Josh McCown

AFC East Notes: Jets, Darnold, Dolphins

If it wasn’t apparent Thursday night, when Sam Darnold received his first preseason start, Ralph Vacchiano of SNY.tv notes many in the Jets organization want the rookie to start in Week 1. Taking this route would likely mean Gang Green finding a trade partner for Teddy Bridgewater, and given the way he’s looked thus far, there are surely some teams who will be interested.

However, Vacchiano adds that Bridgewater “intrigues” Todd Bowles. Josh McCown isn’t likely to receive much preseason work, but Vacchiano notes that’s not indicative of his performance. Bowles observed McCown work throughout last season, so he knows what he has in the 39-year-old incumbent.

Here’s more from the AFC East:

  • A few Dolphins players on the bubble have made a case for strong consideration in the past couple of weeks, Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald writes. Suddenly, players previously thought to be facing long odds like defensive end Jonathan Woodard and wide receiver Francis Owusu have a real chance at making the cut. If Owusu makes the cut, that could spell bad news for former third-round pick Leonte Carroo.
  • More from Jackson, who writes that the Dolphins are unlikely trade for Bridgewater, despite their previous interest in him. The Jets QB is on a one-year deal worth $5MM and could make a lot more through incentives, so the Dolphins are unlikely to pay out that contract and give up a draft pick unless a big need develops. That need has yet to develop as Ryan Tannehill is healthy and David Fales continues to look solid in reserve.
  • On Friday morning, the Patriots learned that first-round pick Isaiah Wynn is done for the season.

Sam Robinson contributed to this post.

Poll: Which Team Best Addressed QB Spot This Offseason?

This turned out to be an important year for quarterback acquisitions. Many teams’ short- and long-term futures will depend heavily on the players they added over the past two months.

A fourth of the NFL made major investments in outside talent at the quarterback position this offseason. Which team did you think is in the best position after all the dominoes fell?

Three teams acquired their unquestioned starters via trade or free agency. The Redskins’ trade for Alex Smith ensured they were not going to pick a quarterback in the draft. As did the Vikings’ subsequent Kirk Cousins agreement. The Broncos entered the draft as a borderline QB destination, but John Elway valued Bradley Chubb more than Josh Allen or Josh Rosen, eschewing a Bills offer that would have given his team extra first- and second-round picks. So, Case Keenum is going to be Denver’s starter.

Four of the five teams that used first-round picks on quarterbacks made sure to add bridge-type solutions, with the Browns moving first to get Tyrod Taylor. The Jets and Cardinals then respectively proceeded to bring in Josh McCown, Teddy Bridgewater, Sam Bradford and Mike Glennon. And the Bills made the final stopgap addition in A.J. McCarron. But these players, for the most part, are 2018 placeholders — at best.

Was Baker Mayfield worth the No. 1 overall pick? Or did the Browns make what could turn out to be the costliest of their spree of modern quarterback misjudgments last month? Several Cleveland executives independently rated Mayfield as the draft’s premier passer, going against the grain of the many teams that viewed Sam Darnold as this year’s top passing prospect. The Jets appear to have appreciated this bold move, and Darnold is almost certainly going to see extensive time in 2018. PFR readers believe he will.

The Bills worked the phones relentlessly in an effort to install Allen behind McCarron, and the Cardinals reportedly had the Wyoming prodigy rated as their top QB as well. But Allen could need extensive seasoning, and as of now, a returning playoff team has a fifth-year player with 133 career pass attempts set to open the season and possibly close it as the starter.

Conversely, the player the Cardinals invested in was tabbed by many draft experts as the readiest pro. And Bradford being in front of Rosen for 16 games may be asking a lot from the injury-prone veteran. The Ravens are already planning Jackson packages, and although the player whom some teams wanted to work out as a wide receiver may need a season to develop, this draft’s most dominant college QB resides in Baltimore behind Joe Flacco.

Armed with one of the league’s most talented rosters, Minnesota had the most obvious case to pursue a veteran. And the Vikings made history by authorizing a $28MM-AAV fully guaranteed deal for the soon-to-be 30-year-old Cousins, who may be the safest option among all of these players. But he’s now the league’s second-highest-paid passer and tethered to the Vikings through 2020. Smith is coming off his best NFL season, but his Chiefs teams disappointed in two home playoff opportunities. Washington could also be much further away from contention than Minnesota, and the Redskins have now brought in quarterback who for all the stability he offers is four years older.

