Mike Tolbert

Top 2018 NFL Free Agents By Position: Offense

NFL free agency will get underway on Wednesday, March 14th, 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. The same goes for players who have been franchise tagged or transition tagged.

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 2018:

Quarterback:

  1. Kirk Cousins
  2. Drew Brees
  3. Case Keenum
  4. A.J. McCarron
  5. Sam Bradford
  6. Teddy Bridgewater
  7. Colin Kaepernick
  8. Josh McCown
  9. Mike Glennon
  10. Drew Stanton
  11. Jay Cutler
  12. Chase Daniel
  13. Ryan Fitzpatrick
  14. Brock Osweiler
  15. Tom Savage

There were many difficult calls when putting this list together, but ranking Kirk Cousins as the No. 1 QB available was not among them. Cousins is the best quarterback to reach free agency in recent history and he’ll become the highest-paid player of all-time – at least, for some period of time – in mid-March. Who will make history with Cousins? That’s anyone’s guess right now. The Browns have more cap room than any other team, but a recent report from Adam Schefter of ESPN.com listed the Broncos, Cardinals, Jets, and Vikings as the final suitors for Cousins. Of those four, the Jets have the most money to work with, but they’re concerned about the Vikings winning out and Cousins’ desire to win could point him in another direction. If the Broncos and Cardinals want in on the Cousins sweepstakes, they’ll have to get creative with the books.

Drew Brees is included here, but by his own admission, he’ll be re-signing with the Saints rather than testing the open waters of free agency. Unless the Saints lowball their franchise QB, it’s hard to see him leaving New Orleans.

Case Keenum put together a tremendous season for the Vikings, but he doesn’t have a history of success beyond 2017. There will be plenty of interest in Keenum, but only after QB-needy teams strike out on Cousins. The incumbent Vikings could re-sign Keenum, but right now, it seems like they are intent on exploring the Cousins waters first.

There isn’t a ton of footage on A.J. McCarron, which made his placement on this list awfully tricky. We know this much: McCarron did well in place of Dalton in the home stretch of the 2015 season and his former offensive coordinator Hue Jackson was salivating at the chance of landing him before the Browns bungled the trade with the Bengals. McCarron’s relative youth is a plus (he won’t turn 28 until September) and his lack of experience can be looked at as a positive. Unlike some of the other names on this list, he hasn’t run up his NFL odometer.

What will NFL teams make of Teddy Bridgewater and Sam Bradford this offseason? Not long ago, both seemed like quality starting options. However, there are serious injury questions about both players and any team signing them will either look to backstop them with another decent option or ask them to come onboard as a QB2. With that in mind, one has to wonder if Bradford would consider retirement if asked to hold the clipboard for another signal caller. Bradford has earned upwards of $110MM over the years in the NFL, so it’s safe to say that he has enough money in the bank to call it quits if he wants. For now, he’s intent on playing.

Colin Kaepernick‘s placement on this list is sure to draw some strong reactions from his fans and detractors alike. Looking purely at his football ability, there’s no question that he belongs on someone’s roster. At minimum, Kaepernick profiles as a high-end backup, even after a year out of the game.

Quarterbacks coaches have long believed that Mike Glennon is capable of great things, due in part to his height. At 6’7″, he can see over any defensive line, but he hasn’t done much on the field to prove that he is a quality Week 1 starting option. Josh McCown, who is a decade his senior, edges him here for his surprisingly strong performance in 2017 at the helm of a weak Jets offense.

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Bills Sign FB/RB Mike Tolbert

The human bowling ball is now rolling up to Buffalo. The Bills have announced the signing of running back/fullback Mike Tolbert to a one-year, $1MM deal.Mike Tolbert (Vertical)

The news is a bit surprising since the Bills stuck agreement with fellow fullback Patrick DiMarco just a couple of hours ago. It’s likely that DiMarco will be tasked more with a run blocking role and Tolbert will be used more as a traditional running back. Tolbert did amass roughly 1,600 all-purpose yards in his first four years with the Panthers before taking a backseat in the offense last year.

