NFL Free Agency 2017: An Early Breakdown of This Year's Class

Gary Davenport@@IDPSharksNFL AnalystJanuary 3, 2017

NFL Free Agency 2017: An Early Breakdown of This Year's Class

0 of 14

    Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    After 17 weeks, 512 games and over 30,000 minutes of play, the 2016 NFL regular season is over.

    For 12 fortunate and successful franchises, the fun is only beginning. Teams from Dallas to Seattle and New England to Oakland are about to begin the postseason tournament, a single-elimination slugfest that will culminate in Houston at Super Bowl LI.

    For everyone else, it's the end of the line—for some more than others.

    The new league year doesn't technically start until March, but many players have already begun a waiting game of sorts. Those players, you see, are about to hit free agency. Some will hit the jackpot. Others may see their NFL careers come to an end. Most will fall somewhere in between.

    This year's class has a bit of everything, from record-setting quarterbacks who won't sniff the open market to Pro Bowl pass-rushers who just might. Need a productive wide receiver or a veteran pass-blocker? The NFL's free-agent emporium has you covered.

    Some fans will say it's too early to look ahead at the best of this class. Those fans also likely root for teams that are still alive. Supporters of the Cleveland Browns and San Francisco 49ers can't wait to forget about 2016 and look ahead to 2017.

    So let's do that with an early breakdown of the best of the impending unrestricted free-agent crop.

Quarterback

1 of 14

    Alex Brandon/Associated Press
    1. Kirk Cousins, Washington Redskins
    2. Brian Hoyer, Chicago Bears
    3. Mike Glennon, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
    4. Ryan Fitzpatrick, New York Jets
    5. Case Keenum, Los Angeles Rams

    You know a list isn't overly impressive when Case Keenum is on it. And the list of signal-callers set to hit the open market gets that much less impressive when you consider the chances of Kirk Cousins seeing free agency are approximately 0.0 percent.

    After backing up last year's performance and setting a new franchise record for passing yardage in a season, Cousins brought the Washington Redskins to the brink of making the playoffs in consecutive seasons for the first time in 24 years before coming up short against the New York Giants.

    Does that sound like the sort of player Washington would let so much as sniff free agency?

    Sure enough, Bleacher Report's Jason Cole reported back in November that the Redskins are strongly considering placing the franchise tag on Cousins a second time. It's a spendy proposition, but less so than a megadeal would be.

    After Cousins, things on this list quickly sour. There's a low-upside veteran in Brian Hoyer, a no-upside retread in Ryan Fitzpatrick and Keenum.

    It says something about how desperate NFL teams without a "franchise" quarterback are to land one that Mike Glennon, he of the 18 career starts and passer rating south of 85, could command $13-$15 million per season in free agency, according to Adam Schefter of ESPN.com.

    I guess they haven't heard of Brock Osweiler.

    Still, there's a good chance NFL teams that want a new quarterback might be able to land one via another route. A used Jay Cutler. A scratch-and-dent Tony Romo perhaps. Maybe one of those Jimmy Garoppolos we've heard so much about.

    It's just going to take the right trade bait to land one.

    Best of the Rest: Matt Barkley, Chicago Bears; Matt Cassel, Tennessee Titans; Blaine Gabbert, San Francisco 49ers; Landry Jones, Pittsburgh Steelers; Ryan Mallett, Baltimore Ravens; EJ Manuel, Buffalo Bills; Matt McGloin, Oakland Raiders; Kellen Moore, Dallas Cowboys; Mark Sanchez, Dallas Cowboys; Geno Smith, New York Jets

Running Back

2 of 14

    Marc Serota/Associated Press
    1. Le'Veon Bell, Pittsburgh Steelers
    2. LeGarrette Blount, New England Patriots
    3. Eddie Lacy, Green Bay Packers
    4. Latavius Murray, Oakland Raiders
    5. Danny Woodhead, San Diego Chargers

    Le'Veon Bell of the Pittsburgh Steelers isn't just the top free-agent running back of 2017. Relative to the other players available, he may well be the most talented player about to hit the open market, period.

    Of course, there's little chance that happens.

    Per Chris Mortensen and Adam Schefter of ESPN.com, the Steelers are expected to apply the franchise tag to Bell after a 2016 season in which he gained 1,268 yards on the ground in just 12 games and averaged a robust 4.9 yards per carry.

