Best Bargain Option at Each Position in 2020 NFL Free Agency

Chris Roling@@Chris_RolingFeatured ColumnistMarch 10, 2020

Best Bargain Option at Each Position in 2020 NFL Free Agency

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    Phelan Ebenhack/Associated Press

    The biggest splashes in free agency generate the most interest, yet the bargain buys often have similar impacts at a greater value. 

    Some bargains are impossible to see coming—like Shaquil Barrett's 19.5-sack breakout in Tampa Bay last year after signing on the dotted line for one year worth $4 million. 

    But other bargains are easily projectable. Past performance, a better situation and the chance at an affordable contract mean certain potential bargains have a chance to vastly outperform their contracts. 

    Because that's what it's all about when it comes to bargains—exceeding expectations via performance. Whether it's a veteran flying under the radar, an injury risk possibly staying on the field or a younger player in a better situation, the following players can be the 2020 market's biggest bargains. 

         

Quarterback: Marcus Mariota

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    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    Most quarterbacks could end up being considered a bargain in a market potentially featuring Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Philip Rivers and Teddy Bridgewater. 

    But none of the possible bargains feature the upside of Marcus Mariota. 

    Yes, Mariota ended up losing his job to Ryan Tannehill. And yes, he's failed to live up to the No. 2 overall hype from the 2015 draft. 

    But Mariota has also been under siege via multiple nagging injuries and constant coaching turnover. Even so, he's a career 62.9 percent passer with nine fourth-quarter comebacks and 11 game-winning drives. He also has a playoff win under his belt, fits nicely in the mobile-quarterback era and is only 26. 

    In the right locale, Mariota might just end up winning a competition and rewriting the narrative about his career. 

Running Back: Jordan Howard

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    Matt Rourke/Associated Press

    One team is going to get a boon of a value with Jordan Howard. 

    While the top of the running back market looks more perplexing than it has in years thanks to the Melvin Gordon-Derrick Henry-Kenyan Drake trio, Howard slots comfortably as a second-tier guy with tier-one production. 

    Howard had a quiet end-of-season stretch in Philadelphia post-injury, but he's a guy with at least six rushing scores in each season, has broken the 1,000-yard barrier in two of his four seasons and has improved as a receiver, sitting on an 82-of-122 line through the air. 

    Only 25 years old, Howard still has fewer than 1,000 pro rushes on his body and offers every-down upside. He can slot wherever in a rotation and has the skill to naturally outperform the contract he ends up signing. 

Wide Receiver: Robby Anderson

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    A year ago, Tyrell Williams was one of the most obvious bargain buys at wideout and went on to have a solid year after inking a deal in the neighborhood of $44 million with the then-Oakland Raiders. 

    This year, Robby Anderson feels like the same thing. 

    Anderson, 26, will probably land in a similar price bracket, which isn't a tough pill for a buyer to swallow when A.J. Green, Amari Cooper, Emmanuel Sanders and others will command monster contracts. 

    Quietly a budding, elite threat, Anderson has scored 20 times over four seasons, and last year, despite drama with the New York Jets, he turned 52 catches into 779 yards and five scores with three 100-plus performances. He nearly averages 15 yards per catch over the course of his career. 

    Considering the team paying him intends to use him deep, he's bound to outpace the money side. 

Tight End: Tyler Eifert

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    David Richard/Associated Press

    Another year, another look at Tyler Eifert as a massive bargain. 

    Eifert ended up returning to the Cincinnati Bengals last year on a one-year pact and had a quiet season, largely because the team benched its starting quarterback, had one of the league's worst offensive lines, and new coach Zac Taylor didn't use tight ends much in the passing game. 

    It all sets up Eifert for a massive 2020 in the right locale.

    While he didn't wow with his 436 yards and three scores, Eifert quietly had the first 16-game season of his career while playing 45 percent of the offense's snaps. Even if the team signing him keeps him at that attendance clip, a more prominent role in the attack could see him return to his 13-touchdown ways from 2015. 

Offensive Tackle: Daryl Williams

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    Chuck Burton/Associated Press

    It's an odd (or refreshing) offseason when offensive tackle looks to be a strength of free agency and the draft. 

    This means Daryl Williams could be a nice underrated value. 

    Top-tier tackles like Anthony Castonzo will dominate the headlines, and specifically at right tackle, Williams falls behind names like Jack Conklin and Bryan Bulaga. 

    Yet there is a degree of deception here with Williams. He graded at 56.1 over at Pro Football Focus last year, but it seemed to stem from the Carolina Panthers using him out of position all over the line. Such a detail hides the fact the veteran fully bounced back from his 2018 injury by appearing in all 16 games, logging 75 percent of the offense's snaps. 

