DeSean Jackson

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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NFC Notes: Bucs, Saints, Lions, 49ers

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

More from the NFC:

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

Latest On DeSean Jackson

For months now, there has been speculation about DeSean Jackson returning to the Eagles via free agency this offseason. The wide receiver hasn’t done much to stop that talk with his latest comments to ESPN’s Adam Schefter (audio link). "<strong

It definitely is a great story or ending, I guess you could say,” Jackson said (via PFT). “Starting your career somewhere then going to a division rival team [and] having the possibility of maybe going back. You just kind of think about all of that when you start somewhere maybe you could finish it. There is just a lot of speculation of a lot of thoughts. It all sounds good, but you really never know until the final decision is made. I’m just a firm believer that if you work hard, you put in the work, continuously go out there and show everybody what you’re capable of [then] the sky’s the limit.”

Jackson is reportedly eyeing a return to the Eagles, though he is also on the record as saying that he wants to stay with the Redskins. Jackson, 30, could be on the verge of losing his trademark speed, but he was still productive last year as he hauled in 56 catches for 1,005 yards and four touchdowns. There will be a healthy market waiting for Jackson in March and the Eagles won’t be the only team pursuing him. That group of suitors could include the Buccaneers. Josina Anderson of ESPN.com (on Twitter) hears the Bucs could be a possible destination for DJax and his relationship with quarterback Jameis Winston could help to facilitate a deal.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

East Notes: D-Jax, Jets, Hightower

We recently heard that Redskins receiver DeSean Jackson, who is eligible for unrestricted free agency this offseason, could command an annual salary of at least $10MM on his next contract, despite the fact that he is a 30-year-old receiver whose game is predicated on speed. Today, Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk lends more support to those rumblings, reporting that Jackson will be generating strong interest as free agency approaches. Of course, Jackson has expressed interest in re-signing with Washington and in returning to Philadelphia, but he would likely have to take a lesser salary to stay with the Redskins and he seems to be a little resentful about the way things ended with the Eagles. But as Florio observes, it seems as if Jackson’s choice will not be limited to two clubs.

Now for more from the league’s east divisions:

  • Regardless of what the Jets choose to do with Darrelle Revis, Rich Cimini of ESPN.com reports that the team is exploring the upper end of the free agent cornerback market and could make a quick splash once free agency opens. A.J. Bouye, Stephon Gilmore, Trumaine Johnson and Logan Ryan are all options for Gang Green.
  • If the Patriots use a tag on impending free agent Dont’a Hightower, Mike Reiss of ESPN.com believes it will be the $11MM transition tag rather than the $14.5-15MM franchise tag. The transition tag allows New England the right of first refusal on any offer Hightower receives in free agency, although it does not allow the Pats to recoup any draft pick compensation if they choose to not match such an offer.
  • In the same piece, Reiss reports that Patriots receiver Danny Amendola will not be back on his current contract, which is scheduled to pay him $6MM in 2017. However, Michael David Smith of Pro Football Talk writes that New England values what Amendola can contribute on offense and on special teams, so the club would like him to have him back at a reduced salary. Given that Amendola has agreed to a restructure in each of the last two offseasons, and given that he posted only 23 catches for 243 yards in 2016, it seems likely that the two sides will be able to work something out.
  • In his latest chat with fans, Jon Machota of the Dallas Morning News says that he expects the Cowboys to select a defensive end with one of their first two picks in this year’s draft. The 2017 class has a fair amount of talent at the edge rushing positions, so Dallas should be able to land a quality prospect even though they are picking near the end of each round.
  • Yesterday, the Dolphins inked defensive end Cameron Wake to an extension that will keep him in Miami through 2018.

