NFL free agency primers: Sizing up the 2017 market at every position
After the combine, the NFL pivots right into the frenzy of free agency, which kicks off with the opening of the legal tampering period on March 7 leading up to 4 p.m. EST on March 9.
With several big-name cuts and the drama of franchise tag decisions in the rearview mirror, teams now have a better sense of their roster needs and the players who might be within their means. Below, we break down the free-agent market at each position, highlighting the most attractive player available, one potential bargain signing and the player most likely to be a bust for his new team.
NFL free agency preview: Quarterbacks
- Tony Romo's release from the Cowboys is a formality at this point, but the bigger question is where he'll end up. Plus, what other QBs should teams with a vacancy key in on?
This position in free agency is the reason mock drafts are (mostly) useless until after the second week in March. Some of the teams at the top of April’s draft in need of quarterbacks likely won’t still have that void on draft night. The Bears, 49ers and Browns could very well end up with Mitch Trubisky, Deshaun Watson and DeShone Kizer ... or they could take care of things in the coming weeks and end up with Tony Romo, Mike Glennon and Jimmy Garoppolo.
Cream of the Crop: Tony Romo
No team is going to trade for Romo with his huge contract, and it’s been known for three months that he wouldn’t play for the Cowboys in 2017. So Romo’s release from Dallas is a formality at this point. He’ll be a 37-year-old quarterback with a brittle history, but at his best, Romo is easily a top-10 quarterback who can help you advance in the playoffs. He can be picky about his next (and probably final) stop, and that likely narrows the teams to Denver, Houston and Chicago. There’s always going to be an injury concern with Romo, but he looked great in his only on-field action last season.
Ideal team fit: Texans. Romo can take the short plane trip to Houston. He’ll work with a head coach who knows quarterbacks, play in a winnable division and have one of the league’s best defenses. Denver also makes plenty of sense after what Peyton Manning was able to do there.
Bargain Bin: Matt McGloin
If the former Penn State signal-caller doesn’t hurt his shoulder before the wild-card round, maybe he gets the win against Houston and drives his price up in free agency. But that shoulder injury kept him out of the game and forced rookie Connor Cook into action against Houston’s defense in the Raiders’ loss. McGloin has been a competent backup to Derek Carr, and he told the AP he wants to sign somewhere that will give him a chance to compete for the starting job. If that’s his criteria, then it eliminates about half of the teams that already have established franchise starters. With six of his seven career starts coming in his rookie 2013 season, McGloin won’t be able to fetch much money on the market.
Ideal team fit: Jets. McGloin could easily re-sign with Oakland if all else fails, but he could compete for the Jets’ job and he also makes sense in Houston if Romo doesn’t go there—Bill O’Brien coached McGloin at Penn State.
Overpay Alert: Matt Barkley
He’s the obvious choice here because he’s been overrated his entire career. His high school coach infamously said he was a cross between Joe Montana and Tom Brady. He was supposed to be USC’s savior and next Heisman winner, then threw 15 picks and lost to UCLA his senior year. Barkley was a first-rounder, until he was drafted in the fourth round. And then last season for the Bears, he started hot against Tennessee and San Francisco before flaming out in the final four games with five touchdowns and 10 interceptions. It’s not his fault he’s been overrated his entire career, just like it’s not his fault some team will pay him more than they should for his services.
Ideal team fit: Falcons. If Matt Schaub and/or Matt Simms follows Kyle Shanahan to San Francisco, the Falcons will need to look for some backup help to Matt Ryan. Atlanta’s new offensive coordinator, Steve Sarkisian, helped recruit Barkley to USC and said before the 2011 draft that he’d pick Barkley over Andrew Luck.
Teams interested in the position: San Francisco, Chicago, Cleveland, Houston, New York Jets.
NFL free agency preview: Running backs
- There's no doubt about it—the running back free agency conversation with begin and end with Adrian Peterson, now that he will certainly hit the NFL free agent market.
