Jairus Byrd

Panthers Sign S Jairus Byrd

The Panthers announced that they signed Jarius Byrd. The veteran safety will fill in for Kurt Coleman while he recovers from a sprained MCL"<strong

[RELATED: Kurt Coleman Sprains MCL]

Byrd was a three-time Pro Bowler during his time with the Bills. He parlayed that success into a lucrative six-year deal with the Saints in 2014, but he was released midway after a frustrating three-year stretch. Byrd intercepted an eye-popping 22 passes in 73 games for Buffalo, but totaled just three picks in three years in New Orleans, where he appeared in 33 games and made 32 starts.

However, the 30-year-old Byrd (31 on Saturday) is coming off his first 16-start season since 2012. He totaled 82 tackles and two INTs in the process, and his performance put him roughly in the middle of Pro Football Focus‘ 89 qualified safeties.

Byrd visited the 49ers in May, but we weren’t hearing much about him before the Carolina deal.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

49ers Working Out Safety Jairus Byrd

The 49ers are auditioning free agent safety Jairus Byrd today, according to Adam Schefter of ESPN.com (Twitter link). Byrd will take part in a workout along with a group of other defensive backs, per Schefter.Jairus Byrd (Vertical)

While San Francisco currently boasts one starting caliber safety in Eric Reid, the club’s other safety position is a bit more murky. Jimmie Ward, a former first-round pick who’s spent his career playing nickel corner, is expected to transition to free safety for the 2017 campaign. Other safeties on the 49ers’ depth chart include Jaquiski Tartt, Don Jones, and Vinnie Sunseri, with the latter two being almost exclusively special teams players.

Byrd, 30, certainly never lived up to the six-year, $54MM contract he inked with the Saints prior to the 2014 campaign, but there’s reason to think he can still be an effective player. On 900 defensive snaps last season, Byrd posted 82 tackles, two interceptions, and three passes defensed while grading as the No. 47 safety among 90 qualifiers, per Pro Football Focus. 2016 also marked the first time Byrd, a former All Pro, had played the entire 16-game slate since 2012.

A free agent since being released by New Orleans in February, Byrd’s visit with the 49ers will be the first known meeting he’s taken since hitting the open market.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Top 2017 Free Agents By Position 3.0: Defense

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

Listed below are our rankings for the top 15 free agents at each defensive position. These rankings aren’t necessarily determined by the value of the contracts – or the amount of guaranteed money – that each player is expected to land in free agency. These are simply the players we like the most at each position, with both short- and long-term value taken into account.

Restricted and exclusive-rights free agents, as well as players who received the franchise tag, aren’t listed here, since the roadblocks in place to hinder another team from actually acquiring most of those players prevent them from being true free agents.

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

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

Edge defender:

  1. Dwight Freeney
  2. Elvis Dumervil
  3. Chris Long
  4. Mario Williams
  5. Connor Barwin
  6. Paul Kruger
  7. Trent Cole
  8. Erik Walden
  9. Jason Jones
  10. Darryl Tapp
  11. Devin Taylor
  12. Eugene Sims
  13. Howard Jones
  14. Wallace Gilberry
  15. Sam Acho

The pass rushing market has been completely depleted during the first week of free agency, as 14 of our original top 15 edge players have now been franchised, signed, or, in the case of DeMarcus Ware, retired. As such, a 37-year-old with 15 NFL seasons under his belt is now the best pass rusher on the market. Dwight Freeney played on roughly a third of the Falcons’ defensive snaps in 2016, and posted three sacks and 18 hurries. Capable of playing in either a 4-3 or 3-4 scheme, Freeney can still help out a club on the cheap.Dwight Freeney (Vertical)

Three players on this list — Elvis Dumervil, Connor Barwin, and Eugene Sims — were released by their respective clubs last week, meaning they won’t count against the compensatory formula if and when they’re signed. Dumervil, now 33, was hampered by injuries last season but still earned strong pass-rushing marks from Pro Football Focus. Barwin, meanwhile, wasn’t a good fit in Jim Schwartz‘s 4-3 defense, but he should flourish if he signs with a team running a 3-4 look. So far, he’s met with the Bengals (who use a 4-3) and Rams (3-4).