It’s debatable the Broncos’ contention window could still be open, with many of their core Super Bowl 50 performers still on the team and having played the past two seasons without much help at quarterback. But a 5-11 team armed with only its second top-five pick since 1992 passing on two coveted QB prospects to pursue the 30-year-old Keenum, a late-blooming talent or a player who benefited from better circumstances, could also be classified as a bold choice as Rosen and Allen’s careers unfold. The Broncos only committed to Keenum for two years and are paying Football Outsiders’ No. 4 2017 DYAR passer $10MM less per year than Cousins commanded.

So, with all things considered, which of these franchises is best set up after this offseason? Did one of the teams that spent a first-round pick on a QB ensure a decade and then some of stability and promise? Or did the teams that went strictly for vets get this right? Vote in PFR’s latest poll and weigh in with your thoughts in the comments section!

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Extra Points: Jets, Giants, Eagles, Broncos, Chiefs, Vikings

With the selection of Sam Darnold at No. 3 in the 2018 NFL Draft, the Jets brought their quarterback room to five. The USC product joined Josh McCown, Teddy Bridgewater, Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg. Newsday’s Calvin Watkins, however, notes that number is expected to shrink by the time the team heads to training camp in July.

The two obvious candidates to be moved or released are Petty and Hackenberg. The former has failed to impress in seven starts, and the latter, despite having a cannon for an arm, has yet to make an appearance in his first two seasons.

Even if one of the two make it to training camp, another move is likely to come as keeping four quarterbacks would handicap the team at other positions. In addition to Darnold, it would be hard to see the veteran McCown not making the squad. The journeyman is viewed as invaluable in the locker room and is the perfect candidate to help the young Darnold learn the ropes of the NFL.

Bridgewater, however, is no lock to make the roster. As Watkins notes, the former Vikings signal-caller receives a $5MM base salary if he makes the team. If not, the Jets are only out the $500,000 signing bonus. If he proves he is back to his pre-injury form, New York will have a steal. If not, the team can cut bait with minimal salary implications.

Here’s more from around the league:

  • The Broncos did not endure a turnover in the scouting department following this weekend’s draft, 9 News’ Mike Klis tweets. In the wake of the annual draft, it is not uncommon for teams to part ways with scouts and personnel department. Team president John Elway, however, decided to bring everyone back.
  • The Chiefs hired Eagles assistant director of college scouting Michael Bradway to an undisclosed position, Geoff Mosher of 97.5 The Fanatic in Philadelphia tweets. Mosher notes Bradway, who was with the Eagles for seven seasons, joins back up with Chiefs general manager Brett Veach, who also spent time in Philadelphia.
  • The Giants attempted to trade into the back end of the second round to select Georgia linebacker Lorenzo Carter, the New York Post’s Paul Schwartz writes. Though a deal did not form, New York was still able to pluck the speedy edge rusher when he fell to their third-round pick (No. 66). “What you have to appreciate is his unseen production. If he is flying off the edge, he is creating pressure. Sometimes you are looking at guys that create plays for others.,” general manager Dave Gettleman said.
  • The Eagles drafted their fewest players since 1989 when it emerged from the draft with only five selections. That is not a spot the team wants to be in again, general manager Howie Roseman told The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Les Bowen. “I think it’s a hard first couple of days for people who put a lot of time and effort into the process, and you see that,” Roseman said. “The last two days, it’s hard. A lot of guys get off the board, so we don’t want to do that again. I think that’s the first takeaway.”
  • Vikings center Pat Elflein is doing “part work” in spring drills but is not going to be ready for OTAs, the player told Chris Tomasson of the St. Paul Pioneer Press (Twitter link). Elflein suffered a fractured left ankle in the NFC Championship game on Jan. 21 and underwent surgery the following week. “We’re just not rushing it. I’m just trying to get myself back in shape and get strong and be ready to go.,” Elflein said.

QB Market Fallout: Cousins, Cards, McCown

The 2018 quarterback market sent several players to new teams as likely starters. But Kirk Cousins was clearly the prize. Three teams submitted offers. Here’s the latest fallout from the Cousins deal as well as teams’ decisions to sign other quarterbacks, courtesy of TheMMQB’s Peter King.