    Considering Williams' last notable attendance sheet in 2017 had him at a 77.2 at PFF, he could end up being a notable upgrade for a team's right edge at a very effective cost. 

Interior Offensive Line: Ereck Flowers

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    Mark Tenally/Associated Press

    What a career turnaround for Ereck Flowers. 

    Flowers, the ninth pick in 2015, busted out over three-plus seasons with the New York Giants before rewriting the narrative with his third team last year, the Washington Redskins. 

    There, Flowers kicked inside to guard as a measure of injury relief and excelled compared to his prior showings, starting all 16 games for a shaky line and organization (that fired its head coach midseason). 

    Flowers was called for only four flags all season over 100 percent of the team's snaps (compare that to 13 penalties over 100 percent in 2016, for example), and there's a measure of upside to his game now, which would explain why even new head coach Ron Rivera wants him back in Washington. 

    Now a guard, Flowers is a former top-10 talent starting to find a role who will turn 26 in April, making him a massive bargain candidate. 

Defensive Line: Derek Wolfe

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Derek Wolfe isn't even close to the first name that comes to mind when looking at a stacked defensive line class this year. 

    Wolfe is lost behind Jadeveon Clowney, Everson Griffen, Damon Harrison, Leonard Williams, Arik Armstead, Chris Jones and plenty more. There's also perhaps a bit of trepidation toward his value considering he's now 30 years old and finished last year on injured reserve. 

    Yet there's always a "but" to a potential bargain. Wolfe quietly posted a career-high seven sacks over 12 games last year. His impact on just 50 percent of the defense's snaps was profound, and his eight tackles for loss were his most since 2015. 

    A projected solid fit for any front, Wolfe is a high-energy guy with a slight injury risk who could turn a second-tier contract into strong production. 

Edge-Rusher: Ezekiel Ansah

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    Scott Eklund/Associated Press

    From potential tagged star to a guy who could be waiting a while for a new deal, Ezekiel Ansah could end up being a big bargain. 

    Ansah flopped in Seattle last season after getting healthy, especially compared to expectations given his past production and the perceived fit with the Seahawks. 

    While Ansah didn't put up noteworthy sack numbers over 11 games, he actually was right in line with his 2018 numbers in knockdowns (4) and pressures (10) while playing just 32 percent of the snaps. 

    Likely in line for another prove-it deal over the short-term and recently removed from a 12-sack season in 2017, Ansah could be a pressure-creating specialist in the right fit. If he can stay healthy, there's a good chance he outperforms his next deal. 

Linebacker: Kamalei Correa

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    Gail Burton/Associated Press

    A former second-round pick (2016) who got traded for a sixth-round pick, Kamalei Correa is now firmly in bargain territory. 

    Correa, who turns 26 in April, had a small breakout with the Tennessee Titans last year on a career-high 39 percent of the snaps. He posted five hurries and sacks with 11 pressures while missing just 5.1 percent of his tackles and only allowing three completions on six targets. 

    That isn't going to help Correa break the bank by any means on an open market littered with big names. But the hints of upside as his usage increases are encouraging, and an expanded role could see him vastly outplay his second deal. 

Cornerback: Darqueze Dennard

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    Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

    Darqueze Dennard took a trip to market last year and face-planted, going back to the Cincinnati Bengals on a one-year deal worth $4.5 million, and then had surgery and ended up only making it into nine games. 

    It's easy to forget Dennard is a former first-round pick (2014) and still just 28. Despite his odd attendance record last season, Dennard is still a guy with 45 or more tackles in three of his last four seasons as a stalwart run defender. 

    And that speaks to his physicality. His prowess in the passing game from the slot or boundary is where Dennard will outplay his next contract. He posted a 72.2 grade at PFF last year while allowing just 17 completions on 35 targets

    While certain factors around Dennard's journey so far won't see him getting elite money, his all-around solid play will see him producing in quite the meaningful manner. 

Safety: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix

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    Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

    Ha Ha Clinton-Dix isn't in the Anthony Harris bracket of impending safety free agents, but HHCD might again outperform whatever deal he lands just like he did last year.

    After inking a one-year deal worth $3 million, he went on to post a 74.2 grade at PFF with 78 tackles on 99 percent of the snaps, permitting just 26 completions on 44 targets. 

    The market won't necessarily gift HHCD a massive long-term deal like it will others, but he's just 27 years old and plenty productive. Think more Tre Boston than a defensive back who gets longer deals. 

    Which will suit his team just fine—a short-term investment means HHCD gets another chance to prove himself for a big contract while the signing team enjoys some consistency. 

           

    Unless otherwise noted, contract and cap figures courtesy of Spotrac.