Colts guard/tackle Jack Mewhort has retired from the NFL, according to an announcement from the team. Mewhort was set to enter his age-27 season, but has decided to hang up his cleats instead.
“I would like to thank the Irsay family and the entire Colts organization for giving me the opportunity to live a childhood dream,” Mewhort said in a statement.
Mewhort entered the league as a second-round pick of the Colts in 2014. Mewhort has been a starter for the Colts throughout his career, but he has been seriously hampered by knee problems as of late.
Mewhort’s season ended in October thanks to a knee injury, marking his second straight incomplete campaign. Over the last two years, Mewhort has missed 17 games out of a possible 32.
Despite his health issues, the Colts re-signed Mewhort to a one-year, $1.5MM deal in March that could have been worth up to $3MM with incentives. However, the Colts did not bank on his health as they added guards Quenton Nelson and Braden Smith in the first two rounds of the draft. The club also has new interior lineman Matt Slauson in the mix for depth, so they won’t necessarily have to go shopping for offensive line health.
The Colts are bringing back guard Jack Mewhort. It’s a one-year deal with a base value of $1.5MM and another $1.5MM in incentives, Mike Garafolo of NFL.com tweets.
Mewhort’s season ended in October thanks to a knee injury, marking his second straight incomplete campaign. However, he did have three quality years as an NFL starter before that and the Colts did not want to let him get away. Mewhort doesn’t turn 27 until October, so he’s still young enough to bounce back and be a difference maker in 2018.
Many of this year’s top free agents came off of the board during the legal tampering period, including Kirk Cousins, Trumaine Johnson, Sammy Watkins, and Allen Robinson. Still plenty of the names from our list of the Top 50 Free Agents remain, including some new additions. Here’s a rundown of the players to keep an eye on as free agency officially begins, ranked roughly by their expected contract value:
1. Ndamukong Suh, DT (Dolphins): The Dolphins bailed on Suh’s mega contract midway through, freeing him up to sign another high-priced contract. He won’t get anything close to a six-year, $114MM deal this time around, but he should settle in at an AAV that keeps him among the best compensated players at his position. Last year, Pro Football Focus ranked Suh fifth among 122 interior defenders.
2. Tyrann Mathieu, S (Cardinals): The Cardinals worked feverishly to hammer out a new contract with the Honey Badger, but the two sides could not come to terms on a deal to lessen his 2018 cap hit. He has been released, allowing him to hit free agency as the best safety available. The Jets are not believed to be interested, despite his connection with head coach Todd Bowles. The other tenant of the Meadowlands, however, could have interest thanks to the presence of former Arizona DC James Bettcher.
4. Dontari Poe, DT (Falcons): Poe missed out on a big payday last year when teams shied away from him due to lingering back issues. After turning in his second consecutive 16-game season, things could be different this time. For the record – Poe has missed only two regular season games over the course of his career, so he boasts a better attendance record than a lot of other veterans on this list. He’s unlikely to circle back to Atlanta.
6. A.J. McCarron, QB (Bengals): It’s difficult to peg McCarron’s value heading into free agency. Outside of some quality starts in 2015, there isn’t much film out there on McCarron, despite that fact that he has spent four years in the NFL. Hue Jackson was itching to reunite with McCarron, but the Browns no longer seem a likely destination for him after the acquisition of Tyrod Taylor. It’s also hard to see him landing with the QB-needy Jets after they re-signed Josh McCown and added Teddy Bridgewater. McCarron will find a home, but it may not be as a starter. [UPDATE: McCarron has signed with the Bills]
7. E.J. Gaines, CB (Bills): Injuries in the fall limited Gaines to just 11 games last season, but he proved to be a quality return for the Bills in the Watkins trade, in addition to the second-round pick that came with him. Gaines graded out as the No. 13 cornerback in the league last year, per PFF, and he just turned 26 in February. Gaines missed all of ’15 due to injury and didn’t look all that sharp in ’16, but timing is everything in free agency. You can expect multiple teams to call on him and the Texans could still have interest, even after inkingAaron Colvin.
8. Eric Reid, S (49ers): Reid is just 26 and is undoubtedly a starting quality safety. He has both youth and versatility on his side, but it’s possible that his anthem protest participation could hurt him when it comes to some suitors. Injuries over the last two seasons will hurt his market as well.
11. Kenny Vaccaro, S (Saints): With the ability to play both safety and slot cornerback, Vaccaro will have a fair amount of suitors. Analytics-focused teams might not high on him after he ranked as the worst coverage safety in the league, according to PFF.
13. Ryan Jensen, C (Ravens): Jensen stepped into a starting role in 2017 and flourished, grading out as the No. 9 center in the NFL, per PFF. The former sixth-round pick also has previous experience at guard. The Jets were widely speculated to be a suitor, but they addressed their needs by signing Spencer Long instead. He has visits lined up with the Bucs and Colts.
