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.
The Oakland Raiders appeared to be committed to restocking their backfield this offseason with Marshawn Lynch no longer in the picture, but they are not going to be able to get any production from Isaiah Crowell in 2019.
ESPN’s Adam Schefter reports that Crowell suffered a torn Achilles during a workout on Monday. He will undergo surgery and miss the entire season.
Crowell has been an effective runner throughout his career, averaging 4.3 yards per carry. He rushed for 685 yards and six touchdowns in his lone season with the New York Jets last year before signing a one-year deal with Oakland this offseason.
The Raiders used one of their three first-round picks on former Alabama star running back Josh Jacobs. They will likely need to add another player or two for depth now that Crowell is out, but Jacobs could play an even bigger role than they initially expected in his rookie season.
The Oakland Raiders may find themselves a starting running back in the coming days.
Free agent Isaiah Crowell is set to visit with the Raiders on Thursday, according to NFL Media’s Ian Rapoport.
Crowell was released by the Jets after they signed Le’Veon Bell. The 26-year-old running back can be a factor, as evidenced by his 219-yard game against the Broncos last season.
Crowell has averaged 4.3 yards per carry in his NFL career. He spent his first four seasons with the Browns and last season with the Jets. The Raiders currently have Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington on their depth chart as Doug Martin and Marshawn Lynch are free agents.
Isaiah Crowell saw Randy Moss’ moon and raised him a wipe.
The New York Jets jumped out to a 14-0 lead on the Cleveland Browns Thursday night thanks to a pair of touchdown runs by Crowell. After scoring his second TD, Crowell pretended to defecate and then use the ball as his toilet paper.
Crowell was penalized 15 yards for unsportsmanlike conduct because of the celebration, which seemed to be a message from Crowell to his former team and their fans. That’s the second obscene TD celebration we’ve seen this season, and will likely draw a fine from the league.
Every year, we see NFL players across the league come into their own despite not having much of a track record. They can be all types; many are second- or third-year players who have matured and overcome injury or adapted to the NFL. There are others who were never highly-touted but find themselves in the right situation.
Each NFL team has breakout candidates. Here is a leading candidate from all of them.
Arizona Cardinals — Haason Reddick, LB
The 13th overall pick in last year’s draft flashed potential and appeared in all 16 games, but only started three of them. He still made an impact, with 2.5 sacks and two forced fumbles on the season. The Cardinals plan to move him to inside linebacker, where he’s been studying tape of Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis. That bodes well for a big year two breakout.
Atlanta Falcons — Austin Hooper, TE
Year three could be the one that sees Hooper mature into a big target at tight end. His numbers improved last season, as he caught 49 passes and scored three touchdowns. A more prominent role and regular playing time could await him in 2018 and make him a Matt Ryan favorite. He’ll just have to compete with Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley, and Atlanta’s talented running backs for touches.
Cleveland Browns running back Isaiah Crowell had an honest yet humorous explanation for why he wasn’t around to speak with the media after his team’s Week 4 loss to the Bengals.
Crowell had just seven carries for 20 yards as his Browns fell behind and threw 42 passes in the 31-7 loss. The running back was in a hurry to get out of the locker room after the game because he was mad about the loss and his lack of touches.
“I didn’t even take a shower,” Crowell said Thursday via Cleveland.com’s Mary Kay Cabot. “I don’t like losing. I’ve always been a sore loser.”
Crowell said he didn’t need to shower because he hardly got a chance to play.
“We lost and I didn’t really get a chance to contribute at all, so that’s what I was really mad about,” he said. “I feel like I can contribute to the game to help my team win, so that’s what I was upset about.”
Crowell hasn’t been much of a factor for the winless Browns. He only has 134 yards on 46 carries all season. If the Browns are unable to get any leads or keep things close, it’s unlikely he’ll get an opportunity to have a ton of work.
Isaiah Crowell was one of a few bright spots on the Cleveland Browns’ offense this season, so it’s no surprise that the team is considering locking up the running back long term.
