NFL free agency is upon us. With the NFL Combine now past, the league will switch its focus to the already professional players when free agency opens on March 14.
For this free agency preview, we’ll take a look at the top 10 players at each position (based on a mix of stats and film), notable restricted free agents (if available), the most overrated player, the best potential bargain, and the outlook for the New York Giants. The age listed in parentheses is as of the start of free agency.
We’ll start with the offensive side of the ball.
1. Drew Brees (39)
2. Kirk Cousins (29)
3. Case Keenum (30)
4. Teddy Bridgewater (25)
5. Sam Bradford (30)
6. Josh McCown (38)
7. Jay Cutler (34)
8. A.J. McCarron (27)
9. Matt Moore (33)
10. Drew Stanton (34)
Position Overview: While we’re seeing the most stacked quarterback free agent market in years, there’s not a lot of franchise altering quarterbacks. Brees is likely to stay in New Orleans after the Saints built the type of team he would want to leave for anyway with a dynamic run game and young defense. Cousins will break the bank, but will also need the right system and help around him. Keenum is the cheaper version of that. Bridgewater is a question after his knee injury and after that the market drops significantly to bride-type passers who are best served holding fort until the next best option comes along.
Most Overrated: A.J. McCarron
The NFL is a copycat league and while that usually describes teams stealing things that work, it could also be used for teams making the same mistakes. A.J. McCarron’s situation could be similar to Mike Glennon last season — a quarterback who is going to get paid because he’s available, even though his play hasn’t justified it. McCarron, a fifth-round pick, has thrown under 200 passes in his career with 119 of them coming in the 2015 regular season. In a vacuum, his stats are fine — 7.2 yards per attempt with a 5.0 percent touchdown rate. But those stats shouldn’t be looked at in a vacuum, instead in context with the stacked offense around him that lifted Andy Dalton to a career year — 8.4 yards per attempt and a 6.5 percent touchdown rate before injury. In the same offense, McCarron was noticeably worse than Andy Dalton and any team paying significant money to “noticeably worse than Andy Dalton” is making a huge mistake.
Biggest Potential Bargain: Teddy Bridgewater
There’s still a lot of unknowns for Bridgewater, who’s coming off his serious knee injury that caused him to miss the entire 2016 season. Before his injury, Bridgewater was an exciting player unfit for the slow, vertical passing game of then-offensive coordinator Norv Turner. He won’t turn 26 years old until November (McCarron turns 28 in September) and Bridgewater is a former first-round pick who could be an above average starter in a modern offensive system. Due to his injury and the other quarterbacks on the market, Bridgewater could be the biggest steal when we look back on this in a few seasons.
Giant Outlook: Bridgewater is the most intriguing target for the Giants if they decide to forgo drafting a quarterback early. There’s the Minnesota connection with Part Shurmur, but he would have to wait as a backup behind Eli Manning. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see another team view Bridgewater as an immediate starter. Other than that, the Giants will probably stay away from the quarterback market.
1. Dion Lewis (27)
2. Carlos Hyde (27)
3. Jerick McKinnon (25)
4. Rex Burkhead (27)
5. Frank Gore (34)
6. Alfred Morris (29)
7. Isaiah Crowell (25)
8. LeGarrette Blount (31)
9. Orleans Darkwa (26)
10. Damien Williams (25)
Notable RFAs: Thomas Rawls, Corey Grant
Position Overview: This list is going to favor running backs who can also be assets in the passing game because that’s where the modern NFL is. Le’Veon Bell was the only back here most would describe as a workhorse of three-down back before the Steelers put the franchise tag on him, but there’s a lot of talent here both on the ground and through the air. Players like Dion Lewis and Jerick McKinnon add value in the passing game and also have the ability to see their roles increase on the ground. Lewis was first among running backs in DYAR and second in DVOA during 2017.
Most Overrated: Isaiah Crowell
There’s probably going to be a team that sees Crowell’s age (25), previous situation (Cleveland), and history as a “lead back” and takes a gamble on an improvement. Crowell’s tenure with the Browns has been disappointing and it goes deeper than just his situation. Of 26 running backs with at least 200 touches in 2017, only Cincinnati’s Joe Mixon (10.6 percent) had a lower broken tackle rate than Crowell (13.7 percent). He was consistently outplayed by Duke Johnson, who had six more yards from scrimmage in 2017 despite 78 fewer touches than Crowell.
Biggest Potential Bargain: Rex Burkhead
Burkhead was a bargain with the one-year/$3.15 million he signed with the New ENgland Patriots last offseason and he might be cheaper than that this year. Burkhead was an underutilized asset in Cincinnati then was a part of the most rotational backfield in the league with New England. Bill Belichick roles with whatever running back is best suited for a given game regardless of the overall talent of the back. Burkhead could move elsewhere to see an increased role and bigger impact on the field.
Giant Outlook: With Orleans Darkwa and Shane Vereen set to be free agents, the Giants are left with Wayne Gallman and Paul Perkins on the roster. Something is going be added to that backfield. While speaking at the combine, coach Pat Shurmur talked about what he valued in a running back and said if there’s no receiving value, there’s no point. The funny thing is this feels like a coaching staff that would actually know how to properly use Vereen. Shurmur spent the past year with McKinnon in that role, but Lewis and Burkhead could also be in play.
