Prince Amukamara

NFC Notes: Eagles, Hicks, Packers, Bears

Eagles linebacker Jordan Hicks suffered a hand injury while exiting a pool on Thursday, according to Jimmy Kempski of the Philly Voice, but the issue isn’t expected to be serious, tweets Les Bowen of the Philadelphia Inquirer. Hicks will only be sidelined for three-to-four weeks, per Bowen, meaning he should be available for the start of training camp. Currently on vacation in Greece, Hicks sent video of his hand to Eagles doctors in order for the club to get some idea regarding the severity of the injury. Hicks, 25, played 95% of Philadelphia’s defensive snaps a season ago, managing 86 tackles and five interceptions while grading as the league’s No. 5 linebacker, per Pro Football Focus, which labeled Hicks as the NFL’s second-best coverage ‘backer.

Here’s more from the NFC:

  • Although general manager Ted Thompson and the rest of the Packers‘ front office doesn’t often target external free agents, they did sign defensive lineman Ricky Jean-Francois to a one-year, $3MM deal in March. “To get that phone call that the Green Bay Packers want you is rare,” Jean-Francois tells Stu Courtney of PackersNews.com. “It’s rare that you see them go outside and pick guys up and if they do, it’s for a reason. On the first day of meetings when all the new guys stand up, I’m used to seeing like five or six guys stand up and there were only three guys to stand up. I’m blessed to get picked up.” Jean-Francois was released by the Redskins before signing with Green Bay, so he won’t affect the Packers’ compensatory picks (a key factor in Green Bay’s decision making). Entering his age-30 campaign, Jean-Francois will back up Mike Daniels and Kenny Clark on a Packers defensive line that already ranked sixth in adjusted sack rate in 2016.
  • Like Jean-Francois, cornerback Prince Amukamara landed a one-year pact with an NFC North club this spring, as the veteran defensive back signed a deal with the Bears. But he’s hoping his relationship with Chicago extends beyond simply the 2017 season, as Chris Emma of CBS Chicago writes. “I don’t want to start bouncing around teams,” Amukamara said. “I want to find a home somewhere soon, what I did in New York. I’m trying to give this team everything I’ve got. Every one-year deal is a prove-it deal for the player. That’s just my mindset this year.” Amukamara, 28, will be playing on his second consecutive single-season accord after spending the 2016 campaign in Jacksonville. While he did earn a bump in pay (from $5MM to $7MM), it’s understandable that Amukamara hopes to ink a long-term deal.
  • The Eaglesdecision to waive wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham was due in part to the club’s confidence in fellow pass-catchers Marcus Johnson and Mack Hollins, tweets Adam Caplan of ESPN.com. Johnson, a 2016 undrafted free agent out of Texas, spent last year bouncing on and off Philadelphia’s practice squad before earning a futures deal in January. He has yet to appear in an NFL contest, but the Eagles clearly like what they’ve seen from Johnson on the practice field. Hollins, meanwhile, was selected in the fourth round in the 2017 draft, and should spent most his rookie season in special teams. Philadelphia currently has 11 wide receivers on its depth chart, including new free agent additions Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith.

Bears To Sign CB Prince Amukamara

The Bears are signing cornerback Prince Amukamara, according to Jordan Raanan of ESPN.com (on Twitter). It’s a one-year deal, Amukamara tells Josina Anderson of ESPN.com (on Twitter). Tom Pelissero of USA Today tweets that the deal is worth $7MM (all guaranteed). Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle tweets that half of that guaranteed money will come via base salary with the other half coming via a signing bonus."<strong

[RELATED: Check Out The Bears’ Updated Depth Chart On Roster Resource]

After being slowed by injuries with the Giants, Amukamara managed to stay on the field for most of the year in his one season with the Jaguars. He probably won’t blossom into a shutdown corner this late in his career, but the former first-round pick could make a fine starter for the Bears. Right now, Amukamara figures to start at one cornerback position with Cre’von LeBlanc holding down the other starting job.

The Bears were swinging for the fences this week, but came up short in several of their pursuits. Originally, Chicago was zeroing in on this year’s top available cornerback, A.J. Bouye. For one reason or another, it seems Bouye never had genuine interest in signing with the Bears. With Logan Ryan and others off the board, Amukamara stood as one of the best corners on the board by Friday morning.