14. Jack Mewhort, G (Colts): Mewhort’s season ended prematurely in October thanks to a knee injury, marking his second straight incomplete campaign. That’s not a great way to enter the open market, but he did have three quality years as an NFL starter before that. Mewhort doesn’t turn 27 until October, which helps his case.
17. Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE (Jets): AS-J rebounded from personal issues to post the best season of his career with the Jets. He was impressive at times, but he is no better than the No. 3 TE in this year’s free agent crop. He’ll meet with the Seahawks and Jaguars. No word yet on whether the Saints, who missed out on a Jimmy Graham reunion, have any interest.
18. Tyler Eifert, TE (Bengals): Once one of the NFL’s brightest stars at tight end, Eifert has been limited by a host of injuries. You can expect Eifert to ink a one-year deal somewhere with a low base and ample incentives.
19. Terrelle Pryor, WR (Redskins): Pryor found himself disappointed by the 2017 free agent market, but that paled in comparison to the disappointment felt by the Redskins after signing him to a one-year deal. Pryor will benefit from a shallow WR crop, however. He is on the Browns’ radar, so a return to Cleveland is possible.
24. Demario Davis, LB (Jets):Davis wants $8-$10MM per year, but he’ll get about half of that. [UPDATE: Davis is off the board after signing a three-year, $24MM deal with the Saints, so he achieved his yearly goal after all. The deal includes $18MM guaranteed.]
25. Jordan Matthews, WR (Bills): Injuries held Matthews back in 2017, but he’s not far removed from posting 73 receptions for 804 yards and three touchdowns with the Eagles.
There will be tons of free agents available in March, but only a some of them can be real difference makers for your favorite team. To help separate the wheat from the chaff, we’ve assembled our early list of the Top 50 NFL Free Agents for 2018.
Our early version of the NFL’s top 50 free agents may include players who will be re-signed between now and March 14. 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.
Recently, 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 2018:
1. Kirk Cousins, QB (Redskins): At long last, Kirk Cousins is headed towards unrestricted free agency. You may or may not regard Cousins as a star, but he is the best quarterback in recent history to reach the open market and QB-needy teams will be rolling out the red carpet for him. The Jets, Vikings, Broncos, and Cardinals have been named as the top suitors for his services, but the NFL is full of surprises this time of year and we would not be surprised to see other teams get involved. The cash-flush Browns are reportedly keen on signing a lower-cost vet and drafting a QB early, but who’s to say they won’t change course and get in on the Cousins sweepstakes? The Bills, Giants, Dolphins, Bucs, and Colts could also consider kicking the tires here, but there are obstacles in that bunch ranging from established starters already in place (Eli Manning, Ryan Tannehill, Jameis Winston, and Andrew Luck) to financial constraints. No matter where he goes, it’s almost certain that Cousins will become the league’s highest-paid player of all-time. That is, until another top-tier QB signs a contract extension soon after.
2. Drew Brees (Saints): There are multiple possibilities for Cousins but it’s hard to see a scenario in which Brees actually leaves the Saints. Brees has already said that he does not plan on testing free agency, so he’ll likely put pen to paper before things begin on March 14. As far as we can tell, the only way Brees will think about leaving is if he is lowballed to an extreme degree by the Saints, but that seems improbable based on his history with the team
3. Case Keenum (Vikings): One year ago, no one ever would have expected Keenum to be one of 2018’s most sought-after free agents. The Vikings signed the former Rams signal caller to a one-year, $2MM deal in March with the idea that he would back up Sam Bradford and, eventually slide down to third on the depth chart when/if Teddy Bridgewater returned to full health. When Bradford went down in September, Keenum exceeded all expectations and put together the best season of his career. The 30-year-old graded out as Pro Football Focus’ ninth-ranked QB in 2017, putting him above the likes of Jimmy Garoppolo, Aaron Rodgers, Marcus Mariota, Matthew Stafford, and Tyrod Taylor. With Keenum at the helm, the Vikings earned a first-round bye and beat the Saints in a playoff thriller before succumbing to the Eagles in the NFC championship game. Of course, after four seasons of mediocrity, teams are wondering whether this was an aberration or a real sign of things to come. Teams know that Keenum is not a lock, but he’s also the best Plan B for any team that loses out on Cousins or doesn’t have the means to sign him.
4. Andrew Norwell, G (Panthers): There was a time when tackles were the only offensive linemen to really cash in on the open market. That’s no longer the case, as evidenced by the contracts of Kevin Zeitler (five years, $60MM) and Kelechi Osemele (five years, $58.5MM). Osemele inked his free agent deal with the Raiders in 2016 and Zeitler signed his in the 2017 offseason. Given the cap increase and the natural progression of the market, Norwell figures to reset the market for interior linemen. Keenum figures to gross no less than $20MM/year on his next contract, so he’s slotted behind him, but an average annual value of $13-14MM is not out of the question for the former undrafted free agent.
