Grading the 25 Best Impending NFL Free Agents

Titans fans have a lot to be excited about during the holiday season. Not only are they tied for first place in the AFC South, but they also have a lot of cap space. And what better way to spend cap space than to overpay average free agents? Kidding, of course. But the Titans will likely spend moderate cap space on a value free agent or two, so here’s my list of the thirty best impending UFA’s.

* denotes a player who is likely to re-sign with their current team

** denotes a player who will likely be considered for the Franchise Tag

#1: S Eric Berry (Grade: A+)* **

First thing’s first: there’s no way Berry hits the open market. Whether he gets franchised again or signed to a lucrative long-term contract, Eric Berry will be a Chief for years to come. He’s a star player who tackles like a linebacker and covers as well as anyone in the league.

#2: RB Le’Veon Bell (Grade: A+)* **

Much like Berry, I see no way that Bell actually becomes a free agent; he’s too important to the Steelers. Bell is currently third in the NFL in rushing, something that’s astounding considering he missed three games due to a suspension. His vision, durability, and receiving ability make him perhaps the best runner in football.

#3: DE Chandler Jones (Grade: A)**

He’s no Von Miller or Khalil Mack, but Chandler Jones is nonetheless a very productive edge rusher. Jones filled an instant need for the Cardinals’ top flight defense when he arrived in Arizona. He is currently on pace for ten sacks and has forced three fumbles this year.

#4: LB Dont’a Hightower (Grade: A)*

Dont’a Hightower is an extraordinarily versatile player who fits in well with what defensive coordinator Matt Patricia likes to do in New England. He can get in a three-point stance and play on the line, stand up and rush as an outside linebacker, and play traditional inside linebacker. The Patriots would be wise to keep him around.

#5: DT Kawann Short (Grade: A-)* **

Though his stats have fallen off a bit this year, Kawann Short remains a force on the defensive line. If the Panthers want to rebound next season, they’ll need to keep him around. Pro Football Focus has Short graded as the fifth best defensive tackle in the NFL, behind only Aaron Donald, Fletcher Cox, Ndamukong Suh, and Calais Campbell.

#6: QB Kirk Cousins (Grade: A-)* **

Kirk Cousins’ grade on my list dropped following his poor performance against the Panthers on Monday Night Football. If Washington, for whatever reason, decides to let him walk, he would become easily the best quarterback to hit the open market in some time. Will he get another franchise tag, or a long term deal?

#7: WR Alshon Jeffery (Grade: A-)

Judged by talent alone, Jeffery would get an A+. However, he’s shown to be injury prone and was recently suspended for violating league policy on substance abuse. Someone will take a chance on him returning to his #1 receiver form, the only question is who and for how much.

#8: DE Jason Pierre-Paul (Grade: B+)*

Oddly enough, JPP has been just as productive with nine fingers as he was with ten. Prior to suffering what will likely be a season ending injury, JPP teamed up with Olivier Vernon to create a big time pass rush in New York. After playing on the franchise tag this year, a long term deal is probably what’s next in store for him.

#9: LB Jamie Collins (Grade: B+)

Jamie Collins was an integral part of the Patriots team that won Super Bowl XLIX. Shockingly, he was traded to the Browns at the deadline for a third round pick. He’s similar to Dont’a Hightower in his versatility, but he’s more athletic and a better cover man. If Collins escapes the dumpster fire in Cleveland, he’ll be very attractive to any defensive scheme that needs help at linebacker.

#10: CB Stephon Gilmore (Grade B+)* 

Gilmore is a traditional man coverage corner; he’s long and athletic. He’s likely in for a Janoris Jenkins payday.

#11: DT Dontari Poe (Grade: B+)* 

Dontari Poe is the unsung hero of the Chiefs’ stout defense. He probably won’t command as big a paycheck as fellow nose tackle Damon Harrison did with the Giants, and the Chiefs would be wise to keep the athletic run stopper for the foreseeable future.

#12: TE Martellus Bennett (Grade: B)

Bennett has been a bit of a journeyman throughout his career, but he seems to have found a home in New England. With Rob Gronkowski sidelined due to injury, Bennett has taken over as Tom Brady’s biggest target. His ability to be a traditional tight-end with receiving and blocking ability is attractive, but his age and potential character problem are concerns. A team that desperately needs a tight-end could throw a lot of money at Bennett.

