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Top 5 Bargain Free Agents of 2018

Matt McEwan

by Matt McEwan in NFL Football

Updated Apr 3, 2018 · 11:34 AM PDT

Darren Sproles splitting two defenders.
Coming off an ACL tear in 2017, Darren Sproles is set to hit free agency in 2018. Photo by Keith Allison (Flickr) [CC License].
  • Who are the five best bargain free agents available in 2018?
  • Find the odds on where each of the five FAs will play in 2018.

The vast majority of free agency talk this offseason has been focused on Kirk Cousins. The Pro Bowl pivot is the most high-profile quarterback to (legitimately) hit the open market since Peyton Manning in 2012. Acquiring Cousins will immediately vault the Denver Broncos into Super Bowl contention, and would likely make the Minnesota Vikings the NFC favorites. But signing him will come with a hefty price – likely around $30 million per year.

Unfortunately, not every team has that kind of cap space available, and will likely have to settle on some of the “cheaper” free agents to improve their odds of winning Super Bowl 53. Here are the five best unrestricted free agents that teams can get at a bargain rate.

5. Darren Sproles (Running Back)

While Carlos Hyde, Dion Lewis, and Jerick McKinnon garner most of the attention at the running back position, one smart team is going to decide not to pay any of those guys $7 million-plus per year and instead opt for Darren Sproles, who has more Pro Bowl appearances than all three of those backs combined.

Sproles, who will turn 35 years old before the start of the 2018 season, is not the same back he was seven years ago, when he churned out 1,313 yards from scrimmage. But he is still one of the league’s best return specialists, evident by his three Pro Bowl appearances as a return man from 2014-16, and is still very dangerous as a pass-catching back. His 19,155 career all-purpose yards ranks him eighth all-time.

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Yeah, his torn ACL last season is cause for concern, but this is why he fits the bill as a bargain free agent. Before the knee injury, Sproles had shown no signs of slowing down, logging a career-high 94 carries in 2016, picking up 4.7 yards per carry (4.9 career YPC). The former fourth-round pick possesses the exact skillset every offensive coordinator wants in his backfield today. If Sproles were ten years younger, he’d be the only running back teams are talking about in free agency.

Odds to sign Darren Sproles in 2018

Team Odds
Philadelphia Eagles 13/7
New England Patriots 6/1
Oakland Raiders 9/1
FIELD 19/13

4. Julius Peppers (Defensive End)

If you’re a team in need of an edge-rusher who can make an impact immediately, this isn’t the offseason for you. The NFL Draft only contains one surefire first-round edge player (Bradley Chubb), and there aren’t really any premier guys available in free agency. But there is one option out there that can still produce: Julius Peppers.

The nine-time Pro Bowl DE is one of the best pass-rushers ever, and he’s still capable of doing it at a high level.

The 38-year-old is currently recovering from offseason shoulder surgery, and may not be available Week 1. It may also take quite the sales pitch to convince Peppers to sign anywhere other than Carolina. But he’s worth all the effort.

There’s no active player with more sacks than Peppers. His 154.5 sacks ranks him fourth all-time, and the 11 he recorded last year ranked 11th in the NFL. Since 2008, Peppers has recorded at least seven sacks per season, averaging nearly ten per season during that time. The nine-time Pro Bowl DE is one of the best pass-rushers ever, and he’s still capable of doing it at a high level.

Peppers is no longer the every-down defender he once was, but he can still provide a team with a very good situational edge player. While it’ll likely take a little more than the hometown discount he gave the Panthers last year ($3.75 million cap hit), a shot at winning a Super Bowl could be enough to reel in Peppers.

Odds to sign Julius Peppers in 2018

Team Odds
Carolina Panthers 1/1
New England Patriots 7/3
Retirement 9/1

*Julius Peppers has signed a 1-year, $5 million deal with the Carolina Panthers.

