The longtime Dallas safety, waived by Jacksonville last week, surfaced as a possible option for a return to Texas. However, the Cowboys will stick with their current back-line defenders for the time being.
Cowboys officials discussed re-signing Church because of his knowledge of Rod Marinelli’s system, Moore notes, but the team plans to hold off on a reunion. Rookie Ronnie Harrison supplanted Church in the Jaguars’ starting lineup, and the 30-year-old defender cleared waivers.
Safety resided as a rumored priority for months in Dallas, with the team eventually upping its Earl Thomas offer to a second-round pick. The Seahawks didn’t budge, and the Cowboys stuck with their incumbents. Xavier Woods and Jeff Heath remain the first-stringers in Dallas.
The Jaguars waived safety Barry Church yesterday, and it sounds like his former team could have some interest. Veteran NFL reporter Ed Werder tweets that the Cowboys “will evaluate their interest” in Church if he ultimately clears waivers.
As our own Zach Links pointed out yesterday, a team could theoretically claim Church, pay him his $368K game checks for the rest of the year, and then release him from his deal in the offseason. However, the more likely scenario is that Church will end up going unclaimed, at which time any team could sign the 30-year-old.
Church joined the Jaguars during the 2017 offseason on a four-year, $21.6MM deal. In eleven games this season, Church has compiled 38 tackles, one sack, and one interception. However, he’s been generally poor in coverage, and ranked as Pro Football Focus’ No. 79 safety out of 83 qualified players.
The veteran was much sharper in 2017, and he had a standout 2016 campaign during his final season in Dallas. Church might not necessarily knock Xavier Woods or Jeff Heath out of the starting lineup, but he’d at least provide some veteran know-how as a backup. Throughout the early parts of the season, the Cowboys were connected to Seahawks safety Earl Thomas, so they’re definitely receptive to adding some reinforcement at the position.
December 14th, 2018 at 2:48pm CST by Zachary Links
The Jaguars will waive safety Barry Church, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (on Twitter). In related moves, the Jags also waived tight end Niles Paul from the NFI list and activated offensive lineman Josh Wells from injured reserve.
Church, 30, joined the Jaguars prior to the 2017 offseason on a four-year, $21.6MM deal. His guarantees have already been paid out, so the move will have no impact on the Jaguars’ 2019 cap. Church’s release will free up $6.25MM in 2019 and its expected that there will be more cap-clearing cuts in the coming months.
The veteran was a healthy scratch last week, but the move to release him before the end of the season is a tad surprising. In any case, Church will hit the waiver wire, giving teams 24 hours to claim him.
In theory, a team could be on board with paying him game checks of $368K for the rest of the year before releasing him from his deal in the offseason. However, the more likely scenario is that Church will go unclaimed and then sign with a contender for the rest of the way.
In eleven games this year (all starts), Church has tallied 38 tackles, one sack, and one interception. However, he has been generally poor in coverage and ranks as Pro Football Focus’ No. 79 safety out of 83 qualified players. He was far sharper in 2016, his final year with the Cowboys, and 2017, his first with the Jags.
October 28th, 2018 at 9:42am CST by Andrew Ortenberg
Sunday, 9:42am: It appears that this situation will blow over. Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets that Church was not actually arrested — Hayden, Wilson, and Harrison apparently were — but none of the four players were charged. London Police say the matter is “resolved.”
Rapoport says that the four men skipped out on a $64K bar tab, but that may have been due to a misunderstanding (video link). Apparently, expensive bottles of alcohol were being sent to their table, but they believed someone else was paying for them. They were therefore surprised when they were expected to pay.
In any event, it seems this incident will not have any impact on the team or the players moving forward.
Saturday, 9:15pm: The players arrested were Barry Church, D.J. Hayden, Jarrod Wilson, and Ronnie Harrison, according to Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports (Twitter link). All four players are defensive backs, which could explain why the team was so reluctant to name them in their statement.
Jacksonville is already shorthanded in the secondary and can’t afford to be without both Church and Harrison, so they will almost certainly still play. Church, a safety, plays nearly every down while Harrison, also a safety, has seen his snaps increase in recent weeks. Hayden was already unlikely to play with an injury, and Wilson is a lightly-used special-teamer.
Saturday, 9:05pm: Online reports from British tabloids began circulating that four Jaguars players had been arrested ahead of Jacksonville’s game in London, and now the team is confirming those reports, according to James Palmer of NFL Network (Twitter link).
The Jaguars released a very brief statement acknowledging what happened, which reads as follows: “We are aware that four of our players were detained over restitution of a bill. The matter is being resolved and the players are with the team. Any discipline will be handled internally.”
