James Starks

Top 2017 Free Agents By Position 3.0: Offense

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 offensive 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 offensive position for 2017:

Quarterback:

  1. Jay Cutler
  2. Chase Daniel
  3. Ryan Fitzpatrick
  4. Colin Kaepernick
  5. Josh McCown
  6. Robert Griffin III
  7. Case Keenum
  8. Matt McGloin
  9. Mark Sanchez
  10. Christian Ponder
  11. Blaine Gabbert
  12. Ryan Nassib
  13. Shaun Hill
  14. Kellen Moore
  15. Austin Davis

Tony Romo is not a free agent…at least not yet. If the Cowboys do not find a suitable trade and release him, you’ll find him at the top of this list.

Laugh if you must, but Cutler is far and away the best quarterback available on the open market. While most of this year’s QB-needy teams are done with their free agent shopping, the Jets are still searching for their 2017 starter and no one would make more sense for them than Cutler. He’s not all that far removed from playing solid football and he’s a logical transitional option for the Jets until they can isolate a better, younger option for 2018. Jay Cutler (Vertical)

Kaepernick’s reps wisely told the press that he will be standing for the National Anthem this year. Still, Kaepernick is an outspoken guy who wants to use his platform to discuss hot button issues, so there’s no guarantee that the media circus around him will cease. Jets owner Woody Johnson loves seeing his team on the back pages of the New York tabloids, but even he has to have more sense than to entertain Kaepernick. McCown, who has been contact with the team, would be an okay choice if they can’t get something done with Cutler. Chase Daniel could be an option too, but there isn’t much game film on him.

Needless to say, the No. 3 ranked player on this list isn’t an option in New York.

Running back:

  1. Adrian Peterson
  2. LeGarrette Blount
  3. Jamaal Charles
  4. Rashad Jennings
  5. Tim Hightower
  6. DeAngelo Williams
  7. Chris Johnson
  8. Christine Michael
  9. Benny Cunningham
  10. Bobby Rainey
  11. Brandon Bolden
  12. Denard Robinson
  13. James Starks
  14. Matt Asiata
  15. Kenjon Barner

Honorable mention: DuJuan Harris, Antonio AndrewsKhiry Robinson

Adrian Peterson (vertical)The Vikings have moved on and Peterson will not be back in Minnesota. Where he goes from here is anyone’s guess. When Peterson’s option was declined by the Vikings earlier this month, there were tons of stories (likely sourced by Peterson’s camp) about interest from a litany of contenders. Since then, each team – through anonymous sources – has denied being in the mix for the veteran. It would be easy to doubt Peterson at this juncture, but he has come back from serious injuries multiple times in his career and he is only one year removed from his stellar 2015 campaign. He gets the top spot over the bruising Blount as well as Charles, who hasn’t been healthy in a long while.

Jennings was brought to New York with the idea that he would be the team’s workhorse. Unfortunately, two of his three seasons with the G-Men were marred by injury. Jennings is currently putting his agility to good use on Dancing With The Stars and it remains to be seen how committed he is to football. After that, we have a trio of vets (Hightower, Williams, CJ2K) who could still advance the ball in limited spurts.

In case you’re wondering – Mike Gillislee is not listed here because he is a restricted free agent.

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Top 2017 Free Agents By Position 2.0: Offense

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:

Updated 3-7-2017, 2:55pm CT

Quarterback:

  1. Mike Glennon
  2. Nick Foles
  3. Brian Hoyer (story)
  4. Ryan Fitzpatrick
  5. Colin Kaepernick
  6. Josh McCown
  7. Case Keenum
  8. Matt McGloin
  9. Mark Sanchez
  10. Ryan Mallett
  11. Christian Ponder
  12. Blaine Gabbert
  13. Geno Smith
  14. Matt Schaub (story)
  15. EJ Manuel

Honorable mention: Ryan Nassib, Landry JonesShaun Hill Mike Glennon (vertical)

Colin Kaepernick’s agents have (wisely) let everyone know that their client will stand for the National Anthem in 2017. That may seem like a minor point, but teams say they would have automatically removed him from consideration if he continued his attention-grabbing protest. He grabbed headlines for his actions on the sidelines last year, but he actually turned in an OK season. From a football standpoint, Kaepernick would make sense for a lot of teams as a QB2 with upside.

