NFL Free Agency: Cole Thompson’s Top-50 Free Agents

Free agency, at some point, is set to begin. To get a better picture of how all the free agents stack up, Cole Thompson ranks the top-50 set to hit the open market.

I wish I had something to tell you. Really, I do. The reality is, no one knows what’s going on.

The unfortunate epidemic that has taken control of the globe known as COVID-19 will be the talk of conversation for many weeks to come. While the world will be turning around to ask and answer questions surrounding the virus, most of you will be left in the dark. Some of you will be out of work while others will be hoping days at the office won’t lead to days at the hospital.

And the saddest news of all is the one outlet – sports – will close its doors when perhaps we need it most. But at the end of the day, no game is worth the health of anyone on this planet we call home.

Still, as I sit here writing to all of you, I hope you know I will do my best to being some type of joy to your computer screens as we enter the unknown time—the sad moments. And perhaps the darkest days to come since before any of us were alive.

That’s my promise and our promise at Pro Football Network. We will continue to bring you light when the road ahead looks uncertain.

With that said, the NFL free agency will eventually come around. Next week, next month, next century, who will know. Players will still be speaking to teams and agents, hoping that when this virus is contained, they will be welcomed back to a roster or excited to join a new one.

At PFN, we’ve spent the past week looking at free agents, processing which players will be worth top dollar this offseason and which should provide a positive light to the franchise. PFN Insiders Tony Pauline and Ben Allbright have been shedding light on the latest free agency rumors and inside information over the past several weeks. 

Here’s our look at the top 50 free agents heading into the 2020 signing period. Also, here are names that won’t be on the list due to receiving the franchise tag earlier this week or are expected to at the moment: 

OLB Matthew Judon – Baltimore Ravens
WR AJ Green – Cincinnati Bengals
FS Justin Simmons – Denver Broncos
DE Yannick Ngakoue – Jacksonville Jaguars
DL Chris Jones – Kansas City Chiefs
TE Hunter Henry – Los Angeles Chargers
OG Brando Scherff – Washington Redskins 

NFL Free Agency: Cole Thompson’s Top-50 Free Agents

50) OT Jason Peters – Peters will 38 when the season starts, but despite his age, father time is allowing him to be still successful. Last season, the veteran tackle logged over 900 snaps on the left side. If you need a short-term option at the blindside, Peters will likely come cheap in free agency.

49) CB Logan Ryan – Ryan won’t help your defense extensively, but he won’t hurt it from the slot. Last year helped his cause as he collected 18 pass deflections and four interceptions in Tennessee. Often playing inside, there’s a home for him, but don’t expect him there for the long-term.

48) CB Trae Waynes – Waynes was overhyped since he was drafted, but he can help a defense. He tallied 56 tackles last season, showing he’s willing to tackle against the run. Granted, he’s not a game-changer, but he’ll manage on the right contract.

47) LB Nick Kwiatkoski – Low risk, low pay, high reward. Kwiatkoski is going to come cheap off the market and can make an impact as a starter. Any team not wanting to spend a ton of money at the position should look to sign him.

46) LB Blake Martinez – Much like Kwiatkoski, Martinez is a safe option for teams that won’t want to pay top dollar. He’s a tackling machine (512 career tackles), above average in coverage and can blitz up the middle. Martinez isn’t perfect, but he can be an average starter for a team.

45) S Tre Boston – The thing with Boston is he can’t find a home anymore. The 27-year-old will be on his third team in three years, but he’s collected 11 interceptions and 28 pass deflections. Franchises looking for a quality cover safety that’s worth his asking price should have Boston on the radar.

44) OT Bryan Bulaga – Look, Bulaga can still play on the outside, but he’s only had three seasons where he’s played all 16 games. Health will be an issue, but for teams wanting to take a risk on a player who could bring some stability to an offensive line, sign him to a one-year deal.

43) TE Eric Ebron – Much like his career in general, Ebron has seen his highs and lows. Without Andrew Luck, the Pro Bowl tight end regressed to his former self, catching 31 balls while only finding the end zone twice. With the right offense, Ebron could be a vital piece to an offense, but there’s still questions on his overall career.

42) LB Kyle Van Noy – So the production is there, but how many times have we seen Belichick guys fizzle outside his system. In Detroit, Van Noy struggled. With New England, he’s been a standout. Van Noy is a system player — good but only in the right fit.

