The free-agency frenzy is here.
Teams are permitted to contact and enter into negotiations for players at noon Monday. A contract can be executed at 4 p.m. ET Wednesday when the new league year begins.
So buckle up and prepare for a whirlwind of signings over the next couple weeks as we begin the countdown to the 2018 season.
Here’s a close look at some of the notable free agents who will be available to sign on Wednesday.
Read through every position, or skip ahead to the group of your choice:
Derek Anderson, QB, Panthers
Anderson has been the Carolina Panthers‘ backup quarterback since the team selected Cam Newton with the first overall pick in the 2011 draft. The 34-year-old quarterback came to Carolina after spending the 2010 season with the Arizona Cardinals and the previous four seasons with the Cleveland Browns.
His best season came with the Browns in 2007, when he went 10-5 as the starter and made the Pro Bowl for the only time in his career.
Anderson was 2-0 as the starter at Carolina in 2014 when Newton was injured, but he is 0-2 as a starter since. He played in only three games last season, completing 2 of 8 pass attempts for 17 yards.
Sam Bradford, QB, Vikings
The Minnesota Vikings acquired Bradford in a trade with the Philadelphia Eagles after Teddy Bridgewater suffered his knee injury before the 2016 season. The veteran quarterback posted the league’s highest completion percentage in his first season with the Vikings, and Bradford, 30, looked poised for a breakout year in 2017.
Things didn’t go according to plan. While lighting up the New Orleans Saints in the season opener, Bradford sustained a non-contact left knee injury that would doom him for the rest of the season. It was to the same knee where the quarterback had twice torn his ACL, although tests this time revealed no structural damage.
Bradford made a brief return in Week 5 against the Chicago Bears, but he was pulled before halftime after aggravating the injury. He spent the better part of two months on injured reserve before being activated as Case Keenum‘s backup during the postseason.
The former Heisman Trophy winner and first-round pick by the St. Louis Rams in 2010 has made $114 million over his career, but injuries have haunted Bradford throughout. He missed half of the 2013 season and all of 2014 after tearing his ACL in back-to-back years.
He’s played in all 16 games just twice in his career — in 2010, when he was an NFL All-Rookie Team selection, and again in 2012.
According to the NFL Network, Bradford has said his knee injury subsided in recent months, allowing him to return to practice ahead of the postseason, and that he “absolutely” intends to keep playing in 2018.
“I think it’s been really encouraging for me, mentally, to know that I can go back out there and do it,” Bradford said after returning to practice in January. “I’m just happy to be on the field.”
Bradford is one of three Vikings quarterbacks who will become unrestricted free agents on March 14.
For his career, Bradford has started 80 games with the Vikings, Rams and Eagles. He has thrown for 19,049 yards, 101 touchdowns and has completed 62.5 percent of his passes. He also has had 57 interceptions and 33 fumbles.
Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Vikings
The 25-year-old Bridgewater was considered a rising star in the NFL before sustaining a gruesome dislocated knee injury during a Vikings non-contact drill just ahead of the 2016 season.
He was sidelined for 14 months during his recovery and placed on the PUP list, where he spent the first six weeks of the 2017 season. He was medically cleared to return to practice and, from Weeks 10-17, served as the backup to Case Keenum. The only game action he saw last season came in the fourth quarter of a blowout victory over the Cincinnati Bengals.
The Vikings chose to not toll Bridgewater’s rookie contract, thus allowing him to become an unrestricted free agent. Bridgewater said he “definitely” wants to be a starter in 2018.
Bridgewater was selected in the first round of the 2014 draft and set 10 franchise and two NFL records during his rookie season with the Vikings, including becoming the first-ever rookie QB to complete 70 percent of his passes in four straight games.
During the 2015 season, he led the Vikings to their first division title since 2009 and first playoff appearance under coach Mike Zimmer. He also was named to his first Pro Bowl.
Kellen Clemens, QB, Chargers
Clemens has served as the backup for Chargers starting quarterback Philip Rivers the past four seasons.
A capable reserve quarterback who knows the offense and is comfortable working with Rivers, Clemens has played sparingly for the Chargers during his time with the team because of Rivers’ durability.
Clemens, 34 , completed 12 of 18 passes for 109 yards, a touchdown and one interception in four seasons for the Chargers. More importantly, the Chargers valued Clemens’ professional approach on the practice field and in the film room, serving as a sounding board for Rivers.
Clemens is 8-13 as a starter in 12 NFL seasons and shared a 90-minute daily commute with Rivers from San Diego to the team’s facility in Costa Mesa, California.
Kirk Cousins, QB, Redskins
Cousins, 29, has been one of the NFL’s most productive quarterbacks since becoming the Washington Redskins‘ full-time starter three years ago. During that time, he ranks fourth in passing yards, sixth in passer rating, seventh in total QBR and eighth in touchdown passes.
Last season, Cousins topped the 4,000-yard mark for the third straight season. He finished with 4,093 yards, 27 touchdowns and 13 interceptions — and a total QBR of 50.5, his lowest as the full-time starter.
The 2012 fourth-round pick went from being the backup to Robert Griffin III to a productive starter during his time in Washington. He started nine games in his first three seasons. In 2015, his first year as the starter, he helped lead the Redskins to the NFC East title by throwing 23 touchdowns to only three interceptions over the final 10 games — starting with the “You like that?!” comeback win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
He finished that season with 29 touchdowns, 11 interceptions and a franchise-record 4,166 yards.
After that season, the Redskins and Cousins couldn’t agree on a long-term deal, so the team placed the franchise tag on him. Cousins responded by again breaking the franchise record 4,917 passing yards to go along with 25 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. But the Redskins missed the playoffs by losing their regular-season finale at home to the New York Giants.
That led to yet another franchise tag, as Cousins told the Redskins he wasn’t ready to commit long term and wanted to gauge the direction of the franchise. It was clear by season’s end that both sides wanted to avoid another one-year tag situation. Rather than negotiate a final time with Cousins, the Redskins traded for Alex Smith on Jan. 30, agreeing to a four-year extension with the veteran.
Jay Cutler, QB, Dolphins
Cutler, 34, threw for 2,666 yards, 19 touchdowns and 14 interceptions in 14 games last season after coming out of retirement to sign with the Miami Dolphins.
Cutler, who had agreed to join Fox Sports as a broadcaster, was coaxed out of retirement by Dolphins coach Adam Gase after starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill suffered a season-ending knee injury in August.
After the season, Cutler said he was interested in continuing his career — but only if he was a team’s starter, as he had no interest in serving as a backup quarterback.
Cutler is the Bears’ franchise leader in passing yards (23,433) and touchdown passes (154) after playing nine seasons with the team (2009-16). He made his only career trip to the postseason in 2010 with Chicago, leading the Bears to the NFC Championship Game, in which he was forced to exit early because of a knee injury.
In 12 NFL seasons with the Denver Broncos, Bears and Dolphins, Cutler has thrown for 35,133 yards, 227 touchdowns and 160 interceptions.
Chase Daniel, QB, Saints
Daniel, 31, has spent nine years as a backup with the Saints, Kansas City Chiefs and Eagles — making two career starts in Kansas City from 2013-14. But the former undrafted rookie from Missouri is still hoping to prove he can be a late bloomer in the vein of Nick Foles and Case Keenum.
Daniel (6-foot, 225 pounds) originally joined the Saints in Week 1 of the 2009 season after being released by the Washington Redskins after the preseason. He spent four years backing up Drew Brees before signing more lucrative deals with the Chiefs and Eagles.
He thought he might get a chance to start in Philadelphia when he signed a three-year, $21 million deal in 2016, but the Eagles traded up in the draft to select Carson Wentz. Daniel returned to the Saints a year later after asking for his release.
Blaine Gabbert, QB, Cardinals
In 2017, Gabbert, 28, played for his eighth head coach and seventh offensive coordinator in seven seasons. Next season will be No. 9 and No. 8, respectively.
Gabbert spent the first nine weeks of last season on the inactive list as the Arizona Cardinals’ scout-team quarterback. After injuries to Carson Palmer and Drew Stanton, Gabbert started five games for the Cardinals, going 2-3 and throwing for 1,086 yards and six touchdowns against six interceptions. He had a completion percentage of 55.6, but was benched after Week 15 in favor of a returning Stanton.
For his career, Gabbert is 11-34 as a starter, throwing for 8,437 yards, 44 touchdowns and 43 interceptions. He also has been sacked 133 times, including 23 last season with the Cardinals, and has 32 fumbles (7 in 2017).
Chad Henne, QB, Jaguars
Henne has appeared in just six games with the Jacksonville Jaguars the past four seasons, including starting the first three games of the 2014 season before being benched for Blake Bortles at halftime of Week 3.
Henne, 32, appeared in the Jaguars’ 44-7 blowout of Baltimore and 45-7 blowout of Houston this past season and played one snap in 2016. He did not play in any games in 2015.
Henne first joined the Jaguars in 2012 as a free agent and started 19 games in his first two seasons, including 13 in 2013. He has started 22 games (5-17 record) in four seasons with the Jaguars and has completed 58 percent of his passes for 5,877 yards and 27 touchdowns with 26 interceptions.
He spent his first four seasons with the Dolphins, who drafted him 57th overall in 2008, and has 58 touchdown passes and 63 interceptions in his nine-year career.
Case Keenum, QB, Vikings
Keenum, 30, proved to be the most important free-agent signing across the NFL last offseason as the journeyman backup quarterback took over for an injured Sam Bradford in Week 2 and led the Vikings on an improbable run to the NFC Championship Game.
He finished the 2017 season with a 11-3 record as starter. Under former offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur, Keenum experienced career highs across the board, including a 20-point bump in passer rating (98.3), a 67.6 completion percentage and a touchdown-to-interception ratio that went from 24-20 for his career to 22-7 in one season.
Keenum’s situation was handled by coach Mike Zimmer on a week-to-week basis with the hope that Bradford would be able to return at some point or Teddy Bridgewater would be ready to take his job back after he was activated. However, Keenum’s continued success, including leading the Vikings to an eight-game win streak, kept him in the driver’s seat throughout the season.
Keenum entered the league with the Texans in 2012 as an undrafted free agent, starting 10 games over the 2013 and ’14 seasons. He then played two seasons with the Rams, starting 14 games, before joining the Vikings.
Ryan Mallett, QB, Ravens
Mallett, 29, never distinguished himself in his two-plus seasons as the Ravens’ backup quarterback.
Strong-armed but wildly inaccurate, Mallett led an upset of the AFC North rival Pittsburgh Steelers in 2015 before being limited to 22 passes the past two seasons behind Joe Flacco.
He did turn around his career in terms of not being a distraction in Baltimore. It was three years ago when Mallett was cut by the Texans for being late for meetings and missing a team charter flight.
Mallett has a 3-5 career record as a starter, throwing nine touchdowns and 10 interceptions in 21 games. A third-round pick by the Patriots in 2011, he was traded to the Texans in 2014 before joining the Ravens in December 2015.
A.J. McCarron, QB, Bengals
McCarron, 27, became a free agent after winning a grievance filed against the Bengals last year to determine whether he had been incorrectly put on the non-football injury list as a rookie. He not only won his grievance for the incorrect designation, but he’s also owed back pay for the time spent on the list in 2014.
More importantly, McCarron is free to sign anywhere he wants. He’s wanted this since he filled in for an injured Andy Dalton in 2015.
McCarron played in five regular-season games that season and started three, completing 66.4 percent of his passes for 854 yards and six touchdowns. He also started an AFC wild-card playoff game that season, completing 56.1 percent of his passes for one touchdown and one interception in an eventual a loss to the Steelers.
McCarron has contended several times that he wanted his chance to start somewhere, and it almost happened when the Browns attempted to send a second- and third-round pick to the Bengals in the fall. However, the paperwork didn’t go through before the trade deadline and McCarron remained with Cincinnati for the 2017 season.
Josh McCown, QB, Jets
McCown, who signed a one-year, $6 million contract with the Jets in 2017, easily won the starting job in the preseason and delivered the best statistical year of his long career.
He set career marks for completions (267), passing yards (2,926) and touchdown passes (18). He also tied for the team lead with five rushing touchdowns. He posted a 100 passer rating in eight games, the second-most by a Jets quarterback in a single season.
McCown’s season ended prematurely after suffering a fractured left (non-throwing) hand, which required surgery, in a Week 14 loss to the Denver Broncos. After the game, he choked up at his news conference, knowing his season probably was over. He also hinted to teammates that he might retire, but he came out publicly in January to say he intends to play at least one more season.
Despite the abbreviated campaign, McCown was voted team MVP by his Jets teammates. They went 5-8 with him in the lineup, failing to win a game after his injury.
McCown, who turns 39 on July 4, is the ultimate journeyman, having played for eight different teams since entering the league in 2002. McCown, Julius Peppers and Dwight Freeney were the only players from the 2002 draft still playing in 2017.
He is 23-50 as a starter over his career, with 17,168 passing yards, 97 touchdown passes and 78 interceptions.
Matt Moore, QB, Dolphins
Moore, 33, started two games for the Dolphins last season when Cutler was out with a concussion. The Dolphins lost both those games, but Moore’s most memorable moment came against the Jets in Week 7, when he engineered a second-half comeback in place of an injured Cutler, completing 13 of 21 passes for 188 yards and two fourth-quarter touchdown passes in a 31-28 victory.
Overall in 2017, his seventh season in Miami, Moore threw for 861 yards, four touchdowns and had five interceptions.
He also was forced into starter’s duty at the end of the 2016 season when Tannehill suffered a knee injury. Moore started Miami’s last three games, going 2-1 while throwing for 721 yards, eight touchdowns and three interceptions to help the Dolphins qualify for the postseason. He also started in Miami’s playoff loss to the Steelers.
His best season came in 2011, his first season with the Dolphins, when he started 12 games in place of injured starter Chad Henne. The Dolphins finished 6-6 in those games as he threw for 2,497 yards, 16 touchdowns and nine interceptions.
The 11-year veteran began his career with the Panthers, with whom he played four seasons (2007-10). He didn’t play during the 2008 season because of a broken leg.
Brock Osweiler, QB, Broncos
Osweiler made $16 million last season during his time on the Broncos’ quarterback merry-go-round. Of that total, the Browns paid $15.225 million after acquiring him in a trade with the Texans and then releasing him just before the 2017 season.
He had been exceedingly happy to re-sign with the Broncos in September after he was released by the Browns, saying he and his wife “missed Colorado every day.”
Osweiler had spent four seasons as Peyton Manning’s backup before he left in 2016, with some hard feelings, for a $72 million deal with the Texans. He spent one difficult season as the Texans’ starter before they traded him to the Browns.
The 27-year-old Osweiler was one of three quarterbacks to start games for the Broncos last season, joining Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch. Osweiler played in six games overall, starting four, finishing 96-of-172 passing (55.8 percent) for 1,088 yards to go with five touchdowns and five interceptions.
Osweiler was the Broncos’ second-round pick in the 2012 draft, the same year they signed Manning in free agency. He played sparingly in just 13 games over his first three seasons before starting seven games in 2015 after Manning suffered a foot injury. Manning then replaced Osweiler in the regular-season finale and started all three of the Broncos’ playoff games, including Super Bowl 50.
Mark Sanchez, QB, Bears
Serving as the No. 3 quarterback for all of 2017, Sanchez, 31, dutifully served as a mentor for Bears rookie Mitchell Trubisky, the No. 2 overall pick, while not throwing a pass during the regular season.
The fifth overall choice of the 2009 NFL draft, Sanchez started 72 total games for the Jets and Eagles from 2009 to 2015 before taking on a backup role for the Cowboys (2016) and Bears.
He has a 37-35 career record with 86 touchdown passes and 86 interceptions to go along with 15,219 passing yards.
Geno Smith, QB, Giants
Smith signed a one-year deal with the Giants before last season that netted him less than $2 million to serve as the backup to Eli Manning. He made one start and performed admirably in a Week 13 loss to the Raiders, throwing for 212 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions (but two lost fumbles) in the contest. He then went back to the bench when Manning was reinserted as the starter after coach Ben McAdoo and general manager Jerry Reese were fired.
The Giants signed Smith as insurance, and he beat out veteran Josh Johnson for the backup position last summer.
Smith, 27, was originally a second-round pick for the Jets in the 2013 draft. His four rocky seasons with the Jets — of which two were as the full-time starter — were best remembered for his broken jaw, which he suffered after being punched by teammate IK Enemkpali in the locker room.
At the time, Smith said he had other offers, including the potential to compete for a starting job, but thought the opportunity to play for the Giants — and behind Manning — would be a valuable learning experience.
Smith has started 31 games and thrown 29 touchdown passes and 36 interceptions in five professional seasons. He has started just two games over the past three seasons.
Drew Stanton, QB, Cardinals
A career backup, Stanton, 33, started 13 games in five seasons with the Cardinals while filling in for an injured Carson Palmer.
Four of those starts came in 2017 after Palmer broke his arm in Week 7. Stanton went 3-1 as a starter last season and was 9-4 overall with Arizona. Last season, Stanton was injured in Week 10 and was replaced by Blaine Gabbert for five games, but he reclaimed the starting job for the final two games, including a 26-24 win over the Seattle Seahawks in Bruce Arians’ last game as coach.
Before his start in Week 2 of the 2014 season, Stanton had gone 1,365 days between regular-season appearances. He played for the Lions from 2008 to 2010, appearing in 12 games.
Joe Berger, G, Vikings
Berger, 35, spent the past seven seasons with the Vikings, and he did well in his move from center to right guard as the offensive line debuted a set of new starters at all five positions during the 2017 season.
The move paid dividends for Minnesota’s run game, which had most of its success rushing through Berger and the right side of the line. According to Football Outsiders, the Vikings were ranked ninth when they ran to the right.
Berger, a 13-year veteran, led the offense with 1,116 snaps.
He became one of only three players to ever be drafted from Michigan Tech when he was taken 207th overall by Carolina in the 2005 NFL draft. In addition to the Vikings, Berger has also played for the Dolphins and Dallas Cowboys during his career, which spans 145 games (84 starts).
The Vikings now need to decide whether they will draft a guard at No. 30 or look to bolster depth elsewhere on the offensive line. Mike Remmers‘ shift from right tackle to guard during his last three starts of the season raises the question of whether Minnesota will want to keep him there during the 2018 season.
Jermon Bushrod, G, Dolphins
Bushrod, 33, has started all 26 games in which he’s appeared for the Dolphins over the past two seasons.
The veteran guard’s 2017 season ended after 10 games when he was placed on injured reserve with a foot injury.
He has been selected to two Pro Bowls in his 11-season career, which includes time with the Saints, Bears and Dolphins.
He has started 122 of the 134 games in which he has played.
Jonathan Cooper, OL, Cowboys
It took time for Cooper, the No. 7 overall pick in the 2013 draft by the Cardinals, to find an NFL home.
Cooper started a career-high 13 games for the Cowboys in 2017, playing between Pro Bowl left tackle Tyron Smith and center Travis Frederick. He helped solidify the line after the Cowboys lost Ronald Leary to free agency last year to the Broncos.