    It's an expensive move, but one that makes sense. Over $12 million is a lot to pay a tailback for one season, but the tag offers the Steelers a measure of protection against Bell's rather lengthy injury and suspension history.

    LeGarrette Blount's future is less certain. The veteran bruiser led the NFL with 18 rushing touchdowns in 2016, but he's on the wrong side of 30 and spent the first month of free agency last year looking for work before the Patriots brought him back on a one-year deal.

    Things don't get any more certain farther down the list. Both Eddie Lacy of the Green Bay Packers and Latavius Murray of the Oakland Raiders have 1,000-yard seasons on their resumes, but both have also had trouble staying on the field. The San Diego Chargers' Danny Woodhead is one of the best pass-catching backs in football, but he's 31 and has lost two of the past three years to major injuries.

    It's free agency in a nutshell. Potential meets risk. Talent plus uncertainty.

    At fullback, Baltimore's Kyle Juszczyk is easily the best player available. But given his importance to the Ravens and the lack of weight the position carries in free agency today, odds are good he isn't going anywhere.

    Best of the Rest: Matt Asiata, Minnesota Vikings; Rex Burkhead, Cincinnati Bengals; Travaris Cadet, New Orleans Saints; Knile Davis, Kansas City Chiefs; Lance Dunbar, Dallas Cowboys; Andre Ellington, Arizona Cardinals; Tim Hightower, New Orleans Saints; Darren McFadden, Dallas Cowboys; Christine Michael, Green Bay Packers; Jacquizz Rodgers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers; DeAngelo Williams, Pittsburgh Steelers

Wide Receiver

3 of 14

    Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press
    1. Alshon Jeffery, Chicago Bears
    2. Terrelle Pryor, Cleveland Browns
    3. DeSean Jackson, Washington Redskins
    4. Pierre Garcon, Washington Redskins
    5. Kenny Britt, Los Angeles Rams

    Now this is an interesting list. There's some serious meat on the bone at the wide receiver position in free agency in 2017.

    2016 was supposed to essentially be a formality for Alshon Jeffery of the Chicago Bears: Play the season under the franchise tag, show he can stay healthy and reap the whirlwind in the spring.

    Instead, the 26-year-old earned a four-game suspension for performance-enhancing drugs and missed the 1,000-yard mark for the second consecutive season. Now Jeffery's future is cloudier than ever.

    Things may not have gone according to plan for Jeffery, but they went better than anyone dared hope for Terrelle Pryor.

    In a dark season for the Browns, Pryor was a rare bright spot—a 27-year-old who entered 2016 a converted quarterback trying to salvage his career and left it a dangerous vertical threat at wide receiver who topped 1,000 yards despite the Browns' pathetic quarterback play.

    Demand will be high for Pryor's services, but the Browns have more cap space than any team in the NFL. They can easily afford to keep himand desperately need to.

    Then there's DeSean Jackson, who just posted his fifth 1,000-yard season and second since joining the Redskins back in 2014.

    As Corey Seidman of CSN Philly wrote, there may be a homecoming in the works for the 30-year-old, who reportedly told former teammates LeSean McCoy and Brandon Graham he'd like to re-sign with the Philadelphia Eagles in the offseason. Graham said during an appearance on CSN Philly:

    I'm just happy because I kinda knew already. I've talked to him. I talked to him when Doug (Pederson) got hired. He was like, 'Tell Coach come get me.' We have fun during the season. He's like, 'B.G., I'll be back.' But now that it's official, as far as the season about to be over, I think you'll be hearing a lot of noise about DeSean. ... I'm saying official as far as the end of season, now we're gonna really see.

    We'll see indeed. And with both Jackson and Pierre Garcon about to hit free agency after 1,000-yard seasons, the Redskins may soon be in full-blown scramble mode at wide receiver.