41) RB Kenyan Drake – After three seasons of minimal production, Drake broke free as the starter for the Cardinals, averaging 5.2 yards per carry. The problem is that the production has never come through. That should worry teams to signing him to a long-term deal. On a brighter side, he’s healthy, posting only 2,175 yards in the pros after four seasons.

40) QB Marcus Mariota – With the rise of Tannehill, Mariota will be looking for a new home. He will be a valued backup after his early time in the Music City. Going 29-32 as the starter with 76 touchdowns to 44 interceptions, he’ll earn some money on the free agency market.

39) EDGE Everson Griffen – If looking for a cheaper pass rusher just looking to play, Griffen likely would be your target. Griffen has only tallied eight sacks or less in three of the last four seasons. Still, it’s worth bringing him in for the right price.

38) DL Linval Joseph – Joseph was recently released following a slew of cuts in Minnesota. A bull-rusher for a 4-3 defense, he would be an excellent fit for a cheap “prove-it” style contract to show he can still be effective against the run.

37) EDGE Robert Quinn – Quinn was far from elite last season, but 11.5 sacks last year will at least earn him some money. The problem is he hasn’t posted double-digit numbers since 2014. While not elite, Quinn will be serviceable in at least a rotational role.

36) DB Jimmie Ward – Ward is the perfect definition of jack of all trades, master of none. The defensive back can play in the slot or up high at safety, but he’s doesn’t excel anywhere. Perhaps that’s due to injury, but until he’s healthy for back-to-back seasons, he’s not worth a massive deal.

35) DL Jarran Reed – How much a year can change a player. After a 10.5 sack season, Reed was suspended for 6 games for a violation of the personal conduct policy for an incident from early 2017. Some teams will bite, but others will be wary of signing a player who’s had one excellent season and several average ones.

34) WR Emmanuel Sanders – Sanders will never return to Pro Bowl form, but he can be a quality No.2 option for a contender. Once in the Bay, the 33-year-old tallied 36 catches for over 500 yards. He’s the old man of the wide receiver market, but there’s value in his position this offseason.

33) S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix – Clinton-Dix will be a nice pickup. Last season in Chicago, the former Green Bay Packer tallied two interceptions and two forced fumbles, living up to his “prove-it” deal. This is a quality free agency signing for any team looking to land an above-average safety.

32) RB Kareem Hunt – Hunt will always be a risk due to the off-field issues. In his lone season with the Browns, the third-year pro showed off his skills, tallying 179 yards rushing and 285 yards receiving on a suspension-shortened season. He’ll likely have a one or two-year deal with a new team.

31) RB Melvin Gordon – Gordon played the holdout game and it backfired hard. He averaged 3.8 yards in his final season out in Los Angeles. Throw in one 1,000-yard season and his market value isn’t going to be stellar. His saving grace is his ability to score 47 career touchdowns, so teams looking for touchdown machines will pay more in free agency.

30) LB Joe Schobert – Schobert won’t be the most expensive linebacker, but he’s not coming cheap. Still young, the 26-year-old would fit well in any defense up the middle, with excellent skills in coverage. His three 100-plus tackle seasons will give him a standout payday.

29) CB Xavier Rhodes – Over the past two seasons, the Pro Bowl defender has become inconsistent and a liability in coverage. On a “prove-it” deal, this would be a low risk and amazing reward if he could return to his 2017 form and become Richard Sherman 2.0.

28) DL Leonard Williams – High risk, average reward. Williams has regressed since his incredible 2016 season, where he collected seven sacks up the middle. Since then, he’s yet to capture more than five sacks and 50 tackles in a season. Still, defensive linemen with potential will always get paid.

27) DL Javon Hargrave– Sometimes a final season is a good one. Hargrave certainly will play into that role. With Stephon Tuitt out, the former third-rounder collected career-high in snaps. Anyone looking for a quality run defender who can pass rush should be in the market.

26) EDGE Dante Fowler Jr. – The former No.3 pick rebuilt his career out west over the past two seasons. Last year, the former Gator tallied a career-best 11.5 sacks in 58 total tackles. But again, is this a one year wonder, or a legit pass rusher finally figuring it out?