The statement is very light on details, and it hasn’t been reported yet which four players were detained. The original report from the British paper said the players were confronted by security at a nightclub and accused of trying to avoid paying their tab. While the team is clearly being intentionally vague, we should know more details soon. At this point, it’s unclear if the players will still play in the game against the Eagles tomorrow.
No matter what happens, it’s an awful look for a club that’s been in disarray for weeks now, with the news breaking 12 hours before they’re set to kick off. The locker room has reportedly turned toxic, with multiple shouting matches breaking out after their most recent loss. Blake Bortles was benched and is now on a very short leash, and this is the last thing the team needs.
The NFL has made expanding the game into the London market a major focal point in recent years, and the league office will likely be outraged at the optics. While the Jaguars have said any discipline will be internal, commissioner Roger Goodell may disagree.
Cowboys free agent safety Barry Church is expected to land with the Jaguars on a four-year deal worth more than $6MM per year, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (on Twitter). Rapoport says the deal will go down barring a “change of heart.” Church can officially ink his contract on Thursday.
Church, one of my Top 50 Free Agents based on projected earning power, seemed likely to leave Dallas as the Cowboys work to keep multiple key free agents with limited cap room.
The 29-year-old totaled 85 tackles and two interceptions in 12 games last season. Pro Football Focus gave him an 85.3 overall score, placing him as the eleventh-best safety in the league out of 89 qualified players. The former undrafted free agent had played in at least 15 games between 2013 and 2015, averaging at least 100 tackles and nearly two forced fumbles per season.
The Redskins and the Panthers were among the other teams to express interest in Church this offseason.
Holy moly, Jacksonville is not playing around this offseason. The Jaguars appear in the mix for some of this year’s best unrestricted free agents, including cornerback A.J. Bouye, guard Kevin Zeitler, defensive lineman Calais Campbell, and safety Barry Church, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets. Their interest in Campbell and Zeitler was reported earlier this week.
Bouye is ranked as my No. 1 free agent this offseason based on earning power and the rest of the guys in this group are not far behind. Zeitler (No 5 on the list), Campbell (No. 9), and Church (No. 34) would all cost the Jaguars a pretty penny. Of course, there is no realistic scenario that has Jacksonville signing all four players, but their interest in this bunch is noteworthy. Armed with upwards of $75MM in cap space, the Jags could certainly come away with one or two high-end free agents.
When free agency opens on Thursday, Zeitler could set a new guard standard at $12MM per year. Bouye’s market is also looking like it will yield a $12MM+ per year contract, even though he only has one strong year on his resume. Church already has a number of teams interested in him and should get more than $5MM per season.
Expected to provide Chris Baker with an offer by Tuesday, the Redskins may now be conceding the defensive end is going to move on in free agency. Washington’s top defensive lineman over the past two seasons is “highly likely” to depart the nation’s capital, Jason La Canfora of CBSSports.com reports (on Twitter). The Broncos and Buccaneers are coveting Baker.
However, the Redskins are going to be on the hunt for defensive linemen. One name La Canfora is connecting the team is Dontari Poe (Twitter link). The five-year Chiefs starter reportedly hasn’t seen his market take off during his first free agency period, with Jason Cole of Bleacher Report hearing the mammoth defender could take a one-year contract with a team that would let him rush quarterbacks more.
Poe served as a lane clogger in Kansas City but was a dynamo in terms of snaps played, logging more than any nose man during his rookie-deal tenure in Kansas City. But his sack totals decreased, plummeting from 10.5 between the 2013 and ’14 seasons (both Pro Bowl slates) to 2.5 combined in 2015 and ’16. The 26-year-old wouldn’t be a Baker replacement, being a nose guard, but would help Washington offset the end’s defection from a talent standpoint.
Additionally, La Canfora notes both the Redskins and Jaguars are aiming to land Cowboys safety Barry Church. Jacksonville obviously has the cap room to outmuscle Washington here, at $75MM to $34MM, but Church isn’t expected to command an incredibly lucrative deal. Charles Robinson of Yahoo.com connected the eighth-year safety to an AAV mark north of $5MM. Although, the Panthers are also pursuing Church, so this figure could escalate. The Redskins have experienced inconsistency at safety for a bit now due to injuries and under-performing cogs.
It’s free agency week! This year, thanks to the salary cap increase, the dollars will be flying and players will make more than you ever could have expected. Our lists for offense and defense rank free agents based on overall ability, but our Top 50 ranks players based on earning power. Here, you’ll get a good sense of what the market will be like this week and who the big fish are.
