Phase 2 of the league’s offseason workout program kicked off yesterday, and with it came the news that negotiations between the league and the union with respect to that program are officially dead (via Albert Breer of SI.com). Of course, the union advised players to stay away from team facilities for voluntary offseason activities, and the NFLPA and NFL were ultimately unable to come to an agreement on a number of key points.
Instead, players and coaches negotiated their own structures, and per Dan Graziano of ESPN.com, roughly 15 teams have implemented some sort of change as a result of those conversations. Browns center and union president J.C. Tretter predictably approved of the modifications, saying, “The offseason program has gotten out of hand. OTAs have been ratcheted up year after year, and they’ve turned into — especially for big guys and guys on the line of scrimmage — legitimate full-contact, non-padded practices. Nobody puts any restraints on them; they let guys go at it.”
Some teams are even making changes to the non-voluntary sessions. According to Fowler, the Packers moved their mandatory minicamp up a week, which could mean that a week of OTAs gets canceled, and as Charean Williams of Pro Football Talk writes, the Colts and Eagles have canceled mandatory minicamp altogether. Interestingly, although the Broncos were the first team to support the union’s stance on OTAs, Mike Klis of 9News.com reports that over 70 Broncos players showed up for the first day of Phase 2. The off-site injuries suffered by former Broncos Ja’Wuan James and DaeSean Hamilton and the potential money battle that could ensue may have played a role in that attendance figure.
The initial push from the union to have players boycott OTAs was due to persisting COVID-19 concerns, but as that situation improved in this country, NFLPA assistant executive director of external affairs George Atallah says the union began to shift focus. He says that, despite the complete absence of OTAs in 2020, injuries were down and the quality of the games remained the same (Twitterlinks via Lindsay Rhodes of the NFL Rhodes Show podcast). So, as Tretter implied, a permanent modification of OTAs into a purely mental exercise is appropriate.
Rhodes asked Atallah if the union is essentially attempting to renegotiate the CBA on the fly, and he conceded as much (Twitter link). And players are also pushing to make last year’s approach to training camp the new normal. Tretter said the ramp-up period that was instituted out of necessity last summer was widely embraced by players, who felt better both going into the regular season and coming out of it.
To be sure, the issue of the quality of the games is a subjective one, and whether there is a direct correlation between the ramp-up period and the absence of OTAs and any data showing a decrease in injuries is debatable. But, if everything was clear-cut, there wouldn’t be much need for negotiation.
In related news, masks are no longer required for fully-vaccinated players, coaches, or staff members, as Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets. And teams will once again be permitted to hold training camp away from club facilities (Twitter link via Tom Pelissero of the NFL Network).
This is a tough outcome for both Alford and the organization. Arizona inked the defensive back to a three-year, $22.5MM deal in 2019, but Alford missed his first season with the organization after suffering a leg injury. There was optimism out of the Cardinals’ camp that Alford would return to full strength in 2020, but this injury has obviously put a snag in his comeback attempt.
Alford spent the first six seasons of his career with the Falcons, collecting 303 tackles and 10 interceptions in 88 games (76 appearance). The veteran also appeared in five playoff games for Atlanta, and he had had a pick-six on TomBrady during the Falcons’ Super Bowl loss to the Patriots.
Pro Football Focus wasn’t fond of his performance during his last healthy campaign in 2018, so this could realistically be the end for the 31-year-old.
Let’s check out some more injury updates from around the NFL…
The Eagles got some good news today, as they learned that defensive tackle JavonHargrave suffered only a “minor pectoral strain” (via ESPN’s Adam Schefter on Twitter). The injury is expected to sideline the veteran for only a few weeks. The 27-year-old inked a three-year, $39MM deal with Philly this past offseason after compiling 60 tackles and four sacks with the Steelers in 2019. When he’s back to full health, he’ll join FletcherCox and MalikJackson to form one of the top defensive tackle groupings in the NFL
Jets wideout VyncintSmith will miss the next five to eight weeks as he recovers from a core-muscle injury, tweets ESPN’s Rich Cimini. The 24-year-old got into 13 games (four starts) for New York last season, hauling in 17 receptions for 225 yards. As Cimini notes, the organization could be scrambling for receiver depth, as JoshDoctson has opted out of the upcoming season and rookie Denzel Mims is sidelined with a hamstring injury.
Browns center J.C. Tretter underwent a minor knee procedure and will miss the next few weeks, reports Rapoport (via Twitter). The veteran opted for the procedure to clean up loose bodies and remedy discomfort. The NFLPA President has spent the past three seasons with Cleveland, starting each of the team’s 48 games.
