King Dunlap is calling it a career. The former Chargers offensive lineman will retire instead of pursuing an NFL gig in 2017, according to his agents (on Twitter).
Dunlap was released by the Chargers back in March and even though he is retiring today, he did have opportunities to play elsewhere, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (Twitter link). The Broncos were said to have some level of interest in Dunlap following his release, but we haven’t heard his name much in the last three months. That’s a sign that Dunlap has been thinking about hanging ’em up for a while now.
Dunlap, an Auburn product, entered the league as a seventh-round pick of the Eagles in 2008. After going No. 230 overall, he made several teams regret passing on him as he became a quality lineman for Philly. In his final year with the Eagles, Dunlap made 12 starts and parlayed that promotion into a free agent contract with San Diego.
In four years with the Chargers, Dunlap started in all 46 of his appearances. However, Pro Football Focus rated him as just the No. 53 tackle in the NFL last season in what was his second straight injury-shortened campaign. Dunlap, who turns 32 in September, will now get to heal from all of his nagging injuries as he exits football.
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:
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.
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.
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.
The market has been slow to develop for Aiken but it sounds like things could pick up soon as he’s set to meet with the Colts and Seahawks. Aiken, 28 in May, had only 29 receptions last year, but he had 75 grabs for 944 yards in 2015.
Cruz was on the field for 15 regular season games last year and he could recapture some of his old form if a team uses him in the slot. Quick quietly had 44 catches for 564 yards and three touchdowns with the Rams last year, and he was playing in a less-than-stellar offense. Boldin, meanwhile, had 67 catches in 2016, but he averaged just 8.7 yards per reception.
It’s a thin group at tight end and everything drops off dramatically after Tamme and Rivera at the top. Donnell made some noise during his time with the Giants but it’s been a while since he’s done anything of note. Tamme and Rivera could be the only two players from this group to land a deal with any real guaranteed cash.
Things have thinned out at tackle but there are still some impact guys here including Clady, Dunlap, and the versatile Pasztor. Sebastian Vollmer, if healthy, would be an interesting pickup for a team in need of offensive line depth.
Evans can still go and he finished out as Pro Football Focus’ No. 36 guard in the NFL last season. We have a few notable centers here as well in Mangold, Sullivan, and Barnes. Some teams are asking Mangold to switch to guard, but he is hoping to continue in the middle.
The Broncos are still in the market for a left tackle, and the club has interest in free agent King Dunlap, according to Troy Renck of Denver7. The Chargers released Dunlap to make room for ex-Denver lineman Russell Okung, so the AFC West rivals would essentially be swapping blindside protectors if Dunlap signs with the Broncos.
While Denver has invested in several offensive lineman this offseason — including Menelik Watson and Ronald Leary — the team still has a hole at left tackle. If the season started today, Watson would probably line up on the left side, but he played only 328 snaps last season and earned a poor grade from Pro Football Focus. Incumbent tackle Donald Stephenson can also play on the blindside, but his performance was worse than Watson’s in 2016.
Dunlap, then, would immediately slot in at left tackle for the Broncos, though his health questions would mean Watson or Stephenson might see the field at some point. Nagging injury issues have forced the 31-year-old Dunlap to miss 13 games over the past two seasons. But Dunlap was exceptional from 2013-14 when his health allowed him to play, and his level of production enticed the Chargers to sign him to an extension.
Denver is also willing to engage in trade talks in the search for a left tackle, per Renck, and possesses 10 draft picks which could be offered in deals. Speculatively, the Broncos could approach the Browns about Joe Thomas (something they’ve done before), but Cleveland has been adamant that it won’t entertain a Thomas trade. Other alternatives could include Jason Peters (Eagles), Jared Veldheer (Cardinals), or Donovan Smith (Buccaneers).
