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Best Players Available at Each Position After 1st Week of Free Agency

Michelle BrutonFeatured ColumnistMarch 16, 2017

Best Players Available at Each Position After 1st Week of Free Agency

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    Rich Barnes/Getty Images

    The NFL free-agency frenzy may be plateauing, but that doesn't mean that teams will be hard-pressed to find talented difference-makers at this stage in the game. 

    While many of the offseason's biggest deals are behind us, there are plenty of impact players who could still make a splash on the right team.

    Some are big-name veterans, such as quarterback Jay Cutler and running back Adrian Peterson, and others are promising risers, like inside linebacker Zach Brown, looking to be rewarded for proving themselves after a one-year deal. 

    Let's take a look at the best free agents still available at every position in the NFL, including reports of interested teams, if available.  

Quarterback

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    Rick Osentoski/Associated Press

    Jay Cutler

    Former Chicago Bears backup quarterback Matt Barkley, who threw 14 interceptions to only eight touchdowns in seven games with the Bears in 2016, found a new team in the San Francisco 49ers (as did Brian Hoyer), and yet veteran Jay Cutler is still without a job. 

    Make no mistake; there are plenty of reasons NFL teams could be wary of Cutler. First, he's going to be expensive; after all, he's used to averaging $16 million a year in salary.

    And given what we know of Cutler's...motivation levels, how much is he going to look to leverage money versus opportunity to win a ring in free agency?

    Still, many NFL coaches continue to be tempted by Cutler's incredibly powerful arm. Though he's never lived up to his potential, Cutler has consistently averaged more than seven yards per pass and thrown for 3,000 or more yards in seven of his 11 seasons. 

    According to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport on Monday, the New York Jets have been in touch with Cutler. He's not a bad option for them, when their choices are down to players such as Shaun Hill and Matt McGloin.

Running Back

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    Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

    Adrian Peterson

    You could go with Oakland's Latavius Murray here, for obvious reasons: he's younger, at 27 years old, and doesn't have the injury or character-issue history that Adrian Peterson does. 

    However, Murray, as powerful a runner as he can be on early downs, doesn't bring the same three-down ability to the table that Peterson does. Murray needs to be paired with a pass-catching back who can come onto the field on third downs. 

    Peterson may only be able to sign a one- or two-year deal, but he can make a serious difference in a team's backfield in that time so long as he is able to remain healthy. Though he only played three games in 2016, the previous season he rushed for 1,485 yards and 11 touchdowns.

    The Seattle Seahawks had both Peterson and Eddie Lacy in for a visit and chose the latter, so that may not be a good sign for Peterson's health. But going off his 2015 numbers, he still has something left to give. 

Fullback

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    Bill Wippert/Associated Press

    Jerome Felton

    It used to be tough out there for a fullback, and certainly the more old-school players who specialize in taking up space and blocking might find it hard to stay employed in the NFL.

    However, as Kyle Juszczyk and his $21-million deal with the San Francisco 49ers showed, there's still a place in the NFL for fullbacks. 

    Veteran Jerome Felton is less of a receiving H-back and more of the old-fashioned blocker, but that doesn't mean he can't be valuable for a team that uses the position. He hasn't come close to replicating his 133-yard receiving season for the Detroit Lions in 2009, but he did have six receptions for 57 yards in 2016 with the Buffalo Bills.

    He's not a scoring threat, but he can help upgrade the effectiveness of a backfield by opening up holes for a speedy halfback.

Wide Receiver

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    Marc Serota/Getty Images

    Michael Floyd

    Don't think that Michael Floyd, who lost his job with the Arizona Cardinals in 2016 following a DUI arrest in December and landed in New England, is the best that the wide receviers market still has to offer?

    Unfortunately, it's slim pickings out there for teams that weren't able to land one of this year's big-name free-agent receivers—Alshon Jeffery, Pierre Garcon, DeSean Jackson, Terrelle Pryor—early in free agency. 

    There's no doubt Floyd faces a difficult road back to the football field. He could face a multi-game suspension from the NFL in 2017, per ESPN's Adam Schefter

    However, the 27-year-old receiver could be a rewarding project for a team willing to take him on, understanding it might get limited production from him in 2017.

    Floyd has amassed 3,781 yards and 24 touchdowns over his six-year career and offers a physicality and playing style many teams desire at the position. 

Tight End

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    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    Jared Cook

    Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson brought in both Martellus Bennett and Lance Kendricks to replace free agent tight end Jared Cook, so needless to say Cook is not going to be re-signing in Green Bay. 