The league’s “legal tampering” window will open on Tuesday at 11:00am CT. Technically, teams and players aren’t permitted to finalize agreements on contracts during that legal tampering window, but that’s often treated as a guideline rather than a hard and fast rule. We will almost certainly see handshake agreements go down on Tuesday and Wednesday before they become official on Thursday, the technical beginning of free agency.
Our list of 2017’s top 50 free agents doesn’t include restricted free agents, or franchise tagged players, since they’re effectively restricted free agents as well.
With those caveats out of the way, let’s dive right in! Here are Pro Football Rumors’ top 50 NFL free agents for 2017, along with a few predictions on how much they might earn and what teams could be in the mix to sign them:
1. A.J. Bouye, CB (Texans): Bouye is an overnight sensation, going from unknown to elite talent in the blink of an eye. No one knows exactly what to make of Bouye, but his upside is too much for teams to pass up. The Texans declined to use the franchise tag on the 25-year-old (26 in August), but they’re still hoping to get a deal done this week. The Jets are said to have interest, but it’s not clear if they’ll have the room to get something done. Cornerback-needy teams like the Panthers, Saints, Jaguars, Titans, Bears, and Eagles can be expected to at least kick the tires on this year’s top player in the secondary. Could something like Janoris Jenkins‘ five year, $62.5MM contract ($28.8MM fully guaranteed) from last year be within reach? Jenkins had a longer history of success than Bouye, but consider these facts: Bouye nearly two years younger than Jenkins was at time of signing and the salary cap has risen by about $12MM. Signed with Jaguars for five years, $67.5MM.
2. Alshon Jeffery, WR (Bears): He was hurt for most of 2015 and he slumped along with the entire Bears offense in 2016, but his natural ability is still evident and he is a legitimate No. 1 wide receiver. At one point, it seemed like Jeffery could wind up as the league’s highest-paid wide receiver. That won’t be the case, but he will likely get more cash than any other wide receiver in this year’s class. The Eagles and Titans have been hot on his tail for some time now. The 49ers could also get involved and a return to the Bears cannot be ruled out either. Ultimately, Jeffery should wind up fetching at least $10MM per year and perhaps as much as $12MM per year on his next deal. Signed with Eagles for one year, $9.5MM.
3. Kenny Stills, WR (Dolphins): Jeffery isn’t the only wide receiver who could fetch $12MM per year. Stills isn’t necessarily the best wide receiver on his own team, but he is just on the cusp of his 25th birthday and his ability to stretch the field is tantalizing. It doesn’t sound like the Dolphins are ready to be the highest bidder for his services and it’s not hard to imagine a team like the Eagles landing him. Naturally, there’s quite a bit of overlap between the potential suitors for Jeffery and Stills: the Eagles, Titans, Bears, and 49ers will probably come calling. The Rams may not have enough room to squeeze in Stills, but they could certainly use a playmaker like him if they do not re-sign Kenny Britt. Stills reportedly likes the West Coast (who doesn’t?) so the Niners and Rams could have a leg up on the others if the bidding is close. Re-signed with Dolphins for four years, $32MM.
4. Dont’a Hightower, LB (Patriots): The market is capped for non-rush linebackers, but Hightower is pretty much the best at what he does and is also lauded for his intangibles. The Patriots have always embraced the “next man up” philosophy, so it is possible they will allow him to go elsewhere. The Dolphins have been frequently connected to Hightower, but that might be too ambitious for a team that has multiple major needs to address. The Colts might also make sense, but the price might be too rich for their blood. A Patriots return appears to be the most likely outcome, but anything is possible. Re-signed with Patriots for four years, $35.5MM.
5. Kevin Zeitler, G (Bengals): Zeitler has age on his side and he’s one of the safest free agents in the top ten after three consecutive years of dominance. Interior offensive linemen don’t get as much love as their counterparts on the outside, but they are still incredibly vital and Zeitler’s next contract will reflect that. If he doesn’t circle back to the Bengals, the Jaguars, Cardinals, Packers, and Seahawks all make varying degrees of sense for Zeitler. From a football standpoint, you can add the Jets to that group too, but I’m not sure they can meet a ~$12MM/year asking price. Signed with Browns for five years, $60MM.
