2017 NFL Free Agents: Setting the Market for Top Remaining Players

Brent Sobleski@@brentsobleskiNFL AnalystApril 2, 2017

2017 NFL Free Agents: Setting the Market for Top Remaining Players

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    A handful of the NFL's most recognizable names are still sitting at home wondering why they don't have a jobs. The answer is rarely simple. 

    Usually, some combination of asking price, age and situation factors into an established veteran remaining unsigned well after the start of free agency. 

    This league's new year came in like a lion and went out like a lamb. The NFL is only three weeks into free agency, yet the period has reached a near standstill. 

    The long-term, big-money deals have been handed out to those players in their primes. According to Spotrac.com, over $500 million in salary-cap space is still available, but organizations decided to tighten their purse strings. 

    The NFL's middle has all but disappeared. Either teams try to sign big-ticket free agents or try to sign players to low-dollar, prove-it deals. 

    As such, Adrian Peterson, Colin Kaepernick and multiple other well-known veterans generated little interest. In many cases, teams will become more willing to take a chance on these older options if something doesn't go to plan. Thus, age and money become less of a factor when the situation is right.

    None of the following free agents have reached that point, but multiple options could become available in the coming weeks. 

Jay Cutler

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    Jay Cutler's perceived attitude issues and propensity for throwing poorly timed interceptions finally caught up with him.

    The fact he's coming off a torn labrum in his throwing shoulder doesn't help his case, either. The New York Daily News' Manish Mehta intimated Cutler hasn't fully recovered from the injury. 

    All of these factors are working against a quarterback who already threw for 32,467 yards and 208 touchdowns during his 11-year career. Cutler can still play and even start in the league, yet his options continue to dwindle. 

    According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, the New York Jets were scheduled to meet with Cutler, but Josh McCown's signing prevented the visit. McCown's one-year, $6 million deal sets the bar for Cutler. 

    The Cleveland Browns and the Houston Texans are the only remaining teams that haven't added a veteran option as a potential starter. Although, the Texans don't appear to interested, per NFL Network's Ian Rapoport.

    Cutler still has a supporter in former Chicago Bears offensive coordinator Adam Gase.

    "I think he's a starting quarterback in the NFL," Gase told reporters at the owners meetings, per ESPN.com's Jeff Dickerson. 

    "My experience with him was very good. I don't get all the hatred toward him. I see a guy that worked hard and did everything he could to help his team win." 

    Projected Contract:  one year, $7.5 million

Colin Kaepernick

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    Colin Kaepernick eclipses Jay Cutler as the NFL's most-hated quarterback. 

    Seven months ago, Bleacher Report's Mike Freeman quoted an NFL front office executive as saying, "I don't want him anywhere near my team. He's a traitor."

    These are unbelievably strong words toward a player who hasn't broken any laws or league rules. Kaepernick simply stoodor in his case, kneeledagainst something he viewed as a social injustice. 

    Today, Kaepernick is unemployed. How much one is tied to the other is debatable, but they're not entirely separate, either. 

    An argument will almost certainly be made that he's just not good enough to be an NFL quarterback. When journeymen such as Josh McCown and Brian Hoyer continue to be signed, Kaepernick has a place in the league. McCown and Hoyer are great professionals, but neither experienced the same amount of success Kaepernick has. 

    In the month of November, the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback completed 59.3 percent of his passes for 1,110 yards, eight touchdowns and only two interceptions. He finished the 2016 campaign with a 4-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio. 

    "There was zero distraction," former 49ers head coach Chip Kelly said of Kaepernick's activism, per Sports Illustrated. "He met with the team immediately after [his first protest]. He met with the other team leaders. He explained his position and where he was coming from. And, literally, that was it."

    Money is always a factor. However, Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio reported any mention of a $9-10 million asking price is "completely false." 

    Teams are wary of signing Kaepernick. They shouldn't be, but his options appear bleak. 

    Projected Contract: one year, $1.5 million

Adrian Peterson

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    NFL teams are talking about Adrian Peterson. None have reached the point where they've grown serious about signing the future Hall of Fame running back. Although, it's clear discussions have occurred behind the scenes. 

