Examining the NFL Free Agent Pool

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It’s time to rapidly switch gears.  With the combine wrapping up, free agency is set to begin not three days later.  Even before that, tampering is allowed between teams and impending free agents.  With all the madness beginning shortly, let’s take a look at all things free agency, including best fits, rankings, and the current rumors. Let’s go!

Current Trade Rumors

The biggest trade rumor so far this offseason has revolved around Patriots QB Jimmy Garoppolo.  We have heard everything from the Bears and Browns being seriously interested to the Patriots saying they will not trade him.  So what’s the best for each team in this situation?  For the Browns, it’s to stand pat.  They have acquired five picks in the first 65 in this draft, which presents itself as a very deep one.  The Browns can get franchise cornerstones in round one and pick up a developmental QB later.  For the Patriots, they should trade Garoppolo and get nice returns.  If they really believe Brady can play more than three years, then they should trade Garoppolo, get a first rounder, and trade back to acquire multiple picks.  Those picks can lead to more talent around Brady to continue to win.

Let’s not forget about the trade rumor that has been flying around the combine this past week.  The Saints have reportedly been shopping wide receiver Brandin Cooks because of his frustration with the team.  The teams interested have included the Eagles and the Titans.  The Titans seem like the more likely option, considering the Saints have asked for a mid first round pick and the Titans would still have a first round pick should they trade pick 18.  But, like the Browns, the Titans have acquired a good amount of capital in this draft and shouldn’t waste it to acquire what they can find in the draft.  Of course, getting another first round pick would help the Saints revamp their defense.

Finally, the rumors continue to swirl around Kirk Cousins.  Yes, the Redskins franchised him for a second season, but he can still be traded.  The Niners, with the Shanahan-Cousins connection, are the favorites to land him should he be traded.  The Redskins would be foolish to trade him, unless they believe in someone like Tony Romo or Tyrod Taylor.  With no one behind Cousins, this deal seems more unlikely to get done.

Free Agent Rankings (Notables at Each Spot)

Quarterbacks:

1. Tony Romo*

2. Tyrod Taylor*

3. Brian Hoyer

4. Mike Glennon

5. Colin Kaepernick

Romo and Taylor aren’t currently on the market, but the Cowboys have a new franchise quarterback and Romo counts a lot against the cap.  Tyrod Taylor’s future with the Bills is up in the air, and he could find a new home somewhere and would be a good bargain.  Brian Hoyer would be a good bridge option at quarterback for teams drafting a young guy this April.  Mike Glennon reportedly might get 14-15 million a season from a team, proving how desperate teams are for a quarterback.  Kaepernick played better last season, but teams won’t pay him a lot to be a backup.

Running Backs

1. Eddie Lacy

2. Adrian Peterson

3. Jamaal Charles

4. Latavius Murray

5. LeGarrette Blount

The running back market is pretty solid this offseason, but running backs may struggle to find teams who will fork it over.  The running back class in the draft is real deep, and teams may opt to find an impact player there instead of paying a veteran.  Of the vets, Eddie Lacy and Latavius Murray are younger options, but both have had an injury history.  Adrian Peterson has passed 30, and wasn’t having a great season when he went down last season (granted, his offensive line wasn’t good).  Jamaal Charles has had back to back seasons with a significant injury, but he could provide some impact as a third down back.  LeGarrette Blount is a very intriguing option, and since it looks like he won’t return to New England, teams may like what he brings to the table.

Wide Receivers

1. Alshon Jeffery

2. Terrelle Pryor

3. DeSean Jackson

4. Pierre Garcon

5. Brandon Marshall

6. Kenny Britt

7. Kenny Stills

There is a lot more talent than usual on the free agent market at wide receiver.  The Redskins seem to be moving on from both Jackson and Garcon, and there’s plenty in the tank for each to find a home somewhere.  Jeffery and Pryor are the cream of the crop, and even though it seems Pryor will stay in Cleveland, Jeffery will have a new home.  Jeffery has great size and speed to be a number one somewhere, and he will get top dollar.  Brandon Marshall will provide a team plenty, including his red zone ability and his physicality.  Kenny Britt will likely move on from the Rams, and he has big play ability down the field.  Stills is an excellent deep threat who may command less money than DeSean Jackson.