Union chief DeMaurice Smith and president J.C. Tretter held a conference call with media members today, during which they discussed various COVID-19 issues.
Starting on the financial side of things, Smith told reporters that the salary cap could decrease by as much as $70MM in 2021, unless the union and league come up with a solution to spread out that damage over several years (Twitter link via Dan Graziano of ESPN.com). Obviously, the union would prefer the latter option, and it has summarily rejected the NFL’s most recenteconomic proposals. Smith said he does not want players to bear the brunt of the financial burden when they are also the ones exposing themselves to the virus (Twitter link via Matt Maiocco of NBC Sports Bay Area).
Of course, the league has made the decision to start training camp on time, and Smith concedes that the union has no ability to fight that. Instead, the NFLPA’s objective is to ensure that the players are as safe as possible (Twitter link via Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times). To that end, the union has been in touch with team doctors, who have said, with a couple of reservations, that it is safe to open camp as planned (Twitter link via Condotta).
Indeed, a source familiar with talks between the NFL and NFLPA told Mark Maske of the Washington Post that those discussions were moving in the right direction and that there was reason to believe training camp could start on time (Twitter link). As Tom Pelissero of the NFL Network tweets, the Chiefs are telling players that camp is a go, with rookies and QBs to report for COVID-19 testing on Monday, July 20, and Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (via Twitter) says Texans players were told the same (the Texans and Chiefs play each other in the regular season opener). The full team is scheduled to report on July 25, and Pelissero adds in a separate tweet that multiple clubs have been sending tentative reporting dates to players.
Needless to say, there is plenty that still needs to be resolved. For instance, Texans star J.J. Watt, who has been involved in player calls, said yesterday (via Twitter) that players had yet to receive a single valid Infectious Disease Emergency Response (IDER) plan, and as Ben Volin of the Boston Globe tweets, players aren’t supposed to report to camp until IDER plans have been approved. Per Graziano, “some teams” began sending to those plans to the union last night, which the union will need to review to ensure that they are in compliance with the negotiated protocols (Twitter link).
Meanwhile, Tretter says that the union has consulted with team doctors in hotspot markets to discuss how to report to camp safely (Twitter link via Graziano). It’s unclear what, if any, additional protocols will be put in place for such regions, and Tretter also brought up another point that has largely been overlooked (via Darin Gantt of Pro Football Talk). He said, as a center, he is in close contact with every player in the offensive huddle and every defensive lineman during practice. If he tests positive, how would the league determine how many people to quarantine, and for how long?
That is one critical unanswered question, and Smith conceded there is no firm answer as to how many positive tests it would take to force an entire team to shut down. He did emphasize that the union continues to push for daily testing, which the league is still opposing.
Smith also said he is unaware of any players who have elected to opt out of the 2020 season (Twitter link via Condotta). We covered the most recent updates on the opt-out situation earlier this week.
While the NFL and NFLPA are reportedly close to agreeing to a set of gameday protocols that would nominally attempt to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the two sides still haven’t officially worked out an accord regarding a training camp and preseason schedule. Let’s take a look at the latest as the league and the union work through a variety of health-related issues:
NFLPA president J.C. Tretter recently outlined the union’s stance on a number of items, including support for a NFL/NFLPA Joint Committee of doctors-recommended 48-day training camp schedule and the elimination of the preseason (the league prefers to keep two exhibition games in place). While the NFL didn’t publicly comment on Tretter’s piece, one source called the post “very disappointing and contrary to the sense of collaboration going back to the early days of mid-March,” tweets Tom Pelissero of NFL.com.
The timing of training camp and the length of the preseason remain key issues. The NFL wanted players to report for camp earlier than the CBA allows in order to fit in a longer schedule, but the union has declined to do so, per Pelissero (Twitter link).
The aforementioned Joint Committee recommended one-to-two preseason games, but the league is still standing firm on zero exhibition games, according to Mark Maske of the Washington Post (Twitter link). Appearing on WEEI, NFLPA senior director of player affairs Don Davis questioned why two preseason games would be any safer than four. A source tells Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com (Twitter link) that preseason contests are likely to be used a bargaining chip.
Amidst the ongoing pandemic, a number of clubs have proactively announced that games will feature limited capacity seating. Of course, those teams are assuming that fans will be allowed to attend contests at all, which is far from a given at this point. So far, the Packers, Chiefs, and Ravens have each announced plans for reduced capacities.
The NFL Players’ Association has elected J.C. Tretter as its new president, the union announced on Tuesday. Last week, Tretter was one of four players nominated for the position. Now, he’ll spearhead the NFLPA during a critical stretch in the CBA talks.