    Like their fellow pass-catching wide receivers, tight ends have been a hot commodity on this year's free-agent market, and Cook leads the group of players still looking for an opportunity. 

    This week, Cook has visited with the Seattle Seahawks and Minnesota Vikings, per Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times

    Joining forces with Aaron Rodgers in the Packers offense in 2016, Cook proved he can be a deep-threat for an offense struggling to go downfield, racking up 377 yards and a touchdown and averaging 12.6 yards per attempt in 10 games with the Packers. 

    The 29-year-old veteran proved that with a better quarterback, he could improve his own performance. 

Offensive Tackle

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    Kathy Willens/Associated Press

    Ryan Clady 

    A number of big-name offensive tackles hit the open market this season, including Matt Kalil, Russell Okung, Ricky Wagner and Andrew Whitworth, overshadowing some of the less flashy but still solid players looking for a new team. 

    Probably the best tackle who remains unsigned is the New York Jets' Ryan Clady, who almost certainly would have drawn more interest had he not had a spate of injuries in the last few years. 

    Clady was as reliable as they come for the first five years of his career with the Denver Broncos, never missing a game in that span. However, in 2013, Denver lost him after two weeks to a season-ending Lisfranc injury to his left foot.

    Then, when the New York Jets signed Clady to a one-year deal in 2016, they only got nine games from him as he suffered a torn rotator cuff.

    A team needing tackle help could take a chance on a rookie or take a chance on Clady staying healthy, but at least the latter has many years of experience and has always been a positive locker-room presence. 

Offensive Guard

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    Jahri Evans

    Like their fellow offensive line brethren, the tackles, the top-tier offensive guards cleaned up this year in free agency. 

    The Cleveland Browns made Kevin Zeitler the highest-paid guard in NFL history, as ESPN's Adam Schefter reported, while T.J. Lang and Larry Warford also received healthy deals. 

    There aren't many starting-caliber guards left on the market, which is why six-time Pro Bowler Jahri Evans shouldn't remain unsigned for long. 

    It became clear when the New Orleans Saints signed Warford to a four-year deal that the end of the Evans era in New Orleans has arrived. 

    However, the 33-year-old has established himself as one of the league's most reliable guards over his 11 seasons, only missing seven games in that span, which is unbelievable. Some team is going to bring Evans in on a short-term deal that will likely finish up his career. 

Center

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    Winslow Townson/Associated Press

    Nick Mangold

    NFL teams reportedly want Nick Mangold to move to guard, per Dan Graziano of ESPN. 

    But the 33-year-old veteran is determined to wait for an opportunity to finish out his career at center, according to Graziano, and given that there are so few available in free agency, he just may be able to yet. 

    The New York Jets cut Mangold this offseason after 11 years. He was their longest-tenured player. The timing wasn't great for Mangold to hit free agency for the first time in his career, as he suffered an ankle injury in 2016 that caused him to miss eight games. 

    Before that, however, Mangold was a pillar of consistency, missing just four games across 10 seasons. 

    Given Mangold's experience and determination to continue his career, he makes sense for a team looking for a short-term stopgap as it searches for its center of the future. 

Defensive Tackle

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    Ed Zurga/Associated Press

    Dontari Poe

    How in the world is Dontari Poe still unsigned?

    Ever since the Kansas City Chiefs let Poe hit free agency due to the development of 2016 rookie Chris Jones, it's been more and more surprising to see the big man linger on the market.

    Poe is only 26 years old and the best nose tackle still available in free agency. 

    Sure, he'll be pricey, as he's reached the conclusion of his rookie deal, including a fifth-year option. But the defensive tackle, who is a force against the run, still has plenty to offer for teams looking for veteran leadership and athleticism to anchor their defensive lines. 

    Plus, the longer Poe lingers on the market, the more likely a team will be able to bring him in for a price that doesn't do too much damage to the cap. 

Defensive End

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    Chris Szagola/Associated Press

    Connor Barwin

    If it's a veteran presence teams are looking for on the front seven, Connor Barwin is probably the best defensive end who remains on the free-agent market. 

    Barwin could be such a solid signing for the right team because he offers so much versatility in the front seven.

    He's considered a defensive end here due to his recent conversion by the Philadelphia Eagles, who moved to a 4-3 defense, but it's more than likely that the next team that signs Barwin will use him as an edge rusher and play to his strengths. 

    Barwin's pressure numbers understandably fell in 2016 with the move to the new position, as he posted five sacks and two passes defensed. But in 2015, he was a force against the pass, with seven sacks and seven passes defensed. 

    Barwin visited with the Los Angeles Rams on Wednesday, per Gary Klein of the Los Angeles Times.  

Inside Linebacker

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    Adrian Kraus/Associated Press

    Zach Brown

    One of the most attractive free agents available at any position, Zach Brown might be one of the most underrated players to hit free agency this year. 

    Brown brings speed in coverage and toughness against the run to the middle. He had an uptick in his performance in his one season with the Buffalo Bills in 2016, ending with a whopping 149 combined tackles as well as four sacks, four passes defensed, an interception and two forced fumbles. 

    Good things happen when Brown is around the ball. At 27 years old, he's likely looking for a handsome, multi-year contract. But he's an excellent investment for a team looking to improve in the middle. 

    Now that Dont'a Hightower has re-signed with the New England Patriots, as NFL Network's Ian Rapoport shared Wednesday, it's only a matter of time before Brown gets scooped up.

Outside Linebacker

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    Brandon Wade/Associated Press

    DeAndre Levy

    With DeMarcus Ware announcing his retirement on Monday, the best outside linebacker option teams could find on the market might be DeAndre Levy.

    The Detroit Lions shocked the NFL when they released longtime linebacker Levy on the first day of free agency. Over his eight-year career, all in Detroit, Levy posted 459 total tackles, 3.5 sacks, 33 passes defensed, 12 interceptions and two forced fumbles, and he found the end zone twice. 

    The Lions' move was no doubt influenced by the fact that Levy played just six games over the past two seasons as he struggled with a hip injury and a hamstring injury. 

    Despite the recent spate of injuries, Levy is only 29 and, as NFL teams know well, it's hard to find a talented coverage linebacker. With more and more teams turning to 3-4 defenses, a veteran with Levy's experience in a 4-3 could be a solid acquisition at this point in the offseason. 

Cornerback

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    Ron Jenkins/Associated Press

    Morris Claiborne 

    Many NFL cornerbacks became free agents in March, but there are a handful of impact players still available at the position, underscored by the Dallas Cowboys' Morris Claiborne. 

    It's no surprise that many of the corners signed early in the new league year are young players moving onto their second NFL contracts, such as A.J. Bouye and Micah Hyde, who signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars and Buffalo Bills, respectively. 

    The reason Claiborne, who just celebrated his 27th birthday, doesn't count himself among that group is more due to what's behind him than what is potentially yet to come.

    Injuries have marred Claiborne's ability to lobby for a high-value NFL contract following the conclusion of his fifth-year option with the Cowboys. The corner has yet to play a full 16-game season and missed 12 games in 2014 and another nine last season.

    Still, when healthy Claiborne can be a highly effective outside corner, a role so many NFL teams find hard to fill effectively. 

Safety

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    Jason Behnken/Associated Press

    T.J. McDonald 

    There is an abundance of starting-caliber safeties remaining on the market, including Bradley McDougald and JJ Wilcox, but the most talented is probably 26-year-old Los Angeles Rams strong safety T.J. McDonald. 

    It's something of a surprise that the 26-year-old is still unsigned when you look at on-the-field criteria alone. He had 64 combined tackles, a sack, six passes defensed and two interceptions in 2016.

    But it's more understandable once you take character questions into account, and McDonald's transgressions are so recent as to likely weigh heavy on executives' minds. 

    In January, McDonald plead guilty to "one misdemeanor count of reckless driving involving drugs or alcohol" following a traffic accident last May, Gary Klein of the Los Angeles Times reported at the time

    If a team with an established culture and strong locker room wants to bring McDonald in, it will be able to get a productive strong safety at a fair price.

Kicker

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    Bill Kostroun/Associated Press

    Nick Folk

    The kicker market is never full of excitement and intrigue in free agency, but you can never count out a team wanting to bring in some training-camp competition for an incumbent or sign a veteran to a one-year deal. 

    If that's the case, the best unsigned kicker out there is Nick Folk, previously of the New York Jets. Folk was previously perfect on all his extra-point attempts until the rule change for the 2016 season, which felled many kickers' perfect records, but Folk still only missed two. 

    He also posted his highest field-goal percentage, 87.1, in three seasons, and the third-highest of his 10-year career overall. 

    Folk is 32 and could still have a two- or three-year deal left in him to finish out his career in the NFL. 

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