Latest On DeSean Jackson, Pierre Garcon

Free agent receiver Pierre Garcon is expected to garner $9MM per season on the open market, and Redskins teammate DeSean Jackson could command even more, sources tell John Keim of ESPN.com.DeSean Jackson/Pierre Garcon (featured)

[RELATED: Top 3 Offseason Needs — Washington Redskins]

Garcon, 30, has already been linked to five clubs — the Rams, Eagles, Bears, Cowboys, and 49ers — a month before the free agent process begins, so it’s not a surprise that he’s targeting an annual salary that would place him among the top-20 highest-paid wide receivers. Although Garcon has hinted he’d prefer a reunion with Washington, Keim expects Garcon to accept the largest contact offer in free agency after posting 79 receptions, 1,041 yards, and three touchdowns.

Jackson, meanwhile, can expect a salary near or exceeding double digits, and as Mike Garafolo of NFL.com reported earlier today, Jackson will likely have to take less money in order to remain with the Redskins. The 30-year-old Jackson is reportedly interested in heading back to Philadelphia this offseason, a scenario the Eagles have also contemplated. In his third season with Washington, Jackson led the league in yards per catch for the second time in three years while scoring four times.

The Redskins haven’t begun negotiations with either Garcon or Jackson, but neither are expected to offer any sort of hometown discount. As such, Keim writes that a “real likelihood” exists that both Garcon and Jackson defect via free agency.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Extra Points: Jackson, Seahawks, Jets, Colts

Some assorted notes from around the NFL on this Saturday afternoon…

  • If DeSean Jackson really wants to stay with the Redskins, he’ll probably have to turn down more money elsewhere, Mike Garafolo of NFL.com tweets. DJax says he wants to stay put, but the Redskins are reportedly lukewarm on him because of his inconsistency. Both Jackson and Pierre Garcon are free agents and it sounds like D.C. prefers the latter. Of course, with Jamison Crowder and Josh Doctson already on the roster, the team doesn’t necessarily have to re-sign either one of the vets.
  • Knowing the way the Seahawks operate, it stands to reason that they will bring in a young kicker to compete with new addition Blair Walsh, Bob Condotta of The Seattle Times writes. It’s quite unlikely that Steven Hauschka will be kept around for competition, however. Hauschka made $2.7MM last season and Walsh will probably earn something in the $1MM range, so it’s hard to see a scenario in which he would agree to fight for the job and accept a 50 percent-plus pay slash.
  • ESPN.com’s Rich Cimini believes some members of the Jets organization are probably regretting having not traded defensive end Sheldon Richardson to the Cowboys prior to the trade deadline. While the Jets were steadfast in their desire for a first-rounder in return, Cimini believes a deal would have gotten done had the team been willing to accept a second-round pick. Now, the writer can’t envision the organization getting that kind of value for Richardson. After talking to several sources around the league, Cimini opines that the Jets could now get a third-round pick in return.
  • While Colts general manager Chris Ballard would prefer to build his team through the draft, Mike Chappell of CBS4Indy.com believes the front office may need to pursue some veteran free agents to help shore up their defense. The Colts ranked toward the bottom of the league in multiple defensive statistics, and the organization is staring at more than $55MM in cap space. Chappell cites the success of the previous regime, as several buy-low free agents ultimately helped the team.

Zach Links contributed to this post.

DeSean Jackson Wants To Stay With Redskins

As he nears free agency, DeSean Jackson says that he would like to remain with the Redskins. Of course, that comes with the usual caveats.

I do want to still be here,” Jackson told Stephen Czarda of Redskins.com. “My family and my house, I have everything here and I don’t want to be in a transaction and move. First things first, I do want to be here and hopefully we can make it work. But once again this is a business so things happen. I’m just really excited about the opportunity I have to sit and now the ball’s in my corner a little bit and see what we can do. I’m just excited and I’m going to let my agent care of all that. Ready to just sit back and whatever offers come in but obviously, like I said, I do want to be here.”

In late 2016, we heard that Jackson is eyeing a reunion with the Eagles. Those rumors gained steam when Eagles defensive end Brandon Graham and ex-Eagles running back LeSean McCoy indicated that Jackson had told them the same thing. Jackson may be intrigued by the idea of closing out his career in Philly, but he’s also making it known that he would like to remain in D.C. Meanwhile, the Redskins might not want him back and they may prefer the idea of keeping Pierre Garcon.