In terms of ability, we had Amukamara ranked as this offseason’s sixth-best corner, behind Bouye, Ryan, Stephon Gilmore, Morris Claiborne, and Dre Kirkpatrick.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

PFR’s Top 50 NFL Free Agents

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.A.J. Bouye (vertical)

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.

Calais Campbell (vertical)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.

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Top 2017 Free Agents By Position 2.0: Defense

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:

Edge defender:

  1. Nick Perry
  2. Jabaal Sheard
  3. John Simon
  4. DeMarcus Ware
  5. Lorenzo Alexander
  6. Andre Branch
  7. Julius Peppers
  8. Charles Johnson
  9. Datone Jones
  10. Dwight Freeney
  11. Chris Long
  12. Mario Williams
  13. Paul Kruger
  14. Courtney Upshaw
  15. Jarvis Jones

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."<strong

The rest of this year’s crop of free agent pass rushers is a blend of young defenders searching for their first payday and veterans on the hunt for one last contract. Among players with youth still on their side, Datone Jones figures to interest clubs thanks to his versatility, as he can vacillate between end and linebacker, while fellow former first-round pick Jarvis Jones is solid against the run. John Simon has been overlooked while playing alongside the likes of J.J. Watt, Jadeveon Clowney, and Whitney Mercilus but could represent a hidden gem, while the Dolphins are reportedly prioritizing Andre Branch.

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.

Interior defensive line:

  1. Calais Campbell
  2. Johnathan Hankins
  3. Brandon Williams
  4. Dontari Poe
  5. Chris Baker
  6. Bennie Logan
  7. Nick Fairley
  8. Alan Branch
  9. Jared Odrick
  10. Karl Klug
  11. Terrell McClain
  12. Lawrence Guy
  13. Stacy McGee
  14. Stephen Paea
  15. Sylvester Williams
    Honorable mention: Paul Soliai

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."<strong

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.

The rest of the class offers an interesting mix of nose tackles (Bennie Logan), interior pass rushers (Nick Fairley, Karl Klug), and run stoppers (Alan Branch), so clubs hoping to bolster their defensive line should find no shortage of options. Jared Odrick recently hit free agency after being released by the Jaguars, while Terrell McClain, Lawrence Guy, and Stacy McGee could be underrated finds for the right team. McClain, for what it’s worth, has already been linked to the Falcons.

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Extra Points: Saints, Jags, 49ers, Falcons

Saints wide receiver Brandin Cooks is drawing trade interest from multiple teams, but it would take something “real significant” for New Orleans to deal the 23-year-old, head coach Sean Payton told the team’s website (video link). Still, Payton didn’t deny that talks have taken place and he says the Saints are “always listening,” particularly when there are opportunities to improve their defense.

More from around the NFL:

  • Jaguars general manager Dave Caldwell says safety Jonathan Cyprien and cornerback Prince Amukamara will hit the open market, Ryan O’Halloran of the Florida Times-Union tweets. The 26-year-old Cyprien was the more impressive of the pair in 2016, when he ranked as Pro Football Focus’ seventh-best safety and amassed 126 tackles and four pass deflections over a career-high 16 starts. Amukamara, 27, often had difficulty staying healthy as a Giant from 2011-15, but last year he appeared in his most games (14) since 2013. And though he failed to record an interception for the first time, Amukamara did rank a respectable 42nd among PFF’s 112 qualified corners.
  • The 49ers plan to transition cornerback Jimmie Ward to free safety in 2017, GM John Lynch told Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle. “We’re excited to give (Ward) an offseason to say, ‘Let’s give this a go,’” said Lynch. “That doesn’t preclude him from playing nickel in some situations, or moving around. I think he brings some great versatility.” Safety isn’t foreign to Ward, who played the position at Northern Illinois and then started a game there with the Niners as a first-round rookie in 2014. As a cornerback, the 25-year-old has logged 34 appearances (18 starts) and two interceptions. PFF rated Ward as the league’s 46th-best corner last season. The Niners will have to decide by May whether to pick up his fifth-year option for 2019.
  • Unless the Lynch-led 49ers acquire a bona fide starting quarterback in free agency or via trade, there will be pre-draft speculation that the team could use a high-round pick – perhaps the No. 2 overall selection – on a signal-caller. Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer stands as one of the top QBs in this year’s class, and Lynch lavished praise on him Thursday (via Lorenzo Reyes of USA Today). “Last night we had an interview with DeShone Kizer,” he said. “This whole thing is not about an interview, but if we’re grading him on that alone, he blew the doors off of it. He’s an impressive young man. His film is impressive, too.” Lynch also called the QB class of 2017 “very talented,” which runs counter to the notion that it’s among the worst ever.
  • The Falcons are likely to re-sign defensive lineman Courtney Upshaw sometime in the next week, per Vaughn McClure of ESPN.com (Twitter link). Upshaw joined the Falcons on a $1.25MM deal last year and went on to post modest numbers (23 tackles, a forced fumble and a half-sack) in 13 appearances and five starts.