    Three teams—the Green Bay Packers, New York Giants and Tampa Bay Buccaneershave been linked to the 32-year-old workhorse.  

    Peterson appeared interested in the Giants before the start of free agency with a tweet about the team's dealings. When asked about the running back at the NFL owner meetings, Giants head coach Ben McAdoo responded, per ESPN.com's Jordan Raanan, "Never say never." 

    The Packers need to improve their running back depth. The team's top starting option, Ty Montgomery, is a converted wide receiver. 

    "We're looking at all players," McCarthy said, per Packers News' Ryan Wood. "Adrian Peterson obviously is someone we have great respect for, obviously playing him the number of times we have. We're trying to improve our offense all the time." 

    Tampa Bay is the most intriguing fit since Peterson is already working out with Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston. 

    "I've seen Adrian Peterson many times playing and that guy is one of the best running backs to ever play," head coach Dirk Koetter said, per the Tampa Bay Times' Rick Stroud. "I'm anxious to talk to Jameis and ask him how his workouts went. That caught me off guard."

    Peterson instantly upgrades any running back stable, and he's more valuable than previous free-agency signings of Eddie Lacy and Latavius Murray, which ranged from $4.25 to $5 million in yearly salary. 

    Projected Contract: one year, $7.5 million

Jamaal Charles

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    There's no place like home. 

    The Kansas City Chiefs seemingly closed the door on the team's all-time leading rusher, Jamaal Charles, when the organization released the running back in February. However, the team appear to have left the door slightly cracked for a potential return. 

    "You know, the door is never closed on any player, just because a decision was made this year to move on," team chairman Clark Hunt said, per the Kansas City Star's Terez A. Paylor. "You know, circumstances change, and it would be misleading for me to say 'No, we would never have that player or this player back,' because we've all seen it happen." 

    Charles hasn't been the same back since he tore an ACL during his 2015 campaign. As a result, Adrian Peterson will draw more interest despite being two years older. But at least two more teams have looked into Charles' potential addition. 

    The Seattle Seahawks hosted the four-time Pro Bowl running back before signing Eddie Lacy. According to Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio, Charles was expected to visit a mystery team less than two weeks ago. 

    The Philadelphia Eagles are a natural fit with a roster in need of an upgrade to its running back depth and Doug Pederson's previous history with the Chiefs before becoming the Eagles head coach. 

    How teams proceed will depend on Charles' health. Two knee surgeries in two years takes a lot away from a 30-year-old running back, particularly one who relied heavily on his explosiveness before the original injury. 

    Projected Contract: one year, $5 million

LeGarrette Blount

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    The veteran running back market has been amazingly slow to develop. 

    Teams passing on Adrian Peterson and Jamaal Charles make sense. They're both coming off of injury-plagued campaigns. 

    LeGarrette Blount ran for a career-high 1,161 yards last season and led the league with 18 rushing touchdowns. Yes, he'll turn 31 years old, but the 250-pound back is playing the best football of his career. 

    Yet there's very little interest for the bulldozing back. This isn't anything new for Blount, though. The running back didn't re-sign with the New England Patriots last year until April 12. 

    Much like fellow veteran back Danny Woodhead, Blount has a defined role and should be worth as much as the $2.933 million annually the diminutive back signed with the Baltimore Ravens. 

    Other teams are still in need of running back depth, and Blount can wait out the market. Unlike Peterson and Charles, Blount hasn't been attached to any teams, but the options remain the same. 

    The Green Bay Packers, New York Giants, Oakland Raiders and Tampa Bay Buccaneers are in need of a lead back. The Carolina Panthers and Detroit Lions could improve their running back stables, too. 

    Projected Contract: one year, $3 million

Nick Mangold

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    Offensive linemen were the biggest beneficiaries of this year's copious amounts of salary-cap space. 

    Kevin Zeitler, Matt Kalil, Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers received monster deals. Nick Mangold has been as good or better than each of those aforementioned blockers, yet he remains unsigned. 

    Two things are holding back the seven-time Pro Bowl center. First, he's 33 years old. His age and previous contract led to his release from the New York Jets. The previously mentioned blockers are all under 30 years old.

    Also, Mangold ended the previous campaign on injured reserve due to an ankle injury. 

    One franchise is intrigued by the idea of adding the former first-round pick. According to the New York Daily News' Pat Leonard, the New York Giants expressed an interest in Mangold. 

    His potential fit within the Giants offensive line is quite interesting since Weston Richburg is one of the league's best young centers. If signed, Mangold may push for playing time at guard. 

    Since the Giants don't have an immediate opening, Mangold might be waiting for a better opportunity. Very few exist for a center who is a little long in the tooth. The veteran is an ideal candidate to sign later in the process if/when an injury occurs. 

    Teams don't want to rely on the incoming offensive line class. That's obvious after the initial push for other free-agent blockers. 

    Projected Contract: two years, $6 million

Johnanthan Hankins

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    Johnathan Hankins' hangup isn't age, injury or performance-related. Instead, the 25-year-old defensive tackle appears to have priced himself out of the market. 

    According to ESPN.com's Jordan Raanan, Hankins' representation was still searching for $10 million per season after the first week of free agency. At that point, the top-paying contracts were already agreed upon with other talented individuals. 

    NFL teams obviously didn't agree with the young man's perceived value. Dontari Poe and Bennie Logan didn't help Hankins' cause when each signed one-year $8 million contracts. 

    The New York Giants are still interested in re-signing Hankins. 

    "We wanted to try to (re-sign Hankins) if possible without being irresponsible,'' co-owner John Mara told reporters last weekend, per SNY.com's Ralph Vacchiano. "I don't know what's going to happen. We certainly want him back, but it's got to make sense for us."

    NFL Network's Kimberly Jones reported the Giants offer is a "multi-year deal that stacks up well with the free-agent market." If Hankins returns, the Giants would retain their entire starting lineup, which finished 10th overall in total defense last season. 

    "I vouch for my boy Hank," linebacker Jonathan Casillas said last week, per NJ.com's Dan Duggan. "I want him. He's a Giant. He was drafted by the Giants. He had a great year last year. We want to keep him."

    Projected Contract: one year, $8 million

Dwight Freeney

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    Dwight Freeney proved how valuable he can still be in Super Bowl LI. The 15-year veteran harassed New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady throughout the contest with seven quarterback hurries and a sack, per Pro Football Focus

    Freeney contemplated retirement after the Falcons' devastating 34-28 overtime loss. A week before free agency, the pass-rusher decided he wanted to play a 16th season, according to USA Today's Tom Pelissero. 

    His price tag isn't exorbitant despite his history. Last season, Freeney played for $1 million, per Sportrac.com. His value on the field as a situational edge-rusher and presence in the locker room far outweighs his contractual worth. 

    The Falcons won't wait too long for his return, though. 

    "The standard is the standard," Atlanta head coach Dan Quinn said in an interview with SiriusXM NFL Radio's Alex Marvez. "If he decides he wants to do it, he’s got to be all in to do it. I don’t want to make special circumstances for anyone in any way." 

    Projected Contract: one year, $1 million

Zach Brown

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    Multiple NFL franchises await the decision of Zach Brown. Although, the linebacker may not be too happy with his options. 

    Brown finished second in the league last year with 149 total tackles, but his breakout campaign didn't translate to a big pay day in free agency. 

    As a result, the 27-year-old tackling machine changed agents in mid courtship. According to the Palm Beach Post's Joe Schad, Brown signed with a Miami-based agency during a visit with the Miami Dolphins. He left without a deal because the two sides were "not close on money," according to the Miami Herald's Barry Jackson. 

    A day after Brown left, the Dolphins and linebacker Koa Misi agreed to a restructured contract, per Jackson. Brown remains an option, but Misi is insurance the team needed at linebacker. 

    The Buffalo Bills hosted their former player a day later, per WKBW ABC 7's Joe Buscaglia. Brown's new agents Jason and Michael Katz also told CSN California's Scott Bair the Oakland Raiders remain a possibility. 

    Nearly two weeks have passed since Brown made the rounds, and he's yet to make a decision. The veteran likely expected a big contract after a big year, yet he's more likely to sign another prove-it deal. 

    The Cincinnati Bengals set the secondary linebacker market after the franchise signed Kevin Minter to a one-year, $4.25 million contract. 

    Projected Contract: one year, $5 million