5. Nate Solder, OT (Patriots): Solder isn’t coming off of his best season and he might be the least sexy name in the top ten. Still, there’s a dearth of tackles league-wide and Solder has been among the league’s best at his position for quite some time. The Patriots are bracing for Solder to leave as they fear he’ll garner offers of $12MM/year. No other tackle in this year’s free agent crop is even close to him in terms of ability, so we’re also buying into the hype. Injuries contributed to Solder’s up-and-down season, particularly early on, so teams will take that into account when evaluating him.
6. Allen Robinson, WR (Jaguars): The Jaguars opted against using the franchise tag on Robinson, which is understandable since they have limited cap space. Robinson missed almost all of 2017 with an ACL tear, but his 2015 season (and even his so-so 2016 campaign) gives teams reason to believe that he can be a quality WR1. Robinson is one of only two such players on the unrestricted market, so expect him to get paid. Robinson probably couldn’t do worse than Kenny Britt‘s four-year, $32MM deal with the Browns from last season (and he should do a whole lot better), but if he is underwhelmed by the multi-year offers he receives, he could always go the Alshon Jeffery route. Jeffery inked a one-year, $9.5MM prove-it deal with the Eagles and that turned out to be a smashing success for both parties. Jeffery was rewarded with a four-year, $52MM extension in December, so Robinson’s camp will surely be open to a pillow contract if necessary.
7. Sammy Watkins, WR (Rams): Some may view Robinson and Watkins as 1A and 1B in this year’s wide receiver class, particularly since Robinson missed all of 2017 and Watkins, despite his own injury history, played in all but one of the Rams’ games. Unfortunately, Watkins did not have the platform year he was hoping for as he caught just 39 passes for 593 yards. If we strike Robinson’s lost year and Watkins’ down year from the record, the breakdown favors the Jags receiver – Robinson averaged 77 receptions for 1,078 yards and eight touchdowns per 16 games in that set versus Watkins’ 66 grabs for 1,063 yards and seven scores. These two should come pretty close in average annual value, but we give the edge to Robinson.
8. Trumaine Johnson, CB (Rams): Players often bemoan the franchise tag, but Johnson can’t really complain after receiving two consecutive tags from the Rams and earning more than $30MM between 2016 and 2017. The Rams, rightfully, did not consider a third consecutive tag for Johnson at a cost of ~$20MM and they already have his replacement in Marcus Peters. That’s one suitor down, but plenty of other teams will be eager to speak with Johnson, who profiles as the best cornerback in a deep class.
9. Sheldon Richardson, DT (Seahawks): Richardson gave the Jets lots of headaches, but he also gave them high-end production. He didn’t quite match that production in Seattle, but Richardson is positioned for a massive payday anyway since impactful defensive linemen are at a premium. Our own Dallas Robinson estimates that Richardson will garner about $9MM/year, but I would say that is his floor. The top-end of free agency rarely yields team-friendly deals, so Richardson could easily creep into eight figures in AAV, particularly since he does not turn 28 until November.
10. Dontari Poe, DT (Falcons): Poe thought he was in for a monster contract last offseason, but concerns about his lingering back issues forced him to take a one-year, $8MM deal with Atlanta. Teams may still worry about his back being a ticking time bomb, but perhaps they’ll view him in a different light now that he has played back-to-back 16 game seasons and has only missed two regular season contests over the course of his career.
11. Star Lotulelei, DT (Panthers): If Norwell didn’t draw the franchise tag from the Panthers, popular thought was that Lotulelei would be a candidate for the tag. But, Carolina only ever considered the tag for their kicker (and they re-signed him instead). That’s good news for teams in need of help up front. The advanced metrics have never been fond of the 28-year-old’s play, but he has been largely healthy over the course of his five-year career and has started in all but one of his regular season games. He had just 1.5 sacks last season, but Lotulelei does have 11.5 sacks to his credit, including four sacks in 2016.
12. A.J. McCarron, QB (Bengals): It’s difficult to peg McCarron’s value heading into free agency. Outside of some quality starts in 2015, there isn’t much film out there on McCarron, despite that fact that he has spent four years in the NFL. For what it’s worth, Hue Jackson has been itching to reunite with McCarron and was reportedly devastated when last year’s midseason deal to bring him to Cleveland fell through. Like the rest of the quarterback’s in this year’s group, his market won’t really emerge until Cousins puts pen to paper. Keenum is probably second on the board for most teams in search of a QB, but some clubs (like the Browns) may have McCarron higher on the list.
13. Sam Bradford, QB (Vikings): Questions persist about Bradford’s health and any team signing him will surely backstop him with at least one other capable option. But, when he’s healthy, he’s pretty darn good. In 2016, Bradford appeared in all but one of the Vikings’ games and turned in a league-leading 71.6% completion percentage.