Zach Links contributed to this post.

PFR’s Top 50 NFL Free Agents For 2017 1.0

[UPDATE: CLICK HERE FOR THE LATEST EDITION OF PFR’S TOP 50 FREE AGENTS]

There will be oodles of free agents available in March, but only a certain percentage of them can be real difference makers for your team. To help separate the wheat from the chaff, we’ve assembled our early list of the Top 50 Free Agents for 2017.

Our early version of the NFL’s top 50 free agents may include players who will be re-signed between now and March 9. When we update this list next week, a few of the big names will be spoken for while new high-profile names will join the fray as veterans become cap casualties.

Last month, we broke down the top free agents by position on both offense and defense, but our rankings below may not have each player listed in the same order. Those position lists took the short-term value of a player into account more heavily, meaning many players in their 30s received prominent placement. Our overall top 50 list favors longer-term value, and is more about forecasting which players will be in highest demand when it comes to years and dollars.

With those caveats out of the way, let’s dive in! Here are Pro Football Rumors’ top 50 NFL free agents for 2017:

  1. A.J. BouyeA.J. Bouye, CB (Texans): Out of nowhere, Bouye went from unknown to elite. The Texans would like to retain him, but they opted against using the franchise tag to get it done. That means that we’re about to see one of the most intriguing free agent cases in recent memory play out. Bouye doesn’t turn 26 until August and he finished out the year as one of the league’s best cornerbacks. Conversely, he didn’t do much of note in his previous three NFL seasons. Recently, one executive told Albert Breer of The MMQB that he’s expecting Bouye to be the highest-paid free agent in this year’s class, “assuming the guys we believe will be franchised actually are.” Another posited that he could match Janoris Jenkins‘ five year, $62.5MM contract from last spring, a deal that included $28.8MM fully guaranteed. The Jets could be among the clubs to pursue Bouye.
  2. Alshon Jeffery, WR (Bears): There are question marks a-plenty, but no one can deny Jeffery’s natural ability. Not long ago, it seemed like Jeffery would fetch a free agent deal to totally reset the wide receiver market. Even after an iffy season, the projected salary cap increase and lack of available star receivers should allow Jeffery to become a very rich man.
  3. Kenny Stills, WR (Dolphins): Stills is going to get paid this offseason and the average annual value on his next deal could be far, far more than anticipated. The latest reports indicate that he could make up to $12MM/year on his next deal. The Eagles are said to be high on him and other WR-hungry teams like the Titans could also show interest.
  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.
  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.
  6. Calais Campbell, DL (Cardinals): Campbell was supposed to be a goner in Arizona. However, instead of staying in Chandler Jones‘ shadow, Campbell turned in one of his best seasons to date. 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. If Jones does not agree to a cap-smoothing long-term deal between now and March 9th, the odds of the former University of Miami star leaving increase.
  7. 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.
  8. Tony Jefferson, S (Cardinals): The metrics at PFF actually 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 he will test the open market no matter what.
  9. Terrelle PryorTerrelle Pryor, WR (Browns): Pryor and the Browns haven’t exactly played it coy about their intentions. Both sides badly want to get a long-term deal done and we’d be surprised if that didn’t come to fruition. The franchise tag was too expensive here, so Pryor will garner considerable attention as a young WR2 type if a multi-year pact is not struck in the coming days.
  10. 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.
  11. Ricky Wagner, OT (Ravens): Wagner could reportedly fetch around $10MM/year. The free agent market is short on young, quality tackles and this year’s draft is no great shakes.
  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.
  13. 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.
  14. 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. GMs will use these justifications and more to convince ownership to pony up big dollars.
  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.
  16. 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.
  17. 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.
  18. 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. Kenny Britt
  19. 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 second-best QB in this year’s free agent class (and, remember, Kirk Cousins could be inked to a long-term deal or given the exclusive tag). When we revisit this list next month, Glennon’s placement among QBs may be challenged by Tyrod Taylor and others.
  20. 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.
  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.
  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.
  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.
  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.
  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.
  26. 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.
  27. 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.
  28. 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 will overspend to bring this fan favorite home.
  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.
  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 Eric Berry.
  31. 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.
  32. Adrian Peterson Raiders (vertical)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.
  33. 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.
  34. 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.
  35. Dre Kirkpatrick, CB (Bengals): We’re still waiting for Kirkpatrick to live up to his first-round billing.
  36. 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.
  37. 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.
  38. 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.
  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.
  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.
  41. 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.
  42. 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.
  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.
  44. Jamaal Charles, RB (Chiefs): After releasing Charles, the Chiefs issued a press release thanking the “future Hall of Famer.” Charles could very well be Canton-bound someday, but the jury is still out on what he can do in 2017. In the last two years, Charles has appeared in just eight games.
  45. Kayvon Webster, CB (Broncos): Webster has been vocal about his desire for more playing time and he’s not going to get it in Denver where he is blocked behind proven corners. Webster will go elsewhere and I see him getting a solid payday based on his age (just turned 26), athleticism, and special teams ability.
  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. Bennie Logan, DT (Eagles): The rival Redskins are apparently among the teams with interest in Logan.
  48. Darius Butler, DB (Colts): His ability to play multiple positions will work in his favor.
  49. Ryan Clady, OT (Jets): Lots of injury concerns, but also lots of potential.
  50. Terrance Williams, WR (Cowboys): Markus Wheaton, Cordarrelle Patterson, and Michael Floyd may offer more upside, but Williams could edge them in earnings. We’ll find out soon.

