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.



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.


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.


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.



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.



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.

Fantasy football waiver wire: Target Ryan Fitzpatrick in Week 3


Fantasy football waiver wire: Target Ryan Fitzpatrick in Week 3

Week 3 is the last week of the fantasy football season, aside from the playoffs, where every team in the league is in action. Starting in Week 4, at least two NFL teams will have the week off over the ensuing two months. 

As a result, it's not too early to start thinking about the players you'll want on your bench during that time, as well as who can give you a boost beforehand. With that in mind, here are four players to target on waivers this week in your fantasy football league, each of whom is owned in fewer than 45 percent of Yahoo and ESPN leagues.

We start with, perhaps, the hottest player in football...

Ryan Fitzpatrick, Tampa Bay Buccaneers QB (Owned in 23 percent of Yahoo leagues, 31.4 percent of ESPN leagues)

It's time to hop aboard the Fitzmagic Carpet if you haven't already. A week after the Harvard product lit up a top-half fantasy defense against quarterbacks from a year ago, Fitzpatrick torched the defending Super Bowl champions to the tune of 402 passing yards and four touchdowns. 

Fitzpatrick wasn't perfect, as he threw a first-quarter interception and was not as involved in the running game. Those are minor quibbles, though, as Fitzpatrick leads the NFL in passing yards and is second only to Patrick Mahomes in passing touchdowns. Even if Fitzpatrick doesn't keep the job beyond the end of Jameis Winston's three-game suspension, he's worthy of a claim ahead of going against the Steelers defense that's been on the receiving end of top-six fantasy QB performances in each of the season's first two weeks.

Austen Ekeler, Los Angeles Chargers RB (44 percent of Yahoo leagues, 42.9 percent of ESPN)

Lead back Melvin Gordon left Sunday's win against the Bills early, and Gordon owners should already have Ekeler has a cuff.  There's plenty of upside whether or not you need insurance for the Chargers running back, however.

Ekeler's posted back-to-back, double-digit fantasy weeks in PPR formats, and nearly hit it in standard formats, too, after accumulating 98 total yards against the Bills in Week 2. The Rams will offer up a stout rushing defense in Week 3, but the Raiders and Cardinals don't exactly boast dynamic rushing attacks. Don't be deterred by the matchup, or by Gordon's potential return to health, if you're hurting for flex options on your bench.

John Brown, Baltimore Ravens WR (25 percent of Yahoo leagues, 24 percent of ESPN) 

Brown surely benefitted from the Ravens' early struggles, as quarterback Joe Flacco tried to pass Baltimore out of a three-touchdown deficit. Still, he hauled in four catches for 92 yards and a touchdown on Thursday, including a 45-yard reception.

The receiver is tied for second on the Ravens in targets through two weeks of the season, and has four catches of 15-plus yards. Brown's emerging as a deep threat for Joe Flacco, and has a favorable matchup against a Broncos defense that's allowed the 12th-most passing yards this season. 

Antonio Callaway, Cleveland Browns WR (7 percent of Yahoo leagues, 3.7 percent of ESPN)

Callaway stepped up in Cleveland's first game without wide receiver Josh Gordon. He caught three passes (on four targets) for 81 yards and a touchdown, including a 47-yard reception. 

The rookie still finished behind fellow receivers Jarvis Landry and Rashard Higgins, as well as tight end David N'joku, in terms of targets. Gordon's departure is going to create opportunities in the Browns offense, though, and Callaway's big-play ability puts him in position to reap the rewards. 

49ers still need No. 1 receiver after missing out on Josh Gordon trade

49ers still need No. 1 receiver after missing out on Josh Gordon trade

Editor’s note: Former 49ers quarterback Jeff Garcia, now an NBC Sports Bay Area analyst, will share his thoughts on the 49ers each week throughout the season. This week, he examines how failing to acquire Josh Gordon affects the 49ers’ offense and what he saw out of QB Jimmy Garoppolo in Sunday’s 30-27 win over the Lions.

