Best Players Available at Each Position After 1st Week of Free Agency
The first wave of NFL free agency is over. Outside of late cap casualties, the top players on the market have already been picked through and signed to megadeals.
If a team was hoping to land Kirk Cousins, Allen Robinson or Sammy Watkins, those dreams are over. Still, the second wave of free agency—a much cheaper one—can be even more valuable.
For example, the Seattle Seahawks' championship defense was based on the idea they could rush with just four defensive linemen while dropping seven defenders. Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril, their two most important linemen in that scheme, were second-wave free agents on the 2013 market.
The big-ticket players are no longer available, but hitting on cheaper players can benefit teams more in the long run. Diving into the remaining free-agency pool, we'll go through each position and discover which guys are Bennetts and Avrils in the 2018 class.
Quarterback: Colin Kaepernick, Former San Francisco 49er
As Football Outsiders' Scott Kacsmar has pointed out, 143 of the 144 passers to record 200 or more passes as 29-year-olds were either in the NFL or holding out when they turned 30 years old.
The exception is Colin Kaepernick.
His career adjusted net yards per attempt—the passing-efficiency metric most correlated with wins, according to Chase Stuart of Football Perspective—is 6.07. That's 25th all-time in NFL history. Kaepernick's number is on par with that of Oakland Raiders starting quarterback Derek Carr (6.08 career ANY/A), who has a $25 million cap hit in 2018.
Last offseason, Baltimore Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti said signing Kaepernick would "upset some people" and asked everyone to "pray for [the Ravens]" when acquiring the signal-caller was being discussed, per Jill Martin of CNN. It's clear Kaepernick is the best quarterback without a job, likely because he protested racial injustice by kneeling during the national anthem.
Running Back: DeMarco Murray, Former Tennessee Titan
Since the Detroit Lions signed LeGarrette Blount, it's hard to find a full-time starter at the running back position. The closest thing we have left is DeMarco Murray, who was a cap casualty of the Tennessee Titans this offseason. The team has transitioned to 2015 Heisman Trophy winner and 2016 second-round pick Derrick Henry.
Murray averaged just 3.6 yards per carry last season on 184 attempts. Still, there aren't many backs with a 600-yard, six-touchdown 2017 season on their resume who are still looking for work. Murray also recorded 3.6 yards per carry in his last year in Philadelphia in 2015 before a 1,287-yard, nine-touchdown campaign in his first year in Tennessee, where he averaged 4.4 yards per carry.
If a running game built around Murray is going to win in 2018, it'll have to be because of a talented offensive line surrounding him. NFL Network's Ian Rapoport broke the news that Murray would visit the Seattle Seahawks, who struggled to run the ball inside opponents' 10-yard lines last season. Even so, it's not promised that Murray will receive 100 carries in the upcoming year.
Wide Receiver: Ryan Grant, Former Washington Redskin
One of the oddest happenings this free-agency period was the Baltimore Ravens' attempt to lock down former Washington Redskins wideout Ryan Grant with a $29 million deal. That figure was higher than projected for a player who recorded 573 yards in 2017. For his career, Grant has just 985 yards and six touchdowns.
The Twitter backlash was strong, but the deal fell through. Before signing the contract, Grant failed Baltimore's physical evaluation, per ESPN's Adam Schefter, and the team signed Michael Crabtree, a cap casualty who was released because Jordy Nelson, a Green Bay Packers cap casualty, signed with the Oakland Raiders.
If you are barely able to wrap your head around what is happening in free agency, just know you are not the only one. What matters now is that a receiver who was worth $29 million to at least one NFL team is back on the market.
According to rising news-breaker Benjamin Allbright, potential landing spots for the receiver are the Indianapolis Colts and Los Angeles Rams. Rocky Arceneaux, Grant's agent, said his client is in playing condition. Sooner than later, we're going to find out if the Ravens just did him wrong or if Grant does have a medical problem that will impact his career.
Tight End: Eric Ebron, Former Detroit Lion
Eric Ebron may be thought of as a first-round bust, but it's difficult to find any tight end who wouldn't be considered a first-round bust. Expectations are set too high for a position that is often led by late bloomers.
According to Pro Football Reference, since 2004, only nine tight ends have matched or beaten Ebron's targets, receptions, yards and yards per target figures over their first four years. Those tight ends are Jimmy Graham, Rob Gronkowski, Antonio Gates, Travis Kelce, Zach Ertz, Zach Miller, Jordan Reed, Owen Daniels and Jason Witten.
As far as how progressed a tight end should be after Year 4 in the league, Ebron is eye-to-eye with Pro Bowlers. He has issues with blocking, yes, but the biggest problem with his stint in Detroit was expectations. If a team is in need of a pass-catching tight end, then Ebron—who happens to be only 24 years old—has to be the top player left on the market.
Per ESPN's Adam Schefter, Ebron planned visits with Carolina, Indianapolis and maybe New England.
Offensive Line: Mike Pouncey, Former Miami Dolphin
Mike Pouncey entered the league as a first-round pick with high expectations, but his career has splintered. For instance, he notched his third straight Pro Bowl season in 2015, but he didn't play 16 games in a single campaign from 2013 to 2016. Finally a 16-game starter again in 2017, he wasn't quite the Pro Bowler he was when coming off his rookie contract.
Pouncey was released by the Miami Dolphins, and, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter, he will begin the free-agency journey with a trip to the Los Angeles Chargers, who have needed offensive line help for years.
Per Pro Football Reference, 2017 second-round pick Forrest Lamp didn't play one snap for the team last season, while 2017 third-round pick Dan Feeney played only 62.7 percent of offensive snaps. Offensive lines can be reshuffled to get their best five on the field, so Pouncey could play guard or center in Los Angeles. Either way, the Chargers need a talent like his.
Defensive Line: Ndamukong Suh, Former Miami Dolphin
According to Spotrac, the Miami Dolphins will eat $22.2 million in dead cap over the next two years just so they don't have to pay defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh another cent. This was a surprising move, as he has been one of the best defensive linemen in the league.
Last year, Suh tied for the league lead with 20 non-sack tackles at the line of scrimmage to go along with 4.5 sacks. The Dolphins just bit off more than they could chew with Suh's contract. Then they restructured it. Then they choked on it.
Now, one of the most highly sought-after free agents in 2015 again has power on the free market. NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reported Suh had visits lined up with the New Orleans Saints and Tennessee Titans.
The 31-year-old 2010 second overall pick has at least one more quality contract in him. He's played as a 4-3 under tackle his whole career, so one would assume he'd lean toward that type of role.
Edge Defender: Junior Galette, Former Washington Redskin
According to Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network, Washington is trying to re-sign Junior Galette, a pass-rusher who has been on their roster for the last three seasons. With even the Alex Okafors and Adrian Clayborns of the world off the table, Galette might be the last borderline starter available on the edge defender market.
After he recorded 12 and 10 sacks for the New Orleans Saints in 2013 and 2014, Galette was one of the league's rising stars. The undrafted Haiti native is a product of Division II Stillman (Ala.) College by way of Temple.
Two separate Achilles tears and a domestic violence suspension kept him off the field his first two years in Washington, but Galette reemerged in 2017 and played all 16 games for the team. He didn't start but was more impactful on the field than his three sacks suggest.
As a pass-rusher who can drop into coverage, he'd be a better fit in a 3-4 defense than a 4-3. As long as he can stay on the field, he has the talent to be a starter or a complementary outside linebacker.
Linebacker: NaVorro Bowman, Former Oakland Raider
In 2013, Navorro Bowman was on top of the world. The San Francisco 49ers linebacker had made his third straight All-Pro team when he tore his ACL in the NFC Championship Game that postseason.
The result of that was missing the entire 2014, which he rebounded from with another All-Pro campaign in 2015. In 2016, he tore his Achilles and played just four games. Last season, he split time on both the 49ers and Oakland Raiders rosters.
Even on his second stint in 2017, with the Raiders, he showed promise as a starting-caliber player. He didn't play his All-Pro self one year after his Achilles tear, but he's more than talented enough to suit up as an off-ball linebacker for a team in 2018. Bowman can play anything from 3-4 inside linebacker to 4-3 outside linebacker if needed.
According to Vic Tafur of The Athletic, Bowman has already been offered a contract to re-sign with Oakland.
Defensive Back: Morgan Burnett, Former Green Bay Packer
Will the Green Bay Packers let another one go? One could argue that Casey Hayward, Micah Hyde, Morgan Burnett and Damarious Randall are the four best active defensive backs the Packers have drafted.
Currently, not a single one of those defensive backs is on Green Bay's roster. Instead, the Pack are left with Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Kevin King and Josh Jones, three young defensive backs who all hit rough patches last season. A youth movement could push the 29-year-old Burnett out of the door, but the safety should have many suitors.
As a hybrid safety, overhang defender and linebacker, Burnett has recorded more than 90 tackles in five different NFL seasons. Not yet 30 years old, he has 699 tackles, nine interceptions, 44 pass deflections and 7.5 sacks to his name. He's the face of the pure safety market.