Chris Long has already indicated he won’t be returning to the Patriots, indicating he wants to join a roster where he’ll earn more playing time. Erik Walden, too, won’t re-sign with his 2016 club (the Colts), but he has taken a visit with the division rival Titans. Further down the list, Howard Jones has also met with at least one club, as he was hosted by the Jets on Tuesday. Jones, 27, is recovering from a torn ACL, but did post five sacks in five starts last season.

Interior defensive line:

  1. Johnathan Hankins
  2. Dontari Poe
  3. Jared Odrick
  4. Vance Walker
  5. Sen’Derrick Marks
  6. Ricky Jean-Francois
  7. Roy Miller
  8. Al Woods
  9. Tony McDaniel
  10. Cullen Jenkins
  11. Frostee Rucker
  12. Cam Thomas
  13. John Jenkins
  14. Tyson Jackson
  15. Tyson Alualu

Although top-flight players such as Calais Campbell and Brandon Williams have already been signed, the crop of interior defenders remains strong at the top. The buzz around Johnathan Hankins has been virtually non-existent, as the only club that’s been even tangentially linked to the 25-year-old is the Redskins. He’s one of the youngest free agents on the market, and therefore is probably looking for a massive payday. But the lack of interest around Hankins may be an indication that he’s simply asking for too much money.Johnathan Hankins (Vertical)

The same issue could be surrounding Dontari Poe, although he’s not wanting for meetings around the league. He’s visited with the Colts, Falcons, Jaguars, and Dolphins, while the 49ers and Raiders also reportedly have some level of interest. Clubs may have concerns about Poe’s lingering back issues, and he might have to accept a one-year deal in order to prove he’s healthy and willing to provide full effort.

The remaining defensive interior players are mostly over-30 veterans, with names such as Tony McDaniel, Cullen Jenkins, Frostee Rucker, and Tyson Jackson still looking for new deals. While most of these guys can still play, they may have to wait awhile — possibly into the summer — before signing on with their next club. Jared Odrick (Patriots) and Vance Walker (Bears) have both taken visits, but the most intriguing lineman here may be Sen’Derrick Marks, who offers a good amount of pass rush from the interior.

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Extra Points: Raiders, Holmes, Whitworth

The latest from around the NFL:

PFR’s Top 50 NFL Free Agents

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Top 2017 Free Agents By Position 2.0: Defense

NFL free agency gets underway on Thursday and while the list of free agents will change between now and then, we do have some idea of who will be available when free agency kicks off. Here is our updated outlook for each defensive and special teams position.

Listed below are our rankings for the top 15 free agents at each defensive position. These rankings aren’t necessarily determined by the value of the contracts – or the amount of guaranteed money – that each player is expected to land in free agency. These are simply the players we like the most at each position, with both short- and long-term value taken into account.

Restricted and exclusive-rights free agents, as well as franchised players aren’t listed here, since the roadblocks in place to hinder another team from actually acquiring most of those players prevent them from being true free agents.

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

Here’s our breakdown of the current top 15 free agents by defensive position for this offseason:

Edge defender:

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

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

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

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

Interior defensive line:

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

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

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

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

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PFR’s Top 50 NFL Free Agents For 2017 1.0

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saints To Release Jairus Byrd

The Saints will release safety Jairus Byrd on the first day of the league year, March 9, per Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (Twitter link). If it doesn’t designate Byrd as a post-June 1 cut, New Orleans will save $3.2MM in 2017 by moving on from Byrd, but it’ll also be on the hook for $8MM in dead money. Should the Saints use the June designation, though, it would free up $7.8MM in space for this year.

