Early 2018 NFL Free Agency Look

Updated: November 30th 2017

Week 13 is an important point for RSO GMs out there.  The fantasy regular season ends in most leagues along with the ability to extend players on your roster if using the new contract extension option.  Most teams have a good idea of where they stand heading into the playoffs.  It is never too early to start looking at next season for contenders and those out of the hunt alike.  I take an early view at some of the most fantasy relevant players with contracts ending this year.  This is not an exhaustive list as some players will sign early and others will be cut prior to free agency but it is still useful to view potentially significant changes which we should keep our eye out for.

*Free Agent Listings from Spotrac

Quarterbacks

Top Free Agents:  Drew Brees, Kirk Cousins, Jimmy Garoppolo

The quarterback position might provide us with some very interesting changes next offseason.  A number of high-profile players including future hall of famer Drew Brees, perpetually tagged Kirk Cousins, and recently traded Jimmy Garoppolo possibly hit free agency in 2018.  Garoppolo almost certainly stays in San Francisco after the 49ers gave up a likely early second round pick to New England for his services.  My sense is that Cousins moves on from Washington.  Neither Washington nor Cousins seems completely sold on one another having failed on multiple occasions to get a long-term contract done.  I would be looking to sell Cousins in my RSO league.  He is unlikely to land on a team with such a QB-friendly offensive scheme which fits his skill-set so well.  Brees likely remains in New Orleans.  The Saints finally devised a competent defense to go along with the high-powered offense and have the personnel to get deep in the playoffs for Brees’ final years.

There are a number of other interesting locations with possible openings next season to keep your eye on.  The Minnesota trio of Teddy Bridgewater, Sam Bradford, and Case Keenum all are free agents next year and I doubt anyone, including those in the Vikings organization, has a firm grasp on who of the trio remains.  Miami also might head in a new direction.  Ryan Tannehill, coming off a knee surgery, has shown little to suggest he is the long-term answer and has a contract which provides an easy out without a big cap hit. Jay Cutler is probably a one-year rental.  Denver does not appear to have the starting quarterback on the roster.  First round pick Paxton Lynch looks like a bust after failing to beat out backup-level talent Trevor Siemian for the starting spot in multiple seasons.  Arizona is another team who could be in the market for a quarterback if Carson Palmer retires following the year.

Running Backs

Top Free Agents:  LeVeon Bell, Carlos Hyde, Jeremy Hill, Isaiah Crowell

The cupboard is not as full for quality NFL backs next offseason.  Bell is in a different league than the others on this list but probably stays in Pittsburg even at the cost of another franchise tag.  Hyde, Hill, and Crowell have all displayed the ability to be a solid lead back as part of a committee.  None possesses a true three-down skill-set.  They each have shown the ability to catch the occasional dump off or screen pass and handle pass-protection duties but no one will confuse them with dynamic route runners out of the backfield who an offensive coordinator actively tries to get involved in the passing game.

As usual, the New England backfield remains a mystery.  Dion Lewis and Rex Burkhead assumed big roles this year but are free agents while recent acquisition Mike Gillislee was recently left off the active roster and can be cut without a cap hit.  Minnesota’s Jerick McKinnon showed off some impressive playmaking ability at times this year and should provide a quality compliment to a new team with Dalvin Cook returning.  We should also note this might be the last season for Frank Gore who is still churning out yards for Indianapolis at the age of 34.

Wide Receivers

Top Free Agents:  Alshon Jeffery, Sammy Watkins, Allen Robinson, Jarvis Landry

The wide receiver class, on the other hand, is absolutely loaded with top-end talent.  Alshon Jeffery, currently 25th all-time in receiving yards per game, is on pace for another solid campaign.  His best move is signing a long-term deal in Philadelphia with ascending quarterback, Carson Wentz, but may wish to test the market after betting on himself with a one-year deal this past year as a free agent.  Sammy Watkins hits free agency after an injury-filled stint in Buffalo in which the Bills failed to use the 5th year option on him.  Watkins, one of the more efficient receivers in the NFL, owns a big 16.3 yards per reception and over 9 yards per target average over his career.  Allen Robinson has a 1,400 yard / 14 touchdown season to his credit but injuries, Blake Bortles at quarterback, and consistency issues have limited Robinson’s overall effectiveness.  A franchise tag is certainly possible for Robinson who might not want to sign a reduced rate long-term deal coming off a lost season to an ACL tear.  Jarvis Landry amassed 363 receptions already in his four-year career but is likely headed to free agency.  Miami does not seem inclined to pay Landry big money with Kenny Stills and DeVante Parker already signed through next season.  Landry might be disappointed in the free agent market as few teams utilize the slot receiver as extensively as Miami does and thus might not place a big priority on Landry.

There are a number of other notable free agents who also might be available.  Green Bay Packer Devante Adams is in the last year of his rookie deal.  Fellow Jacksonville 2nd round pick, Marqise Lee also belongs to next year’s free agent class and Allen Hurns could be cut with no cap consequences.  Seattle Seahawk Paul Richardson consistently flashed big play potential but is given limited opportunities in the Seahawk passing attack.  Mike Wallace and Eric Decker could provide veteran leadership to new teams after spending time with quarterbacks who struggled throwing the ball.  Most of the Arizona wide receiver core could be gone next year if Larry Fitzgerald retires.

Tight Ends

Top Free Agents:  Jimmy Graham, Tyler Eifert

NFL free agency rarely sees quality tight ends hit the free agent market.   There are few special players at the position and those are usually locked up with long-term deals.  This year is not an exception.  A 31 year old Jimmy Graham has the chance to hit free agency for the first time.  Graham is not the same player after returning from a devastating knee agency, lacking the rare speed and explosion he once possessed. A somewhat diminished Jimmy Graham is still better than the majority of tight ends in the league however.  He is still virtually unguardable in short areas with a big frame, powerful hands, and smooth athleticism that comes from a former basketball player.  Former first round pick Tyler Eifert joins Graham in headlining the tight end class.  Eifert’s early career has been marred by injuries throughout with Tyler playing only 2 games this season before a back injury finished his season.  Like Graham, Eifert is a very athletic weapon in the passing game.  Despite his injury history, the Bengal tight end should find multiple suitors bidding for his services.

We finish the article with the likely retirement of San Diego Charger Antonio Gates following the season as his contract finishes this year.  Gates has played all 15 years of his career with Chargers, is the all-time touchdown leader among tight ends, and a no doubt future hall of famer.


Bio:  Bernard Faller has degrees in engineering and economics.  He currently lives in Las Vegas and enjoys athletics, poker, and fantasy football in his free time.  Send your questions and comments (both good and bad) on Twitter @BernardFaller1.