    Best of the Rest: Kamar Aiken, Baltimore Ravens; Anquan Boldin, Detroit Lions; Michael Floyd, New England Patriots; Ted Ginn Jr., Carolina Panthers; Vincent Jackson, Tampa Bay Buccaneers; Jeremy Kerley, San Francisco 49ers; Brandon LaFell, Cincinnati Bengals; Cordarrelle Patterson, Minnesota Vikings; Brian Quick, Los Angeles Rams; Kenny Stills, Miami Dolphins; Markus Wheaton, Pittsburgh Steelers; Terrance Williams, Dallas Cowboys; Robert Woods, Buffalo Bills; Kendall Wright, Tennessee Titans

Tight End

4 of 14

    Steven Senne/Associated Press
    1. Martellus Bennett, New England Patriots
    2. Jack Doyle, Indianapolis Colts
    3. Vernon Davis, Washington Redskins
    4. Jared Cook, Green Bay Packers
    5. Jacob Tamme, Atlanta Falcons

    As deep as the free-agent talent pool is at wide receiver, it's equally shallow at tight end.

    There are a pair of veterans in Martellus Bennett of the New England Patriots and Vernon Davis of the Redskins who have the potential to be the sort of field-stretching mismatch every team wants at the position.

    However, Davis is on the wrong side of 30, while Bennett turns 30 in March, and both had problems staying on the field in 2016.

    Jack Doyle is coming off a career year with 59 grabs for 584 yards and five touchdowns for the Indianapolis Colts. But teams are going to be understandably leery of shelling out big money for a player who amassed 209 receiving yards in his first three NFL seasons combined.

    Then there's Jared Cook. There was a time when the belief was that Cook had the potential to become one of the league's best. Some may still believe it. After all, Cook has shown flashes of being that guy this year for the Packers.

    But production has never met potential with the 29-year-old Cook, who is now on his third NFL team.

    Long story short, if you're an NFL team with a big deficiency at the tight end position in 2017, your best bet at filling that hole probably lies with O.J. Howard or David Njoku and the NFL draft.

    Best of the Rest: Jordan Cameron, Miami Dolphins; Larry Donnell, New York Giants; Gavin Escobar, Dallas Cowboys; Jermaine Gresham, Arizona Cardinals; Ryan Griffin, Houston Texans; Mychal Rivera, Oakland Raiders; Will Tye, New York Giants; Luke Willson, Seattle Seahawks

Offensive Tackle

5 of 14

    Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press
    1. Riley Reiff, Detroit Lions
    2. Ricky Wagner, Baltimore Ravens
    3. Andrew Whitworth, Cincinnati Bengals
    4. William Beatty, New York Giants
    5. Matt Kalil, Minnesota Vikings

    This top-five listing of the top offensive tackles available in free agency is a wish list in the truest sense, because the odds of more than maybe one or two of these players seeing the open market are slim. NFL teams are loathe to let even semi-competent offensive linemen test free agency, much less leave.

    Despite the fact that Riley Reiff has allowed four sacks and 38 hurries while ranking 52nd among eligible tackles at Pro Football Focus, the Detroit Lions will all but certainly bring him back. If they aren't willing to pay the 28-year-old, you can bet someone is.

    Ricky Wagner of the Ravens is a top-25 tackle playing for a team that can't afford to lose any more linemen after Kelechi Osemele departed last year.

    Players like that aren't allowed to leave.

    The Cincinnati Bengals' Andrew Whitworth has the highest grade of the lot. In fact, there isn't an offensive tackle in the AFC with a better one in 2016. However, Whitworth allowed to WCPO that last Sunday's game against Baltimore may have been his last with the Bengals.

    "I think it's definitely in the back of your mind. You try to keep it there until the game is over, and you play the way you want to play," he said.

    Why would the Bengals consider parting ways with Whitworth? He's a 35-year-old tackle playing for a frugal team with younger, cheaper depth behind him; that's why.

    Best of the Rest: Mike Adams, Chicago Bears, Byron Bell, Tennessee Titans; Gosder Cherilus, Tampa Bay Buccaneers; Jake Long, Minnesota Vikings; Jordan Mills, Buffalo Bills; Mike Remmers, Carolina Panthers; Andre Smith, Minnesota Vikings; Bradley Sowell, Seattle Seahawks; Menelik Watson, Oakland Raiders; Eric Winston, Cincinnati Bengals

Offensive Guards

6 of 14

    Winslow Townson/Associated Press
    1. Kevin Zeitler, Cincinnati Bengals
    2. T.J. Lang, Green Bay Packers
    3. Ronald Leary, Dallas Cowboys
    4. Larry Warford, Detroit Lions
    5. Luke Joeckel, Jacksonville Jaguars

    By most indications, Kevin Zeitler of the Bengals is just the sort of lineman most teams re-up long before free agency gets underway.

    Zeitler is a 26-year-old former first-round pick who has been as consistent as he's been durable over his first five NFL seasons. He was named a Pro Bowl alternate after ranking fourth at his position in 2016, per the graders at PFF.

    And yet it's possible Zeitler could be playing elsewhere in 2017. If he gets to the open market at all, it's more probable than possible. Between his age and skill level, Zeitler will command a pretty penny in free agency—think the five-year, $58.5 million deal Kelechi Osemele signed with the Raiders a year ago.

    The Bengals are not a team that's historically prone to dishing out contracts of that robust size.

    When the Jacksonville Jaguars drafted Luke Joeckel No. 2 overall back in 2013, they no doubt figured they'd be preparing to sign him to just such a contract this offseason.

    But Joeckel hasn't come close to playing up to his draft slot, and two of his four seasons have ended early due to major injuries. With Kelvin Beachum on the team, Jacksonville kicked Joeckel inside to guard in 2016. A knee injury ended the experiment in October.

    If Joeckel wants to play tackle again, it's going to be for a new team—which creates potentially one of the most interesting subplots of free agency in 2017.

    Will Joeckel's draft slot and pedigree combine to make NFL teams forget four seasons that have been mostly, well, forgettable? Might Joeckel get his big contract anyway—a deal based more on hope than accomplishment?

    He might—but the team that gives it to him is going to regret it.

    Best of the Rest: Jermon Bushrod, Miami Dolphins; Chris Chester, Atlanta Falcons; Vladimir Ducasse, Baltimore Ravens; Jahri Evans, New Orleans Saints; Ted Larsen, Chicago Bears; Evan Mathis, Arizona Cardinals; Austin Pasztor, Cleveland Browns; Hugh Thornton, Indianapolis Colts; Chance Warmack, Tennessee Titans; Brian Winters, New York Jets

Center

7 of 14

    Jeffrey Phelps/Associated Press
    1. J.C. Tretter, Green Bay Packers
    2. A.Q. Shipley, Arizona Cardinals
    3. Joe Hawley, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
    4. Brian Schwenke, Tennessee Titans
    5. John Sullivan, Washington Redskins

    There are some positions in free agency that have deeper pools of talent than others. Center is not one of those positions. In fact, the pool is more like a puddle.

    That isn't to say there's nothing to see in the middle of the offensive line. It's even possible that teams looking to upgrade at center might be able to sign away the pick of the free-agent litter—if only because general manager Ted Thompson has been historically reluctant to open Green Bay's checkbook.

    That's the decision facing the Packers with J.C. Tretter this offseason. The 25-year-old wasn't a world-beater in his first year as a starter. But he was relatively solid, rating 13th at his position, per PFF, in just under 500 snaps.

    However, Tretter hasn't played since Week 8, and his youth and talent might not be enough to overcome his knee injury and the Packers' free-agent frugality.

    A.Q. Shipley of the Arizona Cardinals has been more durable and nearly as effective, but he's 30.

    That's the thing at center in 2017. Every impending free agent has warts. There's no Alex Mack this season.

    And that will keep the bidding to a much lower level this year than last.

    Best of the Rest: Cody Wallace, Pittsburgh Steelers; Ryan Wendell, Carolina Panthers

Defensive End

8 of 14

    John Froschauer/Associated Press
    1. Calais Campbell, Arizona Cardinals
    2. Jason Pierre-Paul, New York Giants
    3. Jabaal Sheard, New England Patriots
    4. Andre Branch, Miami Dolphins
    5. Devin Taylor, Detroit Lions

    Where free-agent defensive ends are concerned, there are two clear top dogs—one for each defensive scheme.

    Sure, Calais Campbell of the Cardinals is still searching for his first 10-sack season. Odds are pretty good he'll never notch one. But stats don't begin to tell the story of the impact the 30-year-old has on the field. He's the highest-graded 3-4 defensive end at PFF in 2016 by a wide margin.

    Campbell admitted to Adam Green of Arizona Sports that he's unsure if he's played his last game for the Redbirds.

    "I have no idea—the harsh reality is it could be," he said. "I really hope it’s not, but we’ll see how that goes come offseason."

    There may be some questions about where Campbell will be playing next year, but one thing is certain—his paycheck will exceed the $11 million he made in 2016.

    It's good work if you can get it.

    For a time, Jason Pierre-Paul appeared to be headed for a similarly staggering payday. After the 28-year-old piled up 5.5 sacks over a two-game stretch in November, it looked like he had fully recovered from the horrific hand injury he suffered in July 2015.

    Then Pierre-Paul suffered a core muscle injury—a painful reminder of the durability concerns that have plagued his seven-year career.

    There are also options for NFL teams looking to bolster the pass rush without breaking the bank. Miami's Andre Branch, Detroit's Devin Taylor and New England's Jabaal Sheard have all shown flashes as pass-rushers but have struggled with consistency.

    That inconsistency will hurt their asking price on the open market, but all three have the potential to serve as good complementary players on the defensive front.

    Best of the Rest: Mario Addison, Carolina Panthers; Chris Baker, Washington Redskins; Jack Crawford, Dallas Cowboys; William Gholston, Tampa Bay Buccaneers; Lawrence Guy, Baltimore Ravens; Charles Johnson, Carolina Panthers; Jason Jones, Miami Dolphins; Dion Jordan, Miami Dolphins; Chris Long, New England Patriots; Damontre Moore, Seattle Seahawks

Defensive Tackle

9 of 14

    Bob Leverone/Associated Press
    1. Kawann Short, Carolina Panthers
    2. Dontari Poe, Kansas City Chiefs
    3. Johnathan Hankins, New York Giants
    4. Bennie Logan, Philadelphia Eagles
    5. Nick Fairley, New Orleans Saints

    At the outset of the 2016 season, it appeared Kawann Short of the Carolina Panthers was going to be one of the biggest winners of free agency in 2017. The 27-year-old was coming off a Super Bowl run in which he led the Panthers pass rush with 11 sacks.

    If Short could have backed those numbers up in a contract year, the sky was the limit where his next deal was concerned.

    But Short didn't back those numbers up. This isn't to say he had a bad season by any stretch of the imagination. Only Aaron Donald of the Los Angeles Rams and Ndamukong Suh of the Dolphins received higher grades from PFF among defensive tackles than Short.

    However, like many of the Panthers, Short struggled to make the kind of impact plays that were a fixture of his 2015 campaign. Short's sack numbers were cut nearly in half, and three of those sacks came after Week 13.

    Is that dip in statistical production going to leave Kawann Short on cash? Probably not. Stats don't tell the whole story of a beefeater's effectiveness, and the number of teams searching for a disruptive force on the interior is a lot longer than the list of teams that have one.

    Add in that none of the other tackles in this year's group of free agents can come close to matching Short's upside as a pass-rusher, and somebody's agent is going to be a busy man come March...

    Shopping for a new boat.

    Best of the Rest: Tyson Alualu, Jacksonville Jaguars; Alan Branch, New England Patriots; Karl Klug, Tennessee Titans; Domata Peko, Cincinnati Bengals; Frostee Rucker, Arizona Cardinals; Vince Wilfork, Houston Texans; Sylvester Williams, Denver Broncos

Inside Linebacker

10 of 14

    David Richard/Associated Press
    1. Jamie Collins, Cleveland Browns
    2. Dont'a Hightower, New England Patriots
    3. Zach Brown, Buffalo Bills
    4. Lawrence Timmons, Pittsburgh Steelers
    5. Perry Riley, Oakland Raiders

    The crop of talent available in free agency at inside linebacker is as deep as any position in the NFL in 2017.

    Unfortunately, it's a case of a list being full of sound and fury but signifying nothing, as it's rather unlikely the top names are going to hit the open market.

    It was only a couple of months ago that the Browns sent a draft pick to the Patriots to acquire Jamie Collins. It was a move the Browns never would have made if they didn't intend to re-up the 27-year-old, and given that Cleveland has more cap room than any team in the NFL, Collins would have to be willing to leave a lot of coin on the table if he moves on.

    That's not going to happen.

    Neither is Dont'a Hightower leaving Foxborough. The trades that sent Collins to Cleveland and Chandler Jones to the Cardinals left Hightower as the unquestioned leader of the Patriots front seven. After a 2016 season that saw Hightower rank fifth among all inside linebackers at PFF, he's a strong candidate for the franchise tag if a new deal isn't worked out.

    Zach Brown's future didn't look so certain entering 2016. After Buffalo drafted Reggie Ragland, Brown looked headed for a situational role with the Bills, but a knee injury shelved the rookie and thrust Brown into the lineup full time.

    The fifth-year veteran responded by tallying 149 total tackles (first in the AFC), adding four sacks and ranking 12th at his position. It will be interesting to see how the Bills handle their logjam inside.

    The player with the best odds of moving on has to be Lawrence Timmons. The veteran has long been a steady producer on the inside of the Pittsburgh defense, including a 114-tackle 2016 campaign.

    But the 30-year-old counted over $15 million against the cap in 2016, per Over the Cap, and the Steelers have been reluctant in the past to pay big money to aging players.

    Best of the Rest: Gerald Hodges, San Francisco 49ers; A.J. Klein, Carolina Panthers; Rolando McClain, Dallas Cowboys; Kevin Minter, Arizona Cardinals; Sio Moore, Arizona Cardinals; Keenan Robinson, New York Giants; Sean Spence, Tennessee Titans; Manti Te'o, San Diego Chargers; Michael Wilhoite, San Francisco 49ers; Paul Worrilow, Atlanta Falcons

Outside Linebacker

11 of 14

    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press
    1. Chandler Jones, Arizona Cardinals
    2. Malcolm Smith, Oakland Raiders
    3. Melvin Ingram, San Diego Chargers
    4. Nick Perry, Green Bay Packers
    5. Barkevious Mingo, New England Patriots

    There are two separate "classes" of outside linebackers in the NFLthe 3-4 pass-rushers and the 4-3 edge-defenders.

    Each of those camps contains young players who will be in high demand if they hit the open market in March.

    There's a better-than-average chance that doesn't happen with Chandler Jones of the Cardinals. Just as with Jamie Collins in Cleveland, the Cardinals didn't trade for Jones with the intent of just renting him for a year. And while the 2016 season didn't go as planned in the Valley of the Sun, it wasn't Jones' fault. He held up his end of the bargain, tallying 49 tackles and 11 sacks.

    The Chargers aren't any more eager to part ways with outside linebacker Melvin Ingram. The 27-year-old has quietly become the best edge-rusher in the NFL casual fans aren't aware of, piling up 18.5 sacks over the past two seasons.

    However, while many fans might not be aware of Ingram's skills, the rest of the NFL certainly is. And with the Chargers less than $2 million under the projected salary cap, per Spotrac, San Diego may not be able to afford the former South Carolina star.

    For 4-3 teams looking for some help on the weak side, the top available player is easily Malcolm Smith of the Raiders. In Seattle, the Super Bowl XLVIII MVP was a role player—a minor cog in the Legion of Boom.

    In Oakland, Smith has become a linchpin for the Raidersa key component of the team's return to the postseason. A strong argument can be made Smith is Oakland's best defensive player whose name isn't Khalil Mack.

    And as such, the odds that Oakland lets him test the free-agent waters don't appear especially good.

    Best of the Rest: Lorenzo Alexander, Buffalo Bills; Josh Bynes, Detroit Lions; Junior Galette, Washington Redskins; Chad Greenway, Minnesota Vikings; Jelani Jenkins, Miami Dolphins; Datone Jones, Green Bay Packers; Jarvis Jones, Pittsburgh Steelers; Paul Kruger, New Orleans Saints; Courtney Upshaw, Atlanta Falcons; DeMarcus Ware, Denver Broncos; Sean Weatherspoon, Atlanta Falcons

Cornerback

12 of 14

    Kelvin Kuo/Associated Press
    1. Trumaine Johnson, Los Angeles Rams
    2. A.J. Bouye, Houston Texans
    3. Nolan Carroll, Philadelphia Eagles
    4. Stephon Gilmore, Buffalo Bills
    5. Captain Munnerlyn, Minnesota Vikings

    As passing the ball becomes ever more important in the National Football League, so does stopping the pass. That has driven up the demand in free agency for shutdown cornerbacks. Teams salivate over the impact a player like that could have on their defense.

    The sort of impact that Janoris Jenkins has had for the playoff-bound Giants in 2016.

    That demand is going to make A.J. Bouye of the Houston Texans a wealthy man.

    Bouye entered 2016 a little-used third-year pro with eight career starts. He left it as the sixth-ranked player at his position in the league in pass coverage at PFF.

    As Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle wrote, Bouye's progress this season hasn't escaped the notice of head coach Bill O'Brien.

    "He’s had a good year," O'Brien said. "He played well. He had some key pass breakups. ... He’s doing a good job. He’s a very focused guy. Can’t say enough about the way he has played this year."

    Bouye's play also hasn't escaped the eyes of general managers across the NFL. It's entirely possible that Texans GM Rick Smith will go the same route the Rams did with Trumaine Johnson—buying a season by applying the franchise tag to Bouye this spring.

    That extra year produced an uneven season for Johnson and left the Rams facing a tough decision. If they aren't willing to give Johnson a big contract, you can bet the rent someone else will.

    Like I said, cornerbacks are in high demand.

    Best of the Rest: Prince Amukamara, Jacksonville Jaguars; Antwon Blake, Tennessee Titans; Morris Claiborne, Dallas Cowboys; Marcus Cooper, Arizona Cardinals; D.J. Hayden, Oakland Raiders; Dre Kirkpatrick, Cincinnati Bengals; Robert McClain, San Diego Chargers; Josh Robinson, Tampa Bay Buccaneers; Logan Ryan, New England Patriots; Greg Toler, Washington Redskins

Safety

13 of 14

    Chuck Burton/Associated Press
    1. Eric Berry, Kansas City Chiefs
    2. Tony Jefferson, Arizona Cardinals
    3. Barry Church, Dallas Cowboys
    4. Johnathan Cyprien, Jacksonville Jaguars
    5. Quintin Demps, Houston Texans

    Generally speaking, the safety position isn't one that generates a ton of interest in free agency. There aren't usually any monster contracts doled out at the back end of the defense.

    However, if ever there were a season for that to change, 2017 would be it. This year's group of available safeties is loaded with proven talent in the prime of their careers.

    Every player on the list above checked in among the top 12 safeties in the NFL in 2016 at PFF. The top four are all on the right side of 30, and Quintin Demps of the Texans isn't too far past it.

    There's something for everyone. Eric Berry of the Kansas City Chiefs ranked fourth in pass coverage among safeties. Johnathan Cyprien of the Jaguars leads all NFL defensive backs with 128 tackles. Arizona's Tony Jefferson ended the best season of his four-year career with 96 stops.

    The list goes on. Barry Church suffered a broken arm this season, but he's a proven defender who has twice hit triple digits in tackles.

    The "Best of the Rest" list at safety is as deep as the top five at some other positions. Even if the majority of the top five at safety stay put, teams looking to upgrade at the position should be able to do so fairly easily in 2017.

    Best of the Rest: Mike Adams, Indianapolis Colts; Jahleel Addae, San Diego Chargers; Nate Allen, Oakland Raiders; Chris Conte, Tampa Bay Buccaneers; Duron Harmon, New England Patriots; Micah Hyde, Green Bay Packers; Duke Ihenacho, Washington Redskins; Kemal Ishmael, Atlanta Falcons; Rashad Johnson, Tennessee Titans; T.J. McDonald, Los Angeles Rams; D.J. Swearinger, Arizona Cardinals

Kicker/Punter

14 of 14

    Ted S. Warren/Associated Press
    1. Steven Hauschka, PK, Seattle Seahawks
    2. Greg Zuerlein, PK, Los Angeles Rams

    It wasn't that long ago that Seattle's Steven Hauschka would have been thought a prime candidate for the Seahawks franchise tag. It's a relatively inexpensive way for cap-strapped teams to keep reliable kickers on the payroll.

    It's that reliable part that's the problem.

    Hauschka's 89.2 percent success rate on field goals in 2016 fell from 93.5% last year, the second-highest accuracy of his career. Two of his misses in 2016 could have beaten the Cardinals and likely earned the Seahawks a first-round playoff bye. Even more troubling, Hauschka has missed a staggering 10 extra points since the league changed the PAT rule at the beginning of the 2015 season.

    If there's a saving grace for the 31-year-old, it's that the available options outside him are that much worse.

    Any port in a storm, I guess.

    Best of the Rest: You're kidding, right?

🚨 SPORTS NEWS ➡️ YOUR INBOX

The latest in the sports world, emailed daily.


X