1. Sammy Watkins (24)
2. Allen Robinson (24)
3. Paul Richardson (25)
4. John Brown (27)
5. Marqise Lee (26)
6. Albert Wilson (25)
7. Ryan Grant (27)
8. Terrelle Pryor (28)
9. Donte Moncrief (24)
10. Brice Butler (28)
Notable RFAs: Willie Snead, Tyrell Williams, Quincy Enunwa
Position Overview: There’s some promise at the top, but all of them come with some sort of question mark. The top four have the potential to change an offense if healthy and there’s useful role players in the rest of the group can have an impact in the right role. Without a clear top No. 1-type wide receiver in the draft, there could be more money than expected thrown around for teams needing some production from pass catchers.
Most Overrated: Jarvis Landry
Landry isn’t listed in the top 10 because he was given the franchise tag by the Miami Dolphins, but their intention appears to be to trade him. He would have appeared in this spot if he was still an unrestricted free agent , but now he comes with at least a $16 million price tag and draft pick compensation in a trade. Landry has a particular set of skills, but they’re not skills that lead to an efficient offense. Despite leading the league in receptions, Landry averaged just 8.8 yards per catch, the same as Devonta Freeman — 110th in the league. It’s a fine role to be played, but not at the price it’s going to cost. A team in need of a slot receiver could use a lower draft pick and cheaper deal to get Willie Snead as a restricted free agent.
Biggest Potential Bargain: Allen Robinson
There’s a chance someone goes out and signs Allen Robinson to a multi-year deal, but there’s also a chance after a down year in 2016 and missing almost all of 2017 with a torn ACL he’ll be relegated to an Alshon Jeffery-like one-year prove-it deal. Like how the Jeffery deal worked out for the Philadelphia Eagles, Robinson could immediately become an impact player for his new team. During the 2015 season, Robinson was an accuracy eraser for Blake Bortles passes, but he couldn’t keep it up in 2016 as the entire offense crumbled. There’s so much talent there that getting Robinson away from a quarterback like Bortles could be the best thing to happen to the former second-round pick. He’s a great route runner and has the ability to win downfield and in contested-catch situations. A healthy Robinson can be a No. 1 receiver in any offense, it just needs to be seen how comfortable teams will be with that health. Even if he gets a multi-year deal, if it’s not incredibly massive, it’s going to have value.
Giant Outlook: With Odell Beckham, Sterling Shepard, and Evan Engram as the primary pass catchers, the Giants aren’t going to be looking to make a splash at the position. They could still use some speed and the offense would welcome a receiver with versatility to play both outside and in the slot as Beckham, Shepard, and Engram have. John Brown and Marqise Lee could be fits if their markets fail to develop. Ryan Grant (34.1 percent of routes from the slot, per PFF) or Albert Wilson (58.3 percent) could be great fits.
1. Jimmy Graham (31)
2. Trey Burton (26)
3. Tyler Eifert (27)
4. Austin Seferian-Jenkins (25)
5. Ed Dickson (30)
6. Virgil Green (29)
7. Ben Watson (37)
8. Luke Willson (28)
9. Antonio Gates (37)
10. Richard Rodgers (26)
Notable RFAs: Cameron Brate
Position Overview: On the surface, there’s some interesting names on this year’s tight end market, but much of them come with risk. Jimmy Graham showed glimpses of the old Jimmy Graham in Seattle, but was more often asked to play a more traditional tight end role and it took Seattle nearly three years to figure out how to use him in the red zone. Trey Burton was a Super Bowl hero and has succeeded when filling in for Zach Ertz — third among tight ends in DVOA this past season — but will probably be asked to be a No. 1 tight end for his new team. Tyler Eifert is one of the most talent tight ends in the league, but has not be able to shake injuries throughout his career. After that top three, the market drops to TE2 types that can play a specific role in an offense.
Most Overrated: Austin Seferian-Jenkins
For years, Seferian-Jenkins was viewed as a great talent who couldn’t keep it together on the field. He still had some off-field issues in his first full season with the Jet, but he did get 13 games on the field. The problem was, his production wasn’t very good. His 50 receptions went for just 357 yards — 7.1 yards per reception — and he was 49th of 51 qualified tight ends by DVOA. Seferian-Jenkins is a former second-round pick and won’t turn 26 years years old until September and he’s not likely to get significant money, but it’s worth wondering if there’s better options on and off the field out there for whichever team would consider his services.
Biggest Potential Bargain: Ed Dickson
SIgning Ed Dickson isn’t going to make waves for any fanbase, but he’s been a reliable No. 2 option for his entire career. He even filled in admirably for Greg Olsen when Carolina’s top option missed time during 2017. Dickson is a competent blocker and pass catcher who doesn’t need to have a big role. Last season he averaged 14.7 yards per reception, the same as deep threat receivers like Kenny Stills and Ted Ginn. He was 11th in DYAR among tight ends and 10th in DVOA. He’ll turn 31 in July, but he can be a great depth piece behind any top tight end in the league.