The 28-year-old Cooper suffered a sprained medial collateral ligament in his knee during the season finale against the Eagles and had postseason surgery. The belief is he will be able to return to the field for organized team activities and the June minicamp.
Injuries and subpar play led to his demise with the Cardinals. In 2016, Cooper was part of a trade to the Patriots that sent pass-rusher Chandler Jones to the Cardinals. He made the Patriots’ 53-man roster but was inactive for four games before he was released. The Browns claimed Cooper, and he started three of the five games he played before he was cut by Cleveland.
He signed with the Cowboys during the bye week of the 2016 playoffs and was inactive for one game. He returned to the Cowboys on a one-year deal and took over a starting role one month into the season for Chaz Green.
Jahri Evans, G, Packers
Evans was perhaps the surprise of last year’s free-agent class for the Packers. After signing a one-year, $2.25 million contract, the 12-year veteran played the first 912 snaps of the season before a knee injury kept him out of the final two games.
He said late in the season that he wasn’t sure if he would play a 13th season. Evans will turn 35 in August.
He played his first 11 seasons for the Saints, who at one point in his career made him the NFL’s highest-paid guard. The former fourth-round pick has started 183 games over his career.
Cameron Fleming, OT, Patriots
The 6-foot-6, 320-pound Fleming, who entered the NFL as a 2014 fourth-round draft pick of the Patriots, rotated between third and fourth on the depth chart at the start of the regular season. He ultimately became the top replacement for injured right tackle Marcus Cannon by the end of the season.
Fleming played in 12 regular-season games (six starts) and started two of the team’s three playoff games. His presence as a powerful blocker on the edge, which he had shown in Stanford’s pro-style offense during his college career, is one of his primary assets.
Bill Belichick complimented Fleming several times over the past four years. In 2016, Belichick called him one of the most respected players on the team, and most recently said in December, “Cam’s been a solid player for us for four years, and he’s always been ready to step in whenever we’ve called on him at both tackle spots and sometimes at guard and jumbo tight end and things like that.”
Fleming, who turns 26 on Sept. 3, majored in aeronautics and astronautics at Stanford. At 6-foot-6, he said he is one inch too tall to be an astronaut, so he put all of his effort into professional football.
D.J. Fluker, G, Giants
The Giants signed Fluker on the cheap last offseason to a one-year, $3 million deal. He began the 2017 season on the bench before working his way into the Week 4 starting lineup at right guard, where he was a difference-maker in the run game when healthy.
New York averaged 110.5 rushing yards per game when Fluker, 26, was in the lineup. Without him, the Giants averaged just 86.1 rushing yards. He tried to play through foot and knee injuries, but he was placed on injured reserve on Nov. 27, ending his season.
Fluker was the 11th overall pick in the 2013 draft by the Chargers. He became a free agent last offseason after the Chargers declined the fifth-year option on his rookie contract. After beginning his career at tackle, Fluker shifted inside to guard in 2015. He appeared in 59 games — all starts — in his four seasons with the Chargers.
Zach Fulton, OL, Chiefs
Fulton, 26, joined the Chiefs as a sixth-round draft pick in 2014. He immediately moved into the starting lineup as a rookie and started 46 of the 63 games in which he played.
One of Fulton’s strengths is his versatility, as he started at least one game at both guard positions and center last season.
Fulton began last season as a reserve but moved into the starting lineup in Week 3 after an injury to center Mitch Morse.
Brandon Fusco, G, 49ers
Fusco was a late addition to the 49ers’ roster in 2017, but he quickly earned a starting job and was one of the team’s most dependable linemen — starting all 16 games at right guard despite playing through a variety of injury issues.
The 29-year-old has no shortage of NFL experience, having started 80 games since entering the league as a sixth-round draft choice of the Vikings in 2011.
Fusco signed a five-year extension with the Vikings before the 2014 season, but he was released during the 2017 offseason after struggling to return to form in the two seasons after tearing his pectoral muscle.
Chris Hubbard, OT, Steelers
Hubbard, 26, played well enough in 2017 to price himself out of Pittsburgh and position himself for a quality contract elsewhere.
The Steelers have one of the league’s highest offensive line payrolls and have understood keeping Hubbard — their third tackle in the rotation behind Alejandro Villanueva and Marcus Gilbert — wasn’t likely.
Hubbard started 10 games in place of Gilbert, who was injured and served a four-game suspension. Though the Steelers consider Gilbert one of the game’s best right tackles, the offense did not experience a major drop-off with Hubbard, who earned praise from coach Mike Tomlin for his fill-in role.
Hubbard, who went undrafted out of UAB in 2013, adds value with his versatility. He plays all five spots on the offensive line. The Steelers can transition Jerald Hawkins, a fourth-round pick in 2016, into Hubbard’s swing tackle role.
Ryan Jensen, C, Ravens
Jensen, 26, enjoyed a breakthrough season heading into free agency and is considered one of the top rising centers in the NFL.
A backup guard for three years, Jensen started 16 games at center in 2017, finishing as the league’s ninth-best player at that position, according to Pro Football Focus.
A sixth-round pick in 2013, Jensen brought a nasty disposition to the Baltimore offensive line and would often get into fights during games.
Jensen’s strength is run-blocking, and he’s adequate as a pass protector. He gave up three sacks and eight hurries last season, according to Pro Football Focus.
Luke Joeckel, G/T, Seahawks
In his lone season with the Seahawks, Joeckel played 11 games and was praised by since-fired offensive line coach Tom Cable as the team’s most consistent offensive lineman.
Joeckel, who turns 27 in November, started the first five games at left guard before having an arthroscopic cleanup procedure during Seattle’s bye week to address lingering issues from a previous knee injury. He returned after missing five games and started the final six.
The Seahawks signed Joeckel to a one-year deal last offseason that included $7 million guaranteed. He was coming off a severe knee injury that cut short his final season with the Jaguars, who selected Joeckel with the second overall pick in the 2013 draft.
Senio Kelemete, G, Saints
Kelemete, 27, has been one of the most valuable “sixth men” in the NFL over the past three years with the Saints, starting a total of 23 games while spending time at all five offensive line positions.
The Saints rarely missed a beat when Kelemete entered the starting lineup at any position. The 6-foot-3, 300-pounder actually began his college career at Washington as a defensive tackle but now plays primarily at guard. The Saints trusted him to play both offensive tackle spots, and he has spent ample time playing center in training camps and preseason games.
Kelemete started a total of nine games in 2017, including New Orleans’ playoff finale, helping to patch together an offensive line that was one of the best in the NFL. The Saints led the league in both yards per rush (4.7) and yards per pass attempt (7.5).
He began his NFL career as a fifth-round draft pick with the Cardinals in 2012 but played in only one game as a rookie before being cut in 2013 and eventually landing on the Saints’ practice squad.
Josh Kline, G, Titans
Kline, 28, performed well as a pass-blocking right guard protecting Marcus Mariota after being picked up off waivers in 2016.
Kline has made the most of his career since signing as an undrafted free agent with the Patriots in 2013. He has spent most of his career as a starter, bouncing between the left and right guard positions. He was a two-year starter for the Titans at right guard.
Kline started 43 of the 44 games he played for the Titans and Patriots over the past three seasons and 48 of the 63 games in his career.
Like most of the Titans’ offensive line, Kline took a step back in 2017 after performing well in 2016. Run-blocking has never been his strength, but it was certainly a weakness in 2017.
Jack Mewhort, G, Colts
Mewhort, 26, played every position along the offensive line except for center and left tackle while starting every game that he played during his first four years with the Colts.
But Mewhort spent the majority of his past two seasons injured. He missed six games in 2016 and 11 games in 2017 because of a knee injury.
He has played in 45 games since being selected in the second round (59th overall) of the 2014 draft.
Andrew Norwell, G, Panthers
The 26-year-old Norwell has been a mainstay at left guard since being inserted into the Panthers’ starting lineup as an undrafted rookie in 2014.
According to Pro Football Focus, he was the only lineman not to allow a sack or quarterback hit in 2017.
He was named a first-team All-Pro in 2017, the first such honor of his career and was considered the highest-rated offensive linemen heading into free agency.
The Panthers placed a second-round tender on the 6-foot-6, 325-pound Norwell before last season, guaranteeing him $2.75 million.
Justin Pugh, G, Giants
Pugh, 27, was the Giants’ top lineman when on the field the past few seasons, playing well despite a relative lack of talent elsewhere on the line. He also impressed while bouncing back and forth between right tackle and left guard.
The 2013 first-round pick out of Syracuse started his career at right tackle, before shifting to right guard and landing back at right tackle this past season when the Giants were desperate on the outside. His versatility is a plus.
But Pugh does come with risks. He has an injury history after missing 17 games over the past four seasons, including the final eight of last season because of a back injury.
Pugh did not need surgery and has been training without restrictions this offseason.
The Giants picked up the fifth-year option on Pugh for the 2017 season, but they never really did have serious negotiations about a long-term deal during the final years on his rookie contract. Pugh earned $8.8 million in 2017, but he had been eyeing a significant payday that comes with free agency for several seasons — and it didn’t hurt that this year’s free-agent class was especially weak at the position.
“If I could build you the perfect equation and kind of factor in how much those mean to me — it all goes into it,” Pugh said after the season. “I want to win. I want to win now. I’ve been here five years. I only made the playoffs one time.”
Weston Richburg, C, Giants
Richburg played in only four games with the Giants last season because of a concussion, and he wasn’t happy when he was put on injured reserve in early November with nine games left. The starting center thought he was on the verge of returning, and he was eventually cleared several weeks later.
The second-round pick out of Colorado State in 2014 had missed only one game in his first three professional seasons.
Richburg became expendable after former Canadian Football League star Brett Jones played well in his place.
Richburg, 26, was the Giants’ starting center each of the past three seasons. He played guard most of his rookie year.
Greg Robinson, OT, Lions
In his only season with the Lions, Robinson, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2014 draft, struggled along with the rest of the offensive line as the team gave up 23 sacks in 2017.
Robinson, 25, was traded from the Rams to Detroit last June as the Lions searched for a replacement for then-injured left tackle Taylor Decker. Robinson ended up beating out Cyrus Kouandjio in training camp for the left tackle job and started six games for Detroit before suffering an ankle injury. The Lions then waived/injured Robinson, who reverted back to injured reserve after clearing waivers.
Before his time in Detroit, Robinson played 46 games for the Rams, starting 42 at tackle and guard.
Josh Sitton, G, Bears
The Bears declined to pick up an $8 million option to retain Sitton, a four-time Pro Bowl selection, for the 2018 season.
The 31-year-old missed the final two games of the 2017 season because of an ankle injury and also battled through a rib injury. He said when his option was declined by the Bears that he still has “prime years left” and intended to keep playing.
He started 25 of the 26 games in which he played for the Bears after joining the team in 2016, playing both the right and left guard spots.
Sitton, who entered the league with the Packers in 2008, lined up at right guard the first five years of his career. In 2013, the Packers moved him to the left side, where he stayed until the 2017 season, when the Bears shifted him back to the right side.
He has started 137 of the 147 career games in which he has appeared.
Matt Slauson, OG, Chargers
Slauson, 32, suffered a torn biceps in a Week 7 game against the Broncos last year, forcing him to the injured reserve list and ending his season.
In his first season with the Chargers in 2016, Slauson solidified the center spot by starting all 16 games and playing 964 snaps there.
The Chargers moved the 32-year-old veteran to his more natural position of left guard last year, where he made seven starts and played 402 snaps on offense.
The University of Nebraska product also served as a co-captain for the Chargers. Slauson has started 108 games in 10 NFL seasons, including stints with the Jets, Bears and Chargers.
Andre Smith, OL, Bengals
Smith, 31, re-signed with the Bengals last summer after one season with the Vikings with the intention of playing guard for the first time in his career.
That experiment was short lived at training camp, and he quickly returned to tackle, a position he has played since the Bengals selected him in the first round of the 2009 draft.
Smith started the season as a backup but quickly returned to a starting role because of injuries. His season was cut short in December because of a knee injury, but he said via Twitter on Feb. 2 that he was fully healthy and cleared to play.
He played in 13 games for Cincinnati in 2017 and started eight. He has started 85 of the 99 games he has played in his career.
Nate Solder, OT, Patriots
The 6-foot-8, 325-pound Solder has spent his entire career with the Patriots, who drafted him in the 2011 first round out of the University of Colorado. He is arguably the top free-agent offensive tackle on the market, coming off a season in which he played in every game, protecting quarterback Tom Brady‘s blindside.
Solder was an AFC Pro Bowl alternate in 2017. It marked the first time he has received a Pro Bowl invitation, although he didn’t play in the game because the Patriots were in Super Bowl LII.
Solder has played in 98 career regular-season games, with 95 starts. He has also played in 16 playoff games, starting all of those. In 2015, he signed a two-year, $20.62 million extension with New England.
Solder was the Patriots’ 2017 Walter Payton Man of the Year nominee. He previously overcame testicular cancer, and his son, Hudson, was diagnosed with kidney cancer in 2016 and is once again undergoing treatments.
“Nate is someone of the highest character. We all respect Nate for what he has done with Hudson and how he is always there for him,” coach Bill Belichick previously said.
Donald Stephenson, OT, Broncos
The Broncos signed Stephenson in free agency in 2016, hoping he would be a solution at right tackle. It didn’t work out the way the Broncos had hoped, however, as he often struggled in pass protection during the ’16 season before he lost the starting job to Menelik Watson last season.
Stephenson, 29, got a brief look at left tackle in offseason work before the Broncos elected to start rookie Garett Bolles there. Ultimately, Stephenson’s season was derailed by a calf injury and he played in only seven games, including four starts in place of an injured Watson.
Stephenson’s contract with the Broncos had originally been for three years and $14 million, but after the disappointing 2016 season, he agreed to a restructured deal that probably saved his roster spot. His contract then voided in early February, on the fifth day of the waiver period, and he has been poised for free agency since.
John Sullivan, C, Rams
Sullivan was an effective blocker and, more important, a pivotal offensive mind for Jared Goff in 2017, helping the second-year quarterback with pre-snap reads. After signing a one-year deal with the Rams, he played 830 snaps through the first 15 regular-season games (sixth most on the team).
The 32-year-old Sullivan graded out 10th among 37 qualified centers last season, according to Pro Football Focus.
The 10-year veteran missed the entire 2015 season because of back issues and served as a backup for the Redskins in 2016. Before that, he was a staple for the Vikings and one of the game’s better centers from 2009 to 2014, while starting 93 of a potential 96 games.
Travis Swanson, C, Lions
Selected by the Lions in the third round of the 2014 draft, Swanson started every game for which he was available over the past three seasons after taking over the center spot from Dominic Raiola, who had started at the position for a decade with the Lions.
Swanson, who turned 27 in January, played 53 games for the Lions in his career, starting 42. After a 2016 season in which he became one of the focal points of Detroit’s line, he struggled in 2017 on a line that had issues protecting quarterback Matthew Stafford and gave up 23 sacks.
Brain injuries have been a major issue for Swanson during his time with the Lions. Symptoms of a concussion showed up late in the 2016 season, causing him to be placed in the league’s protocol. He missed the Lions’ last five games of the season, including the playoff loss to Seattle.
He suffered another delayed concussion last season against Tampa Bay on Dec. 10 and missed the final three games of the season.
Kenny Wiggins, OG, Chargers
Wiggins, 29, has been with the Chargers since 2013, sticking around because he could play all five spots along the offensive line.
However, Wiggins was named the starting right guard out of training camp last season and started all 16 games, playing 999 snaps. Only center Spencer Pulley (1,012) played more snaps on offense.
Wiggins was part of a line that anchored one of the best offenses in the NFL.
The Chargers allowed a league-low 18 sacks and paved the way for a 1,000-yard rusher in Melvin Gordon (1,105 rushing yards) last season. The Chargers also led the NFL in passing, averaging 277 passing yards a contest.
Eric Winston, OT, Bengals
Winston, 34, did not make the Bengals’ 53-man roster coming out of training camp in 2017. The NFL Players Association president re-signed with Cincinnati in November after tackle Jake Fisher was placed on the non-football illness list.
He has played with four teams since the Texans selected him in the third round of the 2006 draft. He has played in 165 games and started 127, mostly at right tackle.
Le’Veon Bell, RB, Steelers
Bell, 26, entered his second consecutive offseason as the NFL’s most accomplished offensive player without a long-term contract.
Bell’s numbers are undeniable. His average of 128.9 yards from scrimmage per game is the highest ever for a player’s first five NFL seasons. His versatility as a rusher, pass-catcher and blocker might go unmatched across the league.
But instead of signing Bell in 2016 coming off injuries and suspensions, the Steelers franchise tagged the running back at $12.1 million for 2017. Both sides failed to reach an extension, prompting Bell to skip training camp.
This offseason, though, both sides publicly expressed optimism about a deal. Bell said from the Pro Bowl that he’s much closer to a contract than the previous year. Team president Art Rooney II and general manager Kevin Colbert said they want to complete a deal that lets Bell retire a Steeler.
A second-round pick out of Michigan State in 2013, Bell quickly became the team’s featured back and partnered with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and wide receiver Antonio Brown to form the league’s fiercest offensive trio, known as the “Killer B’s.”
Bell made clear he wanted to show the Steelers he could play a full season without injuries, so in 2017 he played 15 games, sitting for only the season finale against Cleveland because of the coach’s decision. Bell finished the year with 1,291 rushing yards on 321 attempts (a 4.0 average per carry), 655 receiving yards on 85 catches and 11 total touchdowns (two receiving).
LeGarrette Blount, RB, Eagles
Blount, 31, led the Eagles with 766 rushing yards on 173 carries (4.4 average) and two touchdowns during the regular season. He saved one of his best performances for Super Bowl LII, running for 90 yards and a touchdown in a 41-33 victory over the New England Patriots, his former team with whom he won a ring in Super Bowl LI.
He is tied with Marcus Allen for sixth on the career postseason touchdowns list with 11.
Despite posting career highs in carries (299), yards (1,161) and touchdowns (18) with the Patriots in 2016, Blount remained on the market until the Eagles signed him to a one-year, $1.25 million deal last May. He not only proved to be an effective runner but also was key in creating a loose locker-room atmosphere and remained invested after losing snaps to Jay Ajayi, whom the Eagles acquired from the Dolphins at the trade deadline.
In 116 regular-season games, Blount has rushed for 5,888 yards and 51 touchdowns.
Rex Burkhead, RB, Patriots
Burkhead, who entered the NFL as a sixth-round draft choice of the Bengals in 2013 out of Nebraska, signed a one-year contract with the Patriots on March 14, 2017. The one-year deal had a maximum value of $3.15 million.
Burkhead played in 10 regular-season games (three starts) for New England, as injuries to his ribs and knee limited him. He finished with 264 yards on 64 carries with five touchdowns, while adding 30 catches for 254 yards and three touchdowns.
The Patriots were deep at running back, and Burkhead ultimately settled into the No. 3 spot on the depth chart when healthy. He played 17.2 percent of the offensive snaps in the regular season, as Dion Lewis and James White were ahead of him.
