, RB (Raiders): He’s not the most explosive runner out there, but he’s a quality option for teams in need. Here’s an interesting scenario based on what we’ve been hearing: Murray could land with the Vikings while Peterson joins up with Oakland.
  43. Russell Okung, OT (Broncos): Last year, Okung went into free agency without an agent. That decision bit him in the behind after he turned in a so-so year and the Broncos turned down his pricey multi-year option. This time around, I hope he doesn’t cheap out and hires proper representation. Regardless, his market will be a lot softer than it was in 2016.
  44. Jamaal Charles, RB (Chiefs): After releasing Charles, the Chiefs issued a press release thanking the “future Hall of Famer.” Charles could very well be Canton-bound someday, but the jury is still out on what he can do in 2017. In the last two years, Charles has appeared in just eight games.
  45. Kayvon Webster, CB (Broncos): Webster has been vocal about his desire for more playing time and he’s not going to get it in Denver where he is blocked behind proven corners. Webster will go elsewhere and I see him getting a solid payday based on his age (just turned 26), athleticism, and special teams ability.
  46. Perry Riley, LB (Raiders): After he was a cap casualty of the Redskins last year, Riley quietly had a bounce-back year in Oakland.
  47. Bennie Logan, DT (Eagles): The rival Redskins are apparently among the teams with interest in Logan.
  48. Darius Butler, DB (Colts): His ability to play multiple positions will work in his favor.
  49. Ryan Clady, OT (Jets): Lots of injury concerns, but also lots of potential.
  50. Terrance Williams, WR (Cowboys): Markus Wheaton, Cordarrelle Patterson, and Michael Floyd may offer more upside, but Williams could edge them in earnings. We’ll find out soon.

Honorable mention (in no particular order): LeGarrette Blount, Nick Mangold, Colin Kaepernick, Nick Fairley, D.J. Swearinger, Bradley McDougald, DeMarcus Ware, Stefen Wisniewski, Lawrence Timmons, Captain Munnerlyn, Jairus Byrd, Darrelle Revis, Jared Odrick, Alterraun VernerKelvin Beachum, Lorenzo Alexander, Brandon CarrCharles Johnson

NFC Notes: Vikes, Packers, Saints, Redskins

Pending free agent Captain Munnerlyn would prefer to return to the Vikings, but he’s also prepared to move on if the right offer comes along, as he explained to SiriusXM NFL Radio earlier this week. “I’ve got to put myself in the position to try to get that Super Bowl trophy,” Munnerlyn said. “I’m an older guy. I’m going on year nine, so I definitely want to win. So I’m definitely going to look at the roster, the coaches, to see where I can take my talent and plug it in and try to help those guys get to the playoffs and make that Super Bowl run.” PFR recently ranked Munnerlyn, who plays exclusively in the slot, as the 12th-best cornerback on the free agent market.

Here’s more from the NFC:

  • Although the Packers want to re-sign offensive lineman J.C. Tretter, the club won’t “break the bank” in order to bring him back, according to Ryan Wood of PackersNews.com. Corey Linsley is expected to serve as Green Bay’s starting center in 2017, meaning Tretter would be stuck in a reserve role, though he could potentially start if T.J. Lang is not retained. Tretter played on nearly half the Packers’ snaps in 2016, grading as the No. 9 center in the league, per Pro Football Focus. Lucas Patrick, who spent the 2016 campaign on Green Bay’s practice squad, is a candidate to take over on the interior of the offensive line if both Tretter and Lang depart, writes Michael Cohen of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.
  • Saints defensive tackle Nick Fairley is expected to test the free agent market, and he could get a better sense of his value at the scouting combine next week, as Nick Underhill of the Advocate details. Technically, agents aren’t allowed to talk numbers with rival executives until the legal tampering period begins on March 7, two days before the official opening of free agency. That rule isn’t usually observed, however, meaning Fairley — who could be looking for $10MM annually — and his representatives will get the chance to assess his market.
  • Free agent defensive lineman Calais Campbell could make sense as a target for the Redskins, opines John Keim of ESPN.com. Washington ranked 27th in adjusted line yards allowed in 2016, so Campbell — who excels at run defense — would make for a logical acquisition as the club seeks to remake its defense under new coordinator Greg Manusky. However, general manager Scot McCloughan has displayed an aversion to pursuing free agents over the age of 30, and I wrote that the Redskins should aim to get younger along their defensive line when assessing the team’s top offseason needs.

