5 NFL free agents who could come at a bargain
The NFL’s free agency period is near, which means several of the league’s top players are about to be paid the big bucks. After that first tier of free agents are gone and the second tier is picked through, general managers from across the league will be tasked with finding diamonds in the rough — a bargain, if you will.
Here’s a look at five players who have substantial upside but are likely to come at a discounted price over the next month or so.
5. Nick Kwiatkoski, linebacker
When poring over the list of available free agent linebackers, some outside of Chicago may simply skip over the name of Nick Kwiatkoski, who earned a 72.6 Pro Football Focus grade in 2019. His statistics from a season ago aren’t going to blow the doors off of you and unless someone cuts the film, it’s easy to overlook the 26-year-old former fourth-round pick. But beyond the box score, there’s a lot to like about Kwiatkoski’s game. He’s a solid run defender and can more than hold his own in coverage, but will likely garner less attention than his counterparts, Joe Schobert, Blake Martinez and Cory Littleton. That’s good news for a team looking to add a quality inside linebacker at a team-friendly price in the aftermath of the initial free agency feeding frenzy.
4. Isaiah Crowell, running back
Isaiah Crowell was expected to take on a substantial role for the Raiders in 2019, but a torn Achilles cost him the entire season and his first true opportunity to serve as a bellcow back. Now headed into free agency, Crowell shouldn’t be forgotten about or labeled as injury-prone. Prior to 2019, he had missed just three games over his first five seasons. Assuming he bounces back from the Achilles injury, he should have relatively fresh legs for a 27-year-old. A talented all-around back, Crowell was 12th in yards from scrimmage (4,725) from 2014-2018 despite having the second-fewest touches (997) among the backs who topped that list. Making that all the more impressive? Crowell put up those numbers despite playing behind offensive lines that ranked 28th or worst in three of his first five seasons. With the value of today’s running back fading, some team is going to steal Crowell and then laugh all the way to the bank.
3. Breshad Perriman, wide receiver
Largely considered a first-round bust entering 2019, Breshad Perriman found an opportunity last season when the Buccaneers lost both Mike Evans and Chris Godwin late last season. After being unexpectedly thrust into the No. 1 role, Perriman erupted over the final quarter-plus of the season, hauling in 25 receptions for 506 yards and five touchdowns in five games to close out the year. Over that span, he averaged 20.2 yards per reception and was one of just four players with five or more touchdown receptions. In total, Perriman posted career highs in targets (69), receptions (36), yards (645) and touchdowns (six). While it may not be enough to earn Perriman a massive free agent contract, his 2019 performance will be enough to keep him on the radar of wide receiver-needy teams and may earn him a larger opportunity in 2020.
2. Ereck Flowers, guard
I’ll be the first to admit, I may have gotten it wrong when it came to Flowers’ transition from tackle to guard. I didn’t think he would improve to any significant degree simply because there were footwork flaws to his game that seemed resistant to coaching. But his time in Washington has resulted in a little crow pie for folks like myself, and that’s good news for the former first-round pick. Washington has made it clear they’d like to bring him back in 2020, but he may still hit free agency having just reset the clock on his career. Flowers finished 2019 with a 64.2 Pro Football Focus grade, which is a major step up for him, having surrendered just two sacks over 16 starts. The more time he sees at guard, the more he will improve and that’s good news for whatever team ultimately ends up signing him.
1. Kevin Johnson, cornerback
With players like James Bradberry, Byron Jones and and Chris Harris Jr. slated to command most of the attention among cornerbacks, Kevin Johnson is going to fly under-the-radar and prove to be a steal for some team out there. He took on a somewhat limited role for the Bills in 2019, spending a little time outside and some in slot, ultimately finishing the season with 402 defensive snaps. That alone was somewhat encouraging for Johnson, who dealt with seemingly relentless injuries in Houston. But beyond that, Johnson surrendered just 19 receptions a season ago, while posting a 73.6 coverage grade (73.2 overall grade) — all of which represented career highs. The former first-round pick is also just 27 years old, so there may be a lot of meat left on the bone. There is some risk involved given Johnson’s history, but that’s why he’ll likely come at a bargain.