Bucs wide receiver Antonio Brown caught three passes for 31 yards in his Tampa Bay debut last week, a shocking 38-3 defeat to the Saints. And while he tries to focus on returning to form on the field, his ongoing civil case continues to evolve. Per Tom Pelissero of the NFL Network, Britney Taylor, who has sued Brown for sexual assault and rape, has filed a motion seeking to amend her complaint to include a claim for punitive damages (Twitter link).
As Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk details, Taylor filed a three-page affidavit along with the motion reiterating her allegations. She avers that in June 2017, Brown masturbated in her presence and ejaculated on her back without her knowledge or consent, and that he raped her less than a year later.
The trial is presently set for December, but it is likely that it will be postponed, which means that Brown will be available for Tampa Bay through the end of the season and into the playoffs. However, the league has consistently maintained that it will suspend Brown again for any evidence that comes to light as a result of the litigation, and if a jury ultimately finds that Brown committed the offenses that Taylor alleges, the NFL will almost certainly levy additional punishment. But by that time, the Bucs may no longer be interested in Brown’s services.
Now for more on the Bucs:
Tampa’s loss to the Saints has triggered a shakeup to the team’s O-line. As Ian Rapoport of NFL.com was first to report (via Twitter), the club is shifting Ryan Jensen from center to left guard, while A.Q. Shipley — a longtime favorite of HC Bruce Arians — will get the nod at center. As James Palmer of the NFL Network tweets, there was significant miscommunication last week between LT Donovan Smith and LG Joe Haeg, which led to the change. Regular LG Ali Marpet is still sidelined with a concussion.
The Bucs were said to be exploring an extension for LB Lavonte David this summer, and the last we heard, the two sides had not made much progress. Greg Auman of The Athletic says both player and team still want to continue their relationship, but with a number of players eligible for free agency this offseason, Tampa cannot just write a blank check (Twitter link).
Return specialist Jaydon Mickens was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list yesterday, but it sounds like he was in contact with someone who tested positive and did not test positive himself. Mickens took to Instagram to say “I ain’t hurt. Ain’t nothing wrong with me. If you don’t understand why I ain’t playing, just go look it up. It’s some bulls—. But look, we’re about to go ahead and win this game” (h/t Jenna Laine of ESPN.com on Twitter). Assuming he did not test positive, Mickens could be back on the field next week.
DC Todd Bowles has drawn rave reviews for his work with the Bucs’ defense, and for good reason. His unit ranked sixth in defensive efficiency in 2019 and is currently the top defense in the league in that metric for 2020, despite last week’s blowout loss. Although Bowles was ousted as the Jets’ HC following the 2018 season, league-wide respect for his abilities did not diminish, and as Dan Pompei of The Athletic writes, there were eight teams interested in his services before he joined the Bucs. If his defenses continue performing at a high level, he could get another crack as a head coach in the near future.
The Buccaneers fortified their front five on Friday, signing former Ravens center Ryan Jensen, Mike McCartney, the player’s agent, tweets.
NFL.com’s Tom Pelissero reports the contract is a four-year deal for $42MM with $22M in guaranteed money (Twitter link). The deal made Jensen the highest-paid center in the league and suggests that Ali Marpet will move back to guard in 2018.
That’s quite the haul for Jensen, who played his first three seasons in the league as a guard before switching to center in 2017. He proved up to the task in his first season at the position, ranking as Pro Football Focus’ No. 9 center in the league. With Weston Richburg off the board, Jensen was the best pure center remaining on the open market.
Jensen was inactive for all 16 games as a rookie and was waived in his season before returning to the Ravens practice squad. He played just 19 games in his first four seasons before enjoying his breakout campaign in the middle of Baltimore’s front five in 2017.
The addition of Jensen should help open up some running lanes in Tampa Bay. In 2017, Peyton Barber led the team in rushing yards with a measly 423 yards. Kickstarting the rushing attack will help open up things through the air for Jameis Winston and Mike Evans.
Many of this year’s top free agents came off of the board during the legal tampering period, including Kirk Cousins, Trumaine Johnson, Sammy Watkins, and Allen Robinson. Still plenty of the names from our list of the Top 50 Free Agents remain, including some new additions. Here’s a rundown of the players to keep an eye on as free agency officially begins, ranked roughly by their expected contract value:
1. Ndamukong Suh, DT (Dolphins): The Dolphins bailed on Suh’s mega contract midway through, freeing him up to sign another high-priced contract. He won’t get anything close to a six-year, $114MM deal this time around, but he should settle in at an AAV that keeps him among the best compensated players at his position. Last year, Pro Football Focus ranked Suh fifth among 122 interior defenders.
2. Tyrann Mathieu, S (Cardinals): The Cardinals worked feverishly to hammer out a new contract with the Honey Badger, but the two sides could not come to terms on a deal to lessen his 2018 cap hit. He has been released, allowing him to hit free agency as the best safety available. The Jets are not believed to be interested, despite his connection with head coach Todd Bowles. The other tenant of the Meadowlands, however, could have interest thanks to the presence of former Arizona DC James Bettcher.
