Terrance Williams

Top 2017 NFL Free Agents By Position: Offense

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. 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.

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 2017:

Quarterback:

  1. Kirk Cousins
  2. Mike Glennon
  3. Nick Foles
  4. Brian Hoyer
  5. Ryan Fitzpatrick
  6. Case Keenum
  7. Matt McGloin
  8. Mark Sanchez
  9. Geno Smith
  10. Ryan Mallett
  11. Josh McCown
  12. Christian Ponder
  13. Blaine Gabbert
  14. Matt Schaub
  15. Ryan Nassib

Honorable mention: Shaun Hill

As of this writing, Kirk Cousins is far and away the best potential free agent quarterback in this year’s crop. By the time March gets here, we’re fully expecting Cousins to be spoken for. Ultimately, the Redskins could franchise tag him, work out a long-term deal with him, or swing some type of trade that nets them a massive haul of talent and picks. That will leave a crop of retread quarterbacks that would probably best serve as transitional options for QB-needy teams. Kirk Cousins

Mike Glennon hasn’t done much in his 18 career starts, but talent evaluators are still in love with his size and potential. The 6’7″ quarterback will get more money this spring than you might expect, particularly since there are no surefire QBs in this year’s draft.

Teams looking for stopgap QBs will find a plethora of experienced, though perhaps uninspiring, signal callers. Nick Foles, Brian Hoyer, and Ryan Fitzpatrick all have their best football behind them, but they could hold down the fort for a team in 2017 and maybe even find some success if the defense is strong enough. Of course, the ideal role for those guys would probably be as a backup to a better, younger quarterback.

Running back:

  1. Le’Veon Bell
  2. Eddie Lacy
  3. LeGarrette Blount
  4. Latavius Murray
  5. Darren McFadden
  6. Jacquizz Rodgers
  7. Rashad Jennings
  8. Danny Woodhead
  9. Rex Burkhead
  10. Tim Hightower
  11. DeAngelo Williams
  12. Andre Ellington
  13. Chris Johnson
  14. Christine Michael
  15. Robert Turbin

Consider Le’Veon Bell‘s name written in Etch-A-Sketch, because he is very unlikely to get near the open market. That could leave Eddie Lacy as the best tailback available in March. Lacy has struggled with weight issues in recent years and he lost much of the 2016 season to injury. Still, he is a bruising back that could nicely complement a quicker ball carrier. Before he was shut down for the year, Lacy was averaging 5.07 yards per carry in five games for Green Bay.

LeGarrette Blount (vertical)In the last two years, LeGarrette Blount seems to have put his off-the-field troubles behind him. Whether that’s a sign of his maturity or a product of the Patriots’ culture remains to be seen. Teams can ignore his past indiscretions, but they will be wary of his age. Blount turns 31 in December.

Latavius Murray has shown glimpses of being a special running back, but he has been inconsistent and his 4.0 yards-per-carry average of the last two years isn’t overly impressive. Darren McFadden ran for more than 1,000 yards in 2015, but 2016 was pretty much a lost year for him. Jacquizz Rodgers seemed to break out last year, but he wound up succumbing to the same injury bug that took down a host of other Buccaneers running backs. Speaking of injuries, Rashad Jennings was initially brought to the Giants to be a workhorse back, but two of his three years in New York were marred by ailments. Everyone in this tier has the potential to make a difference, but none should be counted on as anyone’s main guy in 2017.

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FA Notes: Cowboys, Williams, Church, Gabriel

The free agent period opens in less than one month, but at least front office staff isn’t enthralled by the prospect of adding players from the 2017 open market. “It’s a brutal free agent class,” an AFC executive tells Jason La Canfora of CBSSports.com. “You’ve got to hope some guys get cut who can fill a role at a decent price. We’re more interested in seeing who gets released than where these free agents sign.” While this year’s crop of players may not feature the depth of other free agent classes, there is still some intriguing talent at the top of the market, as exhibited in the latest edition of PFR’s Free Agent Power Rankings.

