Louis Vasquez

Best Available NFL Free Agents: Offense

The most high-profile free agent signings occurred more than two months ago, but as we near June there are still talented NFL free agents available on the open market. Most of these players (with a few exceptions) won’t command much guaranteed money, and given that we’ve passed the May 12 deadline, none will factor into the compensatory draft pick formula. Let’s take a look at the players who will try to find a home as training camp approaches:"<strong

1. Ryan Fitzpatrick, QB: The most obvious destination for Fitzpatrick remains the Jets, who don’t intend to play second-round pick Christian Hackenberg immediately but, as of the draft, hadn’t had meaningful talks with Fitz’s camp in awhile. The 33-year-old Fitzpatrick has apparently told people he’d “rather not play football” in 2016 than accept New York’s current offer, though that seems like a negotiating ploy to get the Jets to put more than $7-8MM on the table. Gang Green holds all the leverage in this scenario, as the only other club that might have still been searching for a quarterback — the Broncos — is thought to have ended their hunt for another signal-caller after drafting Paxton Lynch last month.

2. Anquan Boldin, WR: Even as he ages, Boldin continues to post solid production — he’s managed at least 65 receptions in each of the past four years, averaging nearly 1,000 yards and five touchdowns during that time. And while the 49ers have not asked him to return in 2016, Boldin could be an option for a number of wide receiver-needy teams, as the Bengals, Steelers, Colts, Chiefs, and Giants could all make varying levels of sense for the veteran pass-catcher, especially given that he’s indicated he’d prefer to play for a contender. Boldin has taken just one free agent visit this offseason, but that team — Washington — is unlikely to still have interest given that it selected TCU wideout Josh Doctson in the first round of the draft.

3. Arian Foster, RB: There’s no question that Foster offers the highest upside of any free agent on this list, as he’s topped 1,200 yards rushing in every season that he’s remained even remotely healthy. But health, of course, has remained a hindrance throughout Foster’s career — in 2015 alone, Foster was slowed by a groin injury during camp before suffering a torn Achilles in in Week 7. The Dolphins met with Foster earlier this offseason and could still be a landing spot, while the Raiders, Eagles, and Chargers (especially if Melvin Gordon‘s recovery from microfracture surgery doesn’t go well) could be options.

4. Jahri Evans, G: Knee and ankle injuries limited Evans to 11 games in 2015, but like Foster, Evans is a solid contributor when he’s on the field, as he graded as the league’s No. 27 guard among 81 qualifiers last year, per Pro Football Focus. Entering his age-33 season, Evans might have to be willing to engage in a camp battle for a starting role, or even wait until a club suffers an injury along its offensive interior. But a team like the Broncos, who are currently projected to start sixth-round rookie Connor McGovern at right guard, could express interest.

5. Louis Vasquez, G: Vasquez isn’t quite the guard that Evans is, but he offers a vast amount of experience, as he played over 1,000 snaps in 2015 with Denver, and has started 101 games since entering the league in 2009. Not yet 30 years old, Vasquez could help a number of clubs at either guard position — he met with the Titans earlier this offseason, and depending on its assessment of Jeremiah Poutasi, Tennessee may still be interested. The Chiefs, having failed to replace Jeff Allen, could also make sense as a destination."<strong

6. Andre Johnson, WR: After posting the worst full-season results of his career, Johnson was released by the Colts just one season into a three-year pact. Whether interested clubs will determine that Johnson was victimized by a lackluster 2015 Indianapolis (and largely Andrew Luck-less) offense — or instead conclude that Johnson is just about finished at age-34 — is an open question, but the 13-year veteran has indicated that he’d like to continue playing in 2016.

7. Will Beatty, T: Beatty is expected to be fully healthy this summer after missing the entire 2015 season with a torn pectoral muscle, but he reportedly won’t be returning to the Giants. It’s a little surprising that Beatty hasn’t yet found a home for 2016, but he shouldn’t have to wait much longer, as he’s clearly the best tackle available on the open market (his top competition is the likes of Jake Long and Mike Adams). I could see the Bears bringing in Beatty to compete with Charles Leno on the blindside, while the Cardinals could also be a feasible landing spot if they aren’t happy with D.J. Humphries — who didn’t play a single snap as a rookie — at right tackle.