This year’s group of running back free agents won’t exactly blow you away (outside of the top unrestricted free agent), but we can accept that, since this year’s running back draft class brings much more excitement. Leonard Fournette, Dalvin Cook and Christian McCaffrey are all expected to be drafted in the first round, so if a needy team doesn’t get their guy in free agency, it can look to fill that hole in late April.
Cream of the Crop: Adrian Peterson
One of the greatest running backs in this generation is on the market after the Vikings decided not to pick up his 2017 option worth nearly $18 million.
Peterson has dealt with injuries and suspension in recent years, and he's only had one 100-yard rushing game in his past eight starts. Is he still the guy who came within a first down of breaking the all-time single-season mark? Of course not. He probably shouldn’t have come back from injury last season, and he’s just one year removed from a 1,400-yard season. He’s turning 32 years old in a few weeks, but there’s no doubt that he’s still the best option in free agency.
Ideal team fit: Cowboys. It’d be an embarrassment of riches in Dallas, but an interesting fit for Peterson. Ezekiel Elliott is so essential to Dallas, but one hit on him and the Cowboys’ offense crumbles. We know Jerry Jones salivated over Peterson a few years ago, and that thirst may still be there even with the best young running back in the game. If not Dallas, then perhaps NFC North rival Green Bay could use Peterson on their run to another Super Bowl.
Bargain Bin: Andre Ellington
The Cardinals have to re-sign almost their entire defense, so dealing with a third running back should be toward the bottom of their priority list.
Ellington struggled with his health over the past two seasons (hip and toe injuries), and that came at a miserable time for him after Arizona drafted David Johnson in 2015. Ellington had more than 1,000 yards from scrimmage in each of his first two seasons, so he can make home-run plays out of the backfield running and receiving. But he simply got cut out of the rotation last season and had just 34 rushes for 96 yards.
The running back won’t come cheap (he’s only 28 years old, and those two good seasons aren’t too long ago), but he does come with an injury history that will take his price down.
Ideal team fit: Jaguars. Jacksonville targeted T.J. Yeldon and Chris Ivory 96 times in the passing game last season. Ellington is better at catching the ball than both of them.
Overpay Alert: Latavius Murray
I don’t particularly want to use the term overrated here, especially for a guy who made the Pro Bowl in 2015, but I have to shoot it straight. In the past two seasons, Murray has averaged just 4 yards per carry, which was tied for 23rd last season. His 12 touchdowns were good for fifth-best in the league, and the Raiders would be wise to re-sign him knowing that he was the beneficiary of one of the league’s best offensive lines and most exciting young quarterbacks.
If Murray hits the market, he may get paid off those 12 touchdowns rather than what he’s actually doing on the ground.
Ideal team fit: Giants. This makes a lot of sense for Murray. Paul Perkins isn’t ready to take over the load, and after cutting Rashad Jennings, New York needs a talented and reliable running back to take some of the pressure off Eli Manning’s arm (and, more importantly, Odell Beckham’s hands).
Teams most in need of running backs: Giants, Panthers, Colts
NFL free agency preview: Wide receivers
- Alshon Jeffery and Terrelle Pryor highlight the pool of available wide receivers heading into NFL free agency.
If your team isn’t getting a new quarterback in the next few months, receiver is the flashiest position out there. Rarely does an elite receiver become available in free agency, and there’s not one on the market this year (though there is a very, very good one).
That said, beware of the Mike Wallaces of the market. Wallace signed a $60 million deal with the Dolphins in 2013 and was traded for a fifth-round pick two years later. In between those two extremes, there’s still some talent on the market.
Cream of the Crop: Alshon Jeffery and Terrelle Pryor
There’s no doubt that these are the best available receivers, with Pierre Garçon coming in at third. Jeffery, who was franchise tagged last year, hasn’t had a 1,000-yard season since 2014 and has dealt with injury and suspension the past two seasons.
Meanwhile, it’s a good thing Pryor swallowed his pride and moved from quarterback to receiver, because he’s about to get paid. Pryor topped 1,000 receiving yards on throws from Cody Kessler, Josh McCown, Robert Griffin III, Kevin Hogan and Charlie Whitehurst. Just imagine what he’ll be able to do with more experience under his belt and a better quarterback.