Interestingly, this list includes three quarterbacks who couldn’t cut it as the Jets’ starter and three rejects from the 49ers. They say that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure and all six of those players (Ryan Fitzpatrick, Kaepernick, Mark Sanchez, Geno Smith, Christian Ponder, Blaine Gabbert) come with varying degrees of potential and proven effectiveness. Smith, somehow, could reportedly be retained by the Jets and installed as the starter in 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.

Running back:

  1. Eddie Lacy
  2. Adrian Peterson
  3. LeGarrette Blount
  4. Latavius Murray
  5. Jamaal Charles
  6. Darren McFadden
  7. Jacquizz Rodgers
  8. Rex Burkhead
  9. Rashad Jennings
  10. Danny Woodhead
  11. Tim Hightower
  12. DeAngelo Williams
  13. Andre Ellington
  14. Chris Johnson
  15. Christine Michael

Honorable mention: Robert Turbin, Travaris Cadet, Benny Cunningham, Lance Dunbar, Bobby Rainey, Brandon BoldenDenard Robinson, James Starks

Adrian Peterson (vertical)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.

The Patriots believe they won’t be able to match the offers that come in LeGarrette Blount‘s direction. Latavius Murray could circle back to the Raiders, but he won’t be agreeing to a deal with them before free agency opens on Thursday.

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.

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Extra Points: Trufant, Falcons, Packers, Bucs

Falcons cornerback Desmond Trufant may have missed the final half of the regular season and his team’s entire playoff run, but the 26-year-old is still in line to get a hefty payday. Speaking to ESPN.com’s Vaughn McClure, general manager Thomas Dimitroff said the organization will look to extend the 2013 first-rounder this offseason.

“He’s a top-tier corner, no question about it,” Dimitroff said. “We believe that he’s going to do some excellent things for us into the future.”

Trufant is signed through 2017 after the Falcons picked up his fifth-year option (worth an estimated $8MM). The four-year veteran was plenty productive through his team’s first nine games, compiling 31 tackles, two sacks, two forced fumbles, and an interception. While several defensive backs, including former second-rounder Jalen Collins, stepped up in Trufant’s absense, Dimitroff was still adamant that the cornerbacks were led by the former Pro Bowler.

“Trufant’s value has not dropped at all,” Dimitroff said. “We are really excited about having Trufant back and [Robert] Alford back and Jalen Collins back and Brian Poole back. And then the other guys who have contributed to us this year in [C.J.] Goodwin and Deji Olatoye. Those guys are a real cool and encouraging group of secondary [players], and the guy who is at the front of that is Trufant.”

Let’s take a look at some other notes as we wrap up this Tuesday evening…

  • Trufant isn’t the only player who the Falcons are looking to extend. McClure writes that the organization is also trying to lock up quarterback Matt Ryan and running back Devonta Freeman“Our focus in free agency is to, again, focus on the guys on our team to get them done first,” Dimitroff said. “It’s probably this year more than any, it’s where our focus is.”
  • The Falcons have received “multiple requests” from other teams to interview their assistant coaches, tweets Alex Marvez of The Sporting News. The reporter notes that some coaches will be allowed to talk to opposing teams while others will not.
  • By releasing running back James Starks earlier today, the Packers created more than $2.8MM in salary cap space, tweets former NFL agent Joel Corry. The transaction left a reasonable $750K of dead money on the team’s cap.
  • The Buccaneers worked out long snapper Kameron Canaday today, reports Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle (via Twitter). The former Portland State product won the Cardinals long snapper gig heading into the regular season, but he was released following a botched snap in Week 3. The Buccaneers did add a long snapper earlier today in Dax Dellenbach, but that shouldn’t prevent the team from adding another player for competition.

Packers Cut RB James Starks

The Packers have cut running back James Starks, according to the league’s official transactions wire. Starks’ release comes under the non-football injury designation. The running back finished the season in concussion protocol following a car accident and that’s presumably the driving force behind the NFI tag. James Starks

The Packers were without starter Eddie Lacy for much of the season and a good chunk of Starks’ absence overlapped with that period. The injuries forced Green Bay to get creative in the backfield, turning to wide receiver Ty Montgomery as a ball carrier. The Packers also had former Chiefs running back Knile Davis on the roster for a cup of coffee, but he did not do much in his brief time there.

