Victor Cruz

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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Victor Cruz Visits Panthers

The Giants released wide receiver Victor Cruz last Monday, but it didn’t take long for the 30-year-old to garner serious interest on the open market. Cruz visited the Panthers on Monday, according to Mike Garafolo of NFL.com and Joe Person of the Charlotte Observer (Twitter links). Bill Voth of Black and Blue Review first reported the connection between Cruz and Carolina.

NFL: New York Giants at Cleveland Browns

The meeting between Cruz and Carolina “went well,” Cruz tells Art Stapleton of The Record (Twitter link), who adds that mutual interest exists between the two parties. Cruz will continue the free agent “process,” an indication he’ll likely meet with other clubs, but the Panthers are a “strong first suitor,” per Stapleton.

If the Panthers were to sign Cruz, it would reunite him with general manager Dave Gettleman, who worked in the Giants’ front office from 1999-2012. Gettleman was on hand when the Giants signed Cruz as an undrafted free agent from UMass in 2010, which turned into an excellent move for both the team and player.

Cruz caught 303 passes and 25 touchdowns as a Giant, with whom he also won a Super Bowl and went to a Pro Bowl. Injuries mostly kept Cruz out of action from 2014-15, though he bounced back last season to make 15 appearances and 12 starts. While Cruz only caught 39 passes and one touchdown in 2016, he did manage to match his career yards-per-catch average of 15.0.

Regardless of whether they add Cruz, acquiring more targets for Cam Newton should be a priority for the Panthers. The team’s top two pass catchers from last season, tight end Greg Olsen and wideout Kelvin Benjamin, will be in the fold in 2017, but third-leading receiver Ted Ginn is headed for free agency. No one else on Carolina’s roster hauled in more than 27 passes last year.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Broncos Showing Interest In Victor Cruz?

The Broncos started working towards setting up a meeting with Victor Cruz shortly after he was cut by the Giants on Monday, Jeff Legwold of ESPN.com writes. Meanwhile, Mike Klis of 9NEWS (on Twitter) hears that the Broncos have yet to discuss signing Cruz.
Victor Cruz (vertical)

[RELATED: Broncos Working To Re-Sign Kayvon Webster]

The Broncos are expected to be flush with cap room and Cruz is the kind of signing that wouldn’t eat up a lot of that space. As of this writing, the Broncos are projected to have more than $40MM to work with in March. Cruz, 31 in November, could serve as a third option in the passing game behind stars Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders. Cruz has said that he would like to get back to playing in the slot and that’s presumably how the Broncos would use him.

Cruz was a beloved figure in New York as he eclipsed 1,000 yards in both 2011 and 2012 and came two yards shy of that mark in 2013. Unfortunately, he has been slowed by injuries since then. He missed the 2015 season and finished 2016 with 39 receptions for 586 yards and one touchdown.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Extra Points: Cruz, Bengals, Eagles

The Giants are releasing wide receiver Victor Cruz, which will save them $7.5MM in 2017. Theoretically, they could attempt to bring back the 30-year-old at a lower cap charge next season, but there’s “no indication” they have any interest in doing that, writes Art Stapleton of NorthJersey.com. Cruz spoke in the past tense about his six-year run with the Giants on Monday, saying: “I did some great things there. There are so many experiences, times and moments that I shared in that building with that team in that jersey. Those can’t be replaced or forgotten. I’m happy I have those moments to look back on.”

Cruz will ceremonially retire as a Giant someday and later end up in their Ring of Honor, opines Paul Schwartz of the New York Post. His next step, though, will be to head to the open market, where he could find a fit with the Panthers, suggests Joseph Person of the Charlotte Observer. There’s already a connection between Carolina and Cruz: Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman was the Giants’ director of pro personnel when Big Blue signed the wideout as an undrafted free agent in 2011.

The Broncos, meanwhile, got virtually no production last season from receivers not named Demaryius Thomas or Emmanuel Sanders, but they haven’t had any discussions about pursuing Cruz, reports Nicki Jhabvala of the Denver Post (Twitter link).

More from around the NFL:

  • Despite having over $43MM in cap space, the Bengals are unlikely to make any significant splashes in free agency, per Katherine Terrell of ESPN.com. Odds are greater that Cincinnati will focus on its own soon-to-be free agents – including left tackle Andrew Whitworth, guard Kevin Zeitler, cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick and receiver Brandon LaFell – writes Terrell, who notes that the club is also expecting to pick up plenty of help via the draft. On top of the picks the Bengals already have, the league could award them three or four compensatory selections this year as a result of the losses they incurred in free agency last offseason.
  • The Eagles are reportedly open to trading linebacker Mychal Kendricks, and it’s a “safe bet” they’ll move him if they’re able to acquire help at receiver, running back or cornerback in return, relays Tim McManus of ESPN.com.
  • Jabrill Peppers is unlikely to be a first-round pick, Carlos Monarrez of the Detroit Free Press opines. Peppers’ versatility is an asset, but he doesn’t clearly fit any one position either. ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper has called the Michigan star “a polarizing prospect” and a “tweener,” although he still has him going in the first round in his mock draft. Falling out of the first round could be good for Peppers, Monarrez argues, because it would put less pressure on him as he works to figure out his best role in the NFL.
  • Falcons defensive pass game coordinator Jerome Henderson was under consideration to become the 49ers’ defensive coordinator before they tabbed Robert Saleh for the role on Monday. Now that he’s not going to San Francisco, Henderson will stay in the same position in Atlanta, according to Vaughn McClure of ESPN.com.
  • The Seahawks are parting with assistant linebackers coach Lofa Tatupu, who spent the previous two years on Pete Carroll‘s staff, tweets Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times. Tatupu is better known for his on-field work in Seattle, where he played from 2005-10 and earned three Pro Bowl nods.

Zach Links contributed to this post.

Giants To Release Victor Cruz

The Giants informed wide receiver Victor Cruz that he will be released, according to Art Stapleton of The Bergen Record (on Twitter). Cruz would have counted for $9.4MM against the Giants’ cap but his release this afternoon will free up $7.5MM in cap space. Victor Cruz (vertical)

Last year, Cruz accepted a pay cut which took his base salary from $7.9MM to just $1.3MM. This year, some expected the two sides to work out another pay slash which would allow the salsa dancing wide receiver to stay on board. For one reason or another, that did not come to fruition. For his part, Cruz was vocal about wanting to stay in New York, but he also admits that he’d like to perhaps go elsewhere and return to his roots.

That’s a good question. Maybe. You never know,” Cruz said earlier this month when asked about the possibility. “I think you’ve just got to take it as it comes, eat the food that’s given to you, and see how it tastes. That’s kind of the term I like to use. But we’ll see. Playing the slot is obviously something that I’m best at, and an opportunity to do that would definitely be great.”

This past season was Cruz’s first full campaign since 2013. In 15 games, he caught 39 of 72 targets for 586 yards and one touchdown. Cruz is still hoping to get back to his 2011-2013 form. In those seasons, he averaged 80 catches for 1,209 yards and eight touchdowns. He also earned his lone Pro Bowl selection in 2012.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

East Notes: Giants, Cruz, Floyd, Patriots

Here’s a look at the East divisions:

  • Many expect the Giants to come to Victor Cruz with a pay cut proposal, but so far that hasn’t happened, the wide receiver says (link via James Kratch of NJ.com). Last year, Cruz took a big cut from a $7.9MM base to just $1.3MM. To stay on board, he’ll almost certainly have to agree to a similar slash. Cruz wants to stay, but he also concedes that he might be better off with a team that will regularly keep him in the slot. “That’s a good question. Maybe. You never know,” Cruz said. “I think you’ve just got to take it as it comes, eat the food that’s given to you, and see how it tastes. That’s kind of the term I like to use. But we’ll see. Playing the slot is obviously something that I’m best at, and an opportunity to do that would definitely be great.”
  • If Michael Floyd has his way, he’ll return to the Patriots for another season, Mike Reiss of ESPN.com writes. “I hope to be back in Foxborough,” Floyd said. “I love it here. I hope that I can make that happen, for sure.” He noted that he was able to pick things up very quickly in New England despite joining the team mid-season and he wants to see what he can do there in a full year. Floyd’s career was in a free fall ever since his breakout 2013 season. Now, he may be back on the right track with the Pats.
  • The Cowboys worked out quarterback Garrett Gilbert, wide receivers Bryan Burnham and Corey Washington, and tight end Andrew McCleneghen earlier this week, according to Todd Archer of ESPN.com. Pass-catchers Quincy McDuffie and Uzoma Nwachukwu were also part of the audition group, and signed reserve/futures contracts with Dallas on Tuesday. As Archer notes, the Cowboys could have some some upheaval at the quarterback position behind Dak Prescott, as Tony Romo could be traded or released, while Mark Sanchez and Kellen Moore are free agents. Gilbert, then, could be a candidate for a deal down the road.

Dallas Robinson contributed to this post.

NFC Notes: Vikes, Turner, Redskins, Giants

With former Rams and Eagles offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur now on the Vikings’ staff as the tight ends coach, O-coordinator Norv Turner‘s job could be in jeopardy if Minnesota’s attack doesn’t improve this season, writes Jim Souhan of the Star Tribune. The Vikings’ Turner-led offense ranked just 27th and 29th over the previous two seasons, and the latter finish came despite excellent production from running back Adrian Peterson. One way Turner could help his cause is to involve receiver Cordarrelle Patterson in the game plan, Souhan offers. Patterson – a first-round pick in 2013 – racked up just two targets and two carries under Turner last season. He was at his most productive as a rookie in Bill Musgrave‘s 13th-ranked offense, with 45 catches on 78 targets, 469 yards and seven total touchdowns (four receiving, three rushing).

More from the NFC:

  • Whether the Redskins have a sufficient amount of defensive line talent is one important issue facing the defending NFC East champions, posits Mike Jones of the Washington Post. The team lost both Terrance Knighton and Jason Hatcher during the offseason and didn’t add significant replacements, notes Jones, who contends that eighth-year man Ricky Jean-Francois is a candidate to fill the void. Jean-Francois – who’s a fit at right end and nose tackle – is aiming to start and make more of a pass-rushing impact this year after picking up two sacks as a rotational player last season.
  • With no other proven options at wideout behind Odell Beckham Jr., the Giants need a revival from slot man Victor Cruz, opines Paul Schwartz of the New York Post. The last time he played the majority of a season, 2014, Cruz hauled in 73 receptions, 998 yards and four touchdowns. Knee and calf injuries cost the 2012 Pro Bowler all but six games over the previous two years, including the entire 2015 season, but Big Blue brought Cruz back after he agreed to a considerable pay cut. If Cruz, 29, doesn’t resemble his previous form, second-round rookie Sterling Shepard is likely the Giants’ best hope behind Beckham. The 5-foot-10 Oklahoma product started well in spring workouts, per Schwartz.
  • We found out earlier Friday that Washington and franchise-tagged quarterback Kirk Cousins will not agree to a contract by the July 15 deadline. The same will probably be true regarding the Bears and their tag recipient, receiver Alshon Jeffery.

Giants GM On Draft, JPP, Cruz, Right Tackle

Moments ago, Giants GM Jerry Reese told reporters that the team had a “medical meeting” Wednesday night to discuss draft prospects with medical concerns, as ESPN.com’s Dan Graziano writes.

If our doctors say the risk is too high, we won’t take them,” the GM explained.

Here’s more from Reese’s presser:

  • Reese said that the Giants are “open to moving up [and] open to moving back” in the NFL Draft, as Paul Schwartz of the New York Post tweets.
  • Reese says he expects Jason Pierre-Paul to be able to play better this year as he gets used to condition of his hand, Graziano tweets.
  • When asked about the safety position, the GM said, “We’ll see,” (Twitter link via Graziano). The team is hoping a young guy steps up to fill the role.
  • When asked about the Giants’ running backs, Reese said, “I think we have five guys that can play in this league,” (Twitter link via Ralph Vacchiano of the Daily News). The Giants have Rashad Jennings, Andre Williams, Shane Vereen, Orleans Darkwa, and Bobby Rainey at running back.
  • When asked about free-agent Josh Norman, Reese gave his standard non-answer, as Vacchiano tweets. “We investigate everything,” the GM said.
  • When questioned about the Giants’ right tackle situation, Reese said: “Sometimes the answer is on your roster” (link via Vacchiano). The Giants currently have Marshall Newhouse and Bobby Hart at right tackle with Ereck Flowers at left tackle.
  • Reese says that anything Victor Cruz gives them is a “bonus,” Jordan Raanan of the Star-Ledger tweets. He added that the plan is to ‘take it easy with him.’
  • When asked about how much he pays attention to the ages of players in the draft, Reese said, “We’re conscious of players’ ages, but how many play more than four, five years?” (Twitter link via Graziano).

NFC East Rumors: Cowboys, P. Robinson, Cruz

The Cowboys have already agreed to terms with one of the veteran free agents who visited the team on Monday, locking up running back Alfred Morris on a two-year deal. And it may just be a matter of time until the club also has an agreement with the other noteworthy free agent who was in Dallas on Monday.

According to Clarence Hill of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram (Twitter link), a three-year deal between the Cowboys and cornerback Patrick Robinson is “pretty much done.” Hill suggests Robinson just needs to “resolve his agent situation,” while David Moore of the Dallas Morning tweets that the team is expected to meet with Robinson’s agent today.

As we wait to see if the two sides can finalize a deal, let’s check in on a few more items from out of the NFC East….

  • Washington‘s relative lack of activity in free agency this month can be partially attributed to all the expiring contracts the team has on its books for a year from now, a source tells John Keim of ESPN.com. Tight end Jordan Reed, wideouts DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon, and defenders Chris Baker and Junior Galette are all entering the final year of their deals, and that’s not even taking into account quarterback Kirk Cousins, who will require another raise if he has a strong 2016 campaign, assuming he isn’t extended before then.
  • Jordan Raanan of NJ.com has a breakdown of Victor Cruz‘s new deal with the Giants, which reduces his 2016 cap hit from $9.9MM to $4.4MM. Cruz also had $1MM of his base salary in 2017 and 2018 converted into a roster bonus to be paid out early in the offseason, which should force the Giants to make an early decision on whether or not to keep him around.
  • Eagles GM Howie Roseman suggested on Monday that the idea of teams being able to land a productive running back in the late rounds of the draft or in undrafted free agency is overblown. Jeff McLane of the Philadelphia Inquirer examines Roseman’s comments about the rarity of finding a “special talent” at the position, exploring whether they might hint at a potential first-round selection of Ohio State’s Ezekiel Elliott.

Giants, Victor Cruz Agree On Restructure

7:51pm: Cruz’s new base salary will be $1.3MM, according to Art Stapleton of the Bergen Record (via Twitter). This is a drastic drop from the $7.9MM the 6-foot target was set to earn under his previous deal. But Cruz can recoup a sizable amount of this through playing-time incentives ($5.5MM) and production incentives, Bergen reports.

7:40pm: The Giants and Victor Cruz at long last appear to have agreed on a restructured deal that will keep the slot receiver in New York this season, Rand Getlin of NFL.com reports (on Twitter).

Previously set to count $9.9MM against the Giants’ cap in 2016, Cruz’s new number will reduce to a not-yet-released amount. Some of Cruz’s money will be shifted to incentives, Getlin reports. This new arrangement will allow the seventh-year wideout the chance to earn all of the money back that was originally on his contract, per Getlin (on Twitter).

Cruz signed a $45.88MM contract extension prior to the 2013 season, but much has changed since he last played. The star of Kevin Gilbride’s offenses of the early part of this decade, Cruz will now attempt to fully assimilate into Ben McAdoo’s attack in which he operated briefly before suffering a season-ending knee injury against the Eagles in October 2014.

Last season, a persistent calf injury kept the 29-year-old target off the field. Set to turn 30 in November, Cruz has three seasons left on his deal.

So, should Cruz be healthy after missing the past 22 regular-season games, Giants fans may finally get a chance to see the team’s best receiver of the early 2010s and its current No. 1 receiver share the field. That’s only happened in two games, with Cruz and Odell Beckham starting just once together.

Although Cruz arrived emphatically onto the scene with his dominant 2011 slate — 1,536 yards, 18.7 yards per reception, nine TDs — his receiving yardage figures have gone down in each subsequent season. Cruz earned a Pro Bowl nod for his 2012 work (1,092 yards, 10 TDs), it was quite a bit off his torrid pace. Cruz gained 998 air yards in 2013 and scored four touchdowns in Gilbride’s final season as OC.

But should Cruz return to form, Eli Manning, who quietly threw for a career-high 35 touchdown passes last season as he began to thrive in McAdoo’s offense, could have a receiving crew with a higher ceiling than any at his disposal in his 13 seasons. The Giants, who have Rueben Randle remaining as a UFA, have boasted deeper receiving corps but none quite on the level of what Beckham and the version of Cruz that surfaced in the early part of this decade could be capable of reaching.

Photo courtesy USA Today Sports Images