With the countdown to free agency continuing – the negotiating period begins at 11 a.m. Monday and the signing period at 3 p.m. Wednesday – many of the top players have been taken off the market with franchise tags. The list:
QB Dak Prescott, Dallas (26): Just before the deadline, the Cowboys tagged Prescott. Prescott was taken with the 135th pick of the 2016 draft – four selection after Green Bay landed linebacker Blake Martinez. Prescott has started all 64 career games. For his career, he’s got a 40-24 record and compiled a 97.0 passer rating. In 2019, he finished second in the league with 4,902 passing yards and fourth with 30 touchdowns. He ranked fifth in the league with 60.4 percent of his passing yards coming through the air, according to Sports Info Solutions, meaning the Cowboys leaned on his arm rather than his receivers’ legs.
RB Derrick Henry, Tennessee (26): Henry will be the latest litmus test on running back pay. He led the NFL with 1,540 rushing yards and tied for the lead with Green Bay’s Aaron Jones with 16 rushing touchdowns in almost literally carrying the Titans to the AFC Championship Game. According to Pro Football Focus, Henry rushed for 1,268 yards after contact. Only four running backs had more total rushing yards than that prodigious figure. However, he’s not much of a receiving threat, his five fumbles were second-most among running backs and he’s got a lot of wear and tear. Not only did he pace the NFL with 303 carries in 2019, he had a staggering 395 carries during his final season at Alabama. At 247 pounds, Henry’s body probably is capable of carrying the load for at least a few more years but, with a running back, you never know.
WR A.J. Green, Cincinnati (31): Green sat out all of last season with a foot injury sustained in training camp. When healthy, Green is an elite receiver. In his nine seasons, he’s topped 1,000 yards on six occasions. The exceptions were 2016 (964 yards in 10 games), 2018 (694 yards in nine games) and 2019. For his career, Green has averaged 80.2 receiving yards per game – seventh-most in NFL history. In 2018, 109 receivers were targeted at least 32 times; Green finished 85th in drop percentage (9.8 percent; five drops).
TE Hunter Henry, L.A. Chargers (25): Injuries have been an ongoing issue. He missed the end of 2017 with a lacerated kidney, all of 2018 with a torn ACL and four games in 2019 with a tibia plateau fracture to his left knee. With that, he’s played in 41 of a possible 64 regular-season games. He’s coming off the best season of his career with 55 receptions for 652 yards. He ranked 10th among all tight ends in receptions. He had three drops, with his drop rate of 5.2 percent ranking 16th among the 40 tight ends who were targeted at least 30 times, according to Pro Football Focus. While his 3.0 yards after the catch per catch tied for 36th, his four receptions on passes thrown 20-plus yards downfield tied for eighth at the position and was first among the free agents. Henry has scored 17 career touchdowns with a 71.2 percent catch rate.
G Joe Thuney, New England (27): A third-round pick in 2016, Thuney has started all 64 career games and played almost every snap. According to Pro Football Focus, 63 guards played at least 50 percent of the pass-protecting snaps in 2019. Of that group, he ranked third in its pass-protection metric, which measures sacks (one), hits and hurries allowed per pass-protecting snap. After being guilty of 12 penalties in his first three seasons, he wasn’t penalized at all in 2019. According to Sports Info Solutions, he had three blown blocks on running plays for a blown-block rate of 0.7 percent, which was third-best among all guards who had 240 run-blocking snaps.
G Brandon Scherff, Washington (28): A first-round pick in 2015, Scherff has started 65 games and been selected to three Pro Bowls. Scherff ranked fourth in that group in PFF’s pass-blocking efficiency, a pass-protection metric that measures sacks (one), hits and hurries allowed per pass-protecting snaps. According to Sports Info Solutions, he had two blown blocks on running plays for a blown-block rate of 0.8 percent. He was slapped with career worst of six holding penalties and nine total penalties.
After Appetizers, Packers Ready for Main Course of Schedule
After a buffet of mediocre teams and quarterbacks, the Green Bay Packers will take a step up in class with Arizona, Kansas City, Seattle, Minnesota and the Rams.
Edge Shaq Barrett, Tampa Bay (27): Barrett picked a great time for a great season. An undrafted free agent from Colorado State in 2014, Barrett never had more than 5.5 sacks in a season until 2019, when he led the NFL with 19.5 sacks, tied for first with 37 quarterback hits and was third with six forced fumbles. With Denver from 2014 through 2018, he had 13 sacks, 35 quarterback hits and seven forced fumbles. He finished seventh in PFF’s pass-rushing productivity, which measures sacks, hits and hurries per pass-rushing snap.
Edge Bud Dupree, Pittsburgh (27): A first-round pick in 2015, Dupree is yet another pass rusher coming off his best season. Dupree set career highs with 11.5 sacks, 17 quarterback hits, 16 tackles for losses and 68 tackles. He never had more than six sacks, 13 quarterback hits, 12 TFLs or 42 tackles in his previous four seasons. He finished 59th in PFF’s pass-rushing productivity, which measures sacks, hits and hurries per pass-rushing snap. He provides strong run defense, as well.
Edge Yannick Ngakoue, Jacksonville (25): A third-round pick by the Jaguars in 2016, Ngakoue has career totals of 37.5 sacks and, perhaps more impressively, 14 forced fumbles. Last year, he had eight sacks and four forced fumbles. He finished 59th in PFF’s pass-rushing productivity, which measures sacks, hits and hurries per pass-rushing snap. That was tied with Green Bay’s Kyler Fackrell, though he was 15th in 2018 and eighth in 2017.
Edge Matt Judon, Baltimore (27): A fifth-round pick out of Division II Grand Valley State in 2016, Judon has posted three consecutive seasons of seven-plus sacks. That includes career highs of 9.5 sacks, 33 quarterback hits and four forced fumbles in 2019. He finished 13th in PFF’s pass-rushing productivity, which measures sacks, hits and hurries per pass-rushing snap.
DL Chris Jones, Kansas City (25): Jones is one of the best players in the entire league. After a monster 2018 season of 15.5 sacks, Jones had nine sacks in 13 games in 2019. In four seasons, he’s piled up 33 sacks, 20 passes defensed, seven forced fumbles and 37 tackles for losses. Among the defensive linemen, he finished behind only Aaron Donald in PFF’s pass-rushing productivity, which measures sacks, hits and hurries per pass-rushing snap.
DT Leonard Williams, N.Y. Giants (25): The sixth pick of the 2015 draft by the Jets, Williams was traded to the Giants last year. In five seasons, he has 17.5 sacks and 34 tackles for losses in his career. He’s missed just one game in his career. He had career highs of seven sacks and 68 tackles in 2016 but had only a half-sack and 46 tackles last year. According to PFF, of the 83 defensive linemen with 200-plus pass rushes, Williams tied for 15th in its pass-rushing productivity metric. According to SIS, his average tackle was made 2.7 yards downfield – his first season worse than 1.8 – and he missed two tackles (7.4 percent). In PFF’s run-stop percentage, he finished 41st of the 63 defensive linemen with 200-plus run-defending snaps.
S Anthony Harris, Minnesota (28): Harris proved himself as a fill-in starter in 2018 before taking over on a full-time basis in 2019. He led the NFL with six interceptions, added 11 passes defensed and recorded 60 tackles. According to Pro Football Focus, he did not allow a touchdown in coverage, either. He’s a superb tackler, as well. According to Sports Info Solutions, his missed-tackle rate of 4.9 percent (three misses) ranked second among all defensive backs.
S Justin Simmons, Denver (26): A third-round pick in 2016, Simmons has 11 career interceptions. He was superb in 2019, with four interceptions, 15 passes defensed and 93 tackles. He’s also a quality tackler, missing just six with a missed-tackle rate of 6.3 percent. Pro Football Focus charged him with zero touchdowns allowed, meaning a scant passer rating of 32.1.