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2017 NFL Free Agents: Best Players Available for Week 3

Gary DavenportNFL AnalystMarch 20, 2017

2017 NFL Free Agents: Best Players Available for Week 3

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    Is your NFL team looking for a player to complete their championship collection?

    Are they searching for an offensive lineman, running back or wide receiver—the perfect gift for that special quarterback in their life?

    Or perhaps a pass-rusherthe perfect gift to destroy that special quarterback in another team's life?

    Well you're in luck, because the NFL's free agent emporium has something for everyone.

    Granted, the March Madness sale (not to be confused with the other March Madness, because lawsuits) depleted the inventory quite a bit, but there's still plenty on the shelves—including a veteran quarterback and a 2,000-yard tailback.

    With that in mind let's cruise the aisles and sift through the racks, with a look at the NFL's top available free agents entering Week 3 of free agency.

Austin Pasztor

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    Sometimes I really don't understand what the heck is going on in Cleveland.

    The Browns, flush with cap space, took a buzzsaw to the offensive line, signing former Green Bay Packers center J.C. Tretter and making Kevin Zeitler the highest-paid guard in NFL history.

    And yet, for reasons known only to the Cleveland front office, as Terry Pluto wrote for the Cleveland Plain Dealer at last month's NFL Scouting Combine, the Browns decided not to retain the services of their starting right tackle from a year ago.

    "Right tackle Austin Pasztor is a free agent and I doubt he'll be back with the Browns," he said. "I hear the Browns believe they can find a right tackle from the group of Spencer Drango, Shon Coleman and Cameron Erving. I also hear Erving's days at center are over. Drango and Shon Coleman were rookies last year."

    Erving's days as a starter should be over. But I digress.

    Sure enough, the Browns haven't made any real effort to bring back Pasztor. And as free agency's third week begins the 26-year-old still doesn't have a home for 2017.

    Granted, no one is going to confuse Pasztor with Joe Thomas anytime soon. But in a season filled with awful for the Browns in 2016 Pasztor was quietly decent. Although he allowed five sacks in about 950 snaps in his first season as a tackle, Pasztor ranked 35th at the position per the graders at Pro Football Focus.

    That's a higher grade than Kelvin Beachum, Riley Reiff and Russell Okung, each of whom received big contracts this year in free agency.

    Pasztor might not be a worldbeater, but he's a capable NFL starter who can play both guard and tackle who is just now entering the prime of his career.

    Given that, the fact he remains unsigned is one of free agency's bigger surprises two weeks in.

Ryan Clady

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    Ryan Clady's inclusion here says more about the picked-over free agents at tackle than it does about how much help Clady might actually provide an NFL team in 2017.

    There was a time when there's no chance Clady would still be on the open market two weeks into free agency. The 30-year-old has been to four Pro Bowls. In 2012, Clady ranked third in the league among tackles at Pro Football Focus. In over 1,100 snaps that year, Clady allowed only one sack.

    However, that heyday was a long time ago. In the four seasons since 2012, Clady has missed 37 of a possible 64 games, including eight last year with a torn rotator cuff.  In about 530 snaps for the New York Jets in 2016, Clady ranked outside PFF's top 50.

    Simply put, it appears that all the injuries have taken their toll on Clady. He's had a Lisfranc injury and missed all of the 2015 season with a torn ACL. Last year was supposed to provide him the opportunity to get his career back on track.

    Instead, he didn't look the same as pre-ACL tear and got hurt again.

    And yet, as ESPN's Sheil Kapadia reported, the Seattle Seahawks had Clady in for a visit last week, and he probably won't be out of work much longer.

    We've already seen an average left tackle (Riley Reiff) get a contract from the Minnesota Vikings that pays him well in excess of $10 million a season.

    Another average tackle (Russell Okung) got even more. The Los Angeles Chargers handed him over $13 million a season, making him the NFL's highest-paid tackle in terms of average annual salary.

    Teams who need help at tackle will reach in an attempt to get it, especially in a year where the draft class at the position isn't considered especially deep or talented.

    Add in that the argument can be made that Clady, in his heyday, was a better lineman than Reiff or Okung has ever been, and it's possible (if he can stay healthy) that Clady could be a bit of a steal for his new team.

    Still, that's a 315-pound "if."

Brandon Flowers

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    There was a time when Brandon Flowers was one of the better cornerbacks in the National Football League.

