Sammy Watkins

Revisiting The 2018 Free Agent WR Class

The 2018 free agent class of wide receivers reshaped the market in a number of ways and set the table for lucrative extensions for players like Odell Beckham, Brandin Cooks, and Stefon Diggs. But even allowing for the premium that teams often have to pay in the first wave of free agency, the size of the contracts that the 2018 FA wideouts landed raised a lot of eyebrows throughout the league. As we look ahead to Year 2 of some of those contracts, let’s examine the early returns.

Sammy Watkins‘ three-year, $48MM deal with the Chiefs topped the class in terms of total value, average annual value, and guaranteed money at signing ($30MM). And while his talent certainly merited that type of payday, his injury history was a concern, as he had missed 10 games over the prior three seasons. He ended up missing six games during his first year in Kansas City due to a foot injury, though he did manage to suit up for both of the club’s postseason contests. His raw numbers obviously don’t look too impressive as a result of the missed time, but he did rank fifth among all qualified wideouts in Football Outsiders’ DVOA metric, meaning he was very valuable on a per-play basis. He also tallied 10 catches for 176 yards during the Chiefs’ two playoff games, and while injury problems may always plague him, he continues to be a factor whenever he’s on the field. KC is likely not regretting Watkins’ deal at this point.

The Bears doubled up at wide receiver by signing Allen Robinson and Taylor Gabriel last March, which allowed them to part ways with Cameron Meredith. Chicago brought in Robinson on a three-year, $42MM pact, even though he suffered a torn ACL in Week 1 of the 2017 season and had only posted one elite season in his career (which came back in 2015). And after his first year with the Bears, Robinson is still looking for his second 1,000-yard campaign.

There is some reason to hope that he can get there, especially with a fully-healthy offseason and a year of building chemistry with quarterback Mitchell Trubisky under his belt. A-Rob played in just 13 regular season games last season but was targeted 94 times, and he was brilliant in the Bears’ lone playoff game, posting 10 catches for 143 yards and a score. Football Outsiders’ metrics didn’t love him, but Pro Football Focus assigned him an above-average grade that made him the 28th-best WR in the league. He may not have quite lived up to expectations, but there is still time for him to get there.

Chicago signed Gabriel to a four-year, $26MM deal in the hopes that he could become a big-play threat for Trubisky. But while Gabriel played in all 16 games for the club and saw 93 targets, he managed a fairly modest 10.3 yards-per-reception and two touchdowns. Advanced metrics weren’t overly fond of his work either, and he will be hoping for a bounce-back year in 2019.

It’s still too early to evaluate some of the other significant contracts given to 2018 wide receivers, because the signees saw their seasons derailed by injury. Marqise Lee, who re-upped with the Jaguars on a four-year, $34MM deal, missed the entire 2018 season due to a preseason knee injury, and he is not expected to be back until the end of this year’s training camp. The Dolphins were thinking highly of their three-year, $24MM accord with Albert Wilson, who was performing well for Miami until he landed on IR in October with a serious hip injury. He is expected to be ready for the start of the 2019 regular season, but he may not see the field until then.

Likewise, Paul Richardson showed flashes in the first year of the five-year, $40MM contract he signed with the Redskins last March, but he landed on IR in November with a shoulder injury.

But at least the aforementioned players are still on their respective teams. Michael Crabtree signed a three-year, $21MM deal with the Ravens after being cut by the Raiders, but he disappeared from Baltimore’s offense when Lamar Jackson became the starter, and Baltimore sent him packing in February (as of this writing, there has been no reported interest in his services). And Donte Moncrief signed a one-year contract for a surprising $9.6MM with the Jaguars, but his mostly disappointing performance in Jacksonville had him searching for a new team this offseason. He ultimately caught on with the Steelers.

All in all, then, the 2018 class of free agent wideouts was a mixed bag. None of the contracts those players signed look like a home run at this point, and while that could change in 2019, those who were surprised by the amount of money thrown at WRs last March were right to be a little skeptical.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Injury Notes: Watkins, Berry, Chiefs, Cowboys

Chiefs wide receiver Sammy Watkins is expected to play in today’s divisional playoff game against the Colts, reports ESPN’s Adam Schefter (via Twitter). The wideout was listed as questionable with a foot injury.

The 25-year-old had only appeared in a single game since injuring his foot in Week 9, but he was able to practice throughout the week. When healthy, Watkins has managed to play a relatively big role in the Chiefs offense. In 10 games (nine starts) this season, the receiver had hauled in 40 receptions for 519 yards and three touchdowns.

With Watkins back in the mix, Chris Conley and Kelvin Benjamin will find themselves sliding down the depth chart.