#13: CB Trumaine Johnson (Grade: B)

Johnson has played this season on the franchise tag, and has been somewhat disappointing. A year after losing Janoris Jenkins to the Giants, the Rams could lose their other starting cornerback if he decides he doesn’t want to be apart of the Rams’ impending rebuild. Saving cap space on Johnson could allow the Rams to work on their offensive line.

#14: RB Latavius Murray (Grade: B)

Latavius Murray has lost time in the backfield this year to rookie Jalen Richard, but remains a very capable power back thanks to his size and speed. The Raiders just paid players like Kelechi Osemele & Bruce Irvin, and they’re about to have to do the same with Derek Carr and Khalil Mack. They’d be wise to let Murray walk.

#15: S Tony Jefferson (Grade: B)

I don’t buy into the analysis that Tony Jefferson is a star safety, but he is solid. He seems like a guy that will be way overpaid by a desperate team, and it won’t be the Cardinals. If he wants to stay in the desert, he’ll need to take a hometown discount.

#16: G Ronald Leary (Grade: B)

Ronald Leary began the season on the bench, but has filled in well for the injured La’el Collins on the Cowboys incredible offensive line. Dallas will likely let the imposing run-blocker walk and allow the freakishly athletic Collins to retake his starting job next year.

#17: DT Brandon Williams (Grade: B)*

Brandon Williams is a less athletic version of Dontari Poe. He’s a very strong run defender, but not much more. Nonetheless he is a big reason why the Ravens have bounced back on defense in 2016. He’ll likely stay put.

#18: LB Zach Brown (Grade: B)

Brown signed a one year deal with the Bills after four disappointing seasons with the Titans. He’s broken out in a big way this year, finally using his great athleticism to become a very solid coverage linebacker and blitzer. He’s earned himself a big time pay raise.

#19: G T.J. Lang (Grade: B)*

Though he has struggled with the injury bug in 2016, T.J. Lang remains one of the better guards in the NFL. The biggest concern with Lang is his age, so its unlikely he’ll get a longterm deal from anyone. However, if a team is desperate for immediate help on the offensive line, they could come calling. It seems likely Lang stays in Green Bay.

#20: DE Calais Campbell (Grade: B)*

Calais Campbell has been as productive as ever in 2016, earning the second best Pro Football Focus grade for interior defensive lineman. He’s thirty years old, but remains a passionate leader and gritty player. Arizona would be foolish to not bring back their longtime defensive captain.

#21: WR Terrelle Pryor (Grade: B-)

Terrelle Pryor is perhaps the most interesting player on this list, considering 2016 was really his first full year playing WR. He’ll finish with over 1,000 receiving yards, which is impressive considering the quality, or lack thereof, of quarterbacks Pryor has played with. However, his value in my eyes is reduced due to the number of alarming off-field verbal altercations Pryor has been involved with, namely those with Janoris Jenkins and Adam Jones.

#22: DT Chris Baker (Grade: B-)*

Chris Baker is a name I honestly had never heard before this year, but he’s been nothing short of dominant on the Redskins defensive line. As with others on this list, age is the biggest concern with Baker as he’ll turn thirty next year. Considering defense has been the Redskins’ biggest issue in 2016, it would be odd for them to part with perhaps their best player on that side of the ball.

#23: DE Jabaal Sheard (Grade: B-)*

Sheard is the definition of a balanced defensive end. He’s not going to blow anyone away at anything, but he’s good at everything. He’s a solid pass rusher and run stopper, reminiscent of Rob Ninkovich. He’s precisely the kind of player Matt Patricia likes.

#24: WR Michael Floyd (Grade: C+)

Floyd was released by the Cardinals last week and consequently claimed off of waivers by the Patriots. A former first round pick, Floyd has all the physical talent in the world and has shown flashes of brilliance. He’s also shown extreme inconsistency and, as of late, the inability to stay out of trouble off the field. Floyd will not be getting a tremendous paycheck, but someone will take a chance on him.

#25: T Mike Remmers (Grade: C+)

You may remember Remmers as the guy who was repeatedly beaten badly by Von Miller in Super Bowl 50, but he is actually a pretty solid tackle. His versatility has been on display in 2016, as he’s moved from right to left tackle following the injury to Michael Oher. The Panthers must prioritize protecting Cam Newton next year, and they’ll need Remmers to come back and return to his normal position.

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