All in all, Starks finished the season with 145 yards off of 63 carries plus 19 catches for 134 yards and two scores. The 2.3 yards-per-carry average stands as the worst of his career.

Starks will turn 31 on Feb. 25 – a very advanced age for any tailback – so it remains to be seen how much interest he’ll encounter once he’s healthy. It’s also possible that he considers retirement after a productive seven-year career which includes one Super Bowl ring. If the Packers bring him back, it will almost certainly be at a lower rate than the $3MM he was slated to make in ’17.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

North Notes: Bell, Bengals, Pack, Bears, Lions

While it appears the Steelers will retain impending free agent running back Le’Veon Bell beyond this season, whether via the franchise tag or a long-term deal, the 24-year-old said Friday that his contract isn’t a concern at the moment. “I haven’t even been paying attention to that. I’m just playing football,” Bell stated regarding his future (via Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com). Led by Bell’s 298 total yards (262 rushing, 36 receiving) and three touchdowns, the Steelers knocked off Buffalo, 27-20, last Sunday to improve to an AFC North-leading 8-5.

More from the NFL’s North divisions:

  • Bengals receiver A.J. Green is targeting a Dec. 24 return from a hamstring injury, a source told Bob Holzman of ESPN. The five-time Pro Bowler hasn’t played since Nov. 20, and even though the 5-7-1 Bengals are basically out of the playoff hunt, he has vowed to come back this season.
  • Packers running back James Starks was in a car crash Monday and is now in the concussion protocol, coach Mike McCarthy told reporters Thursday (link via NFL.com’s Marc Sessler). It sounds like Starks is not in any kind of medical danger, but his status for this week is in question. It’s not clear whether he will be able to go in Week 16 or 17.
  • Bears wideout Marquess Wilson fractured his left foot in practice Friday for the third time since 2015, according to Jeff Dickerson of ESPN.com. Head coach John Fox is unsure if Wilson will need surgery, but the Bears are likely to place him on injured reserve prior to Sunday’s game against Green Bay. This injury could potentially end Wilson’s tenure with the Bears, as the 2013 seventh-round pick will be a free agent in the offseason. The 24-year-old has hauled in nine passes for 160 yards and a touchdown this season, and has amassed 56 receptions and three scores in 31 career games.
  • Lions practice squad linebacker Steve Longa is now being paid an active roster rate, according to Field Yates of ESPN.com (on Twitter). That could indicate another team tried to sign Longa away from Detroit.
  • The Lions worked out two defensive backs, Tony Burnett and Forrest Hightower, and linebacker Deon Lacey this week, Justin Rogers of The Detroit News tweets.

Zach Links contributed to this post.

Eddie Lacy, Sam Shields Won’t Return For Packers

The Packers announced that they are activating cornerback Makinton Dorleant from injured reserve. The move means that running back Eddie Lacy and cornerback Sam Shields can not return this year. Eddie Lacy (vertical)

Lacy had surgery on his injured ankle roughly one month ago, but there was a glimmer of hope that he could see the field again this season. The injury was unfortunate since Lacy trimmed down this season and was boasting a career-best 5.1 yards-per-carry average on 71 attempts. The bruising tailback went down around the same time as top backup James Starks, leaving Green Bay with a major hole at running back.

This fall, Shields suffered his fourth reported concussion in the past six seasons. When healthy, Shields is regarded as one of the better cornerbacks in the entire NFL. However, given his concussion issues, it’s fair to wonder if he’ll ever return to that form. Today, the Packers opted to promote a rookie cornerback over Shields, and that is telling.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Packers To Promote RB Don Jackson

The Packers are a bit shorthanded at running back after James Starks underwent surgery yesterday, so the club will promote RB Don Jackson from their practice squad, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (Twitter link). No corresponding move has been announced as of yet.Don Jackson (Vertical)

[RELATED: Green Bay Packers Depth Chart]

Starks will likely be out “about four weeks” after going under the knife to repair a knee issue on Sunday morning, Mike Garafolo of NFL.com tweets. Eddie Lacy, who is nursing an injury of his own, is the only other true running back on the Green Bay roster. Wide receivers Randall Cobb and Ty Montgomery are options to line up in backfield, but Jackson will give the club an actual back.

