Tough Free Agent Decisions in 2017

Today I wanted to look at the teams that face the most roster turnover in free agency. To do this I looked at potential snaps that can be lost in free agency by the entire roster and by the prime contributors. This quick study should give an idea of the way that certain teams may be forced to approach free agency this year and whether they are targeting their own talent or outside of the organization. 

The Cardinals, who finished the year a disappointing 7-8-1, have the largest amount of turnover in the NFL. They will lose about 40% of their snaps to free agency this year, a majority of which comes from contributors. Their general age is relatively young at 27.7 so it’s not like this should be a cheap group of players. Arizona is in a difficult spot because you look at some of their key positions and see an older team whose window may be shutting, and now you run the risk of overpaying for players on what could be a fading team. Free agents include Chandler Jones, Tony Jefferson, and Calais Campbell.

Washington had a terrible close to the season and has the potential to lose about 31% of their contributor snaps to free agency. Washington is younger than Arizona at the QB position, assuming they franchise tag Kirk Cousins, but outside of Cousins these free agents are all in a bad territory age wise. DeSean Jackson, Pierre Garcon, Chris Baker, Vernon Davis, and Donte Whitner are all either nearing or already on the wrong side of 30. Some of the players they can afford to let go but a team can get old in a hurry if they re-sign too many of these players to lucrative contracts.

The Bengals are losing over 6,000 snaps, 5,100 of which come from players with at least 45% playtime. This is an ancient group with an average age close to 32 by the end of 2017 and they have to get younger.  After multiple years of wildcard exits the Bengals looked much slower this year on their way to a 6 win season. Im not sure how you justify hanging on to Peko and Dansby and even LaFell is on the wrong side of the age curve. Andrew Whitworth is very good but will be 35 this season and they likely will need to commit big to Zeitler and Kirkpatrick if they want to block them from free agency.  Probably a team headed in the wrong direction.

The Patriots have a few key free agents with about 5,100 meaningful snaps needing to be replaced. Those names include Donta Hightower, Martellus Bennett, Chris Long, LeGarrette Blount, Jabaal Sheard, Alan Branch, and Logan Ryan.  The Patriots have a large amount of cap space but it will be interesting to see if they pursue any of their free agents that develop a big market elsewhere. Given their history they may move on from more than a few of them.

Buffalo has over 7,000 snaps hitting free agency, which is second in the NFL, but I ranked them 5th because just 4,800 come from players who played at least 45% of the snaps in 2016.   They have 24 potential free agents this year, most in the NFL, though many of them probably won’t get a big look around the league. Their primary free agents include Stephon Gilmore, Lorenzo Alexander, Zach Brown, Robert Woods, and Justin Mills. This has been the worst drafting team in the NFL for some time so Buffalo could be in for a big overhaul.

The Cowboys have no cap room and 20 free agents, 7 of whom played in 4,600 snaps this season.   I’d imagine Ronald Leary and Terrence Williams will both get better offers elsewhere which will leave Dalls with decisions on Terrell McClain, Jack Crawford, JJ Wilcox, Barry Church and Brandon Carr. They also have some name value players in Morris Claiborne and Darren McFadden who didn’t play in 45% of the teams snaps.

Rounding out our list is the Ravens who have 7 key free agents who played in over 4,100 snaps this year. The Ravens have the oldest starting unit in the NFL and have to find ways to keep their younger players. Years of salary cap tightrope acts have forced the team to lose younger free agents who did not necessarily thrive elsewhere but probably would have been solid contributors if they could have been extended prior to free agency. Steve Smith will retire leaving the team with decisions on Ricky Wagner, Brandon Williams, Kamar Aiken, Vlad Ducasse and Jerraud Powers.

Here are the top teams in terms of potential free agent losses. Ill be back with a look at the teams with the least amount of potential turnover this weekend.

TeamTotal UFAsUFAs with 45% PTSnaps to Replace

45% snaps to replace

Avg. Age (45% Snaps)
Cardinals2098854769027.8
Redskins1586389557630.5
Bengals1366007515431.8
Patriots1485503510029.1
Bills2467274478928.0
Cowboys2076146459628.6
Ravens1274747413329.9
Rams954449390227.0
Lions1955578365630.0
Buccaneers1755929361229.0
  • McGeorge

    Will the Redskins franchise Cousins again?
    I think they better sign him to a long term deal, even if they overpay a few million per year.
    It’s not like they have a reasonable alternative.

    • eddiea

      This what I’m watching. He wants $25M Tag is $22M, so maybe $23M since a third Tag will be around $29M. Sad thing they didn’t really have a b/u,nothing against McCoy.

      • McGeorge

        If he wants 25, either the Redskins pay, or another team, like Cleveland or the 49ers do. Getting Cousins saves them more than a #1 pick, because not all #1 picks pan out. Maybe they can get him down to 24.

        Before ESPN bought him out, Brian Burke had a great website Advanced NFL Analytics that had some measures, one of which was Win Probability added. A great QB adds 4-5 wins to a 8-8 team. A terrible one costs 4 wins. If each game is worth close to 20MM, then it’s worth overpaying Cousins, if the alternative is to lose 4 or more games per year.

  • Werner

    The Bengals somehow seem to be victims of their great contracts, which are set to be played out to the end. Seems they didn’t have the triggers to unload players better a year early and may now be at the end of the streak before they even won a playoff game.
    Cardinals may hinge on decisions of Fitzgerald and Palmer for one more desperate attempt. Wonder if they can design things to start a trade-based clean out and rejuvenation effort latest half way of the season when things do not pan out.
    Patriots real question marks are Hightower and Bennett and they should be able to franchise the more expensive one and extend the other with a careful look at Brady, should he fall into Manning Twilight Territory anytime soon.