  • While King reports the Broncos indeed did not submit an offer to Cousins’ agent, Mike McCartney, the Cardinals did. They pitched their Patrick Peterson– and David Johnson-fronted core of young players, but McCartney told King Arizona finished third in this derby. Steve Keim was the first GM to call McCartney on Monday morning when the tampering period began, but McCartney told King he called Keim back that night and could not confirm Cousins would visit Arizona. The Cards then pivoted to Sam Bradford.
  • As reports over the weekend confirmed, the Jets were second, per King. McCartney didn’t confirm to King the Jets made the best offer, but both Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News and ESPN’s Rich Cimini reported they proposed a $30MM fully guaranteed deal, but he said New York pitched its cap space and Cousins’ familiarity with the kind of offense new OC Jeremy Bates would run. However, McCartney placed a call to Mike Maccagnan at 9:15 a.m. Tuesday and could not guarantee Cousins would visit. “That was a tough phone call,” McCartney said, via King. “They were clearly frustrated. They wanted to be guaranteed a visit. I told them I couldn’t guarantee a visit, that if he goes to Minnesota and loves it, he could sign. They were not happy about that. I understand, but I told everyone all along what the rules were, and we abided by them.”
  • Envisioning a “silent auction”-type format, McCartney told teams to come in with their best offers. However, he appeared to be surprised the Broncos didn’t make one. King reports John Elway liked Keenum “a lot” and didn’t want to pay “in the neighborhood” of $30MM per year for Cousins. The price tags for the slew of veterans on the Broncos’ roster, many of whom lobbied for Cousins to come to Denver, influenced Elway’s Keenum choice to sign Keenum for $18MM AAV. King adds Elway did not want the process to drag into Thursday or Friday and his roster not having a starter-caliber veteran quarterback on it.
  • The Jets immediately began talking to McCartney about one of his other clients, Josh McCown, but their $10MM offer — a career most for the soon-to-be 39-year-old quarterback — may have come because the Bills were strong pursuers as well. King reports Buffalo was “seriously interested” in McCown, who signed for $4MM more than he did last year. Buffalo ended up landing A.J. McCarron for less money per season.
  • The seven-team research list McCartney’s office compiled earlier this offseason included the final four teams, but also featured the Bills, Browns and Dolphins. Going into the final week, King notes McCartney and Cousins felt the Jets and Vikings had the edge but acknowledged the Broncos and Cardinals were still in the mix. McCartney told teams a fully guaranteed contract was important during this process. It’s unclear if the Cardinals offered that, but the other two proposals were for fully guaranteed deals. The agent confirmed only the Vikings, Cardinals and Jets made offers, and Minnesota’s included the pitch of possibly being in position to win multiple titles with Cousins as the missing piece. King notes Minnesota’s new stadium and new facility also surfaced during the team’s over-the-phone proposal.

Jets Offered Kirk Cousins $30MM Per Year?

A report emerged Friday that the Vikings did not make the best offer for Kirk Cousins, and it was rather easy to speculate which franchise did. And some details on the Jets’ process have emerged.

The Jets may well have been the runners-up for Cousins, and they are believed to have made a $30MM-per-year offer for the quarterback, Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News reports.

Cousins’ agent, Mike McCartney, said the Vikings’ offer was “not even close” to the best for his client. And a previous report had the Jets ready to offer a boatload for the 29-year-old passer. And it’s quite possible they could have offered a $30MM-AAV fully guaranteed deal. That would have qualified as a better proposal than what Cousins accepted.

While the Vikings didn’t make the best offer, the one they did make comes with some historic provisions: an $84MM fully guaranteed deal, a no-trade clause and the prevention of placing the franchise tag on Cousins once the deal expires, Mehta reports.

During his press conference in Minnesota, the now-wealthier quarterback said he did some scouting on the city while he was in town for Super Bowl week, informing his wife that “everything was checking the boxes” in Minnesota. The Redskins agreed to trade for Alex Smith while Cousins was in Minneapolis, so the Vikings may have been the frontrunners from the start — even though it wasn’t yet known if they were going to place the franchise tag on Case Keenum. Mehta adds Cousins was not believed to have made a trip to the New York/New Jersey area for Jets-scouting purposes.

As far as the Jets go, being so committed to chasing Cousins harmed their free agency prospects, Mehta writes. Although they feared the Vikings in this chase, they were still holding out hope as of Tuesday morning he could be swayed to come to New York. The Jets reporter notes the team could not make sizable financial proposals on Monday because of the commitment they would have needed to make to Cousins if he were to sign with them. Mehta reports the Jets gave Cousins a deadline on Tuesday morning.