4. Dontari Poe, DT (Falcons): Poe missed out on a big payday last year when teams shied away from him due to lingering back issues. After turning in his second consecutive 16-game season, things could be different this time. For the record – Poe has missed only two regular season games over the course of his career, so he boasts a better attendance record than a lot of other veterans on this list. He’s unlikely to circle back to Atlanta.
6. A.J. McCarron, QB (Bengals): It’s difficult to peg McCarron’s value heading into free agency. Outside of some quality starts in 2015, there isn’t much film out there on McCarron, despite that fact that he has spent four years in the NFL. Hue Jackson was itching to reunite with McCarron, but the Browns no longer seem a likely destination for him after the acquisition of Tyrod Taylor. It’s also hard to see him landing with the QB-needy Jets after they re-signed Josh McCown and added Teddy Bridgewater. McCarron will find a home, but it may not be as a starter. [UPDATE: McCarron has signed with the Bills]
7. E.J. Gaines, CB (Bills): Injuries in the fall limited Gaines to just 11 games last season, but he proved to be a quality return for the Bills in the Watkins trade, in addition to the second-round pick that came with him. Gaines graded out as the No. 13 cornerback in the league last year, per PFF, and he just turned 26 in February. Gaines missed all of ’15 due to injury and didn’t look all that sharp in ’16, but timing is everything in free agency. You can expect multiple teams to call on him and the Texans could still have interest, even after inkingAaron Colvin.
8. Eric Reid, S (49ers): Reid is just 26 and is undoubtedly a starting quality safety. He has both youth and versatility on his side, but it’s possible that his anthem protest participation could hurt him when it comes to some suitors. Injuries over the last two seasons will hurt his market as well.
11. Kenny Vaccaro, S (Saints): With the ability to play both safety and slot cornerback, Vaccaro will have a fair amount of suitors. Analytics-focused teams might not high on him after he ranked as the worst coverage safety in the league, according to PFF.
13. Ryan Jensen, C (Ravens): Jensen stepped into a starting role in 2017 and flourished, grading out as the No. 9 center in the NFL, per PFF. The former sixth-round pick also has previous experience at guard. The Jets were widely speculated to be a suitor, but they addressed their needs by signing Spencer Long instead. He has visits lined up with the Bucs and Colts.
14. Jack Mewhort, G (Colts): Mewhort’s season ended prematurely in October thanks to a knee injury, marking his second straight incomplete campaign. That’s not a great way to enter the open market, but he did have three quality years as an NFL starter before that. Mewhort doesn’t turn 27 until October, which helps his case.
17. Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE (Jets): AS-J rebounded from personal issues to post the best season of his career with the Jets. He was impressive at times, but he is no better than the No. 3 TE in this year’s free agent crop. He’ll meet with the Seahawks and Jaguars. No word yet on whether the Saints, who missed out on a Jimmy Graham reunion, have any interest.
18. Tyler Eifert, TE (Bengals): Once one of the NFL’s brightest stars at tight end, Eifert has been limited by a host of injuries. You can expect Eifert to ink a one-year deal somewhere with a low base and ample incentives.
19. Terrelle Pryor, WR (Redskins): Pryor found himself disappointed by the 2017 free agent market, but that paled in comparison to the disappointment felt by the Redskins after signing him to a one-year deal. Pryor will benefit from a shallow WR crop, however. He is on the Browns’ radar, so a return to Cleveland is possible.
24. Demario Davis, LB (Jets):Davis wants $8-$10MM per year, but he’ll get about half of that. [UPDATE: Davis is off the board after signing a three-year, $24MM deal with the Saints, so he achieved his yearly goal after all. The deal includes $18MM guaranteed.]
25. Jordan Matthews, WR (Bills): Injuries held Matthews back in 2017, but he’s not far removed from posting 73 receptions for 804 yards and three touchdowns with the Eagles.
Ravens free agent center Ryan Jensen will visit Buccaneers and then the Colts, according to ESPN.com’s Adam Schefter (on Twitter).
The Jets, who have signed Spencer Long to fill their center vacancy, liked Jensen, according to Manish Mehta of the Daily News (on Twitter). However, they were warded off by his price tag.
Jensen started all 16 games last season, but he was relatively experienced before 2017, as he’d started a total of nine games in the three years prior. But Jensen has youth on his side, as he’s still only 26 years old, and he graded as the league’s No. 9 center a season ago, per Pro Football Focus.
There will be tons of free agents available in March, but only a some of them can be real difference makers for your favorite team. To help separate the wheat from the chaff, we’ve assembled our early list of the Top 50 NFL Free Agents for 2018.
Our early version of the NFL’s top 50 free agents may include players who will be re-signed between now and March 14. 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.