The 5-foot-10, 210-pound Burkhead also played on the punt return and kickoff return units, which added to his value on the 46-man roster over fellow running back Mike Gillislee.
Jamaal Charles, RB, Broncos
The 2017 season didn’t work out for Charles like he or the Broncos had hoped. In May, the Broncos signed Charles to a one-year deal after he was released by the Chiefs because they believed his knees would hold up in a situational role in long-yardage situations.
By season’s end, Charles was an afterthought in the Broncos’ offense with just four carries over the final four games. He was a healthy game-day inactive in the final two games of the season. Charles, 31, finished the season with 69 carries for 296 yards.
Charles publicly expressed his frustration late in the season when he said the Broncos should release him if he wasn’t going to play more. At the time, Broncos coach Vance Joseph said simply “that had not been a thought for us.”
In nine seasons with the Chiefs, in which he was selected for four Pro Bowls, Charles scored 64 total touchdowns in 109 games. He had four 1,100-yard rushing seasons with the Chiefs as well as four seasons with at least 40 receptions.
He tore his right ACL in October 2015 — the second such tear of his career after tearing the left one in 2011 — and had multiple knee surgeries in 2016. Charles was adamant throughout last season that he could still be a regular contributor despite his past knee troubles.
He has a career average of 5.4 yards per carry.
Isaiah Crowell, RB, Browns
Crowell, 25, gained 3,118 yards in four seasons with the Browns, but he didn’t become the team’s primary back until the past two seasons. He rushed for 853 yards with an average of 4.1 yards per carry last season. His numbers were slightly better in 2016, rushing for 952 yards while averaging 4.8 yards per attempt.
Crowell is one of only six NFL backs with at least 150 carries in each of the past two seasons to average 4.0 yards or more per carry, joining Devonta Freeman, Jordan Howard, Ezekiel Elliott, Mark Ingram and Le’Veon Bell.
His overall production was limited by the number of carries he received as he shared time with Duke Johnson in the Browns’ backfield. Crowell, who did not have a game with 20 rushing attempts over the past two seasons, ranked 12th in the NFL in yards per carry (4.47) during that span, but ranked 17th in overall carries (404).
He and coach Hue Jackson got into a public spat after getting just five rushing attempts in a loss to the Baltimore Ravens, including just one carry after ripping off a 59-yard run in the second quarter.
At that point, it seemed clear that Crowell would test the free-agent market and find a new team in 2018.
Orleans Darkwa, RB, Giants
Darkwa, 25, enjoyed a career season with the Giants in 2017 after getting substantial carries for the first time. He finished with 751 yards and five touchdowns on 171 carries, and his average of 4.4 yards per carry ranked 10th in the NFL.
He hit most of the incentives in his contract. He earned a $200,000 bonus that he reached by 1 yard after rushing for a career-high 154 yards, including a 75-yard touchdown, in the season finale against the Redskins.
The Tulane product, who originally was claimed off the Dolphins’ practice squad by New York during the 2014 season, was hampered by a leg injury early in his Giants career, but he was finally able to stay healthy and earned the trust of the coaching staff this past season.
Frank Gore, RB, Colts
Gore will be 35 years old at the start of the 2018 season, which will be his 14th in the NFL. If the 2017 season is any indication, age is just a number with Gore.
He rushed for 961 yards for the Colts in 2017, just 39 yards shy of a 10th career 1,000-yard season.
Gore moved ahead of four Hall of Fame running backs into fifth on the NFL’s career rushing list last season. He enters the 2018 season with 14,026 career rushing yards and needs just 76 yards to pass Curtis Martin for fourth on the list.
Gore signed with the Colts in 2015 with the goal of pairing with quarterback Andrew Luck. Injuries to Luck, however, limited the two to only 22 games together in Gore’s three seasons in Indianapolis.
Jeremy Hill, RB, Bengals
The writing was on the wall for Hill, 25, as soon as it became known that the Bengals coveted a running back in the 2017 NFL draft and eventually took Joe Mixon in the second round.
Hill sealed his fate when he elected to end his season early because of an ankle injury and sent his goodbyes to the team on his social media account.
He had a successful rookie season in 2014, rushing 222 times for 1,124 yards and nine touchdowns. But he has never been the same since fumbling late in the 2015 AFC wild-card game against the Steelers, ultimately contributing to a loss. Since that game, Hill has combined for 955 yards and nine touchdowns in the past two seasons and lost playing time to Mixon last year.
Hill finished with 37 carries for 116 yards in seven games played in 2017.
Carlos Hyde, RB, 49ers
Hyde was again the most productive running back for the 49ers in 2017, leading the team in rushing yards (940) while setting a career high with eight rushing touchdowns. He also had 59 receptions for 350 yards as his role expanded in coach Kyle Shanahan’s offense, as he played a full 16-game schedule for the first time.
While productive, the 27-year-old Hyde still showed his inconsistency in the passing game, catching 59 of 87 targets for 350 yards.
A second-round draft choice in 2014, Hyde said repeatedly during the season that he hoped to remain with the only NFL team he’d ever played for. In four seasons with San Francisco, Hyde rushed for 2,731 yards while averaging 4.2 yards per carry with 21 rushing scores. He also had 109 receptions for 634 yards and three touchdowns.
Eddie Lacy, RB, Seahawks
Lacy will go down as one of the bigger free-agent busts in recent memory for the Seahawks.
Signed to a one-year deal that included $2.865 million guaranteed, Lacy was expected to play a significant role — if not a leading one — in Seattle’s backfield. However, he and Thomas Rawls were beaten out for the starting job by rookie seventh-round pick Chris Carson.
Neither Lacy nor Rawls did much with their opportunities after Carson suffered a season-ending injury in early October. Lacy finished with 179 yards — and no touchdowns — on 69 attempts, and his average of 2.9 yards per carry was well below his career average of 4.4 yards from his first four seasons with the Packers.
The lack of a running game forced quarterback Russell Wilson to shoulder more of the offensive load than he ever has, as he became just the fifth quarterback since 1970 to lead his team in rushing.
Lacy, who turned 27 on New Year’s Day, was a healthy scratch for four games and finished the 2017 season behind Mike Davis on the depth chart.
His weight wasn’t as much of an issue with the Seahawks as it was with the Packers. Seattle, in fact, said it was fine with Lacy playing at a slightly higher weight than his listed weight of 235 with Green Bay. The Seahawks set up financial incentives based on a series of weigh-ins to get him down from 255 pounds during the offseason to a target weight of 245 or less during the season.
A second-round draft pick by the Packers in 2013, Lacy posted back-to-back 1,100-yard seasons to start his pro career and was the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2013.
Dion Lewis, RB, Patriots
The 5-foot-8, 195-pound Lewis led the Patriots with 896 rushing yards on 180 carries (5.0 average) and six touchdowns in the 2017 regular season. He added 32 catches for 214 yards and three receiving touchdowns while also serving as the team’s primary kickoff returner (23 returns, 570 yards, one touchdown).
He had opened the year as the No. 4 option on the depth chart behind free-agent signings Mike Gillislee and Rex Burkhead and third-down passing back James White before decisively taking over lead duties in the sixth week of the season.
Lewis earned a base salary of $1.2 million in the 2017 season and is likely to receive a significant increase as a free agent.
On Feb. 27, he was a guest on “The Adam Schefter Podcast” and was asked his chances of remaining with the Patriots.
“I love it here. I’ve grown great relationships in this area the past three years, and I’m close to home — Albany, New York, is two-and-a-half hours [away], so I’m real close to my family. At the same time, it’s a business. Hopefully it will work out, but at the same time, you can’t really think that way. You have to take care of yourself and your family at the same time,” Lewis said.
The 27-year-old Lewis added: “It would definitely be tough, but I think it will work out, I hope it will work out. But at the same time, I’m not putting all my eggs in one basket. I know how the team likes to handle their business, and as a running back, you have to make the most of your opportunity, and me being the player I am, my main thing is making sure I can go out there next year and show people what type of player I can be. I still think I can improve from what I did this past year. My main thing is just making sure I’m valued. That’s my biggest thing — to make sure I’m valued the way I value myself.”
Lewis had initially been signed by the Patriots on Feb. 6, 2015, a deal that was an afterthought to many at the time but proved to be a brilliant one for the club when Lewis got off to a strong start that year before tearing his ACL in his seventh game.
Lewis then missed half of the 2016 season after a setback in his recovery. He played in every game this past season, missing just one practice due to illness, and said it was the “best I’ve felt in a long time.”
“I think I have a lot to give. I think my career is just getting started,” he said on the podcast. “I don’t feel 27; I feel 22, 23.”
Doug Martin, RB, Buccaneers (cut)
Martin, a two-time Pro Bowler, was released by the Buccaneers on Feb. 20 after averaging just 2.19 yards per attempt over the past two seasons.
Martin, who was due to make nearly $7 million in 2018, started the season with three games remaining on a four-game suspension for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing substances in 2016. He then was benched in favor of second-year back Peyton Barber for the final three games of the 2017 season and was a healthy scratch in Week 15 for violating a team rule.
He entered a drug-rehabilitation program and was suspended for the final game of the 2016 season. Because Martin engaged in conduct detrimental to the team, the Bucs were no longer on the hook for any of the guaranteed money from the five-year, $35.75 million deal he signed before that season, which facilitated in his release.
“You cheered when I scored touchdowns and supported me when I stumbled,” Martin said in a Facebook post directed to the Bucs and their fans after being released. “You embraced me not only as a player, but also as a person. That is special. Thank you.”
Martin, 29, rushed for 1,402 yards in 2015, second only to Adrian Peterson that season and second most in his career. He rushed for 4,633 yards with the Bucs, which is fourth in team in history behind James Wilder, Mike Alstott and Warrick Dunn. Martin’s 11 100-yard rushing games are tied for second in Bucs franchise history.
Jerick McKinnon, RB, Vikings
McKinnon, 25, hit free agency looking for a much bigger role than the shared one he had with the Vikings in 2017.
After Dalvin Cook went down with a torn ACL in Week 4, McKinnon became part of one of the best running back tandems in the league alongside Latavius Murray. From Week 5 on, McKinnon averaged 3.9 yards per rush, gaining 544 yards on 140 carries. He also caught 43 passes for 381 yards.
His role as a pass-catching running back helped usher in a new era for Minnesota’s run game that went from dead last in 2016 to finishing No. 7 last season. The dual-threat back played a prominent role in the screen game and helped the Vikings maintain a steady flow of explosive plays despite Cook’s absence.
McKinnon was a third-round selection out of Georgia Southern by the Vikings in the 2014 draft. He has averaged 4.0 yards per carry over his four NFL seasons.
Alfred Morris, RB, Cowboys
Morris spent the past two seasons with the Cowboys after a four-year stint with the Redskins in which he ran for more than 1,000 yards three times and made the Pro Bowl twice.
He signed with Dallas before the Cowboys drafted Ezekiel Elliott with the fourth overall pick in the 2016 draft. Morris had just 69 carries for 243 yards and two touchdowns in 2016, but he showed he still has something left in 2017.
When Elliott was suspended for six games, Morris carried 99 times for 430 yards and a touchdown. He finished the season with 115 carries for 547 yards.
With Elliott playing an every-down role and the growth of younger — and cheaper — Rod Smith as a third-down threat, the Cowboys don’t look like they have a spot for Morris, who turns 30 in December.
Anthony Sherman, RB, Chiefs
Sherman, 29, joined the Chiefs in a 2013 trade with the Cardinals. He played in all 16 games in each of his five seasons in Kansas City, making 22 starts, and was a valuable special-teams player.
He was an effective lead blocker and productive on the few occasions when he did get the ball. Sherman got the ball only 75 times between rushes and pass receptions during his five seasons in Kansas City but managed to score three touchdowns.
Darren Sproles, RB, Eagles
Sproles, 34, was set on retiring after the 2017 season with the Eagles, but he is determined to write his own ending after suffering season-ending injuries in September.
One of the most respected players in football, Sproles suffered a torn ACL and broken arm on the same play against the Giants in Week 3. Deciding he didn’t want his career to end in that fashion, Sproles began a rigorous rehab.
The 5-foot-6, 190-pound Sproles, a three-time Pro Bowl selection, ranks eighth in career all-purpose yards (19,155), ahead of LaDainian Tomlinson and within striking distance of Steve Smith (19,180), Marshall Faulk (19,190) and Tim Brown (19,682).
Mike Tolbert, RB, Bills
Tolbert, 32, started last season as the Bills’ No. 2 running back behind LeSean McCoy.
A dual fullback and running back over his first nine seasons for the Chargers and Panthers from 2008 through 2016, Tolbert played exclusively at running back for the Bills.
His best game last season came for Buffalo in the regular-season opener, when he ran 12 times for 42 yards. His usage declined as the season progressed, and after missing three games because of a hamstring injury, Tolbert returned in December behind Travaris Cadet on the depth chart.
Coach Sean McDermott, who had a close relationship with Tolbert from their time together with the Panthers, made Tolbert a healthy scratch for a Week 15 game against the Dolphins.
A three-time Pro Bowl selection, Tolbert has rushed for 2,649 yards and 34 touchdowns in his career. He also has 1,861 receiving yards and 12 touchdown receptions.
Shane Vereen, RB, Giants
Vereen, 29, brings a unique skill set to the table with his ability to run routes like a receiver and catch the ball out of the backfield, but his role with the Giants decreased significantly in 2017, when he caught just 44 passes for 253 yards and no touchdowns.
His playing time with the Giants was derailed after he tore his triceps muscle twice during the 2016 season. He missed 11 games that year, and he wasn’t the same player this past season.
He signed a three-year, $12.35 million deal with the Giants in 2015 after spending the previous four seasons with the Patriots, who selected him in the second round of the 2011 draft.
His first season in New York was by far his best. Vereen caught a career-high 59 passes for 494 yards and four touchdowns in Ben McAdoo’s pass-first West Coast offense.
The seven-year veteran has rushed for 1,489 yards and eight touchdowns in his career. He has 221 catches for 1,864 and 11 receiving touchdowns.
Terrance West, RB, Ravens
West, 27, went from a career-best 2016 season to a career-worst one last year, losing his starting job to Alex Collins in the process. After gaining a team-high 774 yards for the Ravens in 2016, he was held to 138 yards last year after being limited to six games.
He missed four straight games in October, which is the time when Collins started taking the lead role in the backfield. When West returned, the Ravens made him a healthy scratch for six of the last seven games.
A solid runner in between the tackles, West never consistently broke long runs and has a career 3.9-yard average. He was an asset in the red zone, scoring seven touchdowns in 21 games for his hometown Ravens.
Trey Burton, TE, Eagles
Burton, 26, has a special place in Eagles history because of his role in the “Philly Special,” the trick play in Super Bowl LII in which he threw a touchdown pass to quarterback Nick Foles off a reverse handoff against the Patriots.
Due largely to the presence of veteran tight ends Zach Ertz and Brent Celek, Burton was on the field for only 27 percent of the offensive snaps, but he made the most of his opportunities, hauling in 23 passes for 248 yards and five touchdowns in 2017. He was also a key special-teams contributor for the Eagles, finishing third with nine special-teams tackles last season and also came up with a fumble recovery.
In his four seasons with the Eagles, the former University of Florida quarterback has caught 63 passes for 629 yards and six touchdowns and also has scored on special teams.
Ed Dickson, TE, Panthers
Dickson, 30, was used primarily as a blocker in two-tight-end sets during his first three seasons with the Panthers, but that changed in 2017 after three-time Pro Bowl selection Greg Olsen suffered a broken foot in Week 2 and missed nine games.
Dickson finished the season with 30 receptions for 437 yards and a touchdown, including a career-best 175 yards on five catches in a Week 5 win against the Lions. In his first three seasons with the Panthers, he totaled 37 catches for 370 yards and four touchdowns.
He came to Carolina on a one-year deal in 2014 after four seasons with the Ravens. He then was signed to a three-year, $6.8 million extension before the Panthers’ Super Bowl run in 2015.
Tyler Eifert, TE, Bengals
Eifert, 27, has shown the ability to be a top-tier tight end and a red zone threat when healthy. He made the Pro Bowl in 2015 after playing in 13 games for the Bengals and catching 52 passes for 615 yards and 13 touchdowns.
However, Eifert has rarely been able to stay healthy during his NFL career, particularly during the past two seasons.
Eifert injured his ankle in the 2015 Pro Bowl and spent the entire offseason rehabbing. A back injury pushed back his 2016 debut, and he played in only eight games that year. Eifert has had season-ending back surgery in consecutive seasons.
He has played in only 39 of 80 possible regular-season games for the first five years of his career. That complicated his future options as an unrestricted free agent.
The Bengals wanted Eifert back, and he has shown a fondness for Cincinnati, doing all his rehab there and often hanging out on the sideline of games or in the locker room despite being on injured reserve.
Antonio Gates, TE, Chargers
A future Hall of Famer, Gates had a reduced role with the Los Angeles Chargers in 2017. He played 478 snaps, finishing with 30 catches for 316 receiving yards and three touchdowns. Gates hasn’t had numbers that low since his rookie season in 2003.
Gates, 37, is the all-time leader in receiving touchdowns by an NFL tight end, with 114. Gates and Rivers have connected on 87 touchdown passes during their time with the Chargers, the most in league history for a quarterback-tight end tandem.
An eight-time Pro Bowl selection who signed as an undrafted free agent out of Kent State in 2003, Gates is the all-time franchise leader for the Chargers in receptions (927), receiving yards (11,508) and touchdowns (114).
Gates posted 100-plus receiving yards in 21 games throughout his career, one of just seven tight ends in NFL history with 20-plus games of at least 100 yards receiving.
The Chargers are 52-38 in games where Gates scored a touchdown.
Jimmy Graham, TE, Seahawks
Graham has been one of the most prolific tight ends of his era, catching 69 touchdown passes since he entered the league with the Saints as a third-round pick in 2010. That total ranks second among tight ends and third among all pass-catchers during that span, behind Rob Gronkowski (76) and Dez Bryant (73).
Graham’s three seasons with the Seahawks were a mixed bag. In 2017, he caught 10 touchdown passes — all in the red zone — and last season ranked tops among tight ends and tied for second-most among all pass-catchers for receiving scores.
Outside of the scores, however, there was a decline in his production. His 520 receiving yards represented a significant drop-off from 2016, when he had 923 receiving yards. And dropped passes were also an issue as Graham tied for the second-most in the NFL with seven in 2017, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.
Graham’s lack of production outside of the red zone in 2017 led many to suspect he has lost a step due to a combination of age — he turns 32 in November — and the major knee injury that cut his first season in Seattle short.
He suffered a torn patellar tendon in November 2015, causing him to miss the final five games for Seattle, though he didn’t miss a game over the next two seasons.
The Seahawks acquired Graham and a fourth-round pick in a trade with New Orleans in 2015, sending center Max Unger and a first-round pick to the Saints.
Graham’s last contract, signed with New Orleans in 2014, was for $40 million over four years. No tight end since then has topped that deal on a per-year-average basis.
Virgil Green, TE, Broncos
Green, 29, was part of John Elway’s first draft class in 2011 when the Broncos selected the tight end in the seventh round.