Dunlap was scheduled to earn a $500K bonus on Saturday. With Okung now slated to start at left tackle, Dunlap would have been too costly as a backup. Assuming Dunlap is being released as a pre-June 1 cut, this move will save L.A. $4.875MM while leaving $3.25MM in dead money.
In four years with the Chargers, Dunlap started in in all 46 of his appearances with the club. Pro Football Focus rated him as just the 53rd best tackle in the NFL in 2016, his second straight injury-shortened campaign. In the last two years, he has missed 13 regular season contests.
For comparison, PFF ranked Okung 38th among 78 qualified tackles last year. That was considered a down year for Okung, but he is still a clear upgrade over Dunlap.
Dunlap has a pending legal case after authorities alleged that he violated a restraining order against an ex-girlfriend. If the NFL finds there is something to those charges, he may face league discipline. His attorney has chalked that up to a miscommunication, but teams may hold off on pursuing him until that situation is cleared up.
While the Broncos would like to bring back left tackle Russell Okung, an AFC West rival could get in the way. The Chargers are likely to show “strong interest” in Okung when free agency opens Thursday, reports Mike Klis of 9News (Twitter link). Signing Okung would probably lead to the release of the Chargers’ current blindside starter, King Dunlap, tweets Michael Gehlken.
The Chargers are the latest of several teams in the chase for Okung, who can’t talk to clubs during the legal tampering period because he doesn’t have an agent. However, there’s a belief among some teams and agents that the Bolts have been in contact with Okung’s advisor, former agent Jimmy Halsell, writes Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk. If true, the Chargers would be in violation of the NFL’s tampering rules.
Okung previously negotiated his own contract last offseason, when he left Seattle for Denver, but his four-year, $48MM deal with the Broncos came with an escape clause for the team after 2016. The Broncos took advantage of it and will try to bring him back at a lesser cost. Okung, to his credit, posted the first 16-start season of his seven-year career with the Broncos. The 29-year-old didn’t play at an especially high level, though, as Pro Football Focus ranked his performance a middling 38th among 78 qualified tackles.
The site was less kind to Dunlap, whom it rated 53rd. The 31-year-old is coming off his second straight injury-shortened campaign, having combined for 19 appearances (12 last season) since 2015. A four-year Charger, Dunlap has started in all 46 of his appearances with the club. If done as as a pre-June 1 designation, cutting Dunlap would save the Bolts $4.875MM and leave with $3.25MM in dead money.
The Chargers are releasing wide receiver Stevie Johnson, according to former U-T San Diego reporter Michael Gehlken (on Twitter). The move will clear about $3.5MM in cap space.
Johnson ultimately played in 10 games for the Chargers after signing a three-year, $12MM deal with organization during the 2015 offseason. That year, the wideout collected 45 receptions for 497 yards and three touchdowns. The veteran ultimately missed the entire 2016 campaign after having surgery on his meniscus.
The 30-year-old has nine NFL seasons under his belt, including six with the Bills. From 2010 through 2012, Johnson averaged 79 receptions for 1041 yards and seven touchdowns.
Gehlken also notes (Twitter link) that tackle King Dunlap is scheduled to earn a $500K bonus if he is on the roster on March 18. Los Angeles is likely to release him or restructure his deal by then. Of course, they have time between now and the 3/18 deadline to make a move in that regard.
A new Rams coaching staff seems ready to give Greg Robinson another chance. Despite being benched late in a woeful third season, the underwhelming tackle remains a “big part” of the Rams’ plans going forward, Sean McVay said.
“When you see some of the things he’s able to do, you see the athleticism in space when he’s pulling around and using some of those perimeter schemes that they did offensively last year,” McVay said, via Alden Gonzalez of ESPN.com. “He’s a guy that we’re excited to get around.”
Gonzalez notes a possible course of action prior to McVay’s vote of confidence was simply moving on from Robinson, the No. 2 overall pick in 2014. Cutting Robinson, though, would not make much sense financially given that the team would not save any money — while incurring $6.77MM in dead money — by doing so. McVay did not specify whether he wants Robinson to remain at tackle or move to guard, a topic broached during interim HC John Fassel‘s stewardship. Robinson himself wasn’t eager to make a move to guard when asked about doing so in January.
