NFL free agency have-nots: Market is soft for big-name backs like Adrian Peterson
The bulk of those players unsigned either run the ball or make a living stuffing it on defense
The first wave of free agency is over. It was over, by and large, by Friday morning, or mere hours after the league year officially began. And if you earn a living impacting the passing game on either side of the ball -- throwing it, catching it, protecting those who throw it; defending the pass, or attacking those who throw the ball -- you got paid.
Thus, it comes as no surprise that as we head toward the second week of the open market that the bulk of the household names that remain unsigned either run the football or stop those who run it.
The running back market itself is virtually unchanged from before the start of free agency, and while some fullbacks got paid quickly, the backs generating the most buzz among fans -- Adrian Peterson , Jamaal Charles , LeGarrette Blount , Latavius Murray and Eddie Lacy -- are resigned to flying from team-to-team on visits while the likes of Seattle, Oakland, New England, Minnesota and Detroit sort out how little they’ll have to spend to land the runner of their choosing.
A slow-forming and softer market for run-stuffing defensive tackles still includes several best-of-breed players in pursuit of the right contract ( Dontari Poe , Bennie Logan ). And there has been almost no movement on the inside linebacker market as well, with Dont’a Hightower, who some believed the New England Patriots would franchise, Manti Te’o and Kevin Minter among those still seeking their next employer.
Several of these players will end up taking one-year prove-it deals in some shape or form and some could end up signing with their previous team.
Just consider the case study of the Patriots alone.
Generally considered one of the smartest and most progressive franchises, with a genius head coach, let’s recap how they spent the fast and furious initial stage of transactions. They were busy completing trades for an athletic tight end (Dwayne Allen) and a young pass rusher ( Kony Ealy ) and an explosive deep threat ( Brandin Cooks ) and signing a corner to a monster contract ( Stephon Gilmore ), knowing all along that in time they could end up bringing back two core players -- Hightower and Blount -- at New England’s price. And at this point it would be hard to bet against it.
Any hope that agents had that some team would do something crazy for Peterson -- a former league MVP -- at the onset of free agency to boost the running back group has faded. Could he still end up getting more than $5 million per year? Maybe, but not without a fight and the reality is fairly grim for this accomplished collection of runners. They’ll have to board a bunch of flights before they get close to what they want ... if they get close to what they want at all.
The trend isn’t changing anytime soon. Especially not with a bumper crop of running backs eager to get drafted next month and the allure of that cheap labor at that position more of a siren call than ever.
Teams are essentially pitting this group of former Pro Bowlers against one another as they make their varied visits, picking apart their medical history and the number of carries already on their resume as well as making hedge bets against the mounting risk of injury and an immediate fall-off in production.
When it takes this long for a true beacon contract to emerge at a position group -- or position groups in this market considering inside linebackers and linemen as well (with signings like Danny Woodhead and Brandon Williams in Baltimore something of an outlier), then it’s doubtful the landscape changes drastically in the bargain-hunting period of free agency, when the best evaluators (New England, Seattle, Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Green Bay) often do their best work.
Expect the run of short-term deals to continue, with some of these defenders hoping they stumble into a few more sacks next season and can re-launch themselves on the open market at a higher rate of return. Expect teams to remain wary of paying too much for past production involving the run game on either side of the ball. And expect the majority of the contracts eventually going to these backs to all be relatively similar in the end.
More NFL free agency news and notes
The Chicago Bears have left some teams in the league a little baffled by some of their moves. The Mike Glennon contract, worth a legit $15 million a year, is viewed as being much higher than it needed to be, with the New York Jets and some others having lukewarm interest at best. Giving $7.5 million to corner Prince Amukamura for one year -- after he was relatively ineffective last year on a one-year, $5 million contract in Jacksonville in a prove-it scenario -- raised some eyebrows.
And the Bears paying oft-injured ex-Steeler Markus Wheaton the same money in 2017 as receivers like Brandon Marshall , Terrelle Pryor and Torrey Smith got on the open market is a head-scratcher as well. The Pittsburgh Steelers , who evaluate receivers as well as any franchise in the game, are still very much in the market for receiving depth even after the Antonio Brown signing, but they wouldn’t pay Wheaton close to that money and they think he’s a great kid and all.
The Bears could counter that most of these deals are only a one-year commitment, but I’d counter that with so many jobs on the line there given the struggles of the John Fox-Ryan Pace regime, one year might be all they have.
New England Patriots
Don’t discount the Patriots’ ability to move corner Malcolm Butler for a good return. The restricted free agent is shopping himself to other teams, and after the huge deal Bill Belichick gave Stephon Gilmore, he won’t be paying two corners that much money.
Butler’s name did indeed surface in trade talks between the Patriots and New Orleans Saints , and while no deal could be consummated until Butler signs his restricted free agent tender, I’d hardly rule it out. The Cleveland Browns and Saints, for starters, have a bunch of picks now and both still need a good young corner badly
Wouldn’t be surprised if Seattle was the first team to make a move for one of the remaining running backs once they get a sense on who is the best fit at their price point.
San Francisco 49ers
Teams seem very skeptical about for San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s odds of finding a decent contract. I’m told there is a strong plan in place to market him to the right team (and the right kind of owner), but we’ll see how that manifests itself and how long it takes to come together.
The Philadelphia Eagles are still open to myriad trade possibilities. General manager Howie Roseman loves to make deals and while he’s parting with some players he’s already shopped ( Connor Barwin , Chase Daniel ), he’s still open to moving center Jason Kelce , linebacker Mychal Kendricks and one of his recently drafted receivers as well, league sources say, after adding Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith in free agency already.
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