14. Bashaud Breeland, CB (Redskins): The Redskins would like to re-sign Breeland at the “right price,” but the market for his services could explode and quickly put Washington out of the running. Breeland reportedly felt disrespected by the five-year, $75MM deal given to teammate Josh Norman last year and this is his opportunity to get a big payday of his own. Last year, A.J. Bouye‘s youth helped propel him to a five-year, $65MM free agent deal with the Jaguars. Breeland won’t get an offer quite that high, but he only just celebrated his 26th birthday and teams won’t be hesitant about giving this sound tackler a multi-year deal.
15. Malcolm Butler, CB (Patriots): Had the Patriots traded Butler to the Saints last offseason, he’d probably be playing under a lucrative multi-year deal right now. He did not have a great walk year in New England and he’s no longer positioned to sign a market-topping deal, but he’ll still garner attention around the league resulting in a lucrative contract. Butler ranked just 51st amongst PFF’s qualified corners last season, but he still showed flashes of being able to guard lethal wide receivers. He’s unlikely to return to the Patriots after he was benched for the majority of Super Bowl LII and inquiring teams will want to dig more into Bill Belichick‘s controversial decision.
16. Muhammad Wilkerson, DT (Jets): That sound you hear is the boiling blood of a Jets fan. Wilkerson was a top-tier defensive lineman before signing an $86MM extension with the Jets in the summer of 2016. Things quickly unraveled, however, as the Temple product clashed with coaches and routinely showed up late for team functions. Now that the Jets have officially cut bait with Wilkerson, it will be interesting to see what teams are willing to offer him. In terms of talent, Wilkerson has to rank no lower than second behind former teammate Richardson amongst defensive tackles. However, the perception is that he quit on the Jets right after he secured the bag, so his next bag figures to be a lot lighter. Look for Richardson to ink a one-year prove-it deal with a club or perhaps a two-year deal with an easy escape button in 2019.
17. Teddy Bridgewater, QB (Vikings): Bridgewater is in the same boat as Bradford – the talent is there, but no team will be able to bank on his health. Bridgewater returned faster than expected from his gruesome knee injury, but we barely saw him on the field thanks to the rise of Keenum.
18. E.J. Gaines, CB (Bills): Injuries in the fall limited Gaines to just 11 games last season, but he proved to be a quality return for the Bills in the Watkins trade (not to mention the second-round pick that came with him). Gaines graded out as the No. 13 cornerback in the league last year, per PFF, and he just turned 26 last month. The cons: Gaines missed all of 2015 due to injury and didn’t look all that sharp in ’16.
19. Trey Burton, TE (Eagles): Burton does not have as much name value as other tight ends in this year’s class, but he easily offers the most potential. Burton emerged from the shadow of Zach Ertz this past season in Philadelphia and put himself on the map with big games against the Seahawks and Rams late in the season. The Eagles do not have the cap room to retain him, so he’ll take his blocking skills and surprisingly adept passing arm elsewhere.
20. Paul Richardson, WR (Seahawks): Richardson stepped into a larger role last year when the Seahawks traded Jermaine Kearse to the Jets. He did well with the larger workload as he averaged 16 yards per catch. Richardson won’t turn 26 until April and doesn’t come with the same medical red flags as the older WRs in this year’s crop, so he’s probably in line for a nice guarantee on a multi-year deal. Because of his youth, he could have an opportunity to strike it rich again when he takes his next trip through free agency.
21. Jimmy Graham, TE (Seahawks): Graham is not expected to re-sign with the Seahawks and there’s already chatter about a reunion with the Saints. Whether that comes to fruition or not, Graham should net a decent deal after catching 57 passes for 520 yars and ten touchdowns last season. He’s not as explosive as he was in his New Orleans days, but he’s still a difference maker in the red zone.
22. Nigel Bradham, LB (Eagles): Non-pass rushing linebackers typically do not cash in on the open market and, as our own Dallas Robinson recently noted, Danny Trevethan’s 2016 deal with the Bears stands as the watermark with an average of $7MM per year. Bradham could flirt with that line after two solid seasons with the Eagles, but he won’t blow the lid off of the LB market.
23. Eric Reid, S (49ers): Reid is just 26 and is undoubtedly a starting quality safety. He has both youth and versatility on his side, but it’s possible that his anthem protest participation could hurt him when it comes to some suitors. Injuries over the last two seasons will hurt his market as well.
24. Aaron Colvin, CB (Jaguars): Colvin was eclipsed in Jacksonville thanks to the presence of Jalen Ramsey and Bouye. He has excelled as a slot corner, and that has plenty of value on his own, but he could get more money than expected if teams believe he can also contribute on the outside.
