The five most risk/reward free agents

Analyst Mike Renner looks at the five free agents this offseason with the biggest range in their possible production.

| 3 months ago
(AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

(AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

The five most risk/reward free agents

With a lackluster free agent crop compared to a season ago and cap space around the league at an all-time high, free agents everywhere are about to get paid. Bidding wars will almost certainly drive up the prices of players who still have lingering question marks around their performance. PFF’s grades have indicated five guys likely to demand top dollar in free agency because of scarcity at the position who are far from sure things at the moment. These are the most high-risk, high-reward free agents-to-be.

1. Chicago Bears WR Alshon Jeffery

Between the fact that Jeffery had an injury-riddled 2015 and was subsequently popped for PED usage in 2016, there are some reasons to be wary of doling out big money to him. Coming off of a season in which Jeffery played under the franchise tag, one has to imagine that’s his starting point for any sort of contract negotiation. That will be a steal though, if he can get back to his 2013 form. In that season Jeffery’s average of 2.37 yards per route was the sixth-best of any receiver in the league.

2. Houston Texans CB A.J. Bouye

No cornerback is hitting the market coming off a better season the Bouye. His 90.9 overall grade was third among all cornerbacks in the NFL and the next-highest-graded unrestricted free agent corner is 38-year-old Terence Newman (86.4). The issue is that Bouye came out of nowhere in 2016. He had only 856 non-descript snaps under his belt before breaking out in his fourth season. Even this past year he wasn’t a full-time starter until Week 6. His 859 snaps of elite play this past season could very well be a sign of big things to come, but there’s considerable risk involved in throwing out big money to a one year wonder.

3. Cleveland Browns WR Terrelle Pryor

(Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

In 2016, Pryor legitimately looked at times like a No. 1 receiver. There were also times he looked like a one-trick pony. At 6-foot-4, 223 pounds with the ability to run a 4.4-second 40, he could just be scratching the surface of his potential, but there is more to playing the receiver position than physical dominance. 47 percent of Pryor’s receiving yards came in only four of his 16 starts, while his 1.7 yards per route was 34th among starting wideouts.

4. Green Bay Packers RB Eddie Lacy

Lacy is one of the most physically talented running backs in the NFL when he’s healthy and in shape. The problem is that the last time both of those caveats were the case was in 2014. That year he totaled 1,751 yards from scrimmage (including playoffs) and broke 84 tackles on 328 touches, the third-most in the NFL. Over the past two seasons though, he’s managed only 308 total touches and 54 broken tackles injuries and weight concerns have mounted. There’s little doubt at 26 years of age the talent is still there, but will it ever show itself again?

5. Dallas Cowboys CB Morris Claiborne

Claiborne, much like Bouye, is another cornerback who trended upwards in a big way in 2016. Unlike Bouye, though, Claiborne has the first-round pedigree that often convinces general managers it’s not a fluke. Before injuries struck, Claiborne looked like the Cowboys No. 1 cornerback early in the season. His 0.81 yards-per-coverage-snaps average on the season was  10th at the position. The issue is that it’s once again only one season of production, and not even close to a full season at that.

| Senior Analyst

Mike is a Senior Analyst at Pro Football Focus. His work has also been featured on The Washington Post, ESPN Insider, and 120 Sports.

  • Malachi

    would be interesting to offer a guy like alshon a large “guaranteed” contract, that was all fluff and not actually fully guaranteed at signing. he might think it’s too good to pass up and you can get him on a lower risk contract in which those large, injury-only guarantees would all void if he was suspended again, and would be avoidable via salary trigger dates

    • crosseyedlemon

      Most contracts today are about the size of a phone book and too complex for the average player to understand….which is why they are willing to pay an agent to sort through all the legal minutia and spot those guarantees that really aren’t guarantees at all.

      • Malachi

        but it’s still the agent’s job to relay numbers, and a GM can easily, directly tell a player they’ve offered 60 mil guaranteed. players often hear a big number and pressure their agent into making it work too. if i’ve already thought of this surely 20+ other GMs have too

        • crosseyedlemon

          What you say makes sense but both player agents and GMs will usually play it straight because a bad reputation for not delivering what was promised will make the rounds among the league players. How many players are interested in dealing with the Chargers GM after seeing how Bosa got jerked around?

          • Malachi

            good point