Recently, 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 2018:
1. Kirk Cousins, QB (Redskins): At long last, Kirk Cousins is headed towards unrestricted free agency. You may or may not regard Cousins as a star, but he is the best quarterback in recent history to reach the open market and QB-needy teams will be rolling out the red carpet for him. The Jets, Vikings, Broncos, and Cardinals have been named as the top suitors for his services, but the NFL is full of surprises this time of year and we would not be surprised to see other teams get involved. The cash-flush Browns are reportedly keen on signing a lower-cost vet and drafting a QB early, but who’s to say they won’t change course and get in on the Cousins sweepstakes? The Bills, Giants, Dolphins, Bucs, and Colts could also consider kicking the tires here, but there are obstacles in that bunch ranging from established starters already in place (Eli Manning, Ryan Tannehill, Jameis Winston, and Andrew Luck) to financial constraints. No matter where he goes, it’s almost certain that Cousins will become the league’s highest-paid player of all-time. That is, until another top-tier QB signs a contract extension soon after.
2. Drew Brees (Saints): There are multiple possibilities for Cousins but it’s hard to see a scenario in which Brees actually leaves the Saints. Brees has already said that he does not plan on testing free agency, so he’ll likely put pen to paper before things begin on March 14. As far as we can tell, the only way Brees will think about leaving is if he is lowballed to an extreme degree by the Saints, but that seems improbable based on his history with the team
3. Case Keenum (Vikings): One year ago, no one ever would have expected Keenum to be one of 2018’s most sought-after free agents. The Vikings signed the former Rams signal caller to a one-year, $2MM deal in March with the idea that he would back up Sam Bradford and, eventually slide down to third on the depth chart when/if Teddy Bridgewater returned to full health. When Bradford went down in September, Keenum exceeded all expectations and put together the best season of his career. The 30-year-old graded out as Pro Football Focus’ ninth-ranked QB in 2017, putting him above the likes of Jimmy Garoppolo, Aaron Rodgers, Marcus Mariota, Matthew Stafford, and Tyrod Taylor. With Keenum at the helm, the Vikings earned a first-round bye and beat the Saints in a playoff thriller before succumbing to the Eagles in the NFC championship game. Of course, after four seasons of mediocrity, teams are wondering whether this was an aberration or a real sign of things to come. Teams know that Keenum is not a lock, but he’s also the best Plan B for any team that loses out on Cousins or doesn’t have the means to sign him.
4. Andrew Norwell, G (Panthers): There was a time when tackles were the only offensive linemen to really cash in on the open market. That’s no longer the case, as evidenced by the contracts of Kevin Zeitler (five years, $60MM) and Kelechi Osemele (five years, $58.5MM). Osemele inked his free agent deal with the Raiders in 2016 and Zeitler signed his in the 2017 offseason. Given the cap increase and the natural progression of the market, Norwell figures to reset the market for interior linemen. Keenum figures to gross no less than $20MM/year on his next contract, so he’s slotted behind him, but an average annual value of $13-14MM is not out of the question for the former undrafted free agent.
5. Nate Solder, OT (Patriots): Solder isn’t coming off of his best season and he might be the least sexy name in the top ten. Still, there’s a dearth of tackles league-wide and Solder has been among the league’s best at his position for quite some time. The Patriots are bracing for Solder to leave as they fear he’ll garner offers of $12MM/year. No other tackle in this year’s free agent crop is even close to him in terms of ability, so we’re also buying into the hype. Injuries contributed to Solder’s up-and-down season, particularly early on, so teams will take that into account when evaluating him.
6. Allen Robinson, WR (Jaguars): The Jaguars opted against using the franchise tag on Robinson, which is understandable since they have limited cap space. Robinson missed almost all of 2017 with an ACL tear, but his 2015 season (and even his so-so 2016 campaign) gives teams reason to believe that he can be a quality WR1. Robinson is one of only two such players on the unrestricted market, so expect him to get paid. Robinson probably couldn’t do worse than Kenny Britt‘s four-year, $32MM deal with the Browns from last season (and he should do a whole lot better), but if he is underwhelmed by the multi-year offers he receives, he could always go the Alshon Jeffery route. Jeffery inked a one-year, $9.5MM prove-it deal with the Eagles and that turned out to be a smashing success for both parties. Jeffery was rewarded with a four-year, $52MM extension in December, so Robinson’s camp will surely be open to a pillow contract if necessary.
7. Sammy Watkins, WR (Rams): Some may view Robinson and Watkins as 1A and 1B in this year’s wide receiver class, particularly since Robinson missed all of 2017 and Watkins, despite his own injury history, played in all but one of the Rams’ games. Unfortunately, Watkins did not have the platform year he was hoping for as he caught just 39 passes for 593 yards. If we strike Robinson’s lost year and Watkins’ down year from the record, the breakdown favors the Jags receiver – Robinson averaged 77 receptions for 1,078 yards and eight touchdowns per 16 games in that set versus Watkins’ 66 grabs for 1,063 yards and seven scores. These two should come pretty close in average annual value, but we give the edge to Robinson.