25. Justin Pugh, G (Giants): Pugh missed half of last season due to injuries and the advanced metrics have never been fond of his play. But, his ability to play four positions on the offensive line and the dearth of quality available linemen will produce a healthy market.
26. Morgan Burnett, S (Packers): Speaking of versatility, Burnett has logged snaps at cornerback, free safety, and even linebacker over the course of his eight-year career with the Packers.
27. Marqise Lee, WR (Jaguars): Robinson is getting all of the ink, but Lee will have a healthy market of his own after catching 119 passes for 1,553 yards and six touchdowns over the last two seasons in Jacksonville. He’s not a star, but he’s among the best WR2 options in this year’s free agent class.
28. Kenny Vaccaro, S (Saints): With the ability to play both safety and slot cornerback, Vaccaro will have a fair amount of suitors. Analytics-focused teams might not high on him after he ranked as the worst coverage safety in the league, according to PFF.
29. Dion Lewis, RB (Patriots): Finally, a running back! As we all know, veteran RBs don’t get a ton of love in free agency, but Lewis stands as the best at his position. Lewis is coming off of a strong platform year in which he averaged 5.0 yards per carry with six touchdowns on the ground while adding 32 receptions for 214 yards and three TDs for the AFC champs.
31. Ryan Jensen, C (Ravens): Jensen stepped into a starting role in 2017 and flourished, grading out as the No. 9 center in the NFL, per PFF. The former sixth-round pick also has previous experience at guard.
32. Jack Mewhort, G (Colts): Mewhort’s season ended prematurely in October thanks to a knee injury, marking his second straight incomplete campaign. That’s not a great way to enter the open market, but he did have three quality years as an NFL starter before that. Mewhort doesn’t turn 27 until October, which helps his case.
33. Carlos Hyde, RB (49ers): Hyde, like Lewis, will fall victim to the league’s bias against older running backs, but he doesn’t celebrate his 28th birthday until September, so don’t peg him for the old folks home just yet. He failed to reach 4.0 yards per carry for the first time in his career last season, but he did position himself as a pass-catching threat with 59 catches for 350 yards.
34. Weston Richburg, C (Giants): Richburg’s concussion could ward off teams, but he says that he has been medically cleared for months. If he checks out with doctors, Richburg may be in line for a nice payday. Before his unfortunate head injury, Richburg excelled as a center for the G-Men in 2015 and 2016.
36. NaVorro Bowman, LB (Raiders): He has a fan in new Raiders defensive coordinator Paul Guenther, so he may continue to ply his craft in the Bay Area.
37. Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE (Jets): AS-J rebounded from personal issues to post the best season of his career with the Jets. He was impressive at times, but he is no better than the No. 3 TE in this year’s free agent crop.
38. Josh Kline, G (Titans): A skilled run-blocker in a weak crop for guards, Kline should do well for himself.
39. Patrick Robinson, CB (Eagles): Robinson is a talented slot cornerback, but the cash-strapped Eagles will have a hard time retaining him.
40. Tyler Eifert, TE (Bengals): Once one of the NFL’s brightest stars at tight end, Eifert has been limited by a host of injuries. You can expect Eifert to ink a one-year deal somewhere with a low base and ample incentives.
41. Isaiah Crowell, RB (Browns): Should Crowell be the bell cow for a team? Maybe not, but he is a talented runner who has made GMs regret passing on him in the 2014 draft.
42. Terrelle Pryor, WR (Redskins): Pryor found himself disappointed by the 2017 free agent market, but that paled in comparison to the disappointment felt by the Redskins after signing him to a one-year deal. Pryor will benefit from a shallow WR crop, however.
43. Adrian Clayborn, DE (Falcons): Clayborn graded out as PFF’s No. 19 ranked edge defender this season and tallied a career-high 9.5 sacks. That sack total is a bit misleading, however, since six of those came in a November contest against the Cowboys.
44. Jerick McKinnon, RB (Vikings): He’s not built for 20 carries per game, but he’s a dynamic athlete with proven pass-catching ability. I’m probably more bullish on him than most, but I’ve placed him near the backend of the top 50 to reflect his expected payday.
NFL free agency will get underway on Wednesday, March 14th, 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. The same goes for players who have been franchise tagged or transition tagged.
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 2018:
Drew Brees is included here, but by his own admission, he’ll be re-signing with the Saints rather than testing the open waters of free agency. Unless the Saints lowball their franchise QB, it’s hard to see him leaving New Orleans.
Case Keenum put together a tremendous season for the Vikings, but he doesn’t have a history of success beyond 2017. There will be plenty of interest in Keenum, but only after QB-needy teams strike out on Cousins. The incumbent Vikings could re-sign Keenum, but right now, it seems like they are intent on exploring the Cousins waters first.