25) EDGE Bud Dupree – He could be an option for the franchise tag, but Dupree will be a weird signing this offseason. Underachieving since being drafted, the former first-rounder broke out for 11.5 sacks. Much like Vic Beasley or Fowler, one season is excellent, but is it consistent in the long-run? That will be for teams to decide.

24) CB James Bradberry – Perhaps one of the better outside cornerbacks in free agency, Bradberry is going to be paid this offseason. Last season as Carolina’s top cover man, the 27-year-old was tasked guarding Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and Michael Thomas week in and week out. His 6-foot-1 frame will entice teams and he was a quality player against those players. Is he worth $15 million? No, but there’s a market for players like him.

23) WR Robby Anderson – Anderson will always be a No.2 option for any offense, but will be given No.1 money. With his top-caliber speed (11th in yards per catch), he’s is a homerun threat that can extend plays downfield. Those players will be paid if they hit the free agency market.

22) QB Teddy Bridgewater – This will be the biggest “boom or bust” player this offseason. Players who have had limited starts have gotten big deals and cost teams millions. During his brief stint though, Bridgewater was a quality starter who threw nine touchdowns against two interceptions. Worst case scenario: excellent backup who can get you through a season.

21) S Devin McCourty – The only reason the Pro Bowl safety isn’t higher is due to his age. McCourty has all the tools wanted in a free safety. He’s excellent in coverage, a reliable tackler and has versatility. He’s also a vocal leader in the locker room but will be 33 by next season’s end. He could be a hometown discount player or a short-term player to a defense that needs a missing piece.

20) DL DJ Reader – Why is Reader not higher, because he’s become a top nose tackle over the past two seasons. As an interior player, the former Clemson standout played nearly 700 snaps last year in his final season. This is the perfect 3-4 defender this offseason.

19) OT Anthony Castonzo – He’s likely going back to Indianapolis, but let’s pretend he’ll hit the open market. Despite being older, offensive tackles that are stable will be paid and Castonzo falls in that category. Playing every snap last season, he’s played in every game three of the previous four years. Whoever is under center will get a serviceable blindside protector.

18) QB Philip Rivers – This might be low for Rivers, but it’s not. After a near MVP 2018 season, the Alabama arial attack man nosedived into a slew of problems last year. The challenge will be his turnover ratio and not his ability to stretch the field. Anytime a veteran throws 20 interceptions late in his career, it’s a problem. Then again, Rivers has been one of the more consistent players in the league, so that free agency deal coming his way will be a big one.

17) TE Austin Hooper – Following the news that Hunter Henry would be franchise-tagged, Hooper’s stock is skyrocketing. As the top tight end, the 25-year-old received his second consecutive Pro Bowl nod with 787 yards and 6 touchdowns. The downside is the 6 scores are the highest of his career. But when you’re the top player at your position, you’re getting paid.

16) RB Derrick Henry – Henry is the top running back on the market and will be until he’s franchise tagged. Last season, the former Heisman Trophy winner won the rushing title with over 1,500 yards in the regular season before tacking on 500 more in the playoffs. The issue is durability since his snap count continues to grow. Will he be the same runner in four years?

15) LB Cory Littleton – There’s a report that Littleton’s hype is extensive, but why? Since entering a starting tole two years ago, the former special teamer turned standout has tallied back-to-back 100 tackle seasons. He’s also played well in coverage where he’s collected at least two interceptions. If his ceiling explodes, the team that signs Littleton in free agency will be getting an elite defender for a lower price.

14) DL Arik Armstead – Armstead still relatively young and will be able to sign two long-term deals should his production continue to dominate. The question is, will it last for the long haul? He had 10 sacks this season, but only had nine in the previous four campaigns combined. Then again, would you rather have a standout run stopper or take a risk on a rookie player early?

13) OT Jack Conklin – There’s your top offensive tackle of the free agent market. After an All-Pro rookie season, Conklin has battled up and down years but bounced back in time for a new contract. With his youth and durability, the former first-rounder will be a building block for an offense if given the right price.

12) QB Jameis Winston – So let’s look at Winston. Led the league in passing yards? Check. Led the league in interceptions? Also, check. There are moments where he’s been the franchise quarterback and moments where he’s a disaster on the field.