In 15 games this season, Jackson had 56 catches for 1,005 yards and four touchdowns.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Redskins Notes: Cousins, WRs, Baker, Staff

Washington’s seen turnover on its coaching staff and has a potentially contentious negotiation with Kirk Cousins forthcoming. Here’s the latest emerging out of the nation’s capital, courtesy of the Washington Post’s Mike Jones.

  • The Redskins would prefer to keep Cousins on a long-term deal, with Jay Gruden “standing on the table” for the sixth-year quarterback. Jones notes, though, Cousins is “a little salty” and is well aware of the differing opinions on him that exist within the organization. There aren’t any indications the sides could be closer together on terms, and Jones adds a $24MM franchise tag looms as a high likelihood despite more than five months remaining until the extension deadline. A tag for Cousins basically ensures he’s not with the Redskins in 2018, Jones writes. A tag then — at 144 percent of his 2017 salary — would come out to roughly $35MM, and the quarterback in this scenario could see the Redskins as having no faith in him if a second tag is the reality come mid-July.
  • DeSean Jackson is likely to depart as a free agent, with Jones noting the deep threat is too inconsistent for the Redskins brass’ taste. The team has a higher opinion of fellow 30-year-old UFA Pierre Garcon, who has said he wants to stay in Washington. But with other teams seeking receiver help and many performers who could have been on the 2017 market (Emmanuel Sanders, Doug Baldwin, Allen Hurns, etc.) being extended, Garcon is one of the top pass-catchers available. That could complicate his return. The Redskins have not entered into negotiations with Garcon or Jackson, but that’s not necessarily seen as a deviation from the norm nor should it signal that neither wideout will return.
  • Washington hired James Rowe as its new assistant defensive backs coach, per Jones. This comes a day after the Redskins announced the hiring of Torrian Gray as their top secondary boss. Rowe comes straight out of the Division II ranks, having served as Valdosta State’s defensive coordinator in 2016.
  • Prior to moving toward Gray, the Redskins wanted now-Rams assistant Aubrey Pleasant to serve in Gray’s capacity. Money served as an issue that led to an irked Pleasant departing, with the move to Los Angeles coming after the Redskins previously blocked teams from interviewing their coveted assistant. Jones also notes league insiders wonder if Gray will be able to gel with some Redskins veterans who preferred Pleasant and avoid being given the “inflexible” tag previous secondary coach Perry Fewell was upon being fired along with DC Joe Barry.
  • Washington does not view defensive end Chris Baker as a high priority, instead being “lukewarm” on the lineman, Jones writes. He’s expected to want more than the Redskins are willing to pay. A Redskins starter for three seasons, Baker notched 10.5 sacks in 2015-16.

Redskins Notes: Davis, WRs, Cap Casualties

With the exception of tight end Vernon Davis, the Redskins haven’t yet had any discussions with their pending free agents regarding new contracts, according to John Keim of ESPN.com. Aside from Davis, the team’s list of unsigned players includes quarterback Kirk Cousins, wide receivers Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson, and defensive end Chris Baker, among others. As Keim notes, though, the team’s decision not to engage with any of its potentially soon-to-be available players isn’t necessarily cause for concern, writing that “there’s no urgency yet and multiple agents weren’t surprised no one has been contacted.” Nevertheless, it would behoove the Redskins to retain at least one of Garcon or Jackson, opines Keim, who argues that better options in free agency will be few in number. Garcon and Jackson were the only Redskins targets to exceed 1,000 receiving yards last season, and losing the pair would leave them with Jamison Crowder and Josh Doctson – who endured a lost rookie year because of an Achilles injury – as their top two wideouts.