Let’s take a look at some more injury notes from around the NFL…

  • While Watkins is set to play today, it sounds like one of his teammates will not. NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport tweets that Chiefs safety Eric Berry isn’t likely to play today against the Colts. The veteran has been dealing with injuries throughout the season, with a heel ailment being his latest issue. After playing in only one regular season game in 2017, the 30-year-old has been limited to only a pair of games in 2018, compiling 11 tackles. If there’s any silver lining, the Chiefs were reportedly preparing for Berry to miss today’s contest, as they adjusted their defensive packages to not include the veteran (via NFL.com’s Adam Maya).
  • The Cowboys are “cautiously optimistic” that both wideout Cole Beasley and tight end Blake Jarwin will be ready to play in tonight’s playoff matchup against the Rams, tweets Rapoport. Neither player practiced this week, and they’re both listed as questionable. However, Schefter tweets that the plan is for “both to work out pregame and both be active.” Beasley, who has been dealing with an ankle injury, had one of his best offensive seasons in 2017, compiling 65 catches for 672 yards and three touchdowns. Meanwhile, Jarwin emerged late in the season, including a Week 17 contest where he had seven receptions for 119 yards and three scores.
  • We heard last night that Colts receiver Ryan Grant and defensive end Tyquan Lewis will not suit up for today’s matchup against the Chiefs.

Chiefs WR Sammy Watkins To Miss Time

Chiefs wide receiver Sammy Watkins is expected to miss four-to-six weeks with a foot injury, according to Sam Mellinger of the Kansas City Star (on Twitter). That would explain why the Chiefs signed Kelvin Benjamin to a prorated one-year deal earlier this week. 

The Chiefs signed Watkins to a whopping three-year, $48MM deal this offseason with $30MM fully guaranteed at signing. In typical fashion, Watkins has provided glimpses of brilliance and ineffectiveness due to injury. At his best, Watkins is an absolute game-changer, as evidenced by his eight catches for 107 receiving yards and two scores against the Broncos in late October.

This, however, is the other side of the coin. Watkins will have to rest up the foot that has plagued him since 2015 and the Chiefs will hope that he’s ready to go in time for the playoffs.

The Chiefs, of course, still have plenty of firepower even without Watkins or embattled running back Kareem Hunt on the field. Patrick Mahomes has been sensation, Tyreek Hill is too fast for anyone to guard consistently, and Travis Kelce has been playing out of his mind lately. Benjamin may not be a proper one-for-one substitute for Watkins, but there’s upside there as well, and he’ll be motivated to showcase his skills before free agency.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

West Notes: Thomas, Chiefs, Rams

More noise is coming out of the Earl Thomas trade front. The Seahawks‘ status as a rebuilding team — one that’s lost core defenders Michael Bennett, Richard Sherman, Cliff Avril and Kam Chancellor — should make them come back to the Cowboys about the Thomas trade the teams discussed on draft weekend, Brian Broaddus of the Cowboys’ website said during an interview with 105.3 The Fan in Dallas.

The Cowboys have to look at their situation at safety and figure out is this going to be good enough? Are we able to compete for a division? To get in the playoffs? Could Earl Thomas be a guy, could he be a difference-maker?” Broaddus said, (via the Dallas Morning News). “I feel like that the Earl Thomas situation still is in play. It’s just a matter of where Seattle is going to be. I don’t believe Earl Thomas is going to sit out games for Seattle. I really, really don’t. You’re talking about a guy that makes over $10 million. Players just don’t leave those checks on the field just for principle, for that reason. I think that Seattle is going to have to figure out something. The Cowboys are going to have to figure out something. And maybe they do work something out there.”

This isn’t the first time we’ve heard the Seahawks-Cowboys connection potentially resurfacing regarding an employer change for the All-Pro safety. Thomas skipped minicamp and has one year left on his deal, but the Cowboys are thin at safety to the point it’s logical the sides will revisit these talks.

Here’s the latest from the West divisions as we near training camps opening.

  • Kendall Fuller will not only be expected to be the Chiefs‘ slot cornerback after coming to Kansas City via offseason trade; he’ll be counted on now to be their No. 1 corner, Adam Teicher of ESPN.com writes. This would mean a starting role as an outside cover man and shifts into the slot on passing downs. The 5-foot-11 Fuller would have big shoes to fill in replacing historically productive ball hawk Marcus Peters. The Chiefs, though, do not have an obvious Peters replacement lined up. They signed David Amerson, but that amounts to more of a flier-type deal. This position may be K.C.’s biggest concern heading into the season.
  • The Chiefs also authorized a surprising amount of money ($16MM AAV) for Sammy Watkins, who, on the surface, would figure to be the team’s nominal No. 2 wide receiver behind Tyreek Hill. In an offense that funnels through All-Pro Travis Kelce and now has reigning rushing champ Kareem Hunt, Watkins could be deemed as a superfluous cog on a team that needed much more help on defense. However, Teicher notes the Chiefs want Watkins to be more than a No. 2 wideout and writes that the team’s offense will function best if Kelce, Hill and Watkins post similar receiving numbers. That has not been the case in K.C. for years, with the franchise largely eschewing the complementary receiver spots. Watkins represented a major deviation from that philosophy.
  • Heading into camp, the Rams are planning to use third-year UDFA Cory Littleton as Alec Ogletree‘s replacement, Lindsay Thiry of ESPN.com notes. Littleton started four games and made 31 tackles last season. Rams LBs coach Joe Barry serves as an important advocate for Littleton, indicating he wanted the undrafted ‘backer in Washington when he was a Redskins assistant two years ago. Now, Littleton will be tasked with a key second-level job on a star-studded defense. “When we were in Washington we loved him,” Barry said, via Thiry. “I was on the table the entire third day of the draft to draft him.”