There isn’t a ton of footage on A.J. McCarron, which made his placement on this list awfully tricky. We know this much: McCarron did well in place of Dalton in the home stretch of the 2015 season and his former offensive coordinator Hue Jackson was salivating at the chance of landing him before the Browns bungled the trade with the Bengals. McCarron’s relative youth is a plus (he won’t turn 28 until September) and his lack of experience can be looked at as a positive. Unlike some of the other names on this list, he hasn’t run up his NFL odometer.
What will NFL teams make of Teddy Bridgewater and Sam Bradford this offseason? Not long ago, both seemed like quality starting options. However, there are serious injury questions about both players and any team signing them will either look to backstop them with another decent option or ask them to come onboard as a QB2. With that in mind, one has to wonder if Bradford would consider retirement if asked to hold the clipboard for another signal caller. Bradford has earned upwards of $110MM over the years in the NFL, so it’s safe to say that he has enough money in the bank to call it quits if he wants. For now, he’s intent on playing.
Colin Kaepernick‘s placement on this list is sure to draw some strong reactions from his fans and detractors alike. Looking purely at his football ability, there’s no question that he belongs on someone’s roster. At minimum, Kaepernick profiles as a high-end backup, even after a year out of the game.
Quarterbacks coaches have long believed that Mike Glennon is capable of great things, due in part to his height. At 6’7″, he can see over any defensive line, but he hasn’t done much on the field to prove that he is a quality Week 1 starting option. Josh McCown, who is a decade his senior, edges him here for his surprisingly strong performance in 2017 at the helm of a weak Jets offense.
Carlos Hyde didn’t have the kind of platform year he was hoping for, but he’s still just 26 and could headline a running back by committee group.
Jerick McKinnon‘s placement on this list figures to be controversial, but his athleticism and pass-catching ability can blow a game wide open. No one will bank on McKinnon to carry the ball 20 times per game, but he can be a real difference maker for a team out there.
Can Frank Gore outrun father time? History indicates that he can’t and so does his 3.7 yards per carry average in 2017. You have to give credit where credit is due, however. Gore has been ruled out by many for years, but he has not missed a regular season game since the 2010 season. He’s also just one year removed from cracking 1,000 yards and he almost did the same last year.
For most teams, Allen Robinson would be a franchise tag candidate. However, that may be too much of a luxury for the cash-strapped Jaguars. He presents a fascinating free agent case. Robinson missed all but three snaps of the 2017 season after suffering a torn ACL, but he’s the most talented wide receiver on the board in the eyes of many. His 2015 season – 80 catches, 1,400 yards, and a league-leading 14 touchdowns – makes GMs drool. His quieter year in 2016 (73 catches, 883 yards, and six touchdowns) is less worthy of salivation. His 2017 season, of course, was a lost cause. For all the question marks, you can expect Robinson to see more dollars than any other free agent WR this year, particularly since Jarvis Landry has been held back by the tag.
Some in the football world may prefer Sammy Watkins for his big-play ability, but his down contract year amidst a capable offense is cause for concern. His injury history doesn’t do him any favors either. No matter your feelings on Watkins, there’s no debating that this year’s WR market has a top tier comprised of just two players – Watkins and Robinson. With few quality receivers out there, they’ll both get paid.
Marqise Lee represents a much less sexy option (speaking in football terms, of course), but he had the most receptions of any Jaguars receiver in 2017 (56) and finished second in receiving yards (702). Teams looking for a quality WR2 in free agency could do a lot worse than Lee and he’ll be far cheaper than the two-man top tier.
Danny Amendola hauled in 61 receptions for 659 yards and two touchdowns in the regular season and continued his strong play in the playoffs. However, teams will wonder if he can thrive in his age-33 season while playing outside of the Patriots’ offense. It’s also quite possible that he never tests the market as his stated preference is to remain in New England.
After that, you’ll notice a pretty significant drop off. That’s because this year’s WR class isn’t all that deep. Terrelle Pryor had to settle for a one-year prove-it contract last year and, to put it mildly, he did not prove it. Paul Richardson caught 44 passes for 703 yards and six touchdowns in 2017, but that marked his first NFL season of real note.
Trey Burton spent most of the year behind Zach Ertz on the Eagles’ depth chart, but he emerged late in the season and set himself up nicely for free agency. Given his age and potential, there’s no question that he is the belle of the ball at tight end.
The rest of the tight end crop is not nearly as inspiring. Jimmy Graham has enjoyed back-to-back Pro Bowl seasons with the Seahawks, but he’ll turn 32 in November and he’s no longer the monster playmaker that he was in New Orleans. He had ten touchdowns in 2017, but his 9.1 yards per reception average is a career low.
Odds are, you have Tyler Eifert ranked over Austin Seferian-Jenkins given the fact that Eifert has played just ten games over the last two years. ASJ, meanwhile, rebounded from personal issues to post a 50-catch season for the Jets. Personally, I’m picking Eifert based on upside. Hopefully, we can still be friends.