8. Trumaine Johnson, CB (Rams): Players often bemoan the franchise tag, but Johnson can’t really complain after receiving two consecutive tags from the Rams and earning more than $30MM between 2016 and 2017. The Rams, rightfully, did not consider a third consecutive tag for Johnson at a cost of ~$20MM and they already have his replacement in Marcus Peters. That’s one suitor down, but plenty of other teams will be eager to speak with Johnson, who profiles as the best cornerback in a deep class.
9. Sheldon Richardson, DT (Seahawks): Richardson gave the Jets lots of headaches, but he also gave them high-end production. He didn’t quite match that production in Seattle, but Richardson is positioned for a massive payday anyway since impactful defensive linemen are at a premium. Our own Dallas Robinson estimates that Richardson will garner about $9MM/year, but I would say that is his floor. The top-end of free agency rarely yields team-friendly deals, so Richardson could easily creep into eight figures in AAV, particularly since he does not turn 28 until November.
10. Dontari Poe, DT (Falcons): Poe thought he was in for a monster contract last offseason, but concerns about his lingering back issues forced him to take a one-year, $8MM deal with Atlanta. Teams may still worry about his back being a ticking time bomb, but perhaps they’ll view him in a different light now that he has played back-to-back 16 game seasons and has only missed two regular season contests over the course of his career.
11. Star Lotulelei, DT (Panthers): If Norwell didn’t draw the franchise tag from the Panthers, popular thought was that Lotulelei would be a candidate for the tag. But, Carolina only ever considered the tag for their kicker (and they re-signed him instead). That’s good news for teams in need of help up front. The advanced metrics have never been fond of the 28-year-old’s play, but he has been largely healthy over the course of his five-year career and has started in all but one of his regular season games. He had just 1.5 sacks last season, but Lotulelei does have 11.5 sacks to his credit, including four sacks in 2016.
12. A.J. McCarron, QB (Bengals): It’s difficult to peg McCarron’s value heading into free agency. Outside of some quality starts in 2015, there isn’t much film out there on McCarron, despite that fact that he has spent four years in the NFL. For what it’s worth, Hue Jackson has been itching to reunite with McCarron and was reportedly devastated when last year’s midseason deal to bring him to Cleveland fell through. Like the rest of the quarterback’s in this year’s group, his market won’t really emerge until Cousins puts pen to paper. Keenum is probably second on the board for most teams in search of a QB, but some clubs (like the Browns) may have McCarron higher on the list.
13. Sam Bradford, QB (Vikings): Questions persist about Bradford’s health and any team signing him will surely backstop him with at least one other capable option. But, when he’s healthy, he’s pretty darn good. In 2016, Bradford appeared in all but one of the Vikings’ games and turned in a league-leading 71.6% completion percentage.
14. Bashaud Breeland, CB (Redskins): The Redskins would like to re-sign Breeland at the “right price,” but the market for his services could explode and quickly put Washington out of the running. Breeland reportedly felt disrespected by the five-year, $75MM deal given to teammate Josh Norman last year and this is his opportunity to get a big payday of his own. Last year, A.J. Bouye‘s youth helped propel him to a five-year, $65MM free agent deal with the Jaguars. Breeland won’t get an offer quite that high, but he only just celebrated his 26th birthday and teams won’t be hesitant about giving this sound tackler a multi-year deal.
15. Malcolm Butler, CB (Patriots): Had the Patriots traded Butler to the Saints last offseason, he’d probably be playing under a lucrative multi-year deal right now. He did not have a great walk year in New England and he’s no longer positioned to sign a market-topping deal, but he’ll still garner attention around the league resulting in a lucrative contract. Butler ranked just 51st amongst PFF’s qualified corners last season, but he still showed flashes of being able to guard lethal wide receivers. He’s unlikely to return to the Patriots after he was benched for the majority of Super Bowl LII and inquiring teams will want to dig more into Bill Belichick‘s controversial decision.
16. Muhammad Wilkerson, DT (Jets): That sound you hear is the boiling blood of a Jets fan. Wilkerson was a top-tier defensive lineman before signing an $86MM extension with the Jets in the summer of 2016. Things quickly unraveled, however, as the Temple product clashed with coaches and routinely showed up late for team functions. Now that the Jets have officially cut bait with Wilkerson, it will be interesting to see what teams are willing to offer him. In terms of talent, Wilkerson has to rank no lower than second behind former teammate Richardson amongst defensive tackles. However, the perception is that he quit on the Jets right after he secured the bag, so his next bag figures to be a lot lighter. Look for Richardson to ink a one-year prove-it deal with a club or perhaps a two-year deal with an easy escape button in 2019.
17. Teddy Bridgewater, QB (Vikings): Bridgewater is in the same boat as Bradford – the talent is there, but no team will be able to bank on his health. Bridgewater returned faster than expected from his gruesome knee injury, but we barely saw him on the field thanks to the rise of Keenum.