After Cousins-to-Minnesota became an accepted reality on Tuesday, however, the Jets sprang into action — most notably with their Trumaine Johnson commitment. New York signed both Josh McCown and Teddy Bridgewater to serve as a bridge to the likely passer the team will draft at No. 3 overall.

Another theory at Jets headquarters is McCartney helped arrange Cousins going to Minnesota to help Josh McCown — also a McCartney client — receive a better Jets offer. While that may be a bit extreme, since McCown got $4MM more in 2018 ($10MM) than he did in 2017, Mehta reports that is a real sentiment with the Jets.

Jets Acquire No. 3 Pick From Colts

The Jets are moving up. The team has acquired the third-overall pick from the Colts (via Indy’s Twitter). In exchange, the Jets have sent Indy their first-rounder (No. 6) a pair of upcoming seconds (No. 37 and No. 49), and a 2019 second-round pick.

NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport reports (via Twitter) that the Jets “explored all options,” including the possibility of adding the top-overall pick from the Browns. Meanwhile, the Colts heard offers from several teams, but they ultimately felt good about the package they received from the Jets.

The general consensus seems to be that the Jets will ultimately use their new pick to take a quarterback. By acquiring the selection, the organization is assuring that they can take one of the top prospects in the draft, a list that includes Sam Darnold, Josh Allen, Josh Rosen, and Baker Mayfield. Of course, choosing a quarterback with the third pick will only complicate the Jets’ quarterback plans heading into 2018.

Assuming they take a quarterback in the draft, the team will clearly be leaning on the youngster to lead the organization in the future. However, for at least next season, the Jets would likely turn to veteran Josh McCown for the starting gig. After re-signing McCown earlier this week, the organization reportedly told the signal-caller that he’ll be their starter next season. The Jets also added Teddy Bridgewater, and they’re rostering Bryce PettyChristian Hackenberg, and Joel StaveAt least two of those latter three quarterbacks will be let go prior to the season.

In recent years, we’ve seen several teams trade into a top-three selection in the draft. Last season, the Bears moved up to No. 2 and sent San Francisco No. 3, No. 67, and No. 111. In 2017, the Titans traded the No. 1 pick (along with No. 113 and No. 177) to the Rams for No. 15, No. 43, No. 45, and No. 76 (along with a first- and third-rounder in 2017). That same year, the Browns traded No. 2 (and a conditional fifth-rounder) to Philly for No. 8, No. 77, No. 100, a 2017 first-rounder, and a 2018 second-rounder.

What does this all mean? Well, it seems like both teams could justify the haul they gave up/received. According to ProFootballTalk.com’s “Draft Trade Chart,” Indy received solid value for the No. 3 pick. That selection was given a value of 2,200, and their new 2018 selections equal out to a 2,540 value (that also doesn’t account for the 2019 second-rounder). From that perspective, you could argue that the Colts won the trade. However, when you consider the trades from previous seasons, the Jets did an admirable job of not including an additional first-rounder in the package.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Josh McCown Told He’ll Be Jets Starting QB

The Jets have signed Teddy Bridgewater, but he won’t be their starting quarterback. Calvin Watkins of Newsday.com reports (via Twitter) that Josh McCown has been told he’ll be the starter. The veteran quarterback re-signed with the organization earlier today on a one-year, $10MM deal.

While the Jets may be content with who’s atop their depth chart, the rest of the quarterback corps is not as certain. Bridgewater is on board as a backup, but the organization is also considering some of the top rookie options with the No. 6 pick. To complicate matters, the team is currently rostering Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg (as well as Joel Stave). In other words, this isn’t the last we’ve heard of the Jets quarterback situation.

The 38-year-old McCown had arguably his best NFL season in 2017, leading the Jets to a 5-8 record in 13 starts. He finished the campaign having completed 67.3-percent of his passes for 2,926 yards, 18 touchdowns, and nine interceptions. As our own Zach Links pointed out earlier today, wideouts Robby Anderson and Jermaine Kearse played well with McCown. This means the veteran will likely be tasked with mentoring a higher-profile young passer than the ones he was previously tasked with tutoring.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Jets Agree To Re-Sign Josh McCown

This was not the news Jets fans were hoping for. After losing out on Kirk Cousins and Case Keenum, the Jets have agreed to re-sign veteran quarterback Josh McCown to a one-year deal, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (on Twitter).