8. James Jones, WR: Another season catching passes from Aaron Rodgers, another successful year for Jones, who returned to Green Bay after a year in Oakland to post 50 receptions for nearly 900 yards an eight touchdowns. Jones, now 32, has indicated that he’d like to play for awhile longer, though the Packers have reportedly moved on. After waiting until July of last year to sign with the Giants (and September to reunite with the Pack), Jones could again have to wait awhile to find a new team, but whoever signs him will be acquiring a big-play threat — in 2015, Jones ranked fourth in the league with 17.8 yards per reception.

9. Ryan Wendell, C/G: Perhaps the least recognizable name on this list, Wendell spent the last seven seasons as a utility interior lineman with the Patriots, and ended up starting 44 contests from 2012-2014. A knee injury prematurely ended Wendell’s 2015 season in November, and a March report stated that Wendell would wait until he returned to full health before signing with a new team. A return to New England can’t be ruled out, but a club like the Cardinals — who are currently projecting A.Q. Shipley to start at center — could also be on Wendell’s radar.

10. Owen Daniels, TE: Daniels has spent all ten of his NFL seasons under the tutelage of Gary Kubiak, following the coach from Houston to Baltimore and, finally, to Denver. That streak of loyalty is now in danger after the Broncos released Daniels earlier this year, though Kubiak did not rule out re-signing the veteran tight end (Denver has since signed fellow TE Garrett Graham, however). Even at age-33, Daniels performed in line with his career averages, posting 48 receptions for more than 500 yards and four touchdowns.

Honorable mention: Tarvaris Jackson, QB; Joique Bell, RB; Bryce Brown, RB; Marques Colston, WR; Brian Hartline, WR; Roddy White, WR; Khaled Holmes, C; Amini Silatolu, G.

Photos courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

AFC South Notes: Titans, Free Agents, Texans

Addressing a couple of the free agents the Titans brought in for visits earlier this month, general manager Jon Robinson confirmed that the team met with offensive lineman Louis Vasquez and safety Rashad Johnson, and didn’t rule out the possibility of working out a deal with either player (Twitter links via Jim Wyatt of TitansOnline.com).

According to Robinson, he’s still in communication with Vasquez’s agent. As for Johnson, the GM suggested that the two sides are in something of a holding pattern — I’m speculating, but that makes it sound as if the Titans haven’t been willing to increase their offer to the veteran safety, and he has yet to receive a better offer from another team.

As we wait to see if Tennessee lands either Vasquez or Johnson, let’s check in on some other notes from out of the AFC South…

  • Titans head coach Mike Mularkey said that quarterback Marcus Mariota has been a solid recruiter so far in free agency, reaching out to players himself and acting as a part of the “welcome committee” (Twitter link via Wyatt). The team has been pretty active so far in free agency, having signed or re-signed Rishard Matthews, Ben Jones, Byron Bell, Antwon Blake, Al Woods, Brice McCain, and Sean Spence, among others.
  • The Titans are in the market for a new director of player development, according to Paul Kuharsky of ESPN.com, who notes that Tre’ Stallings is no longer with the club.
  • Antonio Allen‘s one-year deal with the Texans is worth just $800K and doesn’t feature a significant bonus, but it didn’t qualify for the minimum salary benefit, so the full $800K will count against Houston’s cap, Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle clarifies (via Twitter).
  • In a piece for the Chronicle, Wilson examines Arian Foster‘s comeback from a torn Achilles, writing that the longtime Texans running back remains “passionate” about football and aims to be back on the field in 2016. Having been released by Houston, Foster will be looking for a new team.

Free Agent Rumors: Jackson, Broncos, Long

The Broncos offered Malik Jackson roughly $11MM per year before he signed with the Jaguars, Troy Renck of The Denver Post tweets. The Broncos also made a strong offer to Brock Osweiler before he decided to join up with the Texans. The Broncos did not want to let linebacker Brandon Marshall get away, of course, which is why they used a second round RFA tender on him. When it comes to Danny Trevathan, however, the team decided to move on, so the front office wasn’t too crushed when he signed with the Bears.

Here are the latest free agent rumors:

  • Defensive end Chris Long wants to play for a winning team, Dianna Marie Russini of ESPN.com tweets. Long has spoken with the Falcons, Cowboys, and Washington, and a decision should be coming soon.
  • Tight end Jermaine Gresham is on his way to the Bears, Adam Schefter of ESPN.com tweets. It’s an interesting visit as the Bears toy with the idea of trading Martellus Bennett.
  • Free agent guard Louis Vasquez will visit the Titans, but it will happen this weekend rather than on Friday as originally planned, John Glennon of The Tennessean tweets.
  • Cornerback Sherrick McManis is visiting with an AFC East team today, Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune tweets. McManis, who led the Bears with 17 special teams tackles, could still re-sign with Chicago.