Tight Ends

1. Martellus Bennett

2. Jared Cook

3. Jack Doyle

4. Luke Willson

5. Jordan Cameron

The tight end class is thin, but the good news is that there are a few names that can contribute.  Martellus Bennett is sure to get paid by someone looking for a solid possession tight end.  Jared Cook can stretch the field and have an impact, but it’s unlikely that Green Bay lets him get away.  Jack Doyle had a breakout season in Indy and will surely find a home somewhere at a good price.  Willson and Cameron would be good backups, but the quality at the position stops at Doyle.

Offensive Tackle

1. Andrew Whitworth

2. Rick Wagner

3. Kelvin Beachum

4. Russell Okung

5. Riley Reiff

6. Ryan Clady

The tackle class, once again, is top heavy, which could lead to some reaching in the draft.  Andrew Whitworth and Rick Wagner are very good options who will command top dollar.  After that, the question marks are valid.  Beachum didn’t have a great season in Jacksonville, but he might be healthier coming into this season then last.  Okung and Clady have had their better days, but someone will take a chance on a “prove it” deal.  Riley Reiff is intriguing on the right side, but his production shows his average blocking skills.

Offensive Guard

1. Kevin Zeitler

2. TJ Lang

3. Andrew Norwell

4. Ronald Leary

5. Evan Mathis

6. Larry Warford

7. Jahri Evans

There is a lot of value at guard, and there’d be more if Brian Winters hadn’t re-signed and if I included Packers guard/center JC Tretter, who is sure to get a deal in the $8 million range.  Kevin Zeitler, TJ Lang, and Andrew Norwell have all been very productive and will get deals in the $10 million range.  Ronald Leary is a great bargain, as he held his own on the Cowboys excellent offensive line.  Mathis and Evans are nice finds, but they are both in their mid 30s.  Larry Warford played real well with the Lions last season, and since he is 26, he should get paid as well.

Center

1. Nick Mangold

2. JC Tretter

3. Matt Paradis

4. Joe Berger

There aren’t too many notable names here.  I have talked about JC Tretter, and he will get paid really well by someone (most likely not Green Bay).  Nick Mangold still plays at a high level, and he will find a home with a contender.  Matt Paradis could very well stay in Denver, but he has injury concerns this offseason.  Joe Berger is an intriguing option, but he is 35 and unlikely to land a long term deal.

Defensive End/EDGE

1. Nick Perry

2. Jabaal Sheard

3. Karl Klug

4. DeMarcus Ware

5. Jacquies Smith

6. Datone Jones

This list would be loaded had Chandler Jones, Melvin Ingram, and JPP not gotten franchised.  But they did, leaving a watered down and aging class this year.  Nick Perry is sure to get plenty after an 11 sack season, which you see less of nowadays.  Jabaal Sheard may not be seen as more than a system guy with the Patriots, but if you know how to use him, he can be a rotational player.  Karl Klug, if he can recover well, has a chance to be a steal in free agency.  He made a big impact for Tennessee all season.  Jacquies Smith and Datone Jones are solid options with upside, and Jones could flourish as an outside linebacker.  DeMarcus Ware is on his last leg, but could be a good rotational rusher.  Guys like Charles Johnson, Dwight Freeney, Chris Long, Mario Williams and Trent Cole are unlikely to see much money because of age.

Defensive Tackle

1. Brandon Williams

2. Calais Campbell

3. Johnathan Hankins

4. Chris Baker

5. Dontari Poe

6. Bennie Logan

There are plenty of good buys on this list, including guys I left off like Nick Fairley and Alan Branch.  Brandon Williams, Hankins, and Poe are all great options for teams looking for aggressive nose tackles.  Calais Campbell is still a freak and can play at a high level. Bennie Logan and Chris Baker are excellent options for teams looking for stout run defenders.  This group will generate some of the most buzz.