Robinson committed a league-high 31 penalties between the 2015-16 seasons. The former Auburn tackle is entering the final season of his rookie deal, and the Rams have a fifth-year option decision coming on him soon.
Here’s more from some teams out west.
New Broncos quarterbacks coach Bill Musgrave turned down offensive coordinator jobs to reunite with Mike McCoy in Denver, Nicki Jhabvala of the Denver Post notes. Musgrave and McCoy each interviewed for the Broncos’ OC job. The pair coached together briefly with the Panthers in the early 2000s and spent the 1995 preseason together as backups to John Elway before the Broncos cut McCoy. Supplanted as the Raiders’ OC after two seasons, Musgrave was only previously connected to the Broncos’ OC job during the hiring period.
Elway probably would not have allowed Adam Peters to interview anywhere besides San Francisco, where he’s now the 49ers‘ VP of player personnel. The Broncos GM said (via Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle) he would have restricted a move elsewhere, but since he was going to help John Lynch as a first-time GM, Elway gave the go-ahead.
Despite using him as an evaluator during the 2013 draft process, Elway did not attempt to hire Lynch full-time with the Broncos due to his interest in staying as a television analyst, the Denver GM told Branch.
Matt Slauson figures to return for a second Chargers season, Michael Gehlken of the San Diego Union-Tribune notes, before adding that D.J. Fluker‘s future is less certain. Despite the Bolts picking up Fluker’s fifth-year option last year, Tom Telesco is unlikely to bring the converted guard back at the $8.8MM option price. Fluker’s 2017 salary is guaranteed against injury only, so the Chargers could cut him and save that money.
Gehlken also expects the newly relocated team to at least restructure King Dunlap‘s contract if not outright release the veteran left tackle. Dunlap, 31, is due to make $5.25MM and take up $8.125MM of Los Angeles’ cap. He’s due a $500K bonus if on the roster by March 18. The Chargers reworked Dunlap’s contract last year, converting $1.2MM of his $4.5MM salary into availability-based bonus payments. He earned back $800K of that $1.2MM last season. It would cost the Bolts $3.25MM in dead money to cut Dunlap.
The contract extensions the Cardinals awarded quarterback Carson Palmer and future Hall of Fame receiver Larry Fitzgerald on Friday extend the team’s Super Bowl window beyond this season, Josh Weinfuss of ESPN.com contends. As an added benefit, the Cardinals now have extra time to find a successor to the 36-year-old Palmer, and they no longer have to worry about losing two of their top wideouts – Fitzgerald and free agent-to-be Michael Floyd – at season’s end. Worst-case scenario, the Cardinals’ receiving corps will still contain Fitzgerald and John Brown in 2017.
Here’s more from the NFL’s two West divisions:
Palmer’s deal with the Cardinals features a $6.75MM signing bonus and fully guarantees his $15.5MM salary and bonus for 2017, according to Dan Graziano of ESPN.com. On the other hand, neither Palmer’s $12.5MM salary nor $1.5MM roster bonus for 2018 are guaranteed.
The Chiefs‘ signing of Nick Foles has no impact on Alex Smith‘s short- or long-term future with the club, according to head coach Andy Reid (via Adam Teicher of ESPN.com). “It’s Alex’s football team,” Reid said. “Nick knows that it’s Alex’s team. Alex knows it’s Alex’s team.” Foles, who was next to Reid, echoed that sentiment. Smith is under contract through 2018 after signing a four-year extension in September 2014.