Jairus Byrd (Vertical)

Byrd joined the Saints as a free agent in 2014, when he inked a six-year, $56MM deal featuring $28MM in guarantees. The gamble didn’t go according to plan for the Saints, as Byrd was unable to consistently flash the star-caliber ability he often showed in Buffalo from 2009-13. Byrd made three Pro Bowls and intercepted a whopping 22 passes in 73 games during his five-year stretch with the Bills. However, he totaled just three picks in three years in New Orleans, where he appeared in 33 games and made 32 starts.

To his credit, the 30-year-old Byrd is coming off his first 16-start season since 2012. He picked up 82 tackles and two interceptions in the process, and his performance ranked a middle-of-the-pack 46th among Pro Football Focus‘ 89 qualified safeties. He’ll now head back to the open market as one of the most established safeties available in a class of free agents that could also include the likes of Tony Jefferson, Duron Harmon and Barry Church, among others.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Saints Benching Jairus Byrd

The Saints are planning on moving veteran safety Jairus Byrd to the bench, tweets Ian Rapoport of NFL.com. Other changes could also be coming to the New Orleans defense, which ranks 30th in DVOA through three weeks, per Rapoport.Jairus Byrd (Vertical)

[RELATED: New Orleans Saints Depth Chart]

Byrd, 29, has struggled through three games this season, and was notably beaten by running back Devonta Freeman and the Falcons last week. It’s a small sample size to be sure, but Byrd currently ranks as the No. 49 safety in the league among 74 qualifiers, according to Pro Football Focus. Second-round rookie Vonn Bell will presumably see more snaps with Byrd headed to the sideline.

“I think the status quo sometimes can be your enemy,” head coach Sean Payton told reporters, including Nick Underhill of the Advocate, earlier this week. “I think you look at every area, not just one specific area. No different to the meeting schedule to how they are practicing, you look at all of that.”

The Saints signed Byrd to a six-year, $54MM deal prior to the 2014 campaign, and that contract has proven to be one of the worst free agent accords in recent memory. Strapped for cap space, New Orleans converted a portion of Byrd’s 2015 base salary into a signing bonus, making it even more difficult to part ways with the defensive back.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Brees, Haden, Others Get Salary Guarantees

Several NFL players are on contracts containing language stating that they’ll get a full or partial salary guarantee for the 2016 season if they remained on their respective teams beyond the third day after this year’s Super Bowl. That third day came and went on Wednesday, and while not every player with a guarantee deadline locked in that money – Nate Allen was cut by the Raiders, while Dannell Ellerbe reworked his deal with New Orleans – most of those guys had their contracts remain untouched.Drew Brees

Per Joel Corry of CBSSports.com, here are the players who were assured of full or partial salary guarantees for 2016 after remaining under contract on Wednesday:

  • Drew Brees, QB (Saints): $10.85MM of $19.75MM base salary for 2016 now fully guaranteed. This gives Brees a little extra leverage in contract negotiations with the Saints, but doesn’t drastically change his outlook — he’ll be back in New Orleans next season, likely with an extension in hand.
  • Joe Haden, CB (Browns): $10.1MM base salary for 2016 now fully guaranteed. Concussion issues wiped out most of the 2015 season for Haden, but he was in no real danger of being cut before this amount – previously guaranteed for injury only – became fully guaranteed.
  • Jairus Byrd, S (Saints): $7.4MM base salary for 2016 now fully guaranteed. So far, Byrd hasn’t exactly lived up to the massive deal he signed with New Orleans two years ago, but there’s still so much dead money left on it that it makes sense for the team to keep him around.
  • Curtis Lofton, LB (Raiders): $3.5MM of $5.35MM base salary for 2016 now fully guaranteed. Lofton’s first year in Oakland certainly wasn’t his best, and the Raiders could’ve cleared his entire salary from their books if they’d cut him along with Allen, but the team has so much excess cap room that it can afford to bring back the veteran linebacker and hope for a better season.

While there are a few more contract guarantees to keep an eye on in February, including several for Seahawks players, most guarantee dates arrive in March, at – or shortly after – the start of the new league year. So we shouldn’t expect to see many teams cutting players to narrowly beat those guarantee deadlines for at least a few more weeks.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.