Free agency is coming. With the NFL Combine now past, it’s now a full sprint to the official start of the new league year on March 13 at 4 p.m. ET. In preparation for the opening of free agency, we’re going to look at the top available players at each position. The specific rankings are mine — based on a mix of film and stats — but the range of these players should still give a good idea where the NFL will view them when teams start opening their wallets. In these previews, we’ll give a top-10 list by position (age noted is in-season), a quick overview of the group, the most likely to be overvalued, most likely to be undervalued, and what it all means for the New York Giants.
We’ll start with the offensive side of the ball.
1. Teddy Bridgewater (27)
2. Tyrod Taylor (30)
3. Nick Foles (30)
4. Ryan Fitzpatrick (37)
5. Robert Griffin III (29)
6. Josh Johnson (33)
7. Josh McCown (40)
8. Brock Osweiler (29)
9. Trevor Seimian (27)
10. Brett Hundley (25)
Position Overview: As you might be able to tell by this list, this is not a great group of free agent quarterbacks. It never is because great quarterbacks don’t hit free agency. But if a team wanted to grab a bridge starter, there are some not terrible options among the top three quarterbacks. Once you get past that, though, it’s spot starters and backups at best. Every free agent quarterback class is a good reminder to have a long-term plan at the position.
Most likely to be overvalued: Nick Foles
Before the season ended, Foles was perceived as the crown jewel of this group. In the past two seasons, Foles has helped the Philadelphia Eagles win the Super Bowl and make it back to playoffs. While Foles gets credit for most of the playoff run leading to the Super Bowl win, everything else has been pretty hit or miss — he was 25th in DVOA this season. Foles might get $20 million per year — Jacksonville is already the universally accepted destination — but he gets maybe half that if Keanu Neal caught an easy interception off his knee in the 2017 Divisional Round.
Most likely to be undervalued: Tyrod Taylor
Taylor was almost given away last offseason for a third-round pick. His brief stint starting for the Cleveland Browns didn’t help his perception, either. But if we can put some context around that, Taylor had to start at the beginning of the Hue Jackson-Todd Haley era, which clearly did not work. If we see how much Baker Mayfield improved when Freddie Kitchens took over, it’s hard to count Taylor’s performance in whatever toxic situation was going on in Cleveland against him. Over the past few seasons, Taylor’s numbers haven’t been much different than Foles’s, but there might be a $15 million per year difference between the two.
Giant Outlook: Since Eli Manning is coming back, nothing about this free agent class will interest the Giants. Would the long-term outlook be better if the Giants freed up the $17 million by moving on from Manning and signing someone like Taylor until a plan is in place for the next quarterback? Probably. But that’s not happening, so the Giants will be out of the quarterback market.
1. Le’Veon Bell (26)
2. Tevin Coleman (26)
3. Mark Ingram (30)
4. Corey Grant (28)
5. Spencer Ware (28)
6. Jay Ajayi (26)
7. Mike Davis (26)
8. T.J. Yeldon (26)
9. C.J. Anderson (28)
10. Ty Montgomery (26)
Notable RFAs: Jalen Richard
Position Overview: There’s enough talent at running back to entice teams who have a need at the position and the draft class is just underwhelming enough for that to matter more. There are at least four to five backs who could be considered a lead and there are plenty who could easily slot in as a useful part of a rotation. The problem, of course, is paying a free agent running back.
Most likely to be overvalued: Le’Veon Bell
This one is pretty easy and it’s not a slight at Bell’s talent. But it is a slight at the position, the impact it brings, and how much money Bell is probably looking to get in a new deal. No running back is set to have a cap hit over $10 million this season and Bell is likely looking to eclipse that after turning down the $14 million franchise tag in 2018. Without Bell, the Steelers were still the sixth best overall offense and the 11th-best rushing offense by DVOA. It’s a reason why the teams Bell has tried to connect to himself like the Colts and Ravens don’t make a lot of sense. They already have production at the position for a much lower cost. But teams needing to make a splash like the Raiders or Jets could be ready to make a big offer.
Most likely to be undervalued: I don’t know, maybe Spencer Ware?
It’s hard to say any free agent running back is going to be undervalued because just by hitting free agency they’re likely to make more than a player on a rookie deal who can probably give near equal production. It’s the nature of the position. But Ware has shown the ability to be a lead back and could have shown that off more last season if not for a poorly timed injury. He won’t get treated like Coleman or Ingram, but he can give the same value to an offense.
Giant Outlook: This is another position the Giants should stay away from. With Saquon Barkley and Wayne Gallman, the position is pretty set. Last year’s signing of Jonathan Stewart also showed the risk of signing a veteran running back just to have a veteran running back on the roster.