6. Logan Ryan, CB (Patriots): There are bigger names available at the cornerback position, but Ryan slots ahead of many of them after a career year. It also doesn’t hurt that this fresh-faced Super Bowl champ only just turned 26 in February. If the Patriots don’t tie him down, Ryan’s earning power could conceivably vault him past Trumaine Johnson in terms of guaranteed cash. The Jaguars and Titans would be wise to zero in on Ryan if they can’t land Bouye and it’s possible that some of their evaluators might even prefer Ryan over the Houston standout. Ryan’s next deal will probably pay him eight figures per year and it should be a lengthy pact. Signed with Titans for three years, $30MM.
7. Terrelle Pryor, WR (Browns): There is strong mutual interest in a new deal between Pryor and the Browns. Still, the Browns passed on the opportunity to franchise tag the Ohio State product and he now appears poised to test the open market. With pretty much just one year to show, how will Pryor fare in free agency? His next deal should pay him at least $10MM/year and he could get up to $12MM/year. In addition to the Browns, the usual suspects for this year’s high-end WRs will explore signing Pryor (say it with me): Eagles, Titans, and 49ers. There’s conflicting word about whether the Steelers will get involved. The Giants are known to have interest, but I don’t think they’ll be splurging on free agents like they did one year ago. Signed with Redskins for one year, $6MM.
8 .Ricky Wagner, OT (Ravens): There’s already talk of Wagner fetching around $10MM/year and it’s not like this year’s free agent market is flush with young, quality tackles. When you also consider the lack of quality tackles in the draft, it’s apparent that Wagner is about to get PAID, in all caps.Believe it or not, $10MM/year might be his floor. When all is said and done, he’ll be the league’s biggest earner at right tackle. The Bears are particularly interested in Wagner, so he could go from the AFC North to the NFC North this week. Signed with Lions for five years, $47.5MM.
9. Calais Campbell, DL (Cardinals): Campbell was supposed to be an afterthought in Arizona after the addition of Chandler Jones. Perhaps motivated by a perceived slight, Campbell turned in a stellar year. Now, the Cardinals would very much like to keep him, but they can only go so far as they back up the Brinks truck for Jones and look into retaining other key free agents. If Jones does not agree to a cap-smoothing long-term deal between now and March 9th, the odds of Campbell leaving increase. The Jaguars are said to be a leading contender for Campbell while the Titans, Broncos, Colts, and Bears could also use a force like him. His age (31 in September) gives him a bit of a ceiling in terms of overall compensation, but he should still do nicely this month. Signed with Jaguars for four years, $60MM.
10. Stephon Gilmore, CB (Bills): In terms of pure talent, Gilmore might be the best cornerback available. Trouble is, no one knows what to make of him after a down 2016. Some have openly theorized that Gilmore was playing it safe to avoid injury in his pivotal contract year. It’s also possible that Buffalo’s injuries in the front seven put undue stress on the secondary. The Bears are reportedly high on Gilmore and he may represent a cheaper option than Bouye or Ryan. A Bills return would also make sense here. Signed with Patriots for five years, $65MM.
11. Tony Jefferson, S (Cardinals): The numbers at Pro Football Focus placed Jefferson slightly ahead of Eric Berry in 2016. He’s also a full three years younger than the KC star. The Cardinals want to keep Jefferson, but they expect to lose him. The Buccaneers, Redskins, Titans, and Panthers could all be in the mix for Jefferson. Now that Berry is off the market, I expect Jefferson to command $10MM per season on a multi-year deal – maybe more. Signed with Ravens for four years, $36MM.
12. Duron Harmon, S (Patriots): Surprised to see Harmon so close to fellow safety Tony Jefferson on this list? Don’t be. Free safety is where the money is at and Harmon figures to get make more than any of us anticipated six months ago. Like Ryan, Harmon is also just 26. The Patriots would presumably like to keep Harmon. If they don’t, teams like the Lions, Steelers, and Chargers could be in the mix. Re-signed with Patriots for four years, $17MM.
13. Mike Glennon, QB (Buccaneers): I’d like to take this opportunity to remind everyone that players are ranked here based on projected earnings, not ability. As of this writing, Glennon is the best QB in this year’s free agent class and he could get a deal that pays roughly $15MM/year (the guarantee amount, however, will be the thing to watch). The Bears are apparently very, very high on the 6’7″ QB. The 49ers, who were previously linked to him, will not be in pursuit. Signed with Bears for three years, $45MM.
14. T.J. Lang, G (Packers): In 2016, Lang earned a strong 87.0 overall grade from Pro Football Focus (8th amongst guards), including a 92.9 score for pass blocking (2nd). Lang, who turns 30 in September, also spent some time at tackle early in his career and could be moved around the line in a pinch. Signed with the Lions for three years, $29MM.
