49ers

Big names highlight 2017 crop of NFL free agents

Big names highlight 2017 crop of NFL free agents

NEW YORK -- Free agency is not the lifeblood of NFL teams. The draft remains the most significant means by which to build and fortify a franchise.

Yet, as the salary cap increases exponentially each year under the 10-year labor agreement reached in 2011, the lure of veterans on the open market can be powerful. Not only do clubs who manage their financial structure wisely have increased funds to spend, they can get quick improvement that doesn't normally come from rookies.

To Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman, it's unusual to see how much money is available for spending, and not just in Carolina.

"Different since I got here," he said. "We had to cut guys to get under, then the next year I think we had to touch one or two contracts to get under, then the last three years we've been able to create separation, sort of.

"Meanwhile, you've got teams that have got crazy money under the cap. It gives you flexibility. It allows you, for lack of a better term, it allows you to expand your thought process."

The Falcons (Alex Mack, Mohamed Sanu), Giants (Damon Harrison, Olivier Vernon, Janoris Jenkins) and Raiders (Bruce Irvin, Kelechi Osemele, Donald Penn) scored in a big way in 2016. The Bears (Danny Trevathan), Dolphins (Arian Foster) and Texans (Brock Osweiler) not so much.

With the 2017 crop lacking big-time difference makers, that extra $12 million each team has to spend might get spread around a bit more. Then again, overspending has become second nature in free agency for far too many teams.

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HEAD OF THE CLASS

There were four All-Pros whose contracts were up after the 2015 season. Von Miller, Eric Berry and Doug Martin returned to their teams. Josh Norman had the franchise tag dropped by Carolina and scored big with a five-year, $75 million deal in Washington.

Four top guys who won't be going anywhere:

Le'Veon Bell , RB, Pittsburgh - The Steelers tagged their all-world back and he won't be leaving Steel City.

Eric Berry, S, Kansas City - He threatened to sit out 2017 rather than be tagged again and he won, getting a long-term deal as the league's highest-paid safety.

Kirk Cousins, QB, Washington - When a good but not great quarterback such as Cousins is making more than Super Bowl winners, it shows how valued (and overvalued) the position can be.

Jason Pierre-Paul , DE, New York Giants - The Giants are convinced he's found ways to be consistently dangerous despite his hand issues from 2015 fireworks accident.

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Still on teams' radars:

Alshon Jeffery, WR, Chicago - If he stays healthy, Jeffery can be a No. 1 target. In this pass-first league, that's a must-have commodity.

Latavius Murray, RB, Oakland - Teams outside of Dallas have discovered the need for two running backs. Murray pretty much would fit anywhere.

Andrew Whitworth, OT, Cincinnati - Veteran left tackles with versatility, leadership skills and intelligence are difficult to find.

Dont'a Hightower, LB, New England - Probably the best defender on the NFL champions, and a good locker room guy.

Dontari Poe, DT, Kansas City - If he isn't the best at his position in the NFL, he's close.

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Superstars without a home:

Adrian Peterson, RB: Surely the former Viking will get a nice, if short, deal from a club in dire need of a ground threat who could put it over the top.

Darrelle Revis, CB: He might have legal issues, and he slipped badly in his return to the Jets. If he has anything left, Revis is a find for someone - with a short-term contract.

Jamaal Charles, RB: One of the league's most gallant and versatile players, but his knee problems might be too much to overcome.

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NEXT IN LINE

These players are not far behind those above, but some come with significant questions marks. Listed alphabetically:

A.J. Bouye, CB, Houston; Calais Campbell, DE, Arizona; Pierre Garcon, WR, Washington; DeSean Jackson, WR, Washington; Tony Jefferson, S, Arizona; Trumaine Johnson (non-exclusive tag), CB, Los Angeles Rams; Chris Long, DE, New England; Brandon Marshall, WR, New York Jets; Alex Okafor, LB, Arizona; Nick Perry, LB, Green Bay; Terrelle Pryor, WR, Cleveland; Kawann Short (non-exclusive tag), DT, Carolina; Brandon Williams, DT, Baltimore; Kevin Zeitler, G, Cincinnati.