Jeffery’s ideal team fit: 49ers. Obviously San Francisco needs to figure out its quarterback situation first, but Kyle Shanahan is coming from a Falcons team with its own big-bodied receiver in Julio Jones and could use one in his new home. Jeffery isn’t nearly as versatile or as good as Jones, but the 49ers have the money to pay for him.
Pryor's ideal team fit: Browns. Cleveland drafted a slew of receivers last year, but none of them are as good as Pryor. The franchise tag would mean Pryor would be making $15.8 million in 2017, and he may not be worth that much. But the Browns can’t let another talent they nurtured walk away.
Bargain Bin: Jordan Norwood
Norwood spent the past two years with the Broncos after bouncing around a few rosters and practice squads. He is best known for his Super Bowl record 62-yard punt return two seasons ago, but he has mostly been a spot player at receiver: He had a career-high 35 catches last season for 232 receiving yards while returning 25 punts for an 8.2 yard average. Norwood won’t change the fortunes of a team, but for a deal that averages about $1 million per year, he would be a great, cheap addition.
Ideal team fit: The Cowboys could be interested in Norwood, especially if they don’t bring back Brice Butler in free agency.
Overpay Alert: Kendall Wright
The former first-round pick had an unceremonious departure from Nashville, watching his snaps decrease and having issues making it to meetings on time, if he made it at all. Finally, he was a healthy scratch in the season finale and admitted the next week that he knew he wouldn’t be part of the 2017 Titans. Maybe a change in scenery will help Wright, who only has one 1,000-yard receiving season in five years (and that was in 2013). But it’s that exact sort of optimism that can lead to a team paying big bucks for a receiver who caught just 29 passes last season for 416 yards.
Ideal team fit: With Norwood hypothetically heading elsewhere, perhaps a trip to Denver would suit Wright best. Detroit could use some help at receiver, as well.
Teams interested in the position: Philadelphia Eagles, Baltimore Ravens, Tennessee Titans.
NFL free agency preview: Offensive linemen
- The (perceived...) weak offensive line class in the upcoming NFL draft will certainly mean this year's OL free agents could land some huge—maybe too big?—contracts.
The 2017 draft is still two months away, but an early topic of discussion has been the perceived weakness of this year’s offensive tackle class. That’s potentially great news for the free agents about to hit the market at that position, because teams may opt to jump into bidding wars rather than try their hand on the incoming rookies.
Right tackle Ricky Wagner (Baltimore) and left tackle Andrew Whitworth (Cincinnati) would be the top names there, should they go unsigned. But also in the mix could be five-year starter Riley Reiff (Detroit), who has experience on both sides of the lines, as well as LTs like Russell Okung (Denver), Kelvin Beachum (Jacksonville) and Ryan Clady (New York Jets).
At least the top three or four among that group stand to cash in huge.
The interior blockers are not to be overlooked, either. In January, the Jets signed Brian Winters to a four-year, $29 million extension with $15 million guaranteed—numbers that both Kevin Zeitler (Cincinnati) and T.J. Lang (Green Bay) should surpass. Ronald Leary (Dallas) also could be in the ballpark, as he hunts out a starting job; Larry Warford (Detroit) may not be far behind.
There is help to be had, for a price.
Cream of the Crop: Kevin Zeitler
The Bengals’ relative stinginess has prevented them from retaining key players in the past, and it appears that approach could cost them both Zeitler and Whitworth this off-season. Either player departing would sting, but Zeitler is just 26 years old (turning 27 on March 8), which means the Bengals might be missing out on the prime years of his career.
Zeitler has started all 16 games for Cincinnati each of the past two seasons, and he’s been in the lineup for 72 of a possible 80 games since his first-round draft selection back in 2012.
The NFL’s franchise-tag setup tied the Bengals’ hands a bit—there is no tackle, guard or center designation; all offensive linemen are priced the same. This year, that cost sits at around $14 million, or $4 million more than the league’s highest-paid guards (David DeCastro and Kyle Long) make on average. Given the type of attention he would draw as a free agent, Zeitler could set his sights on $10 million per year himself.