This morning, head coach Mike McCarthy left the door open to signing a running back (and/or a cornerback), but he acknowledged that it might be difficult to pull off without thinning out the team in another area, as ESPN.com’s Rob Demovsky wrote. However, the need for another RB apparently outweighed any concern the Packers had about robbing Peter to pay Paul.

Jackson, 23, is an undrafted rookie free agent that originally signed with Green Bay over the summer. After being waived, he’s spent the year on the Packers’ taxi squad.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Packers RB James Starks Undergoes Surgery

Packers running back James Starks underwent knee surgery this morning and will miss several weeks of action, according to Jay Glazer of FOX Sports (Twitter link). Starks had already been announced as out for today’s game against the Cowboys.James Starks

[RELATED: Packers Activate Mike Pennel]

Starks, 30, re-signed with Green Bay on a two-year deal this spring. Through four games, he had managed 24 carries in relief of starter Eddie Lacy, posting a paltry 1.8 yards per carry and no touchdowns. During his seven-year career, Starks has rushed for more 2,400 yards and scored nine times, all with the Packers.

Lacy is dealing with an injury of his own (ankle) but will be able to start today, and the Packers opted not to add another running back to their roster in advance of today’s contest. As Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com reported yesterday, Green Bay will rely on receivers Randall Cobb and Ty Montgomery to backup Lacy, given that fullback Aaron Ripkowski is the only other ball-carrier on the 53.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Packers Activate Pennel, Goodson

The Packers will be without James Starks against the Cowboys but did not promote a running back from the practice squad to help their backfield’s depth. Instead, the team activated defensive lineman Mike Pennel and cornerback Demetri Goodson, Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com reports.

Granted one-game roster exemptions for both players coming off four-game suspensions, Green Bay waited a week to activate each backup contributor. The Packers’ cutting quarterback Joe Callahan earlier this week left them with an empty roster spot, and they waived defensive tackle Brian Price to clear another space, per Demovsky.

A third-year player coming off a substance-abuse suspension, Pennel made five starts for the Packers last season. He’s played in 29 games over the past two years after joining the Packers as a UDFA in 2014. The former Colorado State-Pueblo performer registered a sack, forced a fumble and made 24 tackles last season. He’s expected to join Christian Ringo and Dean Lowry among the Packers’ backups up front.

Goodson has also been a backup for the past two seasons, playing in 20 games since being taken in the sixth round last year. The former Gonzaga point guard served a four-game PED ban and will help a depleted Packers cornerback corps that’s still without Sam Shields. Opposite starter Damarious Randall is questionable, with nickel man Quinten Rollins potentially out for Week 6 as well. Both are battling groin injuries. So, Goodson could be called upon in the event the duo is unable to go.

Starks suffered a meniscus injury this week and could be out for multiple games, according to Demovsky, so Green Bay’s backfield could take on an interesting dynamic considering no other backup running back resides on the active roster. Randall Cobb and Ty Montgomery could be called upon for spot-duty carries behind Eddie Lacy, Jason Wilde of ESPN.com tweets. Fullback Aaron Ripkowski is the only other active-roster ball-carrier.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Packers Re-Sign James Starks

MARCH 22, 9:40am: The Packers have officially re-signed Starks, the team announced today on its website. Full details on the new contract can be found right here.

MARCH 18, 8:56am: Starks’ new deal is for two years and $6MM, reports Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (via Twitter).

7:58am: The Packers have agreed to terms on a new deal with free agent running back James Starks, according to Adam Caplan of ESPN.com, who reports (via Twitter) that Starks will be returning to Green Bay for the 2016 season.James Starks

Starks, who turned 30 last month, had his best NFL season in 2015, rushing for 601 yards and two touchdowns, and adding another 392 yards and three TDs through the air. Although the veteran back didn’t enter the season atop the team’s depth chart, his 148 carries were a career high and weren’t far off from the 187 recorded by Eddie Lacy, who wasn’t in top shape in 2015.

The Packers haven’t been very active in free agency this month, but when they have made moves, they’ve generally locked up their own players. In addition to reaching an agreement with Starks, the club also re-signed outside linebacker Nick Perry, brought back offensive lineman Lane Taylor, and extended kicker Mason Crosby.

Prior to agreeing to a deal to remain in Green Bay, Starks paid a visit to the Patriots last week.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.