Pete Prisco's Top 50 NFL free agents: Brees, Cousins top very average 2018 class

How good is the 2018 NFL free-agent class? 

"There isn't a lot out there," one NFC defensive coach said.

"Getting one good quality starter out of this group is about all you can hope for," one AFC personnel man said.

"Good luck trying to fix your team with these guys," an NFC personnel man said.

That's why drafting and developing is so key. That's why teams are doing a better job of keeping their own, which has been helped by the cap rising each year. There is money to spend.

There just isn't a lot out there to spend it on.

The 2018 free-agency period, which opens next week, will be one where average players are getting way-above average money.

It is a class that has lost some top-flight talent because of franchise tags, guys like Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell, Cowboys end DeMarcus Lawrence and Lions end Ziggy Ansah. That leaves a picked over carcass for teams to feed on.

There are some good, young players who might not be household names who will help teams. They, too, will get bigger deals than expected.

Rising players like Chicago Bears corner Kyle Fuller, Philadelphia Eagles tight end Trey Burton and Seattle Seahawks receiver Paul Richardson are all names mentioned to me as potential big signings based on what's to come.

They are all highly ranked here in my top-50 list of free agents, which is headed by New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees. I think he goes back to the Saints, but you never know.

Washington's Kirk Cousins is the second-ranked player, and he is about to get a mega-deal that will make him the highest-paid player in the league, likely from either the Jets or the Vikings.

All in all, the list isn't special, which is why we're about to see a lot of contracts that will lead to a lot of head scratching and Twitter ripping.