More from Washington:

  • Some fans are worried that the Redskins haven’t had talks with their key free agents, but Mike Jones of The Washington Post echoes Keim’s sentiment and points out that they historically haven’t done a lot of heavy negotiating this early in the year. Overall, Jones gets the sense that Garcon has a better chance of returning than Jackson, who has been open wanting to explore free agency and could return to the Eagles.
  • While the Redskins currently have no shortage of cap space (upward of $60MM), they’d lose a significant chunk of it by bringing back Cousins with either the $24MM franchise tag or a long-term deal. Thus, several of the team’s veterans are in danger of ending up as cap casualties, observes Keim, who points to safety DeAngelo Hall, center Kory Lichtensteiger, tight end Niles Paul, guard Shawn Lauvao and defensive end Ricky Jean-Francois as players whose roster spots are in jeopardy.
  • The Redskins hired Torrian Gray as their new defensive backs coach Wednesday, per Stephen Czarda of the team’s website. This will be the first NFL coaching stint for Gray, who had been assisting at the college level since 2000 and spent last season on Florida’s staff. Gray’s already familiar with Redskins cornerback Kendall Fuller, having coached him at Virginia Tech from 2013-15.

Zach Links contributed to this post.

NFC Notes: Saints, 49ers, Smith, Jackson

Drew Brees does not expect to be playing for a different Saints coach in 2017 despite Sean Payton‘s name again being a constant in the coaching rumors section of the NFL news cycle. The quarterback who signed a one-year extension just before this season “absolutely” expects Payton to stay in New Orleans for what would be his 12th year with the franchise.

I’ve heard some of the same stuff that I heard last year, and I felt like I had a pretty good feeling last year,” Brees said, via Josh Katzenstein of NOLA.com. “And I don’t see why it would be any different this year.”

Payton has been connected with the Rams after a report emerged indicating the 52-year-old having “sincere interest” in acquiring the veteran coach in a trade. A report pegged the Saints as being open to exploring a Payton trade, with another denying the team was thinking of shopping him. The Saints have made the playoffs just once in the past five seasons, although the 2012 absence came without Payton due to the Bountygate suspension.

Here’s more from the NFC as teams make Week 17 preparations.

  • Saints outside linebacker Michael Mauti underwent surgery for a large intestine issue, leading to the Saints placing the fourth-year player on their NFI list in November. But the Penn State product revealed he hopes to play in 2017, Katzenstein reports.
  • The Saints tried out linebackers Frank Beltre and Deon Lacey, a source tells Nick Underhill of The Advocate (on Twitter). Earlier today, they signed linebacker Brian Blechen to their practice squad.
  • Carlos Hyde described the MCL sprain he sustained as being worse than the one that sidelined him at Ohio State in 2012, Cam Inman of the San Jose Mercury News reports. The 49ers‘ backfield starter will enter a contract year in 2017. He’s expected to return, injury problems notwithstanding, but Inman projects Trent Baalke and DC Jim O’Neil to be fired at season’s end. However, the reporter expects Chip Kelly and OC Curtis Modkins to stay, citing some sense of continuity is needed to avoid having four head coaches in four years. Inman also anticipates none of the 49ers’ three quarterbacks to be back but points to both Torrey Smith and Jeremy Kerley staying in what should be a turbulent offseason.
  • Tyron Smith expects to be ready to go by the time the Cowboys are due to play their divisional playoff game, Clarence Hill of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports. The cornerstone left tackle said he did not have knee problems before spraining an MCL on Monday night.
  • After drafting wideouts the past two years, the Redskins figure to let DeSean Jackson walk, Elliot Shorr-Parks of NJ.com reports. This would open the door for the deep threat to reunite with former teammates on the receiver-starved Eagles. This would make sense from a need standpoint, and there have been multiple connections between D-Jax and his former team, but Philly is projected to be $800K-plus over the cap in 2017 after signing numerous players to extensions this offseason. The Eagles would need to shed salary to make room for Jackson. For his part, the 30-year-old wideout said he’s “intrigued” about being a free agent.