According to NFL Media’s Ian Rapoport, the Browns and Crowell were in talks on a deal this season, but they’re at a stalemate. He believes that the sides will meet next week to discuss it further.
Crowell, who went undrafted out of Alabama State after initially committing to Georgia, rushed for 952 yards and 7 touchdowns while posting 319 receiving yards this season. His 4.8 yards per carry average was impressive for an offense that otherwise struggled.
Cleveland Browns running back Isaiah Crowell followed through on his pledge to donate a game check to police.
Crowell, who is in the midst of a great start to the season for the 0-4 Browns, drew scrutiny in July for an anti-police post he made on Instagram. The posting generated negative publicity for Crowell and led to calls for the Browns to cut him. The team stood by Crowell, while Crowell dedicated time to developing a better relationship with police. He even made amends by saying he would donate his first game check to the police.
Even though the incident has long blown over and the actions of Colin Kaepernick have led to even more social change and recognition of issues, Crowell delivered on his pledge.
Cleveland.com reports that Crowell did donate his first check — about $35,300 — to the Dallas Fallen Officer Foundation. Five officers were killed by a sniper in July in an angry response to previous incidents where many believe the killings of black men at the hands of police officers were uncalled for.
Even more appreciated than the money he has donated is the time Crowell has given to learning about what the officers go through to protect the community. Even the Cleveland Police Patrolmen’s Association head accepted Crowell’s apology. The CPPA previously had issued a threat to the Browns.
Despite his charitable behavior, Crowell apparently declined to talk about the donation, saying he didn’t want the attention for it.
Cleveland Browns running back Isaiah Crowell is trying to make things right after he posted a photo on social media last week that depicted a police officer being stabbed.
In a video he shared on Facebook Wednesday morning, Crowell announced that he is donating his first game check this season to the Dallas Fallen Officer Foundation, which is dedicated to helping the families of officers who were killed in the line of duty.
“Last week, like so many others, I was frustrated and upset about what’s going on in our country,” Crowell said. “I have friends and family members who are dealing with violence. I’ve seen violence throughout the country, and I’m really just emotional about it. During that emotion, I did something I really wish I could take back.
“I posted a really bad and disgusting picture and I took it down immediately because I knew I was wrong. Nobody had to tell me to take it down. I knew I was wrong. I’m sorry, and I hope you understand that’s not who I am. … By posting that picture I became part of the problem. I don’t want to be part of the problem. I want to be part of the solution.”
Crowell’s salary for the 2016 season is $600,000, so one game check would be about $37,500. The decision to donate was likely a direct response to the Cleveland Police Patrolmen’s Association threatening to remove officers from Browns home games because of what Crowell posted on Instagram.
Last week, Isaiah Crowell posted a disturbing and graphic image of a police officer with his neck sliced open by figure with his face covered. As a result the Browns may have to alter security plans for home games during the upcoming season.
The now deleted post, not surprisingly, generated a great deal of backlash directed towards the Cleveland running back. Some want the organization to release the player, something the Browns have indicated they have no plans of doing at this time. While it looks as though Crowell will be at FirstEnergy Stadium this fall, the head of Cleveland Police Patrolmen’s Association has threatened to pull officers from home games.
Stephen Loomis was understandably not pleased with Crowell’s post on social media and isn’t buying his apology. “He needs to go to Dallas, help the families who lost their loved ones last week, write them a check, look them in the eyes and give a heartfelt apology,” Loomis told TMZ. “I will pull Cleveland officers, sheriffs, state troopers out of First Energy Stadium this season if he doesn’t make it right,” he continued.
Loomis wasn’t done. He also declared Crowell’s apology has not been and will not be accepted. “You’re a grown ass man, and you claim you were too emotional to know it was wrong? Think we’ll accept your apology? Kiss my ass.”
Crowell is preparing to enter this third season with the Browns. While the franchise has responded by stating its intention to keep him on the roster, it did express disappointment in the 23-year-old and there’s always the possibility of the Browns changing their stance, which is worth following in the coming days and weeks.