15. Brandon Williams, DT (Ravens): The Ravens are prioritizing a new deal for Williams this offseason, but if they don’t re-sign him, the Dolphins could be among the teams in pursuit. Williams doesn’t fill up a stat sheet, but he is an effective run-stuffer with age on his side. At 28, teams won’t be hesitant about making a multi-year commitment. Re-signed with Ravens for five years, $52.5MM.
16. Kenny Britt, WR (Rams): Britt managed to turn in his first career 1,000+ yard season despite playing in the NFL’s worst offense. He could match or even best Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson when it comes to average annual value and his age could lead to a longer deal. The Giants could bring the Rutgers product back to New Jersey to fill Victor Cruz‘s spot and take attention away from Odell Beckham Jr., but we’re expecting them to put their resources in other areas. The 49ers and Cowboys are both said to have their eyes on Britt. San Francisco is flush with cap space, but Dallas will have to do some maneuvering to make that deal work. Signed with Browns for four years, $32.5MM.
17. Dontari Poe, DT (Chiefs): Poe is a bit inconsistent, but when he’s on it’s a clear reminder of why the Chiefs made him the No. 11 overall pick in the 2012 draft. The Memphis product boasts two Pro Bowl selections and his athleticism may allow him to occasionally play a bit on the outside. If he leaves KC, the Raiders, Texans, Colts, and Packers (if they’re finally serious about spending in free agency) would all make sense for him. Signed with Falcons for one year, $8MM.
18. Nick Perry, DE (Packers): After this year’s premier edge defenders were franchised, Perry stands as the best defensive end available. In just 14 games (12 starts), the former first-round pick amassed 11 sacks. Teams employing a 3-4 scheme will be especially interested in his services. Re-signed with Packers for five years, $60MM.
19. Johnathan Hankins, DT (Giants): Hankins has youth on his side as he won’t turn 25 until late March. He also played a hand in the Giants’ strong run defense last year – as a team, they allowed just 88.6 yards on the ground per game. On the flipside, the advanced metrics indicate that Hankins wasn’t all that great last year. Signed with Colts for three years, $27MM.
20. Martellus Bennett, TE (Patriots): Rob Gronkowski‘s injury woes were unfortunate, but the Patriots barely missed a beat thanks to Bennett. Recently, Bennett gloated about Super Bowl winners getting overpaid and he’s not wrong – the shine of a championship ring tends to illuminate free agents. Still, Bennett shouldn’t sell himself short: he’s a big, bruising tight end who can be a major factor in the red zone, as evidenced by his seven touchdowns last season. Signed with the Packers for three years, $21MM.
21. Larry Warford, G (Lions): The knock on Warford when he was coming out of Kentucky was that he might not be able to make it at the next level due to his lack of agility and athleticism. Today, he’s not the quickest guard in the NFL, but he’s unquestionably starting caliber. Warford has never missed more than three games in one NFL season and he’s just entering his age-26 season. Signed with Saints for four years, $37MM.
22. Kevin Minter, LB (Cardinals): The Cardinals have lots of free agents to address this offseason and that could lead to the 26-year-old Minter going elsewhere. Last year, he racked up 81 total tackles and 3.5 sacks in 16 games. Signed with Bengals for one year, $4.25MM.
23. Andrew Whitworth, OT (Bengals): Whitworth is a stud, but his earning power is capped by his age (he’ll celebrate his 36th birthday in December). Last year, PFF rated him as the second-best tackle in the entire NFL and he’s been a Top 5/Top 10 guy for the last five years in a row. It should also be noted that he has been remarkably durable throughout his career, missing only two games since 2009. Signed with Rams for three years, $36MM.
24. Pierre Garcon, WR (Redskins): Garcon is a solid possession receiver, a label that he personally rejects. We understand where he’s coming from. This year, the Redskins had the veteran running deeper routes than he has in the past and he showed that he could stretch the field a bit, even though he wasn’t the fastest guy on the WR depth chart. He didn’t approach his gaudy 2013 numbers, but he still turned in a respectable stat line of 79 catches for 1,041 yards. His 69.1% catch rate was a career-high. Signed with 49ers for two years, $23MM.
25. Zach Brown, LB (Bills): Finally, Brown lived up to his second-round draft status in 2016. After settling for a cheap one-year deal last year, Brown should do a lot better this time around. Signed with Redskins for one year, $2.25MM.
26. DeSean Jackson, WR (Redskins): Jackson is on the wrong side of 30 and, typically, blazing speed does not age well. Still, he’s one of the game’s best deep threats and we can’t help but think that the Eagles could overspend to bring this fan favorite home. If that doesn’t come to fruition, don’t be surprised if he winds up with the Bucs. Signed with Buccaneers for three years, $33.5MM.
