Here are five under-the-radar players set to cash in big in NFL free agency
Nick Perry tops a list of players hitting the market at the right time
With the franchise tag period expiring Wednesday, and a weak class of free agents about to hit the market, some impending millionaires are better poised than others. Few are perched any better than Packers linebacker Nick Perry.
Perry hasn’t received as much national attention as some of the bigger names in this class, but he’s poised to do very well on the open market and will be one of the most sought-after players. The linebacker plays a strong all-around game, he doesn’t needs to come off the field and, most importantly, he can provide some pass rush. And as this franchise-tag cycle strongly indicated, again, there are few things NFL execs covet more than pass rush. The Cardinals, as expected, tagged Chandler Jones to keep him from hitting the market and the Chargers tagged Melvin Ingram.
The Giants also went ahead and tagged Jason Pierre-Paul, too, in what was viewed by me and others as a surprise, considering his age and the issues with his hand and the fact they’d already tagged him once in the past.
Perry already had a rich crop of potential suitors, but now as one of few young potential impact players in the front seven, that interest will only rise in Indianapolis as teams jostle for position with free agents. The Packers want to keep him, and the Colts would be foolish not to heavily explore signing him, while any number of bad, rebuilding defenses covet him, like the 49ers and Browns. Even some clubs that traditionally don’t spent big on outside players have to consider him, like the Steelers for instance, who could be losing their own top linebacker, Lawrence Timmons, to free agency.
When it’s all said and done a little over a week from now, Perry will be quickly swept off the market and he’ll at least approach the $10M per-season plateau. Perry has put some injury concerns behind him, he is coming off an 11-sack season in which he had to play on all downs and all situations. He’s hardly a situational pass rusher. And with Clay Matthews no longer the same guy and Father Time catching up to Julius Peppers (he can still get after it, don’t get me wrong, but has to be on a pitch count), Perry did more than could expected in Green Bay last season.
He’s hitting the market at precisely the right time, and other clubs know it. Retaining him is a priority for Packers GM Ted Thompson, but at what price point? Time is no longer on the team’s side, and the floodgates are about to open. Execs who have watched Perry’s tape quietly rave about it, and he has natural leadership skills. The youngsters on the Packers defense gravitate to him and he’s polished his pass-rushing game in recent years, getting close to Peppers and learning from one of the all-time greats. At age 26, he’s hitting the sweet-spot of free agency and while some will point to limited playing time in the past (his 12 starts in 2017 are a career high), the argument can be made he is blossoming right now.
Too many teams falter in free agency and reward declining players for the past production they put up for other teams. Catching someone at the right spot in their career arc is imperative and no shortage of GMs will be motivated to buy in on Perry now. The linebacker position may be the best and deepest in this free-agent class, but it’s the fact that Perry can get after the passer that will separate him from most of the rest of the bunch.
His biggest competition on the open market would be from older players like Peppers and DeMarcus Ware who, let’s face it, would only make sense for a few highly-competitive teams at this stage in their career. Perry, meanwhile, is a fit on a Super Bowl or bust club, or one with a new coach trying to find fits for the long haul.
Perry loves it in Green Bay from all that I gather, and he’s a great kid who, all things being equal, appreciates what he has in Titletown. But once we hit March, it’s exceedingly rare that the hometown team can still compete for a top free agent’s services, and it normally requires the type of top-of-the-market deals that the Packers are reticent to do to accomplish it.
Get ready to hear an awful lot about Perry in the next 10 days or so, and there is going to be a ton of green in his future very soon, whether it’s in Green Bay or not.
Here are a few other more under-the-radar free agents who stand to do quite well this month, and who will no doubt have plenty of teams asking about them in Indianapolis:
He was already primed to break the bank, and then Eric Berry went and pushed the safety market even further by getting $40M guaranteed and $13M a season from the Chiefs. Jefferson is going to get a huge deal in free agency and the interest in him is substantial. I wouldn’t be shocked if double-digit teams gave him contract offers, and his departure from Arizona has been looking more likely by the day.
Teams love his speed and his special-teams prowess and his ability to make things happen in the screen game. He’s an explosive third-down back who also has the will and ability to run between the tackles. New England nearly signed him to a restricted free-agent offer sheet a year ago and the Rams would love to keep him, but he could out price them now. He instantly energizes your return game. I could see him with the Jets.
He’s turned his life around since his rough early days in Tennessee and was a model citizen with the Rams, being consistent and productive despite getting awful quarterback play on one of the worst offenses in football. He has the size teams like and he may not be a burner but did manage to average nearly 19 yards per catch in 2015. He could certainly move the chains for a team needing a possession receiver like the Ravens, perhaps. At age 28, he very quietly had a 1,000 yard season for the inept Rams and had a career-high 68 catches.
Injuries have always doomed him at the worst possible time, including last season. But he has been an above-average performer at the most important position in pro sports for several years now and has been doing it in places like Cleveland and Chicago that lack talent and stability on offense. It’s shocking the Bears didn’t make more of an effort to sign him, but he’ll have a half dozen suitors or more I’m sure, as he did last year. The Jets would’ve done well to pick him over Ryan Fitzpatrick a year ago, and the Bills should be looking at him as a band-aid if they don’t pick up Tyrod Taylor’s option. He’d make a lot of sense in Jacksonville or San Francisco as well, where they need someone to push a young starter. Over the last two years Hoyer has 25 TDs to just 7 INTs with a QB rating of 93.7, and doing so at a bargain rate.
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