1. Tyrell Williams (27)
2. Golden Tate (31)
3. John Brown (29)
4. Adam Humphries (26)
5. Cole Beasley (30)
6. Jamison Crowder (26)
7. Chris Hogan (31)
8. Phillip Dorsett (26)
9. Devin Funchess (25)
10. Ryan Grant (29)
Notable RFAs: Robby Anderson, Josh Gordon, Rashard Higgins, Chester Rogers
Position Overview: Whew. I’m not sure if you can tell by looking at the bottom of this top-10 list how hard it was to get there, but it was pretty hard to get there. The free agent receiver class has a number of good role players who are probably going to be compensated for way more than the role they will fill. There’s some speed and there are some slot receivers, but no one in this group is really changing a passing offense.
Most likely to be overvalued: Tyrell Williams
Tyrell Williams's free agency is going to be fascinating. He's either going to get vastly overpaid or come as a complete bargain. I don't think there will be anything between.— Dan Pizzuta (@DanPizzuta) December 14, 2018
We can see which part of the line we’re on when free agency opens. Williams is a good and useful player. But as the top player in a weak class, he’s going to get a lot of money. He can be a great addition for a team in need of a vertical threat — per Sports Info Solutions, Williams was sixth in Expected Points Added on targets that traveled at least 20 yards down the field — but if he’s going to be paid like a low-tier WR1, the return might not be equal to the investment.
Most likely to be undervalued: Chris Hogan
Hogan disappeared a bit from the Patriots’ passing offense and at the end of the season was little more than a vertical distraction while the ball went to other players, but when he was involved and targeted earlier in the year, he was productive. Per SIS, among 83 wide receivers with at least 50 targets in 2018, Hogan ranked 16th in EPA per target and tied for sixth in positive play percentage. Hogan will be 31 years old in October, but can still produce in all areas of the field and won’t be nearly as pricey as some of the worse options in this group.
Giant Outlook: If the Giants keep the status quo at the position — as in keeping Odell Beckham — they probably won’t be hitting the receiver market, either. Beckham and Sterling Shepard give the Giants a well above average receiving duo and the team just tendered restricted free agent Corey Coleman, which will bring him back. Coleman flashed more on special teams than offense, but the Giants could go with a No. 3 receiver by committee like they did last year. Adding a receiver late in the draft to add to that group would make more sense than diving into this market.
1. Dwayne Allen (29)
2. Jared Cook (32)
3. Jessee James (25)
4. C.J. Uzomah (26)
5. Tyler Eifert (29)
6. Demetrius Harris (28)
7. Erik Swoope (27)
8. Geoff Swaim (26)
9. Jeff Heuerman (27)
10. Levine Toilolo (28)
Position Overview: Another position group where there’s a pretty steep cliff once you get past the top names and even the top names don’t spark too much excitement. There are barely 32 good starting tight ends in the league, so it shouldn’t be surprising there aren’t many worthwhile free agents.
Most likely to be overvalued: Nick Boyle
Boyle was already re-signed by the Baltimore Ravens on a three-year deal worth $18 million. That might be one of the biggest deals given out to a tight end this offseason … and I just don’t get it.
One NFL coach on Nick Boyle, who is re-signing with Baltimore instead of becoming a free agent next week: “Would have been the best TE to hit free agency in the last three years.”— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) March 7, 2019
I don’t know if I’m missing something, but Boyle wasn’t even going to make the top-10 list here before he was re-signed. He’s limited as a receiver with just 613 career receiving yards and while he gets credited as a great blocker, he blew a block on 3.3 percent of his pass snaps per SIS — though that was 0.7 percent against the run. There are only 14 tight ends who current average $6 million per year and what Boyle brings to the field doesn’t come close to that group.
Most likely to be undervalued: Dwayne Allen
Allen never lived up to the contract he signed with the Indianapolis Colts before he was trading to the New England Patriots, but he won’t have to live up to that on a new deal. With the Colts, Allen was an efficient pass catcher and good blocker as the in-line option when Coby Fleener was the slot option. After he was traded to New England, Allen was most relegated to a blocking role — he had no blown blocks on 200 blocking snaps in 2018, per SIS — but there should be hope at just 29 years old the receiving value can still be there if given the opportunity.
Giant Outlook: Evan Engram has the lead role, though his job is — or at least should be — to catch passes. It should be noted Engram had no blown blocks on 126 blocking snaps last season. Scott Simonson was re-signed, so what the Giants do at tight end depends on Rhett Ellison. Ellison is scheduled to count $5.75 million on the cap but $3.25 million could be saved if he is released. Freeing up that space and signing someone like Erik Swoope — who like Allen can block and catch — at a much cheaper rate could be an option.
