News & Analysis

6 free agents about to be overpaid

Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Marvin Jones (82) runs the ball after a catch against the Cleveland Browns during an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 6, 2015, in Cleveland. (Jeff Haynes/AP Images for Panini)

Now past the deadline to tag players, NFL teams turn their attention to free agency next week. Not every deal is justifiable, however, with some players receiving offers that outweigh their previous production.

Here are six players who will likely cash in next week, despite underwhelming on-field production in the past.

1. Mark Barron LB, Rams

Barron (74.8 overall grade) is a player that fits in nicely with NFL trends. It seems like every team wants a hybrid linebacker/safety, and Barron was one of those who played the position competently last year. Some team is going to mistake competency for proficiency, though, and give the former top-10 pick a healthy second contract. The problem is that Barron graded out around average in that role last year, and his struggles in coverage over his career weren’t alleviated by playing more in the box.

2. James Laurinaitis, LB, Rams (cut)

A second Rams player, but this time it certainly won’t be the Rams that are overpaying. It’s certainly possible that Laurinaitis (39.3) was hampered by injury all throughout 2015, but even if he had been healthy all year long, no one should be paying him starter-type money. He’s always been a below-average defender against the run, but last year he took it to another level. Any time an offensive lineman found him at the second level, Laurinaitis was stuck on it like flypaper. His 3.8 run-stop percentage was the worst in the NFL.

3. Marvin Jones, WR, Bengals

Jones (79.0) figures to be the beneficiary of an extremely weak free agent receiver class. After Alshon Jeffrey got tagged, Jones was the only young, productive receiver left on the market. Jones has been a solid No. 2 option to A.J. Green over his career, but outside of the 2013 season where he made a handful of circus catches, there is little reason to think Jones can be a No. 1 target. With a weak receiver draft class—and even weaker free-agent crop—don’t be surprised if someone gives Jones No. 1-receiver money, though.

4. J.R. Sweezy, G, Seahawks

At times, Sweezy (46.0) will make some of the best blocks you’ll ever see. But playing guard in the NFL is about consistency more than the highlight reel pancakes. Sweezy has simply been extremely erratic, especially in pass protections, where he’s been 41st and 46th among starters in pass-blocking efficiency the past two seasons. Someone figures to pay this fringe-starter like a quality one.

5. George Iloka, S, Bengals

The importance of age in free agency cannot be overstated. For most positions, an average player at 26 will get a more lucrative deal than a slightly above-average player at 32. Illoka (82.6) has consistently been out-graded by fellow Bengals safety Reggie Nelson over the course of his career, but at 26 years old, Illoka is the one who figures to be paid like a top-10 safety. Obviously teams will bank on further development from the young safety, but he’s yet to grade out as a top-10 player at his position in any season of his career.

6. Brock Osweiler, QB, Broncos

The thirst for a quarterback in the NFL today is real. The Redskins tagging Kirk Cousins is really all you need to know about the desperation teams feel. If Peyton Manning does indeed retire, the Broncos will be experiencing a similar squeeze. This could very well lead them to splurge on their former second-round pick, whom they have spent four years developing. Outside of the Patriots game though, Osweiler (71.3) has shown little indication that he’s a quarterback that should be starting in this league. His 26.7 deep-accuracy percentage was second-worst in the NFL.

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