18. E.J. Gaines, CB (Bills): Injuries in the fall limited Gaines to just 11 games last season, but he proved to be a quality return for the Bills in the Watkins trade (not to mention the second-round pick that came with him). Gaines graded out as the No. 13 cornerback in the league last year, per PFF, and he just turned 26 last month. The cons: Gaines missed all of 2015 due to injury and didn’t look all that sharp in ’16.
19. Trey Burton, TE (Eagles): Burton does not have as much name value as other tight ends in this year’s class, but he easily offers the most potential. Burton emerged from the shadow of Zach Ertz this past season in Philadelphia and put himself on the map with big games against the Seahawks and Rams late in the season. The Eagles do not have the cap room to retain him, so he’ll take his blocking skills and surprisingly adept passing arm elsewhere.
20. Paul Richardson, WR (Seahawks): Richardson stepped into a larger role last year when the Seahawks traded Jermaine Kearse to the Jets. He did well with the larger workload as he averaged 16 yards per catch. Richardson won’t turn 26 until April and doesn’t come with the same medical red flags as the older WRs in this year’s crop, so he’s probably in line for a nice guarantee on a multi-year deal. Because of his youth, he could have an opportunity to strike it rich again when he takes his next trip through free agency.
21. Jimmy Graham, TE (Seahawks): Graham is not expected to re-sign with the Seahawks and there’s already chatter about a reunion with the Saints. Whether that comes to fruition or not, Graham should net a decent deal after catching 57 passes for 520 yars and ten touchdowns last season. He’s not as explosive as he was in his New Orleans days, but he’s still a difference maker in the red zone.
22. Nigel Bradham, LB (Eagles): Non-pass rushing linebackers typically do not cash in on the open market and, as our own Dallas Robinson recently noted, Danny Trevethan’s 2016 deal with the Bears stands as the watermark with an average of $7MM per year. Bradham could flirt with that line after two solid seasons with the Eagles, but he won’t blow the lid off of the LB market.
23. Eric Reid, S (49ers): Reid is just 26 and is undoubtedly a starting quality safety. He has both youth and versatility on his side, but it’s possible that his anthem protest participation could hurt him when it comes to some suitors. Injuries over the last two seasons will hurt his market as well.
24. Aaron Colvin, CB (Jaguars): Colvin was eclipsed in Jacksonville thanks to the presence of Jalen Ramsey and Bouye. He has excelled as a slot corner, and that has plenty of value on his own, but he could get more money than expected if teams believe he can also contribute on the outside.
25. Justin Pugh, G (Giants): Pugh missed half of last season due to injuries and the advanced metrics have never been fond of his play. But, his ability to play four positions on the offensive line and the dearth of quality available linemen will produce a healthy market.
26. Morgan Burnett, S (Packers): Speaking of versatility, Burnett has logged snaps at cornerback, free safety, and even linebacker over the course of his eight-year career with the Packers.
27. Marqise Lee, WR (Jaguars): Robinson is getting all of the ink, but Lee will have a healthy market of his own after catching 119 passes for 1,553 yards and six touchdowns over the last two seasons in Jacksonville. He’s not a star, but he’s among the best WR2 options in this year’s free agent class.
28. Kenny Vaccaro, S (Saints): With the ability to play both safety and slot cornerback, Vaccaro will have a fair amount of suitors. Analytics-focused teams might not high on him after he ranked as the worst coverage safety in the league, according to PFF.
29. Dion Lewis, RB (Patriots): Finally, a running back! As we all know, veteran RBs don’t get a ton of love in free agency, but Lewis stands as the best at his position. Lewis is coming off of a strong platform year in which he averaged 5.0 yards per carry with six touchdowns on the ground while adding 32 receptions for 214 yards and three TDs for the AFC champs.
31. Ryan Jensen, C (Ravens): Jensen stepped into a starting role in 2017 and flourished, grading out as the No. 9 center in the NFL, per PFF. The former sixth-round pick also has previous experience at guard.
32. Jack Mewhort, G (Colts): Mewhort’s season ended prematurely in October thanks to a knee injury, marking his second straight incomplete campaign. That’s not a great way to enter the open market, but he did have three quality years as an NFL starter before that. Mewhort doesn’t turn 27 until October, which helps his case.
33. Carlos Hyde, RB (49ers): Hyde, like Lewis, will fall victim to the league’s bias against older running backs, but he doesn’t celebrate his 28th birthday until September, so don’t peg him for the old folks home just yet. He failed to reach 4.0 yards per carry for the first time in his career last season, but he did position himself as a pass-catching threat with 59 catches for 350 yards.
34. Weston Richburg, C (Giants): Richburg’s concussion could ward off teams, but he says that he has been medically cleared for months. If he checks out with doctors, Richburg may be in line for a nice payday. Before his unfortunate head injury, Richburg excelled as a center for the G-Men in 2015 and 2016.
36. NaVorro Bowman, LB (Raiders): He has a fan in new Raiders defensive coordinator Paul Guenther, so he may continue to ply his craft in the Bay Area.
37. Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE (Jets): AS-J rebounded from personal issues to post the best season of his career with the Jets. He was impressive at times, but he is no better than the No. 3 TE in this year’s free agent crop.
38. Josh Kline, G (Titans): A skilled run-blocker in a weak crop for guards, Kline should do well for himself.
39. Patrick Robinson, CB (Eagles): Robinson is a talented slot cornerback, but the cash-strapped Eagles will have a hard time retaining him.
40. Tyler Eifert, TE (Bengals): Once one of the NFL’s brightest stars at tight end, Eifert has been limited by a host of injuries. You can expect Eifert to ink a one-year deal somewhere with a low base and ample incentives.
41. Isaiah Crowell, RB (Browns): Should Crowell be the bell cow for a team? Maybe not, but he is a talented runner who has made GMs regret passing on him in the 2014 draft.
42. Terrelle Pryor, WR (Redskins): Pryor found himself disappointed by the 2017 free agent market, but that paled in comparison to the disappointment felt by the Redskins after signing him to a one-year deal. Pryor will benefit from a shallow WR crop, however.
43. Adrian Clayborn, DE (Falcons): Clayborn graded out as PFF’s No. 19 ranked edge defender this season and tallied a career-high 9.5 sacks. That sack total is a bit misleading, however, since six of those came in a November contest against the Cowboys.
44. Jerick McKinnon, RB (Vikings): He’s not built for 20 carries per game, but he’s a dynamic athlete with proven pass-catching ability. I’m probably more bullish on him than most, but I’ve placed him near the backend of the top 50 to reflect his expected payday.
Pending Colts free agent wide receiver Donte Moncrief could be a fit for the Ravens, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (Twitter link). Baltimore could certainly use help at wideout, as the club ranked 26th in passing DVOA a season ago and could be poised to lose several contributors over the coming weeks. Mike Wallace is scheduled to hit free agency next Wednesday, while fellow veteran pass-catcher Jeremy Maclin has been mentioned as a candidate for release. Moncrief, meanwhile, has been limited by injuries over the past two seasons, but is only 24 years old and managed a 64/733/6 line as recently as 2015. Per Rapoport, Moncrief is likely to sign a one-year deal, which makes sense given his limited record of recent production.
Speaking of the Ravens, center Ryan Jensen is expected to garner a “nice” deal in free agency, and it’s unclear if Baltimore will be able to re-sign him, as Jeff Zrebiec of the Baltimore Sun writes. Jensen is one of the top free agent centers on the market, but he only has one full season of starting experience. Still, his youth (age 26) should allow him to land a multi-year pact in a free agent market short on interior lineman. Meanwhile, receiver Michael Campanaro has already generated interest around the NFL based on his route-running and special teams prowess, per Zrebiec.
Given that Le’Veon Bell doesn’t seem amenable to a long-term contract that pays less than $15MM annually, the Steelers are now forced to plan for life after Bell, opines Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com. Bell was assigned the franchise tag for the second consecutive season, but Pittsburgh should look at running backs in the 2018 draft as a hedge against Bell returning to Pittsburgh in 2019. Of course, the Steelers did use a third-round pick on running back James Conner in last year’s draft, but he handled only 32 carries on the season before going down with a knee injury.
NFL free agency will get underway on Wednesday, March 14th, and while the list of free agents will change between now and then, we do have some idea of who will be available when free agency kicks off. The frenzy is right around the corner and it’s time for us to break down the outlook for each position. We’ll start today on offense, before getting to defense and special teams later this week.
Listed below are our rankings for the top 15 free agents at each offensive position. The rankings aren’t necessarily determined by the value of the contracts that each player is expected to land in free agency, they are simply the players we like the most at each position, with both short- and long-term value taken into account. Restricted and exclusive-rights free agents are not listed here since they are unlikely to actually reach the open market. The same goes for players who have been franchise tagged or transition tagged.
We’ll almost certainly be higher or lower on some guys than you are, so we encourage you to make your voice heard in our comments section to let us know which free agents we’ve got wrong.
Here’s our breakdown of the current top 15 free agents by offensive position for 2018:
Drew Brees is included here, but by his own admission, he’ll be re-signing with the Saints rather than testing the open waters of free agency. Unless the Saints lowball their franchise QB, it’s hard to see him leaving New Orleans.
Case Keenum put together a tremendous season for the Vikings, but he doesn’t have a history of success beyond 2017. There will be plenty of interest in Keenum, but only after QB-needy teams strike out on Cousins. The incumbent Vikings could re-sign Keenum, but right now, it seems like they are intent on exploring the Cousins waters first.
There isn’t a ton of footage on A.J. McCarron, which made his placement on this list awfully tricky. We know this much: McCarron did well in place of Dalton in the home stretch of the 2015 season and his former offensive coordinator Hue Jackson was salivating at the chance of landing him before the Browns bungled the trade with the Bengals. McCarron’s relative youth is a plus (he won’t turn 28 until September) and his lack of experience can be looked at as a positive. Unlike some of the other names on this list, he hasn’t run up his NFL odometer.
