NFL Free Agency 2017: The Best Bargain Options for Every Team
NFL free agency will begin on Thursday, when this year's crop of players set to become free agents are free to sign with other teams beginning at 4 p.m. ET.
Of course, we all know that deals are done in spirit, if not to the letter, prior to the beginning of the new league year, as the "legal tampering" period where many of the season's biggest deals get done begins Tuesday.
While those megadeals are always fun to track, there's something to be said for bringing in a free agent on a modest salary to address a team need, and the best general managers can find a diamond in the rough this time of year.
We'll break down a "bargain" free agent every team could identify as an option in free agency this year. While what constitutes a bargain varies from team to team depending on spending habits and available cap space, generally these players would be signed for an average salary of $5 million or less. Certain positions, such as quarterback, would raise that threshold slightly.
All contract details that follow via Spotrac.
Robbie Gould, K
If starting things off with a kicker seems a little crazy, know that the Arizona Cardinals are the only team on this list projected to sign one in free agency.
And while a veteran kicker may not seem like the most important offseason addition for Arizona, Robbie Gould appears on this list because he meets two criteria:
- Bruce Arians revealed at the NFL Scouting Combine he is looking to bring in competition for Chandler Catazaro, who missed seven field goals in 2017.
- Gould would be cheap.
Presumably, the Cardinals are only looking to bring in a veteran on a one-year deal to push Catanzaro in training camp, so Gould could only occupy less than $1 million in cap allotments.
Per Arizona Sports 98.7's John Gambadoro, Arizona could look at Gould, Phil Dawson or Greg Zuerlein, but Gould, who is coming off a one-year deal with the New York Giants, seems the least likely to be re-signed.
Terrell McClain, DT
The Atlanta Falcons were two quarters away from winning Super Bowl LI, but their young defense fell apart in the second half of that game.
Bringing in a veteran defensive tackle to help lead on the interior is likely one of Atlanta's priorities in free agency, and while it could spend a lot of money to do so, the Cowboys' Terrell McClain could be a more affordable option.
Per Yahoo Sports' Eric Edholm, the interest is there. Atlanta had to have taken notice of how McClain stepped up in 2016, improving the run defense and notching 2.5 sacks.
However, McClain has started just 27 games in his six-year NFL career, so he's not necessarily going to earn a huge payday. That could mean Atlanta has the opportunity to sign a rising star to an affordable long-term deal.
Kamar Aiken, WR
The Ravens can't afford to be very active in free agency; the team is only projected to have $15.2 million in cap space to work with.
So while Baltimore may be doing more cutting (or letting players walk) than signing this year, there's a cost-effective move it could make at a position of need: retaining one of its own impending free agents in Kamar Aiken.
While Baltimore will need to draft a receiver early, re-signing Aiken keeps the receivers group from being weakened even further after Steve Smith's retirement.
Speaking of Smith, he's likely the reason Aiken only saw 29 receptions in 2016. If the Ravens can work out a team-friendly deal, keeping Aiken is a strength in a cash-strapped year.
Victor Cruz, WR
After six years, Victor Cruz's time with the New York Giants has come to a close.
The veteran wideout has been hampered by injuries and hasn't recorded much production in the last three seasons. However, there are still teams who could be interested in Cruz's services, and the Buffalo Bills are one of them. Cruz, whose last deal with the Giants averaged $8.6 million, is past the point of earning a big payday.
But if Cruz can accept his future role as primarily a secondary receiver and is amenable to being paid in the range of what Danny Amendola, a similar player at a similar age, makes ($4 million per year), he could be a nice option to supplement Buffalo's offense.
Ryan Clady, LT
The Panthers could go a couple directions with their first-round selection at No. 8 overall, but let's assume that they select a running back. That means the team could look to address its shortcomings along the offensive line, beginning in free agency.
Carolina isn't going to find a "budget" starting left tackle in free agency to replace Michael Oher, who remains in the league's concussion protocol. But the Panthers can still find someone to pay less than Oher was scheduled to make: $7.2 million annually.