27. Chris Baker, DT (Redskins): Baker is well-rounded and can be used on both the interior and outside of the defensive line. The Redskins have been leaning on him more each year and he has thrived with the increased responsibilities. Signed with Buccaneers for three years, $15.75MM.
28. Prince Amukamara, CB (Jaguars): After being slowed by injuries in New York, Amukamara managed to stay on the field for most of the season in Jacksonville. He probably won’t blossom into a shutdown corner this late in the game, but the former first-round pick would make a fine CB2 somewhere. Signed with Bears for one year, $7MM.
29. Jabaal Sheard, DL (Patriots): Sheard saw his playing time reduced in the middle of the season and was even a healthy scratch for one game in November. Despite that bump in the road, the 27-year-old (28 in May) still managed to finish out the year with five sacks and 33 total tackles. Teams may have some questions about Sheard’s effort and/or conditioning after he wound up in Belichick’s doghouse. His stock could be affected if the Patriots don’t make a genuine effort to re-sign him. The Falcons could use him to fortify their front seven and he’ll be cheaper than a lot of the other defensive linemen out there. The rival Saints may also come calling. Signed with Colts for three years, $25.5MM.
30. Jonathan Cyprien, S (Jaguars): Jacksonville fans are often frustrated with Cyprien, but he’s coming off of a career year and he appears to have put many of his bad habits behind him. He finished out 2016 with 126 total tackles, one sack, and four pass deflections. PFF’s 87.8 overall grade was the best of his career and placed him No. 7 among safeties, just ahead of Berry. Signed with Titans for four years, $25MM.
31. Dre Kirkpatrick, CB (Bengals): We’re still waiting for Kirkpatrick to live up to his first-round billing. Personally, I wouldn’t commit serious money to Kirkpatrick on a long-term deal, but another club desperate for cornerback help might. The Steelers have some level of interest in Kirkpatrick after watching him up close for multiple years. As disappointing as he has been, something in the $8MM/year range cannot be ruled out. Re-signed with Bengals for five years, $52.5MM.
32. Ronald Leary, G (Cowboys): Leary has no interest in a reserve role and he’ll get the full-time starting job he craves this spring. Teams in need of a strong run-blocking guard will be all over him. Signed with Broncos for four years, $35MM.
33. J.C. Tretter, C (Packers): In an admittedly small sample last year, PFF rated Tretter as the ninth-best center in the NFL last season. Despite playing in only six games before his season-ending injury, Tretter should outearn every other center thanks in large part to his youth. The former fourth-round pick just recently turned 26. Signed with Browns for three years, $16.75MM.
34. Barry Church, S (Cowboys): Church isn’t a megastar, but he is a well-rounded strong safety who should draw plenty of interest. Berry re-signing with the Chiefs should cause a domino effect that enhances his market. Signed with Jaguars for four years, $21.6MM.
35. Adrian Peterson, RB (Vikings): As expected, the Vikings will decline Peterson’s hefty option for the 2017 season. A return to Minnesota is still possible and contenders like the Giants and Raiders will also be making a strong push to add AD to their backfield. Still, given his injury history, it’s hard to see Peterson getting a lucrative multi-year deal on the cusp of his 32nd birthday, hence his ranking this far down on the list. We have him as our top running back in the Top 50 because he should still score a fat one-year contract. The Giants and Raiders have both been linked to Peterson. The Packers could come into play if they lose their No. 1 RB this week. Signed with Saints for two years, $7MM.
36. Riley Reiff, OT (Lions): Personally, I prefer Russell Okung and Kelvin Beachum to Reiff, but I anticipate Reiff getting more money than both. He’s younger than Okung and coming off of a much better year than Beachum. Signed with Vikings for five years, $58.75MM.
37. Brandon Marshall, WR (Jets): The Jets dropped Marshall earlier this month, at his request. He didn’t do much last season, but neither did anyone else on the Jets. He could really wind up torturing Jets fans if he winds up with the Giants or Patriots as rumored. The Ravens love big-name aging receivers, so they would also be a natural fit for him. Signed with Giants for two years, $12MM.
38. Eddie Lacy, RB (Packers): Lacy’s weight issues are well documented but when he’s on, he’s on. Before his unfortunate injury this past fall, Lacy was averaging 5.07 yards per carry. Signed with Seahawks for one year, $4.25MM.