What will NFL teams make of Teddy Bridgewater and Sam Bradford this offseason? Not long ago, both seemed like quality starting options. However, there are serious injury questions about both players and any team signing them will either look to backstop them with another decent option or ask them to come onboard as a QB2. With that in mind, one has to wonder if Bradford would consider retirement if asked to hold the clipboard for another signal caller. Bradford has earned upwards of $110MM over the years in the NFL, so it’s safe to say that he has enough money in the bank to call it quits if he wants. For now, he’s intent on playing.
Colin Kaepernick‘s placement on this list is sure to draw some strong reactions from his fans and detractors alike. Looking purely at his football ability, there’s no question that he belongs on someone’s roster. At minimum, Kaepernick profiles as a high-end backup, even after a year out of the game.
Quarterbacks coaches have long believed that Mike Glennon is capable of great things, due in part to his height. At 6’7″, he can see over any defensive line, but he hasn’t done much on the field to prove that he is a quality Week 1 starting option. Josh McCown, who is a decade his senior, edges him here for his surprisingly strong performance in 2017 at the helm of a weak Jets offense.
Carlos Hyde didn’t have the kind of platform year he was hoping for, but he’s still just 26 and could headline a running back by committee group.
Jerick McKinnon‘s placement on this list figures to be controversial, but his athleticism and pass-catching ability can blow a game wide open. No one will bank on McKinnon to carry the ball 20 times per game, but he can be a real difference maker for a team out there.
Can Frank Gore outrun father time? History indicates that he can’t and so does his 3.7 yards per carry average in 2017. You have to give credit where credit is due, however. Gore has been ruled out by many for years, but he has not missed a regular season game since the 2010 season. He’s also just one year removed from cracking 1,000 yards and he almost did the same last year.
For most teams, Allen Robinson would be a franchise tag candidate. However, that may be too much of a luxury for the cash-strapped Jaguars. He presents a fascinating free agent case. Robinson missed all but three snaps of the 2017 season after suffering a torn ACL, but he’s the most talented wide receiver on the board in the eyes of many. His 2015 season – 80 catches, 1,400 yards, and a league-leading 14 touchdowns – makes GMs drool. His quieter year in 2016 (73 catches, 883 yards, and six touchdowns) is less worthy of salivation. His 2017 season, of course, was a lost cause. For all the question marks, you can expect Robinson to see more dollars than any other free agent WR this year, particularly since Jarvis Landry has been held back by the tag.
Some in the football world may prefer Sammy Watkins for his big-play ability, but his down contract year amidst a capable offense is cause for concern. His injury history doesn’t do him any favors either. No matter your feelings on Watkins, there’s no debating that this year’s WR market has a top tier comprised of just two players – Watkins and Robinson. With few quality receivers out there, they’ll both get paid.
Marqise Lee represents a much less sexy option (speaking in football terms, of course), but he had the most receptions of any Jaguars receiver in 2017 (56) and finished second in receiving yards (702). Teams looking for a quality WR2 in free agency could do a lot worse than Lee and he’ll be far cheaper than the two-man top tier.
Danny Amendola hauled in 61 receptions for 659 yards and two touchdowns in the regular season and continued his strong play in the playoffs. However, teams will wonder if he can thrive in his age-33 season while playing outside of the Patriots’ offense. It’s also quite possible that he never tests the market as his stated preference is to remain in New England.
After that, you’ll notice a pretty significant drop off. That’s because this year’s WR class isn’t all that deep. Terrelle Pryor had to settle for a one-year prove-it contract last year and, to put it mildly, he did not prove it. Paul Richardson caught 44 passes for 703 yards and six touchdowns in 2017, but that marked his first NFL season of real note.
Trey Burton spent most of the year behind Zach Ertz on the Eagles’ depth chart, but he emerged late in the season and set himself up nicely for free agency. Given his age and potential, there’s no question that he is the belle of the ball at tight end.
The rest of the tight end crop is not nearly as inspiring. Jimmy Graham has enjoyed back-to-back Pro Bowl seasons with the Seahawks, but he’ll turn 32 in November and he’s no longer the monster playmaker that he was in New Orleans. He had ten touchdowns in 2017, but his 9.1 yards per reception average is a career low.
Odds are, you have Tyler Eifert ranked over Austin Seferian-Jenkins given the fact that Eifert has played just ten games over the last two years. ASJ, meanwhile, rebounded from personal issues to post a 50-catch season for the Jets. Personally, I’m picking Eifert based on upside. Hopefully, we can still be friends.
Offensive line play is down across the board and evaluators around the league have been openly complaining about an increasing dearth of tackles coming out of college. That makes for a generally uninspiring lot in free agency.
Nate Solder battled through injuries in 2017 and did not miss a game. He’s no longer a top-flight option, but he graded out as Pro Football Focus’ No. 32 tackle last year, meaning that he’s starter quality at left tackle. You’ll notice that three of the top five tackles on this list are Patriots. There’s little chance that the Pats let all three get away.