Honorable mention (in no particular order): LeGarrette Blount, Nick Mangold, Colin Kaepernick, Nick Fairley, D.J. Swearinger, Bradley McDougald, DeMarcus Ware, Stefen Wisniewski, Lawrence Timmons, Captain Munnerlyn, Jairus Byrd, Darrelle Revis, Jared Odrick, Alterraun VernerKelvin Beachum, Lorenzo Alexander, Brandon CarrCharles Johnson

Top 2017 Free Agents By Position: Defense

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. After looking at offense, we’ll tackle defense and special teams today.

[RELATED: Top 2017 NFL Free Agents By Position: Offense]

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. Chandler Jones
  2. Melvin Ingram
  3. Jason Pierre-Paul
  4. Nick Perry
  5. Jabaal Sheard
  6. James Harrison
  7. John Simon
  8. DeMarcus Ware
  9. Lorenzo Alexander
  10. Andre Branch
  11. Julius Peppers
  12. Charles Johnson
  13. Datone Jones
  14. Mario Addison
  15. Dwight Freeney

The Cardinals have already made it abundantly clear that Chandler Jones will see the franchise tag this offseason, and Melvin Ingram and Jason Pierre-Paul are also candidates to be tagged by the Chargers and Giants, respectively. If the latter two are able to hit the open market unfettered, however, they both figure to break the bank. Ingram, Pro Football Focus’ No. 6 edge defender, could be a fit for both 3-4 and 4-3 schemes, while JPP will be looking for a long-term commitment after signing consecutive one-year deals.Chandler Jones (vertical)

The rest of this year’s crop of free agent pass rushers is a blend of young defenders searching for their first payday and veterans on the hunt for one last contract. Among the players with youth still on their side, Packers edge defenders Nick Perry and Datone Jones figure to interest different clubs, as Perry is a better match for a 3-4 defense while Jones needs to restart his career as a 4-3 defensive end. John Simon has been overlooked while playing alongside the likes of J.J. Watt, Jadeveon Clowney, and Whitney Mercilus but could represent a hidden gem, while the Dolphins are reportedly prioritizing Andre Branch.

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. James Harrison and Charles Johnson, meanwhile, look like good bets to return to Steelers and Panthers, respectively, 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.