39. T.J. McDonald, S (Rams): I’m not as high on him as others, but he’s young and can knock receivers into next week. Signed with Dolphins for one year, $775K.
40. Morris Claiborne, CB (Cowboys): After multiple disappointing seasons, Claiborne broke out in his contract year. Then, his campaign ended after seven games. Will teams take the glass-half-full view of the former No. 6 overall pick? We believe they will, but there’s also a good crop of defensive backs in this year’s draft. Signed with Jets for one year, $5MM.
41. John Simon, LB/DE (Texans): J.J. Watt, Jadeveon Clowney, and Whitney Mercilus get the attention in Houston, but Simon is a quality edge rusher in his own right. This spring, the 26-year-old could go from supersub to starter with a significant pay bump. Signed with Colts for three years, $13.5MM.
42. Micah Hyde, S (Packers): Hyde, who just turned 26 in December, offers versatility and can be slotted anywhere in the secondary. In that respect, you might be thinking that he’s Darius Butler-lite. Many will prefer Butler as a player for the here and now, but Hyde could get more years and dollars thanks to the age gap. Signed with Bills for five years, $30MM.
43. Russell Okung, OT (Broncos): Last year, Okung went into free agency without an agent. That decision bit him in the behind after he turned in a so-so year and the Broncos turned down his pricey multi-year option. This time around, I hope he doesn’t cheap out and hires proper representation. Regardless, his market will be a lot softer than it was in 2016. Signed with Chargers for four years, $53MM.
44. Latavius Murray, RB (Raiders): He’s not the most explosive runner out there, but he’s a quality option for teams in need. Here’s an interesting scenario based on what we’ve been hearing: Murray could land with the Vikings while Peterson joins up with Oakland. Signed with Vikings for three years, $15MM.
45. Kayvon Webster, CB (Broncos): Webster wants more playing time and he’s not going to get that opportunity in Denver. He will almost certainly go elsewhere and I see him getting a solid payday based on his age (just turned 26), athleticism, and special teams ability. Signed with Rams for two years, $8MM.
46. Perry Riley, LB (Raiders): After he was a cap casualty of the Redskins last year, Riley quietly had a bounce-back year in Oakland.
47. Jack Doyle, TE (Colts): Every time we hear an update on Doyle, his projected salary keeps on rising. If the Patriots let Bennett leave, as expected, it’s possible they could look at Doyle as a new safety net for Gronk. Re-signed with Colts for three years, $19MM.
48. Darius Butler, DB (Colts): His ability to play multiple positions will work in his favor. Here’s a thought: if the Packers lose Hyde, they could make a play for Butler. He’ll be cheaper than Hyde due to the age gap and he’s arguably the better player for 2017. Re-signed with Colts for one year, $3MM.
49. Ryan Clady, OT (Jets): Lots of injury concerns, but also lots of potential.
NFL free agency gets underway on Thursday 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. Here is our updated outlook for each defensive and special teams position.
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 franchised players 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 this offseason:
Now that Chandler Jones, Melvin Ingram, and Jason Pierre-Paul have all been assigned the franchise tag, Nick Perry stands as the top edge defender on the free agent market, and is now in a position to cash in. The Packers opted against the franchise tender for the 26-year-old Perry, so he’ll hit the open market following a career year which saw him post 11 sacks.
After managing nine sacks over the first nine years of his NFL tenure, Lorenzo Alexander busted out with 12.5 quarterback takedowns in 2016, and now could be looking for a double-digit annual salary. Charles Johnson, meanwhile, looks like a good bet to return to the Panthers, but DeMarcus Ware could be something of a wild card — after missing 11 games in the past two seasons, does the 34-year-old have enough left in the tank? The same could be asked of Dwight Freeney, who at age-37 posted three sacks in a rotational role for the Falcons.
Calais Campbell is the best overall player among interior defenders, and though he’s entering his age-31 season and may not cost as much as Johnathan Hankins, Brandon Williams, and Dontari Poe, Campbell will still be highly-sought after as he searches for his last substantial payday Campbell’s agent met with the Cardinals last week, but other speculative fits for the veteran defender include the Broncos, Raiders, Ravens, Colts, and Titans.
Hankins is only 24 years old, and though the Giants are trying to retain him along with the rest of their defensive core, the 6’3″, 320-pound mauler should represent an attractive option to a number of clubs this offseason. Williams, too, offers a massive presence on the inside, while Poe could intrigue clubs based on his first-round pedigree and athleticism (though his play hasn’t always matched his potential). The Redskins’ Chris Baker is a solid, well-rounded defensive tackle, and could constitute a consolation prize for teams that miss out on their top targets.
