NFL Free Agency 2018: Five players under 30 that should be major targets for teams
Here are five players ready to hit their prime that NFL teams should target in free agency
Years ago, former Jacksonville Jaguars coach and current Jaguars vice president of player personnel Tom Coughlin taught me a valuable lesson about free agency:
The target age of potential signings should always be players who are 26 or 27 years old.
His theory was that those players still had their best football in front of them, while showing they had the tools in their first four or five seasons in the league to be a nice contributor and maybe more.
Coughlin didn't always adhere to that philosophy and sometimes broke his own rule to sign a veteran who didn't work out (see Hardy Nickerson), but for the most part it was his guide in free agency.
But it's something that stuck with me, and something I believe to this day.
Pay for what's coming, not for what has been.
So as we ready for free agency, I have five players who are either 26 or 27 who might not be the top-dollar free agents but should be major targets for the NFL's 32 teams.
Some of them are going to get big-money deals, mainly based on projections of what's to come, but that's the way it should be.
These are my five under-the-radar free agents, guys you might know but will be given more priority this week than some expect – or at least they should be.
When teams are looking for deep speed, they should target Richardson. He turns 26 in April and his best football is in front of him.
Richardson started 13 games last season, the most in an injury-plagued career, and he averaged 16.0 yards per reception. He had 44 catches with six touchdowns. He had 13 catches for 20-plus yards and three for 40-plus.
That type of speed, coupled with his age, will make him a hot commodity.
Richardson tore his ACL in the playoffs after the 2014 season and played one game in 2015 and was a backup on 2016. But his deep speed was on display last season, which is why he should be an early signing in this free-agent class.
This 26-year-old, from Wisconsin has developed into a nice inside player and is ready to start for a team. He was mainly a backup with the Eagles in his career, starting eight games in his four seasons. But he was a vital part of their Super Bowl-winning defense.
Allen played behind Fletcher Cox and Tim Jernigan, but he played almost as many snaps as Jernigan with 422.
Allen isn't going to be a great pass rusher, but he is good against the run. He's one of those players that has improved every year, which is why a smart team will sign him and make him a starter.
They call him "Smoke" for a reason. Brown can fly. The problem is he has trouble staying on the field.
Brown has started 11 games the past two seasons after catching 68 passes for a 15.4 per-catch average in 2015. He had 21 catches last season, but he averaged 14.2 on those receptions.
Brown was diagnosed with the sickle-cell trait in 2016 and he also had other various injuries to keep him off the field. If he can stay on the field – and that's the big if – he can be a big hit for teams looking to stretch the field.
He has the chance to duplicate that 1,000-yard, big-play season from 2015. He isn't big, but he should be given a long look by receiver-needy teams.
The Raiders might be making a mistake letting Carrie hit the market. They have little outside at corner, yet it appears they are letting their best corner test free agency.
Carrie had his best season in 2017, starting a career-best 16 games. While he didn't have an interception, he was good in coverage for a Raiders defense that struggled with it.
Carrie has started 37 games in his four seasons in the league. He isn't a No. 1 corner, but he is worth a contract for a team looking for a solid No. 2 who is coming off his best season.
He went into last season with the idea he would compete for the starting center job with John Urschel. But when Urschel suddenly retired, Jensen was left as the starter.
All he did was respond with his best season as he readied to go into free agency. Coming into 2017, he had nine starts in four seasons – all at guard. That's why his play was somewhat of a surprise to the Ravens.
Now he hits free agency with a chance to cash in on that play. He is a tough guy who likes to mix it up and would be a nice addition to any offensive line. It's nice to add players who seem to be improving, and he is certainly that.
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