Terrelle Pryor

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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Extra Points: Browns, Steelers, Bills, Bears

The transition tag could be in play for the Browns as they seek to retain free agent wide receiver Terrelle Pryor, Joel Corry of CBSSports.com opines (Twitter link). Given that it costs less than the franchise tag, the transition tender is an alternative for clubs looking to save funds, but it wouldn’t entitle Cleveland to any draft compensation if Pryor signs an unmatched offer sheet with another team. The Browns lead the NFL in cap space by a wide margin, however, and would likely choose to equal any offer Pryor lands on the open market. Pryor reportedly wants to stay in Cleveland, while the Browns are “redoubling efforts” to sign him to an extension, so any tag — franchise or transition — could eventually be moot.

Here’s more from around the NFL:

  • Although running back Le’Veon Bell visited a doctor last month while dealing with a groin injury, he isn’t planning on surgery, tweets Ian Rapoport of NFL.com, who adds the pending Steelers free agent would have undergone the procedure by now if it were required. That’s certainly good news for Bell, but it probably won’t make a difference for his contractual status. He’s still expected to be franchised by Pittsburgh, and the tag will pay him north of $12MM.
  • The Bills are still deciding whether to move on from quarterback Tyrod Taylor, and the club’s upcoming decision will have far-reaching effects on the rest of the Buffalo roster, writes Mike Rodak of ESPN.com. Taylor received medical clearance today, so the Bills can freely choose to release him before a $27.5MM option bonus is due on March 11. If Buffalo goes that route, the franchise would essentially be hitting the reset button, opines Rodak, meaning the Bills could explore a LeSean McCoy trade. If Taylor sticks around, however, the Bills likely won’t have enough cap space to retain players such as cornerback Stephon Gilmore without restructuring other contracts.
  • The Bears announced that they’ve hired Zach Azzanni as wide receivers coach and Brandon Staley as outside linebackers of coach. Azzanni has spent his entire career to date in the college ranks, and coached pass-catchers at Tennessee for the past four seasons. He’s replacing Curtis Johnson, who left for the Saints after his contract expired. Staley, meanwhile, also comes from the NCAA, where he served as John Carroll University’s defensive coordinator for three of the past four years. Now in his first NFL job, Staley is taking over for Clint Hurtt, who rejected an extension from the Bears and defected to Seattle.
  • The Broncos have hired former LSU assistant Chris Kragthorpe as an offensive quality control coach, according to Nicki Jhabvala of the Denver Post. In addition to spending time in Baton Rouge, Kragthorpe also previously worked for the University of Georgia.

AFC North Notes: Browns, Steelers, Bengals

Pending free agent wide receiver Terrelle Pryor has told his representation he wants to stay with the Browns, reports Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com. Browns management is reportedly “redoubling efforts” to re-sign Pryor, and the club is set to meet with Pryor’s agent this week. Cleveland, of course, holds the franchise tag as an option, but is loathe to go down that avenue unless a long-term deal cannot be reached. Pryor has spoken highly of the Browns and head coach Hue Jackson in the past, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s willing to take a hometown discount to remain Cleveland.

Here’s more from the AFC North:

  • Veteran offensive tackle Eric Winston says he’s “hopeful” about a return to the Bengals, and noted a new deal “looks promising,” per SiriusXM NFL Radio (Twitter link). Thought to be buried on Cincinnati’s depth chart, Winston ended up rotating right tackle snaps with former first-round pick Cedric Ogbuehi, and ultimately played on roughly a quarter of the Bengals’ offensive snaps. Winston, 33, signed a minimum salary benefit contract with Cincinnati in 2016, and would likely be forced to accept a similar deal this year.
  • If the Viking release running back Adrian Peterson (or ask him to take a paycut), the Steelers could confidently argue that Peterson’s $14MM annual salary was an anomaly, and pressure pending free agent Le’Veon Bell to accept something closer to LeSean McCoy‘s $8MM per year, opines Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com. Pittsburgh is likely to franchise Bell at a cost north of $12MM for 2017, and would probably be willing to go near $10MM annually on a long-term extension, per Fowler. Approaching, or exceeding, Peterson’s $14MM figure would represent a problem, however.
  • The Ravens will not hire a formal quarterbacks coach for the 2017 season, according to Jeff Zrebiec of the Baltimore Sun (Twitter link). Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg will lead the QBs room, while Craig Ver Steeg — whom previous reports had indicated would become Baltimore’s new quarterbacks coach — will remain an offensive assistant.
  • In his latest chat at ESPN.com, Tony Grossi covers which quarterbacks the Browns may target if they strike out on Jimmy Garoppolo, the likelihood of Tyrod Taylor — who is said to be on Cleveland’s radar — heading to northern Ohio, and other position groups the Browns may target in free agency.

2017 NFL Franchise Tag Candidates

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Starting today, NFL teams will be able to place franchise and transition tags on potential free agents for the first time. While the window for franchise tags is open, most clubs won’t actually tag any players right away.

As our list of important dates for the 2017 offseason shows, the deadline for teams to assign those tags doesn’t come until Wednesday, March 1st. Usually, when it comes to NFL contract discussions, deadlines spur action, so teams will wait until that deadline approaches to officially use franchise tags, once it becomes clear that they won’t be able to strike a longer-term deal yet with their respective free-agents-to-be.

Even though the action might not heat up for a couple more weeks, it’s worth taking a closer look at what to expect during 2017’s franchise tag period. The NFL hasn’t officially announced the salary cap figure for 2017, but former agent Joel Corry of CBSSports.com recently projected the 2017 franchise tag salaries based on a presumed $168MM cap. Here are the expected non-exclusive franchise tag amounts:

  • Quarterback: $21.395MM
  • Running back: $12.377MM
  • Wide receiver: $15.826MM
  • Tight end: $9.894MM
  • Offensive line: $14.444MM
  • Defensive end: $16.955MM
  • Defensive tackle: $13.468MM
  • Linebacker: $14.754MM
  • Cornerback: $14.297MM
  • Safety: $10.961MM
  • Punter/kicker: $4.863MM

(For a refresher on the characteristics of the exclusive and non-exclusive franchise tags, as well as the transition tag, be sure to check out PFR’s glossary entry on the subject.)

Here’s our look at the most likely candidates to be tagged, along with several more outside possibilities:

Virtual Locks:

Chandler Jones, DE, Cardinals: Maybe Jones should headline a category titled “Super Duper Virtual Locks.” In January, coach Bruce "<strongArians said that the Cards would apply the franchise tag to Jones if they were unable to immediately lock him up to a long-term deal. Then, just this week, Cardinals president Michael Bidwill offered additional confirmation of that plan. The $16.955MM tag will be applied to Jones in the next couple of weeks and the two sides will then have until the summer to work out a long-term deal. The odds of a longer pact coming together seem pretty good, considering the Cardinals knew what they were getting themselves into when they traded for Jones last year.

Kawann Short, DT, Panthers: Panthers head coach Ron Rivera admits that Short will “probably” be tagged and, unlike ex-teammate Josh Norman, Short doesn’t have a problem with it. The 28-year-old was the third-best defensive tackle in the NFL last year, according to Pro Football Focus, and the Panthers will gladly pay him ~$13.5MM on a one-year deal. A multi-year agreement could require an average annual value of $17MM, so our early guess is that Short will wind up actually playing on the tender.


Le’Veon Bell
, RB, Steelers: We’ve known for a while now that the Steelers will use the franchise tag on Bell. For all of his off-the-field headaches, Bell still stands as one of the league’s most dynamic running backs and a one-year, $12.3MM deal would suit Pittsburgh just fine. Sometime after the tag is in place, we’re expecting the two sides to agree on a long-term deal. As I wrote in our most recent edition of the Free Agent Power Rankings, Bell will top LeSean McCoy‘s ~$8MM AAV and Doug Martin‘s $15MM in guarantees on a new multiyear pact. Of course, other factors such as cash flow will be pivotal in talks, particularly given the limited shelf life of running backs.
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Browns Working To Re-Sign Terrelle Pryor

While the Browns could use the franchise tag to stop pending free agent wide receiver Terrelle Pryor from hitting the open market, the team would much rather retain him on a multiyear contract, reports Mary Kay Cabot of cleveland.com. As a result, the Browns are “redoubling efforts” to re-sign Pryor and will meet with agent Drew Rosenhaus this week, tweets Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports. Cleveland and Rosenhaus will have “strong discussions,” a source told Cabot.

Terrelle Pryor

As a 27-year-old who possesses size (6-foot-4, 223 pounds) and speed, Pryor will be among the most sought-after players available this offseason if he actually reaches free agency. It’s arguable he’s currently among the top two unsigned wideouts in the NFL, joining the Bears’ Alshon Jeffery, after Pryor broke out last season as part of a one-win team. Despite having to work with five quarterbacks, most of whom were mediocre or worse, Pryor (an ex-QB himself) piled up 77 receptions, 1,007 yards and four touchdowns on 140 targets in his first serious action as a receiver.

Notably, both Pryor and the coach who has developed him as a pass catcher, the Browns’ Hue Jackson, have spoken highly of each other over the past year. Pryor has made it known that he’d like to stay under Jackson’s tutelage, though he cautioned in December that “it’s got to come down to what my agents think is right for me.” Those agents might not have as much say as they’d like if the Browns slap the estimated $15.826MM franchise tag on their client between Feb. 15 and March 1. A long-term pact, on the other hand, could net Pryor at least $10MM per year and $28.5MM in guarantees (the same deal the Rams gave Tavon Austin last summer), CBS Sports’ Joel Corry posited in November.

Regardless of whether they tag or re-sign Pryor, the Browns – with a league-high amount of cap space – shouldn’t have difficulty retaining him if that’s their goal. The team has already stopped its top pending defensive free agent, linebacker Jamie Collins, from getting to the market, having awarded him a four-year, $50MM deal in January.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Latest On Terrelle Pryor’s Future

The Browns have already kept one of their best potential free agents, linebacker Jamie Collins, from hitting the open market in March. While they now face the possibility of losing wide receiver Terrelle Pryor to free agency, it doesn’t sound as if the 27-year-old will have the opportunity to shop himself around the NFL. The Browns are “very likely” to place the estimated $15.826MM franchise tag on Pryor, CBS Sports’ Jason La Canfora reported earlier this week (Twitter link).

Terrelle Pryor

With the most cap space in the league, the Browns can easily afford to tag Pryor, though a multiyear deal would be preferable for the club. The same could be true for Pryor, who expressed a desire on multiple occasions during the season to stay in Cleveland for the long haul.

“I love to play for [Hue Jackson] and I enjoy playing for him this year and I’d love to play for him longer,” Pryor said in December. “But at the end of the day, it’s got to come down to what my agents think is right for me.”

Jackson, under whom Pryor broke out as he transitioned from quarterback to wideout, revealed Wednesday that the Browns are “working hard” to retain their free agents, including Pryor (via Nate Ulrich of Ohio.com).

On Pryor’s goal to remain a Brown, Jackson stated: “It means a lot. I hope all of our players that are there want to be there. That’s the kind of environment we try to create, but as he’s done, he’s got to do what he needs to do, and we hope it all works out. We’re working our tails off, I know that, to make things happen.”

If Pryor were to actually reach free agency, he’d be arguably the top pass catcher available, depending on whether the Bears are able to prevent Alshon Jeffery from hitting the market. The 6-foot-4, 223-pound Pryor is coming off a year in which he led the Browns in catches (77), targets (140), yards (1,007) and receiving touchdowns (four). Those quality numbers came in spite of a less-than-ideal quarterback situation in Cleveland, which shuffled through five different signal-callers in a one-win season. The Browns will undoubtedly look to upgrade under center this offseason, and it seems whichever QB they tab as their answer in the coming months will be able to count Pryor among his weapons for at least the 2017 campaign.

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Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Browns Notes: Pryor, RG3, McCown, Erving

Contract-year wide receiver Terrelle Pryor made it clear multiple times earlier this season that he wants to remain with the Browns going forward. However, with free agency looming, Pryor acknowledged Thursday that he could on the cusp of playing his final game with the team. “I love to play for [Hue Jackson] and I enjoy playing for him this year and I’d love to play for him longer,” Pryor told Mary Kay Cabot of cleveland.com. “But at the end of the day, it’s got to come down to what my agents think is right for me.” Those agents, Drew and Jason Rosenhaus, have tabled extension talks with the Browns until after the season and likely want their client to test the market off a breakout campaign, per Cabot. The 27-year-old Pryor, a former quarterback, leads the Browns in targets (129), receptions (70), yards (913) and touchdowns (four).

More from Cleveland, which is no longer in danger of enduring a winless season as Week 17 nears:

  • Quarterback Robert Griffin III cleared concussion protocol after suffering a head injury last week and is on track to start Sunday in Pittsburgh, writes Cabot. Health has been a problem throughout the season for Griffin, who has not revived his career since signing a two-year deal with Cleveland last winter and could end up on the chopping block this offseason. In four appearances this year, Griffin has completed a meager 54.2 of his 107 passes and hasn’t thrown a touchdown. Moving on from the former Redskin would free up $7.5MM in spending space for the Browns, who would incur $1.75MM in dead cap.
  • Fellow signal-caller Josh McCown hinted at retirement last week, but the 37-year-old declared Thursday that he aims to return in 2017. “My plan is to play,” he said (via Pat McManamon of ESPN.com). “I have another year left on my deal. So right now, that’s the plan.” It’s unclear whether McCown will be open to continuing his career if the Browns release him, which looks like a distinct possibility. By cutting McCown, Cleveland would save $4.375MM on its cap against roughly $667K in dead money next year. If McCown’s playing career does conclude, he could have a place on Jackson’s staff next year. “I told him already if he ever wanted to coach, he could coach for me anytime he wants,” said Jackson.
  • Jackson revealed nearly two months ago that the Browns would try second-year man Cameron Erving at tackle if his play didn’t turn around at center. Erving was then Pro Football Focus’ worst-rated center, which hasn’t changed. As a result, the Browns will try the 2015 first-rounder at right tackle Sunday, per Nate Ulrich of Ohio.com. Erving hasn’t fared well along the interior in the NFL, though he was an accomplished left tackle at Florida State and is eager to serve as a bookend again. “It’s definitely a little exciting, just to be able to potentially have that opportunity to go out and play tackle again,” Erving said.

AFC Notes: Bills, McCoy, Browns, Pryor, RG3

Bills running back LeSean McCoy turns 29 in July, but he believes that he can continue to play at a high level, as The Associated Press writes. The veteran is under contract for three more years at a reasonable rate and it sounds like he has every intention of playing out that deal. “I feel young,” McCoy said. “I feel good. I’m not like other backs that only take a pounding. So I’m not really concerned about time.” In 13 games this year, McCoy has rushed for 1,129 yards and averaged 5.5 yards per carry. Shady’s hamstring has bothered him a bit this year, but all in all, he hasn’t really shown signs of slowing down. Here’s more from the AFC:

Latest On Terrelle Pryor, Jamie Collins

The Browns and contract-year wide receiver Terrelle Pryor began extension talks in October, but the two are unlikely to strike a deal by the end of the regular season, reports Mary Kay Cabot of cleveland.com. The club will have until March 9 to either extend Pryor or place the franchise tag (worth nearly $16MM) on him; otherwise, he could hit the open market and head elsewhere. There’s motivation to get a deal done on Pryor’s end, though, as he has offered effusive praise for the organization multiple times this year.

Terrelle Pryor

Cleveland has shuffled through five different quarterbacks en route to an 0-13 record, but that hasn’t prevented the 27-year-old Pryor from breaking out as the top target in its aerial attack. The former Ohio State and Raiders QB leads the Browns in catches (63), targets (116), yards (858) and receiving touchdowns (four). As a result, the 6-foot-4, 223-pounder stands to cash in as arguably one of the two best wideouts (alongside Alshon Jeffery) on track to reach the market. The Browns should be able to stop Pryor from becoming a free agent, however, as they’re set to enter the offseason with upward of $64MM in cap space.

By locking up Pryor, the Browns would at least leave open the possibility of using the ~$14.8MM franchise tag on another important soon-to-be free agent in linebacker Jamie Collins. There’s no word on whether the Browns and Collins have engaged in contract talks yet, but they do hope to keep him, according to Cabot. Since the Patriots sent Collins to Cleveland in a stunning late-October trade, the 27-year-old has piled up 49 tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble in five games. Between Collins’ overall work with the two clubs this year, he ranks 29th among Pro Football Focus’ 110 qualified edge defenders.

Jamie Collins (featured)

Collins, who turned down an $11MM-per-annum extension from the Pats before they traded him, is reportedly aiming to top the $12.36MM average annual value Panthers superstar linebacker Luke Kuechly received on a five-year, $62MM extension in September 2015. That’s not an unrealistic goal for Collins, as he also has a track record of excellence and should benefit from the NFL’s ever-increasing salary cap. When Kuechly inked his deal, the cap ceiling was just over $143MM. By next season, that figure will sit between $166MM and $170MM.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Terrelle Pryor On Looming Free Agency

The Browns slunk to 0-11 after losing to the Steelers today and can obviously continue to turn their attention to the future. One player who’s been a pleasant surprise for the team this season, Terrelle Pryor is not locked up beyond 2016 but appears ready to embrace a potential lengthy stay in Cleveland.

I don’t believe in taking the easy road and going to teams just because they are great,” Pryor said, via Keith Britton of 92.3 The Fan in Cleveland (Twitter link). “I would rather start how we are and then build it into an empire. I believe in battling. I don’t believe in taking the easy way out. Whatever happens in free agency, I love being here. I respect the coaches, the owners, and at the end of the day, it’s up to them.

I love playing for Hue [Jackson]. I love playing for [Jimmy] Haslam; he is a great owner. They have given us one of the best facilities. They want to win.”

While Cleveland has let numerous talents depart in recent years — including starters Mitchell Schwartz, Alex Mack, Tashaun Gipson and Travis Benjamin this offseason — the team has begun extension talks with Pryor, a looming UFA. The former Ohio State and Raiders quarterback caught five passes for 97 yards Sunday to increase his season-long numbers to 56 receptions, 724 yards and four touchdowns despite entering the season with two career catches.

The 27-year-old pass-catcher could well come in on the tier so many of the No. 2-level wideouts settled on this offseason, with Joel Corry of CBSSports.com pointing toward Tavon Austin‘s deals as a potential floor for Pryor. Both signed for at least four years and $40MM, with Austin receiving $28.5MM in guaranteed money. The 6-foot-4 Pryor is having a better season than both and stands to join a free agent class of receivers that was thinned out considerably thanks to the deals given to Austin, Hurns, Emmanuel Sanders, Doug Baldwin and Keenan Allen this year.

Alshon Jeffery, Kenny Britt and Michael Floyd are among the top options in their primes for wideout-seeking teams next year, barring preemptive extensions of course. Pryor’s team has plenty of resources to sign both he and Jamie Collins to long-term pacts if it so chooses, with Cleveland’s $64.53MM worth of projected 2017 cap space ranking second in the league.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.