Green’s athleticism was always noticeable as he went about his business in training camp and regular-season practices, but those attributes never translated into a significant role in the passing offense. His 22 receptions in 2016 were the highest total in any of his seven seasons with the team and he had four touchdowns receptions in those seven years combined.
He finished with 14 catches for 191 yards last season.
He carved out playing time because he was consistently the best option as a blocker at the position.
Richard Rodgers, TE, Packers
Rodgers, 26, never quite took off with the Packers after his Hail Mary catch against the Lions in 2015. That remains the only 100-yard receiving game of his career, as he slipped behind Martellus Bennett and Lance Kendricks to start last season.
Even when Bennett was released, Rodgers’ productivity barely spiked. He had only two games this past season with more than one catch and missed the finale with a shoulder injury — the only game he has missed in his four-year career.
The 2014 third-round pick had a career-low 12 catches for 160 yards and a touchdown last season.
His best season was 2015, when he caught 58 passes for 510 yards and eight touchdowns.
Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Jets
Seferian-Jenkins, 25, resurrected his career with the Jets after being cut by the Buccaneers following a September 2016 arrest for drunken driving. The incident produced an embarrassing dash-cam video in which he made crude remarks while sitting in the backseat of a police cruiser.
Ultimately, he was suspended by the NFL for the first two games of 2017 season.
The Jets took a chance, claiming Seferian-Jenkins on waivers. After a non-descript 2016, he acknowledged a drinking problem and lost 30 pounds during the offseason. In a May 2017 interview with ESPN, he went public with his battle, revealing he had spent time in rehab.
Seferian-Jenkins carried the momentum into the season and was one of the bright spots for the Jets, finishing with 50 receptions and 357 yards — both career highs.
Oddly, the 6-foot-6 tight end wasn’t effective in the red zone, managing only four catches (three for touchdowns). He faded over the final five games (only 11 catches), probably hurting his value as a free agent.
Benjamin Watson, TE, Ravens
Watson, 37, successfully came back last season after missing all of 2016 with an Achilles injury and led the Ravens with 61 receptions, which also ranked No. 8 among NFL tight ends.
Even though he was a frequent target of Joe Flacco, Watson didn’t do much after the catch, averaging 8.6 yards per reception. He had only two catches of 25 yards or longer in 2017.
Drafted in the first round by the Patriots in 2004, Watson is one of six active tight ends with at least 450 catches, 5,000 receiving yards and 40 touchdown catches in a career. His 495 catches rank as the eighth-most by an NFL tight end over the past 14 seasons.
Watson has made a significant impact off the field and was one of three finalists for the Walter Payton Man of the Year award last season. Watson’s charitable arm, the One More Foundation, partnered with the International Justice Mission (IJM), the world’s largest international anti-slavery organization working to combat human trafficking, modern-day slavery and other forms of violence against the poor.
Jaron Brown, WR, Cardinals
Brown, 28, returned from a torn ACL injury in 2016 to catch 31 passes for 477 yards and four touchdowns for the Cardinals in 2017 — all career highs.
The 2013 undrafted free agent set his career high for yards in a game with 105 in Week 4 last season. He started eight of the 16 games he played in last season.
In five seasons with the Cardinals, Brown has caught 86 passes for 1,177 yards and nine touchdowns.
John Brown, WR, Cardinals
Brown, 27, was once considered a cornerstone of the Cardinals’ offense, but injuries and health issues curtailed his production.
He had 1,003 yards and seven touchdowns in 2015, his second season, and didn’t have more than 517 yards the past two seasons. He was diagnosed as a carrier of the sickle cell trait during the 2016 season, in which he caught 39 passes for 517 yards and two touchdowns in 15 games. After the season, he had a cyst drained from his spine.
Brown, a third-round draft pick in 2014, was plagued by a lingering quad injury all season that he first suffered in training camp and then was dealing with turf toe. He caught a career-low 21 passes for 299 yards and three touchdowns in 10 games last season.
Brice Butler, WR, Cowboys
Butler signed a one-year deal to return to the Cowboys in 2017, but that was before Dallas re-signed starter Terrance Williams. Butler, who turned 28 in January, caught just 15 passes, but it was for 317 yards and three touchdowns.
The Cowboys acquired Butler in a trade from the Raiders in 2015 after Dez Bryant suffered a foot injury in the season opener against the Giants. He was a seventh-round pick of the Raiders in 2014, and he had 21 catches for 280 yards and two touchdowns during his rookie season.
In three seasons with the Cowboys, Butler caught 43 passes for 794 yards and six touchdowns while serving mostly as the No. 4 receiver behind Bryant, Williams and Cole Beasley.
Eric Decker, WR, Titans
Decker, who will be 31 shortly after free agency begins, finished second on the Titans behind tight end Delanie Walker with 54 receptions last season.
The eight-year veteran signed with the Titans in June after he was released by the Jets, adding a savvy route runner to a young receiver corps. He had some ups and downs, including a late-season bout with drops, but he caught the game-winning touchdown in the Titans’ 22-21 comeback victory over the Chiefs in the wild-card round of the playoffs.
Decker doesn’t provide much in the speed department anymore, but he’s still a strong red zone threat and a player who finds holes in zones to get open.
The Titans were Decker’s third team. He has a home in the Nashville area.
Decker finished with 563 receiving yards and a career-low 10.4 yards per reception in 2017. In eight NFL seasons with the Broncos, Jets and Titans, Decker has 439 receptions for 5,816 yards and 53 touchdowns.
Taylor Gabriel, WR, Falcons
Gabriel, 27, is known for the speed and big-play ability he displayed in 2016, when he led all Falcons receivers with six touchdown receptions. Those scores averaged 42.7 yards as Gabriel typically used his 4.27 speed to break free from defenders.
He caught 33 passes for 378 yards and just one touchdown in 2017 after catching 35 passes for 579 yards and those six scores — plus a rushing touchdown — during the Falcons’ 2016 Super Bowl run.
Gabriel has averaged more than 16 yards per reception in two of his four NFL seasons.
He entered the league with the Browns in 2014 as an undrafted free agent out of Abilene Christian. During his rookie year, he accumulated a career-high 621 receiving yards on a career-high 36 receptions playing under then-Browns offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, now the head coach of the 49ers.
Gabriel was released by the Browns before the 2016 season and reunited with Shanahan in Atlanta after the Falcons claimed him on waivers.
Jarvis Landry, WR, Dolphins (tagged)
The Dolphins placed the non-exclusive franchise tag on Landry on Feb. 20, the first day teams could issue the designation to pending free agents. The salary for wide receivers getting the franchise tag this offseason is expected to be around $16.2 million, which will be quite the raise for Landry, who made $894,000 last season.
The tag will hold Landry in place while the Dolphins try to make progress on a long-term deal. Because the team is using its non-exclusive tag, Landry is free to sign an offer sheet with another team. Should the Dolphins choose not to match an offer sheet for Landry, they would be due two first-round draft picks from Landry’s new team.
Landry, 25, led the NFL with 112 receptions last season. He also had 987 receiving yards and nine touchdown receptions. He has been selected to the Pro Bowl for three consecutive seasons.
He was ejected in the Dolphins’ season finale against the Bills after he was an instigator in a fourth-quarter brawl. Coach Adam Gase called the incident “embarrassing.”
Landry’s 112 receptions were the most in NFL history for a player who didn’t have at least 1,000 receiving yards that season, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. He had eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark in both the 2015 and ’16 seasons, when he finished with 1,157 yards and 1,136 yards, respectively.
Only Antonio Brown (471) and Julio Jones (411) have more receptions than Landry’s 400 since he debuted in the NFL in 2014.
Cody Latimer, WR, Broncos
The Broncos made Latimer the 56th player chosen in the 2014 draft with the idea that his size (6-foot-2, 215 pounds) and speed would earn him a significant role in their offense.
But Latimer, 25, struggled with confidence issues in those early seasons with the team and often found himself well down the depth chart at receiver on game day. He had just two, six and eight receptions in those first three seasons with the team.
However, Latimer flashed some of that hoped-for ability this past season when he showed some flair down the field, especially in contested-pass situations as he finished with 19 receptions and averaged 15.1 yards per catch before closing out the season with a thigh injury that kept him out of the final two games.
His per-catch average was the highest of any player on the roster with more than 10 receptions in 2017.
As he tried to snap out of his struggles on offense in recent seasons, Latimer also became one of the Broncos’ best special-team players. Former coaches Joe DeCamillis and Brock Olivo each called Latimer a “core guy” on those units.
Marqise Lee, WR, Jaguars
Lee, 26, caught 171 passes for 2,166 yards and eight touchdowns in his four seasons with the Jaguars.
He battled through multiple injuries that cost him nine games in his first two seasons and caught 119 passes for 1,553 yards and six touchdowns in 2016-17. He posted his best season in 2016, catching 63 passes for 851 yards and three touchdowns.
However, Lee also tied for the third-most drops in the NFL over the past two seasons (12), including seven in 2017.
The Jaguars selected Lee early in the second round of the 2014 draft, but injuries prevented him from making much of an impact during his first two seasons. He fought hamstring injuries during the first half of his rookie season and again in 2015, when he missed six of the first eight games.
Lee was healthy in 2016 and participated in every organized team activity and the team’s three-day minicamp. He eventually moved past Allen Hurns to become the Jaguars’ No. 2 receiver behind Allen Robinson.
Jordan Matthews, WR, Bills
Matthews, 25, was limited to 10 games for the Bills this past season after being acquired in an August trade from the Eagles.
He suffered a chip fracture in his sternum in his first practice of training camp for Buffalo, and later fractured his thumb in Week 4, missing one game. He also missed one game in November because of a knee injury that later resulted in him being placed on injured reserve.
In an Instagram post Dec. 14, Matthews announced he had surgery on his left knee and right ankle.
Matthews finished the 2017 season with a career-low 25 catches for 282 yards and a touchdown.
In three seasons with Philadelphia, Matthews caught 225 passes for 2,673 yards and 19 touchdowns.
Donte Moncrief, WR, Colts
Moncrief’s career with the Colts took a turn for the worse during the 2016 season largely due to injuries. He missed 11 games over the past two seasons because of shoulder and ankle injuries after not missing any games during his first two seasons.
Moncrief, 24, had all the tools to be the Colts’ best all-around receiver the past two seasons — size, speed and strength — but he continually failed to take advantage of the opportunities in front of him. He lost his starting job as the No. 2 receiver to Kamar Aiken at one point, and he finished with only 26 receptions for 391 yards and two touchdowns last season.
In four seasons with the Colts, Moncrief had 152 receptions for 1,875 yards and 18 touchdowns in 53 games.
Terrelle Pryor Sr., WR, Redskins
Pryor, 28, signed a one-year deal with Washington last offseason, rejecting a multiyear offer by the Browns after a breakout season in 2016. But the move didn’t work out for Pryor, who started at the X position but finished with just 20 catches for 240 yards and one touchdown in nine games.
He injured his ankle in a Week 2 win at the Rams, and he eventually needed season-ending surgery in November.
Pryor was not the focal point of Washington’s offense like he was in Cleveland. In his first full season as a receiver, Pryor caught 77 passes for 1,007 yards and four touchdowns. He had switched from quarterback to receiver in the 2015 offseason, but only played in three games that season.
In 2011, the Raiders picked Pryor in the third round of the supplemental draft. He started 10 games at quarterback while appearing in five others over three seasons.
Paul Richardson, WR, Seahawks
Richardson hits free agency after the most productive of his four seasons with the Seahawks. He supplanted Tyler Lockett as Seattle’s No. 2 receiver behind Doug Baldwin in 2017 and caught 44 passes for 703 yards and six touchdowns — all career-highs by a wide margin.
Known for his speed and his ability to outleap defenders for jump balls, Richardson averaged 16 yards per reception in 2017, the highest figure among Seahawks with at least 10 catches.
After an injury plagued first two seasons, Richardson — who turns 26 on April 13 — has mostly stayed healthy the past two seasons, missing one game in 2016 and none in 2017.
A second-round pick in 2014 out of Colorado, Richardson was buried on the depth chart as a rookie and then suffered a torn ACL in the playoffs, causing him to miss the first half of the 2015 season. He returned in Week 10, only to suffer a season-ending hamstring injury while hauling in a 40-yard reception in his first game back.
Allen Robinson, WR, Jaguars
Robinson, drafted by the Jaguars in the second round of the 2014 draft, has 202 catches for 2,848 yards and 22 touchdowns in four seasons, but he is coming off a torn left ACL that he suffered on the third offensive play of the 2017 opener at Houston.
Robinson, 24, had 48 catches for 548 yards and two touchdowns as a rookie before a knee injury ended his season after 10 games. He had a monster year in 2015 (80 catches, for 1,400 yards and a franchise single-season record 14 touchdown catches) and appeared to be on the cusp of joining the elite list of receivers in the NFL.
However, the Jaguars’ offense struggled in 2016 and so did Robinson. He was targeted the same amount of times as he was in 2015 (151 times) but his yardage and touchdown numbers dropped off: 73 catches for 883 yards and six touchdowns. After leading the NFL with 31 catches of 20 or more yards in 2015, Robinson had just 11 in 2016.
Robinson had a fantastic training camp and appeared poised for a big season in 2017 before his injury.
Deonte Thompson, WR, Bills
Thompson, 29, led the Bills with 318 receiving yards over the final two months of the 2017 season. He started in seven of Buffalo’s final eight games.
The Bills signed Thompson in October to bolster a group of receivers who were the NFL’s least productive through the first month of the season. He played the first five games of the season for the Bears before being released.
In 16 games this past season for Chicago and Buffalo, Thompson set career highs with 38 catches and 555 receiving yards, while tying his career high with two touchdowns.
An undrafted free agent in 2012, Thompson played only 21 games over his first four seasons for the Ravens, Bills and Bears before emerging to start six games for Chicago in 2016.
Mike Wallace, WR, Ravens
Wallace, 31, was the Ravens’ most reliable wide receiver last season despite a decline in his numbers. He caught 52 passes for 748 yards receiving, which easily led the team.
Still confident in his ability and speed, Wallace publicly campaigned to get the ball more during a season in which he finished with less than 1,000 yards receiving for the fifth time in six seasons.
When called upon, Wallace was able to stretch the field, totaling eight plays of 50 yards or longer in his two seasons in Baltimore, which topped the NFL.
Wallace made some spectacular catches with Baltimore, but he also dropped a handful, including a couple in the season-ending loss to the Cincinnati Bengals that knocked out the Ravens from the playoffs.
A third-round pick by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2009, Wallace has played for the Miami Dolphins, Minnesota Vikings and Ravens over the past five seasons. He has 538 receptions for 8,072 yards and 57 touchdown catches in seven seasons and was a Pro Bowl selection with the Steelers in 2011.
Sammy Watkins, WR, Rams
Watkins, who turns 25 on June 14, proved he could stay healthy while with the Rams in 2017, but his numbers didn’t stack up among the game’s best receivers. The former No. 4 overall pick, acquired from the Bills in August, finished with only 39 catches for 593 yards, though he did manage to score eight touchdowns.
The big, physical receiver (6-foot-1, 211 pounds) specializes in stretching defenses vertically. On the Rams, though, that tool mostly benefited the likes of Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp and Todd Gurley underneath.
Watkins initially entered the NFL with the promise of being one of the game’s best receivers. He starred at Clemson, and the Bills gave up future first- and fourth-round picks in order to move up five spots and draft him in 2014.
He showed glimpses of star potential in his first two seasons, totaling 125 catches for 2,029 yards and 15 touchdowns in 29 games, but a broken bone in his foot eventually forced him to miss the first eight games of the 2016 season, then prompted the Bills to decline their fifth-year option. Buffalo then sent Watkins to the Rams in exchange for cornerback E.J. Gaines and a 2018 second-round pick on Aug. 11.
Watkins previously underwent two surgical procedures in his troublesome left foot and also had hip surgery after the 2014 season.
Albert Wilson, WR, Chiefs
Wilson, who turns 26 on July 12, joined the Chiefs as an undrafted free agent in 2014 and wound up starting 26 games in his four seasons there.
He showed a knack for making big plays when the Chiefs needed them most. Wilson had two touchdown catches in four career playoff games, and he ran for a 55-yard touchdown on a fake punt in a one-point win over the Super Bowl-bound Falcons in December 2016.
Wilson had his best season in 2017, when he caught 42 passes for 554 yards and three touchdowns. He had the best game of his career in the final regular-season game against the Broncos in Denver, where he caught 10 passes for 147 yards.
Wilson has 124 receptions, 1,544 yards and seven touchdown receptions in 55 career games.
Kendall Wright, WR, Bears
Wright, 28, was the only Bears receiver to crack the 50-catch barrier (59) in 2017. He slowly emerged as quarterback Mitchell Trubisky’s preferred target as the season wore on, and he had a season-high 10 receptions for 107 yards in a Week 14 victory at Cincinnati.
The 2012 first-round pick spent five seasons with the Titans before signing a one-year deal with the Bears last spring. Wright’s best season came in 2013, when he caught 94 passes for 1,079 yards.
Beau Allen, DT, Eagles
A seventh-round pick by the Eagles in 2014, Allen, 26, appeared in 63 of a possible 64 games in four seasons, totaling 87 tackles, two sacks and 11 tackles for loss over that time.
He was drafted to play nose tackle in a 3-4 defense, but Allen proved scheme-versatile and remained a key part of the defensive line rotation in Jim Schwartz’s 4-3 system over the past two seasons. He had a sack and 12 quarterback pressures during the Eagles’ 2017 Super Bowl run.
The Eagles and Allen had been working on a contract extension last offseason before he suffered a torn pec in April — an injury that occurred shortly after the team had traded for defensive tackle Tim Jernigan, who went on to start at DT alongside Fletcher Cox and was recently given a rich contract extension.
Ezekiel Ansah, DE, Lions (tagged)
The Lions placed their franchise tag on Ansah on Feb. 27, restricting his movement in free agency.
The franchise tag for a defensive end is expected to be worth approximately $17.5 million for the upcoming season.
Ansah can sign the franchise tender at any time, which would fully guarantee the salary and place it all on the current year’s cap. The sides also have until July 16 to agree to a multiyear extension.
The 6-foot-6, 275-pound Ansah had injury issues the past two seasons, but he still played in 27 games for the Detroit Lions, making 79 tackles along with 14 sacks — 12 of them in 2017, including six in the final two games.
Ansah, 28, admitted late in the season he had “been dealing with a lot all year.” He had ankle, shoulder and back injuries throughout 2017, rarely practiced in full pads and almost always appeared on Detroit’s injury reports. He said he is “pretty confident,” though, that he can return to his form of 2015, when he was both consistent and and productive while earning a Pro Bowl berth.
Ansah was the No. 5 pick in the 2013 draft out of BYU and immediately became an impact player in the Lions’ 4-3 front as a pass-rusher.
After 32 tackles and eight sacks his rookie year and 49 tackles and 7.5 sacks in 2014, Ansah had a breakout season in 2015. He had 47 tackles that season along with 14.5 sacks — enough to earn second-team All-Pro honors by The Associated Press.