FA Visits: V. Davis, Vasquez, Titans, Jets

Free agent tight end Vernon Davis will pay a visit to Washington today, a source tells Adam Schefter of ESPN.com (Twitter link). It’s an unsurprising piece of news, considering Davis is from the D.C. area, and Washington GM Scot McCloughan was working in the 49ers’ front office when San Francisco drafted the tight end.

Davis, traded from the 49ers to the Broncos midway through the 2015 season, didn’t have his best year, but still managed to catch 38 passes, including 20 after moving to Denver. If he were to sign with Washington, he would presumably be a complementary option to Jordan Reed, so we’ll see if there’s a fit there.

Here’s more on free agent visits happening around the NFL:

  • Former Broncos guard Louis Vasquez, recently released by Denver, will visit the Titans on Friday, according to Mike Garafolo of FOX Sports (Twitter link). Tennessee is looking to beef up the interior of its offensive line, having already signed center Ben Jones away from the division-rival Texans.
  • The Cowboys are scheduled to host cornerback Nolan Carroll for a visit, says Todd Archer of ESPN.com. The Cowboys need help at cornerback, and we heard earlier today that Dallas would be a “team to watch” on Carroll, who hasn’t been on the same page as the Eagles in negotiations.
  • Terez A. Paylor of the Kansas City Star (Twitter link) is hearing that Rod Streater may be planning to head east to visit some teams, and Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News confirms (via Twitter) that the Jets will host the free agent wideout on Friday. Paylor notes that the Chiefs have also expressed some interest in Streater, as he reported earlier in the week.
  • Titans GM Jon Robinson indicated today that the team plans to set up visits with a couple veteran free agent safeties, tweets Terry McCormick of TitanInsider.com. The Titans – who cut longtime safety Michael Griffin last month – will also explore the position in the draft, per Robinson.

Broncos To Release G Louis Vasquez

The Broncos will make a cap-clearing move, releasing veteran guard Louis Vasquez, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (via Twitter). Vasquez will immediately become an unrestricted free agent once the move is made official.Louis Vasquez

Vasquez, who turns 29 in April, was a key piece of the offensive line that helped the Broncos win the Super Bowl, having started all but one game for Denver over the past three seasons, primarily spending his time at right guard. However, he had been set to count for $6.75MM against the team’s cap in 2016. Denver will create $5.5MM in cap savings by releasing him.

The Broncos’ offensive line will be undergoing some changes this winter, with Vasquez departing and fellow starting guard Evan Mathis potentially on his way out as well. Mathis has contemplated retirement, and isn’t under contract with Denver for 2016 anyway.

While Vasquez’s release will create some cap flexibility for the Broncos, perhaps to use on a new deal for quarterback Brock Osweiler, the club apparently won’t be putting that space toward an extension for Malik Jackson — the standout defensive lineman appears set to join the Jaguars.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Latest On Broncos

The Broncos have made an offer likely worth upward of $12.27MM per season to pending free agent quarterback Brock Osweiler, reports Troy Renck of The Denver Post. There’s no word on the length of the proposed contract, but the annual value would place Osweiler slightly above Nick Foles‘ $12.25MM per year. Foles, who signed a two-year, $24.5MM extension with the Rams last summer, is just 21st among quarterbacks in average salary.

Denver has until Monday to negotiate exclusively with Osweiler. If no deal is reached by then, the 25-year-old will be able to pursue offers from other teams as part of the NFL’s legal tampering period. Osweiler could then Brock Osweiler (vertical)sign a contract with another club when free agency opens Wednesday.

The Broncos understandably have balked at paying a high price for Osweiler, who hasn’t garnered much playing time since they took him in the second round of the 2012 draft. The 6-foot-8, 240-pounder appeared in a career-high eight games and made his first seven starts last season, but he wasn’t particularly impressive. Osweiler’s numbers – 61 percent completion rate, 7.15 yards per attempt, 10 TDs, six picks – were unremarkable, and he didn’t take the field during the playoffs after a knee injury knocked him out of action in Week 17. Peyton Manning, whose foot injury originally opened the door for Osweiler in November, took the reins back and served as a game manager in all three of the Broncos’ postseason wins, including their 24-10 Super Bowl triumph over Carolina.