Interior defensive line:

  1. Kawann Short
  2. Calais Campbell
  3. Johnathan Hankins
  4. Brandon Williams
  5. Dontari Poe
  6. Chris Baker
  7. Bennie Logan
  8. Nick Fairley
  9. Alan Branch
  10. Jared Odrick
  11. Karl Klug
  12. Terrell McClain
  13. Lawrence Guy
  14. Earl Mitchell
  15. Stacy McGee

Unlike the edge defender market, the 2017 cadre of interior defensive lineman shouldn’t be overly affected by the franchise tender. Head coach Ron Rivera recently confessed the Panthers will “probably” have to use the tag on Kawann Short, but the rest of the defensive tackles listed here should be able to hit the open market. Of the remaining defenders, Campbell is the best overall player, but given that he’s entering his age-31 season, he may not cost as much as Johnathan Hankins, Brandon Williams, and Dontari Poe.Johnathan Hankins (Vertical)

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.

The rest of the class offers an interesting mix of nose tackles (Bennie Logan), interior pass rushers (Nick Fairley, Earl Mitchell), and run stoppers (Karl Klug, Alan Branch), so clubs hoping to bolster their defensive line should find no shortage of options. Jared Odrick recently hit free agency after being released by the Jaguars, while Terrell McClain, Lawrence Guy, and Stacy McGee could be underrated finds for the right team. McClain, for what it’s worth, has already been linked to the Falcons.

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Extra Points: Cowboys, Lacy, Seahawks

As Todd Archer of ESPN.com writes, the Cowboys are $11-$13MM over the projected 2017 salary cap, but it will be fairly easy for them to clear space and to give themselves enough room to conduct their offseason business and sign a free agent or three. For instance, they could restructure the deals of Tyron Smith and Travis Frederick, and given the relative youth of those two players, such restructures should not hamstring the club in the long run. Dallas could also save a fair amount of money by restructuring Sean Lee‘s deal and giving Jason Witten an extension, and obviously the impending departure of Tony Romo will be a boon to the team’s cap situation. As such, the notion that the Cowboys are in “cap hell” and will be forced to be bystanders in free agency is more of a myth than reality.

Now let’s take a look at a few more notes from around the league:

  • It will be tempting for the Packers to let Eddie Lacy walk in free agency, but as Pete Dougherty of USA Today writes, one agent expects Lacy to get no more than a one-year, $2MM pact on the open market. Even if such a contract were loaded with incentives, it would still represent a small risk for Green Bay with the potential for a high reward, and Dougherty believes the team should make that gamble.
  • Six Seahawks players saw their 2017 base salaries become guaranteed on Saturday, as Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times reports. Those players form a major part of Seattle’s foundation: Russell Wilson, Doug Baldwin, Richard Sherman, Bobby Wagner, Michael Bennett, and Jeremy Lane. As Condotta observes, the only player on that list about whom there might have been some intrigue is Lane, who signed a four-year, $23MM deal last offseason but who failed to meet expectations in 2016.
  • Last offseason, Prince Amukamara bet on himself and took a one-year deal with the Jaguars in an attempt to prove that he could stay healthy and productive over the course of a full season. He was largely successful, as he appeared in 14 games (12 starts) and graded out as an above-average corner per Pro Football Focus. Ryan O’Halloran of the Florida-Times Union believes Amukamara thinks he should be paid as a No. 1 or 1A cornerback (an average of $8-9MM per year), but as he would be the No. 2 corner in Jacksonville behind Jalen Ramsey, it is unclear whether the Jags will meet his demands, even though they have the resources to do so.
  • Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer spoke to one high-level NFL personnel executive who believes that Mitch Trubisky has more upside than Carson Wentz and that the Browns would be wise to select him with the No. 1 overall pick. The Browns also hold this year’s No. 12 overall choice, but Trubisky will not fall that far, so if Cleveland wants him, they will need to make him the top choice in the draft.
  • Former UVA standout Ausar Walcott, who was signed by the Browns as an undrafted free agent following the 2013 draft, is resuming the pursuit of his NFL dream, as Dan Duggan of NJ.com writes. Walcott was charged with attempted murder in June 2013, and was subsequently cut by Cleveland. The charge was eventually dropped to aggravated assault, and while Walcott was free on bail, he was certainly not going to be signed by an NFL club while he was embroiled in a legal battle. But he was acquitted by a jury a few months ago, and the 27-year-old hopes to at least catch on with a CFL team as he tries to work his way back to the NFL.

