Levine Toilolo

Falcons TE Levine Toilolo Sprains MCL

The Falcons face a win and in scenario in Week 17 when they take on the Panthers at home. However, they be could be without one of their tight ends going into the contest. Second-string tight end Levine Toilolo sprained his MCL in the team’s loss to the Saints on Sunday, making his status for next week’s game “in doubt”, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (Twitter link).

Levine Toilolo (Vertical)

Toilolo, 26, has been mostly a complementary piece in a dynamic Falcons offense over the past few seasons. He’s caught a combined 15 balls and scored three touchdowns in the last two years. Second-year tight end Austin Hooper has been one of the team’s best receiving threats after the Falcons drafted him in the third round in 2016.

The Falcons are just a win away from their second straight postseason appearance, although beating Carolina, who’s still in the running for the NFC South title, will be no walk in the park. Should Toilolo be unable to play in Atlanta’s regular season finale, third-string tight end Eric Saubert could see increased snaps. The team could also bring in a free agent tight end if the coaching staff is uncomfortable going into the contest with just two players available at the position.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Falcons Re-Sign Two

The Falcons have re-signed tight end Levine Toilolo and linebacker LaRoy Reynolds, per a team announcement. Toilolo will get $12MM over three years, tweets Ian Rapoport of NFL.com. The deal includes a $3MM signing bonus, according to Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle (via Twitter). The tight end will earn $1.5MM in the first year, and his salary will then jump to $3.5MM and $4MM. There’s also a $500K receptions escalator added to the deal. Meanwhile, Wilson tweets that it’s a $1.3MM deal for Reynolds, which includes an $850K salary, a $250K signing bonus, and up to $550K in incentives.

The 25-year-old Toilolo has spent the first four seasons of his career in Atlanta, which selected him in the fourth round of the 2013 draft. He has since appeared in 64 straight regular-season games and amassed 62 catches, including 13 last year. While his reception total was low for the NFC champs last season, Toilolo averaged 20.3 yards per grab, added two touchdowns and started in 11 games. He also ranked a decent 27th among Pro Football Focus‘ qualified tight ends.

After spending his first three years between Jacksonville and Chicago, Reynolds found a home in Atlanta in 2016. He made 16 appearances, including three starts, and totaled 23 tackles. The majority of Reynolds’ work last year came on special teams, where he saw action in 57.3 percent of snaps.

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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FA Rumors: Pats, Jefferson, Jags, Falcons

Free agency officially opens on March 9, so let’s round up a few FA-related notes and rumors from around the league:

  • Although it is difficult, as usual, to pin down the Patriots‘ free agency plans, Ben Volin of the Boston Globe does his best, writing that the club is “taking a long look” at the tight end position but that Martellus Bennett could certainly be back, that the team is in the defensive end market now that Chris Long is gone and Jabaal Sheard appears unlikely to return, and that Logan Ryan is likely to price himself out of the Patriots’ price range. Volin names the Jaguars and Raiders as two teams with serious interest in Bennett.
  • Speaking of the Jaguars, the club is expected to let Tyson Alualu hit the open market, as Ryan O’Halloran of the Florida Times-Union writes.
  • In a separate piece, O’Halloran lists the Jaguars‘ most pressing needs in free agency and examines how they could address those needs with an aggressive approach or with a more disciplined approach. He predicts that the Jags will land this year’s top FA cornerback, A.J. Bouye, if Bouye does not re-sign with Houston.
  • Jason Cole of Bleacher Report, citing an agent who represents a FA safety, says that the CardinalsTony Jefferson can expect to land a contract that will pay him $7MM per year (Twitter link). Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports, though, tweets that Jefferson is likely to get paid closer to $10MM per year.
  • D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution writes that the Falcons, who are moving towards an extension for Desmond Trufant, want to re-sign tight end Levine Toilolo, safety/linebacker Kemal Ishmael, and fullback Patrick DiMarco before free agency opens. The team is expected to let Jacob Tamme hit free agency and to wait until after the draft to make a decision on Dwight Freeney. Atlanta is also waiting to hear back from guard Chris Chester, who is contemplating retirement.
  • The Falcons plan to upgrade their defensive front in free agency and the draft, as Vaughn McClure of ESPN.com writes. The club is expected to re-sign Courtney Upshaw, and McClure names Cowboys’ DT Terrell McClain as one potential target for Atlanta.
  • Mike Klis of 9News.com writes that the Broncos are seeking help on both the offensive and defensive line in free agency, but he observes that the club may be operating with two budgets: one that includes Tony Romo, and one that doesn’t. Even if Denver does not land the long-time Cowboys signal-caller, Klis says the Broncos will have to manage the cap creatively, as they have a number of housekeeping moves to make that will eat into their $35MM of cap room, and offensive and defensive linemen do not come cheap on the open market.

Top 2017 NFL Free Agents By Position: Offense

[UPDATE: CLICK HERE FOR THE LATEST EDITION OF THE TOP 2017 NFL FREE AGENTS BY POSITION]

NFL free agency will get underway on Thursday, March 9th, and while the list of free agents will change between now and then, we do have some idea of who will be available when free agency kicks off. The frenzy is right around the corner and it’s time for us to break down the outlook for each position. We’ll start today on offense, before getting to defense and special teams later this week.