Extra Points: Butler, Shead, Rams, Chiefs

It’s been a wild ride for the Seahawks defense the past week. After the team traded Michael Bennett to the Eagles and released Richard Sherman, it also decided to release cornerback DeShawn Shead.

This was noteworthy because the Seahawks told the player it would release him to allow him to become an unrestricted free agent despite the NFL saying his contract should toll for 2018.

Earlier today, Shead signed with the Lions but reportedly wanted a return to the Seahawks, the Seattle Times’ Bob Condotta tweets. After Seattle honored its statement to make the cornerback a free agent, Shead wanted to give Seattle every chance to keep him, but the organization ultimately wouldn’t match the offer he received from the Lions.

Seattle now enters free agency without three of its top veterans and could be seeing the end of the Earl Thomas era, who has threatened to hold out if he doesn’t receive a new deal. The Seahawks could deal him this offseason and are reportedly looking for a first-round pick in return.

Needless to say, the Seahawks once-stingy defensive unit will look plenty different in 2018.

Here’s more from around the league:

  • Rams general manager Les Snead said on Wednesday the team traded linebacker Alec Ogletree to accommodate the ensuing move for cornerback Aqib Talib, Alden Gonzalez tweets. Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips prefers cornerbacks to linebackers in his scheme, and a big move had to be made to bring in the former Broncos corner, who will count $11 MM toward the cap.
  • Snead also said he sees ways the Rams can address run defense and the pass rush in free agency, Gonzalez tweets. Though he is weighing what will be available to fill those holes with rookies, he doesn’t want to just wait until the draft to fill obvious needs. The team received some insurance for its pass rush on Wednesday when it re-signed veteran linebacker Connor Barwin.
  • New Titans cornerback Malcolm Butler said he was worried his Super Bowl benching would hurt his value on the open market, USA Today’s Lindsay Jones tweets. Butler notoriously didn’t see the field against the Eagles in February when the Patriots allowed Nick Foles to shred their secondary. The 2015 Pro Bowl selection reached a deal with the Titans on Wednesday worth up to $61 MM over five years, with $30 MM of that being guaranteed.
  • Chiefs general manager Brett Veach said cornerback Marcus Peters‘ trade to the Rams had nothing to do with national anthem protests, Pro Football Talk passes along“This was a football decision. … This wasn’t just one game, wasn’t a month, this was three years of body of work, and we look for consistency. We felt that this was in the best interest of the team,” Veach said. 
  • Veach also touched on the Chiefs move for Sammy Watkins, saying the team pounced on the receiver in the first minute of free agency, the NFL Network’s James Palmer tweets. Veach said that if Watkins received a call before theirs, the other team would’ve had to call in 30 seconds before they did. The team was motivated to move on Watkins to add him to Tyreek Hill, giving strong-armed quarterback Patrick Mahomes a pair of dynamic, stretch-the-field receivers.

Cowboys, Bears, Jaguars Were In On Sammy Watkins

Early Tuesday morning, Sammy Watkins agreed to a three-year, $48MM deal with the Chiefs. Before that, Watkins had a booming market for his services. The Cowboys, Bears, Jaguars, and the incumbent Rams were among the teams in on the highly-coveted wide receiver, according to Terez A. Paylor of the Kansas City Star (on Twitter). 

Watkins served as one of the top wide receivers available as an unrestricted free agency, along with Jaguars free agent Allen Robinson. The Bears reportedly agreed to a three-year, $42MM deal Monday with Robinson, who missed nearly the entire 2017 season with a torn ACL.

Like Robinson, Watkins has been plagued by injuries at times throughout his career, missing 10 games over the last three seasons. But the explosiveness and game-changing ability shown from the former No. 4 overall pick shouldn’t make it a surprise that teams were lining up to obtain his services. Watkins was at No. 7 in Pro Football Rumors’ Top 50 Free Agents For 2018.