Drew Brees New Orleans Saints QB
I expect he will re-sign with the Saints, but you never know. He is still playing at a high level and is by far the best player on this list.
Kirk Cousins Washington Redskins QB
He is going to command a mega-deal, but is he worth it? Hey, your worth is what the market says it is. The Jets and Vikings are expected to make a strong pursuit.
Andrew Norwell Carolina Panthers G
With the Panthers already paying Trai Turner a big deal, it's hard to imagine them keeping Norwell. He will be the big-ticket offensive lineman in this group.
Trumaine Johnson Los Angeles Rams CB
With Marcus Peters coming in a trade, Johnson is gone for sure. He has been a solid player, but probably nowhere near as good as the 30M dollars he made the past two seasons as a player with a franchise tag next to his name.
Nate Solder New England Patriots T
He isn't a kid anymore at the age of 30, but he's still a quality starting tackle. He isn't dominating, but he is good enough to command a nice contract in this market.
Kyle Fuller Chicago Bears CB
The Bears did a smart thing and put the transition tag on him, but he can still be had by an aggressive team. After a knee injury in 2016, he started all 16 games for the Bears last season and did a nice job. At 26, that will give him great value on the market.
Case Keenum Minnesota Vikings QB
He played for two million dollars last season, but will make a lot more this time around. But how much is he worth based on one really good season?
Trey Burton Philadelphia Eagles TE
This pass-catching tight end, who played behind Zach Ertz, might be ready to blossom on another team. He is 26 and should become a real threat in the middle of the field for a team that signs him.
Malcolm Butler New England Patriots CB
His benching in the Super Bowl aside, he has been a good starter the past three years, although his play tailed off last season. A change of scenery will be good for him.
Star Lotulelei Carolina Panthers DT
His play tailed off last season and the Panthers might be ready to move on. But a big, power player inside will attract a lot of suitors.
Sheldon Richardson Seattle Seahawks DT
The Seahawks want him back after trading to get him from the Jets last year. Richardson had a nice season for the Seahawks and is only 27.
Sammy Watkins Los Angeles Rams WR
He can run, which teams love, but where is the production? He had just 39 catches last season for the Rams, although he did have eight touchdown catches.
Dontari Poe Atlanta Falcons DT
He signed a one-year deal with Atlanta last year and had a nice season. When he keeps his weight in check, he's a much better player.
Jimmy Graham Seattle Seahawks TE
He is 31, but he can still help a team desperate for a pass-catching tight end. He had 10 touchdown catches last season, but does he run well anymore?
Allen Robinson Jacksonville Jaguars WR
He is coming off an ACL injury that he suffered in the first week of the season. But at 25, he will be an attractive free agent with his ability to make plays as a bigger receiver.
Justin Pugh New York Giants T
He missed eight games last season with a back injury that would have to be checked out by any team signing him. When he's on the field, he's a good player who can also slide outside to tackle in a pinch.
After struggling with sobriety early in his career, he had his best season in 2017 and will be a target for teams looking for a quality tight end.
Rashaan Melvin Indianapolis Colts CB
He had his best season in 2017, and at 28 should get some play on the market. He'd make a nice No. 2 corner for a needy team.
Morgan Burnett Green Bay Packers SS
He is 29 and has been a quality starter for a long time. He would be a nice veteran addition for a team looking to stabilize the back end.
Muhammad Wilkerson New York Jets DE
He's had some motivational issues and he was suspended for being late to meetings last season. But when he's focused he's a dominant player. Some team will give him a chance and they just might hit it big.
Paul Richardson Seattle Seahawks WR
He can run, which will attract him to teams. He averaged 16.0 yards per catch last season. That's stretching the field.
Avery Williamson Tennessee Titans ILB
He's a good run-plugging linebacker who has improved in coverage. At 26, he will get play from teams looking to be better against the run.
Tyler Eifert Cincinnati Bengals TE
He's coming off back surgery, but he's said to be healthy now. If so, he might be the top tight end in this class. But there is risk.
Bashaud Breeland Washington Redskins CB
He's been a quality starter for the Redskins the past four seasons and will command a nice deal in this market. He's not a No. 1 corner, but he's a good No. 2.
Ryan Jensen Baltimore Ravens C
Jensen took over as the starting center last season and had his best season at the right time. He is 27 and will be a target for any team looking to upgrade inside.
NaVorro Bowman Oakland Raiders MLB
The Raiders picked him up last season after the 49ers released him and he was a big part of their defense. They have linebacker issues, so retaining him would make sense.
Kenny Vaccaro New Orleans Saints SS
He's not a pure safety, but he can give a defense some scheme versatility with his ability to play near the line of scrimmage. With hybrid players becoming more valuable every year, it will help his value.
Eric Reid San Francisco 49ers SS
He is a solid starter who can help a team looking for a thumper on the back end. He isn't great in coverage.
T.J. Carrie Oakland Raiders CB
It's weird that a team with corner issues wouldn't re-sign him. Carrie played well last season for the Raiders and could be hitting the market at the right time.
Jack Mewhort Indianapolis Colts G
Played only five games because of a season-ending knee injury, but he's a good, solid player when healthy. He's 27, so he has a lot of good play left in him.
Beau Allen Philadelphia Eagles DT
He backed up inside for the Eagles, but this 26-year-old is ready for more. Any team looking for a rising player who might come at a value price should sign Allen. These are the types of value players I would sign.
Tre Boston Los Angeles Chargers DB
He played on a one-year deal in 2017 and had one of his best seasons. At 25, he could help a lot of teams on the back end.
Nigel Bradham Philadelphia Eagles OLB
He is 29 and has been a big part of the Eagles defense the past few seasons, starting 31 games in two years.
Weston Richburg New York Giants C
He's had some concussion issues, but when he's healthy he's a solid player who could also slide over to guard.
Marqise Lee Jacksonville Jaguars WR
He has a tendency to drop some passes, but he caught 56 passes last season and he's only 26 years old. The Jaguars could bring him back.
E.J. Gaines Buffalo Bills CB
He had a nice season in 2017, but he missed five games. Staying on the field has been an issue for him. When he's healthy, he's a solid No. 2 corner.
Patrick Robinson Philadelphia Eagles CB
He is coming off a nice season as the Eagles slot corner after signing a one-year deal last year. He will get action in this marker for a long-term deal.
Teddy Bridgewater Minnesota Vikings QB
He hasn't played the last two seasons after a major knee injury, but he's healthy and said to be ready to go. When he started for the Vikings, he showed he could be a capable starter.
Chris Hubbard Pittsburgh Steelers T
He stepped in at times last year for the injured Marcus Gilbert and more than held his own. It might be time for him to be a full-time starter.
Justin Ellis Oakland Raiders DT
He won't give much in terms of a pass rush, but he can play the run. The Raiders would be wise to bring him back.
Josh Sitton Chicago Bears G
He missed three games last season and he's getting up in the years at the age of 32 but he is still a solid guard who can help a team.
Anthony Hitchens Dallas Cowboys MLB
This 25-year-old has started 28 games the past two seasons and has done a nice job playing both the strong side and in the middle. He is better against the run than the pass.
AJ McCarron Cincinnati Bengals QB
He won his case to get to free agency and now will be looking for a starting job. He has flashed at times when he's played, but there isn't a lot of data. The Browns would make sense.
Trent Murphy Washington Redskins LB
He is coming off a torn ACL suffered last August, but he should be ready for the season. He had nine sacks in 2016, so the pass-rush potential is there. He also has been suspended for violating the league's PED policy.
Dion Lewis New England Patriots RB
He can run and catch it, which is why he might find some suitors, even with health issues over the years. He's still just 27.
Aaron Colvin Jacksonville Jaguars CB
He's a solid nickel corner, and teams are always trying to find those. I am not sure he will be a guy who can be anything more than that.
Albert Wilson Kansas City Chiefs WR
He had a career-high 42 catches last season with three touchdowns and could be a surprise early signing in a weak free-agent receiver class.
Carlos Hyde San Francisco 49ers RB
He played 16 games last season for the first time in his career, which is a good thing. But he averaged just 3.9 yards per rush. That's not good enough, but the line wasn't great.
Demario Davis New York Jets ILB
He had the best season of his career at the right time and is ready to cash in because of it. He is 29, but he had five sacks and did a nice job in all facets of playing linebacker last season.
Jerick McKinnon Minnesota Vikings RB
His ability to be a runner and a receiver (51 catches last season) could make him a nice target for teams looking for a change-of-pace runner who can help on third down.
CBS Sports Senior Writer

Pete Prisco has covered the NFL for three decades, including working as a beat reporter in Jacksonville for the Jaguars. When he's not watching game tape, you can find Pete on Twitter or dreaming of an... Full Bio

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