As usual, the non-rush linebacker market isn’t exactly overflowing with elite talent, and Dont’a Hightower stands as far-and-away the best player among this group. The Patriots already traded away several of their best defenders, including Chandler Jones and Jamie Collins, an indication that they view Hightower as the best best to stick around long term. New England didn’t place the franchise nor the transition tag on Hightower, so he’ll have the ability to set the market at linebacker.
Coming off a disappointing four-year run with the Titans in 2016, Zach Brown was last year forced to sign a one-year deal with the Bills for less than $1.5MM. That won’t be the case this spring, as Brown finally lived up to his second-round draft status by grading as one of the league’s best ‘backers. Brown especially excelled in pass coverage by using his speed to chase pass-catchers around the field, and in today’s NFL, that’s a skill-set that equals a hefty paycheck.
The Texans are didn’t use the franchise tag on A.J. Bouye, a decision which sets up the young corner to be the single-most intriguing player on the 2017 free agent market. Only 25 years old, Bouye came out of nowhere to grade as PFF’s No. 3 corner in 2016. But the former undrafted free agent played on less than 900 defensive snaps over the first three years of his career, so he’s going to get paid on essentially one season of production. Bouye earned less than $3MM total during his time with Houston — his next contract could contain five times that amount…annually.
The cornerback market stands as one of the best free agent positional groups this offseason, as strong players permeate the list from top-to-bottom. Stephon Gilmore is a more high-profile name than Logan Ryan, but Ryan has simply played better over the last few campaigns, and offers a more dependable output. The Bears are expected to make a run at Gilmore, while the Bengals have already been linked to Ryan.
Morris Claiborne is a former first-round pick but didn’t play like it until last season. Dre Kirkpatrick is a former first-round pick but has never played like it. The rest of the cornerback list has warts, as well: Prince Amukamara has dealt with injury, Kayvon Webster has only two career starts, Terence Newman is entering his age-39 season, and Sam Shields is coming off multiple concussions. All of these players offer upside, but they are all undoubtedly attached to risk.
Tony Jefferson is expected to hit free agency, and could be in for a contract that nears the $8-9MM range. Jefferson did reach the free agent market in 2016 as a restricted free agent, but he didn’t come with draft compensation attached. Any club could have signed him to an offer sheet, and if the Cardinals declined to match, would have acquired Jefferson scot-free. No team did so, which could be an indication that Jefferson’s 2016 market could be less robust than expected.
Also working against Jefferson is the fact that he plays close to the line of scrimmage, a role that’s relatively easy to fill, as Sam Monson of Pro Football Focus explained on a recent podcast. Duron Harmon, on the other hand, has demonstrated an ability to play deep safety, and thus could be in for a surprisingly high salary. The Cowboys’ Barry Church is “solid at everything, great at nothing,” tweets Andy Benoit of Sports Illustrated, while Jonathan Cyprien and T.J. McDonald are primarily run defenders. Darius Butler may be the most fascinating case among this list of safeties, as the former corner should theoretically offer above-average coverage skills.
Micah Hyde could have been listed among the free agent corners, as the do-it-all defensive back is capable of playing multiple roles. His versatility is central to the Packers’ defense, and D.J. Swearinger provides the same sort of flexibility to the Cardinals. If Jefferson defects via the open market, Arizona will likely hone in on re-signing Swearinger as his full-time replacement. Jairus Byrd is a late addition to the safety market after being released by the Saints, and it’s possible another will hope he can rebound to his All Pro days as he enters his age-30 season.
The Seahawks don’t figure to re-signSteven Hauschka after bringing in fellow kicker Blair Walsh, but the longtime Seattle placekicker should be able to quickly find a new home in free agency. Nick Novak attempted the second-most field goals in the NFL last season after many Texans’ drives stalled, while Robbie Gould filled in admirably for the Giants after they released Josh Brown, converting of all ten of his field goal attempts.
Nick Folk was released as a cap casualty, and still has the talent to become another club’s kicker, while Mike Nugent — cut by the Bengals at midseason — may be nearing the end of the road after missing six extra points. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Phil Dawson come back for a fifth season with the 49ers, but Greg Zuerlein could move on from the Rams after the club threatened to bring in competition last offseason.
Jeff Locke, 27, managed to pin opposing clubs inside the 20-yard line 34 times in 2016, good for fifth in the league. Now 40 years old, Shane Lechler is a seven-time Pro Bowler, but the Texans lost 12.7 points of field position on punts last season, meaning Houston could go in another direction at punter.