You’ve surely had a flip through the PFF Free Agent Tracker by this point, so this set of articles will build nicely on what you’ve already seen. This, our yearly effort to sort the top free agent options at each position, will present a position a day and offer a Top-10 of what’s available.
It’s more than just looking at our grades, but factoring in longevity, age, injuries and so much more in order to tell you who we think are the best gets out there.
1. Mike Iupati – Signed with Arizona
2014 Grade: +11.2
2014 Snaps: 970
Few guards in the league can match Iupati’s sheer physical dominance in the running game, let alone any available as a free agent next month. Only once since he entered the league in 2010 has he finished the season outside our top five in our run blocking grades, finishing second to Evan Mathis and Marshal Yanda in 2012 and 2014 respectively.
The question mark for Iupati however, and what may serve to limit his appeal, is his work in pass protection. Since he entered the league he has never been better than an average pass protecting guard and in the last couple of seasons has even fallen away from that. His run blocking is as good as you’ll find in the league, but in a widely pass first league Iupati may be overlooked in favor of more assured pass protectors.
2. Orlando Franklin – Signed with San Diego
2014 Grade: +15.4
2014 Snaps: 1,195
Whether at guard or tackle Franklin will be a highly sought after free agent when the new league year rolls around. After an inconsistent start to the 2014 season at guard Franklin came alive after the defeat to the Rams in Week 11. With an increased focus on the ground game from that point on Franklin displayed a consistency as a run blocker that we rarely saw from him at tackle.
Whether at guard or tackle, Franklin has produced as a run blocker and pass protector in the three years since his 2011 debut. With versatility and an all round game there is even an argument to be made that Franklin is the most valuable free agent offensive lineman available this off-season.
3. Clint Boling – Re-signed with Cincinnati
2014 Grade: +4.1
2014 Snaps: 1,012
A key cog in the Bengals’ offensive line since his sophomore season in 2012, Boling turned in his best season as a run blocker this season though his pass protection failed to match his first two seasons as a starter. From their impressive Week 11 victory in New Orleans, Boling earned a run block grade of +1.5 or higher in five out of six games. Prior to that he had only earned a single game run block grade that high twice in his career.
If Boling can pair that run blocking form with his pass protection from 2012 and 2013 then Boling will be a guard on the rise over his next contract. However, if he moves away from Cincinnati and the Bengals quick release offense then his pass protection will come under greater scrutiny.
4. James Carpenter – Signed with New York Jets
2014 Grade: -12.0
2014 Snaps: 1,028
A first rounder in 2011 Carpenter has struggled in the NFL at both tackle and guard, struggling in pass protection as a rookie at right tackle and surprisingly struggling to impose himself as a run blocker since he moved inside to guard in 2012.
The last two seasons Carpenter has at least earned (marginally) positive grades as a pass protector for Russell Wilson. The team giving Carpenter his next contract will be eager to see more from him as a run blocker as he's only earned a run block grade of +1.0 or above in two starts over three seasons at left guard.
5. Rob Sims
2014 Grade: -0.6
2014 Snaps: 1,182
Time may be catching up with Sims, but even in to his thirties he's still been a safe pair of hands at left guard for the Lions the last two seasons. In 2013 his run blocking fell away markedly, but his final five starts this season (+4.5), including the playoff defeat in Dallas, proved that Sims can still create running lanes on the inside.
Last season was Sims’ first full season with a negative grade in pass protection since 2007 though he is now two years removed from his best play in that regard in 2011 (+13.4) and 2012 (+11.1). “True” multi-year deals may not be on the table for Sims but teams could do far worse than bring him in on a short term deal to fill a hole at left guard while they search out a longer term option.
6. Joe Berger – Re-signed with Minnesota
2014 Grade: +3.3
2014 Snaps: 626
One of the older free agent guards on the market at 33 (when the 2015 season starts), Berger’s mileage does not match his age. Whenever he has played at guard or center for the Dolphins and Vikings, Berger has played well but has only topped 700 snaps once in his career (a full season as starter at center for Miami in 2010).
Replacing Vladimir Ducasse at guard in Week 7 (starting from Week 8), Berger proved that he still has quality performances in the tank having played less than 300 snaps in 2013 and 2012 for the Vikings. After struggling with Gerald McCoy in pass protection in his first start of the season (who didn’t struggle with McCoy?) Berger was sound in pass protection. He did set up some good running lanes against such strong defensive interiors as the Panthers (+2.3) and the Lions (+1.7). Signing Berger would get very little buzz, but would be a strong addition to any team’s roster.
1. Rodney Hudson – Signed with Oakland
2014 Grade: +13.0
2014 Snaps: 1,031
Ever since Hudson moved to the middle of the Chiefs’ offensive line he has produced consistently strong displays, improving each season after an injury shortened 2012 season. Grading positively as a pass protector and a run blocker in each of the last two seasons, Hudson’s poor displays are few and far between, only grading negatively in both facets in the same game five times in the last two seasons.
After struggling to see the field as a rookie and losing his second season to injury in the third game of the season Hudson is a player on the rise as he hits free agency and though not yet among the league’s elite centers his performances over the last two seasons suggest he may be ascending to that level.
2. Stefen Wisniewski
2014 Grade: -2.5
2014 Snaps: 1041
Taken seven picks before Hudson in 2011, the Raiders and Chiefs have both found solid young centers that they will surely look to retain and keep off the open market. Last season was Wisniewski’s first as a starting center that he concluded with a negative overall grade, thanks solely to his poor pass protection this season.
Before that Wisniewski had built solid seasons around his pass protection in 2012 and his run blocking in 2013 with terrific back to back games against the Giants (+4.1) and Texans (+4.4) in back to back weeks that season the best of his career. Much like Hudson the challenge for Wisniewski to grow in the coming years is putting his best form as a run blocker and pass protector together for an extended period, converting his potential into performance.
3. Brian De La Puente
2014 Grade: +4.3
2014 Snaps: 501
Three strong seasons as a starter for the Saints only got De La Puente a backup gig with the Bears last season, reuniting with former line coach Aaron Kromer in the Windy City. Even strong displays to start the season (+8.2 through Week 5) with Roberto Garza injured didn’t see De La Puente maintain his place in the lineup, only returning at left guard when the Bears were shorthanded mid-season.
Both with the Saints and Bears, De La Puente has excelled as a run blocker in the middle of the line earning a positive run block grade every season as a starter. De La Puente may be out of the limelight entering free agency as a backup but teams in need of a starting center could do far worse than look in his direction.
4. Will Montgomery
2014 Grade: +6.6
2014 Snaps: 665
Much like De La Puente, Montgomery is an underappreciated veteran who provided largely solid play off the bench for a new team last season. After an underrated stint with Washington, Montgomery put in a solid showing with the Broncos after a late season shuffle on the offensive line.
Entering the Broncos’ starting lineup in Week 10, but for a poor fortnight against the Bills (-4.4) and Chargers (-1.1), Montgomery consistently earned positive grades surrendering only five pressures in his nine starts. He also played his part in the improved Broncos’ ground attack late in the season. At 32 teams are unlikely to look to Montgomery as their “plan A” at center but as he showed for the Broncos he offers valuable depth and competition off the bench in a zone scheme.
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