Denico Autry, DT, Raiders
An undrafted rookie out of Mississippi State in 2014, the 6-foot-5, 270-pound Autry played in all 16 games for the second time in his career last season and had a career-high five sacks and seven forced fumbles.
He started three games, his fewest total since his rookie season, but he became more of a pure pass-rushing threat opposite Khalil Mack as a situational pass-rusher late in the season. His three starts came in Oakland’s last four games.
Autry, who turns 28 on July 15, also developed a knack for tipping passes, as evidenced by his career-best seven passes defensed.
In his career, Autry has 10.5 sacks, 14 passes defensed and two fumble recoveries.
Adrian Clayborn, DE, Falcons
Clayborn, who turns 30 in July, led the Falcons with a career-high 9.5 sacks during the 2017 season. His total included a franchise-record six sacks in a win over the Cowboys.
Known for his relentless effort, Clayborn also had a team-high 17 quarterback hits this past season. He played 526 defensive snaps.
Before free agency, Clayborn told ESPN that “I got some years left in me.”
Clayborn began his career as a first-round draft pick of the Buccaneers, and he posted 7.5 sacks — his previous benchmark — as a rookie in 2011. However, he battled injury issues during his four seasons with the Bucs, playing in just one game during the 2014 season and playing just three games during the 2012 campaign.
The injury bug again hit Clayborn with the Falcons in 2016, when he was placed on injured reserve with a ruptured biceps, which prevented him from finishing the season and playing in the Super Bowl. He revealed he contemplated retirement following that injury but had a discussion with his wife and decided to continue playing.
Justin Ellis, DT, Raiders
The 6-foot-2, 335-pound Ellis is more gap-filling run-stopper than interior pass-rushing menace, as his career-high total of 48 tackles attests, though he did also get his first half-sack, when he teamed with Mario Edwards Jr. to take down Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota in the season opener.
Ellis, a fourth-round pick of the Raiders out of Louisiana Tech who does not turn 28 until Dec. 27, is known as “Jelly” and can also play nose tackle in a 3-4 scheme. He played all 16 games for the third time in his four-year career and started a career best-tying 14 times.
He had a season-high six tackles at Washington in Week 3.
Dwight Freeney, DE, Lions
The 38-year-old Freeney, who split last season between the Seattle Seahawks and Lions, is one of the best pass-rushers in NFL history, as his 125.5 career sacks are tied with Baltimore’s Terrell Suggs for 17th on the all-time list.
A three-time first-team All-Pro and seven-time Pro Bowl selection, Freeney is often credited with popularizing the spin move that many defensive ends now use. He also made undersized defensive ends fashionable to draft because of his production with the Colts after being the 11th overall pick in the 2002 draft.
Whenever his career is done, he is a likely Hall of Famer.
“I know that I left my mark on the league as far as ‘undersized’ defensive ends,” Freeney told ESPN late last year. “There was no one my size being drafted at my position. Now you see a whole slew of guys doing that, so I know I paved the way for a lot of guys there. So I know I left my mark on the game.”
Freeney has played 16 seasons in the league — 11 with the Colts, while also playing for the Chargers, Cardinals and Falcons. In all, he has played 218 career games, starting 157 of them.
He has 341 career tackles, 47 forced fumbles and seven pass breakups. He has been in three Super Bowls, winning one — Super Bowl XLI with the Colts.
Freeney told ESPN that had the Falcons won Super Bowl LI, he might have retired at that point. Now, he said, he waits until February or March each year to see if he wants to play another season.
The 2017 season was the first time Freeney was cut during the season and had to go through the waivers process, which is how he went from Seattle to Detroit. With the Lions, he played in five games and did not record any statistics after having three sacks with Seattle.
Charles Johnson, DE, Panthers (cut)
The Panthers released Johnson on Feb. 26, clearing $3.25 million in salary-cap space.
The 31-year-old defensive end had signed a two-year extension with the Panthers in 2017.
Johnson was suspended four games last season for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs. He was inactive for the playoff game against New Orleans for an unspecified reason.
Johnson’s 67.5 sacks rank second on the Panthers’ all-time list behind defensive end Julius Peppers.
Johnson didn’t have a sack this past season, the first time that has happened since his rookie year of 2007, when he played in only two games as a third-round pick out of Georgia. He has registered five sacks total the past three seasons after having 8.5 in 2014 and 11.0 in 2013.
DaQuan Jones, DL, Titans
Jones, 26, was having a strong contract year before a torn biceps suffered in early December ended his season.
Jones’ play was often hidden because of the dirty work he did taking double-teams and stopping the run. He made a big splash, notching 3.5 sacks in his last two games before the injury.
A three-year starter selected in the fourth round of the 2014 draft, Jones was a big reason why the Titans had the NFL’s fourth-best run defense in 2017.
In four seasons, Jones has 110 tackles, six sacks and one forced fumble.
Bennie Logan, DT, Chiefs
Logan, 28, joined the Chiefs as an unrestricted free agent last year after four seasons with the Eagles. He played in 15 games, plus the playoff loss to the Titans, starting 13.
The Chiefs signed Logan after it appeared they would lose long-time starting nose tackle Dontari Poe to free agency. Poe eventually signed with the Falcons.
Logan led the Chiefs’ defensive linemen last season in total tackles (54). He was second on the team in tackles for loss (10) and tied for sixth in sacks (1.5).
Star Lotulelei, DT, Panthers
Lotulelei, the 14th overall selection in the 2013 draft, spent most of the past five seasons being overshadowed by Panthers teammate Kawann Short, who made the Pro Bowl in 2015.
The 28-year-old Lotulelei, known primarily as a run-stuffer who can take up multiple blockers, had 11.5 sacks in five seasons. Meanwhile, Short, a 2013 second-round pick, accumulated 24.5 sacks over the past three seasons and parlayed that into a five-year, $80.5 million extension before last season.
Former general manager Dave Gettleman, fired in July, picked defensive tackle Vernon Butler in the first round of the 2016 draft, knowing it would be tough to give big contracts to both Short and Lotulelei.
Haloti Ngata, DT, Lions
The 34-year-old Ngata spent the past three seasons in Detroit after being traded to the Lions in the wake of Ndamukong Suh signing in free agency with the Dolphins. With the Lions, Ngata played in 32 games, making 53 tackles with six sacks.
He also was a large part of Detroit’s run defense the past three years and served as a mentor to younger defensive linemen in the room, including A’Shawn Robinson and Akeem Spence. He suffered a biceps injury against the Panthers in Week 5 of the 2017 season, which resulted in him going on injured reserve.
In January, Ngata told 97.1 FM in Detroit that he wanted to continue to play in 2018. Before the 2017 season, Ngata went to the The Sports Neurology Clinic at the CORE Institute in Brighton, Michigan, to have his brain checked before deciding to play.
“I don’t want to have problems when I’m older. I want to be able to raise my kids and be able to play with them when they are older and still be able to beat them in wrestling matches and stuff when they are teenagers,” Ngata said in 2017.
The No. 12 overall pick by the Ravens in the 2006 draft, Ngata spent nine years with Baltimore, being named AP first-team All-Pro twice and making five Pro Bowls. He also won Super Bowl XLVII with the Ravens.
Ngata has played in 167 games, making 499 tackles with 31.5 sacks, six forced fumbles, five fumble recoveries and five interceptions. He also has 27 career pass breakups.
Alex Okafor, DE, Saints
Okafor, 27, was having a great debut season with the Saints in 2017 before suffering a season-ending Achilles tear in Week 11.
The 6-foot-4, 261-pounder had finally found a great fit as an every-down player for the Saints after he had played mostly a rotational pass-rush role during his first four seasons with the Cardinals. And the Saints finally found the every-down defensive end they needed across from All-Pro Cameron Jordan after signing Okafor to a one-year, $2 million deal.
Okafor started all 10 games he played for the Saints and played nearly 80 percent of their defensive snaps, tallying 4.5 sacks, 9 quarterback hits, 2 forced fumbles, 43 tackles and 4 passes defensed. He was excellent as both a pass-rusher and run-stopper while playing both inside and outside in different formations.
He was drafted by the Cardinals in the fourth round out of Texas in 2013, and he had eight sacks in 2014. But his time in Arizona was derailed by a series of nagging biceps and toe injuries. He has a total of 18 sacks in 52 career games.
Julius Peppers, DE, Panthers
Peppers, 38, signed a one-year deal in 2017 to return to the Panthers, who drafted him, for what many thought would be his final NFL season. He maxed out the incentives in that deal with 11 sacks, his most since the 2012 season with the Bears, to earn $4.25 million.
Peppers was selected by Carolina with the second overall pick in the 2002 draft. He spent his first eight seasons with the Panthers, collecting double-digit sack totals six times.
The future Hall of Famer signed a six-year, $91 million deal with Chicago in 2010, but was cut during the 2014 offseason with the Bears scheduled to take an $18 million salary-cap hit.
He almost rejoined the Panthers that year, but instead signed with the Packers for the chance to play standup end in a 3-4 scheme. He had played in a 4-3 scheme his entire career at Carolina and Chicago.
Peppers made the Pro Bowl for the ninth time in 2015, collecting 10.5 sacks.
He returned to Carolina last offseason to finish his NFL career in his home state. The Panthers kept him fresh throughout 2017 by giving him days off and tightly managing his practice time.
Peppers left the door open for a return after the season with several teammates and head coach Ron Rivera saying they wanted him back.
Peppers ranks fourth on the NFL’s all-time sack list with 154.5. He is 5.5 behind third-place Kevin Greene, who played his last season at Carolina.
Dontari Poe, DT, Falcons
Poe, 27, signed a one-year, $8 million contract with the Falcons last year and quickly set the tone as a run-stuffer. He also showed flashes of pressuring the quarterback, although such was not his specialty as the Falcons had hopes of developing Poe into more of an attacking interior pass-rusher.
He started all 16 games in 2017 and was credited with 39 tackles, four tackles for losses, 2.5 sacks and 10 quarterback hits in 745 defensive snaps played. The Falcons included weight-based incentives into his deal, adding bonuses if he weighed 330 pounds or less during the season, which he met.
The Falcons also installed their goal-line “Poe Package” during the 2017 season, lining up the 6-foot-3, 346-pound veteran at fullback against the Cowboys. During his time with the Chiefs, Poe had a pair of 1-yard rushing touchdowns and a 2-yard touchdown toss off a jump pass, playing eight offensive snaps.
Said the Falcons’ Ricardo Allen: “That’s the definition of brotherhood right there. No matter what they call on Poe to do, he’s going to go out there and give them his all.”
Poe, the 11th overall pick in the 2012 NFL draft, spent his first five seasons with the Chiefs. A two-time Pro Bowl selection, he has 15.5 career sacks, 240 tackles and two forced fumbles.
Sheldon Richardson, DE, Seahawks
The Seahawks acquired Richardson in a trade with the Jets right before the start of the 2017 season, sending receiver Jermaine Kearse to New York in addition to a second-round pick in 2018 (the teams also swapped 2018 seventh-round picks).
He started 15 games for Seattle, missing one with an injury, and was more impactful than his lone sack might suggest. Richardson, who turns 28 in November, had a hand in three of the biggest defensive plays of Seattle’s season — an interception and a fumble recovery in a win over the Rams in October, and a strip of Carson Wentz to save a touchdown against the Eagles in December.
By the end of the season, coaches were noting how Richardson was adjusting well to Seattle’s 4-3 defense, which he admitted had taken some time after playing in a 3-4 during his first four seasons, and Richardson expressed his desire to return to the Seahawks.
Seattle made the trade for Richardson after learning that defensive tackle Malik McDowell, the team’s top draft pick in 2017, was unlikely to be available during his rookie season and possibly beyond after suffering a severe concussion in a summer ATV accident.
Kyle Williams, DT, Bills
Williams, 34, played all 12 seasons of his career for the Bills after being selected in the fifth round of the 2006 draft.
He is the Bills’ all-time leader among defensive tackles in sacks, with 43.5. He has been named to five Pro Bowls and started 162 of the 167 games in Buffalo, where he frequently was voted as a team captain.
Williams said after the Bills’ wild-card playoff loss to the Jaguars that he would take time this offseason before deciding his playing future.
Connor Barwin, LB, Rams
After struggling as a defensive end in a 4-3 system with the Eagles in 2016, Barwin returned to his roots as a 3-4 outside linebacker — and was reunited with defensive coordinator Wade Phillips — by signing a one-year contract with the Los Angeles Rams.
Barwin missed a couple of weeks of the 2017 season while recovering from surgery for a broken bone in his forearm, ending a streak of 107 consecutive starts. He finished the season with five sacks and 34 tackles in 14 games.
Earlier in his career, the 31-year-old Barwin was among the game’s most-effective pass-rushers, compiling 41 sacks in 80 games for the Houston Texans and Eagles from 2011 to 2015. Phillips previously coached Barwin as the Texans’ defensive coordinator during the 2011-12 seasons.
For his career, Barwin has 54.5 sacks, six forced fumbles (four recoveries) and an interception.
NaVorro Bowman, LB, Raiders
The four-time first-team All-Pro inside linebacker joined the Raiders on Oct. 16 after being cut by the 49ers. He started for Oakland three days later while wearing the green dot communications helmet, leading the Raiders with 11 tackles in a wild victory over the Chiefs.
Bowman, who turns 30 on May 28, is not the same player he was with the Niners, having suffered devastating injuries to his left knee in January 2014 and left Achilles in October 2016. And still, Bowman helped solidify the middle of the Raiders’ oft-porous defense.
In fact, it was Bowman who, on a tipped pass in the end zone by free safety Reggie Nelson, got Oakland’s first interception of the season — on Nov. 26. His 89 tackles, in 10 games, were tied for the team lead and he added 1.5 sacks, a fumble recovery, the interception and five passes defensed.
Nigel Bradham, LB, Eagles
Bradham signed a two-year, $7 million deal with the Eagles during the 2016 offseason and proved to be an absolute steal, averaging 90 tackles per season in Philadelphia. He posted 88 tackles (five for loss) with a sack and eight passes defensed in 2017 for the Super Bowl champions.
Familiar with defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz’s scheme from their time together in Buffalo, Bradham, 28, assumed the role of calling the defense after middle linebacker Jordan Hicks was lost to an Achilles injury in October. Bradham developed into a leader and was arguably the most underrated member of a championship defense, playing with an edge that helped forge the Eagles’ identity.
Bradham was charged with aggravated assault, a second-degree felony, following an incident at the Hilton Bentley Miami in South Beach in July 2016. He accepted a deferred prosecution program last July, and the case was closed in January. A separate case, for which he faced a misdemeanor gun charge for bringing a weapon to the Miami airport, was closed in October.
Ahmad Brooks, OLB, Packers
The Green Bay Packers signed the veteran pass-rusher in 2017 to be a replacement for Julius Peppers, who left for the Panthers. Brooks, however, managed just 1.5 sacks while playing on a one-year, $3.5 million deal.
Before joining the Packers, Brooks, who turns 34 in March, spent eight seasons with the 49ers. He at least tied for the team lead in sacks in each of his last four seasons there.
The veteran, who broke into the NFL in 2006 with the Bengals, has 55 career sacks, 12 forced fumbles, three interceptions and a touchdown.
Preston Brown, LB, Bills
Pro Football Focus rated Brown as the NFL’s 42nd-best linebacker in 2017.
Brown, 25, has not missed a game since being selected by the Bills in the third round of the 2014 draft, starting 62 of the 64 games in which he has played.
He has played at least 98 percent of defensive snaps for the Bills in each of the past three seasons, and 93 percent in 2014. He has worn the Bills’ radio helmet to receive playcalls from three different defensive coordinators since his rookie season.
Zach Brown, LB, Redskins
Brown, 28, used his speed to help make an impact in his only season with the Redskins’ defense, giving them something they lacked. He was leading the NFL in tackles through 13 games before having to miss the last three because of a knee issue.
Brown, who battled various leg injuries for much of the season, was most productive playing behind a healthy Jonathan Allen and next to Mason Foster, using his speed to make tackles. He also finished with 2.5 sacks and was named as a Pro Bowl alternate.
He had signed a one-year deal with the Redskins after a productive 2016 season with the Buffalo Bills, when he was second in the NFL with 149 tackles and was a Pro Bowl selection in addition to earning second-team All-Pro honors.
Brown spent his first four seasons with the Tennessee Titans, who drafted him in the second round in 2012.
Jonathan Casillas, LB, Giants
Casillas, 30, came to the Giants in 2015 on a three-year, $8.75 million deal. He outplayed expectations and developed into one of the team’s leaders, serving as the defensive captain the past two seasons.
The two-time Super Bowl winner with the Patriots and Saints had a career-high 96 tackles and eight passes defended in 2016. However, he struggled to remain healthy during his eight starts in 2017, dealing with a variety of injuries that eventually landed him on injured reserve.
The New Jersey native had stated a desire to remain with the Giants this offseason. He was a key piece on the league’s second-ranked scoring defense two years ago.
Casillas has 385 tackles, 6.5 sacks and three forced fumbles in nine professional seasons with the Saints, Buccaneers, Patriots and Giants.
Brian Cushing, LB, Texans (cut)
The Texans released Cushing on Feb. 20 after nine seasons with the team, before the start of the league year.
Last season, before the Texans’ Week 2 game, Cushing was suspended for 10 games for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing substances. He was previously suspended four games for violating the same policy in 2010.
Cushing signed a six-year, $52.5 million contract in 2013, but all the guaranteed money in his contract was paid after the 2017 season. He was scheduled to be paid a base salary of $7.25 million in 2018.
In five games last season, Cushing had 16 combined tackles, 1.5 sacks and a tackle for loss.
The 30-year-old has said he wants to continue his career even if he wasn’t playing for the Texans.
He has 674 tackles, 13.5 sacks, eight interceptions and nine forced fumbles in 104 games.
Karlos Dansby, LB, Cardinals
The 36-year-old Dansby started 15 of 16 games last season for the Cardinals, recording 95 tackles and one interception. But that interception was enough to write Dansby into the record books as the fifth player in NFL history with 40 sacks and 20 interceptions.
Dansby, a 14-year veteran, has said the feat would “without a doubt” punch his ticket to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Two other players to accomplish the feat — Ray Lewis and Brian Urlacher — will be enshrined in Canton in August. Seth Joyner and Wilbur Marshall are the other players to reach the 40/20 milestone.
The 2017 season was Dansby’s third stint with the Cardinals. He was drafted by Arizona in 2004 and played for the Cards through the 2009 season before returning for one season in 2013. He was named to the NFL All-Rookie Team in 2004.
He also has played for the Dolphins, Browns and Bengals during his career, accumulating 1,419 tackles, 43 sacks, 20 interceptions, 18 forced fumbles (12 recoveries) and six touchdowns over 212 games (193 starts).
Demario Davis, LB, Jets
Davis, 29, drafted by the Jets in 2012, returned to the team last June through a trade with the Browns. This time, he was inserted at middle linebacker, replacing the venerable David Harris. Davis responded with his most productive season — 135 tackles and five sacks, both team highs.