Giant Outlook: Both Shurmur and Mike Shula favor multiple tight end sets. Engram is set in the top spot, but the question will be how the coaches view Rhett Ellison behind him. Ellison played just under half of the offensive snaps last season, but saw just 32 targets in the passing game. He does have experience with Shurmur, who was Minnesota’s tight ends coach in 2016 before moving up to offensive coordinator. He’ll definitely be on the roster in 2019 — there’s still $5.775 million in dead money against a $3.75 million cap hit — but that might not mean he’s settled as the No. 2 option. Shula also has a history with Dickson as his offensive coordinator in Carolina.
1. Nate Solder (29)
2. Cameron Fleming (25)
3. Chris Hubbard (26)
4. LaAdrian Waddle (26)
5. Seantrel Henderson (26)
6. Andre Smith (31)
7. Chris Clark (32)
8. Greg Robinson (25)
9. Donald Stephenson (29)
10. Breno Giacomini (32)
Position Overview: This is not a great tackle market. There’s some swing tackles, there’s some part-time starters, there’s some projects, and there’s some disappointments. Teams looking to improve on the outside are going to be disappointed themselves. But maybe that doesn’t need to be said after a list where Andre Smith and Greg Robinson are legitimate top-10 options.
Most Overrated: Nate Solder
There’s a few factors that go into the No. 1 player at the position also having the chance to be the most overrated. First, the expectations for the rest of the list aren’t high enough for anyone to be overrated. The second, since Solder is at the top of the market a team desperate for tackle help might throw themselves towards the soon-to-be 30-year-old tackle. Solder struggled pass blocking in 2017, a place where you don’t really want your left tackle struggling. At the latter stages of his career, teams will have to weigh whether that can be improved in a new setting or if it’s the start of a decline.
Biggest Potential Bargain: Chris Hubbard
Hubbard might be the best chance for a team to come away from free agency with a competent starting tackle. Hubbard was a backup before playing 70.5 percent of the offensive snaps for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2017 as the starter at right tackle. He was a solid pass blocker — five QB hits allowed, per PFF — which should be considered more important than run blocking for a tackle. He’ll turn 27 years old in April, which also makes him one of the younger available tackles on the market.
Giant Impact: The Giants certainly need tackle help, but this isn’t a year that lends itself to a quick fix solution. The good news is it won’t take that much to improve upon what the Giants had on the outside last year, but there’s a question of whether that’s even available in free agency. Hubbard could be an option at right tackle while a rookie or Chad Wheeler could be used to push Ereck Flowers on the left side.
Interior Offensive Line
1. Andrew Norwell, G (26)
2. Justin Pugh, G/T (27)
3. Weston Richburg, C (26)
4. Josh Sitton, G (31)
5. Jack Mewhort, G (26)
6. Josh Kline, G (28)
7. Ryan Jenson, C (26)
8. Joe Berger, G/C (35)
9. John Sullivan, C (32)
10. Brandon Fusco, G (29)
Notable RFAs: Matt Paradis, Brett Jones
Position Overview: The interior features a much stronger collection of players than at tackle. There’s a solid group of guards and a few centers that could immediately step in and upgrade almost any offensive line. Many of the players who are best at guard also have the ability to play at other positions if need be — such as Pugh at tackle and Joe Berger at center. There are also some players with injury concerns such as Jack Mewhort, but there’s fewer questions on the interior section of the market.
Most Overrated: Andrew Norwell
This isn’t a knock against Norwell — he’s clearly the best guard on the market and one of the best in the league. What this represents is the market value that will be placed on Norwell when he hits free agency. He’s expected to become the league’s highest-paid guard, a title now held by Kevin Zeitler, last year’s free agency prize. The question is whether Norwell at excess of $12 million per year is better value than Pugh who might max out at $10 million or a cheaper, but older option like Josh Sitton. The answer for many teams could very well be yes and they might not be wrong. When signing Norwell to a top of the market deal, teams have to know there’s no room for surplus value. It’s not a bad thing, but there’s much more room for downside. That’s the gamble of free agency.
Biggest Potential Bargain: John Sullivan
After two years of injuries. Sullivan bounced back in a big way as the center of a revamped Los Angeles Rams offensive line. When the Rams ran up the middle, it was right up the middle behind the center for 119 of their 368 rushing attempts (32.3 percent). Sullivan was the center in Minnesota for Adrian Peterson’s best seasons and he regained his old form blocking for Todd Gurley in 2017. He’ll turn 33 years old in August, but he showed he still has the ability to be the anchor in the middle of an effective offensive line.
Giant Impact: It’s an interesting place for the Giants to be in where there’s a clear need to upgrade the line, yet the two of the top three interior free agents on the interior belong to them. Richburg will likely be replaced with the cheaper alternative in restricted free agent Brett Jones, who played well during Richburg’s absence in 2017. All reports suggest the Giants will go hard for Norwell, which makes Pugh expendable at left guard. The Giants also already re-signed John Greco, who was effective during his starting stint in the latter part of the season. If the Giants strike out on Norwell and Pugh signs elsewhere during the courting period, there is a deeper pool of potential starters than on the outside.