    In both 2011 and 2012, the 31-year-old was a top-10 performer at his position per Pro Football Focus while with the Kansas City Chiefs. As recently as 2014 (Flowers' first season in San Diego), he cracked the top 15.

    Unfortunately, 2014 was also the last season Flowers didn't miss a substantial part of the season. The nine-year veteran has missed 15 games over the past two years, and Flowers played in a career-low six games with the Chargers in 2016.

    That lack of durability led to Flowers being released by the now-Los Angeles Chargers, and his lengthy injury history (he's played in all 16 games only once in nine NFL seasons) is likely the reason why Flowers has remained on the free agent vine through the first two weeks.

    See what I did there.

    However, when healthy Flowers remains a capable veteran cover man with 21 career interceptions. He only played in about 350 snaps last year for the Bolts, but his grade in that time at PFF was better than Trumaine Johnson of the Los Angeles Rams.

    And Logan Ryan, who just signed a new deal with the Tennessee Titans at $10 million a season.

    And Stephon Gilmore, whose new pact with the New England Patriots contained $40 million in guarantees.

    Per ESPN's Jeremy Fowler the Pittsburgh Steelers have reached out to Flowers, and with the free agent cornerbacks already pretty picked over it's just a matter of time until interest in him blooms.

    OK. I'll stop now.

Elvis Dumervil

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    In the history of the NFL, 31 men have recorded 100 or more sacks.

    OK, it's more than that. Sacks didn't become an official statistic until 1982. In fact, if you asked Deacon Jones (may he rest in peace) he'd have told you 100 was a decent season for him.

    The next time Elvis Dumervil gets to a quarterback, he'll join that club.

    It's possible he'll still do so for the team that just let him go. As ESPN's Jamison Hensley wrote, when the Baltimore Ravens released Dumervil earlier this month general manager Ozzie Newsome both lauded Dumervil's service and left the door open for his return.

    "Elvis Dumervil has been a leader for us on and off the field. He has made a positive impression on our franchise, and we have been fortunate to have him as a Raven," general manager Ozzie Newsome said. We respect his professionalism and the way he plays the game, in addition to his extensive charitable efforts that have greatly impacted our Baltimore community and his parents' native country of Haiti. We have not closed the door on the possibility of him returning in the future."

    The cold hard truth is that at first glance in 2016, Dumervil looked his age. The 33-year-old managed only three sacks in eight games last year, the lowest totals in both categories of his 11-year NFL career.

    However, while Dumervil was only on the field for about 275 snaps, he was effective when he was out there. Dumervil ranked 26th among 3-4 outside linebackers at Pro Football Focus, and his pass rush productivity (a metric that "measures pressure created on a per snap basis with weighting toward sacks") ranked higher than Chandler Jones of the Arizona Cardinals, Clay Matthews of the Green Bay Packers and Jadeveon Clowney of the Houston Texans.

    Dumervil may well never recapture the form that saw him post 17 sacks back in 2014. And his days as an every-down force are likely at an end.

    But the five-time Pro Bowler can still be effective as a situational pass-rusher.

    And the number of teams in the market for one of those generally sits at about 32.

Jay Cutler

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    It's no secret that NFL teams who don't have a "franchise" quarterback are 37 kinds of desperate to obtain one.

    And yet, despite 139 starts for the Denver Broncos and Chicago Bears over 11 NFL seasons, Jay Cutler is still looking for work.

    Partly, Cutler is a victim of situation. Rebuilding teams aren't bending over backwards to to sign a player who turns 34 years old next month.

    That leaves potential landing spots like Houston and maybe even Denver, where Cutler spent his first three years in the league.

    But Cutler's tenure in the Mile High City ended badly. And John McClain of the Houston Chronicle doesn't believe Cutler's personality would be a good fit with Bill O' Brien and the Texans.

    "I don’t see Jay Cutler here," he said. "A lot of teams are trying to say it . Here’s why, Bill O’Brien is a stickler. Every time you ask him about a quarterback, leadership is strong with him. He likes players to be vocal. To be demonstrative. To be vocal in meeting rooms when they’re going over game plans. But everything we know about Jay Cutler, that’s not him. Leadership and Cutler have never been used in the same sentence. And that’s why I don’t see Cutler coming here. It would be a desperate move. I know he would like to come here. He don’t want to go to a team that’s bad. He wants to come to a team that’s good. Denver’s not interested and so far the Texans haven’t been. And I don’t believe the Texans will be.”

    However, while Cutler's personality has long been criticized, it's not like he's awful. Cutler missed 11 games last year, but the season before he completed nearly 65 percent of his passes. In each of his past two full seasons Cutler's thrown 10 more touchdowns than interceptions with a passer rating either just above or just below 90.

    Piling on Cutler has become a sport within a sport in the NFL. And he's not Tom Brady. But he ain't Tom Savage either.

    We might not see movement here until after the Tony Romo saga concludes, but here's a cold dose of reality: If you're an NFL team in "win now" mode looking for an upgrade at quarterback, the list of names available isn't long.

    And as things stand today Cutler sits atop it.

T.J. McDonald

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    Based on the free-agent rankings at ESPN, there isn't a better player available on the open market than former Los Angeles Rams safety T.J. McDonald. McDonald entered free agency ranked 27th on their top 150 list, and is the highest-ranked player still looking for work.

    There's plenty to like about the 26-year-old. He was a four-year starter for the Rams, and back in 2014 McDonald piled up over 100 stops. He's chipped in five sacks and four interceptions over that span.

    However, if you look past the surface statistics some of the shine starts to come off the youngster. In that 2014 season in which McDonald had 105 tackles he ranked as the 39th qualifying safety at Pro Football Focus. That's not a terrible ranking, but it isn't great either.

    That's the highest ranking of his career. Last year McDonald checked in 54th.

    However, in at least one important regard McDonald did get better in his fourth NFL season. His coverage grade ranked him inside in the top 25 among safeties, and in today's NFL of spread offenses and field-stretching tight ends it's more important than ever that safeties not be liabilities when asked to cover those tight ends and backs.

    All in all, Gregg Rosental and Chris Wesseling of NFL.com believe that teams looking to bolster the back end could be well-served by bringing some golden arches on board.

    "Teams looking for a tone-setting presence in the secondary could do a lot worse than McDonald," they said, "whose de-cleating darts into opposing backfields make up for his allowing the occasional big play."

    The first wave of free agency came and went though without McDonald landing a deal, so we might be looking at some disparity between what McDonald's angling to get in his new deal and what teams are willing to spend.

Zach Brown

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    Zach Brown wasn't supposed to even be a starter in 2016.

    But after rookie Reggie Ragland went down for the season in training camp, Brown was thrust into a starting role for the Buffalo Bills.

    To say he rose to the occasion would be an understatement.

    Brown led the AFC in tackles in 2016 with 149, adding four sacks, two forced fumbles and an interception. The 27-year-old finished the season 12th among all inside linebackers at Pro Football Focus.

    However, it was also easily the best season of Brown's five-year NFL career following four years with the Tennessee Titans that could most aptly be described as uneven.

    That possibility of a "fluke" year may be responsible for the slow market for Brown's services to date. Apparently, so may his contract demands.

    It appeared that Brown might have found an ideal landing spot with an Oakland Raiders team with a big hole at inside linebacker.

    But Brown's visit to the Bay Area didn't go well. ESPN's Adam Caplan tweeted after Brown visited with the team that an agreement with the Raiders "looks like a no-go right now," and as Kevin Bollard of 247 Sports wrote Brown made a couple of cryptic statements on Twitter that may indicate he felt like he was low-balled by the Raiders.

    It's the annual staring contest between NFL teams leery of overpaying players for one season's production and players who believe that season merits a fat payday.

    At this point it may just be a matter of waiting to see who blinks first.

Adrian Peterson

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    Joe Montana in Kansas City. Jerry Rice in Oakland. Bruce Smith in Washington.

    It's a harsh reality in the modern NFL. Even superstars aren't immune to the financial considerations that often lead to aging players finishing their careers elsewhere.

    As such, former Minnesota Vikings great Cris Carter told Chris Tomasson of the St. Paul Pioneer-Press that he wasn't surprised to see the Vikings part ways with Adrian Peterson, who is arguably the best player in franchise history.

    “I didn’t think (Peterson) would finish his career with the Vikings,’’ Carter said. “If you look at the number of times he’s been injured the last couple of years and then also the price, what’s going to be your price point?’’ Carter said. “Eventually, everybody has an expiration date, including Adrian. I think the Vikings have gone about it the right way. I’m sure Adrian wanted to play for something significant (in salary).”

    Not only did the Vikings cut bait, but the market for Peterson's services to date has been whisper-quiet. The 31-year-old has made only  single known visit (to Seattle), and the Seahawks went another direction with Eddie Lacy.

    Still, despite Peterson's age and the fact he's missed two of the last three seasons, Carter said he believes the NFL's 16th-ranked all-time rusher still has something left in the tank.

    “I think he has some football left in him,’’ Carter said. “I think football is a game that’s very, very hard if you don’t practice. Adrian hasn’t practiced a lot the last two years, so I think it’s affected his overall ability to be effective in the game.’’

    Maybe he's right. Those two lost seasons meant less wear-and-tear on Peterson's body. And as recently as 2015 he gained almost 1,500 yards on the ground.

    However, before tearing his meniscus last year Peterson averaged fewer than two yards a carry, and the decline of running backs isn't always gradual.

    Ask Shaun Alexander.

    Were Peterson to sign with Oakland or Green Bay and peel off one last big season, it would be hailed as the biggest signing of free agency in 2017.

    But it's equally possible he's done—which leaves NFL suitors wrestling with a difficult and risky decision.

Nick Mangold

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    Nick Mangold didn't expect to even be a free agent in 2017.

    As the veteran center told Steve Serby of the New York Post, he was floored when he discovered that the veteran purge the Jets underwent this year included him.

    “I was hoping there was going to be a negotiation of some sort to get something worked out,” Mangold said. “But when you’re told, ‘Hey, we’re cutting you, and good luck,’ that really caught me off guard. It’s definitely going to be different. I’ve worn the same uniform for 11 years, which is the longest I’ve ever worn a uniform, even going back to my grade-school days. I only wore the same uniform going to school for eight years. It’s going to be a difficult transition.”

    Mangold struggled in 2016, missing half the season with an ankle injury and checking in 25th among all centers per Pro Football Focus. Given those struggles and Mangold's age (33), it's not shocking that he's yet to land a new team.

    However, given that it's also possible that Mangold just had a down year (in the 10 seasons before it he missed four games total), there's ample reason for teams to consider bringing Mangold into the fold.

    This isn't to say that Mangold's still the player he once was. It's been a good log while since Mangold was last named a first-team All Pro—2010, to be exact.

    However, the seven-time Pro Bowler earned a trip to Honolulu as recently as 2015, and in 2014 only Travis Frederick of the Dallas Cowboys earned a higher grade among centers at Pro Football Focus.

    Mangold made it clear that he's not ready to ride off into the sunset just yet.

    “I still feel that I got a couple of good years left in me,” Mangold said. “I still love the game. It’s still a great passion of mine. So hopefully the right situation comes along, and be able to find a team that I can carry that on with."

    He'll get that chance. It's just a matter of where.

Johnathan Hankins

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    Johnathan Hankins is looking to get paid in free agency this year.

    P-A-I-D...paid.

    According to Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald, the 24-year-old defensive tackle is believed to be seeking a multi-year deal that pays in excess of $8 million a season.

    Jordan Ranaan of ESPN tweeted that number is higher still—over $10 million a year.

    Of course, what Hankins wants and what he'll be able to get aren't necessarily the same thing. And with free agency two weeks old and Hankins still available, Ranaan believes the stage may be set for a return to the Giants even after the team handed over $60 million to Jason Pierre-Paul.

    "Every day that Johnathan Hankins remains unsigned," he wrote, "the odds increase that he returns to the Giants. I would put it at about 50-50 right now. A market isn't going to all of a sudden emerge if it's not there right now. It certainly helps that the Giants have more money available than last week with an estimated $11 million under the salary cap. They made an offer to Hankins earlier in this process that was not accepted. It's possible that offer still sits on the table, or more likely that Hankins realizes he's not getting the mega-deal he expected and decides the best place for him is to return to a potentially dominant Giants defensive front. There, he can shine on a one-year deal and re-enter free agency next year in position to land that desirable long-term deal."

    It isn't that Hankins isn't a talented young three-technique. In 2014 Hankins piled up seven sacks and ranked sixth among all defensive tackles at PFF. He missed almost half the season the following year, but still graded out inside the top 20.

    However, there have been downs to go with the ups. Hankins played in all 16 games for the Giants last year, but his PFF grade free-fell outside the top 50.

    In other words, while Hankins has shown the potential to be an elite DT, he doesnt necessarily deserve to be paid like one yet.

    Even if he's the top free agent left.

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