Top 2017 Free Agents By Position: Defense

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. After looking at offense, we’ll tackle defense and special teams today.

[RELATED: Top 2017 NFL Free Agents By Position: Offense]

Listed below are our rankings for the top 15 free agents at each defensive 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 defensive position for 2017:

Edge defender:

  1. Chandler Jones
  2. Melvin Ingram
  3. Jason Pierre-Paul
  4. Nick Perry
  5. Jabaal Sheard
  6. James Harrison
  7. John Simon
  8. DeMarcus Ware
  9. Lorenzo Alexander
  10. Andre Branch
  11. Julius Peppers
  12. Charles Johnson
  13. Datone Jones
  14. Mario Addison
  15. Dwight Freeney

The Cardinals have already made it abundantly clear that Chandler Jones will see the franchise tag this offseason, and Melvin Ingram and Jason Pierre-Paul are also candidates to be tagged by the Chargers and Giants, respectively. If the latter two are able to hit the open market unfettered, however, they both figure to break the bank. Ingram, Pro Football Focus’ No. 6 edge defender, could be a fit for both 3-4 and 4-3 schemes, while JPP will be looking for a long-term commitment after signing consecutive one-year deals.Chandler Jones (vertical)

The rest of this year’s crop of free agent pass rushers is a blend of young defenders searching for their first payday and veterans on the hunt for one last contract. Among the players with youth still on their side, Packers edge defenders Nick Perry and Datone Jones figure to interest different clubs, as Perry is a better match for a 3-4 defense while Jones needs to restart his career as a 4-3 defensive end. John Simon has been overlooked while playing alongside the likes of J.J. Watt, Jadeveon Clowney, and Whitney Mercilus but could represent a hidden gem, while the Dolphins are reportedly prioritizing Andre Branch.

After managing nine sacks over the first nine years of his NFL tenure, Lorenzo Alexander busted out with 12.5 quarterback takedowns in 2016, and now could be looking for a double-digit annual salary. James Harrison and Charles Johnson, meanwhile, look like good bets to return to Steelers and Panthers, respectively, but DeMarcus Ware could be something of a wild card — after missing 11 games in the past two seasons, does the 34-year-old have enough left in the tank? The same could be asked of Dwight Freeney, who at age-37 posted three sacks in a rotational role for the Falcons.

Interior defensive line:

  1. Kawann Short
  2. Calais Campbell
  3. Johnathan Hankins
  4. Brandon Williams
  5. Dontari Poe
  6. Chris Baker
  7. Bennie Logan
  8. Nick Fairley
  9. Alan Branch
  10. Jared Odrick
  11. Karl Klug
  12. Terrell McClain
  13. Lawrence Guy
  14. Earl Mitchell
  15. Stacy McGee

Unlike the edge defender market, the 2017 cadre of interior defensive lineman shouldn’t be overly affected by the franchise tender. Head coach Ron Rivera recently confessed the Panthers will “probably” have to use the tag on Kawann Short, but the rest of the defensive tackles listed here should be able to hit the open market. Of the remaining defenders, Campbell is the best overall player, but given that he’s entering his age-31 season, he may not cost as much as Johnathan Hankins, Brandon Williams, and Dontari Poe.Johnathan Hankins (Vertical)

Hankins is only 24 years old, and though the Giants are trying to retain him along with the rest of their defensive core, the 6’3″, 320-pound mauler should represent an attractive option to a number of clubs this offseason. Williams, too, offers a massive presence on the inside, while Poe could intrigue clubs based on his first-round pedigree and athleticism (though his play hasn’t always matched his potential). The Redskins’ Chris Baker is a solid, well-rounded defensive tackle, and could constitute a consolation prize for teams that miss out on their top targets.

The rest of the class offers an interesting mix of nose tackles (Bennie Logan), interior pass rushers (Nick Fairley, Earl Mitchell), and run stoppers (Karl Klug, Alan Branch), so clubs hoping to bolster their defensive line should find no shortage of options. Jared Odrick recently hit free agency after being released by the Jaguars, while Terrell McClain, Lawrence Guy, and Stacy McGee could be underrated finds for the right team. McClain, for what it’s worth, has already been linked to the Falcons.

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