The 49ers are in need of a true No. 1 wide receiver, but it looks like Josh Gordon won’t be filling those shoes after he was traded to the Patriots.

Not to take anything away from Pierre Garçon, but he’s not the No. 1 threat that’s going to make defenses overly prepare for the 49ers' offense and ask themselves, “How do we take that away?”

The 49ers do not have a receiver who requires a double team on one side of the field, which opens up matchup opportunities on the other side of the field. Going into last offseason, that was one of the areas they could have targeted. They needed a true No. 1 guy who definitely can be a threat on the outside.

They went after help on the offensive line, which was necessary, with right tackle Mike McGlinchey. And they got Dante Pettis as a receiver, but he’s not necessarily that No. 1 threat right now. And I don’t know if he ever will be, but that’s yet to be determined.

It’s too bad they missed out on a potential guy who can be a game-changer like Gordon.

There was definite risk in the pursuit of Gordon, but the guy knows he’s on a very, very short leash. I think being around a group including John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan, who he played for in Cleveland, and some of the veteran guys the 49ers have could have been a good fit.

The 49ers need another playmaker. I think having Marquise Goodwin out right now definitely hurts because he is that guy who can take the top off. He is that deep threat who can get down the field, who can challenge just about anybody in the National Football League, as far as speed is concerned.

You need that guy. You need to soften up the coverage. On Sunday, we didn’t see any real attempts that were down the field, outside of some deep crossing routes and a sail route that they hit early on with Pettis. You have to take those shots during the game, to make the defense feel like you’re not fearful of going down the field. That didn’t happen.

Jimmy Garoppolo right now is trying to be too perfect.

It’s part of the learning curve. He doesn’t have a lot of starts. But I think what happens oftentimes, especially with young quarterbacks, with a young team, you’re trying to be too perfect. And it’s great to strive for perfection, but you also have to understand that perfection is very elusive. It’s very rare that you’re going to have that perfect game, that perfect decision-making process on every single play, and sometimes the perfect play is the throw-away.

You have to figure it out quickly and just get rid of the football and live for the next play. There were times on Sunday where the receivers just weren’t getting open, and that’s going to happen with this group. Outside of Pierre Garçon, the receivers the 49ers have are young. And they’re not real burners from the standpoint of creating great matchup opportunities. So what are teams going to do against you? They’re going to line up in an eight-man box in and play man to man. That’s what the Lions did. The Lions said, “You guys don’t scare us.”

When that sort of stuff happens, you also have to know who your best matchup opportunity is, your best route-runner, your best man-to-man route-beater in those types of situations, and you might have to lean on that guy to just give him a chance in a tight window. I just feel like Garoppolo was trying to be too perfect in his decision-making, trying to find the wide-open guy, not wanting to force a throw or make a bad decision, which he did at the end and nearly cost them the game. And because of that, he ended up taking the sacks instead of getting the ball out of his hands.

First of all, you have to have that natural clock going off in your head. The protection looked good. It really looked like they were coverage sacks, but at some point you need to do something yourself.

You either need to find a lane to push the pocket, escape the pocket or live for another day -- just throw the ball away.

You can’t afford to just sit there and allow the defense to eventually get to you, take those unnecessary hits. It’s within his power as a quarterback to pull that trigger to make that decision and to save his team, especially when you’re talking about the red zone.

Taking sacks and getting yourself knocked out of the red zone is extremely critical, especially when it comes down to scoring touchdowns, as opposed to field goals.

Watch Garcia on 49ers Pregame Live this Sunday at 9 a.m. and 49ers Postgame Live immediately after the game on NBC Sports Bay Area and live streaming on the NBC Sports app. Greg Papa, Donte Whitner, Matt Maiocco and Laura Britt will join Garcia and share everything you need to know about the 49ers’ Week 3 game in Kansas City.