As for Manning, he remains undecided about his future. The soon-to-be 40-year-old is a lock to end up in another uniform if he elects to keep playing, as the Broncos have moved on from him, per Renck. The Broncos will make that official when they release the future Hall of Famer sometime before Tuesday. When that happens, the club will free up $19MM of spending space. In addition, the Broncos are considering restructuring the expensive deals of linebacker DeMarcus Ware, offensive tackle Ryan Clady and guard Louis Vasquez, Renck writes. As of now, that trio is set to occupy nearly $29MM in cap next season.

If the Broncos cut Manning and adjust the contracts of Ware, Clady and Vasquez, they’ll give themselves a better chance to keep priority free agents like Osweiler and stellar defensive lineman Malik Jackson. Renck reported Monday that Jackson and the Broncos were roughly $3MM per year apart on contract talks.

Guard Evan Mathis, who’s also unsigned, is contemplating retirement, according to Renck. The Broncos signed the two-time Pro Bowler last summer after the Eagles released him, and he ultimately started in 12 of 16 regular-season appearances. Mathis, 34, earned rave reviews for his performance from Pro Football Focus (subscription required), which ranked him third out of 81 qualifying guards.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Packers, Broncos Face Offseason Dilemmas

The Cowboys’ and Broncos‘ respective approaches with their All-Pro wide receivers following statement contract years will draw the most headlines this offseason, but not far off that radar will be the Packers‘ decision on slot target Randall Cobb.

Not possessing the traditional build of a No. 1 target Demaryius Thomas or Dez Bryant have, Cobb put together a consistent campaign — 106 catches, 1,465 yards, 13 touchdown receptions in 18 games — but the Packers have a history of allowing their receivers to walk and restocking the position with home-grown talent: see Greg Jennings in 2013 or James Jones last March. But Cobb’s case may be unique, writes Tyler Dunne of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.

Packers hall of fame receiver James Lofton weighed in on this issue, via Dunne.

“Which free-agent wide receiver has left a team and gone on to become a Pro Bowler on a new team?” Lofton said.Vincent Jackson did in his first year at Tampa. … Emmanuel Sanders was (an alternate), when he went to Denver, but that’s an extenuating circumstance when you have Peyton Manning throwing the ball. So where can these guys find a home that was better than where they were? We saw Greg Jennings leave Green Bay — who was a good player — and now he’s an average player at best.”

Jennings exceeded 1,100 yards for three straight seasons in Green Bay — 2008-10 — but hasn’t topped 805 in two years with the Vikings. Jones scored 14 touchdowns in Green Bay in 2012 and set a career high in receptions with 73 in Oakland last year, but the 30-year-old averaged just 9.1 yards per catch as primarily a wide receiver. Almost exclusively a slot man when not stationed in the backfield, Cobb, only 24, averaged 14.1 per grab last season in a position not known for over-the-top proficiency, a statistic which increases his case to be paid like a top wide receiver. The franchise tag for wideouts is expected to be around $12.7MM, and the Packers have just more than $23MM in cap space, according to OverTheCap.com.

Meanwhile, the Broncos made a rather controversial shift from their three-wide receiver, no-huddle-based attack to a power-running approach midway through last season, and while free agents-to-be Orlando Franklin and Will Montgomery posted top-15 finishes at guard and center, respectively, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), new coach Gary Kubiak is likely to reshape the front based on his zone-blocking past, writes ESPN’s Jeff Legwold.

The Broncos entered the season with two first-team All-Pros on their front in left tackle Ryan Clady and right guard Louis Vasquez, but both regressed — Clady graded negatively on Pro Football Focus’ overall rating for the second time in four years after returning from the foot injury that ended his 2013 campaign after two games; Vasquez was marginalized when moved to right tackle to compensate for others’ struggles at that spot — and weakened the line. While Clady, the only lineman who played for the Broncos when they deployed Mike Shanahan‘s zone-blocking scheme, and Vasquez are expected back, Franklin and Montgomery are free agents, Manuel Ramirez slipped after a solid 2013, and the team is still without a viable right tackle option.

“Yes, that’s absolutely, 100 percent correct, three new starters minimum,” said ESPN analyst Mark Schlereth, a former Broncos zone-blocking bastion, via Legwold. “… Athletically speaking, they’re not good enough at left guard, center, and they need to find a right tackle.”

Solutions for both Cobb and Denver‘s offensive line don’t have to come from free agency, however, and may not require a No. 1 draft choice. From 2012-14, 37% of the Pro Bowlers came into the league in the third round or later, including 21 undrafted talents, ClevelandBrowns.com’s Kevin Jones measured. Cornerbacks from Denver (Chris Harris Jr.) and Green Bay (Sam Shields) contributed to that total as 2014 Pro Bowlers.