Super Bowl 51 might be done and dusted, but there’s still good news for football fans, in the next few months we’ve got the combine, free agency, franchise tagging and the draft as around the league teams reset for the 2017 season. In part 1, we preview the offensive free agents.
The football narrative continues on without pause, the excitement and anticipation for the 31 teams trying to surpass the defending World Champions is a form of absolute optimism for these teams and fans, until the regular starts again in September. For franchises with an abundance of cap space, free agency is a good to place to find a piece or two that can help contribute to your team moving forward.
The free agency pool likely won’t possess an array of elite calibre players that can transform an offense or defense at a whim. Furthermore, there’re concerns that this year’s draft class won’t possess many blue-chip talents either, especially at the all-too important quarterback position.
The Redskins’ Kirk Cousins is the only true starting calibre quarterback available from March 9. Considering the success Cousins has had in Washington, it’s extremely unlikely the Redskins let Cousins even contemplate walking out the door. The Bills’ Tyrod Taylor only recently signed an enormous $90 million contract, but the new Buffalo regime has left every indication that Taylor will be looking elsewhere for 2017, but just where will that be?
There’s plenty of decent backup options available, quarterbacks that could start in a pinch for a team in need, guys like Josh McCown, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Case Keenum and Matt McGloin. Arguably the two most anticipated moves in the whole free agency market are the possible (or pending) trades of Tony Romo and Jimmy Garoppolo, to destinations unknown.
The running back field appears to be a fairly benign group of free agents, especially among the backs that are expected to hit the market. Le’Veon Bell is the game’s premier back, and a free agent. But the chances of the Steelers even giving him the opportunity to walk out the door is hovering somewhere between zero and none. The 2016 rushing touchdown leader, LeGarrette Blount is a redzone monster, but by far his prospects lie in remaining with New England, and if the Patriots avoid re-signing him there’s not a great market for him elsewhere.
Latavius Murray is an interesting prospect, the rumours out of Oakland suggest that Murray won’t return in 2017. Among all the backs who will hit the market come March 9, Murray is the best between the tackles runner and would be a valuable asset to any team. The rest of the free agent class is a curious mixture of ageing and injured backs with vastly differing skill sets, James Starks, Danny Woodhead, DeAngelo Williams, Darren McFadden, Jacquizz Rodgers and the highly intriguing Eddie Lacy.
The wide receiver market has plenty of depth, but really only one potential blue-chip star, Chicago’s Alshon Jeffrey. The Bears placed the franchise tag on Jeffrey last offseason, and he didn’t live up to the expectations of the tag, being suspended for four games for PED use and only had 821 yards and 2 touchdowns for the season. The Bears are not expected to bring Jeffrey back again.
Talented Browns’ receiver, Terrelle Pryor is a promising prospect, but the talent-poor Browns franchise would be stark raving mad to let him leave their house. If teams are searching for a veteran, stop-gap solution at receiver for 2017, then there’s some intriguing options out there. Vincent Jackson, Victor Cruz, Pierre Garcon, DeSean Jackson and Anquan Boldin have all had enormously successful careers, although they are on the wrong side of 30, but could be valuable for the right team at the right cost.
New Super Bowl champion, Martellus Bennett is the main feature of the tight end free agency class. Bennett, who was quoted in the aftermath of Super Bowl 51 speaking to the New York Daily News, said, “I’m going into free agency as a Super Bowl champion. You know they overpay Super Bowl champions!” Despite being somewhat limited by an ankle injury, Bennett still contributed heavily to the Patriots’ 5th Lombardi trophy and is the premier tight end available.
Looking elsewhere, Jordan Cameron’s stint in Miami hasn’t worked out, but he’s got enough talent to make himself wanted on the open market. Jared Cook, when healthy in the back half of the season, helped resurrect a struggling Packers’ offense and Aaron Rodgers has publicly indicated he’d like Cook back in Lambeau for 2017. Other useful options include, Jermaine Gresham, veteran Vernon Davis, Jack Doyle and Dion Sims.
Offensive line prospects are a little brighter ahead of free agency. Top-tier tackle Andrew Whitworth, Packers’ duo T.J Lang and J.C Tretter, Patriots’ right tackle Sebastian Vollmer, Lions’ tackle Riley Reiff, and the Vikings’ tackles, Matt Kalil and Andre Smith highlight an intriguing and useful stock of lineman. Naturally several of these higher tier options, like Lang and Whitworth are expected to re-sign with the current employers, but nonetheless there appears to be decent starting and depth options for teams with needs
Likely ex-Jaguars’ pair Luke Joeckel and Kelvin Beachum should find suitors on the market, as should Cowboys’ left guard Ron Leary. Although he doesn’t receive the plaudits of other Cowboys’ lineman, such as, Tyron Smith, Zack Martin and Travis Frederick, he played an important role in the best line in the NFL and as such he should be well compensated on the free agent market.