First, the Panthers will need to re-sign tackle Mike Remmers, who filled in for Oher in 2016, so he can return to his natural position on the right side. As for the left tackle spot, Carolina could look at Ryan Clady.
The veteran tackle could be a stopgap player for the next two to three years. Turning 31 this year and being injury-prone of late means he will be available for a good deal less than the $10 million he was supposed to earn with the New York Jets in 2017.
If the Panthers can get that number below $7 million annually, signing Clady could be the fix they need.
Micah Hyde, DB
The Green Bay Packers are in trouble if they let homegrown, jack-of-all-trades Micah Hyde walk in free agency, but they may be less willing than another team to pay for his second NFL contract.
Could that team be the Chicago Bears? Given how many needs Chicago has in the secondary, it would do well to bring in a player with Hyde's varied skill set.
In Green Bay, Hyde has proved that he can cover the slot, play tight to the line or even man the perimeter as a corner, as he was forced to due to injuries in the Packers secondary in 2016.
Hyde will be in demand if he reaches the open market, but because he has played multiple positions, the current comps may be misleading. Expect Hyde's new deal to average somewhere around $6 million annually.
DeAngelo Williams, RB
The Bengals, who have a reputation for being cost-efficient, if somewhat quiet, in free agency, very much need some help at running back.
Veteran DeAngelo Williams, who, at 33, is looking for potentially his final NFL contract, could be an affordable solution.
In early February, Williams shared on Twitter that he is realistic that something will work out with someone when it comes to his next contract. Perhaps that someone is located in the same division in which he's played for the last two years.
Williams earned $2 million per year on his last deal with the Pittsburgh Steelers; the Bengals might similarly be able to sign him for two years for no more than $5 million total.
D.J. Swearinger, SS
The Browns have the most money to burn in free agency, with a whopping $110 million in cap space. For perspective, the entire NFL salary cap is $167 million.
While some splashy free-agent signings are no doubt in Cleveland's future, the Browns would be wise to be balanced about their offseason spending.
Let's assume Cleveland lands a big-name pass-rusher and guard, which are among two of its biggest needs, and drafts Myles Garrett and a quarterback. The Browns could then add some help for the secondary at a more reasonable cost.
The Browns put a waiver claim on D.J. Swearinger back in 2015. Could they still be interested? According to Bleacher Report's Jason Cole, while Cardinals safety Tony Jefferson is expected to lead the free-agent safety market at $7 million annually, others will go closer to $5.5 million.
That's the right price for Cleveland, if Swearinger is on its list.
Levine Toilolo, TE
Cowboys veteran Jason Witten is entering his 15th season in the NFL and is under contract for one more year with the club. Dallas is going to have to start looking for a succession plan, as James Hanna and Geoff Swaim don't seem to be it.
The Cowboys could look to draft one of the tight end prospects in this year's class, but they could also go with more proven production in free agency.
There have been indications that Atlanta is hoping to re-sign Levine Toilolo, and Dallas, with only about $6.5 million in projected cap space, might not be able to compete.
But if Toilolo can be enticed with incentives and keep his annual earnings under $5 million, Dallas might have its future starting tight end.
Bennie Logan, DT
If the Philadelphia Eagles don't re-sign defensive lineman Bennie Logan, he could be the perfect option for the Denver Broncos to upgrade their run defense, which ranked 28th in the league in 2016.
Logan's skill set is that of a two-down player, so he won't command a huge contract in free agency, especially now that defensive tackles Dontari Poe and Brandon Williams are expected to hit the market, as NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reported Wednesday. That will certainly drive Logan's price down.
Still, Logan could do wonders for the Broncos' front seven.
He set career highs in sacks (2.5) and forced fumbles (two) in 2016. Coming off his rookie deal, he'll be looking for a payday, but the Broncos may benefit from the fact that Logan's value will be depressed entering this particular offseason given the other talent available at his position.