Last week, NFLPA’s presidential race came down to Russell Okung, Michael Thomas (of the Giants), Sam Acho, and Tretter. Okung has been lobbying for the job for months, but he backed out of the running this week and put his support behind Thomas.
Tretter, a center for the Browns, will take over for Eric Winston, who has served as the union prez since 2014. There will be little time for on-the-job training: The NFLPA has until Saturday to vote on the proposed CBA and travel hazards associated with the coronavirus scare may complicate things further. Meanwhile, we’re also just days away from the official start of NFL free agency.
If more than 50% of players vote against the CBA, the 2020 season will be played under the current CBA, which was established in 2011. That CBA expires in March 2021. If the proposed CBA is not ratified, we’ll be looking at increased odds of a strike or lockout next year.
In the last round of voting, Thomas and Okung both voted against the CBA, Acho voted in favor of it, and, in the immediate aftermath, no one knew Tretter’s take. But, on Tuesday, PFT’s Mike Florio (via Twitter) reported that Tretter voted in favor of the CBA. With that in mind, Tretter’s election may bode well for a deal between now and Saturday.
Okung, who unveiled his candidacy earlier this year, was also nominated Monday. Okung, Thomas and Acho are current members of the NFLPA’s executive committee. Tretter serves as the Browns’ third co-alternate union representative.
The NFLPA will elect its next president on Tuesday; the union’s board members are meeting in south Florida this week to discuss key matters. One item obviously overshadows the rest this week. Players now have until 10:59pm CT Saturday to vote on the CBA. The NFLPA voted Monday to delay the deadline for two days.
Eric Winston has served in the role since 2014, but he will cycle out of it after ending his playing career after the 2018 season. The next president may or may not be thrust into a high-stakes situation. If more than 50% of players vote against CBA ratification, the 2020 season will be played under the 2011 CBA. That CBA expires in March 2021. Players voting against the proposal will increase the prospects of a strike or lockout next year.
Of the new members, Okung and Thomas submitted “no” votes on the CBA; Acho voted “yes” on the proposal, Albert Breer of SI.com tweets. Tretter did not indicate which way he has voted on the owners’ offer, Pelissero adds (via Twitter). Okung has been a hard-liner against the 17-game schedule, so much so he filed an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board against the staff of the NFLPA, Ken Belson of the New York Times reports.
Okung’s filing accuses union executive director DeMaurice Smith of forcing a union-wide CBA vote despite objections from the executive committee, Belson adds. The executive committee voted 6-5 in February not to recommend the owners’ CBA proposal, and after the Combine meeting, the executive committee was at 7-4 against recommending the CBA, Belson reports. However, the union’s 32-player board voted to send the proposal for a union-wide vote.
Should the recent Panthers trade acquisition receive the keys after the players vote down a proposal Smith and Winston championed, the league could be set for period of uncertainty over the next several months.
The Browns and center J.C. Tretter are in agreement on a three-year, $32.5MM extension, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets. The deal includes more than $23MM guaranteed, giving the lineman some serious security moving forward.
Tretter, a Cornell product, has been having a strong season, even though the Browns are struggling as a whole. He currently ranks as Pro Football Focus’ No. 7 center in the NFL and routinely places as a top 10 player, per the advanced metrics.
The deal represents a solid pay bump from his last deal. The Browns inked Tretter to a three-year, $16.75MM deal in 2017, after he impressed as a versatile OL in Green Bay. The new deal more than doubles his guarantees and nearly doubles his overall haul.
Tretter and the Browns will return home on Sunday to face the Bills. Currently at 2-6, they’ll have to go on an absolute tear to get in the playoff chase.
The Browns have agreed to sign former Packers offensive lineman J.C. Tretter, reports Mike Garafolo of NFL.com (Twitter link). Tretter offers versatility along the line, but he will indeed serve as Cleveland’s center, per Garafolo.
It’s a three-year, $16.75MM deal for Tretter, who will see $10MM in guarantees, per Adam Caplan of ESPN.com (on Twitter). This has been just a portion of a busy day for Browns offensive linemen.
Cleveland is investing heavy resources on its front five on the first official day of free agency, as the club has already agreed to a long-term extension with left guard Joel Bitonio. They also signed Kevin Zeitler to a guard-record $12MM-AAV deal.
Tretter’s signing will have more wide-ranging implications for the rest of the offensive line, and could specifically signal a displeasure with former first-round pick Cameron Erving. Erving struggled during his first season as a full-time starter at the pivot, and while he could potentially move to another position (right tackle or guard), he may simply shift to the bench.