Ideal team fit: Dolphins. With Laremy Tunsil set to move to tackle, the Dolphins likely need to fill two guard spots this off-season. May as well go for the best option available, right?
Sleeper/Bargain: J.C. Tretter
Tretter has been primarily a center for the Packers, first as a backup and then as the full-time starter until a knee injury ended his 2016 season after just seven games. No doubt some of his value as a free agent, though, comes from his ability to play tackle in a pinch.
He did just that during the Packers’ 2015 playoff run, and that’s also where he suited up for Cornell, following a move from tight end.
Obviously, the goal at any position is to find an elite talent. Saving that along the offensive line, however, teams value versatility. Tretter provides that, and he’s shown—at least, when healthy—that he can handle a starting gig, too.
Ideal team fit: Vikings. Minnesota’s issues along the offensive line have been a running theme for multiple seasons now. Tretter would provide them quality depth all over, plus could step in as the starter at center if the Vikings wanted to kick the tires on Joe Berger as a guard.
Overrated Player: Russell Okung
Almost immediately after the Broncos opted to decline Okung’s four-year, $48 million contract option (don’t be your own agent, kids), a report came from CBS’s Jason La Canfora that “no shortage of teams” was showing interest in the 28-year-old Okung. It akes sense, since he was a 16-game starter for the Broncos last year, plays on the left side and has a Pro Bowl berth on his resume.
On the flip side, there was a reason Denver balked at that hefty price tag—namely, that Okung was not anywhere near a $12 million-per-year starting tackle a season ago. And, prior to the 2016 campaign, he had not played a full 16-game schedule during any of his six years with the Seahawks.
Again, the general consensus is that this year’s draft class won’t offer much immediate help at tackle. Add in that Wagner is a right tackle and Reiff was moved to the right after Detroit drafted Taylor Decker, and there are limited desirable LT options. In theory, Okung is one.
But he’ll have to be better than he was in ’16, and healthier than he was from 2010–15, to pay off any substantial commitment in him.
Ideal team fit: Seahawks. Okung was at his best in Seattle, and it’s a team that has to find some answers at tackle this off-season.
Teams most in need of O-line help: Bills, Panthers, Bears, Broncos, Lions, Packers, Texans, Jaguars, Rams, Dolphins, Vikings, Giants, Jets, Seahawks, 49ers
NFL free agency preview: Defensive line
- Teams looking for veteran help on their defensive fronts are in luck: This year's free-agent class looks to be loaded with difference-makers—as long as they actually make it to the open market.
The 2017 draft is loaded with edge rushers. The 2017 free-agent class could be chock full of outstanding interior defenders.
Just how exciting the D-line group looks when free agency begins on March 9 (after the “legal tampering window” opens on March 7) will depend in large part on how many of the big-name defensive tackles actually make it to the market. Carolina used the franchise tag on Kawann Short, but Johnathan Hankins (Giants), Brandon Williams (Ravens), Bennie Logan (Eagles) and Dontari Poe (Chiefs) are among the others who may be allowed to walk.
Many of the possibilities off the edge technically qualify as linebackers—we’ll get to them in a separate post.
More on the D-line group about to hit free agency:
Cream of the Crop: Calais Campbell
Now that the Cardinals have set aside their franchise tag for OLB Chandler Jones, it’ll be borderline impossible for Arizona to squeeze in a hefty contract for Campbell, too. A Pro Bowler in 2014 and ’15 and a consistent performer up front for the past eight seasons, Campbell (31 in September) will have no shortage of suitors as a free agent.
Campbell should be the top target for any base 3–4 team, as he spent the majority of his Arizona career excelling as an end in that scheme. However, he is a fit for any system, because of his experience playing out of a DT alignment.
Campbell has averaged 7.0 sacks per season since 2009, and he had 8.0 last year, with three fumble recoveries and six pass deflections. He remains an impact performer.
Ideal team fit: Titans. Again, name just about any team and Campbell makes sense. That said, the Titans have the money available to make a couple of big splashes this off-season. Nabbing Campbell certainly would count. A Campbell–Jurrell Casey combo would be hard for opponents to handle.
Bargain Bin: Alan Branch
Non-pass rushing tackles approaching their mid-30s tend to find the pickings rather slim when free agency calls. That will likely be the case for Branch, 32, should the Patriots fail to re-sign him. They might make it a priority in the coming days, though, considering how important the 350-pounder has been as an anchor inside for them.
Branch’s most notable contribution to the 2016 season came during the fourth quarter of Super Bowl LI, when he pounced on a fumble forced by teammate Dont’a Hightower. The Patriots trailed by 16 at the time, but the turnover flipped the game’s momentum for good. Of course, the Patriots’ defense may have been weaker all season were it not for Branch. With him filling up space inside, New England held its opponents below 4.0 yards per carry.
Per Football Outsiders, Branch played about 59% of the Patriots’ defensive snaps this season—second on the team to Chris Long’s 64%, but hardly an excessive workload. He is a rotational defender, built to force teams into third-and-long by wiping out early-down run plays.
There’s less a market for that type of player than for a dominant pass rusher, but Branch still appears to have gas left in the tank.
Ideal team fit: Broncos. Far too ineffective up the middle on defense last season, Denver was recently in the hunt for Earl Mitchell, who signed with San Francisco. Branch, who has about 50 pounds on Mitchell, actually has been the better player the past two seasons.
Overpay Alert: Dontari Poe
The initial player listed here, Jason Pierre-Paul, reportedly was hit Monday with the Giants’ franchise tag, which would keep him in tow through the 2017 season at around $17 million—barring a restructured, long-term contract. That’s preferable to handing Pierre-Paul several years at $15 million or so per, but it’s still a hefty price tag. Pierre-Paul played well last season, yet also missed four games with a sports-hernia injury. For his salary, he needs to be an impact player for the entire season.
It’s going to be much the same conversation for Poe, and any player who commands elite-level money as a free agent. There is no denying Poe’s raw talent, nor how dominant he can be at times. He just hasn’t been as consistent a force the past two seasons as he was in years 1–3 of his NFL career.
That likely won’t stop him from cleaning up, if he gets out of Kansas City. Poe is still just 26 (he’ll turn 27 in August) and can handle a heavy workload—he led all Chiefs D-linemen by playing 73% of his defense’s snaps this past year. But he’s also coming off the least productive statistical season of his career (27 tackles, 1.5 sacks).
Ideal team fit: Texans. Even if Poe has to become more of a rotational player moving forward, how’s a Jadeveon Clowney–Poe–J.J. Watt front sound? Poe wouldn’t find more of an opportunity to make plays up front than the freedom those presences on the edge would provide. Vince Wilfork’s departure could leave the Texans searching for a little beef in the middle.
Teams most in need of defensive line help: Cardinals, Falcons, Bills, Bears, Bengals, Broncos, Lions, Colts, Chiefs, Patriots, Saints, Giants, Raiders, Eagles, Seahawks, 49ers, Buccaneers, Titans, Redskins.
NFL free agency preview: Linebackers
- Will any linebackers top the $50 million extension Jamie Collins received earlier this year? The guys who patrol the outside of the front seven have better odds than the men in the middle.
The first shoe dropped on the linebacker market more than a month ago, when Cleveland signed impending free agent Jamie Collins to a four-year, $50 million contract ($26 million guaranteed). His deal will set the bar for what’s to come.
The question is if any other linebackers will hit that $50 million plateau. Now that the Cardinals have used the franchise tag on Chandler Jones, the player most likely to get there is another one of Collins’s former Patriots teammates: Dont’a Hightower.
They are different types of player—Hightower a do-everything inside presence, Jones a pass-rushing threat outside. The money typically tends to follow those edge defenders. Melvin Ingram (Chargers), Nick Perry (Packers), Jabaal Sheard (Patriots) and veterans like Julius Peppers (Packers), James Harrison (Steelers) and DeMarcus Ware (Broncos) are the most recognizable names among those considered outside linebackers. Peppers might be reclassified as a defensive end, depending on where he signs.