Offensive line play is down across the board and evaluators around the league have been openly complaining about an increasing dearth of tackles coming out of college. That makes for a generally uninspiring lot in free agency.
Nate Solder battled through injuries in 2017 and did not miss a game. He’s no longer a top-flight option, but he graded out as Pro Football Focus’ No. 32 tackle last year, meaning that he’s starter quality at left tackle. You’ll notice that three of the top five tackles on this list are Patriots. There’s little chance that the Pats let all three get away.
Justin Pugh offers the ability to play both guard and right tackle, though he might not do either one particularly well.
Andrew Norwell is the undisputed king of this category after netting an All-Pro selection in 2017. Norwell also earned a career-high 88.8 overall score from Pro Football Focus, which positioned him third in the entire NFL amongst guards. A team with greater means than the Panthers might have used the franchise tag on him. Fortunately for rival teams in need of interior help (such as the Giants), they won’t cuff him with the one-year placeholder.
The Colts injury bug hits again. Stephen Holder of the Indianapolis Star reports (via Twitter) that offensive guard Jack Mewhort is headed to the injured reserve. The lineman’s knee swelled up yesterday, and a subsequent MRI revealed that he needed surgery.
Mewhort, 26, has started each of his 45 NFL games since entering the league as a second-round pick in 2014. This isn’t the first time the lineman has experienced knee issues. After suffering an injury during the 2016 preseason, Mewhort missed the first few weeks of the regular season. He went on to play in 10 games for the Colts, but his campaign ultimately ended on the IR.
This is yet another blow to a Colts offensive line that has allowed 18 total sacks this season. The team has previously lost Denzelle GoodandDeyshawn Bond, although neither of those players were as essential as Mewhort. While Pro Football Focus wasn’t particularly fond of his performance in 2017 (he only ranks 48th among 72 eligible guards), he was rated much higher in previous seasons. With Mewhort done for the season, one of Le’Raven Clark, Mike Person, or Kyle Kalis could be promoted to the starting lineup.
Fortunately, there is some good news for the Colts. ESPN’s Mike Wells tweets that tight end Jack Doyle has cleared the concussion protocol and will play on Monday night. The 27-year-old missed last week’s game against the 49ers.
Some assorted notes from around the NFL as we wrap up this Monday evening…
Chiefs coach Andy Reid said he was not involved in the evaluation process in promoting BrettVeach to GM (Twitter link via James Palmer of NFL.com). The Chiefs promoted the 39-year-old earlier this month, and reports indicated that while Veach will have control over the roster, he’ll ultimately work in tandem with his head coach.
Here’s something that could affect the Browns‘ roster bubble: Duke Johnson profiles more as a wide receiver right now than a running back, Mary Kay Cabot of the Plain Dealer writes. Johnson is the leading candidate to replace Andrew Hawkins as the team’s No. 1 slot receiver and has been split out wide at times in practice. After carrying the ball 104 times as a rookie, Johnson ran the ball only 73 times in 2016 and he could be looking at another reduction this year.
The Colts have not had substantive extension talks with left guard Jack Mewhort as he enters his contract year, Stephen Holder of the Indy Star tweets. Mewhort has started at left guard with some appearances at tackle since entering the league in 2014. Unfortunately, the former second round pick saw his season cut short last year due to a knee injury. Mewhort has graded out as a starting caliber player for the Colts in each of his NFL seasons. In 2016, he was PFF’s 23rd ranked guard.
Titans guard Sebastian Tretola apparently suffered a minor injury from a bullet, and ESPN’s Paul Kuharsky tweeted a statement from the organization: “We are aware of the reports that Sebastian received treatment for a wound when he was grazed by a bullet…He has been released from the hospital and is thankful for only a minor injury.” The 2016 sixth-round pick appeared in only one game as a rookie last season.
Following news that Chargers wide receiver Mike Williams might need season-ending surgery on a herniated disk in his back, ESPN.com’s Eric D. Williams explored whether the team could bring back veteran Vincent Jackson. The writer ultimately believes that he wouldn’t be a fit, as the team could rely on a number of young players to fill the void. Alternatively, the team could opt for a number of free agents (including Stevie Johnson and Vincent Brown) who are more familiar with the team’s current offensive scheme. Jackson spent the first seven seasons of his career in San Diego, earning a pair of Pro Bowl selections.
The Colts will finish their season without the services of two starters after placing left guard Jack Mewhort and free safety Clayton Geathers on IR.
A left knee injury will sideline Mewhort, per the Associated Press, with Geathers being unable to overcome a neck malady that sidelined him for the past two games.
To fill the duo’s roster spots, Indianapolis promoted wide receiver Devin Street from the practice squad and signed safety Duke Williams.