AFC Notes: Bills, Browns, Jags, Bengals, Colts

Rex Ryan was a beloved players’ coach with the Jets from 2009-14, but it doesn’t seem that was fully the case during his nearly two-year run in Buffalo. Reacting to the Bills’ Tuesday decision to fire Ryan, one defensive player informed Bleacher Report’s Tyler Dunne, “That was music to my ears.” Similarly, some other Bills never bought into Ryan and felt he tore down the elite defense he inherited in 2015, according to Dunne (Twitter links). On the other side of the ball, wide receiver Sammy Watkins told the team’s official website that a “culture change” will be in order with Ryan’s successor. “Change the culture, change the mindset and get players on board,” he said. “If they’re not listening, cut them, kick them out, whatever. Sit them on the bench. I think that will help us move forward.”

More from the AFC:

  • Browns executive vice president Sashi Brown and vice president Andrew Berry were in attendance at Wednesday’s Houston Bowl to scout Texas A&M defensive end Myles Garrett, tweets ESPN’s Adam Schefter. This isn’t the first connection between Cleveland and Garrett, who could go No. 1 overall in next spring’s draft. The 1-14 Browns will lock up that selection with a loss to the Steelers on Sunday.
  • Impending free agent cornerback Prince Amukamara would like to re-sign with the Jaguars on a multiyear deal, but he admitted Thursday that the team has bigger issues on its plate at the moment. “Right now the front office priority is probably finding a head coach and stuff like that, but I would hope to be a priority to them [after the hire],” he told Mike DiRocco of ESPN.com. Amukamara, who inked a one-year deal with the Jags last March, has appeared in 13 games and made 11 starts – his highest totals in those categories since 2012. Despite being in danger of posting his first interception-less season, the 27-year-old ranks a respectable 51st among 119 corners at Pro Football Focus. “I think it was huge to just be able to show that I am durable and I can play this game if I’m healthy,” added the former Giant.
  • Like Amukamara, Bengals corner Dre Kirkpatrick doesn’t want to leave his current setting. “I love this organization,” the soon-to-be free agent told Katherine Terrell of ESPN.com. Kirkpatrick, a 2012 first-round pick who’s currently in his fifth-year option season, is second among Bengals corners in snaps (906). He has also picked off exactly three passes for the third time in his career and is set for his second straight year with at least 14 starts. PFF isn’t overly bullish, however, as it ranks Kirkpatrick as this season’s 74th-best corner.
  • The Colts worked out linebacker Dezman Moses and safety L.J. McCray on Thursday, per ESPN’s Adam Caplan (Twitter links). Moses is easily the more experienced of the pair, having appeared in 46 games to McCray’s 22, and has been available since the Chiefs cut him Oct. 7. McCray hasn’t caught on anywhere since the 49ers waived him Sept. 5.

Zach Links contributed to this post.

Jaguars RB Chris Ivory Remains Sidelined

From a medical standpoint, it appears that Chris Ivory is in the clear. However, the running back is not quite ready to return to the field for the Jaguars. The team says that Ivory will not play this Sunday against the Chargers, as Michael DiRocco of ESPN.com tweets. Same goes for fellow free agent acquisition Prince Amukamara who suffered a hamstring injury last week. Chris Ivory (vertical)

[RELATED: Jaguars Unlikely To Add RB]

Ivory missed out on the Jaguars’ first game of the season after being checked into the hospital for an undisclosed issue. After spending the early part of the week at Baptist Medical Center Jacksonville, Ivory was released and he returned to the team facility on Thursday. Still, the tailback is going to need some additional time before he can be activated. It is not immediately clear when Ivory will get the greenlight to play.

T.J. Yeldon was pretty impressive for Jacksonville last season, averaging 4.1 yards per carry and scoring twice in 12 starts. Still, Ivory is the more proven option and operates with the kind of power you only see from a handful of tailbacks. The Jaguars’ offense won’t be operating at full strength without him, but they’re hoping they have enough to top San Diego on Sunday.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.