McCown’s quality 2017 season will earn him a raise as well. The soon-to-be 39-year-old quarterback will make $10MM this season, Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News tweets. This comes in north of McCown’s $6MM agreement from 2017.

The Jets’ work at quarterback likely is not done. Gang Green is reportedly working on a new deal with Teddy Bridgewater and the Jets are almost certainly considering this year’s top quarterbacks with their No. 6 overall pick. Bridgewater may not be thrilled about the crowded nature of that QB depth chart, but he’d be hard-pressed to find a team willing to sign him without a contingency plan (or two).

This now could crowd the Jets’ quarterback room. Although the same three passers are under contract from last season, with Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg still on the roster, that’s going to change once the Jets’ draft concludes. And Bridgewater could still be an option, despite McCown’s arrival. The Jets won’t figure to have to pay too steep of a price to sign Bridgewater given his injury past, and whatever rookie the team selects will be attached to a cheap deal for years. Given the team’s cap setup, it can easily make a McCown-Bridgewater-rookie arrangement work.

McCown will now be set to play an 18th NFL season. But his 17th did well to help some Jets pass-catchers. He established new career highs with 18 touchdown passes, 2,926 passing yards and a 67 percent completion rate. Both Robby Anderson and Jermaine Kearse played well with McCown, who likely will now be tasked with mentoring a higher-profile young passer than the ones he was previously tasked with tutoring.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

AFC East Notes: Jets, Pats, Shelton

The Jets, armed with $90MM of salary cap space, are of course prepared to make a major push for this year’s Holy Grail of free agents, Kirk Cousins. But Gang Green has plenty of needs to fill outside of quarterback, and GM Mike Maccagnan is making no bones about his team’s anticipated activity level when free agency opens this week. Maccagnan said at the scouting combine, “Obviously we’ll be very active on the first day [of free agency] in terms of the higher profile guys. Everybody is well aware we have quite a bit of cap space to work with. There are quite a few players we’re interested in” (via Brian Costello of the New York Post).

Per Costello, the Jets are poised to re-sign Josh McCown if they fall short in their pursuit of Cousins. The team also needs upgrades at running back, center, and cornerback. Wide receiver and inside linebacker could also be positions that New York targets.

Now let’s take a look at a few more notes from the AFC East:

  • Dion Lewis‘ abilities as a runner and receiver allowed the Patriots to run all sorts of formations in 2017, but it is widely believed that he will not be back in New England in 2018. Fellow free agent Jerick McKinnon, who has thrived in a similar role in Minnesota, could be a logical replacement, per Phil Perry of NBCSports.com. However, even though McKinnon will not break the bank, Perry thinks it is more likely that the Pats re-sign Rex Burkhead and address their RB needs in the draft.
  • Ben Volin of the Boston Globe tweets that the newly-acquired Danny Shelton will count for $2.03MM against the Patriots‘ cap in 2018 (which matches his base salary). As we learned yesterday, New England will have to decide whether to exercise Shelton’s fifth-year option, which has a projected value of roughly $7MM, by early May. The Browns, meanwhile, will be saddled with about $1.7MM in dead money as a result of the trade, and Mike Reiss of ESPN.com says the 2018 fifth-round pick the Patriots received in the Shelton swap is expected to be Cleveland’s lower pick in the round, No. 159 overall. Reiss adds that New England, which shipped a 2019 third-rounder to the Browns, could recoup a third-round pick in next year’s draft through the compensatory system.
  • In the same piece linked above, Reiss says the Patriots will not stray from their usual financial discipline in their efforts to re-sign Danny Amendola, but given Amendola’s impressive 2017 campaign, he says other teams may view him as a pure No. 3 wideout instead of the No. 3/4 option with a limited workload that he has been with the Pats (and those teams could offer to pay him accordingly). As such, Amendola — who has taken pay cuts to remain with New England in the past — could have a harder-than-expected decision to make this month.
  • Reiss also sees Titans LB Avery Williamson as a “sleeper” target for the Patriots when free agency opens in a couple of days. Williamson is in his prime and gives New England the type of off-the-line LB it is looking for.
  • We learned earlier today that the Dolphins continue to contemplate moving on from Ndamukong Suh, though it makes more sense for the team to either retain him — perhaps with a restructured contract — or trade him than it does to simply cut him.

PFR’s Top 50 NFL Free Agents For 2018 1.0

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.

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