Top-tier quarterbacks rarely reach the free-agent market and that remains the case this year. There are no Pro Bowl quarterbacks set to hit the NFL open market when free agency opens in less than a month, and those potential starters that are scheduled to be free agents – Kirk Cousin, Brock Osweiler, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Sam Bradford – could be re-signed by their own teams before they ever get to bidding.
But as Scout.com releases its rankings of free agents, there are plenty of intriguing options at other positions … if they don’t get the franchise tag before free agency.
Last year, Ndamukong Suh took the money and ran to Miami. This year, the top free agent on the board – Denver Broncos linebacker Von Miller – only increased his already prominent place in free agency with a spectacular Super Bowl performance, including two strip sacks of Cam Newton.
On the other Super Bowl participant, the Carolina Panthers, has Scout.com’s second-ranked free agent, cornerback Josh Norman, who cemented his place there by becoming on the NFL’s most dangerous cornerbacks.
Yet, both of those players are likely to get the franchise tag if a long-term deal with their current teams can’t be reached before free agency opens.
But fear not. There are plenty of quality starters that will reach the market, as there are every year. If Norman isn’t available in a month, Sean Smith and Janoris Jenkins bolster a deep field of cornerbacks slated to become free agents.
If Miller isn’t available, there is a solid corps of outside linebackers to fill in the free-agent gaps, like his teammate Danny Trevathan or Rams outside linebacker/safety Mark Barron and Seattle’s Bruce Irvin, all ranked in the top 25 overall.
Safety is another deep position with at least 15 starters scheduled to become free agents, from All-Pro Eric Berry to Eric Weddle, and Reggie Nelson and his teammate George Iloka. It’s perhaps the deepest position in free agency when it comes to finding a starter.
The top two receivers – Chicago’s Alshon Jeffery and Cleveland’s Travis Benjamin – will also garner plenty of attention and rich offers if they make it to market. Last year’s top two receivers heading into free agency were Dez Bryant and Demaryius Thomas and both of them received the franchise tag.
Transition and franchise tags can start being issued next Tuesday, but most teams will probably wait until after the NFL Scouting Combine, which is the last week in February, in hopes they can get a long-term deal done with their pending free agents before free agency begins (general managers often meet with agents at the Combine). The deadline for franchise and transition tags is March 1, the day after the Scouting Combine ends.
On March 7, clubs can enter into negotiations with the agents of free-agent players not on their team, but a contract can’t be executed until the official start of free agency at 4 p.m. Eastern on March 9.
For our rankings, five-star players are considered Pro Bowl caliber with very little risk, and you’ll notice there aren’t many of them available among the 500-plus free agents in 2016. Four-star players would be starters for almost any team, while three-star players have the potential to start. Two-star players are considered mostly backups and special-teams contributors while one-star players are considered roster-fringe candidates.
Not only was production taken into account, but so was age and the position they play, durability and off-the-field concerns. A player like Greg Hardy is worthy of five stars on his talent, but he carries some risk after his off-the-field issues. Linebacker Derrick Johnson is five-star quality as well, but 33-year-old linebackers aren’t likely to garner big-money, long-term contracts.
There is plenty that general managers and coaches take into consideration in free agency, including scheme fit, which is why free-agent beauty is in the eye of the check holder.