Tretter was never a permanent member of Green Bay’s offensive line during his time there, but he exceeded expectations when asked to start. In 2016, the 26-year-old graded as the No. 9 center in the league, per Pro Football Focus, and started nine games while filling in for Corey Linsley. Linsley is expected to return as the Packers’ center in 2017, leaving the club little room to play Tretter.
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.
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.
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.
11. Tony Jefferson, S (Cardinals): The numbers at Pro Football Focus 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 they expect to lose him. The Buccaneers, Redskins, Titans, and Panthers could all be in the mix for Jefferson. Now that Berry is off the market, I expect Jefferson to command $10MM per season on a multi-year deal – maybe more. Signed with Ravens for four years, $36MM.
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. The Patriots would presumably like to keep Harmon. If they don’t, teams like the Lions, Steelers, and Chargers could be in the mix. Re-signed with Patriots for four years, $17MM.
13. 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 best QB in this year’s free agent class and he could get a deal that pays roughly $15MM/year (the guarantee amount, however, will be the thing to watch). The Bears are apparently very, very high on the 6’7″ QB. The 49ers, who were previously linked to him, will not be in pursuit. Signed with Bears for three years, $45MM.
14. 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. Signed with the Lions for three years, $29MM.
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. Re-signed with Ravens for five years, $52.5MM.
16. 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. The 49ers and Cowboys are both said to have their eyes on Britt. San Francisco is flush with cap space, but Dallas will have to do some maneuvering to make that deal work. Signed with Browns for four years, $32.5MM.
17. 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. If he leaves KC, the Raiders, Texans, Colts, and Packers (if they’re finally serious about spending in free agency) would all make sense for him. Signed with Falcons for one year, $8MM.
18. 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. Re-signed with Packers for five years, $60MM.
19. 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. On the flipside, the advanced metrics indicate that Hankins wasn’t all that great last year. Signed with Colts for three years, $27MM.
20. 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. Signed with the Packers for three years, $21MM.
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. Signed with Saints for four years, $37MM.
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. Signed with Bengals for one year, $4.25MM.
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. Signed with Rams for three years, $36MM.
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. Signed with 49ers for two years, $23MM.
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. Signed with Redskins for one year, $2.25MM.
26. 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 could overspend to bring this fan favorite home. If that doesn’t come to fruition, don’t be surprised if he winds up with the Bucs. Signed with Buccaneers for three years, $33.5MM.
27. 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. Signed with Buccaneers for three years, $15.75MM.
28. 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. Signed with Bears for one year, $7MM.
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. The Falcons could use him to fortify their front seven and he’ll be cheaper than a lot of the other defensive linemen out there. The rival Saints may also come calling. Signed with Colts for three years, $25.5MM.
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 Berry. Signed with Titans for four years, $25MM.
31. Dre Kirkpatrick, CB (Bengals): We’re still waiting for Kirkpatrick to live up to his first-round billing. Personally, I wouldn’t commit serious money to Kirkpatrick on a long-term deal, but another club desperate for cornerback help might. The Steelers have some level of interest in Kirkpatrick after watching him up close for multiple years. As disappointing as he has been, something in the $8MM/year range cannot be ruled out. Re-signed with Bengals for five years, $52.5MM.
32. 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. Teams in need of a strong run-blocking guard will be all over him. Signed with Broncos for four years, $35MM.
33. 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. Signed with Browns for three years, $16.75MM.
34. 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. Signed with Jaguars for four years, $21.6MM.
35. 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. The Giants and Raiders have both been linked to Peterson. The Packers could come into play if they lose their No. 1 RB this week. Signed with Saints for two years, $7MM.
36. 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. Signed with Vikings for five years, $58.75MM.
37. Brandon Marshall, WR (Jets): The Jets dropped Marshall earlier this month, at his request. He didn’t do much last season, but neither did anyone else on the Jets. He could really wind up torturing Jets fans if he winds up with the Giants or Patriots as rumored. The Ravens love big-name aging receivers, so they would also be a natural fit for him. Signed with Giants for two years, $12MM.
38. 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. Signed with Seahawks for one year, $4.25MM.
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. Signed with Dolphins for one year, $775K.
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. Signed with Jets for one year, $5MM.
41. 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. Signed with Colts for three years, $13.5MM.
42. 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. Signed with Bills for five years, $30MM.
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. Signed with Chargers for four years, $53MM.
44. 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. Signed with Vikings for three years, $15MM.
45. Kayvon Webster, CB (Broncos): Webster wants more playing time and he’s not going to get that opportunity in Denver. He will almost certainly go elsewhere and I see him getting a solid payday based on his age (just turned 26), athleticism, and special teams ability. Signed with Rams for two years, $8MM.