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SECOND WAVE

Some of these players might get quick deals more because of the position they play than their overall production. Some have excellent timing, hitting free agency after effective seasons. Listed alphabetically:

Kamar Aiken, WR, Baltimore; Martellus Bennett, TE, New England; Zach Brown, LB, Buffalo; Trent Cole, LB (edge rusher), Indianapolis; Jared Cook, TE, Green Bay; Patrick DiMarco, FB, Atlanta; Jack Doyle, TE, Indianapolis; Stephon Gilmore, CB, Buffalo; Mike Glennon, QB, Tampa Bay; Micah Hyde, S, Green Bay; Melvin Ingram (non-exclusive tag), LB, Los Angeles Chargers; Chandler Jones (non-exclusive tag), LB, Arizona; Matt Kalil, LT, Minnesota; Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Cincinnati; Eddie Lacy, RB, Green Bay; T.J. Lang, G, Green Bay; Kelvin Sheppard, LB, New York Giants; Logan Ryan, CB, New England; J.C. Tretter, C, Green Bay; Kendall Wright, WR, Tennessee.

LeBron James: Colin Kaepernick ‘had a vision like Martin Luther King’

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USATSI/AP

LeBron James: Colin Kaepernick ‘had a vision like Martin Luther King’

LeBron James is an avid football fan. He's now an even bigger Colin Kaepernick fan than the sport. Following the Cavaliers' practice on Sunday, James opened up on Kaepernick and his absence from the NFL. 

"I've commended Kap, and for him to sacrifice everything for the greater good for everyone, for what he truly believed in, the utmost respect to him," James said to ESPN. "Obviously he had a vision like Martin Luther King and like some of our all-time greats that people couldn't see further than what they were doing at the point and time. And Muhammad Ali and things of that nature."

James believes the masses don't truly understand what Kaepernick was doing when he first took a knee as a protest against social and racial injustices in America. For his actions, James respects Kaepernick choosing his beliefs over his sport.

"When it's something that's new and it's something that people are not educated about or don't understand what your beliefs are all about, people are so quick to judge and people are so quick to say that what you're doing is wrong," James said. "For him to sacrifice the sport that he plays and to sacrifice the things he's done his whole life because he knew what he believed in, I salute him. I salute and respect that."

Add James to the list of those who believe Kaepernick is being blackballed by the NFL for taking a knee last season. The more games he watches, the more James sees the evidence on the wall. 

"I don't represent the NFL. I don't know their rules and regulations. But I do know Kap is getting a wrong doing, I do know that," James believes. "Just watching, he's an NFL player. He's an NFL player and you see all these other quarterbacks out there and players out there that get all these second and third chances that are nowhere near as talented as him. It just feels like he's been blackballed out of the NFL. So, I definitely do not respect that."

Kaepernick, who recently turned 30 years old, appeared in 12 games for the 49ers in the 2016-17 season. Through the air he completed 59.2 percent of his passes and ended the year with 2,241 yards, 16 touchdowns and four interceptions. Kaepernick also added 468 yards and two more scores on the ground. 

"The only reason I could say he's not on a team is because the way he took a knee," James said. "That's the only reason. I watch football every Sunday, every Thursday, every Monday night. I see all these quarterbacks -- first-string, second-team, third-team quarterbacks -- that play sometimes when the starter gets hurt or are starters that play. Kap is better than a lot of those guys. Let's just be honest."

For his career, Kaepernick has thrown for 12,271 yards and 72 touchdowns to 30 interceptions. With his speed as a dual-threat quarterback, Kaepernick has also gained 2,300 yards rushing and 13 more touchdowns. 

Former 49ers quarterback takes over under center for Cardinals

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AP

Former 49ers quarterback takes over under center for Cardinals

TEMPE, Ariz. — Blaine Gabbert will get his first start for the Arizona Cardinals when they play the Texans in Houston on Sunday.

Coach Bruce Arians announced the decision after Friday's practice.

Drew Stanton, the starter the last two games, bruised his knee early in the Thursday night loss to Seattle last week. He stayed in the game but has been limited in practice all week.

Arians said it will be a game-time decision as to whether Stanton or recently signed Matt Barkley would be Gabbert's backup.

Gabbert will be making his 41st NFL start. He has a 9-31 record. He signed with Arizona last offseason and was the third quarterback until Carson Palmer broke his arm against the Los Angeles Rams in London and was lost for the season.