I had Tolbert ranked seventh amongst free agent fullbacks due to his age and diminished blocking skills. He’ll turn 32 in November. In 2016, he had 35 carries for 114 yards and just ten catches for 72 yards.

Jordan Raanan of ESPN.com first reported the agreeement. Joe Person of the Charlotte Observer had the details. Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

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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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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Panthers Cut FB Mike Tolbert

The Panthers are making some major moves today. Moments after releasing defensive tackle Paul Soliai comes word that the Panthers are also cutting fullback Mike Tolbert (Twitter link via Adam Schefter of ESPN.com). Mike Tolbert (Vertical)

[RELATED: Panthers Sign G Amini Silatolu]

Tolbert is coming off of his third career Pro Bowl selection, all of which have come with the Panthers. In his five years with Carolina, Tolbert has also garnered two First Team All-Pro nods (2013, 2015). We can safely assume that Tolbert is being cut for cap purposes rather than football reasons. Tolbert was set to carry a $2.075MM cap charge but the team will clear $1.725MM in space by cutting him.

Historically, the Panthers gave Tolbert a decent amount of work as a running back in their offense. In 2016, however, he had only 35 carries – the lowest total of his Panthers career. Teams looking for a lead blocker with goal line ability will be getting in touch with Tolbert’s agent over the next few weeks.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

NFC Contract Details: Vernon, Jenkins, Mack

Here are some of the latest details on many recent agreed-upon and signed contracts from out of the NFC (all links via Aaron Wilson of the National Football Post unless otherwise indicated)…

NFC East:

  • Olivier Vernon, DE (Giants): Five years, $85MM. $52.5MM guaranteed. $20MM signing bonus. $7MM roster bonus due on fifth day of 2016 league year (Twitter links).
  • Janoris Jenkins, CB (Giants): Five years, $62.5MM. $28.8MM guaranteed. $10MM signing bonus. $1.4MM base salary in 2016 (Twitter link).
  • Brandon Brooks, G (Eagles): Five years, $40MM. $21MM guaranteed. $11MM signing bonus. $1MM base salary in 2016 and $5MM base salary in 2017 fully guaranteed (Twitter link).
  • Chase Daniel, QB (Eagles): Three years, $21MM base value. $36MM max value. $3MM signing bonus. $3MM roster bonus due on March 14. $3MM base escalators in 2017 and 2018 (Twitter link).
  • Colt McCoy, QB (Washington): Three years, $9MM base value. Third year can be voided based on playing time. $1.8MM signing bonus. $1MM annually in playing-time incentives (Twitter link).
  • Ron Brooks, CB (Eagles): Three years, $5.5MM. $1.55MM guaranteed. $750K signing bonus (Twitter link).

NFC South:

NFC North:

  • Marvin Jones, WR (Lions): Five years, $40MM. $20MM guaranteed. $8MM signing bonus (Twitter link).
  • Alex Boone, G (Vikings): Four years, $26.8MM. $10MM guaranteed. Annual $100K workout bonus (Twitter link).
  • Danny Trevathan, LB (Bears): Four years, $24.5MM. $12MM guaranteed. $5MM signing bonus. $3.5MM roster bonus due on March 14 (Twitter link).
  • Michael Griffin, S (Vikings): One year, $2.5MM. $250K signing bonus. $500K of $1.65MM base salary guaranteed. Up to $500K in playing-time incentives (Twitter links).
  • Tavon Wilson, S (Lions): Two years, $2.2MM. $500K signing bonus. Up to $500K in annual playing-time incentives (Twitter link).

NFC West:

  • Mark Barron, OLB (Rams): Five years, $45MM. $20MM guaranteed. $5MM signing bonus (Twitter link).
  • William Hayes, DE (Rams): Three years, $17.5MM. $10MM guaranteed. $4MM roster bonus due on March 13 (Twitter link).
  • Tyvon Branch, S (Cardinals): Two years, $8MM. $1MM signing bonus. $1.75MM roster bonus in 2016, $1MM roster bonus in 2017 (Twitter link).
  • Tim Barnes, C (Rams): Two years, $5.6MM. $2.5MM guaranteed. $1.25MM roster bonus due in four days. $750K roster bonus due on third day of 2017 league year guaranteed for injury, skill; becomes fully guaranteed if on roster June 17. Up to $1MM in annual playing-time incentives. $250K annual Pro Bowl incentive (all Twitter links).
  • Brian Quick, WR (Rams): One year, $1.75MM. $1.5MM guaranteed ($1.25MM bas salary, $250K roster bonus due on March 15). $2MM stats incentive (Twitter link).