Perhaps his best accomplishment: Davis was one of only 32 players in the league to play every snap over 16 games — 1,115 out of 1,115. Durability is his finest attribute; he hasn’t missed a game in six years.
After a mentally taxing season in Cleveland, Davis rededicated himself last offseason. He dieted, stepped up his workout regimen and made sure to get extra sleep. As a result, he felt faster, which he believes helped him in pass coverage and as a blitzer.
Upon returning to the Jets, Davis took a $2.7 million pay cut on the last year of his contract, figuring a strong season would allow him to recoup the money in free agency.
Todd Davis, LB, Broncos
Davis, 25, made the most of his time with the Broncos after being signed off the Saints’ practice squad in 2014.
He went from special-teams regular to a starter at inside linebacker over the past two seasons as he finished with 97 tackles in 2016 and 82 tackles last season.
Broncos coach Vance Joseph consistently lauded Davis’ preparation and day-to-day work on the practice field.
“I was an undrafted guy, I don’t take anything for granted. I treat every day like I’m still the guy trying to make the roster,” Davis said last season.
He has played in all but two games for the Broncos over the past three seasons. He missed two games this past season — against the Chiefs and Eagles — with an ankle injury.
Dannell Ellerbe, LB, Eagles
Ellerbe, 32, was signed by the Eagles in November to help fill the void left by Jordan Hicks, who was lost for the season with a ruptured Achilles. Ellerbe eventually took over the starting middle linebacker job and proved serviceable.
The nine-year vet has played for the Ravens, Dolphins, Saints and Eagles. He has 10.5 career sacks and is close to 400 tackles since joining the Ravens as an undrafted free agent in 2009. He helped Baltimore win a Super Bowl in the 2012 season, and he got his second ring with the Eagles in ’17.
Jerrell Freeman, LB, Bears (cut)
The Bears released Freeman on Feb. 20 after the linebacker spent two seasons with the team.
Freeman, 31, was suspended 10 games last season for a second violation of the league’s policy on performance-enhancing substances.
The Bears placed Freeman on injured reserve in Week 2 after the veteran tore a pectoral muscle in the season opener against the Falcons, but Freeman suggested that the concussion he also suffered in the game contributed to the latest suspension.
Freeman — voted a team captain before Week 1 — missed four games in 2016 for his first violation of the PED policy but still finished with a team-high 110 tackles.
He played four seasons in Indianapolis, registering at least 100 tackles in three of those seasons, before he signed a three-year deal with Chicago in 2016. Freeman was scheduled to earn $3.5 million in 2018, but none of it was guaranteed.
Junior Galette, LB, Redskins
Galette, 29, recorded three sacks for the Redskins in 2017 in a part-time role after missing the previous two seasons with Achilles injuries.
He let it be known throughout the season that he wanted more playing time. The Redskins finally agreed, and he averaged 34.5 snaps in the final four games — compared to 20.75 in the first 12. Two of his three sacks occurred in the final four weeks as he applied consistent pressure.
Galette signed with Washington in August 2015, shortly after he was released by the Saints following a turbulent year in which he got into a fight with a teammate in the locker room. He was arrested in January 2015 for domestic violence and a 2013 video surfaced showing a man who was identified as Galette getting into a fight on the beach and hitting a woman with a belt. He was later suspended for two games in 2016 for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy.
More problems awaited him on the field. Galette then tore his Achilles in practice shortly before the 2015 season started. He returned the following spring, only to tear his other Achilles during a workout before camp started in July 2016.
Galette had 22 combined sacks during the 2013 and ’14 seasons, leading to a four-year deal worth $42 million.
James Harrison, LB, Patriots
Harrison, who turns 40 on May 4, said in the week leading up to Super Bowl LII that he hoped to play another season or two.
The Patriots had signed him on Dec. 26 after he was released by the Pittsburgh Steelers, and Harrison ended up being utilized a lot more than many anticipated. After having played just 40 snaps over 14 games with the Steelers last season, Harrison was on the field for 69 snaps in Super Bowl LII.
That reflected, in part, how the Patriots had a dire need at their end-of-the-line linebacker position in 2017.
Harrison had five tackles and two sacks in the team’s regular-season finale — his first game with the Patriots — and totaled six tackles and a quarterback hit in three playoff games.
Bill Belichick credited him for his professional approach in the playoffs.
As for Harrison’s eventual retirement, he previously told ESPN: “I told my son [James III] he could play contact football when I stop, so I’m going to have to give it up in the near future, so he can start getting adjusted to playing. I don’t want him to wait too long.”
Harrison had a franchise-record 80.5 sacks in 14 seasons with the Steelers.
Anthony Hitchens, LB, Cowboys
A fourth-round pick in 2014, Hitchens started 48 of 60 games in his four seasons with the Cowboys, playing weakside, middle and strongside linebacker in their 4-3 scheme.
In two of his four seasons, the Cowboys’ coaches credited him with at least 100 tackles (2014, 2016). He had 85 tackles with nine starts in 2015 and had 92 tackles in 12 starts in 2017. He missed the first four games of the season with a knee injury suffered in the preseason.
In addition, Hitchens, who turns 26 in June, had two pass deflections, a forced fumble and was credited by Cowboys coaches with nine tackles for loss and five quarterback pressures in 2017.
At 6-foot, 235 pounds, he is not the biggest linebacker, but the coaches credited his instinctiveness, which was aided by the presence of Sean Lee. His ability to play all three linebacker spots helped the Cowboys deal with injuries to Lee and Jaylon Smith.
Derrick Johnson, LB, Chiefs
The Chiefs announced on Feb. 13 that they would not re-sign Johnson, who spent 13 seasons with the team. Johnson said in a statement that he plans “on playing for several more years.”
Johnson lost some of his playing time last season after the Chiefs acquired two younger inside linebackers, Reggie Ragland and Kevin Pierre-Louis.
Johnson, 35, was the Chiefs’ first-round draft pick in 2005. He was the longest-tenured Chiefs player along with punter Dustin Colquitt, who arrived in the same draft two rounds later.
Johnson stayed with the Chiefs through five head coaches and four general managers. He was a steady presence at inside linebacker, equally adept at defending the run and the pass. He was selected to play in the Pro Bowl four times and was a first-team All-Pro in 2011.
He twice returned from a torn Achilles tendon — suffering season-ending injuries in the 2014 opener and again late in the 2016 season.
Kareem Martin, LB, Cardinals
Martin, 26, is coming off the best season of his career in the last year of his rookie contract. He had career highs of 23 tackles and 10 starts, and he also had a sack and his first career interception while playing in all 16 games.
Before last season he hadn’t started more than two games.
Martin appeared to have finally grown into his body and his role in 2017. He moved from defensive tackle to outside linebacker before the 2015 season, but it took a couple of seasons for him to grasp his new position. And when he began to flourish, he had to play behind two of the league’s top pass-rushers in Chandler Jones and Markus Golden. However, Martin saw his playing time increase after Golden suffered a knee injury in Week 4.
Pernell McPhee, LB, Bears (cut)
The Bears released McPhee on Feb. 26, freeing up more than $7 million in salary-cap space.
McPhee, 29, was scheduled to earn a base salary of $7.2 million in 2018, which was too high for a player with only 14 sacks over three seasons in Chicago.
McPhee played extremely hard on defense, and he was also a forceful and entertaining presence in the locker room. However, he missed 12 games with a variety of ailments, including chronic knee issues, since joining the Bears. He was placed on injured reserve on Dec. 21 after trying to battle through a shoulder injury.
Before joining the Bears on a five-year deal that included $15.5 million in guaranteed money, McPhee played four seasons with the Ravens, who selected him in the fifth round of the 2011 draft. Overall, he has 182 tackles, 31 sacks, six forced fumbles and an interception in his seven NFL seasons.
Kevin Minter, LB, Bengals
Minter, 27, chose to bet on himself by signing a one-year deal with the Bengals in lieu of a long-term contract after spending the first four seasons of his career with the Cardinals.
It was an up-and-down season for Minter, whose usage was varied because he did not play in the Bengals’ nickel packages. He was used as the middle linebacker in the Bengals’ 4-3 base packages.
He played in only nine games last season, finishing with 32 tackles due to an early-season shoulder injury and a late-season hamstring injury, which resulted in him being placed on injured reserve.
In 70 career games (44 starts), Minter has 256 tackles, five sacks and a forced fumble.
Trent Murphy, LB, Redskins
Murphy, 27, missed last season after tearing his left ACL and MCL in an Aug. 10 preseason game at Baltimore. He was already going to miss the first four games while serving a suspension for violating the NFL’s rule on performance enhancing drugs.
A second-round pick in the 2015 draft, Murphy did not produce as much in his first two seasons, totaling six combined sacks. He started 22 games during that time.
Paul Posluszny, LB, Jaguars
Posluszny played seven seasons with the Jaguars and is the franchise’s second all-time leading tackler (815). He also owns the franchise record for most interceptions by a linebacker (11).
Posluszny joined the Jaguars in 2011 after four years with the Bills, who selected him 34th overall in 2007. He started 95 of the 100 games in which he played for the Jaguars and led the team in tackles five times.
He played in at least 14 games in every season for the Jaguars but 2014, when he suffered a torn pectoral muscle and missed the final nine games.
The Jaguars moved Posluszny to strongside linebacker last spring to pave the way for second-year player Myles Jack to start in the middle. Jack struggled with the transition and the Jaguars eventually moved Posluszny back into the middle on first and second down and took him off the field on obvious passing situations and whenever the defense was in nickel.
Posluszny finished the 2017 season with a career-low 60 tackles. He had 398 tackles, three interceptions, and three forced fumbles in four seasons with the Bills.
Erik Walden, LB, Titans
Walden, 32, ended up being a successful late July free-agent pickup for a Titans team desperate for pass-rush depth last season.
The 10-year NFL veteran produced four sacks as the Titans’ top reserve outside linebacker. He also stepped in for two spot starts when Derrick Morgan was injured.
Walden has stuck in the NFL, playing for five teams, due to his ability to get after the quarterback. He may be past his time as a starter, but still provides some juice as a rotational pass-rusher.
Walden had 11 sacks in 2016 with the Colts and 35 in 10 career seasons for the Dolphins, Chiefs, Packers, Colts and Titans.
Tahir Whitehead, LB, Lions
Whitehead, who has spent his entire career with the Lions, was 17th in the league with 110 tackles after moving from middle linebacker to the outside spot last season.
He made the switch after the Lions drafted Jarrad Davis in the first round of the 2017 draft and didn’t miss a beat. Whitehead started every game and also had a sack, four fumble recoveries and an interception.
Over the past two seasons, Whitehead, 27, is tied with Tampa Bay’s Kwon Alexander for seventh in tackles (242) and fifth in solo tackles with 177.
Whitehead, after being drafted in the fifth round out of Temple in 2012, was primarily a special-teams player for his first two seasons. He took on a larger role in 2014 replacing Stephen Tulloch, who had torn his ACL against Green Bay in Week 3. Whitehead became the team’s full-time starting middle linebacker in 2016, when he had 132 tackles.
Avery Williamson, LB, Titans
Williamson, 25, was a tackling machine for a Titans defense that was fourth in run defense last season, finishing second on the team with 92.
A local West Tennessee kid, Williamson outperformed his fifth-round draft status and was a starter for much of his four years with the Titans. He led the team in tackles in two of his four seasons (2015 and ’16, when he finished with 102 and 103, respectively) and was in the top three in all four seasons.
Williamson was primarily a two-down linebacker used for his run-stopping prowess in 2017. Rookie linebacker Jayon Brown split time with him throughout the season and will likely play a bigger role going forward.
Durability and youth are on Williamson’s side. He also showed some inside pass-rush ability with 11.5 sacks over four seasons.
Paul Worrilow, LB, Lions
Worrilow, 27, signed a one-year deal with the Lions last year and ended up as a rotational linebacker. He played in 13 games, starting eight, and finished with 30 tackles and a fumble recovery.
Worrilow has played in 72 career games, making 412 tackles with four sacks and two interceptions.
Prince Amukamara, CB, Bears
For the most part, Amukamara, who was paid $7 million guaranteed by Chicago on a one-year deal in 2017, worked out for the Bears, playing adequately enough to start 12 games. He finished second on the Bears’ defense with seven pass breakups, behind only fellow free-agent cornerback Kyle Fuller (22).
However, Amukamara, 28, failed to intercept a pass for the second consecutive season, and his inability to take the ball away is probably his biggest downside.
Before joining the Bears, Amukamara spent five seasons with the Giants (2011-15) and one year in Jacksonville (2016). He missed 27 games with various injuries from 2011 to ’16, including 13 over the 2014 and 2015 seasons.
For his career, Amukamara has seven interceptions, 58 pass breakups and three forced fumbles in 83 games.
Justin Bethel, CB, Cardinals
Bethel, 27, left the Cardinals with three Pro Bowl appearances and two first-team All-Pro nods as a special-teamer, but he didn’t pan out as a defensive back.
A sixth-round pick in 2012 of Presbyterian College, Bethel lost his starting cornerback job last season after Week 6 and didn’t play more than 14 defensive snaps the rest of the season.
In six seasons with the Cardinals, he had four interceptions, three defensive touchdowns and two blocked kicks. He signed a three-year extension in December 2015 worth $15 million guaranteed but restructured it last offseason.
Tre Boston, S, Chargers
Released in a salary cost-cutting move during the offseason by the Panthers last year, Boston bet on himself, signing a one-year, $900,000 deal to join the Chargers and had his best season as a professional. He played all 16 games and led the Chargers with five interceptions.
Boston, 25, also finished tied for second on the team with 79 tackles and developed into one of the vocal leaders on a defense that gave up just 17 points per game, ranked No. 3 in the NFL.
Boston played a team-high 986 defensive snaps for the Chargers and finished with eight pass breakups last season.
A fourth-round selection by the Panthers in the 2014 draft, Boston has recorded 187 combined tackles, 18 pass breakups and eight interceptions in four NFL seasons.
Tyvon Branch, S, Cardinals
Branch, 31, is coming off an ACL injury that ended his season in Week 10.
Before his injury, he was playing as well as he has in his two seasons with the Cardinals. At the time of his injury, Branch was leading the team with 66 tackles. He also had a forced fumble in nine games. Branch had four games with at least 10 tackles in the first eight games last season.
“He was having a great year,” coach Bruce Arians said the day after Branch’s injury. “I don’t know if he had the reputation to play in the Pro Bowl, but he had the game. He was playing at that level.”
The 10-year veteran, who also has played for the Chiefs and Raiders, had become a full-time starter for Arizona.
He scored two defensive touchdowns for the Chiefs in 2015, and he has five interceptions, four forced fumbles and 616 tackles over his career.
Bashaud Breeland, CB, Redskins
Breeland, 26, has been a starter from the time he joined the Redskins as a fourth-round pick in 2014. He stood out in a Monday night win at Dallas in his rookie season, successfully defending receiver Dez Bryant in pivotal situations.
He was Washington’s best corner in his second season, but the Redskins made a big splash the following offseason by making free agent Josh Norman the highest-paid corner. Breeland had an inconsistent 2016, sometimes struggling to keep his emotions in check.
Breeland, who has eight career interceptions, rebounded with a strong season in 2017, starting on the right side. He also averaged 20.8 yards on 10 kickoffs.
He occasionally played in the slot in his four seasons with Washington.
Morgan Burnett, S, Packers
The 29-year-old Burnett has played everywhere from safety to slot cornerback to inside linebacker during his eight seasons with the Packers, but he’s never been one to make a ton of splash plays and has just nine career interceptions.
The third-round pick in the 2010 draft started 102 games for Green Bay, but he hasn’t played a full season since 2012, after which he signed a four-year, $24.75 million deal.
Last season was no different, as Burnett missed four games because of two separate injuries (hamstring and groin).
Darius Butler, S, Colts
Butler went from playing cornerback and safety in 2016 to making the full-time move to safety in 2017.
He made the switch to safety because he believes it’ll help him play longer in the NFL.
Butler, 31, started four of the 15 games he played in last season. He has 15 interceptions in his career, with the majority of his nine seasons with the Colts, Panthers and Patriots as a slot cornerback.
Malcolm Butler, CB, Patriots
Butler surprisingly didn’t play a defensive snap in the Patriots’ 41-33 Super Bowl LII loss to the Eagles for what coach Bill Belichick described as a coaching decision.
The hero of Super Bowl XLIX with a game-saving interception, Butler spent four memorable years in New England that included notable highs and lows.
An overlooked prospect in 2014 out of Division II West Alabama, he had been invited to New England for a tryout and earned a contract on the offseason 90-man roster almost a month after the draft. He rose to unexpected fame with his Super Bowl interception, and the team showed its faith in him the following season, in 2015, by elevating him to the No. 1 spot on the depth chart to replace departed free agent Darrelle Revis.
Despite his sudden stardom, Belichick said at one point in 2015 that Butler, “as much as any player that I’ve been around, has really not changed very much from Year 1 to Year 2.”
Butler started every game in 2015 and 2016, earning a Pro Bowl berth in 2015, although his future with the team was uncertain after the 2016 season as he was a restricted free agent. The Saints hosted Butler on a visit but never signed him to an offer sheet.
So, Butler returned to the Patriots in 2017, and he had a self-described up-and-down season that culminated with Belichick’s shocking decision not to play him on defense in Super Bowl LII. After the game, in an emotional moment, Butler said the Patriots gave up on him.
Butler’s durability was impressive during his time with the Patriots, as he played 98.8 percent of the defensive snaps in 2015, followed by 96.7 and 97.8 in the next two seasons. Teammates nicknamed him “Strap” because of his ability to closely cover receivers, and also “Scrap” for his scrappy style of play.
The 5-foot-11, 190-pound Butler turned 28 on March 2.
TJ Carrie, CB, Raiders
Carrie, a seventh-round pick in the 2014 draft, entered the 2017 season as depth at cornerback with high-priced veterans David Amerson and Sean Smith slated to start and the Raiders having used their first-round draft pick on Gareon Conley.
But injuries to and ineffectiveness by the trio thrust Carrie into the starting lineup and he started all 16 games for the first time in his career. Carrie, who turns 28 on July 28, responded with career highs in tackles (84) and fumble recoveries (two). Carrie did not have an interception for the first time in his career — he had one in each of his first three seasons — but his nine passes defensed tied a career best.
The 6-foot, 205-pound Carrie may not have lit up the stat sheet or been the prototypical shutdown cornerback, but with the Raiders’ secondary issues this past season he was their best corner, simply due to his dependability.
Morris Claiborne, CB, Jets
Claiborne, 28, improved his free-agent value by showing he could make it through a season without missing significant time. He played in 15 games and participated in 82 percent of the defensive snaps last season for the New York Jets, with his only missed time resulting from a sprained foot.
Previously, Claiborne was a liability because of his long injury history. In five seasons with the Cowboys, he missed a total of 33 games due to a variety of injuries. The former LSU star never lived up to his draft status (sixth overall in 2012) and the Cowboys let him walk as a free agent.
