PFR Originals

Updates On 2017’s Restricted Free Agents

The deadline for NFL restricted free agents to sign offer sheets with rival clubs is April 21, so RFAs have just under a month to discuss deals with other teams. So far, only one RFA — interior offensive lineman Ryan Groy — has inked an offer sheet, but the Bills matched the terms of the pact, meaning he’ll head back to Buffalo.Malcolm Butler (Vertical)

Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler, tendered at the first-round level, is reportedly negotiating a contract with the Saints, although most observers don’t expect New Orleans to sacrifice the No. 11 overall pick in order to sign Butler, with a trade involving a later selection viewed as far more likely. Elsewhere, Browns running back Isaiah Crowell is also drawing interest, although clubs would need to give up a second-round pick in order to sign him.

In total, more than 40 restricted free agents have been tendered this offseason. Let’s take a look at where things stand with those RFAs:

Signed to offer sheet:

  • Ryan Groy, OL: Signed two-year, $5MM offer sheet with Rams. Matched by Bills.

First-round tender ($3.91MM):

Second-round tender ($2.746MM):

Original round / right of first refusal tender ($1.797MM):

Tendered, then extended:

Tendered, then withdrawn:

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Kellen Winslow, Ben Tate Join Spring League

The Spring League kicks off in April and it will feature some notable names looking to resurrect their football careers. Defensive end Greg Hardy, tight end Kellen Winslow Jr., cornerback Brandon Browner, and running back Ben Tate are among the players who have been confirmed as participants, according to a press release. Greg Hardy (vertical)

Winslow has not played in an NFL game since the 2013 season and we haven’t heard much from him since he worked out for the Packers last August. Tate, a former second-round pick, showed lots of promise in Houston but could not capitalize on a starting opportunity with the Browns in 2014. Hardy and Browner first committed to the league in early March.

The Spring League consists of four teams comprised of veteran free agents. The league will conduct practices and play six games from April 5 through April 26. Players who are currently on NFL rosters will not be eligible to participate.

The league has secured five quarterbacks thus far, including Chiefs 2011 fifth-round pick Ricky Stanzi and NFL practice squad journeyman McLeod Bethel-Thompson. At wide receiver, there’s former Ram Brandon Gibson, Jets 2014 fourth-round pick Jalen Saunders, and one-time Bills WR2 David Nelson. Former Jets defensive back Ellis Lankster and Texans 2013 third-round defensive tackle Sam Montgomery will also be suiting up for The Spring League next month.

The full list of players can be found below. In addition to those listed here, Pro Football Rumors has learned that another 30 players are expected to join prior to the start of training camp.

Quarterbacks

  • Hutson Mason
  • Ricky Stanzi
  • McLeod Bethel-Thompson
  • Zach Kline
  • Jeremy Cannon

Running backs

Wide receivers

  • Jalen Saunders
  • David Nelson
  • Kenzel Doe
  • Brandon Gibson
  • Daje’ Johnson
  • Gavin Lutman
  • Tyler McDonald
  • J.D. Woods
  • Sed Cunningham
  • Lawrence Smith
  • Terrance Lewis
  • Rashon Ceaser
  • Kendrick Wiggins

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Poll: Who Will Be Jets’ Starting Quarterback?

Currently saddled with one of the thinnest quarterback depth charts in the league, the Jets reportedly aren’t rushing their decision on which veteran they decide to bring in to presumably deploy as their latest stopgap option after Ryan Fitzpatrick‘s exit.

They brought in Josh McCown for a visit this weekend and reached out to Jay Cutler earlier this week. That interest being mutual, it’s reasonable to expect Cutler to make a trip to meet with the Jets soon. Despite being linked to the polarizing passer via trade last year, Gang Green has reportedly closed the door on a Colin Kaepernick union to further limit their options.

However, it’s clear the Jets intend to sign at least one veteran to serve as a bridge player while they continue to evaluate Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg. It’s not expected New York will draft a quarterback with its first-round pick, having taken Hackenberg in Round 2 last year. Although, if the Jets don’t see what they like out of the current market, it’s conceivable the rebuilding outfit could turn the reins over to Petty to continue an audition that an injury interrupted in 2016. However, the team is not believed to have much faith in either incumbent at this time.