Panthers Re-Sign Mike Tolbert

The Panthers have re-signed Mike Tolbert to a two-year deal, Bryan Strickland of Panthers.com writes. It’s a two-year deal worth about $2MM, a league source tells Joe Person of the Charlotte Observer (on Twitter). Mike Tolbert (Vertical)

Tolbert will now return for a fifth year in Carolina and possibly season No. 6. Over his four years with the Panthers, Tolbert has amassed roughly 1,600 all-purpose yards. While he hasn’t been the primary back for Carolina, he has provided value with his pass catching skills and ability to bulldoze opponents at the goal line. Aside from the games he missed in the 2014 season due to a knee injury, Tolbert has been a virtual ironman for the Panthers.

A 2015 Pro Bowler, the 30-year-old Tolbert is coming off a four-year contract during which he made $2.5MM annually. He’s an excellent fit for Carolina’s run-based offense, and his ability to handle both running back and fullback makes him all the more valuable. As Dallas Robinson wrote in his preview of the Panthers’ offseason, Tolbert was likely to return, but not a four-year deal.

For his part, Tolbert ranked as our No. 1 free agent fullback, though PFR’s Luke Adams did note that listing Tolbert among the available fullbacks did seem a little like cheating, given that the Panthers frequently use him at running back as well.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

 

Panthers, Mike Tolbert Discussing Extension

The Panthers have been talking with Mike Tolbert‘s agent about a new deal in advance of free agency, according to Rand Getlin of NFL Network (Twitter link). Tolbert is an unrestricted free agent, so his representatives can begin talking with other clubs tomorrow, and he can hit the open market on Wednesday.Mike Tolbert (Vertical)

[RELATED: Panthers release defensive end Charles Johnson]

A 2015 Pro Bowler, the 30-year-old Tolbert is coming off a four-year contract during which he made $2.5MM annually. He’s an excellent fit for Carolina’s run-based offense, and his ability to handle both running back and fullback makes him all the more valuable. As I wrote in my preview of the Panthers’ offseason, Tolbert seems likely to see a slight pay increase, though he probably won’t garner a four-year term again.

Tolbert isn’t the only Carolina free agent who is projected to hit the open market this week. Receiver Jerricho Cotchery, safety Roman Harper, cornerback Charles Tillman, and punter Brad Nortman are just a few of the players whom the Panthers may see sign with other clubs in the coming weeks. Carolina has almost $29MM in cap space to work with, which currently ranks 14th in the NFL.

For his part, Tolbert ranked as our No. 1 free agent fullback, though PFR’s Luke Adams did note that listing Tolbert among the available fullbacks did seem a little like cheating, given that the Panthers frequently use him at running back as well.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

NFC South Notes: Brees, Tolbert, Scobee, Bucs

Saints quarterback Drew Brees has just one year left on his contract, and is set to count for $30MM on New Orleans’ 2016 cap, meaning it’s essentially inevitable that the two sides will discuss an extension at some point this winter. So far though, negotiations between the quarterback and the team haven’t gotten underway, Brees said today during an appearance on ESPN (link via Christopher Dabe of NOLA.com).

“If conversations are to be had, they haven’t happened yet,” Brees said. “But when they do that will be between us, and then we’ll kind of announce that, and everybody will find out at the same time.”

Brees, who said on The Dan Patrick Show today that he expects to remain in New Orleans for the rest of his career, will have $10.85MM of his base salary for 2016 become fully guaranteed next week.

Here’s more from out of the NFC South:

  • Asked this week about his pending free agency, fullback Mike Tolbert said he hopes this Sunday’s game isn’t his last with the Panthers, adding that he “absolutely” wants to re-sign with the team, per Joseph Person of the Charlotte Observer. “These guys are my brothers,” Tolbert said. “I don’t want to leave any more than the next guy. But I have to do what’s best for my family and for me. If moving is part of it, then that’s a part of it. But I don’t want to.”
  • Veteran kicker Josh Scobee had a tryout with the Saints on Wednesday, but didn’t sign a contract, a source tells Pro Football Talk (Twitter link). The longtime Jaguars kicker was acquired in a trade by the Steelers in September, but struggled during his brief stint in Pittsburgh, missing four field goals and an extra point in four games. He was cut in October.
  • The Buccaneers have plenty of cap room at their disposal this offseason, but Jason Fitzgerald of Over the Cap is skeptical that they’ll use a big chunk of it, as he explains in his preview of Tampa Bay’s offseason.

NFL Pro Bowlers In Contract Years

The NFL announced its Pro Bowlers for the 2015 season on Tuesday night, and while those rosters will certainly undergo some changes in the coming weeks – as players with injuries or on Super Bowl teams bow out and are replaced by alternates – it’s worth noting that several players in this initial crop are in contract years, and will be eligible for free agency this winter.

Currently, there are eight players in contract years among the Pro Bowlers, and not all of them are players you might expect. When we ranked the top free agents of 2016 earlier this month, we placed Bears wideout Alshon Jeffery second overall, but Jeffery didn’t get a Pro Bowl nod, partly due to the injuries that have slowed him down this season, and partly due to the star-studded group of receivers he was up against.

Similarly, our list of this offseason’s top 10 potential free agents included a pair of left tackles, Russell Okung of the Seahawks and Cordy Glenn of the Bills. However, given the strong group of left tackles that are locked up to long-term deals – including Tyron Smith (Cowboys), Jason Peters (Eagles), Joe Thomas (Browns), and others – neither Okung nor Glenn could crack the initial Pro Bowl roster.

Here are the eight potential free agents who earned Pro Bowl berths:

Berry, Miller, Norman, and Wilkerson earned spots on our top-10 list, and each of those four standout players should be in line for either the franchise tag or a lucrative long-term contract. However, the extension cases for the other four players on this list aren’t quite to cut-and-dried.

Woodson, of course, has an expiring contract, but isn’t expected to sign another one, having announced earlier this week that he’ll retire after the season. That takes him out of the extension equation entirely.

Martin is having an excellent bounce-back season in Tampa Bay, and is the most logical candidate to receive the biggest free agent deal for a running back this offseason. As we saw last winter though, not many running backs sign massive free agent contracts, and 2015’s biggest deal – DeMarco Murray‘s – won’t exactly encourage teams to invest heavily at the position. So there’s a ceiling on how much Martin will earn this winter, despite his Pro Bowl berth.

Nelson and Tolbert are interesting cases. Nelson’s counting stats (an NFL-best eight interceptions) and Pro Football Focus grades (10th among safeties) suggest he’s had a very strong year, but he’ll also be entering his age-33 season, so it’s fair to question whether he’s deserving of a contract in the range of the ones that Berry and perhaps Eric Weddle will sign.

As for Tolbert, his Pro Bowl nod comes at one of the league’s least-valued positions, and he’s also now on the wrong side of 30, which is generally bad news for running backs. I expect he’ll draw interest from plenty of teams if the Panthers don’t lock him up, but as a 30-year-old fullback, his earning potential is limited.

One more player worth mentioning is Browns center Alex Mack. Technically, Mack still has three years remaining on his contract, but he’ll have the opportunity to opt out this winter, and coming off a Pro Bowl season, there’s a good chance he’ll take advantage of that option.

Ultimately, these eight players – plus Mack – aren’t likely to get a huge boost to their annual salaries on their next contracts simply because they made the Pro Bowl. In fact, Tuesday’s Pro Bowl announcement may very well have a more tangible impact on players with Pro Bowl bonuses in their current contracts.

Still, you can bet that the representatives for these potential free agents will be sure to point to this year’s Pro Bowl roster to help make their case that their clients are among the best players in the NFL at their respective positions.