Looking for a starting corner to replace Darrelle Revis, the Jets took a chance, signing Claiborne to a one-year, $5 million contract. The coaches were satisfied with his performance even though he made only one interception.
Often assigned to the opponents’ top receiver, Claiborne held up reasonably well in coverage and finished with nine pass breakups. He said he felt more comfortable in the Jets’ man-to-man scheme than in the Cowboys’ zone-based system.
The biggest knock against Claiborne is that he commits too many penalties. He was flagged nine times, tied for the sixth among defensive backs.
Aaron Colvin, CB, Jaguars
The Jaguars signed A.J. Bouye to start opposite Jalen Ramsey, so Colvin was exclusively the Jaguars’ nickelback in 2017. But he also started on the outside during his four seasons with the team.
Colvin, 26, had 165 tackles, five sacks, 14 pass breakups and 2 fumble recoveries in 48 games (25 starts) with the Jaguars.
He did not intercept a single pass during the regular season, though he did pick off Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger in an AFC divisional playoff game in January.
The Jaguars drafted the 6-foot, 193-pound Colvin in the fourth round in 2014 even though he was recovering from a torn ACL suffered during Senior Bowl practices. He missed the first 10 games of the 2014 season and broke up two passes and returned a fumble for a touchdown in the final six games.
Colvin started 15 games on the outside in 2015 and had career highs in tackles (73), sacks (four) and pass breakups (seven). He missed the first four games of the 2016 season because he was suspended for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing substances and the final two with an ankle injury.
Colvin played in every game in 2017 and had 44 tackles and five pass breakups.
Quintin Demps, S, Bears (cut)
The Bears released Demps on Feb. 26. He was scheduled to receive a $500,000 roster bonus on the third day of the league year and his total compensation would’ve maxed out at $4 million in 2018.
Demps, 32, played in three games last season before landing on injured reserve with a broken forearm. He signed a three-year contract with Chicago last March.
Demps, who intercepted a career-high six passes for the Texans in 2016, was the odd man out in Chicago’s secondary after young safeties Eddie Jackson and Adrian Amos emerged as dependable full-time starters in the wake of Demps’ season-ending injury in Week 3.
A fourth-round draft choice of the Eagles in 2008, Demps also spent time with Kansas City and the Giants before he arrived in Chicago last offseason.
Kyle Fuller, CB, Bears (tag)
After Fuller looked all but done with the Bears before the start of the 2017 season, the 26-year old defensive back turned in arguably his best season with 67 tackles, two interceptions and 22 pass breakups.
Chicago brought in multiple cornerbacks last spring, in essence to replace Fuller after the 2014 first-round draft pick missed the entire 2016 season following a routine knee scope, causing the team to decline his fifth-year option.
Fuller started 46 games for the Bears over four seasons. As a rookie in 2014, Fuller was named NFC Defensive Player of the Week after getting two interceptions against San Francisco in Week 2.
E.J. Gaines, CB, Bills
Gaines, 26, was rated the NFL’s 13th-best cornerback by Pro Football Focus this past season.
Groin, hamstring and knee injuries caused Gaines to miss five games in 2017, but Bills general manager Brandon Beane noted after the season that the team went 8-3 in games played by Gaines. He finished the season with 59 tackles, three forced fumbles, an interception and nine passes defensed.
The Bills acquired Gaines and a 2018 second-round draft selection in a trade last August from the Rams for wide receiver Sammy Watkins and a 2018 sixth-round pick.
The Rams selected Gaines in the sixth round of the 2014 draft. He has played in 37 career games (36 starts) and has three interceptions, 31 passes defensed, four forced fumbles and 185 tackles. He missed the entire 2015 season due to a foot injury.
Marcus Gilchrist, S, Texans
Gilchrist joined the Texans during training camp in 2017 and played in all 16 games last season, starting 13. He had an interception, a forced fumble and six passes defensed.
The 29-year-old was cut by the Jets in May of last year after playing only two seasons with the team despite signing a four-year deal in 2015. Gilchrist tore his patellar tendon in Week 14 of the 2016 season and had major knee surgery that December.
In his seven NFL seasons with the Texans, Jets and Chargers, Gilchrist has 11 interceptions, 32 passes defensed, four sacks and 437 tackles in 107 games (82 starts).
Brent Grimes, CB, Buccaneers
Despite being 34, Grimes still played at a high level and was by far the Buccaneers’ best cornerback the past two seasons. That’s why head coach Dirk Koetter told Grimes at the end of the year that they wanted to bring him back and the ball would be in his court.
Grimes battled a shoulder injury in 2017 but still started 13 games, finishing with three interceptions and 11 pass breakups. The previous year, in 2016, he led the NFL with 24 pass breakups, had four interceptions and was arguably their best player on defense.
He may be undersized (5-foot-10, 185 pounds), but his vertical leaping ability is off the charts, and he can still pluck jump balls out of the air, even against much bigger defenders.
The four-time Pro Bowl selection, who is the third-oldest free-agent cornerback in the league behind Terence Newman (39) and Tramon Williams (34), has 33 career interceptions, which ranks third among active NFL players. Grimes also has three forced fumbles (two recoveries), 135 passes defensed and 526 tackles over his career, which spans 11 seasons with the Bucs, Dolphins and Falcons. He also has scored three touchdowns.
DeAngelo Hall, DB, Redskins
Hall’s last four seasons with the Redskins were marred by injuries. The 34-year-old missed 31 of 48 games because of injuries between 2014-16. And he opened the 2017 season on the physically unable to perform list, stemming from a torn ACL in Week 3 of the 2016 season.
He returned in Week 9 last season and started in a win at Seattle, but he played one snap in the final six games and was declared a healthy inactive three times.
Hall joined the Redskins midway through the 2008 season after he was released by the Raiders just eight games into a six-year deal worth $23 million guaranteed. He solidified the corner position for Washington, starting every game between 2010-13. In those four seasons, Hall intercepted 17 passes. He moved to safety in the 2015 season.
The Falcons selected Hall with the eighth overall pick in the 2004 draft, and he had 17 interceptions over four seasons before signing with the Raiders.
After being released by Oakland, he signed with Washington in part because it was close to where he grew up in the Virginia Beach area. He played collegiately at Virginia Tech.
Hall has 43 career interceptions (23 with the Redskins) and once picked off four passes in a 2010 game against the Bears. He made the third of his three Pro Bowls that season.
D.J. Hayden, CB, Lions
Hayden, the 12th overall pick in the 2013 draft by the Raiders, signed a one-year deal with the Lions before the 2017 season. He lost starting corner roles on the outside to Nevin Lawson and in the slot to Quandre Diggs, but he ended up sharing time with Lawson by midseason.
The 27-year-old started one game for Detroit in 2017 and finished the season with 42 tackles, a half-sack and two fumble recoveries.
In all, Hayden has played in 61 career games. In 2,600 career snaps, he has 220 tackles, 1.5 sacks, three forced fumbles, three interceptions and 24 pass breakups.
Davon House, CB, Packers
House returned to the Packers on a one-year, $2.8 million deal last offseason and played in 12 games, getting one interception.
After two seasons with the Jaguars, the Packers brought House, 28, back to be a veteran presence in the secondary and he played with the kind of toughness that the team expected. He battled gallantly with quad and shoulder injuries, and even played after suffering a transverse process fracture late in the season. He also served as a mentor to top draft pick Kevin King.
House has seven interceptions in 84 career games since entering the league as a fourth-round pick of the Packers in 2011.
He signed a four-year, $24.5 million contract with the Jaguars in 2015 but was released after two seasons.
Trumaine Johnson, CB, Rams
Johnson spent the past two years as the Rams’ primary cornerback and played under the franchise tag in both those seasons, his salary jumping to $16.74 million in 2017. The 28-year-old is arguably the best corner available on the free-agent market this offseason, mainly because of his size, his ability to match up with elite receivers and his track record for staying healthy.
Among 86 cornerbacks with at least 325 coverage snaps, Pro Football Focus had Johnson ranked 35th in opponents’ completion percentage (57.3) and 36th in opponents’ passer rating (79.8) when targeted. He allowed 1.33 yards per coverage snap, which put him within the bottom 20 percent of qualified cornerbacks.
But Johnson also spent a lot of time shadowing the likes of Pierre Garcon, Dez Bryant, Marqise Lee, Larry Fitzgerald, DeAndre Hopkins, Michael Thomas and Alshon Jeffery in 2017. Those seven combined to haul in only 57.7 percent of their targets when Johnson was responsible for covering them, nearly 8 percentage points below the NFL average, according to numbers compiled by ESPN.
A third-round pick out of Montana in 2012, Johnson has 18 interceptions and 42 pass breakups in the past six seasons, playing in 85 of a potential 96 regular-season games. During that time, he has proved capable of playing on both sides of the field.
Johnathan Joseph, CB, Texans
Joseph, 33, said at the end of the season that he was hoping to re-sign with the Texans, with whom he played the past seven seasons. He also said he hopes to play at least two more years in the NFL.
In 2017, Joseph had 45 tackles and two interceptions, including a pick-six against the Browns in Week 6.
“He’s one of the leaders of the locker room, been that way since we got here,” head coach Bill O’Brien said last season. “He’s asked to do a lot on our defense relative to covering top guys. He’s been doing that since we arrived here, but he’s a team guy.”
Joseph was drafted in 2006 by the Bengals, with whom he played his first five seasons.
He has been selected to two Pro Bowls in 12 NFL seasons and has 28 interceptions, 172 passes defensed, seven forced fumbles and 645 tackles in his career.
Lamarcus Joyner, CB, Rams
Joyner spent his first three seasons primarily as a slot corner for the Rams, but he shined when given a chance to play safety under defensive coordinator Wade Phillips in 2017. He earned the third-highest grade among safeties by Pro Football Focus, finishing with three interceptions — after not recording any in the previous three years — and 49 tackles in 12 games.
The 27-year-old Joyner allowed a 31.8 passer rating when targeted and 0.36 yards per coverage snaps, ranked 12th among 59 safeties, according to Pro Football Focus. He was one of only two safeties to not miss a tackle in the passing game, and he also covered slot receivers when needed.
Joyner is an aggressive big hitter with great ball skills. He was selected in the second round of the 2014 draft after a standout stint as a safety at Florida State, but played only in sub packages with the Rams while under Jeff Fisher.
Byron Maxwell, CB, Seahawks
Maxwell, 30, finished an up-and-down 2017 season for the Seahawks on a high note by performing well as a fill-in for Richard Sherman.
Released by the Dolphins in October after losing his starting job, Maxwell returned to the Seahawks in November after Sherman suffered a season-ending Achilles injury. He played the majority of his first game back after rookie right cornerback Shaquill Griffin suffered a concussion on the opening possession, and Maxwell remained in the starting lineup for the final six games, eventually replacing Jeremy Lane on the left side.
He had a hand in one of the bigger defensive plays of the season when he forced a Dez Bryant fumble in a Christmas Eve game against the Cowboys, which Seattle won to keep its playoff hopes alive. He finished the season with 46 tackles, two forced fumbles and an interception.
A sixth-round pick by Seattle in 2011, Maxwell started 17 games between the 2013 and ’14 seasons before signing a lucrative free-agent deal in 2015 with the Eagles, who then traded him to Miami after one season.
Bradley McDougald, S, Seahawks
The Seahawks signed McDougald to a one-year, $1.8 million deal in free agency last offseason, helping add depth and experience at safety while providing Seattle with the ability to use a third safety (instead of a third cornerback) in some “big nickel” packages.
McDougald played sparingly in that role during the first half of the season, but he ended up making 75 tackles over nine starts — two in place of Earl Thomas at free safety and then the final seven at strong safety after Kam Chancellor suffered a season-ending neck injury.
Given the long-term uncertainty surrounding Chancellor and Thomas, who has just one year remaining, the Seahawks were expected to try to re-sign the 27-year-old McDougald.
McDougald entered the league with the Chiefs as an undrafted free agent in 2013 and was claimed off waivers by the Buccaneers later that season. He went on to start 36 games over the 2014-16 seasons for Tampa Bay and had a career-high 91 tackles in 2016.
Rashaan Melvin, CB, Colts
Melvin, 28, went from being projected as the Colts’ third cornerback at the start of training camp last season to replacing Vontae Davis as the team’s No. 1 cornerback.
He started 10 games before suffering a season-ending hand injury against Tennessee in Week 12.
Melvin’s aggressive style allowed former coach Chuck Pagano to shift from having left-right defensive assignments at cornerback to having Melvin shadow the opposing team’s best receiver.
Melvin, who has played at least 10 games in a season only twice in his five years in the NFL, had three interceptions and 13 passes defended last season.
Reggie Nelson, S, Raiders
Nelson, who joined the Raiders as a free agent in 2016 and went to the Pro Bowl, had a major slip last season, his 11th in the NFL. He appeared to misdiagnose plays and show up a step too late too often.
The interception totals for the 34-year-old safety have dropped from eight in 2015 with the Cincinnati Bengals to five in 2016 with the Raiders to one last season, the second-lowest single-season total of his career.
His 89 tackles were the second-most of his career, and tied for the team lead, and his two forced fumbles tied a career high. But his passes defensed were at just five, after being at 14 in each of the previous two seasons. He also did not recover a fumble for the first time since 2014.
Terence Newman, CB, Vikings
Newman, a 15-year veteran, will turn 40 years old just two days ahead of the 2018 regular-season opener. The cornerback told KFAN in February that he isn’t ready to retire from football just yet and wants another opportunity “to win a ring.”
He started 16 games in each of the past two seasons with the Vikings and was a consistent presence in the team’s nickel defense. Opposing quarterbacks had a 76.7 passer rating when throwing into Newman’s coverage during the 2017 season.
Newman has followed Mike Zimmer from the Cowboys (where he was drafted in the first round in 2003) to the Bengals and joined the Vikings in 2015. The two-time Pro Bowler is the league’s second-oldest defensive player behind James Harrison, who is also 39.
Over the course of his long NFL career, Newman has missed 19 of a possible 240 games over 15 seasons. He has 42 career interceptions (which ranks second among active players), 745 tackles, eight forced fumbles (seven recoveries) and 184 passes defensed. He also has scored five touchdowns.
Eric Reid, S, 49ers
Reid’s free agency figured to be one of the most interesting this offseason in light of his protests of racial inequality. The 26-year-old was the first player to join quarterback Colin Kaepernick in kneeling during the national anthem in 2016, a practice he continued throughout the 2017 regular season.
In December, Reid said he knew his protests could affect how his free agency goes, something he had already come to grips with.
“I wouldn’t use the word concerned,” Reid said then. “I would say I understand that’s a possibility. And I’m completely fine with it. The things that I’ve done, I stand by, and I’ve done that for my own personal beliefs. Like I said, I’m fine with whatever outcome happens because of that.”
On the field, Reid had a strange 2017 season, moving from strong safety to linebacker and back to strong safety after a season-ending injury to Jaquiski Tartt. In 13 games, Reid had 66 tackles with a fumble recovery and two interceptions.
Originally a 2013 first-round pick out of LSU, Reid has posted 302 tackles, a sack, two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and 10 interceptions in 70 games.
Darrelle Revis, CB, Chiefs (cut)
The Chiefs released Revis on Feb. 8, saving $4.5 million on their salary cap.
Revis, 32, sat out most of last season until signing a two-year contract with the Chiefs on Nov. 23. He played in five games (two starts) plus the playoff loss to the Titans.
The veteran failed to distinguish himself as the dominant player he frequently was early in his career, a fact Revis acknowledged shortly after the season concluded.
For many of the previous 10 seasons with the Jets, Patriots and Buccaneers, Revis was one of the NFL’s top cornerbacks. He earned the nickname “Revis Island” for his ability to lock up receivers in one-on-one coverage.
He has 29 interceptions and 140 passes defensed in 11 NFL seasons. He was a first-team All-Pro four times and has been selected to play in the Pro Bowl seven times.
Nickell Robey-Coleman, CB, Rams
The 5-foot-8 Robey-Coleman has staked a reputation as one of the game’s best slot corners, playing in all but one game over the past five seasons.
In 79 games from 2013 to 2017, Robey-Coleman, 26, racked up five interceptions and 25 pass breakups while playing in 57.5 percent of his teams’ defensive snaps. The Rams used him on the outside when injuries warranted it this past season, but Robey-Coleman fits best on the inside, where he isn’t as vulnerable because of his size.
He went undrafted out of USC in 2013, then spent his first four seasons with the Bills before signing a one-year deal with the Rams before last season.
For his career, Robey-Coleman has five interceptions, five sacks, four forced fumbles, five fumble recoveries and 215 tackles. He also had two return touchdowns while with the Bills.
Patrick Robinson, CB, Eagles
The Eagles signed Robinson, 30, to a one-year, $775,000 contract late last March to add to what was considered a very thin cornerback group at the time. He was projected to start on the outside, but he struggled badly during training camp, heightening concerns that the Eagles were too shaky at corner to seriously contend.
Robinson was moved inside following the trade for Ronald Darby, and things began to click. He developed into one of the top slot corners in the game, pacing the Eagles with four interceptions and 22 passes defensed.
While he was key to the Eagles’ 2017 Super Bowl run, the Eagles, who are tight against the salary cap, have essentially been priced out of the market for Robinson. They also are pretty stocked at cornerback, especially with Sidney Jones recovered from an Achilles rupture.
Prior to joining the Eagles, Robinson played one season each for the Colts, where he was limited to seven games in 2016 due to an assortment of injuries, and the Chargers. He spent his first five NFL seasons with the Saints. He has 14 interceptions and 77 passes defensed in eight NFL seasons.
Kenny Vaccaro, S, Saints
Vaccaro, 27, has shown Pro Bowl-caliber potential throughout his five-year career with the Saints, during which he tallied 67 starts, 385 tackles, eight interceptions, 7.5 sacks and four forced fumbles.
The 6-foot, 214-pounder, who was drafted with the 15th overall pick out of Texas in 2013, probably fits best as a strong safety playing closer to the line of scrimmage, but also has been used often as a nickelback covering slot receivers. He also has been used as a pseudo-linebacker in certain packages.
Vaccaro finished third in the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year voting in 2013, when former coordinator Rob Ryan moved him all over the defense as a versatile chess piece.
Vaccaro’s last two seasons were two of his best, with a total of five interceptions in 23 games. But he missed seven games (including the playoffs) because of a lingering groin injury that ultimately required surgery in 2017. He also missed the final four games of 2016 because of an Adderall suspension.
His departure from New Orleans isn’t a major surprise, because he never fully realized his lofty potential there while also battling a broken ankle, a quad injury and some inconsistency earlier in his career. The Saints also have reinvested in the safety position with second-round draft picks Vonn Bell and Marcus Williams over the past two years.
T.J. Ward, S, Buccaneers
After signing a one-year, $5 million deal with the Buccaneers, Ward, a three-time Pro Bowler, was billed as an instant upgrade for a safety group that struggled for much of the 2016 season. However, Ward ultimately wasn’t a great fit for the Bucs’ system.
Ward, 31, excelled in the box and would often blitz while with the Broncos. In Mike Smith’s defense in Tampa, the Bucs used their strong and free safeties interchangeably, which left him vulnerable in coverage. They also had him rotate, which became a source of frustration for Ward, who joined the team just prior to the start of the regular season and had been dealing with a hamstring injury.