  • NFL front offices are more willing than ever to employ the franchise tag, according to Jason Cole of Bleacher Report (video link), who notes that the franchise tender allows clubs to retain elite-level talent without worrying about large signing bonuses. Those bonuses become prorated onto teams’ salary caps, making it difficult to release players down the road, while the franchise tag — while expensive — only ties a club to a player for a single season. PFR’s Zach Links examined candidates for the 2017 franchise tag earlier today.
  • The Cowboys coaching staff is “much higher” on free agent Terrance Williams than the rest of the league, according to Todd Archer of ESPN.com, who notes Dallas’ decision-makers respect Williams’ consistency and availability. Cowboys CEO Stephen Jones has already expressed an interest in re-signing Williams, who finished the 2016 campaign with 44 receptions for 594 yards and four touchdowns, but Archer believes another club with more financial wiggle room will likely swoop in and steal Williams away from Dallas.
  • Pending free agent safety Barry Church sounds open to giving the Cowboys some sort of hometown discount, but like most players reaching the open market for the first time, Church wants to capitalize on his next contract. “It’s definitely a business decision, but … the Cowboys … were the team that gave me that gave me the opportunity coming out of the draft, being undrafted,” Church told SiriusXM NFL Radio. “Everybody else kind of passed up on me. But it’s definitely a business decision.” Church, 29, managed two interceptions and four passes defensed in 12 games with Dallas last season, and now joins a free agent safety class that includes Eric Berry and Tony Jefferson.
  • The Falcons will likely place a second-round restricted free agent tender on wide receiver Taylor Gabriel, and a first-round offer isn’t out of the question, writes Vaughn McClure of ESPN.com. The second-round tender should be worth roughly $2.8MM in 2017, while a first-round tender will come in around $4MM. Using a high tender would dissuade a club like the 49ers, which now employs former Atlanta offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, from stealing Gabriel. In his first season with the Falcons, the 25-year-old Gabriel posted 35 receptions for 579 yards and six scores.

NFC Notes: 49ers, Eagles, Seahawks, Cowboys

49ers fans have been waiting for the better part of a month for the organization to hire their next head coach and general manager. The team will seemingly have to wait at least another two weeks to hire frontrunner Kyle Shanahan from the Falcons, and they may be waiting a bit longer to bring in a new general manager.

On Tuesday, CEO Jed York preached patience when it comes to the team’s hirings.

“The message is we’re going to re-establish a championship culture,” York said (via Cam Inman of The Mercury News). “We’re not going to do that by filling a job quickly. We need to be patient. We need to be willing to wait.

“And when we get the right people, we’ll start putting everything into place.”

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

  • Last offseason, the Eagles dealt with some turmoil when quarterback Sam Bradford was upset following the team’s draft selection of Carson Wentz. This offseason, the front office is hoping to be completely transparent with their franchise signal-caller. “The way the league rules are, you’d love to be able to bring him down and throw to these guys,” said vice president of football operations Howie Roseman (via Jimmy Kempski of PhillyVoice.com). “That would be unbelievable. It just doesn’t work that way. But from our perspective, we want to make sure that he’s on board with some of these things, and he’s looking at some … probably more in free agency than in the draft, because it’s hard for him to get caught up on the draft prospects.”
  • The Eagles traded former second-round pick Eric Rowe to the Patriots earlier this season, and the cornerback proceeded to start seven games for the AFC champs. Roseman provided some logic for cutting bait on the promising defensive back. “When we sat down and discussed the offer, we really started thinking about the likelihood that we had to sign him to an extension,” Roseman said (via Reuben Frank of CSNPhilly.com).“We want to build this team with some continuity. We felt at that time that we were not going to sign him to an extension and to be able to get that value for him and possibly add someone who would be here for a longer period of time made sense for where we were.
” Rowe’s contract expires following the 2018 season.
  • Perrish Cox‘s new one-year contract with the Seahawks is worth $855K, reports ESPN.com’s Sheil Kapadia. The cornerback’s initial cap hit is $680K, and he’ll earn $443K if he suffers an injury prior to the start of the regular season.
  • Cowboys CEO Stephen Jones said his team would like to keep free agent wideouts Terrance Williams and Brice Butler (via Brandon George of The Dallas Morning News on Twitter). Williams had one of his least-productive seasons in 2016, but he still finished the campaign with 44 receptions for 594 yards and four touchdowns. Butler, a former seventh-round pick, finished the season with 16 receptions for 219 yards and three touchdowns.
  • Jones also passed along that Cowboys defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence will need back surgery for the second straight offseason (via George on Twitter). The former second-round pick has only played in 32 games over his three seasons in the NFL, including nine games (three starts) in 2016.

NFC East Notes: Cowboys, Cox, Sproles

Wide receiver Terrance Williams could be on the verge of netting a big payday, but it’s not clear if the Cowboys can afford it, ESPN.com’s Todd Archer writes. Williams, who is entering the final year of his contract, has never missed a game for the Cowboys. He’s not an elite receiver, but after Mohamed Sanu inked a five-year, $32.5MM deal with the Falcons in free agency and Allen Hurns signed a four-year, $40MM extension with the Jaguars, Archer sees something similar in his future.

Williams will get that money in 2017 one way or another, Archer writes, but it might not come from Dallas. To date, he writes that it does not sound as if there have been many or any discussions about a long-term pact.

Here’s more from the NFC East:

  • Eagles defensive tackle Fletcher Cox says that he expects to be at training camp in July (Twitter link via Jeff McLane of The Philadelphia Inquirer). Cox reported to the team this week in advance of their mandatory minicamp.
  • Eagles running back Darren Sproles confirmed to reporters that he had no frustration about any trade offers and staying away from the Eagles had nothing to do with wanting a new contract (Twitter link via Turron Davenport of USA Today). The Eagles reportedly got some trade interest in the running back during the draft and some speculated that his absence from OTAs was related.
  • The Redskins like their options at left guard, Master Tesfatsion of The Washington Post writes. That group includes Shawn Lauvao, who played well at left guard before being placed on IR with an ankle injury after Week 3, and fill-in Spencer Long. “At guard you see the improvement quite a bit,” coach Jay Gruden said recently. “Just the knowledge and the confidence that all the players get going into their second and third year, they get a little more confidence of how we do things. The calls or the ability to react a lot quicker with movement on the defensive line and knowing where to go and how to get there. [Long] has already got the athletic ability. He is a big man that can run and he is strong, so now if he brings the confidence and the knowledge of the system with him, he’s going to be very, very good.”
  • What does the future hold for Giants backup quarterback Ryan Nassib? Jordan Raanan of NJ.com recently looked into what could be next for the Syracuse product.

2016 Proven Performance Escalators

According to the NFL’s contractual bargaining agreement, players drafted in rounds three though seven are entitled to raises during the fourth year of their respective rookie contracts. The pay bumps are tied to playing time — a player must have played in 35% of his team’s offensive or defensive snaps in two of his first three seasons, or averaged 35% playing time cumulatively during that period.

If one of these thresholds is met, the player’s salary is elevated to the level of that year’s lowest restricted free agent tender — that figure is projected to be $1.696MM in 2016. Players selected in the first or second round, undrafted free agents, and kickers/punters are ineligible for the proven performance escalator.

Here are the players who will see their salary rise in 2016 courtesy of the proven performance escalator:Keenan Allen (Vertical)

49ers: Gerald Hodges, LB

Bears: Marquess Wilson, WR

Buccaneers: William Gholston, DE; Mike Glennon, QB; Akeem Spence, DT

Cardinals: Andre Ellington, RB; Tyrann Mathieu, CB/S; Alex Okafor, LB

Chargers: Keenan Allen, WR

Colts: Sio Moore, LB; Hugh Thornton, G

Cowboys: J.J. Wilcox, S; Terrance Williams, WR

Dolphins: Jelani Jenkins, LB; Dallas Thomas, T; Dion Sims, TE; Kenny Stills, WR

Eagles: Bennie Logan, DT

Falcons: Kemal Ishmael, S; Levine Toilolo, TE

Jaguars: Josh Evans, S; Dwayne Gratz, CB

Jets: Brian Winters, G

Lions: Larry Warford, G

Packers: David Bakhtiari, T; Micah Hyde, S

Patriots: Duron Harmon, S; Chris Jones, DT; Logan Ryan, CB

Raiders: Mychal Rivera, TE

Rams: T.J. McDonald, S

Ravens: Ricky Wagner, T; Brandon Williams, DT

Saints: Terron Armstead, T; John Jenkins, DT

Seahawks: Luke Willson, TE

Steelers: Markus Wheaton, WR

Titans: Brian Schwenke, C

Washington: Jordan Reed, TE

NFC Mailbags: Packers, Giants, Cowboys

It’s Saturday morning, and that means ESPN.com’s NFL writers are opening their mailbags and answering questions from readers. Let’s start with notes from the NFC, with a cameo from the Dallas Morning News’ Bob Sturm…

  • Quarterback Brett Hundley is a lock to make the Packers roster, says Rob Demovsky. At wideout, the writer believes Jeff Janis and Jared Abbrederis will make the team.
  • The Packers could opt to keep a pair of fullbacks (John Kuhn and Aaron Ripkowski) on their opening day roster, writes Demovsky. This would probably require the team to keep only two running backs, and the writer can’t imagine the Packers going into the year with only Eddie Lacy and James Starks. If there were to be a third running back, Demovsky believes the competition is between Rajion Neal and John Crockett, with Neal being the favorite.
  • If Giants rookie Ereck Flowers shows promise at left tackle, Dan Graziano says the team could move on from veteran Will Beatty following the season. Beatty, who is scheduled to make $6.675MM next season, is expected to be out until at least November.
  • The Cowboys must be careful when Terrance Williams becomes a free agent in an effort to not overpay what Sturm calls an “adequate” wideout in a mailbag.
  • Sturm also predicts the Cowboys will regress in the running game but won’t be set for a freefall without DeMarco Murray, with Tony Romo ready to assume more control of the offense. Sturm expects Joseph Randle to be the starter in what is expected to be a coalition approach to replacing the league’s rushing leader.

Sam Robinson contributed to this post.

Cowboys Notes: Garrett, Bryant, Murray

Whether you thought that was a catch or not, the Cowboys’ terrific 2014 season is over. That leads to a lot of questions the team will have to address, from coaches to players. The decisions they make this offseason will be crucial if the Cowboys want to build on a surprise 12-4 season.

  • Head coach Jason Garrett is a free agent this offseason, free to sign with any team if he chooses, writes Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk. With five teams currently still with openings at head coach, things could get interesting should they decide to pursue Garrett. Despite his pending free agency, owner Jerry Jones expects Garrett to return in 2015 with a new contract.
  • Field Yates of ESPN agrees that the team needs to bring back Garrett, but adds that the team needs to re-sign Dez Bryant, and make decisions on DeMarco Murray and Rolando McClain (ESPN Insider link).
  • With the season over, teams could be calling to try to steal some Cowboys’ assistants away from the team. Rod Marinelli, Scott Linehan, and Bill Callahan could all be hot commodities this offseason, writes Brandon George of DallasNews.com in a chat. George notes that the Cowboys have the money to keep them, but could lose them to promotions with other teams.
  • Especially with the Cowboys’ tight salary cap issues, Rod Marinelli is an important component of the defense, writes Brandon George of DallasNews.com in a chat. His scheme allows the team to get production out of sub-par talent, and he will be difficult to replace. George also believes that the team will not target a wide receiver with Terrance Williams continuing to be productive across from Bryant.

NFC East Notes: Thurmond, Eagles, Cowboys

When asked about the most impressive player he’s seen in Giants camp, ESPN’s Dan Graziano identified cornerback Walter Thurmond, saying the free-agent acquisition has been “making life miserable for slot receiver Victor Cruz in practice. Thurmond could be a difference-maker at that nickel corner position for the Giants this year.” Thurmond, 26, signed a one-year, $3MM deal in March, at which time ESPN analyst Louis Riddick, a former director of pro personnel for the Eagles, lauded the signing as a potential steal: “If he can stay healthy and out of trouble, it’s a tremendous value signing. . .He’s a dynamite press corner, who is as good with his technique as [Seattle’s] Byron Maxwell, as [Seattle’s] Richard Sherman. Walter is very good. He can play in the nickel because he’s big enough, because he can tackle, because he’s a good blitzer. And he can play on the outside. Not only can he press, he can play them all.”

The numbers back up Riddick’s assessment. Despite starting just three of 12 games played last season for the Super Bowl champion Seahawks, Thurmond tallied 24 tackles, six pass breakups, an interception (29-yard TD) and a forced fumble. Additionally, his 5.7 coverage rating was higher than teammate Brandon Browner, who signed for three years and $16.8MM in New England.

So why did the Giants land such a good player at such an affordable deal? He’s been plagued by injuries since entering the league, and was popped for a four-game suspension last season for violating the substance-abuse policy. Nevertheless, he brings supreme confidence to the Giants secondary. In April Thurmond proclaimed himself the best slot corner in the league. By July, he was drawing praise from teammates and coaches, including head man Tom Coughlin, who likes Thurmond’s attitude. Now, a week into August, he’s established himself as the ‘Quiet Assassin.”

Here’s a few more NFC East links:

NFC East Notes: McClain, Williams, Beckham

Cowboys‘ wideout Terrance Williams is going to have a chance to improve on his 2013 campaign, writes Jon Machota of DallasNews.com. The second year receiver is looking to avoid a sophomore slump by emerging as a dependable number two receiver and the third option in the passing game after Dez Bryant and Jason Witten. Bryant is even more optimistic about Williams’ chances.

“Terrance done blew up,” Bryant said. “He’s lightning fast, outstanding hands, probably one of the best route runners I’ve ever seen. He’s going to do some big things.” 

Head coach Jason Garrett said that Williams would have an increased opportunity to show off his talents. 

“I think he has a little confidence based on how he played and he’s going to have a big role for our football team,” said Garrett. “He earned a bigger role on our football team last year. We’re excited to see him play.”

Here are some other notes from around the NFC East:

  • New Cowboys‘ linebacker Rolando McClain is being given every opportunity to win a starting job with middle linebacker Sean Lee out of the season, writes Tim McMahon of ESPNDallas.com. McClain has been working mostly with the second team, but showcased his natural talent during his first practice with the team.
  • If McClain does earn that spot on the Cowboys‘ defense, he will be part of a unit trying to go from worst in the NFL in 2013 to the best in 2014. At least that is the goal cornerback Morris Claiborne has set for the defensive squad, write Machota“We were last in the league in defense and we’re trying to be No. 1,” said Claiborne. “That’s our goal. We’re not shying away from it.”
  • Giants‘ head coach Tom Coughlin is frustrated with his first-round pick’s absence from training camp, as Odell Beckham Jr. is sidelined with a hamstring injury, writes Jordan Raanan of NJ.com. Coughlin said that he was disappointed not to see Beckham on the field. “It would be nice to get him back practicing,” Coughlin said. “He actually looks pretty good out there. He’s moving around, catching the ball, he doesn’t favor anything. I’m just hoping it’s a real short amount of time.”
  • The Eagles have a shot to really hurt defenses in the passing game with their backfield in 2014, writes Jimmy Kempski of Philly.com. LeSean McCoy and Darren Sproles are talented receivers out of the backfield, and could find some intriguing mismatches in the defense.
  • The two most important statistics of training camp for the Eagles thus far are a pair zeros, zero injuries and zero interceptions, according to Geoff Mosher of CSNPhilly.com. The team has managed to get through camp unscathed so far, and none of the four quarterbacks has turned the ball over through the air. Of course, while this is a positive for the team’s offense, the linebackers and secondary are not so happy with their part in that second zero.