11) S Anthony Harris – A career season for Harris will pay off as he enters free agency. He finished tied for the league interception with 6 and was only targeted 23 times last year. Harris also tallied a career-high 60 tackles. At 29, it’s hard placing him higher — especially on one incredible season with several below-average ones.

10) CB Chris Harris Jr. – Is Harris Jr. still the best cornerback in the league? No, but he’s still one of them entering free agency. His cover skills alone make him a top free agent, allowing 67.1 percent of their passes and gave up 10.0 yards per target. He’s also been dealing with No.1 targets since the departure of Aquib Talib, which could lead to why he regressed last season. In the right defense, this is still a top-caliber defender.

9) QB Ryan Tannehill – This is the player who earned the most in a contract year. Everyone thought Tannehill would be nothing but a back up in the Music City. Instead, he wrote a new tune for the Titans’ offense, leading them to a postseason appearance.

Throwing for 22 touchdowns against 6 picks, Tannehill will get paid. At 32, that will be up to teams to put in offers. While Henry was the driving force of the playoffs, Tannehill played a massive role in keeping the club afloat during the season. No matter if he’s viewed as a long-term option or bridge player, Tannehill won’t be taking a friendly deal after this season of success.

8) OG Joe Thuney – Probably your top offensive linemen, Thuney will be worth every penny to an offensive line. Durable, the former mid-round selection allowed only 16 pressures — and was consistent in run formations. He’s played 99 percent of snaps over the past four years and can start anywhere on the interior line. Just sign him and let him play.

7) CB Byron Jones – The top cornerback on the market, you best believe that Jones will be paid the top dollar by one team. Corners with his size and agility won’t grow on trees and neither will their production. Last season, he was targeted 64 times and allowed a catch only 53.1 percent of the time. Jones can also play in the slot or on the outside and slide back to safety. Add all that up and you know Jones will be paid soon.

6) EDGE Jadeveon Clowney – Although expected to earn pass rusher money, Clowney will be the reason a run defense is exceptional. He collected 78 quarterback pressures over the past two seasons and has been a top-15 run stopper over three years. Clowney is raw, but his unethical playing style will terrorize defensive fronts. Someone is paying him big.

5) WR Amari Cooper – The top receiving target on the market, Cooper will get paid off his age alone. Finishing four of the last five seasons with 1,000 yards, the former Alabama product has been a No.1 receiver in both Dallas and Oakland. Once arriving in the Lone Star State, the connection between Dak Prescott and Cooper grew. Both thrived when working together and both should be brought back.

If Jerry Jones lets him walk in free agency, the Cowboys deserve what’s coming their way. And a team is also getting one of the more well-rounded young receivers in the game.

4) EDGE Shaquil Barrett – Barrett comes in before Clowney due to his consistency as a pass rusher over the past two seasons. Last year, the former Bronco led the league with 19.5 sacks and 37 quarterback pressures. The year before, Barrett posted only three.

Reports are that the Buccaneers will use a franchise tag on either Winston or Barrett. If they skip out on the pass rusher, he’ll likely test the market again. Last season was his first as a full-time starter, so he’s just entering his prime years.

3) QB Drew Brees – Brees set new records last season under center, surpassing Peyton Manning for the most passing yards in a career while leading the league in completion percentage. He’ll likely stay in New Orleans, but if he were to leave, top dollar is the only way you’re getting perhaps the most underrated all-time great in the game.

2) QB Tom Brady – It’s Tom Brady. Even if he’s regressing, this is a 6-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback that will bring something special to your team. If you want him, you know what you’re paying.

1) QB Dak Prescott – No surprise here. Franchise quarterbacks don’t come around often and whether you believe it or not, Prescott is one.

Prescott took leaps forward last season, throwing for 4,902 yards and 30 touchdowns against 11 interceptions. He also looked the part of a leader in the locker room and his on-field demeanor will drive teams to fall in love with him. Prescott is currently waiting for a deal worth over $130 million but could be playing on the franchise tag.

If you’re wondering why Prescott is No.1, think about this. Quarterbacks will be a high commodity while they will be the building block of your team. Is Brady or Brees going to be playing at an elite level in five years? No way.

Will Prescott be close to that player? Probably. And if Dallas won’t pay him, there will be a plethora of teams that will.

Cole Thompson is a lead writer for PFN. You can follow him on Twitter @MrColeThompson, and follow PFN @PFN365. 

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