Listed below are our rankings for the top 15 free agents at each offensive position. The rankings aren’t necessarily determined by the value of the contracts that each player is expected to land in free agency, they are simply the players we like the most at each position, with both short- and long-term value taken into account. Restricted and exclusive-rights free agents are not listed here since they are unlikely to actually reach the open market.

We’ll almost certainly be higher or lower on some guys than you are, so we encourage you to make your voice heard in our comments section to let us know which free agents we’ve got wrong.

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

Quarterback:

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

Honorable mention: Shaun Hill

As of this writing, Kirk Cousins is far and away the best potential free agent quarterback in this year’s crop. By the time March gets here, we’re fully expecting Cousins to be spoken for. Ultimately, the Redskins could franchise tag him, work out a long-term deal with him, or swing some type of trade that nets them a massive haul of talent and picks. That will leave a crop of retread quarterbacks that would probably best serve as transitional options for QB-needy teams. Kirk Cousins

Mike Glennon hasn’t done much in his 18 career starts, but talent evaluators are still in love with his size and potential. The 6’7″ quarterback will get more money this spring than you might expect, particularly since there are no surefire QBs in this year’s draft.

Teams looking for stopgap QBs will find a plethora of experienced, though perhaps uninspiring, signal callers. Nick Foles, Brian Hoyer, and Ryan Fitzpatrick all have their best football behind them, but they could hold down the fort for a team in 2017 and maybe even find some success if the defense is strong enough. Of course, the ideal role for those guys would probably be as a backup to a better, younger quarterback.

Running back:

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

Consider Le’Veon Bell‘s name written in Etch-A-Sketch, because he is very unlikely to get near the open market. That could leave Eddie Lacy as the best tailback available in March. Lacy has struggled with weight issues in recent years and he lost much of the 2016 season to injury. Still, he is a bruising back that could nicely complement a quicker ball carrier. Before he was shut down for the year, Lacy was averaging 5.07 yards per carry in five games for Green Bay.

LeGarrette Blount (vertical)In the last two years, LeGarrette Blount seems to have put his off-the-field troubles behind him. Whether that’s a sign of his maturity or a product of the Patriots’ culture remains to be seen. Teams can ignore his past indiscretions, but they will be wary of his age. Blount turns 31 in December.

Latavius Murray has shown glimpses of being a special running back, but he has been inconsistent and his 4.0 yards-per-carry average of the last two years isn’t overly impressive. Darren McFadden ran for more than 1,000 yards in 2015, but 2016 was pretty much a lost year for him. Jacquizz Rodgers seemed to break out last year, but he wound up succumbing to the same injury bug that took down a host of other Buccaneers running backs. Speaking of injuries, Rashad Jennings was initially brought to the Giants to be a workhorse back, but two of his three years in New York were marred by ailments. Everyone in this tier has the potential to make a difference, but none should be counted on as anyone’s main guy in 2017.

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2016 Proven Performance Escalators

According to the NFL’s contractual bargaining agreement, players drafted in rounds three though seven are entitled to raises during the fourth year of their respective rookie contracts. The pay bumps are tied to playing time — a player must have played in 35% of his team’s offensive or defensive snaps in two of his first three seasons, or averaged 35% playing time cumulatively during that period.

If one of these thresholds is met, the player’s salary is elevated to the level of that year’s lowest restricted free agent tender — that figure is projected to be $1.696MM in 2016. Players selected in the first or second round, undrafted free agents, and kickers/punters are ineligible for the proven performance escalator.

Here are the players who will see their salary rise in 2016 courtesy of the proven performance escalator:Keenan Allen (Vertical)

49ers: Gerald Hodges, LB

Bears: Marquess Wilson, WR

Buccaneers: William Gholston, DE; Mike Glennon, QB; Akeem Spence, DT

Cardinals: Andre Ellington, RB; Tyrann Mathieu, CB/S; Alex Okafor, LB

Chargers: Keenan Allen, WR

Colts: Sio Moore, LB; Hugh Thornton, G

Cowboys: J.J. Wilcox, S; Terrance Williams, WR

Dolphins: Jelani Jenkins, LB; Dallas Thomas, T; Dion Sims, TE; Kenny Stills, WR

Eagles: Bennie Logan, DT

Falcons: Kemal Ishmael, S; Levine Toilolo, TE

Jaguars: Josh Evans, S; Dwayne Gratz, CB

Jets: Brian Winters, G

Lions: Larry Warford, G

Packers: David Bakhtiari, T; Micah Hyde, S

Patriots: Duron Harmon, S; Chris Jones, DT; Logan Ryan, CB

Raiders: Mychal Rivera, TE

Rams: T.J. McDonald, S

Ravens: Ricky Wagner, T; Brandon Williams, DT

Saints: Terron Armstead, T; John Jenkins, DT

Seahawks: Luke Willson, TE

Steelers: Markus Wheaton, WR

Titans: Brian Schwenke, C

Washington: Jordan Reed, TE