Justin Pugh offers the ability to play both guard and right tackle, though he might not do either one particularly well.
Andrew Norwell is the undisputed king of this category after netting an All-Pro selection in 2017. Norwell also earned a career-high 88.8 overall score from Pro Football Focus, which positioned him third in the entire NFL amongst guards. A team with greater means than the Panthers might have used the franchise tag on him. Fortunately for rival teams in need of interior help (such as the Giants), they won’t cuff him with the one-year placeholder.
Earlier this week, the Broncos were believed to be ready to compete to the end of the Kirk Cousins sweepstakes. But last month, they were identified as having Case Keenum looming as a possible backup plan. There’s been more chatter about that in Indianapolis, Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports notes (on Twitter). While it’s unlikely the Broncos are ready to bow out on Cousins after being so closely connected to him for weeks, they’ve been the top non-Vikings Keenum connection this offseason. The Broncos also discussed a trade for Keenum with the Rams in 2016. La Canfora notes the Broncos being serious on Keenum could pit the Vikings and Jets against one another for Cousins. It’s possible the Broncos could sign Keenum and not select a quarterback at No. 5, and Mike Klis of 9News wrote recently Keenum and Cousins are likely to be the only QBs who would deter the Broncos from using that pick on a passer.
Charles Robinson of Yahoo sports, who reported earlier this week the Broncos were ready to go “all in” for Cousins, notes every team linked to the former Redskins quarterback has made it a point to stay in contact with agents of other passers in order to preserve fallback options (Twitter link). That said, Robinson does not believe the Broncos — or any team linked to Cousins thus far — is truly out on the 29-year-old signal-caller.
Here’s more from the free agent market.
Demario Davis enjoyed a solid contract year after an offseason trade with the Browns sent him back to the Jets, but he might be set to relocate again. A considerable gap between Davis’ expectations and the Jets’ valuation of him exists, with Rich Cimini of ESPN.com reporting Davis is eyeing a deal that would pay him between $8-$10MM annually. The Jets, conversely, see him as a $3-$4MM-per-year player and are not prepared to pay him what he’s currently targeting. Cimini notes that in a buyer’s market that has several younger non-rush linebacker options, Davis will have to adjust his price point. While the sides were talking earlier this offseason, this kind of gap could route Davis elsewhere. Although the 29-year-old inside linebacker had a strong 2017 season, he hasn’t been especially consistent. And only five 3-4 ILBs earn $8MM per year. Davis signed for $4MM per year with the Browns in 2016.
Last offseason, Isaiah Crowell hired Drew Rosenhaus to negotiate with the Browns on an extension, but a deal didn’t come to pass. Not much has transpired on a Crowell/Cleveland future in recent months, but John Dorsey said he’s had discussions with Rosenhaus about keeping Crowell in the fold. However, Nate Ulrich of the Akron Beacon Journal notesHue Jackson didn’t express much optimism about Crowell staying. The Browns are a prime candidate to draft Saquon Barkley, possibly at No. 1 overall, so that would make Crowell somewhat superfluous.
Should the Giants be priced out of the Norwell sweepstakes, they have Ryan Jensen lined up as a cheaper contingency plan, per Pauline. Jensen’s most prominent NFL work has come at center, where he started all 16 Ravens games last season, but he was a part-time guard starter in years past. PFF rated Jensen as a top-10 center last season. The Giants are expected to lose four-year starter Weston Richburg in free agency.
Restricted free agent offensive linemen James Hurst and Ryan Jensen have signed their tenders with the Ravens, as has exclusive rights free agent wide receiver Chris Matthews. The Ravens tendered both Hurst and Jensen at the lowest level last month, meaning they wouldn’t have been entitled to compensation had either headed elsewhere by way of an unmatched offer sheet. Hurst, a tackle, is the more experienced of the two, having appeared in all 48 regular-season games and totaled 16 starts during his three-year career. Jensen has also been in the NFL for three years, but the interior blocker only has 19 appearances and nine starts to his name.
The Raiders have announced the signing of kicker Giorgio Tavecchio, who was with the team in each of the previous three training camps. The Italy native, undrafted from Cal in 2012, has also spent time with San Francisco, Green Bay and Detroit, but he hasn’t seen any regular-season action yet.
The Rams have waived defensive back Kevin Short, who spent time on their practice squad last year and then signed a reserve/futures contract in January. Interestingly, Short came to the pros directly from the JUCO level, having played at Fort Scott Community College (Kansas). He went undrafted in 2015, unsurprisingly, and suited up for the Chiefs’, Seahawks’ and Jets’ practice squads prior to joining LA’s taxi squad.
Unrestricted free agent news will obviously dominate the day, but several clubs also had to make decisions on whether to offer tenders to restricted and exclusive rights free agents. All RFA tenders listed are original round/right of first refusal (worth $1.797MM), and all links go to Twitter: