NFL Free Agency 2019: Previewing This Year's Class

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxFeatured ColumnistJanuary 2, 2019

NFL Free Agency 2019: Previewing This Year's Class

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    Michael Ainsworth/Associated Press

    With the 2018 NFL season officially over, it's time for non-playoff teams to turn their attention to free agency and the draft. We're here to examine the first part of that equation by breaking down the upcoming free-agent class.

    We'll run down our top pending free agents at each position, examine the potential value to be found at the position on the open market and project some top contracts. We'll only be looking at players who are currently on schedule to hit free agency.

    Our list of pending free agents and all contract information comes courtesy of Spotrac.

         

Quarterback

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    1. Teddy Bridgewater

    2. Tyrod Taylor

    3. Josh McCown

    4. Ryan Fitzpatrick

    5. Robert Griffin III

    New Orleans Saints backup Teddy Bridgewater is the perfect option for teams looking for a potential long-term answer. The former first-round pick only left the Minnesota Vikings after a serious knee injury jeopardized his career. He's shown that he's healthy, and at 26 years old, he can have a Drew Brees-type resurgence with another franchise.

    Of course, it's hard to envision New Orleans letting him go after it traded a third-round pick to get him from the New York Jets last offseason. It wouldn't be a surprise to see him get an extension like the two-year, $11 million one Nick Foles got last offseason.

    Tyrod Taylor is the next option for teams looking to take a chance on a potential starter. Josh McCown and Ryan Fitzpatrick are both capable starters on a temporary basis, but neither should be viewed as more than an insurance policy or short-term mentor.

    Robert Griffin III is a high-end backup who could step in and start a game or two, but he's never recaptured what he had as a rookie back in 2012.

Running Back

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    1. Mark Ingram II

    2. Latavius Murray

    3. T.J. Yeldon

    4. Adrian Peterson

    5. Mike Davis

    There are some quality running backs set to hit the open market, and as Adrian Peterson proved with his 2018 1,000-yard season, even aging backs can help a team. Peterson will be a free agent again, and after watching him run last season, one would think he'll draft interest.

    Saints running back Mark Ingram II will probably be the most coveted back on the market. He's had an up-and-down career but has thrived in a committee backfield alongside Alvin Kamara. Despite missing four games due to suspension, he racked up 645 yards rushing, 170 yards receiving and seven touchdowns in 2018.

    Expect Hyde to command something in the three-year, $15 million range like Carlos Hyde got last offseason.

    Latavius Murray, T.J. Yeldon and Mike Davis are all quality complementary backs who can help fill out a backfield. Murray, in particular, has shown that he can even be a solid starter in stretches.

    Due to the value that can be found in the draft, however, don't expect any running back to land a massive contract in free agency.

Wide Receiver

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    1. Larry Fitzgerald

    2. Adam Humphries

    3. Tyrell Williams

    4. John Brown

    5. Golden Tate

    It's hard to envision Larry Fitzgerald playing for a team other than the Arizona Cardinals in 2019, and he hasn't made it clear he will play next season.

    "I know I'm playing golf tomorrow," Fitzgerald said, per the Associated Press. "I know that."

    If Fitzgerald wanted to try one last run with a contender, however, he'll be at the top of a sneaky-good wide receiver class. Young up-and-coming pass-catchers like Adam Humphries and Tyrell Williams will also be sought after.

    While guys like Williams and Humphries won't quite reach the three-year, $48 million level of Sammy Watkins, they may not be far off. There are some talented receiver prospects in the draft, like Arizona State's N'Keal Harris, but the track record of recent first-round receivers is likely to drive up the free-agent price ahead of the draft.

Offensive Line

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    1. OT Jared Veldheer

    2. G A.J. Cann

    3. C Mitch Morse

    4. G Mike Iupati

    5. G John Greco

    This is shaping up to be a relatively underwhelming offensive line class, and with prospects like Greg Little and Jonah Williams trending toward the first round, we probably won't see anything like the four-year, $62 million deal Nate Solder got last offseason.

    However, we're going to see tackles like the Denver Broncos' Jared Veldheer get overpaid regardless. Tackle is a premier position, and players with starting talent are always going to be sought after.

    There will likely be more value on the interior, where young players like Mitch Morse and A.J. Cann will provide long-term upside. Aging vets like Mike Iupati are more of a short-term solution, but they'll have their place on the market to be sure.

    Don't underestimate the value of versatile depth players like John Greco either. Injuries are common along the line, and if teams aren't prepared, it can spell disaster.

Tight End

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    D. Ross Cameron/Associated Press

    1. Jared Cook

    2. Tyler Eifert

    3. Tyler Kroft

    4. C.J. Uzomah

    5. Jeff Heuerman

    This isn't a great year to be in need of a tight end. There's pretty much Jared Cook and everyone else.

    Now, Cook is an excellent option if he can be pried away from the Oakland Raiders. He emerged as a borderline No. 1 receiving option in 2018, amassing 896 yards and six touchdowns on 68 receptions. He is likely to get close to the $10 million per year Jimmy Graham got last offseason.

    Tyler Eifert has superstar potential, but he also carries a long injury history. This makes him a major risk-reward option. The fact that two other Bengals tight ends are on our list should tell you all you need to know about Eifert's health.

    The rest of the market is filled with complementary tight ends and depth players.

Defensive Line

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    Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

    1. DE Demarcus Lawrence

    2. DT Ndamukong Suh

    3. DE Ezekiel Ansah

    4. DT Grady Jarrett

    5. DT Malcom Brown

    When it comes to defensive linemen, pass-rushers are typically kings. The good ones also rarely hit the open market. This is why it's hard to envision Demarcus Lawrence, who has 10.5 sacks this season, leaving the Dallas Cowboys—unless, of course, Dallas cannot afford him.

    Lawrence isn't worth the $141 million deal Khalil Mack just got, but you can bet his agents are going to target that figure.

    Ezekiel Ansah, who played for the Detroit Lions on the franchise tag and ended on injured reserve, is more likely to hit the marketplace.

    The defensive tackle market is rich with proven talent like Ndamukong Suh and Grady Jarrett. Teams looking for high-end trench-movers are in luck.

    Don't underestimate the value of dedicated run-stoppers like Malcom Brown, though. With the league trending back toward valuing the running back, these guys are as important as they've been in recent memory.

Linebacker

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    1. Jadeveon Clowney

    2. Dee Ford

    3. C.J. Mosley

    4. Terrell Suggs

    5. K.J. Wright

    There is a ton of value to be found at linebacker this offseason, though dedicated pass-rushers are scarce (as per usual). Jadeveon Clowney is the top option. Dee Ford is right behind him. Both will likely be given the franchise tag or signed to contract extensions. Terrell Suggs will be an intriguing option for contending teams like the New England Patriots or Indianapolis Colts that want to squeeze a year or two out of the 36-year-old.

    New England, in particular, has a habit of bringing in aging sack-artists.

    The value lies in off-ball linebackers like C.J. Mosley and K.J. Wright. These types of players are often underrated by the casual fan, unless their name happens to be Luke Kuechly or Sean Lee. However, they play important roles on the defense. They are the field generals of the defense.

    Expect non-rush linebackers like Wright to earn close to the $9 million per year Anthony Hitchens got from the Kansas City Chiefs last offseason.

Defensive Back

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    Elaine Thompson/Associated Press

    1. S Earl Thomas

    2. S Tyrann Mathieu

    3. CB Darqueze Dennard

    4. S Marcus Gilchrist

    5. CB E.J. Gaines

    Assuming he's 100 percent recovered from last year's broken leg, six-time Pro Bowl safety Earl Thomas should be one of the top free agents at any position. Former teammate Richard Sherman appears eager to bring him to the San Francisco 49ers.

    "I would love to have him back in the locker room," Sherman said, per Matt Maiocco of NBCSports.com. "But I'm sure he'll have a plethora of opportunities."

    Thomas will indeed have plenty of opportunities, as will Tyrann Mathieu, who proved in 2018 he still has plenty of Honey Badger left in him.

    The cornerback market isn't quite as attractive as the top end of the safety market, but the value of the position is going to lead to some notable contracts. For example, Darqueze Dennard, who started nine games for the Cincinnati Bengals this season, could command something in the four-year, $30 million range.

    That's what T.J. Carrie got from the Cleveland Browns last offseason.

Specialist

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    Mark Zaleski/Associated Press

    1. K Adam Vinatieri

    2. K Stephen Gostkowski

    3. K Robbie Gould

    4. P Ryan Allen

    5. K Sebastian Janikowski

    Teams looking for an experienced, proven kicker are in luck—assuming any of these guys are willing to sign with a different franchise.

    Adam Vinatieri is one of the greatest to ever kick a football, but if he returns for 2019, it will probably be back with the Colts. Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski is more likely to hit the open market, as New England has a habit of letting players walk too early rather than too late.

    This is the same reason Patriots punter Ryan Allen, who is averaging 45.1 yards per punt, is likely to be a free-agent option.

    Sebastian Janikowski and Robbie Gould are proven kickers who have already switched teams in recent years.