There is less to love inside, where it’s Hightower and then a drop-off to the likes of Lawrence Timmons (Steelers) and the underrated but effective Kevin Minter (Cardinals).
Cream of the Crop: Dont’a Hightower
If the Cardinals hadn't franchise tagged Jones, who has 23.5 sacks in the last two seasons, he stood to blow past the Collins contract into the $60-$70 million range. (If he doesn’t sign an extension, he’ll make almost $17 million playing under the tag in 2017.)
Another “Cream of the Crop” runner-up: Ingram. While stuck on a disappointing Chargers team, he has developed into the complete linebacker he was supposed to be when he was drafted at No. 12 in ’12. He will hit the market at the peak of his still-young career.
Hightower tops the class here, though, because of how dominant he has been in all phases. He flipped the Super Bowl with his strip-sack of Matt Ryan, capping a season that saw him finally nab his first Pro Bowl nod. He might have had one earlier except for the fact that he missed four games in both 2014 and ’15. Hightower sat another three games this year with injury, and that long-term durability is the main concern with him as he plots his next move.
Best team fit: Patriots. New England traded away both Jones and Collins and kept right on ticking, so perhaps Bill Belichick believes he can get by without Hightower, too. But losing him would leave an awfully big hole to fill.
Bargain Bin: Lorenzo Alexander
Bank on most front offices focusing on the fact that a) Alexander will turn 34 in May and that b) he had been a bit player for the majority of his career until his 12.5-sack breakthrough last season in Buffalo. Those elements will combine to keep Alexander’s price tag relatively low.
As a result, the team that does eventually snatch him up could count themselves lucky. Alexander, who also won Pro Bowl defensive MVP honors, showed last season that he can be a productive playmaker when given a chance. Prior to cementing himself in Rex Ryan’s 3–4 defense as an outside linebacker, Alexander had started just three games the previous five seasons.
His age will limit his contract, as well, probably to three years or fewer—he won’t be much of a gamble on that end.
Team fit: Colts. Sean McDermott’s arrival in Buffalo means that both sides probably should look elsewhere—Alexander showed that he needs to be a stand-up edge rusher, and the Bills are going to be rolling more of a four-man front now. The Colts, on the other hand, seem to be sticking with their base 3–4 approach, and they enter this off-season absolutely desperate for help off the edge.
Overpay Alert: Nick Perry
This boils down to whether teams believe Perry’s 2016 season was a long-awaited glimpse into his full potential or a contract-year flash in the pan. Last off-season the Packers initially declined Perry’s fifth-year option, then wound up re-signing him anyway (at a cheaper price), and he responded with 11.0 sacks—just 1.5 off his total from ’12 to ’15. It was a prove-it deal, and Perry played his way into big bucks. Will he continue to trend upward once he has what should be a rather lucrative contract under his belt?
Ideal team fit: Rams. The transition to Wade Phillips’s 3–4 defense may not be as drastic as it sounds, but he still needs more pieces to affect offenses off the edge. Whereas the Rams may have to teach Robert Quinn some new tricks if he’s to play as a hybrid linebacker now, Perry knows that role well. Pairing the two would hasten the Rams’ shift, assuming Perry keeps up his 2016 performance.
Teams most in need of linebackers: Cardinals, Ravens, Bears, Bengals, Browns, Lions, Packers, Colts, Chiefs, Chargers, Rams, Dolphins, Patriots, Saints, Giants, Raiders, Steelers, 49ers.
NFL free agency preview: Secondary
- Even though Eric Berry is already off the market, with the Chiefs making him the richest safety in the NFL, this class of free agent defensive backs is still rather talented.
A year ago, had you predicted that A.J. Bouye was about to be the most coveted cornerback on the free-agent market, reactions would have ranged from “you’re insane” to “what is an A.J. Bouye?”
Now everyone knows his name. The 25-year-old emerged this season as a lock-down for the Texans, and he could wind up the highest-paid free agent cornerback—and if not him, that honor likely would fall either to Trumaine Johnson, who could be franchise-tagged at any moment by the Rams, or Stephon Gilmore, who appears headed out of Buffalo.
There is decent talent at the CB position, though, and teams should find contributing performers in the likes of Logan Ryan (New England), Alterraun Verner (cut by Tennessee) and Dre Kirkpatrick (Cincinnati). Things are not quite as rosy at safety, because the Chiefs recently made Eric Berry the highest-paid safety in the NFL and Barry Church is also on track to wind up back with Dallas.
If that happens, the big winner will be Tony Jefferson, who would cash in no matter if he stays with Arizona or departs. Beyond him, there are depth pieces—Duron Harmon (New England), Rashad Johnson (Tennessee), Jonathan Cyprien (Jacksonville), T.J. McDonald (Los Angeles Rams)—but no stars.
A primer on the DB class:
Cream of the Crop: A.J. Bouye
By signing Eric Berry to a six-year deal worth a reported $78 million, the Chiefs kept the potential top free-agent safety from reaching free agency. The Comeback Player of the Year in 2015 and a first-team All-Pro in both ’15 and ’16, Berry deserved to be rewarded with a huge, long-term deal. (The Chiefs had him play out last season on the franchise tag.) Getting him locked up ahead of time could allow the Chiefs to use this year’s tag on Dontari Poe, if they somehow can find a way to swing it financially.
So, with Berry off the board, Bouye slides into the top spot among defensive backs, albeit at a different position. Either way, Bouye held the title among cornerbacks, especially with Houston looking like it would pass on re-signing him.
There is a risk element involved for any team wishing to pursue Bouye, because the rising CB star wasn’t a full-time starter until this year ... and he only won that spot because of injuries above him on the depth chart. He did not spoil that chance, though, and played a critical role in Houston’s run to the AFC South championship.
GMs that float a contract Bouye’s way will be crossing their fingers that 2016 was merely the tip of the iceberg for a player that just needed a chance. If Bouye is really the cornerback he appeared to be this season, he could be a standout defender for years to come.
Ideal team fit: Saints. For the first time in a bit, the Saints’ salary-cap situation is in pretty good shape heading into the off-season. And while they’ve been burned by free-agent DBs in the past (and currently have the “sleeper” below on their roster), this would be an opportunity to swing for the fences.
Bargain Bin: Sterling Moore
It feels like Moore has carried the "underrated" tag throughout his NFL career. He never has been, nor ever will be, an elite cornerback, but he was solid in Dallas, Tampa Bay and most recently New Orleans. Moore started a career-high 12 games for the Saints, picking off two passes and knocking down another 13.
Despite his respectable track record, Moore has become a bit of a journeyman—he didn’t even survive final cuts in Buffalo last summer, prior to landing with New Orleans. Another cheap one- or two-year deal could be on the way, and Moore will make it worthwhile for the team that lands him.
Ideal team fit: Jets. The high-profile Darrelle Revis marriage imploded, so how about the Jets taking a 180 and going for value? Moore can hold up in man coverage, which is important for Todd Bowles’s defense, and he has experience in the slot.
Overpay Alert: Prince Amukamara
The ex-Giant nudged his career back on track with a solid 2016 season in Jacksonville, while playing on a one-year contract. Given his talent level and what could be a lack of clear starters on the CB market, Amukamara should be able to parlay that ’16 performance into a rather substantial deal.
The rub: He’s played 16 games once in his six NFL seasons. The soon-to-be28-year-old could be hitting his prime, but he stands to get paid before he proves he can stay healthy.
Ideal team fit: Jaguars. Keeping Amukamara pinned opposite Jalen Ramsey on the depth chart makes too sense sense, both for the Jaguars and Amukamara himself. If Amukamara can land the money he seeks while sticking with the team that helped revive his career, why wouldn’t he? A team like the Eagles would be one to watch if Amukamara tests the waters. They need to make a splash in their secondary.
Teams most in need of secondary help: Ravens, Bills, Panthers, Bears, Browns, Cowboys, Lions, Packers, Colts, Rams, Dolphins, Vikings, Saints, Jets, Raiders, Eagles, 49ers, Bucs, Titans