3. NaVorro Bowman (Inside Linebacker)

Entering the 2016 season, NaVorro Bowman was hailed as one of the best inside linebackers in the business. The Penn State product was selected to the Pro Bowl in three of his first six seasons, and named a First-Team All-Pro in four – he didn’t start as a rookie and missed the entire 2014 season due to a torn ACL and MCL suffered in the NFC Championship in 2013.

But Bowman has not been able to swat the injury bug lately, as he had his 2016 season cut short, as well, tearing his Achilles tendon in Week 4. In 2017, the 29-year-old was benched by the 49ers and released on October 13th. The Oakland Raiders pounced quickly and Bowman started the final ten games for them, leading the team in tackles.

Bowman received an 84.8 grading from PFF in 2017 (11th among inside linebackers).

Due to all the injuries, the former third-round pick does not possess the same speed or change of direction that made him so strong in coverage, but he’s still very capable in coverage and remains among the league’s best at his position. Bowman received an 84.8 grading from PFF in 2017 (11th among inside linebackers).

Odds to sign NaVorro Bowman in 2018

Team Odds
Oakland Raiders 5/2
Buffalo Bills 5/1
Denver Broncos 8/1
Pittsburgh Steelers 11/1
Baltimore Ravens 12/1
FIELD 18/7

2. Tramon Williams (Cornerback)

Forget the NFL being a young man’s game. At 34 years old, Tramon Williams is still one of the league’s best corners. In 2017, his first in Arizona, Williams had his best season as a pro according to PFF, who ranked him as the 9th-best corner in the league (88.8 grade). But this is nothing out of the ordinary for the former Packer. Since 2006, no corner has been more productive than Williams.

The 11-year veteran is not among the elite shutdown corners who can shadow the opponent’s best receiver on a weekly basis, but he does fall in the tier right underneath them. In today’s NFL, you can never have too many corners, especially good ones. So any team who hopes to contend for Super Bowl 53 that doesn’t have four solid corners should be looking into Williams.

It’s unlikely anyone will be able to sign Williams as cheap as Arizona got him last year ($1.95 million cap hit), but with him turning 35 years old very shortly, he will come at a bargain.

Odds to sign Tramon Williams in 2018

Team Odds
Green Bay Packers 11/2
New York Giants 6/1
New England Patriots 9/1
San Francisco 49ers 12/1
Arizona Cardinals 14/1
Seattle Seahawks 14/1
Tennessee Titans 16/1

*Tramon Williams has signed a two-year, $10M deal with the Green Bay Packers.

1. Donte Moncrief (Wide Receiver)

With Jarvis Landry signing his franchise tender with the Miami Dolphins, Allen Robinson and Sammy Watkins become the two biggest names on the wide receiver market. However, both are going to command top dollar. They aren’t the only two players who can come in and put up big numbers right away, though.

Donte Moncrief is not going to receive anywhere near as much money as Watkins or Robinson in free agency, but this isn’t because he is an inferior athlete. The former third-round pick ran a 4.40 40-yard dash at the 2014 NFL Combine, while posting a vertical of 39.5″ and broad jump of 132″ – all highs at his position. But thanks to an ugly 2017, many forget the route Moncrief’s career was on.

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With Andrew Luck, Moncrief was on his way to becoming one of the best redzone threats in the league. In 2016, his third season in the league, Moncrief caught seven TDs in just nine games. The year prior he caught six touchdowns and recorded 733 receiving yards. As was the case for the entire team, the wheels fell off in 2017 without Luck. The 24-year-old only hauled in two TDs and 391 yards in 12 games, and was referred to as a problem in the locker room.

If you have a capable quarterback, the 6’2″, 221lb receiver would be a major addition to your offense, at a very reasonable price. Moncrief is the ultimate low-risk, high-reward option in free agency, as he has the potential to be a legit WR1 in the NFL.

Odds to sign Donte Moncrief in 2018

Team Odds
Baltimore Ravens 3/1
Chicago Bears 9/2
San Francisco 49ers 7/1
Dallas Cowboys 9/1
Indianapolis Colts 9/1
New Orleans Saints 14/1
FIELD 33/7

*Donte Moncrief has signed a 1-year, $7M deal with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

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