Paul Worrilow, LB
The Detroit Lions have money to spend in free agency, but when there's a player expected to hit the market at a position of need who won't break the bank, why spend more than you need to?
That's the case for the Lions and linebacker Paul Worrilow, who will become a free agent Thursday unless the Atlanta Falcons re-sign him.
Worrilow is already on the Lions' radar, per Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald. But with an affordable market value estimated at $4.3 million annually, they're not the only ones; according to Howe, the New England Patriots, Philadelphia Eagles and Indianapolis Colts are also interested.
The Falcons mostly relegated Worrilow to special teams in 2016. But the Lions are desperate for a linebacker who can cover in space, and Worrilow could be that guy.
Green Bay Packers
Eddie Lacy, RB
The thought of Green Bay general manager Ted Thompson bringing in a street free agent, even on the cheap, is laughable to Packers fans.
The safest bet is always on Green Bay re-signing its own talent, and it seems the Packers have an interest in doing that with running back Eddie Lacy.
Lacy's recent history with the team is disappointing, at best. After weight management issues limited his productivity in 2015, he missed most of the 2016 season with a foot injury that required surgery.
But Lacy's injury could allow the team to bring him back at a price that makes sense for its cap health. Head coach Mike McCarthy is all for it; speaking to the media from Indianapolis on March 1, he said his interest in coaching a Ty Montgomery-Lacy backfield is "very high."
From McCarthy's lips to Thompson's ears.
Zach Brown, ILB
The Texans managed to make it to the Wild Card Round of the AFC playoffs without starter J.J. Watt, but there's no doubt that Houston needs to make dramatic improvements.
One place the Texans can look to start in free agency is at inside linebacker and, more specifically, with Bills free agent Zach Brown.
Brown is coming off a one-year, $1.25 million contract with Buffalo and is 27 years old. He has posted 14 sacks in the last five seasons and would help the Texans shore up the middle of their defense.
Per Spotrac, his market value is around $4.5 million, which would make him a high-impact addition at an affordable cost.
Christine Michael, RB
Christine Michael was able to do some impressive things in his short time with the Green Bay Packers in 2016, though he was outshined by the development of wide receiver-turned-running back Ty Montgomery.
Michael showed off his speed and elusiveness in Green Bay's backfield, though he only totaled 114 yards and a score in his six games. But with Montgomery's full-time move to halfback and indications that the Packers will re-sign homegrown free agent Eddie Lacy, Michael could be changing teams for his third time in as many years in 2017.
The Indianapolis Colts were potential suitors for Michael back when the Seattle Seahawks waived him in 2016, and this is Indy's second chance to land him. The Colts got nice production out of Frank Gore last season, but they could use more speed in the backfield.
Michael could be the change-of-pace back Indianapolis needs at a price tag of only a couple million per season.
Ryan Griffin, TE
The Jaguars landed tight end Julius Thomas in free agency two years ago, but now he's out and on his way to Miami. That means Jacksonville needs to do some work to make sure it stays competitive at the position.
One low-cost option for the Jaguars would be to acquire impending Houston Texans free agent Ryan Griffin, who is 27 years old and coming off a season in which he posted 442 yards and two touchdowns on 50 receptions.
Jacksonville certainly took notice of Griffin in Week 15, when the Jaguars lost to the Texans thanks in part to Griffin's efforts. The tight end notched 85 yards in that game in place of an injured C.J. Fiedorowicz.
Griffin is looking for his second contract, but he's still relatively unproven in a starting role. The Jaguars could likely get something affordable done here.
Kansas City Chiefs
Alan Branch, DT
With the legal tampering period upon us and no deal to speak of, the Chiefs appear to be letting Dontari Poe walk in free agency.
While it would be difficult to match Poe's presence in the middle with anyone currently on Kansas City's roster, the Chiefs could look elsewhere to bring in another nose tackle at a lower cost. The position is weak in this year's NFL draft, so free agency may be the Chiefs' best option.
Alan Branch, who will be a free agent if not re-signed by the New England Patriots, could be a short-term fix for the Chiefs as they make longer-term plans to replace Poe. In New England, the 32-year-old made an average salary of just over $2 million.
Because they would likely rotate him off the field on passing downs, the Chiefs shouldn't have to pay much more than that for one or two years of Branch's services.
Los Angeles Chargers
Ronnie Hillman, RB
The Los Angeles Chargers are going to get weaker at the running back position, as it would be difficult for the team to bring back impending free agent Danny Woodhead. After all, the Chargers have just $5.4 million in available cap space, the second-least in the NFL.
However, just because the Chargers will likely lose one halfback to free agency doesn't mean they need to lose another. Ronnie Hillman is at the end of the one-year, $760,000 deal he signed with the Chargers in 2016.
At 25 years old, he's both a younger and cheaper option to re-sign than Woodhead, and he helps round out the backfield behind Melvin Gordon. Los Angeles should be able to sign him to a deal averaging not more than $2 million per year.
Los Angeles Rams
Kenny Britt, WR
For the Rams, the best free-agent wide receiver target might be one of their own.
Days before the new league year begins, it appears that Los Angeles might be willing to let Kenny Britt walk, per Les Snead's comments in a press conference on March 2, via NFL Network's Gregg Rosenthal. That is unwise.
In 15 games in 2016, Britt racked up 1,002 yards and five touchdowns. That's virtually identical to Pierre Garcon's stat line, whom the Rams could also target, but at least Britt has some experience catching passes from starting quarterback Jared Goff.
There's no question that Los Angeles will look to draft a wideout in April. Britt doesn't have to be the solution for the Rams' passing woes; he only runs a limited route tree and is never going to be a true No. 1. But he can be a stopgap, and a pretty good one; after all, he was the Rams' first 1,000-yard receiver since 2007 in 2016, per ESPN's Alden Gonzalez.
Re-signing Britt, who had an average salary of $4.75 million on his last deal, wouldn't limit the cap-healthy Rams ($38.9 million) from also going after DeSean Jackson, if they so choose.
But a little consistency at an affordable price could help this offense a lot heading into training camp.
Dion Sims, TE
The Miami Dolphins have a starting tight end locked down through 2019 in Julius Thomas, but the team appears to understand that keeping him paired with Dion Sims makes its offense more dynamic heading into 2017.
Per Omar Kelly of the Sun Sentinel, re-signing Sims is an offseason priority for Miami's Mike Tannenbaum. Sims added 256 yards and four touchdowns for the Dolphins in 2016.
Sims could garner a lot of attention from tight end-needy teams if he's allowed to reach free agency. But with his market value projected by Spotrac to be around $4.9 million annually, he fits the bill as an affordable re-signing for Miami if the team can get the deal done ahead of March 9.
Jahri Evans, G
The Vikings are without a first-round draft selection in 2017, but what they do have is about $40 million to spend in free agency.
Minnesota needs to fill multiple offensive line spots, so expect at least one to come via free agency. After cutting Brandon Fusco, the Vikings could look to bring in one of the many guards expected to hit the market this week.
However, the Vikings don't necessarily need to pursue the most expensive contracts, a la T.J. Lang or Kevin Zeitler; if anything, the big spending could be reserved for the tackle positions. But at guard, veteran Jahri Evans, who is 33, could be an affordable one-year stopgap.
Once part of the best guard duo in the league for the Saints a few years ago, Evans started all 16 games in 2016 and appears to be able to provide a team with the benefit of having a veteran without the durability concerns. Could that team be guard-needy Minnesota?
New England Patriots
Brian Quick, WR
It's amazing that the New England Patriots were able to win Super Bowl LI with the group of wide receivers it had available in 2016.
Of New England's leading pass-catchers last season, two—tight end Martellus Bennett and running back James White—weren't even receivers! Sure, things will improve for Tom Brady in 2017 when tight end Rob Gronkowski returns to the field, but New England needs to get wideouts Julian Edelman and Chris Hogan a true No. 3.
Could Brian Quick prove to be a bigger producer than Danny Amendola or Michael Floyd? Coming off a one-year, $1.75 million deal with the Los Angeles Rams, it's certainly worth a shot.
Quick had 41 receptions for 564 yards and three touchdowns for the Rams in 2016. In a vacuum, those numbers would have made him the Patriots' third-most productive receiver last season.
New Orleans Saints
Larry Warford, G
The Saints need a starter to slot in at right guard and to pair with Andrus Peat.
While New Orleans has shown interest in Dallas Cowboys free agent guard Ron Leary in the past, if he hits free agency his price tag could be above $9 million, per Spotrac's market value estimation.
That's a lot to pay a right guard; the Saints seem comfortable with Peat on the left, so presumably any free-agent acquisition would be starting on the other side.
Meanwhile, Detroit Lions free agent Larry Warford is already a right guard. What makes matters even better, his market value is projected to be closer to $6 million. That may not necessarily be a "bargain" signing for a right guard, but it's sure better than $9 million.
New York Giants
Keenan Robinson, LB
The Giants were big spenders in free agency last season, but the tables have turned; this year, New York only has about $17.9 million to play with.
If they want to make an impact on the defensive side of the ball for a modest investment, re-signing impending free-agent linebacker Keenan Robinson is a no-brainer.
Signed away from Washington last offseason, Robinson is coming to the end of a one-year, $2.6 million contract with the Giants. In 16 games, he amassed 83 tackles and seven passes defensed.
ESPN's Jordan Raanan projects the Giants and Robinson could come to terms for around $3 million annually. For the impact Robinson made against the run in New York, that's not bad at all.
New York Jets
Matt Barkley, QB
If the Chicago Bears go in a different direction at backup quarterback in 2017, their loss could be the New York Jets' gain.
The quarterback-needy Jets could eye a prospect such as Deshaun Watson with their No. 6 overall selection in the draft, but they also need a starting-caliber backup.
Barkley wasn't expected to see much playing time in Chicago in 2016, but injuries to Jay Cutler and Brian Hoyer thrust him into the spotlight. His touchdown-to-interception ratio—8-to-14—was far from ideal, and the last thing the Jets need is another interception-prone quarterback.
However, Barkley looked comfortable in the pocket and had some impressive throws, with the highlight of his season being his dissection of the Green Bay Packers defense. Plus, Jets offensive coordinator John Morton was also Barkley's OC at USC. That familiarity could seal the deal.
Anquan Boldin, WR
At 36 years old, Anquan Boldin is more motivated by the ability to win a second championship than making big money.
That's great news for the Oakland Raiders, a team that has money to spend ($47.9 million) but would be better to do so at positions other than wide receiver.
But quarterback Derek Carr, who will be back on the field in September after breaking his fibula in Week 16, could certainly use a receiver with Boldin's talent, and the Raiders could benefit from some veteran leadership in the locker room.
Boldin had 67 receptions for 584 yards and eight touchdowns for the Detroit Lions in 2016, with whom he had a one-year, $2.75 million deal. The Raiders, too, could likely get him for less than $3 million a year.
Pierre Garcon, WR
There's been some chatter that free-agent wide receiver DeSean Jackson could return to his former team this offseason, but if the Philadelphia Eagles want to bring in a weapon for Carson Wentz on the cheap, another Washington receiver could be their guy: Pierre Garcon.
The Eagles aren't flush on cap space; their estimated $11.6 million is the fourth-least in the league. That might limit their ability to get a deal done with Jackson, but according to draft analyst Tony Pauline, Philly would be happy to sign Garcon if it can't ink Jackson.
"The bottom line is Philadelphia wants to come out of free agency and the draft with weapons for Carson Wentz," Pauline wrote on March 1.
Garcon had 79 receptions for 1,041 yards and three touchdowns with Washington in 2016. His annual salary on his previous five-year deal was $8.5 million, but Philadelphia might be able to offer him incentives and a hefty signing bonus to keep his cap hit closer to $5 million. Despite his fantastic performance in 2016, it's also important to remember he's 30 years old now.
Dre Kirkpatrick, CB
The Steelers need some help in the secondary, and they could look within the AFC North to find it.
Per NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, via Steel Curtain, Pittsburgh is targeting impending Cincinnati Bengals free-agent cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick if he is not re-signed.
Kirkpatrick tied his career high of three interceptions in 2016 and added 46 tackles. With players such as Stephon Gilmore, Morris Claiborne and Darrelle Revis expected to hit or already on the market, Kirkpatrick shouldn't be in the top tier of free-agent corners, cost-wise.
Perhaps the Steelers could sign Kirkpatrick to a second contract similar to the one Casey Hayward received with the Chargers totaling about $15.3 million over three years.
San Francisco 49ers
Matt Schaub, QB
When some quarterbacks are out there trying to become the highest-paid backups in the league (ahem Mike Glennon), landing a veteran who can provide some security to a young starter for less than $5 million a year is the definition of a bargain.
That's exactly what Matt Schaub could do for the 49ers.
San Francisco will almost certainly draft a future starter in April. But Schaub, who turns 36 in June, would provide experience at the position for an affordable price.
Schaub's expiring one-year deal with the Atlanta Falcons was worth $2.75 million. Even giving him a raise to $3 million annually, that's a contract amounting to pocket change for the 49ers and their $82 million in cap space.
Breno Giacomini, RT
There's no question that the Seattle Seahawks need to address both tackle positions this offseason. And given the weakness of the position in this year's prospect class, it looks like the Seahawks will need to supplement with free agency.
According to head coach Pete Carroll, George Fant will be Seattle's left tackle in 2017, per Gregg Bell of the News Tribune. So if the team is looking for an affordable option on the right side, why not bring back a former Seahawk in Breno Giacomini?
The New York Jets released Giacomini in late February. Given that he was averaging around $5 million in his final year with New York, Seattle could presumably sign the 31-year-old to a two-year contract totaling less than $10 million to finish out his career.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Charles Johnson, DE
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are expected to have the third-most money to spend in free agency this season, but they would be wise to intersperse some low-cost deals among their more spendy contracts.
One affordable player expected to hit the market who could help upgrade the Bucs defense is Carolina Panthers defensive end Charles Johnson.
Tampa Bay had interest in Johnson last offseason, but the Panthers signed him to a one-year, $3 million deal. Now 30, Johnson still had nice production in 2016, with 26 tackles, four sacks and three forced fumbles.
If the Buccaneers could get Johnson under contract for the next two years for $9 million total, consider this deal done.
Terrelle Pryor, WR
The Tennessee Titans have made it clear they want to add a wide receiver in free agency, already having been linked to Brandin Cooks via a trade with the New Orleans Saints, per Bleacher Report's Jason Cole, and impending free agent Alshon Jeffery is an option.
Tennessee is flush with cap space, projected to have about $67.5 million to play with. So in addition to those bigger-name wideouts, why not add a sleeper for less?
Terrelle Pryor impressed in his first full season as a pass-catcher in Cleveland, totaling 1,007 yards and four touchdowns on 77 receptions. The 27-year-old is a wise long-term investment for the Titans, who need to add a physical weapon for Marcus Mariota.
Pryor's former life as a quarterback shouldn't drive up his cost as a still-unproven receiver. Stretched out over four years, perhaps the Titans could add him for a $24 million total investment. That's similar to Travis Benjamin's deal with the Chargers.
Chris Baker, DE
Washington has some work to do on its defensive line, but a good first step would be refusing to allow defensive end Chris Baker to reach free agency.
Baker is a nice force against the run, and he can also disrupt the passer. He's approaching 30, and Washington could either sign him to a four-year deal to potentially finish out his career with the team or see if he'll take a one-year stopgap deal.
If there's long-term interest in Baker, Washington might be able to negotiate a contract that averages about $5 million annually, a modest bump from his current average of $3 million that still doesn't break the bank.