Linebacker

1. Dont’a Hightower

2. Zach Brown

3. Lorenzo Alexander

4. Gerald Hodges

5. John Simon

There is a clear number one guy here among the linebackers, and that’s Dont’a Hightower. Hightower has been excellent for the Pats, but he does have some injury concerns.  Still, someone will pay top dollar for him because of his on-field production.  Zach Brown and Gerald Hodges are both young linebackers with potential, and could see some serious money because of the lack of talent this year.  Lorenzo Alexander had a very productive 2016, recording double digit sacks.  But, he’s also 34.  John Simon is a sleeper throughout free agency, and he can provide serious help to a front seven.

Cornerbacks

1. Malcolm Butler

2. AJ Bouye

3. Stephon Gilmore

4. Logan Ryan

5. Prince Amukamara

It is clear that the top two guys here will make serious money, perhaps near what Patrick Peterson and Richard Sherman make.  Bouye had an especially good season for the Texans, proving he can be a very good corner on the outside.  Logan Ryan is a very good option as well, and he can play multiple spots in the secondary.  Gilmore has been very good in Buffalo, but he struggled a bit in 2016.  Amukamara played fine in Jacksonville, but the number one spot was easily grabbed by future superstar Jalen Ramsey.  He will probably get more money than he should.

Safety

1. Tony Jefferson

2. Micah Hyde

3. John Cyprien

4. Ricardo Allen

5. Barry Church

It’s unclear how many of these guys will be starters where they go.  Tony Jefferson was one of the bright spots in Arizona’s secondary, so he should get a good deal in the market.  Micah Hyde has been a very good hybrid defender in Green Bay, but it’s very possible the Packers don’t let him go.  Cyprien finally turned in a solid year with Jacksonville, but it’s unlikely he stays.  He likely gets overpaid.  Ricardo Allen did a solid job on the back end of Atlanta’s defense, and will carve a role out somewhere.  Church is aging, but he still plays well up around the line of scrimmage.

5 Good Free Agent Fits

These fits aren’t my predictions on where players might go, but they are based on where some free agents would be good fits.

1. Alshon Jeffery and Tennessee

An easy one here.  Tennessee has been dying to find a number one receiver who can help out Marcus Mariota.  The group of Kendall Wright, Rishard Matthews, Tajae Sharpe, and Harry Douglas does not have a number one in it.  Sharpe has carved out a future in Tennessee, but they still need more.  Even though there’s depth at wide receiver in the draft, the Titans should take a shot on Jeffery to give them a real playoff shot.

2. Dont’a Hightower and Oakland

Another perfect fit here.  Hightower is super productive when he’s on the field, and is worth the gamble, even though he has only played one full season.  The Raiders need help all over the defense, and Hightower could help solve some issues.  He has great instincts and can be a leader on that defense along with Khalil Mack.

3. Andrew Whitworth and Denver

Denver didn’t have much success on offense last season, and that was largely in part because of the ineffective run game.  Andrew Whitworth is a real good left tackle, and he has plenty of prime years left.  He will also be effective protecting whoever Denver decides to put under center.

4. AJ Bouye and San Francisco

Kyle Shanahan has said that he wants to put an emphasis on the secondary.  What better to do with $93.2 million in cap space than spend some of it on a premier breakout corner to beef up the secondary.  Bouye proved he can handle the NFL’s best and play on the perimeter.

5. Nick Perry and Indianapolis

There’s no secret that the Colts need help on the defensive side of the ball.  It’s time to build around Andrew Luck and go back to contending in the AFC.  With premier defensive ends getting franchised, it leaves a limited amount of options.  Nick Perry is a very solid option, and is coming off two very productive seasons in Green Bay.  He would provide instant help off the edge rushing the passer in a league where you can’t have enough.

With hours left until free agency, we are headed for some madness.

 

Jake Schyvinck covers the NFL and NFL Draft for The Sports Guys.  Follow him on Twitter @JSchyvinck13 for all things free agency as it approaches.

 

2 comments on “Examining the NFL Free Agent Pool”

  1. From what I continue to hear, teams like him more than fans do. My issue is that if teams loved him so much, why didn’t the team that drafted him stick with him instead of drafting Jameis Winston. Will be interesting to see who gives him a shot. Looks like Chicago at the moment.

    Like

  2. Just the right amount of detail for the football fanatic. Someone is going to over pay for Glennon as you said but, he hasn’t really had a chance yet so he is worth a try – I think.

    Like

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