Thought to potentially be out for the entire season with a torn ACL sustained during preseason play, Mewhort returned in time for Week 1 and started for the Colts in each of the 10 games for which he was active. Mewhort has rated as a top-25 guard in each of the past two seasons in the opinion of Pro Football Focus, coming in as the No. 22 player at the interior-line spot after finishing 2015 as the site’s ninth-highest-graded guard.
The former second-round pick has started each of the 40 games he’s played and will be entering a contract year in 2017.
A fourth-rounder last year, Geathers rated as a top-10 run-defending safety, per PFF, but played in just nine games in this his second season. Geathers finished with 58 tackles, five pass deflections and a forced fumble during his first season as a full-time starter, a status he will likely return to in 2017 assuming he overcomes this neck setback.
The 6-7 Colts now have eight players on IR, also placing backup linebacker Curt Maggitt on the season-ending list.
The Bills cut Williams earlier this year after the former fourth-round pick in 2013 made 10 starts for Buffalo from 2014-16.
2:04pm: Great news for the Colts, as owner Jim Irsaytweets that Mewhort will only be sidelined for two-to-four weeks, and will not require surgery, according to initial test results.
9:58am: Colts left guard Jack Mewhort is believed to have suffered a torn ACL during Saturday night’s preseason contest against Philadelphia, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (via Twitter). Stephen Holder of The Indianapolis Star tweets that Mewhort will have an MRI today to confirm. If it is, in fact, a torn ACL, Mewhort’s season would likely be over.
This comes as a crushing blow to an offensive line that was already a major cause of concern, especially since Mewhort was the most reliable member of that unit. The third-year pro started all 16 games for the Colts last season, grading out as the ninth-best guard in the league out of 81 eligible players, per Pro Football Focus’ advanced metrics (subscription required). Even head coach Chuck Pagano was at a loss for words Saturday, as Holder observed that Pagano “looked like he [had] seen a ghost”during last night’s press conference and admitted that he did not have a “clear picture” of his team because of the rampant injuries it has faced (Twitterlinks). Mewhort joins Vontae Davis, Kendall Langford, Clayton Geathers, and Henry Anderson as players who, at the very least, may not be ready for the start of the regular season. Pagano could not give a definite answer on when his injured players will return to the practice field full-time.
ESPN’s Mike Wells observes that rookie Joe Haeg would likely be in line to start at left guard if Mewhort’s season is over, but Haeg is out with an ankle injury. That means Jonotthan Harrison, who is also the backup center, could end up starting at left guard. As Wells writes, “The Colts have to ride the right arm of Andrew Luck to have any chance this season. That’ll be hard to do if the offensive line can’t protect the franchise player.”
Dwayne Bowe is a healthy scratch for the Browns in Week 3, which, given Cleveland’s dearth of talent at wide receiver, speaks volumes about Bowe’s present ability. Tony Grossi of ESPNCleveland.com appears to believe that the team will cut ties with Bowe sooner rather than later, tweeting that the team will wait for GM Ray Farmer to return from suspension after next week’s game and then pull the plug on Bowe. Grossi’s ESPN colleagues Adam Caplan and Jeremy Fowler, however, disagree. Fowler tweets that the Browns will at least wait to see if Bowe can get himself into game shape, while Caplan tweets that, between the $9MM in guaranteed money the Browns invested in Bowe, combined with the team’s need at wideout, Bowe will have a little more time to prove himself.
Now let’s take a peek at a few more links from around the league:
Johnny Manziel may not be playing for the Browns this week, but as Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports writes, he continues to impress Cleveland brass with the strides he has made both on and off the field. The team will continue to roll with veteran Josh McCown for the time being, but if the Browns should begin to slip from the playoff picture, Manziel will get the chance to prove he is the team’s long-awaited solution under center.
Coley Harvey of ESPN.com believes the extension that the Bengals recently gave to Andrew Whitworth is a clear indication that the team does not see its window of opportunity closing, and that they will continue to be championship contenders for the foreseeable future. Although the team has not officially announced the extension, Harvey tweets that the announcement could come after today’s game against Baltimore.
Drew Brees‘ injury clouds his future with the Saints, and as Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk writes, the team could free up $20MM in salary cap room by parting ways with Brees next year and beginning the rebuilding process. Of course, before that happens, the team would have to have a viable alternative under center; Luke McCown is not the answer, and rookie Garrett Grayson, needless to say, has a long way to go.
If Brees should end up looking for a new home next year, Rich Cimini of ESPNNewYork.com says the Jets would likely be a strong contender for his services.
During the 2009 draft, the Jaguars traded their seventh-round pick in that draft and their second-round pick in the 2010 draft to the Patriots in exchange for New England’s third-round pick in 2009. As ESPN’s Adam Schefter tweets, Jacksonville selected Derek Cox with that third-round pick, and the Pats parlayed their two choices into Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman.