Saints fullback Zach Line announced his retirement on Wednesday. Line, 29, leaves the league after seven pro seasons.
“As I look back on the last seven seasons in the NFL I cannot help but to feel extremely proud,” Line wrote on Instagram. “I have never bragged about my accomplishments, but knowing the odds and ignoring them, and choosing to instead believe in myself, my faith, and the support of my loving wife and family is something I am proud of. The decision to retire is not easy, which is true for most competitors. This decision is something I have prayed about and communicated with those that I love.”
Line first broke into the NFL with the Vikings as an undrafted free agent out of SMU. In four years with the Vikings and three years with the Saints, Line appeared in 75 games, including 22 starts. Used mostly as a blocking back, Line logged 275 career all-purpose yards and six touchdowns (four receiving, two rushing). This year, a knee injury kept Line out of the regular season finale and the Saints’ Wild Card loss.
Ohio State defensive end Sam Hubbard is scheduled to meet with the Titans this week, tweets Jordan Schultz of Yahoo Sports. During his final season with the Buckeyes, the 6’5″, 265-pound Hubbard posted seven sacks and 13.5 tackles for loss, and is widely viewed as a late-first- or early-second-round selection. While Hubbard reportedly ran a disappointing 4.96-second 40-yard dash at his Pro Day, his three-cone time places him in the 96th percentile among defensive ends, and he ranks 15th among 2018’s edge rushing prospects in SPARQ, a composite score that measures athleticism. Tennessee ranked 12th in pressure rate a season ago, but could be searching for a young edge rusher to play behind starters Brian Orakpo and Derrick Morgan.
Here’s more from the NFL’s two South divisions:
The Buccaneers are hosting LSU cornerback Donte Jackson on Wednesday, according to Josh Norris of Rotoworld (Twitter link). Even after re-signing veteran Brent Grimes, Tampa Bay is still on the lookout for additional defensive backs after not only ranking 31st in pass defense DVOA, but giving up a ton of big plays in the passing game. Last season, the Buccaneers allowed allowed 57 completions of at least 20 yards, which was third-most in the league. A three-year starter, Jackson “may be the fastest player in this year’s draft,” as Lance Zierlein of NFL.com writes, adding Jackson offers “plus body control to handle tight or off coverage.”
Louisville cornerback Jaire Alexander visited the Titans today, reports Paul Kuharsky of PaulKuharsky.com (Twitter link). Tennessee has invested heavily its in secondary over the past two years, adding free agents such as Malcolm Butler and Logan RyanÂ while expending a first-round pick on Adoree’ Jackson. Alexander would give the club yet another option, and Daniel Jeremiah of NFL.com — who ranks Alexander as the draft’s 16th-best prospect — says the ex-Cardinal is “rarely out of position” and has “elite ball awareness.”
Fullback Zach Line‘s new two-year deal with the Saints is worth $2.2MM, per Nick Underhill of the Advocate (Twitter link). Line will collect a $200K signing bonus, which is the only guaranteed portion of the contract. New Orleans signed Line to replace the injured John Kuhn last October, and the 27-year-old went on to play on 16.3% of the Saints’ offensive snaps (12th among NFL fullbacks) and 27.6% of the club’s special teams snaps.
The Saints have re-signed Zach Line, according to Nick Underhill of The Advocate (on Twitter). The fullback returns on a new two-year deal.
Line had a limited market this offseason since most teams in the NFL do not employ a fullback. The ones that do – like the Raiders and Cowboys – have already found their FB solutions elsewhere.
Last year, Line joined the Saints after John Kuhn landed on IR. He saw time on 168 snaps on offense plus 126 on special teams in 12 games. Line graded out as the third-best fullback in the NFL, per Pro Football Focus, placing behind only Patrick Ricard (Ravens) and James Develin (Patriots).
NFL free agency will get underway on Wednesday, March 14th, and while the list of free agents will change between now and then, we do have some idea of who will be available when free agency kicks off. The frenzy is right around the corner and it’s time for us to break down the outlook for each position. We’ll start today on offense, before getting to defense and special teams later this week.
Listed below are our rankings for the top 15 free agents at each offensive position. The rankings aren’t necessarily determined by the value of the contracts that each player is expected to land in free agency, they are simply the players we like the most at each position, with both short- and long-term value taken into account. Restricted and exclusive-rights free agents are not listed here since they are unlikely to actually reach the open market. The same goes for players who have been franchise tagged or transition tagged.
We’ll almost certainly be higher or lower on some guys than you are, so we encourage you to make your voice heard in our comments section to let us know which free agents we’ve got wrong.
Here’s our breakdown of the current top 15 free agents by offensive position for 2018:
Drew Brees is included here, but by his own admission, he’ll be re-signing with the Saints rather than testing the open waters of free agency. Unless the Saints lowball their franchise QB, it’s hard to see him leaving New Orleans.
Case Keenum put together a tremendous season for the Vikings, but he doesn’t have a history of success beyond 2017. There will be plenty of interest in Keenum, but only after QB-needy teams strike out on Cousins. The incumbent Vikings could re-sign Keenum, but right now, it seems like they are intent on exploring the Cousins waters first.
There isn’t a ton of footage on A.J. McCarron, which made his placement on this list awfully tricky. We know this much: McCarron did well in place of Dalton in the home stretch of the 2015 season and his former offensive coordinator Hue Jackson was salivating at the chance of landing him before the Browns bungled the trade with the Bengals. McCarron’s relative youth is a plus (he won’t turn 28 until September) and his lack of experience can be looked at as a positive. Unlike some of the other names on this list, he hasn’t run up his NFL odometer.
What will NFL teams make of Teddy Bridgewater and Sam Bradford this offseason? Not long ago, both seemed like quality starting options. However, there are serious injury questions about both players and any team signing them will either look to backstop them with another decent option or ask them to come onboard as a QB2. With that in mind, one has to wonder if Bradford would consider retirement if asked to hold the clipboard for another signal caller. Bradford has earned upwards of $110MM over the years in the NFL, so it’s safe to say that he has enough money in the bank to call it quits if he wants. For now, he’s intent on playing.
Colin Kaepernick‘s placement on this list is sure to draw some strong reactions from his fans and detractors alike. Looking purely at his football ability, there’s no question that he belongs on someone’s roster. At minimum, Kaepernick profiles as a high-end backup, even after a year out of the game.
Quarterbacks coaches have long believed that Mike Glennon is capable of great things, due in part to his height. At 6’7″, he can see over any defensive line, but he hasn’t done much on the field to prove that he is a quality Week 1 starting option. Josh McCown, who is a decade his senior, edges him here for his surprisingly strong performance in 2017 at the helm of a weak Jets offense.
Carlos Hyde didn’t have the kind of platform year he was hoping for, but he’s still just 26 and could headline a running back by committee group.
Jerick McKinnon‘s placement on this list figures to be controversial, but his athleticism and pass-catching ability can blow a game wide open. No one will bank on McKinnon to carry the ball 20 times per game, but he can be a real difference maker for a team out there.
Can Frank Gore outrun father time? History indicates that he can’t and so does his 3.7 yards per carry average in 2017. You have to give credit where credit is due, however. Gore has been ruled out by many for years, but he has not missed a regular season game since the 2010 season. He’s also just one year removed from cracking 1,000 yards and he almost did the same last year.
For most teams, Allen Robinson would be a franchise tag candidate. However, that may be too much of a luxury for the cash-strapped Jaguars. He presents a fascinating free agent case. Robinson missed all but three snaps of the 2017 season after suffering a torn ACL, but he’s the most talented wide receiver on the board in the eyes of many. His 2015 season – 80 catches, 1,400 yards, and a league-leading 14 touchdowns – makes GMs drool. His quieter year in 2016 (73 catches, 883 yards, and six touchdowns) is less worthy of salivation. His 2017 season, of course, was a lost cause. For all the question marks, you can expect Robinson to see more dollars than any other free agent WR this year, particularly since Jarvis Landry has been held back by the tag.
Some in the football world may prefer Sammy Watkins for his big-play ability, but his down contract year amidst a capable offense is cause for concern. His injury history doesn’t do him any favors either. No matter your feelings on Watkins, there’s no debating that this year’s WR market has a top tier comprised of just two players – Watkins and Robinson. With few quality receivers out there, they’ll both get paid.
Marqise Lee represents a much less sexy option (speaking in football terms, of course), but he had the most receptions of any Jaguars receiver in 2017 (56) and finished second in receiving yards (702). Teams looking for a quality WR2 in free agency could do a lot worse than Lee and he’ll be far cheaper than the two-man top tier.
Danny Amendola hauled in 61 receptions for 659 yards and two touchdowns in the regular season and continued his strong play in the playoffs. However, teams will wonder if he can thrive in his age-33 season while playing outside of the Patriots’ offense. It’s also quite possible that he never tests the market as his stated preference is to remain in New England.
After that, you’ll notice a pretty significant drop off. That’s because this year’s WR class isn’t all that deep. Terrelle Pryor had to settle for a one-year prove-it contract last year and, to put it mildly, he did not prove it. Paul Richardson caught 44 passes for 703 yards and six touchdowns in 2017, but that marked his first NFL season of real note.
Trey Burton spent most of the year behind Zach Ertz on the Eagles’ depth chart, but he emerged late in the season and set himself up nicely for free agency. Given his age and potential, there’s no question that he is the belle of the ball at tight end.
The rest of the tight end crop is not nearly as inspiring. Jimmy Graham has enjoyed back-to-back Pro Bowl seasons with the Seahawks, but he’ll turn 32 in November and he’s no longer the monster playmaker that he was in New Orleans. He had ten touchdowns in 2017, but his 9.1 yards per reception average is a career low.
Odds are, you have Tyler Eifert ranked over Austin Seferian-Jenkins given the fact that Eifert has played just ten games over the last two years. ASJ, meanwhile, rebounded from personal issues to post a 50-catch season for the Jets. Personally, I’m picking Eifert based on upside. Hopefully, we can still be friends.
Offensive line play is down across the board and evaluators around the league have been openly complaining about an increasing dearth of tackles coming out of college. That makes for a generally uninspiring lot in free agency.
Nate Solder battled through injuries in 2017 and did not miss a game. He’s no longer a top-flight option, but he graded out as Pro Football Focus’ No. 32 tackle last year, meaning that he’s starter quality at left tackle. You’ll notice that three of the top five tackles on this list are Patriots. There’s little chance that the Pats let all three get away.
Justin Pugh offers the ability to play both guard and right tackle, though he might not do either one particularly well.
Andrew Norwell is the undisputed king of this category after netting an All-Pro selection in 2017. Norwell also earned a career-high 88.8 overall score from Pro Football Focus, which positioned him third in the entire NFL amongst guards. A team with greater means than the Panthers might have used the franchise tag on him. Fortunately for rival teams in need of interior help (such as the Giants), they won’t cuff him with the one-year placeholder.
After missing the entire 2017 season as a result of a heart ailment, free agent defensive tackle Nick Fairley wants to play during the upcoming campaign, tweets Nick Underhill of the Advocate. The Saints, who inked Fairley to a four-year deal last offseason but released him last month, are not expected to be involved in a potential Fairley pursuit, per Underhill. Fairley was an excellent interior defender at full strength, but it’s unclear if any NFL club would be willing to bet on his health. Indeed, Fairley hasn’t been medically cleared to play, as Underhill tweets, so a return to the league seems unlikely.
Here’s more from New Orleans:
Free agent offensive lineman Senio Kelemete is experiencing a “healthy market,” according to Josh Katzenstein of the Advocate, and while the Saints will likely be interested in retaining him, any reunion will be based on cost. New Orleans isn’t likely to offer Kelemete a chance to start, as the club is set with Terron Armstead, Andrus Peat, Max Unger, Larry Warford, and Ryan Ramczyk from left to right. Kelemete’s versatility and ability to play nearly every position on the line is his key asset, but he’d surely prefer a starting job to a reserve role.
The Saints and free agent fullback John Kuhn have mutual interest in a return, sources tell Herbie Teope of NOLA.com. Kuhn, who was sidelined for the majority of the 2017 campaign after suffering a biceps injury, is currently considering whether he’ll continue his playing career or enter the coaching ranks, per Teope. Fellow Saints fullback Zach Line, who appeared in 12 games for New Orleans following Kuhn’s injury, is drawing interest around the league, reports Katzenstein, but the Saints have interest in retaining him, as well.
Saints assistant general manager Jeff Ireland orchestrated arguably the NFL’s best draft class last spring, and he’d like to become a primary decision-maker again in the future, as Underhill writes. “Absolutely, why wouldn’t it be?” Ireland said when asked if getting a second GM job is his goal. “I’m not in a hurry. I told myself when I got to New Orleans I was going to help this team build. I’d really have to think twice about leaving the New Orleans Saints before we won a Super Bowl.” Ireland previously served as the Dolphins’ general manager from 2008-13, and the club posted a 46-50 record under his lead.
Although he hasn’t expressed a willingness to accept a full-time position, the Saints would like to have special teams consultant Mike Westhoff return next season, according to Katzenstein. Westhoff is currently recovering a surgical operation which could limit his availability, but New Orleans is willing to allow the 70-year-old a varied schedule. He wouldn’t be accepting the lead special teams coach role, as the Saints intend to retain Bradford Banta (primary ST coach) and Kevin O’Dea (assistant).
The Saints made a series of moves Wednesday, bringing in three new players – fullback Zach Line, linebacker Bryan Braman and undrafted rookie defensive back Elijah Mitchell – and parting with offensive lineman Jack Allen, whom they waived/injured.
The most notable addition may be Line, who spent the first four years of his career with the Vikings and is coming off back-to-back 16-game seasons. Line totaled 339 snaps in Minnesota last year (210 on offense, 129 on special teams), but offseason hip surgery and a lack of demand for fullbacks likely combined to make it difficult for him to find employment. Before joining the Saints, who deployed fullback John Kuhn on 397 snaps last year (278 on offense, 119 via special teams), Line’s only known interest came from the Jets. It’s unclear whether Kuhn is now on the hot seat as a result of the Line signing.
Braman, meanwhile, has posted five 16-game seasons during his six-year career. His only missed time (two games) came as a member of the Texans in 2012, his second NFL season. Braman spent his first three years in Houston and the previous three in Philadelphia, where he functioned as a leading special teamer. The 30-year-old posted upward of 1,100 special teams snaps during his tenure with the Eagles and paced the unit in playing time in each of the previous two seasons. Thanks in part to Braman, the Eagles’ ST unit ranked as the NFL’s No. 2 group in 2016, per Football Outsiders. The Saints finished just 27th, on the other hand, so picking up Line and Braman could be the latest moves that improve the unit under new coordinator Bradford Banta.
Free agent fullback Zach Line has been cleared to do everything following hip surgery, a source tells Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (on Twitter). The green light means that he can participate in full-contact drills in camp.
Line visited the Jets in March but he left without a deal. Now that he’s fully healthy, it’s possible that Gang Green could circle back to him. The Jets don’t have a true fullback on the roster and they have at least some interest in a blocking specialist to lead the way for Matt Forte, Bilal Powell, and the rest of the gang.
Line graded out as the league’s 12th best fullback last year, according to Pro Football Focus, though only 17 fullbacks played enough to qualify for their rankings. Line had roughly even grades for run blocking and pass blocking in his 211 snaps.
To date, Line has spent his entire playing career with the Vikings. Over those four years, he has been used primarily for blocking with just 13 carries and seven receptions to his credit.
The initial wave of NFL free agency is now complete, and while many of the league’s top available players are now off the board, there are still plenty of quality options still on the open market.
Listed below are our rankings for the top 15 free agents at each offensive position. These rankings aren’t necessarily determined by the value of the contracts – or the amount of guaranteed money – that each player is expected to land in free agency. These 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, as well as players who received the franchise tag, aren’t listed here, since the roadblocks in place to hinder another team from actually acquiring most of those players prevent them from being true free agents.
We’ll almost certainly be higher or lower on some free agents than you are, so feel free to weigh in below in our comments section to let us know which players we’ve got wrong.
Here’s our breakdown of the current top 15 free agents by offensive position for 2017:
Tony Romo is not a free agent…at least not yet. If the Cowboys do not find a suitable trade and release him, you’ll find him at the top of this list.
Laugh if you must, but Cutler is far and away the best quarterback available on the open market. While most of this year’s QB-needy teams are done with their free agent shopping, the Jets are still searching for their 2017 starter and no one would make more sense for them than Cutler. He’s not all that far removed from playing solid football and he’s a logical transitional option for the Jets until they can isolate a better, younger option for 2018.
Kaepernick’s reps wisely told the press that he will be standing for the National Anthem this year. Still, Kaepernick is an outspoken guy who wants to use his platform to discuss hot button issues, so there’s no guarantee that the media circus around him will cease. Jets owner Woody Johnson loves seeing his team on the back pages of the New York tabloids, but even he has to have more sense than to entertain Kaepernick. McCown, who has been contact with the team, would be an okay choice if they can’t get something done with Cutler. Chase Daniel could be an option too, but there isn’t much game film on him.
Needless to say, the No. 3 ranked player on this list isn’t an option in New York.
The Vikings have moved on and Peterson will not be back in Minnesota. Where he goes from here is anyone’s guess. When Peterson’s option was declined by the Vikings earlier this month, there were tons of stories (likely sourced by Peterson’s camp) about interest from a litany of contenders. Since then, each team – through anonymous sources – has denied being in the mix for the veteran. It would be easy to doubt Peterson at this juncture, but he has come back from serious injuries multiple times in his career and he is only one year removed from his stellar 2015 campaign. He gets the top spot over the bruising Blount as well as Charles, who hasn’t been healthy in a long while.
Jennings was brought to New York with the idea that he would be the team’s workhorse. Unfortunately, two of his three seasons with the G-Men were marred by injury. Jennings is currently putting his agility to good use on Dancing With The Stars and it remains to be seen how committed he is to football. After that, we have a trio of vets (Hightower, Williams, CJ2K) who could still advance the ball in limited spurts.
In case you’re wondering – Mike Gillislee is not listed here because he is a restricted free agent.
The market has been slow to develop for Aiken but it sounds like things could pick up soon as he’s set to meet with the Colts and Seahawks. Aiken, 28 in May, had only 29 receptions last year, but he had 75 grabs for 944 yards in 2015.
Cruz was on the field for 15 regular season games last year and he could recapture some of his old form if a team uses him in the slot. Quick quietly had 44 catches for 564 yards and three touchdowns with the Rams last year, and he was playing in a less-than-stellar offense. Boldin, meanwhile, had 67 catches in 2016, but he averaged just 8.7 yards per reception.
It’s a thin group at tight end and everything drops off dramatically after Tamme and Rivera at the top. Donnell made some noise during his time with the Giants but it’s been a while since he’s done anything of note. Tamme and Rivera could be the only two players from this group to land a deal with any real guaranteed cash.
Things have thinned out at tackle but there are still some impact guys here including Clady, Dunlap, and the versatile Pasztor. Sebastian Vollmer, if healthy, would be an interesting pickup for a team in need of offensive line depth.
Evans can still go and he finished out as Pro Football Focus’ No. 36 guard in the NFL last season. We have a few notable centers here as well in Mangold, Sullivan, and Barnes. Some teams are asking Mangold to switch to guard, but he is hoping to continue in the middle.