Cutler is a higher-end talent than McCown but is coming off a rough 2016, which turned out to be a contract year since the Bears made him a first-time free agent. Once traded for two first-round picks, Cutler is probably the best quarterback available on the UFA market. He will turn 34 next month, but McCown will be 38 by the time Week 1 begins in September. McCown also served as Cutler’s backup for three seasons in Chicago. As recently as 2015, Cutler finished with a career-best 92.3 quarterback rating. He threw 21 touchdown passes and 11 interceptions during his one season in Adam Gase‘s offense. A 2008 Pro Bowler, Cutler threw for 28 touchdown passes in 2014. Only two Jets passers — Fitzpatrick and Vinny Testaverde — have matched such a showing in a season. But the 12th-year player carries considerable baggage at this point.

McCown played reasonably well with the 2015 Browns, completing 63.7 percent of his passes for a team devoid of much talent. But he missed most of last season due to injury and struggled for the 2014 Buccaneers. Since being given additional opportunities by multiple teams after a solid small success sample on the 2013 Bears, McCown has a 2-20 record as a starter over the past three seasons. He would be an upgrade over Petty and Hackenberg in the short-term but might not make a ton of sense for a team that just axed several veterans and doesn’t have much in the way of pass-catching talent presently, especially with Eric Decker‘s status uncertain. McCown, though, wouldn’t command the kind of per-year salary Cutler likely would.

Gang Green could pursue other options like Chase Daniel or Case Keenum, but the talent pool is thin at this juncture. The Jets bowed out of the Mike Glennon race due to his $15MM-per-year price tag and saw Geno Smith — considered a fallback option as a starter — sign with the Giants. Robert Griffin III wants to play for the Jets, but the team might not have the same interest it did last year after RG3’s uninspiring Browns season continued a steady descent.

For a team that is not likely to contend in 2017, throwing Petty or Hackenberg into the fire would make sense if the Jets believe either can be a medium- or long-term answer. But that doesn’t appear the case.

Tony Romo‘s eventual decision (or the Cowboys’, in the event of a trade) could open the door to a possible Trevor Siemian/Jets setup. The team would be interested in acquiring the Broncos’ 2016 starter via trade if Romo ends up in Denver, but conflicting reports have emerged on whether or not the Broncos would unload him. Siemian has two years remaining on a seventh-round rookie deal.

So how will the Jets proceed here? Will it be a caretaker like McCown, or will they roll the dice with Cutler? Will Gang Green’s search delve deeper into the UFA market and look at a career backup in Daniel? Or will the Jets decide to invest their No. 6 pick in one of the scrutinized rookies? Take PFR’s latest poll.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

PFR Originals: 3/12/17 – 3/19/17

The original content and analysis produced by the PFR staff during the past week:

2017’s Major NFL Coaching Changes

Because most NFL coaching changes happen in January, those moves can often be overshadowed by the postseason and – subsequently – the major moves that teams makes in free agency. However, those coaching changes shouldn’t be overlooked.

A year ago, 13 of the league’s 32 teams made changes at at least one of their head coach, offensive coordinator, or defensive coordinator spots, and many of these hirings turned into major stories throughout the 2016 season. New head coaches Adam Gase and Ben McAdoo led the Dolphins and Giants, respectively, to the postseason in their first go-rounds in charge, while new defensive coordinator Vance Joseph leveraged his one-year stint as a play-caller to become the next Broncos head coach.

Which new coaches could make a similar impact this year? We may have to wait to find out, but there are certainly plenty of candidates. The full breakdown of 2017’s major coaching changes from around the league is below:

Head coaches:

Offensive coordinators:

Defensive coordinators:

Special teams coordinators:

Other 2016 OCs, DCs with new jobs:

  • Buffalo Bills: Hired former Rams OC Rob Boras as tight ends coach.
  • Denver Broncos: Hired former Raiders OC Bill Musgrave as quarterbacks coach.
  • Detroit Lions: Hired former Texans OC George Godsey as defensive assistant/special projects.
  • Houston Texans: Promoted former DC Romeo Crennel to assistant head coach/defense.
  • Los Angeles Chargers: Hired former Falcons DC Richard Smith as linebackers coach.
  • Los Angeles Rams: Hired former Redskins DC Joe Barry as assistant head coach/linebackers.
  • Los Angeles Rams: Hired former Jaguars OC Greg Olson as quarterbacks coach.
  • Oakland Raiders: Hired former Chargers DC John Pagano as assistant head coach/defense.

Top 2017 Free Agents By Position 3.0: Offense

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:

Updated 3-22-17, 10:44am CT

Quarterback:

  1. Jay Cutler
  2. Chase Daniel
  3. Ryan Fitzpatrick
  4. Colin Kaepernick
  5. Josh McCown
  6. Robert Griffin III
  7. Case Keenum
  8. Matt McGloin
  9. Mark Sanchez
  10. Christian Ponder
  11. Blaine Gabbert
  12. Ryan Nassib
  13. Shaun Hill
  14. Kellen Moore
  15. Austin Davis

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. Jay Cutler (Vertical)

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.

Running back:

  1. Adrian Peterson
  2. LeGarrette Blount
  3. Jamaal Charles
  4. Rashad Jennings
  5. Tim Hightower
  6. DeAngelo Williams
  7. Chris Johnson
  8. Christine Michael
  9. Benny Cunningham
  10. Bobby Rainey
  11. Brandon Bolden
  12. Denard Robinson
  13. James Starks
  14. Matt Asiata
  15. Kenjon Barner

Honorable mention: DuJuan Harris, Antonio AndrewsKhiry Robinson

Adrian Peterson (vertical)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.

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Top 2017 Free Agents By Position 3.0: Defense

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 defensive 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 defensive position for 2017:

Edge defender:

  1. Dwight Freeney
  2. Elvis Dumervil
  3. Chris Long
  4. Mario Williams
  5. Connor Barwin
  6. Paul Kruger
  7. Trent Cole
  8. Erik Walden
  9. Jason Jones
  10. Darryl Tapp
  11. Devin Taylor
  12. Eugene Sims
  13. Howard Jones
  14. Wallace Gilberry
  15. Sam Acho

The pass rushing market has been completely depleted during the first week of free agency, as 14 of our original top 15 edge players have now been franchised, signed, or, in the case of DeMarcus Ware, retired. As such, a 37-year-old with 15 NFL seasons under his belt is now the best pass rusher on the market. Dwight Freeney played on roughly a third of the Falcons’ defensive snaps in 2016, and posted three sacks and 18 hurries. Capable of playing in either a 4-3 or 3-4 scheme, Freeney can still help out a club on the cheap.Dwight Freeney (Vertical)

Three players on this list — Elvis Dumervil, Connor Barwin, and Eugene Sims — were released by their respective clubs last week, meaning they won’t count against the compensatory formula if and when they’re signed. Dumervil, now 33, was hampered by injuries last season but still earned strong pass-rushing marks from Pro Football Focus. Barwin, meanwhile, wasn’t a good fit in Jim Schwartz‘s 4-3 defense, but he should flourish if he signs with a team running a 3-4 look. So far, he’s met with the Bengals (who use a 4-3) and Rams (3-4).

Chris Long has already indicated he won’t be returning to the Patriots, indicating he wants to join a roster where he’ll earn more playing time. Erik Walden, too, won’t re-sign with his 2016 club (the Colts), but he has taken a visit with the division rival Titans. Further down the list, Howard Jones has also met with at least one club, as he was hosted by the Jets on Tuesday. Jones, 27, is recovering from a torn ACL, but did post five sacks in five starts last season.

Interior defensive line:

  1. Johnathan Hankins
  2. Dontari Poe
  3. Jared Odrick
  4. Vance Walker
  5. Sen’Derrick Marks
  6. Ricky Jean-Francois
  7. Roy Miller
  8. Al Woods
  9. Tony McDaniel
  10. Cullen Jenkins
  11. Frostee Rucker
  12. Cam Thomas
  13. John Jenkins
  14. Tyson Jackson
  15. Tyson Alualu

Although top-flight players such as Calais Campbell and Brandon Williams have already been signed, the crop of interior defenders remains strong at the top. The buzz around Johnathan Hankins has been virtually non-existent, as the only club that’s been even tangentially linked to the 25-year-old is the Redskins. He’s one of the youngest free agents on the market, and therefore is probably looking for a massive payday. But the lack of interest around Hankins may be an indication that he’s simply asking for too much money.Johnathan Hankins (Vertical)

The same issue could be surrounding Dontari Poe, although he’s not wanting for meetings around the league. He’s visited with the Colts, Falcons, Jaguars, and Dolphins, while the 49ers and Raiders also reportedly have some level of interest. Clubs may have concerns about Poe’s lingering back issues, and he might have to accept a one-year deal in order to prove he’s healthy and willing to provide full effort.

The remaining defensive interior players are mostly over-30 veterans, with names such as Tony McDaniel, Cullen Jenkins, Frostee Rucker, and Tyson Jackson still looking for new deals. While most of these guys can still play, they may have to wait awhile — possibly into the summer — before signing on with their next club. Jared Odrick (Patriots) and Vance Walker (Bears) have both taken visits, but the most intriguing lineman here may be Sen’Derrick Marks, who offers a good amount of pass rush from the interior.

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Latest On Saints, Malcolm Butler

The Saints and Malcolm Butler have begun negotiations on a new contract and hope to strike a deal this week, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets. From there, the Saints will discuss the parameters of a trade with the Patriots.

Butler won’t be meeting with New Orleans until later this week, but the two sides are already discussing a potential deal. From here, there are a number of different potential outcomes:

  1. The Saints sign Butler to an offer sheet and risk losing their No. 11 overall pick to New England. This scenario, I feel, is unlikely. Butler has previously pushed for top ten cornerback money and the Saints would be borderline crazy to give up such a valuable pick in addition to that type of contract. Butler could potentially agree to a lesser deal, but he’ll only bend so far and the Saints won’t end up with him if the deal is team-friendly enough for New England to match.
  2. The Saints hammer out contract terms with Butler, then work out a less-costly trade with the Patriots. The Patriots and Saints obviously have a good rapport as evidenced by the Brandin Cooks deal. The Patriots can afford to lose Butler after adding Stephon Gilmore and they could be inclined to negotiate if they believe New Orleans will not sacrifice the No. 11 pick. A good middle-ground option here might see the Patriots get back their own No. 32 overall pick. Then, in essence, the two sides will have swapped Cooks for Butler with the Saints moving up from No. 118 overall to No. 103. In this scenario, to circumvent the rules of restricted free agency, the Patriots would “sign-and-trade” Butler to New Orleans.
  3. The Patriots refuse to agree to a trade and the Saints refuse to part with the No. 11 overall pick. This would result in Butler continuing his (restricted) free agency tour. If he can’t find a team willing to cough up a first-round choice for the right to sign him and the Pats do not give him a multi-year extension, he’ll only have one option: play out 2017 with the Patriots on the one-year, $3.91MM first-round tender. Butler is reportedly not entertaining any sort of holdout, so his contractual drama would be put on pause until March 2018.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

PFR Originals: 3/5/17 – 3/12/17

The original content and analysis produced by the PFR staff during the past week:

  • Zach Links unveiled PFR’s Top 50 Free Agents of 2017, a list topped by cornerback A.J. Bouye, who received $65MM from the Jaguars over a five-year term. Given that we’re nearly three days removed from the start of free agency, most of the players on the list have signed, but there are still 14 free agents from that ranking who are still on the open market. That group of available players is led by linebacker Dont’a Hightower, who placed fourth overall.
  • In addition to PFR’s overall rankings, Zach and I surveyed the top-15 players at each position on both offense and defense. So far, the running back and non-rush linebacker position markets have been slow to develop, while wide receivers, interior offensive linemen, and interior defensive linemen have been flying off the board. We’ll have updates to each of these lists in the near future, examining the top players still around for the second wave of free agency.
  • Many free agents were already spoken for by Friday, leading Zach to take a look at the best remaining players at that time, a list that included (and still includes) Adrian Peterson, Hightower, Eddie Lacy, Dontari Poe, and Johnathan Hankins.
  • The NFL has seen seven trades go down this year, and the Patriots have already been involved in three! Keep track of all the deals by bookmarking our ongoing list of 2017 NFL Trades.