If Watkins were to have gone to the Cowboys, that would’ve certainly paired up a dynamic and intriguing receiving tandem alongside Dez Bryant. The Jaguars are definitely in need of a wide receiver with the departure of Robinson, along with Marqise Lee set to become an unrestricted free agent.

The Rams were hoping to retain Watkins but that move became difficult to facilitate with the additions of Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib, as well as placing the franchise tag on Lamarcus Joyner. It was reported that the Rams were deciding between Watkins and Joyner on who to give their franchise tag to.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Chiefs To Sign Sammy Watkins

The Chiefs and Sammy Watkins have agreed to a three-year, $48MM deal, sources tell Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (on Twitter). The deal includes $30MM fully guaranteed at signing.

The deal brings one of the biggest offensive weapons in this year’s free agent class to Kansas City. Watkins did not have the kind of year he wanted to in Los Angeles, but he is still potentially lethal, particularly if he can stay healthy. From 2014 to 2016, Watkins averaged 66 grabs for 1,063 yards and seven scores per 16 games – numbers that are a bit skewed since he missed 13 games between ’15 and ’16.

The Chiefs now boast a scary offense led by Watkins, Travis Kelce, Kareem Hunt, Tyreek Hill and dynamic quarterback Patrick Mahomes. Albert Wilson and De’Anthony Thomas are the only players in the team’s receiving corps that are due to hit unrestricted free agency this offseason.

Watkins — a former No. 4 overall pick in 2014 by the Bills — became the second major wide receiver free agent domino to fall over the last two days, with Allen Robinson agreeing to a deal with the Bears on Monday. Robinson’s deal with the Bears is expected to be in the range of three years, $42MM.

The Rams were reportedly intent on retaining Watkins but placing the franchise tag on Lamarcus Joyner made that a difficult proposition for them. The Rams have already added Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib to their secondary and have the likes of Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp, Josh Reynolds and Pharoh Cooper at receiver. The Rams have already announced they plan to cut ties with Tavon Austin when the new league year begins Wednesday.

[RELATED: Chiefs Depth Chart]

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

PFR’s Top 50 NFL Free Agents For 2018 1.0

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.

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Rams Tag Lamarcus Joyner

The Rams have placed a non-exclusive franchise tag on safety Lamarcus Joyner. Because each team is only allowed to tag one player per offseason, this means that Sammy Watkins will be ticketed for free agency unless the two sides come to an agreement between now and March 14. 

[RELATED: Rams Trade Robert Quinn to Dolphins]

The Rams are still intent on keeping Watkins, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (Twitter link). Although the Rams value both players, tagging Joyner was the less costly option. The franchise tag for safeties this year is $11.287MM. Conversely, the tag for wide receivers is $15.982MM.

The Rams have a fair amount of flexibility this offseason, so an extension for Watkins could still be in the cards. At the same time, they’ll have to factor for future deals with running back Todd Gurley and defensive tackle Aaron Donald. On the plus side, their recent trade of Robert Quinn to the Dolphins has opened up additional room.

Joyner, a 2014 second-rounder, never started more than eight games in a season until 2017. He shifted from cornerback to free safety in his contract year and broke out in a big way. Last season, Joyner started 12 contests and graded out as the third-best safety in the NFL, per Pro Football Focus.

The Rams have until July 16 to hammer out a long-term deal with Joyner. If the two sides are unable to reach a multi-year accord, Joyner will play out the 2018 season under the terms of his one-year tender.

Before the tag, Joyner profiled as the top available safety in free agency. Now, the best safeties available include the likes of Eric Reid, Morgan Burnett, Tre Boston, Kenny Vaccaro, Bradley McDougald, Tyvon Branch, and Marcus Gilchrist. It remains a deep class at safety, but none of those players offer the same kind of upside as Joyner. There will be some notables on the trade market as well, but as of this writing, the Seahawks seem intent on keeping Earl Thomas.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Top 2018 NFL Free Agents By Position: Offense

NFL free agency will get underway on Wednesday, March 14th, and while the list of free agents will change between now and then, we do have some idea of who will be available when free agency kicks off. The frenzy is right around the corner and it’s time for us to break down the outlook for each position. We’ll start today on offense, before getting to defense and special teams later this week.

Listed below are our rankings for the top 15 free agents at each offensive position. The rankings aren’t necessarily determined by the value of the contracts that each player is expected to land in free agency, they are simply the players we like the most at each position, with both short- and long-term value taken into account. Restricted and exclusive-rights free agents are not listed here since they are unlikely to actually reach the open market. The same goes for players who have been franchise tagged or transition tagged.

We’ll almost certainly be higher or lower on some guys than you are, so we encourage you to make your voice heard in our comments section to let us know which free agents we’ve got wrong.

Here’s our breakdown of the current top 15 free agents by offensive position for 2018:

Quarterback:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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