1. Trent Brown (26)
2. Ja’Wuan James (27)
3. Joe Barksdale (31)
4. Jared Veldheer (32)
5. Daryl Williams (27)
6. Kendall Lamm (27)
7. Cameron Fleming (27)
8. Jordan Mills (29)
9. Chris Clark (34)
10. LaAdrian Waddle (28)
Notable RFAs: George Fant
Position Overview: There’s better talent at the top than there was last year, but that doesn’t necessarily mean there will be better value. Going past the top few players, teams would be signing part-timers or swing tackles, which could be a risky proposition for those in need of starters. The tackle market was cut down when the likes of Bobby Massie, Donovan Smith, and Greg Robinson re-signed with their current teams. That might give you all you need to know about the tackle market.
Most likely to be overvalued: Daryl Williams
Even coming off a major knee injury that cost him nearly all of 2018, Daryl Williams is projected to be one of the most sought after tackles in free agency before his age-27 season. Williams was believed to be one of the best right tackles in the league when healthy, but that doesn’t mesh with his charting stats. Per SIS, Williams blew a block on 3.6 percent of his pass snaps in 2017, though he was a better run blocker. To put that in perspective, Ereck Flowers blew a block on 2.9 percent of his pass blocking snaps in 2018 and 3.5 percent in 2017. Add in his health and teams should proceed with caution.
Most likely to be undervalued: Joe Barksdale
Barksdale was released by the Los Angeles Chargers midseason and went unclaimed on waivers. A week later, he signed with the Arizona Cardinals and immediately started at right tackle for the final four games of the season. In that stretch, Barksdale had a blown block on just 1.3 percent of his snaps. He just turned 31 in January but unlike, say, Nate Solder, Barksdale won’t be commanding a huge long-term contract. For a team that needs an immediate plug and play starter on the right side of the line, Barksdale could be a useful veteran option.
Giant Impact: This is where the Giants are expected to go hard. They need a right tackle and putting that off until the draft — where the sweet spot for the position in this class appears to be somewhere between where the Giants pick at sixth overall in the first round and 37th overall in the second round — would be a risk. Dots have been connected between the Giants and Daryl Williams, who Gettleman drafted in 2015. Even without Williams, one of these tackles is likely to be lining up on the right side in 2019.
Interior Offensive Line
1. Mitch Morse, C (27)
2. Kevin Zeitler, G (29)*
3. Matt Paradis, C (30)
4. Rodger Saffold, G (31)
5. John Miller, G (26)
6. Quinton Spain, G (28)
7. John Sullivan, C (34)
8. D.J. Fluker, G (28)
9. Jamon Brown, G (26)
10. Mike Iupati, G (32)
Position Overview: The interior of the line is deeper than tackle and there is a little more depth an youth available. Admittedly there is a little cheating with the inclusion of Kevin Zeitler who is only reported to be on the chopping block in Cleveland — and reportedly offered in a trade for Odell Beckham — but also Ramon Foster was just re-signed by the Steelers and he was on the list until that point. Outside of the most top tier guards, interior players just don’t get paid like tackles, so there is better contract value overall.
Most likely to be overvalued: Rodger Saffold
Saffold is the most likely to fall into the Nate Solder zone for teams that need an upgrade at guard. He’s a good, steady veteran that is going to get paid at the top of the market, especially if Zeitler doesn’t become available. Saffold played significantly better in 2018 than Solder did in 2017 — he was third among guards in ESPN’s Pass Block Win Rate — but there are still dangers of high guarantees to a player who will play this season at 31 years old. This is less about Saffold and more about the risks of free agency.
Most likely to be undervalued: John Miller
Miller has been in Buffalo for four years — 3.5 as a starter. He was benched breifly in 2017 when the new Bills’ coaching staff was trying to figure out what they were doing — they’re arguably still doing that on offense — but he took back his starting role in 2018 and finished 27th among guards in blown block rate, per SIS. That blown block rate has improved in each of the past three seasons. He’s also won’t turn 26 years old until August. Getting away from Buffalo could help him out greatly. ESPN’s Mike Rodak believes Miller could get the Mike Glowinski deal on the open market, which was three years and $16.2 million. Keeping Miller below a $6M per year threshold, which the likes of Mike Remmers and Josh Kline make would be an excellent value for a young starting caliber guard.
Giant Impact: It all depends on how the Giants feel about Jamon Brown. Brown was connected to an offensive line improvement over the second half of the season, but the reality is he struggled in that time — his 2.6 percent blown block rate was 51st among 62 guards with at least 400 snaps and his 3.w percent blown block rate against the pass was 58th. Still, Brown could offer continuity at the position while the Giants aggressively go after right tackles. With Jon Halapio back, it appears he’ll be slotted in as the starting center.