The four-year extension the Chargers gave receiver Keenan Allen in June is the team’s best deal, opines Jason Fitzgerald of Over the Cap. Allen’s contract is worth $45MM, including $20.7MM in guarantees, which Fitzgerald regards as a bargain for a 24-year-old who has averaged 93 catches, 1,104 yards and seven touchdowns per 16 games during his three seasons in the NFL. Conversely, the four-year, $28MM pact the Chargers handed left tackle King Dunlap last offseason is their worst, writes Fitzgerald, who argues the Bolts made an unnecessary commitment (including $8.5MM in guarantees) to a player who only should’ve been a stopgap.
A pair of veteran offensive tackles have restructured their contracts, creating some cap room for their respective clubs. Todd Archer of ESPN.com has the details on Tyron Smith‘s reworked deal with the Cowboys, while Michael Gehlken of the San Diego Union-Tribune reports on King Dunlap‘s new-look contract with the Chargers.
As Archer explains, Smith’s contract change is a simple restructure, with the Cowboys converting $9MM of his $10MM base salary for 2016 into a signing bonus. Rather than counting solely against this year’s cap, that $9MM bonus will now be prorated over five seasons, counting for $1.8MM annually from 2016 to 2020. That means Dallas will free up $7.2MM in cap space for the ’16 season, while adding $1.8MM to the cap each year from 2017 to 2020.
Dunlap, meanwhile, was set to have his $4.5MM salary for 2016 fully guaranteed last week. Before that happened, according to Gehlken, the Chargers lowered his salary to $3.3MM, which is now guaranteed. The veteran tackle, who missed much of the 2015 season due to injury problems, can earn back that missing $1.2MM if he’s able to stay healthy for most of the 2016 campaign.
According to Gehlken, Dunlap will earn a $400K bonus if he plays 50% of San Diego’s offensive snaps in 2016. He’ll earn another $400K if he reaches the 65% threshold, and a final $400K if he makes it to 80%.
The move creates $1.2MM in cap savings for the Chargers.
Colin Kaepernick should call the 49ers‘ bluff and rescind his trade request, opines Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk. Kaepernick’s $11.9MM base salary becomes fully guaranteed on April 1 — the Browns reportedly are willing to send a third-round pick to San Francisco in exchange for Kaepernick, but only if the quarterback agrees to lower his salary. The 49ers don’t want to pay that total, either, so Florio argues that if Kaepernick drops his request to be dealt, he forces the Niners to either guarantee him almost $12MM or release him, allowing Kaepernick to choose his next destination.
Here’s more the NFL’s two West divisions…
We learned earlier today that as part of his restructure, Broncos linebacker DeMarcus Ware can earn back all the money he agreed to cut through sack-based incentives. Per Jeff Legwold of ESPN.com, Ware can earn between $1.25MM and $3.5MM when he hits eight, nine, 11, and 13 sacks. It’s a smart structure by Denver — because Ware posted 7.5 sacks in 2015, every penny of those incentives will be labeled “not likely to be earned,” meaning the club won’t have to carry any portion of that total on its 2016 cap.
Chargers left tackle King Dunlaps‘s 2016 base salary of $4.5MM became fully guaranteed today, as Michael Gehlken of the San Diego Union-Tribune notes (Twitter link). Dunlap, entering the second year of a four-year deal, will count for roughly $6.34MM on San Diego’s cap next year.
Former Seahawks linebackers coach — and current Raiders defensive coordinator — Ken Norton Jr. played a large role in luring Bruce Irvin to Oakland, as Irvin explains to Scott Bair of CSNBayArea.com. “I wanted to get back with him,” Irvin said of Norton Jr. “Like I said before, that guy, he’s done a lot for me, not only on the field, but off the field. He saved my career by bringing me from defensive end to a linebacker, so I have the utmost respect for that guy.”
In a separate column, Florio reports that agents are advising their clients not to sign contracts with the Rams that seem to be bound by Missouri laws. The issue, per Florio, is that California, where the Rams will play next season, has much more pro-labor workers’ rights laws, thus the club would rather the deals be controlled by Missouri language.