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. Jack Doyle, TE (Colts): Every time we hear an update on Doyle, his projected salary keeps on rising. If the Patriots let Bennett leave, as expected, it’s possible they could look at Doyle as a new safety net for Gronk. Re-signed with Colts for three years, $19MM.
48. Darius Butler, DB (Colts): His ability to play multiple positions will work in his favor. Here’s a thought: if the Packers lose Hyde, they could make a play for Butler. He’ll be cheaper than Hyde due to the age gap and he’s arguably the better player for 2017. Re-signed with Colts for one year, $3MM.
49. Ryan Clady, OT (Jets): Lots of injury concerns, but also lots of potential.
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:
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.
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.
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.
Kyle Juszczyk graded out as the best fullback in the NFL last year, according to Pro Football Focus. The Ravens would be wise to keep him, but if they don’t, he’ll draw interest from teams all over the league. Juszczyk earned his first career Pro Bowl nod as he caught 37 passes for 266 yards. His exceptional 92.1 pass blocking score from PFF led all other fullbacks by a wide margin.
Mike Tolbert is ranked lower than you might expect due to his age and diminished blocking skills. He’ll turn 32 in November and it’s not guaranteed that he’ll find another job after getting released by the Panthers, though the Jets are said to have interest in him. Gang Green could also look into signing Patrick DiMarco and Marcel Reece. If you ask me, they should target DiMarco if they want to truly emphasize the running game. DiMarco finished the year with the best run blocking score in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus.
Brandon Marshall, welcome to the free agent pool. Marshall is just two years removed from a year in which he had 109 catches, 1,502 yards, and 14 touchdowns. However, his numbers dipped significantly last season as the entire Jets offense slumped. The veteran will get tons of interest this week and his suitors may include the Giants, Patriots, and Ravens.
Kenny Britt managed to put up big numbers in the midst of the Rams’ offensive quagmire last season. He now hits free agency at a great time and the WR-needy Eagles are the latest team to be connected to him. The South Jersey contingent of the Eagles fanbase will appreciate the homecoming of the Rutgers product. At the same time, they should hope he exhibits a better attitude than he did on the banks of the old Raritan.
The talent is definitely there with Markus Wheaton and the team that takes a chance on him could wind up very, very happy. Robert Woods, historically, thrived in games where Sammy Watkins was unavailable or limited. Woods doesn’t turn 25 in until April and there’s a case to be made that he should be higher on this list. Cordarrelle Patterson has turned out to be a very capable returner, but there are definitely ambitious coaches out there who think they can still mold him into a great receiver. Michael Floyd is now years removed from his best work in Arizona, so one has to wonder what he can contribute even if he has turned over a new leaf.
Victor Cruz is an exceptionally hard-worker and a team-first kind of guy. He’ll be a great addition to any locker room, but it’s anyone’s guess as to what he’ll do in 2017. We’ll say this: a return to the slot would greatly benefit him.
Anquan Boldinjust missed the top 15 and I don’t necessarily feel great about it. Brian Quickalso missed the cut and it was a toss-up between him and Cruz for that last spot.
Anthony Fasano finds himself ranked higher than some bigger names due to his blocking ability. PFF gave Fasano an 88.1 score for run blocking, which was the best of any tight end last year. His 72.9 pass blocking score was fourth-best among TEs. The Titans will make a real effort to keep him.
Andrew Whitworth spent some time at guard last season but his best (and most profitable) position is on the outside. He’s 35, so he won’t lead all FA tackles in total money this year despite being our top-ranked free at the position.
Russell Okung was thrust into the free agent market in February when the Broncos declined his option. This time around, it will be interesting to see whether he hires an agent. His previous deal was effectively a one-year pact with a club option for a four-year, $48MM deal with $20.5MM in guaranteed cash. After a so-so year, the Broncos wisely turned it down.
Austin Pasztor is listed as a tackle here, though it’s quite possible he reverts to the interior line in 2017. Mike Adams, a former second-round pick, makes the cut for his natural talent, even though he hasn’t shown much at the professional level. Will Beatty also found his way to the Top 15, but his market will be capped after two injury-ridden years.
Honorable mention: D.J. Fluker, A.Q. Shipley (C), Brian Schwenke (C)
Kevin Zeitler was the only offensive lineman to crack our Top 50 Free Agents list last week. Zeitler, 27 in March, was PFF’s No. 7 ranked guard in the NFL this year. After three consecutive strong seasons, he is going to get big bucks.
J.C. Tretter graded out as a top 10 center last year, according to PFF, and he just turned 26. Stefen Wisniewski offers experience at both guard and center and there should be at least a few teams looking at him as a potential starter.