In 12 games in 2017, Ward registered 43 tackles and three pass breakups.
Before joining the Bucs, Ward was one of the Broncos’ most reliable defenders, logging an average of 61 defensive snaps per game over 26 regular-season games, which ranked third on the team behind Chris Harris Jr. and Aqib Talib.
Tramon Williams, CB, Cardinals
In a sign that they weren’t pleased with Justin Bethel’s progress, the Cardinals signed Williams, 34, in late July. By Week 7, Williams was starting and he didn’t let go of the job.
He finished with two interceptions — giving him 32 for his career — and started nine of the 13 games he played in 2017. He also had 41 tackles and a fumble return.
Williams was released last offseason by the Browns after starting in 22 of the 27 games in which he appeared, playing both safety and cornerback. Overall, he made 105 tackles and had two interceptions with the Browns.
He spent his first eight seasons with the Packers, intercepting 28 passes and earning a Pro Bowl selection in 2010.
Tavon Wilson, S, Lions
The 27-year-old Wilson became a starter after signing a two-year deal with the Lions in 2016, beating out Rafael Bush for the role.
Wilson was more of an in-the-box safety with Glover Quin playing more of a deep safety. In his 25 games with the Lions, Wilson started 23, making 142 tackles along with three sacks, three interceptions, two fumble recoveries and a forced fumble.
After playing through a shoulder injury for the majority of 2017 season and often wearing a red no-contact jersey during practice, Wilson had his season come to an end when he re-injured it on Thanksgiving Day against Minnesota. He then was placed on injured reserve and had surgery to fix the shoulder.
Dustin Colquitt, P, Chiefs
Colquitt, 35, was one of the longest-tenured Chiefs players last season. He joined the team in 2005 as a third-round draft pick, arriving two rounds after linebacker Derrick Johnson.
The left-footed Colquitt was a two-time Pro Bowl participant in his 13 seasons with Kansas City. His gross punting averages rarely put him among the league leaders, but Colquitt was still considered among the NFL’s top punters.
Colquitt had a great touch inside the 20 and, in 2012 and 2016, he dropped at least half his kicks there. The Chiefs haven’t allowed a punt return for a touchdown since 2012, much in part because Colquitt’s ability to hang them high made his kicks relatively easy to cover.
Nick Folk, PK, Buccaneers (cut)
Folk was signed to compete with Roberto Aguayo for the Buccaneers’ kicking job in 2017. It didn’t work out for either of them.
Having beat out Aguayo for the starting job in training camp, Folk, 33, was placed on injured reserve with a minor injury designation after missing three field goals in a 19-14 loss to the New England Patriots in Week 4. In those four games, Folk went 6-for-11 on field goal attempts and missed 2 of 9 PATs.
The Bucs moved on to Patrick Murray in Week 5, while Folk opted to have surgery on his left knee. He was officially released by Tampa Bay on Feb. 22 and has been cleared by Dr. James Andrews to resume kicking, a source told ESPN’s Adam Schefter on Feb. 20.
Before joining the Bucs, Folk spent seven seasons with the Jets, ranking second in franchise history with 172 field goals, and three with the Cowboys, where he made the 2007 Pro Bowl as a rookie.
Overall, he has made 80.3 percent of his career kicks, has 1,077 points and has a career long of 56 yards, which came in the 2010 season for the Jets.
Kai Forbath, PK, Vikings
Forbath, 30, helped erase years of playoff heartbreak for the Vikings by making 3 of 4 field goal attempts, including a 53-yarder, against the Saints in the NFC divisional round.
During the regular season, Forbath scored 130 points while attempting a career-high 38 field goals. He made 32 of those kicks — making him the eighth most-accurate kicker in league history (85.926 field goal percentage). However, he struggled at times this season and was 34-of-39 on extra points. His five PAT misses were the most in the NFL this season.
Over seven NFL seasons with the Vikings, Saints and Redskins, Forbath has made 116 of 135 field goal attempts and has accounted for 517 points.
Dustin Hopkins, PK, Redskins
Hopkins, 27, spent three seasons with the Redskins, but missed eight games in 2017 because of a hip injury.
He was activated off injured reserve for the final three weeks, and he made 14 of 17 field goals and all but one of his 19 extra point attempts.
Hopkins ranks 24th in field goal percentage over the past three seasons. He also had the ninth-most touchbacks during this period.
His best season occurred in 2015, when he made 25 of 28 field goals and 39 of 40 extra points.
Sebastian Janikowski, PK, Raiders
The “Polish Cannon” is one of only three players remaining in the NFL from the 2000 draft, where he was drafted 17th overall. He did not play last season as he spent the season on injured reserve with a back issue that surfaced late in the preseason.
Janikowski, 40, is the Raiders’ all-time leading scorer with 1,799 points, which ranks 11th in NFL history. He also has played in a franchise-record 268 games and 17 seasons.
He took a $1 million pay cut late in training camp and made $3 million last season. He had signed a four-year, $16 million extension in 2014.
His 63-yard field goal at Denver in 2011 was, at the time, tied for the longest field goal in league history, and he has converted 80.4 percent of his field goal attempts (414-for-515) and 98.9 percent of his extra point attempts. His 55 field goals of at least 50 yards are an NFL record.
Before 2017, Janikowski had missed only four games in his career — two as a rookie, one in 2001 and another in 2011. The 6-foot-1, 258-pounder was one of the all-time great characters in Raiders history and went from being a hell-raising wild child early in his career — four arrests at Florida State, five more run-ins with the law after joining the Raiders — to a family man later in his career.
Nick Novak, PK, Chargers
Novak returned for a second stint with the Chargers after the team released inconsistent rookie Younghoe Koo midway through last season.
Novak previously kicked for the Chargers from 2011-14. Before his return to the team in 2017, Novak was with the Texans for two seasons, but was released by the team before the start of last season.
Novak, 36, made 9 of 13 field goals for the Chargers in seven games last season, including a long of 50 yards. However, the Chargers placed Novak on injured reserve after he suffered a back injury in a Thanksgiving Day game against the Cowboys.
In 10 NFL seasons, Novak has converted 82 percent of his field goal attempts (182-for-222). He is 256-for-263 on extra point attempts.
Caleb Sturgis, PK, Eagles
Sturgis, 28, suffered a hip flexor injury in the 2017 season opener for the Eagles and was placed on injured reserve when the team signed rookie Jake Elliott off the Bengals’ practice squad.
Elliott secured the job with his big leg, nailing a 61-yard game-winning field goal at the end of regulation against the Giants in Week 3. He went on to hit five of six from 50-plus yards during the Eagles’ Super Bowl run.
Sturgis spent two seasons with the Dolphins before joining the Eagles in 2015. He has connected on 81 percent of his field goal tries over four-plus seasons and is 13-of-24 from 50-plus yards.
Blair Walsh, PK, Seahawks
The Seahawks signed Walsh to a one-year, $1.1 million deal last offseason before letting longtime kicker Stephen Hauschka leave to the Bills as a free agent. The nearly $2 million cost-saving switch looked like a shrewd move on Seattle’s part after Walsh made 12 of his first 13 field goal attempts to begin the season, but he struggled over the second half of what he called an “up and down” season.
Walsh made only nine of his final 16 attempts — including missing all three of his attempts in a 17-14 loss to Washington in Week 9. Two weeks later, he made three field goals but came up short on a 52-yard attempt that would have sent the Seahawks to overtime in their loss to the Falcons.
The Falcons (10-6) finished with one more victory than Seattle (9-7) and made the playoffs as the NFC’s No. 6 seed.
Walsh finished the season ranked 29th among qualified kickers with a 72.4 percent field goal rate. Hauschka, meanwhile, excelled with the Bills, making 29 of 33 field goals and all of his PATs.
Before joining Seattle, Walsh, who turned 28 in January, had seen his career with the Vikings fall off track — with the downturn beginning around the time he missed a chip-shot field goal that would have clinched a playoff win over Seattle in January 2016.
Patrick Mahomes against Lamar Jackson and other highly anticipated quarterback matchups of the past 70 years
Mahomes won MVP in 2018 and followed it up with a Super Bowl MVP last season. Jackson is coming off his own MVP season, in which he rushed for 1,206 yards. And both former first-round quarterbacks are still very early in their respective careers.
The game itself promises to be exciting — it holds the ninth-highest regular-season matchup rating from ESPN Stats & Information (94.7) since the metric was created in 2008 — and these two quarterbacks are a big reason why. How does Mahomes-Jackson 3 (they have played twice, both Chiefs victories) stack up against other highly anticipated QB matchups in the history of the NFL? Let’s take a quick look at the best of the best in QB showdown intrigue, going back 70 years (ordered by date).
Headline: Matchup of past two MVPs
Date: Sept. 28, 2020
This game checks off every box. It’s the first meeting between former MVPs age 25 or younger in NFL history, per the Elias Sports Bureau. It’s also a matchup between the reigning MVP (Jackson) and Super Bowl MVP (Mahomes). Mahomes had 50 passing touchdowns and 5,000 passing yards in 2018, while Jackson broke Michael Vick’s single-season QB rushing record in 2019.
They own the two longest active regular-season win streaks among starting quarterbacks in the NFL; Jackson has been the victor in 13 straight, while Mahomes is riding an eight-game streak. Both are capable of making jaw-dropping plays, from throws on the run to highlight-reel spin moves, on center stage on Monday Night Football.
Headline: First matchup of 40-year-old QBs
Date: Sept. 13, 2020
Don’t forget the Bucs-Saints season opener. It was Brady’s Buccaneers debut and the first time we’ve seen two 40-year-old QBs face off in NFL history. Brees and Brady entered the game first and second, respectively, in all-time touchdown passes. The previous game between the top two touchdown passers of all time had been in 1949, between Sammy Baugh and Sid Luckman. Brady’s Bucs debut didn’t go as scripted, though, as he threw two interceptions, including a pick-six, in the 34-23 loss.
Headline: An overdue first matchup
Date: Nov. 30, 2014
This was the long-overdue first meeting between Brady and Rodgers. Brady was “just” a three-time Super Bowl winner and two-time MVP at the time, and Rodgers was a Super Bowl MVP and NFL MVP. It was also hyped as a Super Bowl preview and battle for MVP, as they entered tied for the best Total QBR (79.6) in the NFL. The Packers won 26-21 after a late Brady drive stalled. Rodgers went on to win MVP, but Brady won another Super Bowl.
Headline: Favre’s first game against the Packers
Date: Oct. 5, 2009
This might have been the most hyped grudge match ever. Favre, a three-time MVP winner, entered his first game against his former team and the QB who replaced him, Rodgers, on Monday Night Football in Minnesota. Favre threw three touchdown passes and no interceptions, while Rodgers was sacked eight times. The Vikings improved to 4-0 by defeating the Packers 30-23. And with the victory, Favre became the first quarterback in NFL history to beat all 32 teams.
Tom Brady vs. Peyton Manning
Headline: A battle of the unbeatens
Date: Nov. 4, 2007
Hyped as the biggest regular-season game of all time, it featured the 8-0 Patriots and 7-0 Colts and perhaps the greatest quarterback rivalry ever. Brady and Manning ranked first and second in Total QBR, respectively, entering the game. Brady, a three-time Super Bowl winner, was halfway to a historic season, and Manning was the reigning Super Bowl MVP. It lived up to the hype, as New England overcame a 10-point deficit behind two fourth-quarter touchdowns from Brady. Pats win 24-20.
Steve Young vs. Joe Montana
Headline: Montana’s only game vs. 49ers
Date: Sept. 11, 1994
Montana was traded to the Chiefs after winning four Super Bowls and two MVPs with the 49ers, while Young, who won NFL MVP in 1992, was still in search of his first Super Bowl. That was the stage for the only grudge match between Montana and the 49ers. Montana tossed two touchdown passes in the Chiefs’ 24-17 victory.
Dan Marino vs. John Elway
Headline: The first meeting of two stars
Date: Sept. 29, 1985
Alums of the 1983 NFL draft class, Marino and Elway met for the first time in 1985. Like Mahomes and Jackson, they were two of the biggest faces in the game. In 1984, Marino shattered NFL records for single-season passing yards and touchdowns en route to an MVP and a Super Bowl appearance. Elway and the Broncos were coming off a 13-3 season. The Dolphins won 30-26 behind 390 yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions from Marino.
Terry Bradshaw vs. Roger Staubach
Headline: Super Bowl rematch
Date: Oct. 28, 1979
Bradshaw and Staubach went head-to-head nine months after the Steelers beat the Cowboys 35-31 in Super Bowl XIII. This game featured the previous two Super Bowl-winning QBs, and Bradshaw was the reigning MVP and Super Bowl MVP. Staubach was also in the midst of his final season, when he’d throw 27 touchdown passes. The Steelers won this game, though, 14-3.
Bart Starr vs. Johnny Unitas
Headline: A pair of MVPs and Super Bowl champs
Date: Nov. 5, 1967
It doesn’t get much better than Starr against Unitas, especially given the circumstances in 1967. Starr was the reigning MVP and Super Bowl MVP. Unitas was the NFL’s all-time passing yards leader, a two-time MVP and two-time champ. The Packers had also eliminated the Colts from championship contention late in the 1966 season. This time Unitas got revenge by throwing a touchdown pass to Willie Richardson in the final two minutes to help the Colts win 13-10 and stay unbeaten.
Otto Graham vs. Norm Van Brocklin/Bob Waterfield
Headline: NFL championship rematch
Date: Oct. 7, 1951
This was a rematch of the 1950 NFL championship game, won by the Browns on a late field goal. There was more intrigue, though, with three Hall of Fame quarterbacks now in the mix: the Browns’ Graham against the Rams’ QB committee of Van Brocklin and Waterfield. Van Brocklin had thrown for 554 yards in his previous game, which still stands as an NFL record. Graham was on his way to 10 consecutive championship game appearances, and threw for four touchdowns in the 1950 NFL title game win. On this day, Graham and the Browns came out on top 38-23.
Panthers turn up pressure, give Matt Rhule first NFL win – Carolina Panthers Blog
Carolina Panthers coach Matt Rhule lowered his head, paused for what seemed like eternity, and then went into a four-minute explanation for why you couldn’t blame the lack of a pass rush the first two games on coaching, scheme or personnel.
“It’s a very complex question,” Rhule said this past week. “That’s why I’m taking my time on it. It’s never any one thing. It’s a complex thing that we’ll improve on and hopefully at some point it won’t be a story.”
The Panthers improved in a hurry, getting two first-half sacks in Sunday’s 21-16 victory against the Los Angeles Chargers after having none in the first two games and collecting 19 pressures after having a league-low six during an 0-2 start.
Because of that and an efficient offense playing without star running back Christian McCaffrey for at least the next three games, the story now is about Rhule getting his first win as an NFL coach and how a team left for dead might have reason for hope.
And, oh by the way, ending a 10-game losing streak dating back to Week 9 last season.
The Panthers (1-2) actually were more confident after watching the Las Vegas Raiders beat NFC South rival New Orleans on Monday night, understanding the Saints are one of the best teams in the league and knowing they took the Raiders to the wire in the opener.
Players and coaches realized that if they tightened up a few things, didn’t panic after the loss of McCaffrey to an ankle injury and began pressuring the quarterback they could win.
On pressures, check. The two sacks in the first quarter led to field goals and set the tone for the day.
On not panicking without McCaffrey, check. Mike Davis had 46 yards rushing on 13 carries and caught eight passes for 45 yards and a touchdown. Offensive coordinator Joe Brady did a nice job of blending in wide receiver Curtis Samuel as a running back, getting him four carries for seven yards.
On tightening things up, check. Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater had no turnovers after having three the week before and the team had only two penalties for 15 yards.
Now, can the Panthers beat Arizona next week at home to even its record to 2-2 and become the playoff team McCaffrey and several other players said they could be this past week?
“We’re getting better,” Rhule said. “It’s Week 3 of figuring out who we are. It wasn’t perfect, but the pressure allowed us to be in the game.”
Season changing: It’s too early to tell, but considering the Panthers had a chance to win their first two games and won this one, anything is possible.
QB Breakdown: The question posed all week was whether Bridgewater was a game-manager or game-changer. Offensive coordinator Joe Brady insisted Bridgewater was more than a game-manager. Bridgewater insisted his goal was just to win games. He did that without being a game-changer, completing 22 of 28 passes for 235 yards and a touchdown. Perhaps consistency counts toward being a game-changer.
Troubling trend: Missed tackles. The Panthers ranked fourth in the NFL, according to CBS, with 20 in the first two games, and continued to give up big plays with missed tackles on Sunday. The perfect example came on Austin Ekeler‘s first-half touchdown. You can argue whether it was a great move or missed tackle, but three defenders had Ekeler surrounded and he scored on a 12-yard run. Further evidence of why this is troubling, the Panthers allowed 194 yards after contact in the first two games. They allowed 63 in the first half on Sunday.
Pivotal play: The Panthers were about to settle for another Joey Slye field goal in the first half when the Chargers were called for an illegal formation for lining up over the center on the field goal attempt. Carolina took the first down and on the next play scored on a 13-yard catch by Davis for a 15-7 lead instead of 12-7.
Eagles, Carson Wentz’s stock free-falling following troubling tie with Bengals – Philadelphia Eagles Blog
Wentz made some plays late in regulation to force overtime but had his third shaky outing in as many starts in a 23-23 tie with the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday. Wentz completed 29-of-47 passes for 225 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions, as the Eagles move to 0-2-1. Wentz now has six picks on the year — one less than he had all of last season.
A microcosm of his struggles came late in the third quarter, as he failed to find a wide-open John Hightower on a rollout to his left, and followed that with a misplaced ball to Zach Ertz that resulted in his second turnover of the game. With that interception, Wentz became the first Eagles QB with multiple interceptions in three straight games since Ron Jaworski in 1985. That was the season the Eagles drafted Randall Cunningham in the second round, signaling the beginning of the end of Jaworski’s time in Philadelphia.
The Eagles drafted Jalen Hurts in the second round in April and gave him his first snaps at quarterback Sunday, with mixed results.
Philadelphia is committed to Wentz, who signed a four-year, $128 million extension last summer. It’s premature to think a changing of the guard is at hand. But there will be plenty of chatter about inserting Hurts this week, as a dismayed fan base searches for ways to save a season heading off a cliff.
Up next is a trip out West to play the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday (8:20 p.m. ET, NBC).
Troubling trend: The injuries continue to pile up. The Eagles lost DeSean Jackson (hamstring), Dallas Goedert (ankle) and Avonte Maddox (ankle) Sunday. With Jalen Reagor sidelined with a UCL tear in his thumb, Wentz was down to the bottom of the depth chart at receiver, as he was for much of last season. Darius Slay (arm) left briefly but returned to the lineup.
Buy a breakout performance: With the offense down multiple skill position players, Greg Ward led the way with eight catches for 72 yards and a touchdown. Ward doesn’t do anything flashy, but he’s reliable and has earned Wentz’s confidence.
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